First two knockout round matches are set: Let’s take an early look at Brazil-Chile, Netherlands-Mexico

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Once you can start filling in the bracket, things get serious. Come Thursday night, this coming up period we call group phase will be gone. T-minus five days until the knockout round.

On Monday, four teams confirmed their spots in that stage, finalizing second round match ups that will take place in Belo Horizonte and Fortaleza.  Here’s an early look:

Brazil vs. Chile
Group A winner vs. Group B runner-up
Where: Belo Horizonte
When: Saturday, 12:00 p.m. Eastern

[ MORE: Neymar lifts Brazil past Cameroon | Chile falls to the Dutch ]

Leading men: Neymar was picked as one of the stars of the tournament. Through three games in front of home fans, he hasn’t disappointed, scoring four goals. Chile, however, will have the best all-around player on the field in Juventus’s Arturo Vidal, though after having meniscus surgery last month, he might not be at 100 percent.

Supporting stars: Oscar, Brazil’s most creative player, will help in attack, while the Paris Saint-Germain pairing of Thiago Silva and David Luiz form one of the tournament’s best central defense duos. Chile has Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez and Valencia’s Eduardo Vargas up top, giving Jorge Sampaoli two talents who can capitalize on their team’s high energy approach.

Strengths: That Chilean style could prove problematic for a Brazil side that didn’t have to face la Roja through qualifying. Between Neymar, Oscar, and Hulk, Brazil has a diverse attack that’s capable of creating openings for the likes of Fred and, from midfield, Paulinho.

Weaknesses: Along with Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho has had trouble controlling play in the middle of the park; at least, Mexico and Croatia were able to have success against the Seleçao’s midfield duo. Between Marcelo (left back) and Dani Alves, Brazil also has two fullbacks who may force Silva and Luiz to live up to PSG’s transfer fees. For Chile, the back line is small and features two natural midfielders.

Early expectations: Brazil will be favored, but Chile’s been getting a lot of dark horse love. Expect some scattered upset predictions.

Three narratives you will hear in the buildup:

  • Neymar will be compared to a series of other Brazilian greats while people forget he’s only 22 years old.
  • Chile’s attractive style will be lauded by pundits who won’t pick them to win.
  • The word “samba” will be tossed around despite having no real connection to Brazil’s current style.

To the winner: Group C’s winner and Group D’s runner-up are in the adjacent pot. That likely means one of Colombia, Italy, or Uruguay in the final eight.

source: Getty Images
Gary Medel, Felipe Gutierrez and Mauricio Isla of Chile try to stop Arjen Robben. (Credit: Getty Images.)

Netherlands vs. Mexico
Group B winner vs. Group A winner up
Where: Fortaleza
When: 
Sunday, 12:00 p.m. Eastern

[ MORE: Dutch clinch first in Group B | Mexico surges past Croatia ]

Leading men: Arjen Robben is drawing attention as one of the tournament’s best players, but in the two games Robin van Persie has been able to partner him in attack, the Manchester United star has been nearly as influential. For Mexico, Héctor Herrera has been one of the competition’s best midfielders, while Rafa Márquez’s sweeper role has allowed him to excel in his fourth World Cup.

Supporting stars: Giovani Dos Santos has made crucial contributions both in linkup play and closer to goal, while Andrés Guardado is making an impact in an unfamiliar central midfield spot. For the Dutch, the three-man defense of Stefan de Vrij, Ron Vlaar, and Bruno Martins Indi opened eyes against Spain, though Martins Indi missed Monday’s game recovering from concussion symptoms.

Strengths: Surprisingly, the Dutch have been one of the most direct teams in this tournament, quickly getting the ball to van Persie and Robben before defenses have a chance to settle in. Allowing only one goal all in group play, Mexico’s defense has been amongst the best at the World Cup.

Weaknesses: To this point, the Dutch haven’t shown any, but with an inexperienced defense, cracks can emerge as the tournament unfolds. For Mexico, speed at the back is a question, as is the ability to create chances for Oribe Peralta up top. The Santos Laguna forward only has three shots thus far.

Early expectations: After their nine-point performance in Group B, the Dutch will be favorites. An underdog to get out of their group two weeks ago, the Netherlands are having to clear space on their bandwagon. Again.

Three narratives you will hear in the buildup:

  • Brilliant Oranje and total football will be evoked despite the Dutch playing much of this tournament in its own half.
  • Mexico will be depicted as a sign of CONCACAF’s emerging strength, though they’ve been to this stage in each of the five previous finals.
  • The low expectations each team carried into the competition will be as discussed as their current form.

To the winner: Whomever emerges from a match between Group C’s runner-up and Group D’s winner. Costa Rica will likely be the latter, while the Ivory Coast is in position to come out of the other group.

MLS Snapshot: Sounders cruise, 3-0, as Galaxy struggles continue

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy’s midfield remains… nonexistent, to put it very nicely. It was a problem in 2015; it was a major problem in 2016; and it remains a problem early in 2017. On Sunday, Curt Onalfo’s side (as a quick aside, no, his seat isn’t yet getting hot) sat by and watched — almost literally — as the Seattle Sounders found the back of the net three times in the first half at StubHub Center.

Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris scored the goals for Seattle, to go with an own goal from Ashley Cole. It’s LA’s fifth loss in seven games, while Seattle have their second win of the season and put to bed a three-game winless skid.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundup — FCD win battle of unbeatens ]

Three moments that mattered

29′ — Dempsey heads into an open net for 1-0 — Nicolas Lodeiro floated the cross toward the back post, and Dempsey made extremely easy work of it with Brian Rowe scrambling through no man’s land.

35′ — Cole applies the finish into his own net — If it happened at the other end of the field, we’d have said it was a cool, calm, composed finish. Alas…

44′ — Morris fires past Rowe for 3-0 — The counter-attack was quick, what with no one stepping to the ball as Seattle covered two-thirds of the field. The finish wasn’t so simple for Morris.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Clint Dempsey

Goalscorers: Dempsey (29′), Cole (OG – 35′), Morris (44′)

Chelsea’s Kante claims PFA Player of the Year award

Photo credit: PFA / Twitter: @PFA
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Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante, who many felt was hard done by in not winning the award during Leicester City’s miraculous title-winning season of 2015-16, was named the 2016-17 PFA Player of the Year on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

With Chelsea six games from claiming this season’s Premier League title (they currently possess a four-point advantage on Tottenham Hotspur), it’s impossible to ignore Kante’s presence and impact on each of the last two (presumed) title-winning sides.

While his goal and assist numbers (1 and 1 this season) don’t come anywhere close to those of past winners (Riyad Mahrez tallied 17 and 11 en route to last season’s award), Kante’s industry, energy and rugged, ball-winning ways have integrated so seamlessly into Antonio Conte‘s debut Chelsea side.

[ MORE: Chelsea advance to FA Cup final | They’ll face Arsenal ]

The Blues splashed the cash — $40 million was the fee — to sign Kante last summer, and they’ve reaped unbelievable, immediate return on investment from the 26-year-old.

Spurs’ Alli wins PFA Young Player award for 2nd straight season

Photo credit: Tottenham Hotspur / Twitter: @SpursOfficial
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Dele Alli joined Wayne Rooney (2004-05 and 2005-06) on Sunday as the only repeat or back-to-back winners of the PFA Young Player of the Year award winners since the turn of the century.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Alli showed in 2016-17 — much like his Tottenham Hotspur teammate and 2014-15 Young Player of the year winner Harry Kane — that he’s much more than a one-season wonder, improving upon 2015-16’s goal and assist numbers (10 and 9) with a 16-goal, 5-assist season this time around.

Alli was signed by Tottenham (out of League One and relative obscurity) for a fee just north of $6 million in 2015. Recent rumors have linked the 21-year-old with a move to join the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid, for a transfer fee well over 10 times what Spurs paid to MK Dons.

[ MORE: Chelsea advance to FA Cup final | They’ll face Arsenal ]

Between Alli and Kane, Spurs players have won the last three Young Player of the Year awards, and five of the last six (Gareth Bale in 2012-13; Kyle Walker in 2011-12). Only Eden Harzard could break up Spurs’ stranglehold on the award, in 2013-14.

Ryan Giggs (1991-92 and 1992-93) and Robbie Fowler (1994-95 and 1995-96) are the only other players to win the award in back-to-back seasons.

El Clasico: Messi scores 499, 500; Barca, Madrid level on points

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After 31 (and 32, respectively) games played, three points were all that separated Real Madrid and Barcelona at the top of the table in La Liga.

[ MORE: Chelsea advance to FA Cup final | They’ll face Arsenal ]

After another 90 scintillating, pulsating, thrilling, plot-twisting minutes of El Clasico on Sunday, there’s not a single thing to separate the two sides (other than Barca’s current tiebreaker on head-to-head meetings, and Madrid’s game in hand). This time, it was Lionel Messi who outshone Cristiano Ronaldo in the meeting of the world’s brightest stars, the former scoring twice and reaching the 500-goal mark in his Barcelona career (all competitions).

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Barcelona 33 23 6 4 94 32 62 12-3-1 11-3-3 75
 Real Madrid 32 23 6 3 84 36 48 12-4-1 11-2-2 75
 Atlético Madrid 33 20 8 5 60 24 36 12-2-2 8-6-3 68

Casemiro opened the scoring with a tap-in into an empty net in the 28th minute. Marcelo floated a ball to the back post, where Sergio Ramos made clean contact but came up with nothing but hit nothing but woodwork. Fortunately for Los Blancos, the ball ricocheted off the post, bounced across the face of goal and found the Brazilian midfielder all by his lonesome.

The lead was short-lived, though, as a bloodied Messi scored yet another of his patented Messi goals just five minutes later. With two touches atop Madrid’s penalty area, he slalomed past and beat three defenders before applying the cool finish past Keylor Navas with that magical left foot of his.

Following the halftime break, the balance of play tipped in Barca’s favor. Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez went oh so close to putting the visitors ahead either side of the hour mark, but Navas produced a pair of stunning saves that’ll (perhaps) go a long way toward silencing his increasingly vocal critics.

[ MORE: Griezmann scores no. 25 as Atleti win to hold onto 3rd ]

There was absolutely nothing the Costa Rican no. 1 could do about Rakitic’s 73rd-minute strike, though. Cutting inside onto his left foot, the Croatian caressed and curled the ball toward the far post, where it made a hard right turn at the last possible second and nestled itself into the

Already up a goal, the game appeared to swing totally in Barca’s favor just four minutes later. Sergio Ramos, the most Sergio Ramos player to ever Sergio Ramos, went lunging in, with two sets of studs exposed, on Messi. He was rightly shown a straight red card.

Another pair of plot twists were still to come, though, as James Rodriguez got on the end of Marcelo’s cross and slammed the first-time finish past Marc Andre ter Stegen with four minutes of regular time remaining.

Then, with all of 13 seconds remaining in stoppage time, that man — the undisputed best player in the world and the greatest of all time — broke Madridista hearts once again. Sergi Roberto started the sequence all the way back in midfield, and Jordi Alba supplied the cross to the top of the box, and Messi drove that same left foot through the ball to beat Navas for the last-kick winner. The shirt-off-held-aloft celebration was simply salt in the wound.