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The story of the 2014 World Cup so far…

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We’ve reached the halfway stage of the World Cup.

After two weeks of day in, day out action, we take a small breather from World Cup action on Friday before the knockout stages begin. That provides a perfect opportunity to review the incredible action so far.

[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ] 

Upsets, stunning goals, intense rivalries and much, much more, here’s your one-stop shop for everything that happened during the group stages.

Enjoy. And remember, we’re only halfway there!

Attacking soccer excites…

Brazilian soccer is always know to excite the palate and get everyone salivating over the Samba flair, but nobody thought it would rub off on so many other teams this quickly! Here are some stats from the tournament so far, as it is the highest scoring World Cup since 1970.

  • 136 goals scored in group stages (average of 2.83 goals per game)
  • Top scorers: Lionel Messi (Argentina), Neymar (Brazil), Thomas Muller (Germany) – 4 goals
  • Top scoring teams: Netherlands (10), Colombia (9), France (8)
source:
The defending champs crashed out in the group stages.

Changing of the guard…

Spain. The reigning world champions… remember them? Yeah, the Spaniards crash out of the World Cup after the first two games and just six days of the tournament. Losing 5-1 to the Netherlands in their opener (the heaviest defeat a champion has ever suffered when opening their defense) didn’t bode well, then they lost to Chile in their second Group B game and it was curtains. Vicente Del Bosque’s all-conquering side look to have come to the end of the line. Legends like Xavi, Iniesta, Casillas and Alonso failed to lead Spain out of the group stages, let alone to the fourth-straight major title many were expecting.

U.S. surprised us all…

Well, well, well. The old “Group of Death” wasn’t so erm, deadly, after all, was it? Jurgen Klinsmann masterminded the USA’s escape from European powerhouses Germany and Portugal, while the U.S. also finally beat their arch-nemesis Ghana and exacted revenge for being knocked out of the last two World Cups by the Black Stars. “Great success!” Now the U.S. face Belgium in the Round of 16 match. Who seriously predicted the Americans would still be in this World Cup? Not me. USA! USA! USA!

Three bites, you’re out…

The Luis Suarez story has taken over this World Cup. FIFA banned him for four months after he bit Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini and now he will miss the rest of Uruguay’s World Cup campaign. What does that mean for Uruguay, and Liverpool? This madness has to end from Suarez.

source: Getty Images
After biting Chiellini, Suarez has been banned for four months.

Group stage flops…

Spain. England. Italy. Cameroon. Russia. Ivory Coast. Portugal. Out of the 16 teams who left Brazil after the group stages, the seven aforementioned nations really messed up. The likes of Spain, England, Italy and Portugal are considered among the best in Europe, yet they never got going and too many silly errors cost them dear. As for emerging nations like the Ivory Coast, it was a case of the same old story of heartbreak.

Group stage shocks…

Costa Rica not only advancing, but winning Group D ahead of England, Italy and Uruguay. Seriously… who saw that coming? Fair play Los Ticos, fair play. Also, Greece and Algeria battled until the end to seal unlikely berths in the last 16. Kudos to them, too.

Americans, North, South and Central, prosper…

CONCACAF has three teams through to the World Cup second-round for the first time in history. Five of the six South America teams who qualified are through to the last 16 and up and down the Americas, everyone is feeling pretty good about themselves right now. Well done. Congratulatory back slaps are the order of the day.

Memorable moments…

  • Jermaine Jones blasting the U.S. level vs. Portugal in Manaus. Absolute stunner from the USA’s best player so far. Also, he ran into a referee vs. Germany, as ref Ravshan Irmatov dropped his shoulder and sent Jones tumbling to the ground. Sit down, Jermaine. Both memorable, but for very different reasons.
  • Colombia’s wonderful dance routine following their first goal of the tournament by Pablo Armero in Belo Horizonte. The stadium was packed with Colombian fans as a sea of yellow rejoiced. Superb.
  • Guillermo Ochoa’s stunning display for Mexico to clinch a 0-0 draw vs. hosts Brazil. Save after save from El Tri’s ‘keeper helped them on their way to the last 16.
  • Tim Cahill’s stunning strike for Australia vs. the Netherlands. It was an amazing way for Cahill to score in what will turn out to be his last game for the Socceroos. Wonderful volley. Top bloke. Legend.
  • Robin van Persie’s diving header vs. Spain was just an amazing goal. Given the fact that the Netherlands won this match 5-1, it was even better. Plus RVP’s high-five with Louis van Gaal was pretty epic, too.

Team of the group stage…

Here is a list of the top 10 players at the World Cup during the group stages. Below is my team of the tournament so far.

—Ochoa—

Blind—Kompany— T. Silva

Neymar—Jones—Aranguiz—Robben

Van Persie—Messi—Muller

Higuain to seal $98.7 million Juve move; Pogba to Man United closer?

DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 22:  Paul Pogba of Juventus is tackled by Gonzalo Higuain of Napoli during the 2014 Italian Super Cup match between Juventus FC v SSC Napoli at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium on December 22, 2014 in Doha, Qatar.  (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
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A major domino has reportedly fallen in the summer transfer window pack.

Gonzalo Higuain is set to complete his monster move from Napoli to Juventus in Serie A.

Sky Italia says that the deal for Higuain has been completed with the Argentine ace arriving in Turin for a transfer fee of $98.7 million (his release clause) and on a four-year contract worth over $8.2 million per season.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC

Higuain, 28, scored 36 goals in 35 games for Napoli last season and has scored 71 goals in 104 Serie A appearances since arriving from Real Madrid in 2013. Obviously he can score goals but is he worth $98.7 million? At his age, maybe not, and especially with Juve making so many impressive signings already this summer as Miralem Pjanic, Mehdi Benatia and Dani Alves all on board, plus Paulo Dyabla looking razor sharp in preseason.

That $98.7 million transfer fee would make Higuain the third-most expensive signing of all-time, although he could be overtaken by one man very soon: Paul Pogba.

Apparently Juve are locked in talks with Manchester United to try and finalize a move for Pogba, 23, and this huge outlay of cash on Higuain could suggest they’ve agreed the reported $130 million transfer of the French international midfielder.

[ MORE: Winter break pros and cons for PL ]

Pogba has been seen laughing and joking on vacation in Miami with his agent, Mino Raiola, but it is believed that deal is being held up due to the teams not agreeing on who should pay the reported agent fee of up to $22 million. No wonder Raiola is laughing.

Seriously, though, let’s see how this plays out but it is highly unlikely Juve would’ve dropped that much cash on Higuain if they didn’t have some major cash coming in from selling a certain player.

We all know who that is…

Premier League winter break talks ongoing: What are pros, cons?

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What if the Premier League had a winter break?

That is a topic of hot discussion in the UK after new England manager Sam Allardyce called for a midseason break during his opening press conference as the new Three Lions manager on Monday.

[ MORE: PL preseason schedule

With the Premier League confirming that discussions between themselves, the English Football Association and the Football League are ongoing, it is obviously something the governing bodies which run English soccer are seriously considering.

It is believed that if a winter break was given the green light, it wouldn’t take place until the 2019-20 season at the earliest.

[ WATCH: Stream every PL game live ] 

On Tuesday the executive chairman of the Premier League, Richard Scudamore, discussed the notion of a winter break and was asked by Sky Sports about the feasibility of Allardyce’s proposal.

“He’s been very consistent. He’s been calling for it for a very long time, as has every England manager. We are not against a winter break,” Scudamore said. “We have gone on record saying that we are in discussions with the people we need to be in discussions with which is the Football Association and the Football League. It is an integrated calendar. Those discussions are taking place. I don’t know how close or far we are because I wouldn’t want to compromise those negotiations or those discussions.

“Even if the three of us, the three [governing] bodies come up with that solution, we then of course have to road test that with the clubs that are involved and the fans and everything else. We are in discussions, there is a willingness to make it happen but I can’t put anything like a timescale on that.”

Intriguing comments from Scuadmore as the PL seems to be in favor of at least giving the winter break a try. The English FA have been pushing that agenda for quite some time as they believe that heading into an international tournament the English national team suffer due to the long, hard slog of a season with a packed schedule through the winter months. At least, that’s what they’re going with after so many disappointing tournaments in recent years…

So, it’s worth asking, how much of a difference, if any, would this make? What are the pros and cons of a winter break?

Straight off the bat, it must not eradicate the traditional Boxing Day or Dec. 28 games. Those dates are sacrosanct in the UK sporting calendar. My proposal would be to keep those two matchdays and then have a break from Dec. 28 until Jan. 12, giving the teams over two weeks off.

In the PL there are obviously 20 teams which means that it isn’t quite as easy as the Bundesliga, for example, having a winter break as Germany’s top-flight teams only has 19 teams, meaning teams only have to play 36 games instead of the 38 games each Premier League side has to play. The FA Cup opening rounds would also have to be slotted back to late January but it could be more beneficial for the English national team and PL teams playing in European competitions as they would also have the same amount of rest as teams in Spain, Germany and Italy who all have winter breaks.

Well, regardless of what you think, here’s a quick list below looking at some of the potential positives and negatives of trying out a break.

Pros

  • Players rested, less injuries
  • PL teams could advance further in European competitions
  • English national team may have better chance in major competitions
  • Higher intensity in games throughout the season
  • Less midweek games during the season, more spread out schedule
  • Midseason breaks to warmer climates, small friendly tournaments could take place in USA or Middle East

Cons

  • Possibility of reduced games around the festive period
  • Confusion around when FA Cup third round would begin
  • Season running longer into May, possibly June, meaning less time before international tournaments

Report: Sakho sent home from Liverpool’s US tour by Jurgen Klopp

International Champions Cup 2014 - Manchester City v Liverpool
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Mamadou Sakho‘s days at Liverpool seem numbered.

According to multiple reports the French international defender has been sent home from Liverpool’s tour of the USA by Jurgen Klopp.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC ]

Per the reports, Klopp is said to be upset with Sakho’s behavior on the trip to California as he turned up late for the flight to the USA and that was brought up in one of Klopp’s interviews while the team visited Alcatraz.

Sakho’s attitude around team training sessions at Stanford University was also questioned by Klopp but the towering defender isn’t actually training as he continues his recovery from an Achilles injury which will see him miss the start of the upcoming Premier League season.

All of this caps off a turbulent few months for 26-year-old Sakho who was only cleared of a doping violation by UEFA earlier this month. European soccer’s governing body accused Sakho of failing a drugs test following a Europa League Round of 16 win over Manchester United in March.

Sakho hasn’t played since April — which forced him to miss the Europa League final and France’s EURO 2016 campaign — and now his future at Anfield must be in serious doubt.

It is believed Sakho will arrive back in the UK on Tuesday and will continue treatment on his injury at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground.

Klopp’s side face Chelsea at the Pasadena Rose Bowl on Wednesday in their first International Champions Cup game, before then facing AC Milan on Saturday in Santa Clara, Calif. Their U.S. tour concludes with a friendly against AS Roma in St. Louis, Missouri on Aug. 1.

Report: Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker out five months with serious injury

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Per Mertesacker of Arsenal celebrates at the end of the UEFA Champions League Qualifier 2nd leg match between Arsenal and Besiktas at the Emirates Stadium on August 27, 2014 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Numerous reports are claiming that Arsenal will be without their BFG until 2017.

German central defender Per Mertesacker has not traveled with the Gunners on their tour of the USA with the club confirming their vice captain suffered a knee injury during their friendly win over Lens last Friday.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC ]

Sky Sports in the UK claim that Mertesacker, 31, could be out for five months and they believe the club will announce that news in the next 48 hours.

That leaves Arsene Wenger with a real problem at center back.

Gabriel has also not traveled with Arsenal due to tonsillitis and Laurent Koscielny is also missing after being given extra time off following his part in France’s run to the EURO 2016 final.

That means only Calum Chambers and new signing from Bolton Wanderers, 20-year-old Rob Holding, are around as center back options for Wenger. Nacho Monreal could also slot in for the time being but Arsenal may now look to get another center back in before the end of the transfer window this summer.

The Gunners have arrived in the USA and play the MLS All-Stars in San Jose, Calif. on Wednesday, then Chivas de Guadalajara next Monday at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.