WATCH: Top 10 goals of the 2014 World Cup’s group stage

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There have been a flurry of goals this World Cup – 136 of them so far, to be exact – and it doesn’t look like stopping anytime soon.

Those 136 goals mark the most ever in a World Cup group stage, and it even set the record for most goals per game to beat out earlier World Cups with fewer qualified teams.

Every single World Cup team scored in the group stage. Many were beautiful, a few were spectacular, but they all counted the same.

So with that in mind, we’re set to run through the best ten goals of the World Cup group stage.

10. Claudio Marchisio vs. England

Italy bowed out disappointingly in the group stage, but they have one point of brilliance to hold onto from the team’s only win.  Scoreless against England late in the first half, they struck on a set-piece.  A corner came through low towards the top of the box, and Andrea Pirlo’s perfect dummy teed up midfielder Claudio Marchisio.  The midfielder struck a rocket along the ground perfectly into the far corner past Joe Hart for the game’s opening goal.

Unfortunately, Marchisio would follow that up with two dreadful performances against Costa Rica and Uruguay, culminating in a straight red in the finale.

9. Silvestre Varela vs. United States

With the United States on the brink of securing a guaranteed place in the knockout round and Portugal themselves on the precipice of elimination, star forward Cristiano Ronaldo combined with substitute striker Silvestre Varela to produce an equalizer that would prolong their country’s chances at making the knockout stage.

In the 95th minute with literally the last kick of the game, Ronaldo sent in a cross worthy of his Ballon d’Or, and it found the head of the streaking Varela to beat Geoff Cameron and give the game a 2-2 final score.  The situation and the build-up play give this goal the flair it needs to be on this list.

8. Clint Dempsey vs. Ghana

The fifth-fastest World Cup goal ever, Clint Dempsey opened school for John Boye and gave the United States a vital early lead after just 29 seconds against Ghana in a must-win match.

DaMarcus Beasley’s ball up the left flank was one-touch passed to Dempsey from Jermaine Jones, and the US striker did the rest as he deked passed Boye and hit the far corner with his low shot.

7. Memphis Depay vs. Australia

The up-and-coming Dutch midfielder secured the match-winner as his team went on to beat a pesky Australia 3-2 and mark one of their three group-stage wins.  Depay, just 20 years old, came onto the field when defender Bruno Martins Indi was forced off after a challenge from Tim Cahill.

With the game knotted at two each, Depay blasted a strike from well outside the box that curved and dipped, finally bouncing just in front of Maty Ryan and ended up in the far corner.  The goal was Depay’s first for his country.

6. James Rodriguez vs. Japan

With Colombia dominating its Asian opponents en route to its Group C victory, James Rodriguez wasn’t going to leave Cuiaba empty-handed. In stoppage time already up 3-1, the Monaco forward produced an amazing piece of individual skill to plant Japanese defender Maya Yoshida flat on his back after a complete 360.

5. John Brooks vs. Ghana

A winner that resonated all the way across the United States, the header by John Brooks earned the US three of their four eventual Group D points and was essential to their knockout-stage qualification.

Coming in the 87th minute against their arch-nemesis Ghana, the 21-year-old German-American defender – on as a substitute for an injured Matt Besler – picked out Graham Zusi’s corner and put it straight at the ground, bouncing it past Ghana goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey for the winner.  The ball actually just barely missed the head of Geoff Cameron who attempted to put the ball on net just in front of Brooks, so the youngster gets added points for not losing focus despite his teammate’s attempt in his face.

Jermaine Jones also bagged a pretty impressive goal for the United States against Portugal, but this one earned the US three points, and that alone gives it the trump card onto the list.

4. Lionel Messi vs. Iran

Lionel Messi has come to play in this World Cup. Playing on his home continent, he’s been the star man for Argentina despite plenty of doubters.  He earned three points with a late winner against Iran, a classic Messi goal in injury time, finding himself space at the top of the box before finding the far corner with the ball.  Nothing a diving Alireza Haghighi could do about that one.

3. Xherdan Shaqiri vs. Honduras (#1)

Scoring a goal quite similar in look to the Messi one was young Swiss star Xherdan Shaqiri.  The Bayern Munich player doesn’t have a central role for his German giant, but for the national team he’s their main man. Needing a result against Honduras to advance past the group stage, Shaqiri bagged himself a hat-trick, but he’ll be hard-pressed to beat his first.

Just six minutes in, Shaqiri cranked a long-range shot perfectly into the top corner to set the tone early.

2. Tim Cahill vs. Netherlands

If it weren’t for the absolute stunning nature of our #1 goal, this one surely had Goal of the Tournament flair.  Having fallen behind just a minute prior, a Ryan McGowan long-ball from the midfield found Cahill streaking on goal, and despite being marked well by Stefan de Vrij, the New York Red Bulls striker ripped an immaculate volley off the crossbar and over the goal line before the ball could even touch the ground.

1. Robin van Persie vs. Spain

With the Netherlands under pressure from a bright Spanish start, the Dutch found themselves down 1-0.  Just as the sides were ready to go into halftime, Manchester United striker Robin van Persie produced one of the moments of the World Cup so far, and on just the second day of the tournament.

An absolutely perfect lofted ball from the defending half by Daley Blind caught van Persie flying on goal, and the Dutch striker launched himself through the air, connecting with the diving header and putting the ball past Iker Casillas.  Tied up at the break, the Dutch would go on to dismantle Spain in the second half, announcing to the 2014 World Cup how things would go in the group stage.

Honorable mention: Miroslav Klose vs. Ghana

This goal has to be mentioned at least once because it tied the all-time record for World Cup goals.  It would have made this list too if there hadn’t been so many beautiful strikes, since his run was timed perfectly and it secured a valuable point for the Germans, but nonetheless it deserves to be given its due.  We may yet see Klose break the record in the knockout stages if Germany progresses to the later rounds.

[ MORE: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly.com]

Mourinho delighted to have “engine of the team” Pogba back

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One takeaway which has been made 100 percent clear — in case the first four games of the season weren’t enough — is this: Manchester United are, in every way imaginable, a different team when Paul Pogba is on the field.

[ RECAP: Pogba’s star (re)turn lifts United past Newcastle ]

Pogba returned to action on Saturday and paced Man United to a 4-1 thumping of Newcastle United. After the game, United manager Jose Mourinho wasted little time in pointing the finger as Pogba, acknowledging he’s the player that makes the Red Devils tick — quotes from the Express:

“Paul Pogba is different class. Paul and Nemanja Matic grew up together at the start of the season and are the engine of the team. It was in Paul’s hands, how many minutes to play until he began to feel fatigued. It was a great performance from him.

“I know that strikers depend on goals for confidence and happiness. I was really happy to see him score his goal.

“We go match to match — we can only play Manchester City twice in a season. In those games we will try to take points — outside of those fixtures we are not in control.”

As for another returning superstar, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, we shouldn’t gloss over the fact that he returned from a torn ACL in just seven months. The original period for recovery was pegged at nine months.

“I am pleased for the three three points, the quality of our performance after Newcastle’s goal, that mentality to react without panic and in a positive way, and obviously the return of injured players is always nice, especially in Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s case. His was such a dramatic injury. To see him back is a great emotion”

The gap between United and City is currently eight points, but 26 games remain. There is time, but Mourinho’s men can afford to drop very few points the rest of the way.

Man United 4-1 Newcastle: Pogba’s star (re)turn

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  • Red Devils fall behind early
  • Pogba’s return: goal, assist
  • Gayle’s goal, Yedlin’s assist
  • Martial, Smalling flip the score before HT

It was like Paul Pogba hadn’t been away for even one day of the last 10 weeks, as the French superstar returned from a hamstring injury and inspire Manchester United’s 4-1 victory over Newcastle United at Old Trafford on Sunday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Zlatan Ibrahimovic also returned from the torn ACL he suffered in April, making his first appearance in seven months — two months ahead of schedule — as a 77th-minute substitute.

Saturday’s rout wasn’t always straightforward and easy for Man United, as the final score might deceive.

Newcastle struck first in an action-packed, goal-filled first half. U.S. national team right back DeAndre Yedlin tallied his first assist of the PL season, as he sped to the end line and cut a low cross toward the penalty spot, finding the late-arriving Dwight Gayle for a gentle finish

The lead lasted 23 minutes, until Pogba marked his return to action with a delightful assist for Anthony Martial‘s equalizer. Pogba danced past Isaac Hayden, raced toward the end line and floated a delicate ball to the back post, where his compatriot headed home.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Right on the stroke of halftime, United went 2-1 up after Chris Smalling headed home Ashley Young‘s lofted cross to the back post. Smalling remained forward after a short corner Young acres of space to pick his head up and hit the right ball.

United required only nine minutes to double their lead, and it was Pogba, once again proving his worth to the side, who got the goal. Romelu Lukaku floated a cross to Marcus Rashford at the back post, and Rashford’s cushioned header dropped the ball into no-man’s land. Pogba reacted quickest. 3-1. Pogba’s back, and so is United’s swagger.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Seconds after Pogba was subbed — without incident — Lukaku pounced on Florian Lejeune‘s botched clearance inside his own penalty area and slammed a left-footed shot past Robert Elliot.

As exciting as the performance and result were, it was only enough to keep United on pace — eight points back — with Premier League leaders Manchester City, who also won on Saturday.

Jurgen Klopp hails “perfect day” for Liverpool

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Jurgen Klopp has had far from an ideal week but his Liverpool side ruthlessly dispatched Southampton at Anfield to end it on a high note.

[ MORE: Liverpool batter Saints ]

Klopp was sent to hospital earlier this week when he felt unwell but the German coach was given a big boost as Mohamed Salah scored twice in the first half, which included a stunning opener, and Philippe Coutinho finished Saints off in the second half as the Reds eased to victory and stayed in touch with the chasing pack behind runaway leaders Manchester City.

Speaking to the BBC after the game, Klopp was happy with what he saw from his side after he was fit enough to be on the bench on Saturday.

“Difficult game, Southampton are a really good football side. It was an open game, we had more chances before we scored. We need to be patient in a lively way,” Klopp said. “The first goal, wow, I have nothing to do with the goal and the second was a fantastic pass and Mo Salah makes great runs. We could have scored more often but it was a perfect day for us.”

Klopp, 50, sees his side just three points off second place after 12 games of the Premier League season, while his side remain firm favorites to qualify for the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.

So far, so good.

Yes, Man City will take some catching (and a collapse of their own) but Liverpool’s aim should be to secure a second-straight top four finish and go from there.

With Sadio Mane, Salah, Coutinho and Roberto Firmino in the form they showed on Saturday, plus a fifth clean sheet in six PL games this season at Anfield, the defensive woes Klopp’s team have faced away from home this season aren’t troubling them at home.

Next up is Chelsea at home for Liverpool, which will be a supreme test of their newfound defensive solidity at home. Their results against title contenders this season have been up and down with a draw against Manchester United, hammerings at Tottenham and Man City and a thrashing of Arsenal at home.

Liverpool’s clash against top four rivals Chelsea is followed by five winnable games before they travel to Arsenal on Dec. 22.

Between now and then we will see if Liverpool’s season will amount to more than just a top four challenge. Saturday’s shellacking of a lackluster Southampton may have been “perfect” but a much tougher test awaits next week against a rejuvenated Chelsea side who have Alvaro Morata and Eden Hazard purring in attack

Can Liverpool’s oft-fragile defense cope? We are about to find out.

Burnley’s Barnes: “Can we finish the season now?”

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Ashley Barnes broke his season duck in classy fashion, scoring and adding an assist as Burnley stayed in the thick of the race for Europe with a 2-0 win over Swansea City at Turf Moor on Saturday.

[ RECAP: Burnley 2-0 Swans ]

The win shouldn’t be a surprise, as Burnley is humming in style. The Clarets entered the day with a win at Chelsea and draws at Liverpool and Spurs, so why would a visit from Swansea lead to anything than three points.

It’s dream world, really.

From the BBC:

“We’re on a fantastic run. We’re working hard every day and today we were different class.

“Can we finish the season now? No, I’m kidding. there’s still a long way to go and we need to pick up as many points as possible.”

Every win makes more and more believers of the Burnley Football Club. Perhaps more important to the Clarets, each win makes it less likely that Sean Dyche will leave the club for a better gig (Everton), at least right now.