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Germany reach record fourth-straight semifinal, see off plucky France

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Germany beat France 1-0 in Rio de Janeiro on Friday to reach the World Cup semifinals for the fourth-straight time.

In a closely-fought encounter at the famous Maracana Stadium, Germany became the first side in World Cup history to reach the semifinals for the fourth-straight tournament as Mats Hummels early header was enough to see off France.

German efficiency paid off, in the end, as a good first half showing edged Joachim Low’s men through and France’s impressive second half wasn’t quite enough. Karim Benzema came so close to equalizing in the final minute but Manuel Neuer came up with a big save at the near post, as Germany have yet to show their best but are through to the final four where they met Brazil or Colombia in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday.

Didier Deschamps’ France can hold their heads high after exiting the World Cup, while Germany’s run toward their first World Cup title since 1990 continues.

[ RELATED: Quarterfinal schedule in full ]

Early on Germany looked sharp with Klose leading the line and the likes of Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil cutting in off the flanks to give France’s defense plenty of problems.

France had the first effort of note as Valbuena popped up on the left-hand side of the box and clipped a delightful ball to Benzema but the Real Madrid striker pulled his volley just wide of the post. That effort sprung the French into life as Antoine Griezmann was set free over the top but his pull back was cleared by Hummels just as Benzema was waiting to tap home from close range.

source: Getty Images
Hummels’ header was enough to send Germany into the semifinals.

Hummels then went from clearing the danger at one end to scoring a superb header at the other just seconds later. A delightful free kick from Toni Kroos on the left found the Borussia Dortmund center back in the box and he beat Raphael Varane in the air to power home the opener. The goal was Hummels’ second of the tournament and the first time France trailed in Brazil.

Klose was then played in on goal after some intricate build-up from the German attackers but the legendary forward went down way too easily and his calls for a penalty kick were waved away. More clever running then emanated from the German attack as France struggled to get to grips with the game.

France almost equalized in the 33rd minute as Griezmann again sprung the offside trap and his ball found Valbuena who forced Neuer into a terrific reaction stop, then Benzema’s follow up was deflected over the bar. As half time arrived Germany were looking comfortable but France’s threat continued with Valbuena, Griezmann and Benzema causing plenty of issues. France have trailed 1-0 at half time on 10 occasions in World Cup history, they had never managed to come back and win.

After the break the long ball over the top continued to give Germany problems as a better first touch from Griezmann would’ve resulted in a great chance for the improving French side. Les Bleus continued to press forward and the man who was beaten by Hummels for the opener, Varane, saw his own header arch towards the top corner but saved by Neuer in the 60th minute.

The game then went into somewhat of a lull as Germany tried to stop France’s forward momentum and then had a chance of their own as Muller picked up a loose ball and drilled an effort just wide of the far post. Deschamps then went for it as striker Loic Remy replaced midfielder Yohan Cabaye.

In the 80th minute a Valebuena free kick caused havoc in the box and after the ball pinballed around the German defense somehow cleared the ball to safety. Moments later a lightning-quick counter almost finished France off but substitute Andre Schurrle saw his shot saved by Hugo Lloris’ legs.

Late on France tried to equalize as they threw on Olivier Giroud but despite a late shot at the n ear post from Benzema, Germany held on to make the final four for the fourth-straight World Cup.

LINEUPS

France: Lloris, Debuchy, Varane, Sakho (Koscielny,71′), Evra, Pogba, Cabaye (Remy, 73′), Matuidi, Valbuena (Giroud, 85′), Benzema, Griezmann

Germany: Neuer, Lahm, Boateng, Hummels, Höwedes; Schweinsteiger, Khedira; Müller, Kroos (Kramer, 92′), Özil (Gotze, 84′); Klose (Schurrle, 69′)

Goal: Hummels (13′)

WATCH: Walcott compares Wenger speech to Pacino

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What if Tony D’Amato of American football was Antoine Dumond of the world’s game?

Theo Walcott says Arsene Wenger inspired him to make that comparison after a recent pregame speech, a fiery number that convinced the Arsenal attacker how badly his manager wanted to win the Premier League.

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Speaking to Arsenal TV for a series of questions on former and current teammates — and Wenger — Walcott shared a pretty funny tidbit:

“The manager did a speech the other day. I won’t be able to do the speech because it was that good.”

“It genuinely reminded me of the film ‘Any Given Sunday’. I actually said that to him, and I was little bit embarrassed.’ You remind me of that film, that speech,’ I didn’t know if he had seen the film.

“Just showing the passion and how hard, and how long it’s been as well. He really wants it, like all of his players.”

Here’s the thing, though: Walcott doesn’t give us the answer as to whether Wenger has seen “Any Given Sunday”. And how about you, Theo, do you see yourself in Willie Beamon or Cap Rooney?

CAS rejects Serbia’s challenge to Kosovo joining UEFA

Supporters of Kosovo's national soccer team raise Kosovo flag during their international friendly soccer match at Adem Jashari Stadium in Mitrovica, Kosovo on Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Kosovo host Turkey for their second friendly match of the country's national football team. Turkey won the match 6-1. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) The Serbian soccer federation’s appeal against Kosovo joining UEFA has been rejected by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The court ruled that Kosovo met the standard of UEFA entry rules because it is “recognized by the majority of the United Nations member states as an `independent state.”‘

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Serbia argued that Kosovo, which joined European soccer’s governing body last May despite not being a U.N. member, should be blocked.

CAS decided that because “there is no formal recognition of countries by the U.N.,” then acceptance of Kosovo’s statehood by most countries was valid for the soccer application.

European soccer federations voted 28-24 in favor of Kosovo’s entry to UEFA after Serbia led opposition to its former province.

Serbia and its allies, including Russia, have not recognized Kosovo since the Balkan republic declared independence in 2008.

UEFA’s decision led to Kosovo joining FIFA one week later, and being fast-tracked into a 2018 World Cup qualifying group.

Still, Ukraine hosted Kosovo in neutral Poland in October, because its government also does not recognize Kosovo’s statehood.

Dempsey returns to training after second heart procedure

SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 28:  Clint Dempsey #2 of MLS All-Stars chases after the ball up field against the Arsenal FC during the second half of the AT&T MLS All-Star Game at Avaya Stadium on July 28, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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Many were concerned about USMNT and Seattle Sounders attacker Clint Dempsey‘s future when he underwent a pair of heart procedures in 2016.

The 33-year-old Dempsey took another step to allay those fears when he hit the pitch for Seattle’s first day of preseason camp.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

The Sounders won the 2016 MLS Cup despite the absence of Dempsey, and his return would further strengthen the side. General manager Garth Lagerwey said Dempsey won’t be rushed, but could be nearing a return.

EFL Cup second legs preview: Liverpool, Hull City aim for comebacks

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11:  Divock Origi of Liverpool battles with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (L) and Ryan Bertrand of Southampton during the EFL Cup semi-final first leg match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on January 11, 2017 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Manchester United and Southampton are 90 minutes from Wembley Stadium.

Hull City and Liverpool would prefer to change that.

After first legs a fortnight ago, the EFL Cup semifinals play out on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of Feb. 26’s final at Wembley.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

First up is Southampton‘s trip to Liverpool, with the Saints nursing a 1-0 lead from the first leg at St. Mary’s. The Wednesday kickoff sees Saints hoping the Reds’ poor run of form will continue at Anfield. Liverpool has one win 2017, and that was an FA Cup replay victory over Plymouth Argyle.

Southampton boss Claude Puel knows the Reds will be ornery:

“We know Liverpool. They lost against Swansea at home, and I am sure they will want to react against us, but it’s important to keep all of our focus about our play.

“We know they are fantastic, a great team, with great players, but you saw in the first leg we have the ability to produce a strong game against them. It will be important to make a strong game – a perfect game – I think.”

Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United got a terrific result in the first leg at Old Trafford, scoring twice and holding Hull City from scooping up a valuable road goal. Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini scored the goals in the 2-0 win, but the KC Stadium will be rocking on Thursday as the Tigers look to reverse the result.

United midfielder Michael Carrick says the Red Devils will play as if they are starting from scratch:

“It’s definitely not over, we all know that. We are telling ourselves that. I think we’ll be pretty much full strength and will approach the game like it’s a 0-0 and starting from scratch.

“It’s dangerous when you go in there defending a lead to tell yourself this result will do or that result will do, or we can afford to do this or that.”