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.

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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′)

While PSG has won the title, Areola’s playing for his future

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PARIS (AP) Although Paris Saint-Germain has easily won the French title, Alphonse Areola still has plenty to play for.

The next four games could be crucial in deciding whether PSG keeps the goalkeeper or tries to sign a big name in the transfer window, possibly Thibaut Courtois. The 25-year-old Areola is the same age as Courtois, but has nowhere near the international standing of the Chelsea keeper.

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It is hard for Areola to stand out, however, in a team noted almost singularly for its attacking prowess. While PSG has already scored more than 100 league goals, and remains on course to reach 100 points this season, Areola has rarely been talked about.

The common perception is that PSG will thrash teams in the French league, so letting in a goal or two is irrelevant.

However, Areola has been one of PSG’s most consistent players this season, and last Sunday he made a personal record of eight saves in a 1-0 win at Bordeaux.

He was also one of the few PSG players to come through the loss to Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League with any credit. Without Areola’s shot-stopping, and particularly his bravery rushing off his line, the 5-2 aggregate loss would have been bigger.

With 104 goals, PSG’s attack is the best in the league by far and has netted 25 more than deposed champion Monaco.

But PSG’s defense is also the best and Areola has conceded only 21 goals in the 31 he has played. Although PSG has dominated most of those, losing only twice all season, he has still made on average four saves per game.

Having replaced Kevin Trapp as No. 1, Areola has missed only three league games all season. It represents a reversal for both.

When Trapp was signed by former coach Laurent Blanc in 2015-16, Areola went on loan to Spanish club Villarreal. He established himself as regular in Villarreal’s side and gained further experience in the Europa League. Spanish media were largely impressed by his consistency and his agility on the goal-line.

He returned to PSG and battled with Trapp for the starting position last season. But coach Unai Emery seemed unsure who he really preferred, with Trapp starting 24 games to Areola’s 14. PSG ended up losing the title to Monaco.

But the hierarchy is much clearer now and the error-prone Trapp, once hailed by Blanc for his passing out from goal, is the one expected to leave.

Areola has further incentive to do well with the World Cup coming up. He is challenging Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to be France’s No. 2 behind Hugo Lloris in Russia. For now, Areola is a squad member but has yet to make an international appearance under coach Didier Deschamps.

But he has done well at every level for France, starting with the under-16s a decade ago. He got his first taste of international success when he helped France win the Under-20 World Cup in 2013.

While Paul Pogba was one of the stars of the tournament, Areola’s crowning moment came in the final itself. France drew 0-0 with Uruguay and he saved two shots in the penalty shootout. Prior to the shootout he had a word with France’s designated penalty takers, confidently telling them “do your job and I’ll do mine.”

With Emery almost certain to be replaced next season, it promises to be a frenetic offseason of buying and selling at the club.

But whoever replaces Emery should perhaps think twice before letting Areola leave. The Parisian-born Areola came through the youth ranks at PSG, as did center half Presnel Kimpembe and midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

Star-studded sides like PSG often import their best players and fans are happy to see them arrive, because it shows ambition. But they nevertheless identify more closely with homegrown talents such as Areola.

More AP Ligue 1 coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Ligue1

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Infantino has ‘full confidence’ in Samoura amid ethics issue

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he retains “full confidence” in secretary general Fatma Samoura after an attempt to embroil her in an ethics investigation.

[ MORE: Turkey hands in bid plans to UEFA for 2024 EUROs ]

Samoura has expressed irritation at “totally ridiculous and baseless” claims she broke FIFA rules by not declaring an alleged conflict of interest in the 2026 World Cup bidding contest.

FIFA has not specified the exact nature of the complaint or the progress of any ethics investigation after it was alleged she was a relative of former Senegal player El Hadji Diouf, who is an ambassador for Morocco’s bid.

Samoura insisted on Wednesday the former Liverpool forward “is not a member of my family and therefore everything is crystal clear.”

FIFA’s top administrator received a public show of support from Infantino.

“I can confirm my full confidence in Fatma Samoura to lead the FIFA administration,” Infantino said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The former United Nations official was hired by Infantino in 2016 months after he was elected as Sepp Blatter’s successor.

Morocco is due to take on a joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico in the June 13 vote for the 2026 World Cup host.

Photo: Flamengo supporter tattoos club jersey on body

MAURÍCIO DOS ANJOS VIA VICE
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A supporter in Brazil has taken fandom to a whole new level with a piece of body art that shows his devotion to the club.

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Maurício dos Anjos, a passionate Flamengo fan, has been a life-long supporter of the Rio de Janeiro-based club, and has the tattoo to prove it.

While it may look like body paint, Dos Anjos has a tattoo on the upper-half of his body depicting the Flamengo jersey, and it’s pretty awesome.

“People ask me if I don’t find it strange that I’m always wearing a Flamengo shirt. And I just don’t,” dos Anjos told VICE. “To me, it’s normal. But it doesn’t seem like anyone I talk to about it actually dislikes my tattoo.”

In total, Dos Anjos says the body work took over 90 hours and 30 sessions to complete the tattoo.

Has the perception of MLS really changed?

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When David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles back in 2007 his presence changed the complexion of Major League Soccer for all the right reasons, and the perception of the growing league changed.

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Over the years, MLS has strived to move into the upper-echelon of the global game, in an attempt to compete with the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, but naysayers still indicate to this day that the United States’ top flight lacks the quality of the aforementioned.

Phrases like “retirement league” and “uninspired” have been used to describe MLS in the past, particularly when it comes to the league’s willingness to spend boatloads of cash on notable players well past their prime.

Examples such as Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard and Rafael Marquez have at times dampened the perception of MLS due to the lack of quality on the pitch from those players, along with several others that had previously boasted extensive resumes.

Now, we’re at a time where MLS has picked up its scouting, with clubs focused more on younger, more skilled talents from South America and Europe.

That has led to major signings over the past several years, such as Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Diego Rossi and Jesus Medina, to name a few.

Has that changed the overall complexion of MLS though?

On Thursday, Kevin De Bruyne‘s agent, Patrick de Koster, suggested in an interview that the Belgium international would likely “finish” his career in MLS.

“For now, he’s very happy at this club,” De Koster said. “We always look what the best solution for the player, both financially and football wise. Kevin’s future? I can see him finish at Los Angeles.”

This comes on the heels of a 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining the LA Galaxy in a move that has sent shockwaves across the league and the world because of the Swede’s great presence on a global scale.

It’s not to say that players like Ibrahimovic, or previous signings like David Villa and Didier Drogba cannot help the overall growth of MLS, because they certainly bring an awareness to the matches and draw attention to their respective clubs.

However, the long-term viability of MLS has been and will continue to be sustained on youth players succeeding in the league, as well as being able to draw promising young talents into the top flight of the U.S.