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.

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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′)

Arsene Wenger to leave Arsenal

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After almost 22 years in charge, Arsene Wenger has called time on his Arsenal reign.

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Wenger, 68, announced on Friday that he will be leaving the Gunners at the end of the current 2017/18 campaign despite having one year remaining on his contract.

Here is the statement from Wenger in full which was posted on Arsenal’s website with the heading “Merci Arsene” taking center stage.

“After careful consideration and following discussions with the club, I feel it is the right time for me to step down at the end of the season,” Wenger said. “I am grateful for having had the privilege to serve the club for so many memorable years. I managed the club with full commitment and integrity. I want to thank the staff, the players, the Directors and the fans who make this club so special. I urge our fans to stand behind the team to finish on a high. To all the Arsenal lovers take care of the values of the club. My love and support for ever.”

The Frenchman is a man who revolutionized the Premier League when he arrived in 1996 and he will be remembered as a bastion of attractive, possession based soccer as his Arsenal team of the 2003/04 season, dubbed the “Invincibles,” will always be remembered for going through an entire PL season unbeaten en route to winning the title.

Wenger has won three Premier League titles, seven FA Cups and seven community shield trophies during his time in charge of Arsenal, as well as leading them to 20-straight seasons finishing in the top four of the Premier League and 19 qualifying for the UEFA Champions League.

That run ended last season as they finished in fifth and in the past few seasons there have been fan protests with “Wenger Out” or “Wenger In” dividing the fanbase.

However, Wenger’s tenure can end on a high in the Europa League as Arsenal face Atletico Madrid in the semifinals and he is essentially three wins away from returning Arsenal to the Champions League.

Wenger has so far managed Arsenal for 1,228 games with 704 wins in all competitions. His final game in charge will be the Europa League final in Lyon, if Arsenal get there. But his final Premier League game in charge of Arsenal will be away at Huddersfield Town on May 13.

The focus will now switch to who will take over from Wenger this summer with the likes of Diego Simeone, Carlo Ancelotti, Brendan Rodgers and Thomas Tuchel all linked with the job.

But in the more immediate future the final few weeks of the 2017/18 campaign in England will turn into an appreciation of Wenger and all he has achieved over the last two decades in charge of Arsenal.

Reaction to Wenger’s departure from Arsenal

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Arsenal dropped a bombshell this morning as it announced manager Arden’s Wenger would step down at the end of the season.

[MORE: Arsene Wenger to leave Arsenal]

This immediately sent shockwaves across the globe, and it’s been getting plenty of reaction, right from Arsenal’s Home in London to all points east, west, north and south.

Heres a look at some of the reaction to Wenger’s decision.

(more…)

Is now the right time for Wenger to leave?

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Usually in this kind of situation the first question many ask is “why now?”

But almost unanimously the response when Arsene Wenger announced Friday that he will be leaving Arsenal at the end of the season was simply: “The time is now.”

[ MORE: Who will take over from Wenger?

Wenger, 68, has spent almost 22 years not only leading Arsenal to 10 major trophies but also reshaping the way English soccer developed. The Frenchman arrived in the Premier League in 1996 and revolutionized the game with his methods on and off the pitch as he created some of the greatest teams the PL, and the game, has ever seen with the “Invincibles” and all of the fantastic players who arrived in his first 10 years in charge.

But now feels like the right time for Wenger to move on. It is fitting that the end of an era will be as classy as the man himself. I’ve been lucky enough to talk to him and ask him questions over the years and he is someone who loves the game dearly and speaks with passion and intellect about so many things.

But, above all else, he loves Arsenal.

After leading Arsenal to 20-straight seasons in the top four and 19 in the UEFA Champions League, that run ended last season and the Gunners have now had their two worst seasons under Wenger back-to-back. They have regressed and even Wenger, a man who transformed Arsenal into a team admired around the world for their attacking play, knew his time was up.

With Wenger announcing his decision to step down with one year left on his current contract, it shows that he realizes fresh impetus is needed and the job of rebuilding Arsenal is not for him to lead.

Following two years of “Wenger Out” and empty seats starting to appear at the Emirates Stadium on a regular basis, this was what had to happen for Arsenal to move on from a legendary figure who kept winning FA Cups in recent seasons (three in the last five campaigns) to keep his success ticking over.

Wenger was totally committed to the club and put his own success to one side to help Arsenal negotiate the move from Highbury to the new stadium as players were sold and he turned down some of Europe’s biggest clubs. As he said in his statement, Arsenal will have Wenger’s “love and support forever” and he should have the stadium named after him and a statue in his honor.

He will now get the sendoff he deserves in the next few weeks as English soccer pays its respects to Wenger in the final five games of the Premier League campaign before it all ends on the final day of the season at Huddersfield Town on May 13.

Hanging over all of this is the chance for Wenger to ride off into the sunset and put Arsenal back in the Champions League for next season.

With a UEFA Europa League semifinal first leg against Atletico Madrid coming up next week and the return leg on May 3, Wenger has the chance to reach a major final in Lyon on May 16 to see out his incredible time at Arsenal.

But then what?

There is talk that Wenger may remain at Arsenal in a different role and go upstairs and help the directors — he is particularly close with majority owner Stan Kroenke — but in the past he has shared his belief that he could well manage elsewhere when he left the Gunners.

The French national team? Paris Saint-Germain? Both seem like sensible options for Wenger, with perhaps the former the best fit for him. If a talented crop of players don’t deliver for Didier Deschamps this summer at the World Cup, you’d think that French Football Federation may make a managerial change.

Wenger’s legacy will be intact at Arsenal no matter what he does in the future and no matter what happens in the final weeks of this season. The sight of him struggling with a zipper on the sidelines, berating an official or smiling as he applauds another fine team goal are almost over.

The time was now for him to move on. And Wenger now leaves Arsenal in a much better place than when he took over almost 22 years ago as the Gunners will aim to get back into the top four and the Premier League title conversation with a new man at the helm.

Arsene Wenger and Arsenal will always be inextricably intertwined but he has made the right call at the right time. His class remains.

Merci, Arsene.

Who are the favorites to take over at Arsenal?

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With Arsene Wenger announcing he will leave Arsenal at the end of the current season, the immediate focus switches to who will take charge of the Gunners beyond this season after almost 22 years of Wenger.

The bookmakers are having a field day slashing the odds of several managers previously linked with the job with nobody really knowing what direction Arsenal’s board will go with their next appointment.

Will they appoint an experienced manager? Or will it be a young coach with a fresh outlook a la Wenger back in 1996?

Here’s a look at the main contenders, according to Oddschecker.


Patrick Vieira (4/1) – Wenger spoke on Thursday about how Vieira has the potential to manage Arsenal but did mention now may be too early. The NYCFC manager has done a fine job in MLS but will Arsenal really hand the reins to their former captain and midfield general? Vieira’s appointment would be welcomed by fans who idolized him but maybe he is the man who should follow the man who replaces Wenger. That said, he is the early favorite to take charge of Arsenal.

Thomas Tuchel (5/1) – Out of work for 12 months, it was heavily reported that Tuchel had agreed to take charge of Arsenal a few months ago. The German coach did well at Borussia Dortmund as they won the German Cup and got the latter stages of the Champions League and he is known for giving youngsters a chance to shine. This would make a lot of sense given Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, his former players at Dortmund, arriving at Arsenal in January and the likes of Mesut Ozil around.

Joachim Loew (7/1) – Although the German national team manager has a contract through the 2020 European Championships, later this summer, after the 2018 World Cup, could be the time when Loew steps down from the German national team. He has built a World Cup-winning squad and may feel like he has done everything he can with Die Mannschaft. Loew hasn’t had experience of coaching a club on a day-to-day basis and that may be something which will concern Arsenal’s board.

Brendan Rodgers (7/1) – The odds have been slashed on Celtic’s manager taking charge of Arsenal. The former Liverpool manager (who came so close to winning the Premier League title in 2013/14) has certainly rebuilt his reputation at Celtic and we all know that Rodgers loves to play an attacking style. That fits in seamlessly with what Wenger has built at Arsenal, but would Rodgers’ appointment excite the Arsenal fans? Probably not. Also, with Rodgers known for his teams struggling defensively, there’s a sense that he will just be another Wenger and little progress will be made.

Massimiliano Allegri (10/1) – The Juventus manager is being linked with Chelsea and Arsenal this summer and it is easy to understand why. Allegri has led Juve to three-straight Italian doubles with a solid defensive approach, something Arsenal need more emphasis on if they’re going to make it back to the top four. Allegri has also reached the UEFA Champions League final in two of the three seasons. Seems like it would be a good appointment to improve Arsenal’s defensive unit and play.

Carlo Ancelotti (10/1) – The veteran Italian manager has won everything and he has won it everywhere but he usually takes over established teams with stars delivering. That’s not the case at Arsenal right now. Ancelotti has delivered success at AC Milan, PSG, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, but he will have to be trusted with a lot of cash to rebuild this Arsenal squad. The former Chelsea manager certainly knows the Premier League well after winning the title and the FA Cup in 2010, so there are no problems there.