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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′)

Napoli fans wear Koulibaly masks to support defender after racial abuse

NAPLES, ITALY - FEBRUARY 07:  Fans of Napoli  during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Carpi FC at Stadio San Paolo on February 7, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
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Napoli fans showed their support for Kalidou Koulibaly on Sunday after the Senegalese center-back was the subject of racial abuse in a match against Lazio last week.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

The Lazio match was temporarily stopped in the second half as Lazio supporters hurled racial insults at Koulibaly.

At Napoli’s match against Carpi on Sunday, fans wore Koulibaly masks and painted signs in his honor to show their support for the 24-year-old defender.

A statement from Napoli’s supporters’ group read: “Everyone in Naples is offended by what happened to our young star. Because of this, we want to show our full support to Koulibaly.”

[ VIDEO: Van Gaal rips journalist who questions his Manchester United future ]

Lazio was fined more than $50,000 and will be forced to close certain sections of their stadium for the next two league matches because of the incident.

Afobe says he scored 15 goals a game with Harry Kane at the Arsenal academy

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on February 2, 2016 in London, England.
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Benik Afobe and Harry Kane are Premier League foes, but as kids, they were teammates.

Now Afobe is at Bournemouth and Kane at Tottenham, though both strikers played together with the Arsenal U-9 team as children.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal ]

While Kane left Arsenal at 10 and eventually settled at crosstown rivals Tottenham, Afobe stayed under contract with the club until 2015 despite never making an appearance for the Gunners.

Afobe went on six loan spells before moving to Wolverhampton last season, then joining Bournemouth in January.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With three goals in his first five Premier League matches for the Cherries, Afobe is no stranger to scoring, as he said he would combine with Harry Kane for 15 goals a game back in the day.

I’ve got pictures of us from Arsenal.

He was so small at the time, a bit of a late developer, but he’s always loved scoring. The scores used to be 17-15 and stuff – we just knew we’d score in every game.

But it’s weird because he used to play in goal sometimes, and wasn’t bad actually. You wouldn’t think it – remember that goal he let in for Tottenham a couple of years ago (against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League) when he had to play in goal.

I think Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs’ supporters are happy Harry Kane chose to play striker over goalkeeper…

[ MORE: Deficiencies visible on both sides as Chelsea draw Manchester United ]

Kane has proven that he is an elite goalscorer in the Premier League, and Afobe is off to a fine start himself. With both players just 22-years-old, we’ll likely be seeing many more goals to come from the duo.

Gary Neville under pressure as Valencia without a win in nine

EIBAR, SPAIN - DECEMBER 13:  Head coach Gary Neville of Valencia CF reacts during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and Valencia CF at Ipurua Municipal Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
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Gary Neville was appointed manager at Valencia on December 2. He is still yet to win a La Liga match.

After falling 1-0 to Real Betis on Sunday, Neville is now winless in nine league matches at Valencia as pressure grows on the new boss.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

Some have called for Neville to step down from his position, as the club has fallen from 8th to 13th and now sit just four points clear of the drop.

However, the former Manchester United legend has said he has been judged too quickly and will work hard to turn things around.

I said before I came that I would be judged in five months. I have been judged in six weeks.

There’s no doubt that at times like this everyone needs to stay together.

Everyone suffers. It’s just not going for us at the moment. I continue to work, I continue to have belief.

Conversations with the owners are between me and the owners. We have to turn it round quickly, I understand that. It is hard to explain the defeat. It will turn.

Not only has Neville struggled in La Liga play, but he has also seen Valencia bounced from the Champions League and saw his side smashed 7-0 by Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semifinal.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United ]

Valencia’s next league match is on Saturday against Espanyol, who sit three points below Valencia and haven’t won a match since December. If Neville fails to win again, there could be some real trouble at the Mestalla.

PSG down Marseille 2-1 for ninth-straight Le Classique win

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 21:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic #10 of Paris Saint-Germain is congratulated by teamamte Maxwell #17 after Ibrahimovic scored a goal in the second half against AFC Fiorentina during the International Champions Cup at Red Bull Arena on July 21, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.Paris Saint-Germain defeated ACF Fiorentina 4-2.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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France’s biggest rivalry has been quite one-sided, as Paris Saint-Germain defeated Marseille 2-1 on Sunday to take their ninth-straight Le Classique.

Marseille’s last win over PSG in Ligue 1 play was in November of 2011.

[ MORE: Juve win 14th straight ]

PSG got off to a dream start in Sunday’s Classique as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in the opening two minutes to give the Le Parisiens an early lead. It was Zlatan’s league-leading 21st goal of the season.

On loan from Newcastle, Remy Cabella equalized for Marseille in the 25th minute. Cabella scored on a brilliant individual effort, taking the ball from his own half on a solo run to the PSG box before firing a low shot into the bottom corner.

[ RELATED: Lewandowski’s agent confirms contract talks with Bayern Munich ]

However, PSG pushed on and claimed the win thanks to a 71st minute goal from Angel di Maria, who has been impressing in his first season in Paris. With eight goals and ten assists in Ligue 1 play, only Zlatan has been involved in more goals than di Maria.

Through 25 matches, PSG hold a ridiculous 24-point lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table.