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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′)

Andy King: If Leicester can win PL, Wales can win EURO 2016

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 07:  Andy King of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Everton at The King Power Stadium on May 7, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Andy King is still riding high from Leicester City’s Premier League title, and that confidence is carrying over into EURO 2016.

The Foxes midfielder and Welsh international sees no reason why Wales can’t win the tournament, despite having 80-1 odds to do so.

[ MORE: England’s EURO squad ]

Of course, Leicester began the Premier League season as 5,000-1 underdogs to lift the trophy.

We’ve got to win six or seven games compared to 38.

80-1 against 5000-1. You know which one you would rather back. We are a talented group and I believe we have the best player in the tournament.

Gareth [Bale] is probably the best player in the tournament in many people’s opinion, so why can’t we go there and do something? We are confident we can do that.

If Wales were to win the EURO this summer, the story truly would rival that of Leicester. The Dragons have never played in a European Championship before, and the nation’s only other appearance at a major tournament came back at the 1958 World Cup.

[ MORE: Payet, Milner make top-five of UEFA’s “player barometer” ]

You may not agree that Gareth Bale is the best player in the tournament, but he is surely near the top of the list. Bale’s play will likely determine how far Wales can go, drawn into Group B alongside England, Slovakia, and Russia.

Report: West Ham offer $22 million for AC Milan striker Carlos Bacca

MILAN, ITALY - MARCH 20:  Carlos Bacca of AC Milan celebrates his goal during the Serie A match between AC Milan and SS Lazio at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on March 20, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
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West Ham’s search for an elite striker continues, with their newest target AC Milan’s Carlos Bacca.

According to Sky Sports, the Hammers have bid $22 million for the striker, who led Milan with 18 goals in Serie A play last season.

However, after paying $34 million to sign the striker last summer, it is believed Milan would be unwilling to sell their top scorer for less than $30 million.

MORE: All 2015-16 PL season reviews ]

At 29-years-old, Bacca has been one of Europe’s most consistent forwards over the past few seasons. After bagging 49 goals in 108 appearances for Sevilla, he earned a move to Milan last July, finishing third in Serie A scoring in his first year with the club.

West Ham’s chairman David Gold has been open about his desire to sign a world-class striker, with Lyon confirming that they rejected a $45 million bid from the Hammers for Alexandre Lacazette.

VIDEO: Neymar takes batting practice before New York Mets game

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 31:  Brazilian soccer player  Neymar Jr stands in the New York Mets dugout before the game against the Chicago White Sox at Citi Field on May 31, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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We all know Neymar’s skills with a soccer ball, but what about with a baseball bat?

Spoiler alert: He’s better with his feet.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Copa coverage ]

The Barcelona and Brazil superstar was in New York on Tuesday night and hit up the batting cages at Citi Field before the Mets game against the Chicago White Sox.

Taking swings lefty, Neymar made some contact but didn’t necessarily have the smoothest stroke…

He then hit the field and got back to his roots, showing off some footskills while juggling a baseball.

I’m not too sure if Neymar is a baseball fan, but this may make him the Mets’ newest, most famous supporter (sorry Jerry Seinfeld).

Neymar is in the United States as he has some time off after the long Barcelona season. He is not playing in the Copa America with Brazil, but will instead play in the Olympics in August.

Messi’s tax fraud case begins with player avoiding court

BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 17:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on  during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Valencia CF at Camp Nou on April 17, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Lionel Messi’s tax trial began Tuesday with the player deciding not to appear in court for early proceedings.

Messi is facing a prison sentence of nearly two years on charges he failed to properly pay taxes for part of his earnings from Barcelona from 2007-09.

[ FOLLOW: All of PSTS’s Copa coverage ]

The Argentina playmaker is not obligated to appear in the Barcelona court until Thursday, when he is scheduled to testify before a judge. Sentencing is not expected until next week.

Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, have been charged with three counts of tax fraud for allegedly defrauding Spain’s tax office of 4.1 million euros ($4.5 million).

Because of the trial, Messi is missing Argentina’s preparation for the Copa America Centenario, which begins Saturday in the United States. He is expected to fly straight to the U.S. to join his teammates after the trial ends. Argentina debuts in the tournament on Monday against defending champion Chile.

Even if found guilty, it is highly unlikely that Messi or his father will face any jail time. They have denied wrongdoing.

[ COPA AMERICA PREVIEWS: Group A | BC | D ]

“Everything is good. Everybody is calm,” said Messi’s lawyer, Enrique Bacigalupo, as he arrived at the Barcelona court on Tuesday.

The trial is centered on alleged unlawful activities of Messi’s father, but authorities said the player knew enough to also be named in the case. Officials said that although Messi was mostly unfamiliar with tax issues, there was sufficient evidence to believe he could have known and consented to the creation of a fictitious corporate structure to avoid paying taxes on income from his image rights.

In addition to each facing a prison sentence of 22 months and 15 days, Messi and his father could also be fined in the amount defrauded and ordered to pay all legal proceedings and the loss of any possible tax benefits for a year and a half.

Messi is just the latest high-profile player to have to deal with Spain’s tough tax system. Neymar, Javier Mascherano, Adriano and Xabi Alonso also were targeted by authorities recently.

[ MORE: Marcelo giving away UCL winners’ medal…on Facebook ]

Mascherano, Messi’s teammate with Argentina and Barcelona, earlier this year was handed a suspended one-year prison sentence for not paying nearly 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million) in taxes for 2011 and 2012. Brazil striker Neymar recently had to testify before a judge because of alleged irregularities involving his transfer to Barcelona. He and the club were accused of withholding the real amount of the transfer fee, in part to avoid paying the full amount of taxes.

Messi was also being investigated by Spanish tax authorities after his name was among those released in the probe of international offshore accounts, known as the Panama Papers, although he was not charged for those allegations.