Extra time GK switch works, as Krul leads Dutch past Costa Rica in PKs

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Those pesky Ticos were at it again on Saturday in the World Cup quarterfinals, taking the Netherlands to penalty kicks at the Arena Fonte Nova.

But an unorthodox goalkeeper substitution by Louis van Gaal allowed Tim Krul to be the hero in penalty kicks, stopping two Costa Rica shooters on way to a 0-0 (4-3) win and a spot alongside Argentina, Germany and Brazil in the semifinals.

The sixth 2014 World Cup match to go to extra time had plenty of thrilling moments, most of them coming courtesy of brilliant Levante keeper Keylor Navas.

Robin van Persie missed at least three gold chances. Wesley Sneijder hammered two shots off the woodwork. Arjen Robben was a dribbling mastermind (but infuriating embellisher), dancing through Costa Rica’s stingy defense. But he was unable to find his fourth goal of the tournament.

Costa Rica manager Jorge Luis Pinto continued his masterful job by removing Los Ticos from their full-attacking ways. Instead, the Costa Rican team played for the counter. When they did scoop up the ball, their transition was strong.

And van Gaal wasn’t about to be out-managed without doing something wild, pulling off Jasper Cillessen in the 122nd minute, moments after the keeper made a great save. It would be Newcastle United’s Tim Krul to face the firing line.

To kicks, where Borges made his and Van Persie followed. Krul stopped Ruiz, and Robben finished his chance. The Columbus Crew’s Giancarlo Gonzlez scored to put the burden to Sneijder, but the Dutchman scored, too.

Bolanos and Kuyt both finished, meaning Umana would have to succeed on his chance. He didn’t. Krul made the save. The Netherlands won.

How did we get there? Here’s what we were saying at halftime.

To the second half, where Bruno Martins Indi took down Joel Campbell inside the box — and from behind — as the clock neared 60, and the case could’ve been made for a penalty. Referee Ravshan Irmatov was not swayed, however.

Wesley Sneijder nearly broke the deadlock in the 83rd minute with a flash of a free kick that bent a bit too far, striking the post before being cleared.

And van Persie had multiple chances to win it in regulation, the most grievous miss coming on a super flub in the 89th minute. Sneijder’s cross was perfect, but RVP was anticipating contact and failed to connect with the ball.

And later, in the third of four minutes of stoppage time, van Persie’s would-be winner was denied by Yeltsin Tejeda. The Costa Rican defender was on the near post to deflect the ball off the bottom of the cross bar and out.

Extra time found more shining examples of Navas at work, as Robben’s corner kick met Sneijder on the doorstep. But Navas pushed it aside, but moments later it was fear for Los Ticos. The keeper landed on Dirk Kuyt after leaping to corral a corner and needed medical attention, yet stayed on.

Los Ticos made it through the first 15 minutes of stoppage time. Netherlands continued to push Navas, but with shots and physical contact. Substitute Klaas Jan Huntelaar made contact with the keeper’s face and earned a yellow card.

Cillessen’s chance to be hero came in the 117th, when Urena broke through and ripped a low shot that the Dutch keeper booted away.

The 119th minute saw Sneijder put another shot off the bar. Wow.

In strode Krul for Cillessen and then came kicks.

Lineups

Netherlands: Cillessen, Vlaar, De Vrij, Martins Indi (Huntelaar, 106′), Blind, Van Persie (c), Sneijder, Robben, Kuyt, Wijnaldum, Depay (Lens, 76′)

Costa Rica: Navas, Acosta, Gonzalez, Umana, Borges, Bolanos, Campbell (Urena, 65′), Ruiz (c), Diaz, Gamboa (Murie, 78′), Tejeda (Cubero, 96′)

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!

Ozil to Manchester United?!? Wenger reacts to gossip

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Sometimes, even the biggest Arsene Wenger detractors have to feel for the guy.

Coming off a thrilling late win in Serbia, one that saw Olivier Giroud cap off a team goal straight out of the creative Wenger playbook, the manager should’ve been discussing how to stretch those good vibes into this weekend’s visit to Goodison Park.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

Yet no. Instead of talking about how the Gunners would respect the struggling Toffees, Wenger had to address speculation from several outlets claiming Mesut Ozil would move to Manchester United, perhaps as soon as January.

Feeling it? No, no Wenger was not feeling it. From Arsenal.com:

“We have to deal with all kinds of speculation when the players are at the end of their contracts. On the other hand, to be professional is to give 100 per cent as long as you are somewhere. For the rest, we came out many times and said that’s the situation. It [the media] can come out tomorrow and say that he extends his contract here. It will be exactly the same, it will not change anything. When you play the next game, commit 100 per cent. … When a player plays for Arsenal Football Club, his commitment cannot be linked with the length of his contract, it has just to be linked with the responsibility and the ambition he has to win the football game.”
Of course most big clubs have to deal with such drama on a year-to-year basis and, yes, having Ozil and Alexis Sanchez still in town was completely avoidable. But the idea that Ozil could leave, for free, to Manchester United? We’re sure Gooners the world over will be thrilled with the gossip.

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

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Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.

Conte feels pressure, but “most important thing is to work”

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Chelsea has sputtered a bit in its bid to repeat as Premier League champions, though this isn’t quite “stop me if you’ve heard this one before.”

The Blues sit fifth in the Premier League table with 13 points, nine behind leaders Manchester City, and tossed away a 2-0 lead before rallying to draw Roma at midweek.

The Blues host fourth-placed Watford to kick off Saturday’s Premier League action at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

[ MORE: West Ham 0-3 Brighton ]

And while fans are frustrated with the plan, Chelsea was in 15th at the end of October during Jose Mourinho’s ill-fated follow-up to the 2014-15 Premier League title.

Still, manager Antonio Conte feels their pain, although he’s satisfied with the effort. From Chelsea’s official site:

“Do I feel the pressure? Every manager feels pressure, but I try to give all of myself into my job, so I’m happy when I go home because I know in every moment I give all of myself for the fans, the players and the club. In football you know anything can happen, but the most important thing is to work.”

Chelsea may not look as good as Man City or Manchester United, but is still well-positioned to finish amongst the leaders and is leading a very difficult UCL group with Roma and Atletico Madrid. Things are fine, but the gossip storm just won’t leave Conte and his future at Chelsea alone (Thanks, Italian press).