Memory lane: Looking back at best World Cup semifinals in history

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Two World Cup semifinals are coming your way this week, as Brazil face Germany on Tuesday, then Argentina and the Netherlands clash on Wednesday.

With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to take a nice little trip down memory lane and reminisce about some of the best World Cup semifinals of past tournaments.

[ RELATED: How will Brazil-Germany line up? ]

There are plenty of thrillers to chose from, as there’s nothing quite like the tension of being one game away from getting the chance to win it all, or blowing it at the penultimate hurdle.

Here’s a look back at five World Cup semifinals that have lived long in the memory.

1958: France 2-5 Brazil 

With France and Just Fontaine ripping teams apart at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, many fancied Brazil’s young team to come unstuck in Stockholm in the semis. This game turned into an instant classic as Fontaine and Vava both scored within the opening 10 minutes. However it was a 17-year-old from Santos by the name of Pele who would then turn the game on its head, as his second half hat trick sealed the lopsided win as Brazil went on to beat hosts Sweden by the same score in the final. Attacking soccer at its best as two talented teams slugged it out in Sweden.

1982: France 3-3 Germany (Germany win 5-4 on penalties)

A pulsating clash from start to finish in Seville, as a Michel Platini inspired France took the game to Germany. Tied at 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes, the match then exploded into life as four more goals were scored in extra time. The game ended 3-3 and went to the dreaded penalty shootout. Germany (of course) won on PKs as this exhausting  match saw a clash of styles from two European superpowers.

1990: Italy 1-1 Argentina (Argentina win 4-3 on penalties)

The hosts were going up against Argentina and Diego Maradona, who was leading the reigning World Champions through a tumultuous tournament. At the time Maradona played for Napoli and his hero status was through the roof. This semifinal played out in his home stadium in Naples, as the locals were torn between cheering for their country and their idol, Maradona. Early on Italy went ahead through Toto Schillachi, but Argentina equalized in the second half through Claudio Caniggia. The game ebbed and flowed as tension gripped the air inside the Stadio Sao Paulo. Argentina were reduced to 10-men but hung on for penalties, as they knocked out the hosts in the most agonizing fashion.

2006: Germany 0-2 Italy (After Extra Time)

Once again the host nation came unstuck in the semifinals, as Germany were hit by two late sucker-punches. Locked at 0-0 for the entire match, entering the last two minutes of extra time Fabio Grosso scored a stunning curling effort with his left foot to break German hearts. The goal had been coming as Italy abandoned their defensive style in extra time and Jens Lehman and his woodwork somehow kept them at bay. Then as Germany pushed for a late, late equalizer, the Italians broke again and Alessandro Del Piero put the game to bed. Wonderful drama.

2010: Uruguay 2-3 Netherlands 

Oscar Tabarez’s Uruguay shocked everyone by making it to the World Cup semifinals but eventually came unstuck against a stacked Dutch side. Giovanni van Bronckhorst hammered home one of the best goals ever seen in World Cup history from 40-yards out early on, but Diego Forlan’s swerving effort made it 1-1 at the break. In the second half both teams battled to go ahead but Holland broke through twice in the space of three minutes to go 3-1 up. Uruguay then hit back late on through Maxi Pereira’s free kick but the Netherlands held on to reach their first final since 1978.

Mourinho: Mkhitaryan “disappeared” during games, got dropped

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It would appear that Henrikh Mkhitaryan has become the new Luke Shaw, who not so long ago became the new Juan Mata, who had become the new Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Pepe, who all previously become the new Kaka and Mesut Ozil — players previously perceived to be undroppable, only to fall out of favor and be dropped from Mourinho’s side.

[ MORE: Carrick back in training after operation to fix irregular heartbeat ]

Similarly to many of the aforementioned stars of Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid sides of the not-so-distant past, Mourinho recently singled out Mkhitaryan for not working hard enough for the team and failing to meet expectations with his performances.

Mkhitaryan last featured in Man United’s 1-0 loss to Chelsea on Nov. 5, prior to the most recent international break. He played just 62 minutes, to follow an UEFA Champions League appearance of just 45 minutes against Benfica. Mkhitaryan was then absent from the substitute’s bench for a victory over Newcastle United and a defeat to Basel.

[ MORE: Pochettino sees Sanchez as one of world’s best defenders already ]

In Mourinho’s mind, Mkhitaryan hasn’t merited a place in the team — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was not happy with his last performances. I’m not speaking about one or two, I’m speaking about three, four or five. He started the season very well and after that, step by step, he was disappearing. His performance levels in terms of goalscoring and assists, pressing, recovering the ball high up the pitch, bringing the team with him as a no. 10, were decreasing.

“That was enough [to drop him] because the others worked to have a chance. Everybody works to have a chance. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t know if Mkhitaryan will start but, for sure, he will be back in the group. For him to be back to the group, it means that somebody is going to leave the group.”

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

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It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

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Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.