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.

Serie A: Napoli, Juve hold serve in 1-point title race

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona now 31 games unbeaten | Real Madrid 17 points behind ]

Napoli 1-0 SPAL 2013

The battle for Serie A supremacy isn’t ending anytime soon, as Napoli and Juventus continue to match one another (nine straight wins for each side) in Europe’s only remaining major title race.

On Sunday, they even traded 1-0 victories — Napoli at home to SPAL 2013, with Juve triumphing over Torino in the Turin derby.

Brazilian midfielder Allan bagged the only goal for Napoli after just six minutes, finishing off a mesmerizing, free-flowing move that’s become synonymous with Napoli this season. The video-assisting referee came into play just after the hour mark, when Marek Hamsik headed home to make it 2-0 before the VAR wiped it away for offside.

Napoli’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest in club history.

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Juve’s victory came at something of a cost, though, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain was lost to an ankle injury after just a quarter-hour (the injury occurred after just three minutes), followed by a potentially serious knee injury for Federico Bernardeschi, who replaced Higuain, in second-half stoppage time. Higuain isn’t expected to miss significant time, with the club calling it a twisted ankle.

In between the injuries came Alex Sandro‘s 33rd-minute winner, a tap-in from close range masterfully set up by Bernardeschi. One additional positive for Juve: Sunday also saw Paulo Dybala return after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. The Argentine star entered as a second-half substitute.

“Paulo played 30 minutes at a good level,” Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m pleased with his and everyone else’s performance. This is a good result against a well-organized Torino side.”

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria
Atalanta 1-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 2-1 Sassuolo
Benevento 3-2 Crotone

VIDEO: Reus scores stunning winner for Dortmund

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BERLIN (AP) Marco Reus scored his first Bundesliga goal of the season to give Borussia Dortmund a 1-0 win at his former team Borussia Moenchengladbach on Sunday.

Reus, Andre Schuerrle and Mario Goetze started for the first time together for Dortmund, and the three Germany teammates were all involved in the 32nd-minute goal.

Goetze played the ball to Schuerrle, who crossed for Reus on the right. Reus looked up and lifted the ball over ‘Gladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer to score off the underside of the crossbar.

“It was a good goal. I think he wanted to do that,” Sommer said.

Reus, who returned from a serious knee injury last weekend against Hamburger SV, said he wanted to play the ball further to the left “but the important thing is it went in.”

Goalkeeper Roman Buerki was man of the match for producing a string of saves to deny the home side what would have been a deserved equalizer.

Dortmund moved second, 19 points behind Bayern Munich, while ‘Gladbach stayed 10th after its fourth consecutive defeat without scoring.

Dortmund forward Michy Batshuayi failed to score for the first time in four games since his deadline-day switch from Chelsea, though he wasn’t helped by the poor condition of the pitch. Some players lost their footing as the grass gave way.

La Liga: Real Madrid win wild one, now just 17 points behind Barca

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona ties club-record 31-game unbeaten run ]

Real Betis 3-5 Real Madrid

So long as they manage to hold off Sevilla for fourth place (Champions League qualification), Real Madrid will quickly move on from their disastrous 2017-18 season, spend a half-billion dollars in the summer and pretend like the 12 preceding months never even happened.

For a brief period on Saturday — nearly 30 minutes including the halftime intermission — that plan appeared fatally flawed and at risk. After going 1-0 up away to Real Betis courtesy of Marco Asensio’s 11th-minute opener, Los Blancos found themselves in big trouble after Aissa Mandi leveled things up in the 33rd minute, followed by a Nacho own goal four minutes later.

Five minutes into the second half, Sergio Ramos drew the visitors level, followed by another from Asensio in the 59th minute. Cristiano Ronaldo made it 4-2 six minutes later, at which point Madrid appeared home free.

Sergio Leon pulled Betis to within one in the 85th minute, but Karim Benzema restored the two-goal lead in the 91st, less than two minutes after replacing Ronaldo.

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Athletic Bilbao

With Barcelona still unbeaten on the La Liga season, the title is all but decided with more than three months still to play. That hasn’t stopped Atleti, though, as Diego Simeone’s side, which has lost just once in the league, continues to pursue Lionel Messi and Co. Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao moved Los Rojiblancos back to within seven points of Barca with a dozen games, and one head-to-head matchup, still to play.

Kevin Gameiro scored what turned out to be the winner in the 67th minute, followed not long after by Diego Costa‘s second league goal of the season (fourth in all competitions) to make it 2-0.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Sociedad 3-0 Levante
Espanyol 1-1 Villarreal

VAR provider apologizes for wrong image of offside Man Utd goal

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Whether or not you’re in favor of the use of video-assistant refereeing the world over — and, more specifically, English soccer — one thing on which we can all agree has become abundantly clear: VAR’s maiden voyage has been a chaotic, poorly conducted mess.

[ MORE: Jose Mourinho demands VAR calls be “perfect” ]

Any change to the game’s century-old rules and practices — especially of VAR’s monumental proportions — must be implemented and executed without a hitch. Any issues that had arisen prior to this weekend were minor in significance and import, but that all changed on Saturday, when Manchester United’s Juan Mata had a goal wiped away by VAR (WATCH HERE).

Mata appeared to have timed his run perfectly and been onside before slotting home to put Man United 2-0 ahead of Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup fifth round. After consulting the off-site video assistant, the goal was taken off the board. While the slightest bit of Mata’s knee appeared to have been in an offside position, the issue lies in the fact that the images provided to television broadcasters, by VAR provider Hawkeye, displayed a clearly crooked line of demarcation.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

Hawkeye issued a statement on Sunday, acknowledging and apologizing for the faulty image provided to broadcasters, but insisted that a correct version of the image was seen by the refereed:

“A technical error led to an incorrect graphic being provided by Hawkeye to BT Sport on Saturday. To confirm, the VAR saw the correct image with the correct lines to make the decision. This was a case of the wrong image being provided to the broadcaster and we apologize.”

In the end, by the most stringent interpretation of the law, VAR got the call correct. But that won’t matter one iota in the court of public opinion, as one mistake as simple as a crooked line gives the impression that the entire operation is haphazard and not fit for practice.