Brazil team players leave the field after the World Cup semifinal soccer match between Brazil and Germany at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. Germany has routed host Brazil 7-1 and advanced to the final of the World Cup. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, Pool)

Brazil’s uneven semifinal run looms larger after disastrous result

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The questions seemed to weigh on Brazil’s defenders before the first half was even done. Increasingly confounded by failure after failure, allowing Germany to become the first semifinalist to score five goals in a half, the faces of David Luiz and Júlio César seemed desperate to figure out why this had happened. How did Brazil, a team that had only conceded four times in five games, allow itself to be down 5-0 in the 29th minute?

For the most soccer-crazed nation in the world, the post-mortem will be long and painful. In the past, government inquiries have been assembled to assess the team’s failures, though that probably won’t be required after such a clear, resounding result. From the midfield to the edge of César’s six-yard box, Brazil gave one of the tournament’s worst defensive performances. It was baddest of bad days.

[ MORE: Germany hammer hosts Brazil 7-1, yes 7-1, to make eighth World Cup final ]
[ MORE: Emotional captain David Luiz apologizes to the people of Brazil ]

It also highlighted the short-comings we saw in the build up. In Brazil’s opening game, a late, controversial penalty call have the pre-tournament favorites a go-ahead goal against Croatia. Against Mexico, the Selecao may have been the better side, but they weren’t playing up to the standards that made them favorites after last year’s Confederations Cup. The dominance Brazil showed in that tournament’s final against Spain never appeared at the World Cup.

In the knockout round, thing started to change. Brazil needed penalty kicks to beat Chile, by which time la Roja were a much-respected side. Advancing via a tiebreaker wasn’t ideal, but it was still viewed as progress. After a strong but volatile performance in the quarterfinals against Colombia, the question was less whether Brazil was headed in the right direction than whether their trajectory was steep enough.

Germany beats Brazil 7-1  |  How Brazil fell apart  |  Scolari takes blame  |  Luiz apologizes

Clearly, it wasn’t. If the first five games were the foundation, Brazil was on uneven ground. They’d yet to have a performance like Germany’s against France or Portugal, or the Netherlands’ against Spain or Chile. They had no proof of how good they were.

Add in the absences of Neymar and Thiago Silva, and the team was practically wounded. Perhaps today’s collapse was unpredictable, but after five matches that’d answered few questions, there was little reason beyond history and home field hope to believe in the Selecao.

That needed to be established before the semifinals. Over its first five games, Brazil needed to prove, to itself as much as everybody else, that the team could play at Germany’s level. But after the team fell behind in the first half, that belief wasn’t there.

Beating Colombia was something, but so was being drawn by Chile and Mexico. As Germany applied pressure with little regard for Brazil’s ability to pass through it, Luiz Felipe Scolari’s team no longer had a proof of concept to fall back on. Paralyzed by disbelief, they were set up to be run over.

[ MORE: Embracing greatness; quiet stardom; the coming autopsy: Talking points after Germany’s rout of Brazil ]
[ MORE: Brazil boss Luis Felipe Scolari takes blame for huge defeat: “I am responsible” ]

Be it in sports, science, or socially, it takes a confluence of remarkable factors to create any outlying result. Today, Brazil was without its two best players and while facing one of the more talented teams in the world. The pressure on them was extreme, with the stakes of a World Cup compounding any anxiety they felt after conceding so early. By the middle of the first half, everything had snowballed.

Part of that snowball was the preparation – an initial five games where Brazil failed to show significant progress. While that’s not enough to say today’s result was foreseeable, it was a contributing factor. Come the semifinals, Brazil wasn’t prepared to match Germany’s level.

UEFA Champions League final preview — Madrid’s finest Real or Atleti?

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 27:  Diego Simeone head coach of Atletico Madrid looks on during an Atletico de Madrid training session on the eve of the UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 27, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final isn’t quite the unstoppable force against the immovable object — Real’s defense is good and Atleti has plenty of attacking intent — but it’s fair if you’re expecting the Madrid Derby final to be Diego Simeone’s diligent defenders attempting to counter Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid’s potent attack.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed ]

Simeone’s built his name on tight teamwork, and La Liga teams broke Atleti down a mere 18 times in 38 matches this season. Before you crow about the weakness of Spain’s top flight from top to bottom, Real only managed a single goal against Atleti in a 1-1 draw that came at the Vicente Calderon. Atleti triumphed 1-0 at the Bernabeu to take four of six points from their derby mates.

But this is the big one, and a rematch of the late thriller we saw in the 2014 final. That’s when Diego Godin’s 36th minute goal came within seconds of being the difference, only for Sergio Ramos to net in stoppage time and Real to score three goals in extra time for a 4-1 win.

[ MORE: Torres ready for “game of my life” ]

Ronaldo will be fine to go, which is obviously bad news for Atleti. While his goal at the end of the 2014 final was just chiseled-ab window dressing, he has scored in both of his UCL finals (He scored for Manchester United in the 26th minute of their 2008 defeat of Chelsea).

(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

The beauty of Atleti’s defense is how well it springs into the attack, with Godin and Filipe Luis both capable of providing offense.

But really, with respect to Gabi and Antoine Griezmann… that defense! Atleti allowed three goals in the group stage, and just seven across its 12 UCL matches.

How will Simeone aim to stop Real this time around? Will it be banks of four or five, with Torres and Griezmann waiting to strike on a fleet-footed counter? That could serve their disciplined unit well, but something tells me Simeone has something special cooked up for this much-anticipated rematch, and manager is a distinct edge for Atleti against a still-learning Zinedine Zidane.

As an aside, Griezmann has been fantastic, scoring 32 times this year with seven coming in the UCL. Torres is second in scoring, with 12.

Championship playoff preview: Sheffield Wednesday vs. Hull City

DERBY, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 14:  Eldin Jakupovic of Hull City celebrates as Andrew Robertson of Hull City scores their third goal during the Sky Bet Championship Play Off semi final first leg match between Derby County and Hull City at the iPro Stadium on May 14, 2016 in Derby, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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One is hoping to rejoin the Premier League at the first time of asking, while the other to see its first top flight action since 2000 with a win in Saturday’s promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

Hull City did not make the top flight from its inception in 1904 until winning the playoffs in 2008. Since, the Tigers have spent a pair of 2-season stints in the Premier League.

Sheffield Wednesday, for its part, spent nine seasons in the top tier from 1991-2000, but fell as low as League One in the 21st century before a run to the playoffs this season.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine UCL final ]

Hull’s stingy defense allowed 35 goals this season, tied for the second-best mark in the league, while scoring the fourth-most goals (69). The Tigers finished in fourth place to Wednesday’s sixth, and the sides drew 0-0 at Hull and 1-1 in the reverse fixture.

Uruguayan striker Abel Hernandez was far and away Hull’s most deadly scorer, notching 21 goals in the Championship this season, while Sam Clucas paced the club with 8 assists.

Wednesday’s scoring was paced by former Watford attacker Fernando Forestieri’s 15 goals. Veteran Gary Hooper added 13 for the Owls, who got a team-best eight assists from Ross Wallace.

It’s the “richest game in sports”, and kicks off at Noon ET Saturday.

Sturridge injured again, Rashford set for England debut

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GATESHEAD, England (AP) England striker Daniel Sturridge has picked up another injury, potentially affecting his chances of being selected for the European Championship.

England manager Roy Hodgson says Sturridge has a calf injury that has prevented him from training and is a doubt to play in the warmup match against Australia on Friday. Hodgson has until Tuesday to finalize his 23-man squad for the tournament in France.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed | Speaks more ]

Sturridge has been beset by injury problems in recent years.

His latest injury increases the possibility of 18-year-old Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford‘s fairytale season being extended to include Euro 2016.

Hodgson said Thursday that Rashford will make his debut against Australia in Sunderland – as a starter if Sturridge isn’t fit. Rashford only made his United debut in February.

Ex-Leicester boss Pearson hired by Derby County

Nigel Pearson, Leicester City FC
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Nigel Pearson lives.

The combustible former manager of Southampton, Hull City and Leicester City will now lead Derby County in the hopes of Premier League promotion.

Derby has been on the edge of promotion to the Premier League for several seasons, but neither Steve McClaren and Darren Wassall could do the trick.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed | Speaks more ]

Enter Pearson, 52, who has been hired on a three-year deal. It’s his first stop since a roller coaster ride saw him guide Leicester into the Premier League, only to be fired in the aftermath of some players being involved in a racist sex tape incident on a tour of Thailand.

This was after a bizarre season that saw him put his hands on an opposing player’s throat, call a journalist an ostrich, and ultimately save Leicester from the drop.

From Derby County’s site:

“I am honoured to be named as the Manager of Derby County, which is one of the biggest clubs in the country, a club in excellent shape and one with strong ambitions. It is firmly focused on achieving Premier League football.

“I will give absolutely everything I have to this role and do all I can to bring exciting, entertaining and winning football which our supporters can be proud of.”

At the very least, the Rams will be interesting to watch next season.