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.

De Gea remarks on that save after Man Utd draws Sevilla

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It was probably the save of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16’s first legs, as David De Gea slapped away Luis Muriel’s bid to give Sevilla a halftime lead over Manchester United on Wednesday in Spain.

[ MORE: Recap | Mourinho reacts ]

Playing in his home country, De Gea had a massive outing in the scoreless draw.

The defiance of Muriel was De Gea’s second big save of the first half’s closing moments, and one of eight in the match.

“It was a good moment, a good save of course, especially because of the moment in the game. It was the last minute of the first half, it was important to not concede a goal. We defended well. They had control of the game, but it remains open.”

Watch the save below, and then catch De Gea against Chelsea on Sunday as two of the Premier League’s biggest clubs duke it out for Top Four positioning at Old Trafford (Watch live Sunday at 9:05 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

New York City FC adds Stuttgart mid with option to buy

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New York City FC might’ve found its dynamic box-to-box midfielder.

Ebenezer Ofori, 22, is bringing his relentless motor and eight Ghanaian caps to the Bronx from Stuttgart on a one year loan deal with an option to buy.

[ MORE: Mourinho on Pogba performance ]

Ofori joined Stuttgart from Swedish side AIK Solna in the January 2017 transfer window, and played a role in the club’s promotion to the Bundesliga. He was a signficant part of Solna’s three-round run in Europa League qualification.

But he found very little time on the pitch once Stuttgart rejoined Germany’s top flight, and is taking his talents to MLS.

Here’s NYCFC boss Patrick Vieira:

“I’m really excited to bring in Ebenezer – he’s a young player who is looking to improve, he is really dynamic and can cover ground. He’s really aggressive but he’s good with the ball too. I’m really pleased that we managed to bring him to the football club.

“He’s a competitor, he’s a guy who likes to win, he’s a strong character. He’s coming to this club to compete with the midfielders we have and, like I always say, that will bring the best out of all of the players we have at this football club.”

Ofori joins a midfield with Alexander Ring, Maxi Moralez, and Yangel Herrera. It’s a promising signing, and a name with the potential to take big steps on the club and international scene.

And moves like this are going to continue to happen for NYCFC, because players will feel the allure of being under the eye of Manchester City and the pull of becoming City property. It’s a different dynamic than Chelsea’s loanees in that young players can make their name and be a star in a gigantic world city while attempting to ingratiate themselves with one of the world’s biggest clubs.

Mourinho: “Paul made a big effort”

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Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho had fine words for Paul Pogba, but was tickled by the performance of 21-year-old Scott McTominay in the Red Devils scoreless draw with Sevilla in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday.

[ RECAP: Sevilla 0-0 Man Utd ]

The visitors emerged unscathed, though without an away goal, and Mourinho raised eyebrows when he kept Pogba on the bench to start the match. The young McTominay started the match, and was paired with Pogba once Ander Herrera left the match with injury.

When a reporter asked Mourinho about McTominay after the match, the boss asked if he could give the reporter a hug before elaborating (via the BBC):

“In the press conference, the questions were about Paul [Pogba] but the question should be about the kid. He was fantastic. He did everything well. He put pressure on Ever Banega and stopped him playing, he’s their playmaker. I think Scott was brilliant.

“I think Paul made a big effort to try to give the team what I asked of him. Paul replaced Ander, he tried to bring to the game the same kind of qualities. He lost a couple of possessions but he also gave us stability because we had a good percentage of possession for the way we played.”

Mourinho was sure to include Nemanja Matic as a big part of the midfield trio.

The Pogba-Mourinho questions aren’t going to go away any time soon, though it should be noted — perhaps strongly — that the player was ill this weekend and United has to face Chelsea in Premier League play this weekend.

Still, he couldn’t help but mention how much he believes “Old Trafford has missed a big European night,” and how he’s looking forward to a potentially big win come March 13.

Nil-nil in Seville as De Gea stars

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  • English sides unbeaten vs. La Liga in UCL season (2-6)
  • Pogba subs into match for Herrera, 17′
  • De Gea with seven saves for United

David De Gea was the star as Manchester United escaped Sevilla with a scoreless draw in the first leg of the two sides’ UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Sevilla won a corner kick within 90 seconds, but the ball made its way through the 18 without finding a receiver.

Ander Herrera sprung Alexis Sanchez down the middle, but Jesus Navas cut across to catch the Chilean and thwart the United chance.

Navas then dragged a shot across goal and past a diving David De Gea but inches wide of the far post.

A Herrera injury — yes, another injury United supporters — meant Paul Pogba would join the fray after just 17 minutes with the key position in the 4-3-3.

Lukaku botched a terrific diagonal cross from Sanchez with a blast over the goal in the 25th minute.

The 38th minute saw Scott McTominay pump a ball right at Sergio Rico for the Sevilla backstop’s first save, and Angl Correa’s low shot was collected by De Gea for a third Red Devils save.

De Gea then made a leaping save on Steven N’Zonzi’s redirection of a bicycle kick just before halftime, and then slapped Luis Muriel’s header over the bar before the whistle.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

De Gea nabbed another save, his sixth in the contest, when Clement Lenglet got his head on an Ever Banega free kick in the 64th minute.

A Sanchez giveaway provided Sevilla the chance to counter, and Muriel couldn’t get the step back needed to power a header past De Gea.

United had a goal pulled back in the 83rd minute as the ball struck Lukaku’s arm in the build-up.