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.

Napoli fans wear Koulibaly masks to support defender after racial abuse

NAPLES, ITALY - FEBRUARY 07:  Fans of Napoli  during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Carpi FC at Stadio San Paolo on February 7, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
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Napoli fans showed their support for Kalidou Koulibaly on Sunday after the Senegalese center-back was the subject of racial abuse in a match against Lazio last week.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

The Lazio match was temporarily stopped in the second half as Lazio supporters hurled racial insults at Koulibaly.

At Napoli’s match against Carpi on Sunday, fans wore Koulibaly masks and painted signs in his honor to show their support for the 24-year-old defender.

A statement from Napoli’s supporters’ group read: “Everyone in Naples is offended by what happened to our young star. Because of this, we want to show our full support to Koulibaly.”

[ VIDEO: Van Gaal rips journalist who questions his Manchester United future ]

Lazio was fined more than $50,000 and will be forced to close certain sections of their stadium for the next two league matches because of the incident.

Afobe says he scored 15 goals a game with Harry Kane at the Arsenal academy

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on February 2, 2016 in London, England.
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Benik Afobe and Harry Kane are Premier League foes, but as kids, they were teammates.

Now Afobe is at Bournemouth and Kane at Tottenham, though both strikers played together with the Arsenal U-9 team as children.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal ]

While Kane left Arsenal at 10 and eventually settled at crosstown rivals Tottenham, Afobe stayed under contract with the club until 2015 despite never making an appearance for the Gunners.

Afobe went on six loan spells before moving to Wolverhampton last season, then joining Bournemouth in January.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With three goals in his first five Premier League matches for the Cherries, Afobe is no stranger to scoring, as he said he would combine with Harry Kane for 15 goals a game back in the day.

I’ve got pictures of us from Arsenal.

He was so small at the time, a bit of a late developer, but he’s always loved scoring. The scores used to be 17-15 and stuff – we just knew we’d score in every game.

But it’s weird because he used to play in goal sometimes, and wasn’t bad actually. You wouldn’t think it – remember that goal he let in for Tottenham a couple of years ago (against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League) when he had to play in goal.

I think Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs’ supporters are happy Harry Kane chose to play striker over goalkeeper…

[ MORE: Deficiencies visible on both sides as Chelsea draw Manchester United ]

Kane has proven that he is an elite goalscorer in the Premier League, and Afobe is off to a fine start himself. With both players just 22-years-old, we’ll likely be seeing many more goals to come from the duo.

Gary Neville under pressure as Valencia without a win in nine

EIBAR, SPAIN - DECEMBER 13:  Head coach Gary Neville of Valencia CF reacts during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and Valencia CF at Ipurua Municipal Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
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Gary Neville was appointed manager at Valencia on December 2. He is still yet to win a La Liga match.

After falling 1-0 to Real Betis on Sunday, Neville is now winless in nine league matches at Valencia as pressure grows on the new boss.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

Some have called for Neville to step down from his position, as the club has fallen from 8th to 13th and now sit just four points clear of the drop.

However, the former Manchester United legend has said he has been judged too quickly and will work hard to turn things around.

I said before I came that I would be judged in five months. I have been judged in six weeks.

There’s no doubt that at times like this everyone needs to stay together.

Everyone suffers. It’s just not going for us at the moment. I continue to work, I continue to have belief.

Conversations with the owners are between me and the owners. We have to turn it round quickly, I understand that. It is hard to explain the defeat. It will turn.

Not only has Neville struggled in La Liga play, but he has also seen Valencia bounced from the Champions League and saw his side smashed 7-0 by Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semifinal.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United ]

Valencia’s next league match is on Saturday against Espanyol, who sit three points below Valencia and haven’t won a match since December. If Neville fails to win again, there could be some real trouble at the Mestalla.

PSG down Marseille 2-1 for ninth-straight Le Classique win

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 21:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic #10 of Paris Saint-Germain is congratulated by teamamte Maxwell #17 after Ibrahimovic scored a goal in the second half against AFC Fiorentina during the International Champions Cup at Red Bull Arena on July 21, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.Paris Saint-Germain defeated ACF Fiorentina 4-2.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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France’s biggest rivalry has been quite one-sided, as Paris Saint-Germain defeated Marseille 2-1 on Sunday to take their ninth-straight Le Classique.

Marseille’s last win over PSG in Ligue 1 play was in November of 2011.

[ MORE: Juve win 14th straight ]

PSG got off to a dream start in Sunday’s Classique as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in the opening two minutes to give the Le Parisiens an early lead. It was Zlatan’s league-leading 21st goal of the season.

On loan from Newcastle, Remy Cabella equalized for Marseille in the 25th minute. Cabella scored on a brilliant individual effort, taking the ball from his own half on a solo run to the PSG box before firing a low shot into the bottom corner.

[ RELATED: Lewandowski’s agent confirms contract talks with Bayern Munich ]

However, PSG pushed on and claimed the win thanks to a 71st minute goal from Angel di Maria, who has been impressing in his first season in Paris. With eight goals and ten assists in Ligue 1 play, only Zlatan has been involved in more goals than di Maria.

Through 25 matches, PSG hold a ridiculous 24-point lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table.