Who do you like? A neutral’s guide to the World Cup’s ‘Final Four’

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Four big names remain in the chase for the 2014 World Cup, but in several cases these are not your grandfather’s international powers. Either Germany, Argentina, Brazil or the Netherlands will win the world’s greatest tournament, and we’re here to discuss the pros and cons of each team lifting the appropriately-named FIFA World Cup Trophy.

[MORE – Preview: Expectations weight heavy on tournament favorites as Brazil faces Germany ]

(Warning: This is pretty tongue-in-cheek).

Option 1: The host nation

Brazil is the most-accomplished World Cup champion in the history of the tournament. They have won the thing five times, appeared in seven finals and finished fourth or better in an almost-absurd 10 of 20 tournaments. Only Germany has finished in the Top Four more times (12, eight times as West Germany)

Pros: They will have triumphed without their best player, Neymar. The people of Brazil deserve something for the trouble of paying for a tournament that many didn’t want. Rainforests wouldn’t have been wasted in defeat.

Cons: They have arguably been the villains of the tournament, playing foul-heavy and getting loads of love from the referees (Cough, Fred. Cough). A win may inspire other nations to forego the well-being of their general populace with the intent of getting home-FIFA advantage and winning a big soccer tournament.

Option 2: The machine

Germany is really really, really really, really good at soccer. With three titles, all as West Germany, the team has won the third-most championships in addition to appearing in the most title matches (tied with Brazil, 7).

Pros: With arguably the best collection of talent remaining, they’d be an attractive champion. They would dispel the myth of a European team being unable to win in South America. I’ve heard the American team has some relationship to the German team, so it’s kinda like they win, too. The States would’ve lost to the champion. I’d be right in my prediction.

Cons: Outside of Brazil, they were arguably the favorites to win the thing anyway, so there’s a ‘boredom’ factor. Plus, if you don’t like Germany, you definitely won’t be happy.

Option 3: The long-sufferers

Long-known for playing super-attractive soccer, the Netherlands are doing it the old-fashioned way this time arounsource:  d, grinding out wins against sides they’d normally crush. The Dutch are 0-3 in World Cup finals, and are regarded as the best team to never lift the trophy.

Pros: A passionate fan base gets rewarded with a title. They have a splendid collection of talent and really play well as a team. Johan Cruyff will be happy.

Cons: Arjen Robben. We’ll have to hear 4,000 references to Louis van Gaal’s penalty genius in every Manchester United match. Arjen Robben. There isn’t an easy ‘best team to never have won’ after the Dutch. Arjen Robben. Also, my friend Ruud is going to be really smug for a long time. Arjen Robben.

Option 4: Lionel Messi and friends

Of course, I kid. The Argentina team is much more than Lionel Messi, and the injury to Angel Di Maria will mean they would have overcome the loss of their second-most important player. The two-time champions are 2-2 in World Cup finals.

Pros: It would be emotionally-fitting following the passing of native son Alfredo Di Stefano on Monday. They play pretty attractive soccer. And Messi gets a title, erasing the annoying “Can he lead his country?” debate (though replacing it with the almost-as-annoying “Where does he rank among all-time greats?” debate).

Cons: A South American team winning would validate the constant “European teams can’t win” conversation. Martin Demichelis’ hair. Messi haters won’t be happy.

MLS Snapshot: Sounders cruise, 3-0, as Galaxy struggles continue

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy’s midfield remains… nonexistent, to put it very nicely. It was a problem in 2015; it was a major problem in 2016; and it remains a problem early in 2017. On Sunday, Curt Onalfo’s side (as a quick aside, no, his seat isn’t yet getting hot) sat by and watched — almost literally — as the Seattle Sounders found the back of the net three times in the first half at StubHub Center.

Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris scored the goals for Seattle, to go with an own goal from Ashley Cole. It’s LA’s fifth loss in seven games, while Seattle have their second win of the season and put to bed a three-game winless skid.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundup — FCD win battle of unbeatens ]

Three moments that mattered

29′ — Dempsey heads into an open net for 1-0 — Nicolas Lodeiro floated the cross toward the back post, and Dempsey made extremely easy work of it with Brian Rowe scrambling through no man’s land.

35′ — Cole applies the finish into his own net — If it happened at the other end of the field, we’d have said it was a cool, calm, composed finish. Alas…

44′ — Morris fires past Rowe for 3-0 — The counter-attack was quick, what with no one stepping to the ball as Seattle covered two-thirds of the field. The finish wasn’t so simple for Morris.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Clint Dempsey

Goalscorers: Dempsey (29′), Cole (OG – 35′), Morris (44′)

Chelsea’s Kante claims PFA Player of the Year award

Photo credit: PFA / Twitter: @PFA
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Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante, who many felt was hard done by in not winning the award during Leicester City’s miraculous title-winning season of 2015-16, was named the 2016-17 PFA Player of the Year on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

With Chelsea six games from claiming this season’s Premier League title (they currently possess a four-point advantage on Tottenham Hotspur), it’s impossible to ignore Kante’s presence and impact on each of the last two (presumed) title-winning sides.

While his goal and assist numbers (1 and 1 this season) don’t come anywhere close to those of past winners (Riyad Mahrez tallied 17 and 11 en route to last season’s award), Kante’s industry, energy and rugged, ball-winning ways have integrated so seamlessly into Antonio Conte‘s debut Chelsea side.

[ MORE: Chelsea advance to FA Cup final | They’ll face Arsenal ]

The Blues splashed the cash — $40 million was the fee — to sign Kante last summer, and they’ve reaped unbelievable, immediate return on investment from the 26-year-old.

Spurs’ Alli wins PFA Young Player award for 2nd straight season

Photo credit: Tottenham Hotspur / Twitter: @SpursOfficial
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Dele Alli joined Wayne Rooney (2004-05 and 2005-06) on Sunday as the only repeat or back-to-back winners of the PFA Young Player of the Year award winners since the turn of the century.

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Alli showed in 2016-17 — much like his Tottenham Hotspur teammate and 2014-15 Young Player of the year winner Harry Kane — that he’s much more than a one-season wonder, improving upon 2015-16’s goal and assist numbers (10 and 9) with a 16-goal, 5-assist season this time around.

Alli was signed by Tottenham (out of League One and relative obscurity) for a fee just north of $6 million in 2015. Recent rumors have linked the 21-year-old with a move to join the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid, for a transfer fee well over 10 times what Spurs paid to MK Dons.

[ MORE: Chelsea advance to FA Cup final | They’ll face Arsenal ]

Between Alli and Kane, Spurs players have won the last three Young Player of the Year awards, and five of the last six (Gareth Bale in 2012-13; Kyle Walker in 2011-12). Only Eden Harzard could break up Spurs’ stranglehold on the award, in 2013-14.

Ryan Giggs (1991-92 and 1992-93) and Robbie Fowler (1994-95 and 1995-96) are the only other players to win the award in back-to-back seasons.

El Clasico: Messi scores 499, 500; Barca, Madrid level on points

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After 31 (and 32, respectively) games played, three points were all that separated Real Madrid and Barcelona at the top of the table in La Liga.

[ MORE: Chelsea advance to FA Cup final | They’ll face Arsenal ]

After another 90 scintillating, pulsating, thrilling, plot-twisting minutes of El Clasico on Sunday, there’s not a single thing to separate the two sides (other than Barca’s current tiebreaker on head-to-head meetings, and Madrid’s game in hand). This time, it was Lionel Messi who outshone Cristiano Ronaldo in the meeting of the world’s brightest stars, the former scoring twice and reaching the 500-goal mark in his Barcelona career (all competitions).

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Barcelona 33 23 6 4 94 32 62 12-3-1 11-3-3 75
 Real Madrid 32 23 6 3 84 36 48 12-4-1 11-2-2 75
 Atlético Madrid 33 20 8 5 60 24 36 12-2-2 8-6-3 68

Casemiro opened the scoring with a tap-in into an empty net in the 28th minute. Marcelo floated a ball to the back post, where Sergio Ramos made clean contact but came up with nothing but hit nothing but woodwork. Fortunately for Los Blancos, the ball ricocheted off the post, bounced across the face of goal and found the Brazilian midfielder all by his lonesome.

The lead was short-lived, though, as a bloodied Messi scored yet another of his patented Messi goals just five minutes later. With two touches atop Madrid’s penalty area, he slalomed past and beat three defenders before applying the cool finish past Keylor Navas with that magical left foot of his.

Following the halftime break, the balance of play tipped in Barca’s favor. Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez went oh so close to putting the visitors ahead either side of the hour mark, but Navas produced a pair of stunning saves that’ll (perhaps) go a long way toward silencing his increasingly vocal critics.

[ MORE: Griezmann scores no. 25 as Atleti win to hold onto 3rd ]

There was absolutely nothing the Costa Rican no. 1 could do about Rakitic’s 73rd-minute strike, though. Cutting inside onto his left foot, the Croatian caressed and curled the ball toward the far post, where it made a hard right turn at the last possible second and nestled itself into the

Already up a goal, the game appeared to swing totally in Barca’s favor just four minutes later. Sergio Ramos, the most Sergio Ramos player to ever Sergio Ramos, went lunging in, with two sets of studs exposed, on Messi. He was rightly shown a straight red card.

Another pair of plot twists were still to come, though, as James Rodriguez got on the end of Marcelo’s cross and slammed the first-time finish past Marc Andre ter Stegen with four minutes of regular time remaining.

Then, with all of 13 seconds remaining in stoppage time, that man — the undisputed best player in the world and the greatest of all time — broke Madridista hearts once again. Sergi Roberto started the sequence all the way back in midfield, and Jordi Alba supplied the cross to the top of the box, and Messi drove that same left foot through the ball to beat Navas for the last-kick winner. The shirt-off-held-aloft celebration was simply salt in the wound.