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.

Toronto FC beats Crew 5-0 to extend unbeaten streak to 8

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TORONTO (AP) Victor Vazquez scored twice and Toronto FC routed the Columbus Crew 5-0 on Friday night to extend its unbeaten streak to a franchise record-matching eight games.

[ MORE: Pulisic pleased with U.S. Soccer’s improved landscape ]

Toronto (8-1-5) is 7-0-1 since its lone league loss of the season, a 2-1 decision in Columbus on April 15. Columbus (6-7-1) has lost five of seven since topping Toronto.

Justin Morrow and substitutes Jonathan Osorio and Jordan Hamilton also scored for MLS-leading Toronto. The Canadian team also was unbeaten in eight games (4-0-4) from May 8 to July 10, 2010.

Toronto was reduced to 10 men in the 81st minute when midfielder Marky Delgado was red-carded for a studs-up tackle on Columbus captain Wil Trapp. Osorio and Hamilton then scored to pad the lead for Toronto in its sixth shutout of the season.

Toronto played without the starting forward tandem of Sebastian Giovinco (injured) and Jozy Altidore (suspended for yellow card accumulation). Defender Nick Hagglund also is injured.

Agent: Barcelona offered more than Real for Vinicius Junior

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If Vinicius Junior can become half the player at Real Madrid that Neymar has lived up to be at Barcelona, Los Blancos will be pretty pleased.

[ MORE: Man City closing in on Monaco’s Silva ]

Real closed the deal for the 16-year-old Brazilian this week, but there were several other lucrative offers on the table, according to the player’s agent, Frederico Pena.

[ MORE: Totti leaves future uncertain heading into final Roma match ]

That includes bitter Spanish rivals Barcelona.

The agent stated that the Blaugrana did in fact offer a higher deal to acquire the Brazilian, however, he felt it would have complicated matters further to seek a greater offer from Real.

“There is practically unanimous view of the deal as a success,” Pena said. “If anybody gets criticised it is Real Madrid, for the risk they have taken, but they are sure that it will work. There were other clubs interested, and one offered to pay more money … Barca’s remuneration package offer for the player was higher than Real Madrid.

“But as we had reached an agreement with Real, we did not want to make this last push for them to match it. That could have embittered the relationship. Many people think it is crazy what Madrid are doing, but they were not alone in this craziness. They were not the only ones willing to pay this much for Vinicius.”

Pena also clarified as to why Vinicius chose Real over Barcelona, citing the player’s excitement about the development of Los Blancos during recent seasons under manager Zinedine Zidane and prior.

“Because Vinicius liked Madrid’s project better. There is always the feeling that players choose based on financial reasons, but that is not true. I assure you of that. Real Madrid’s negotiating posture was better.”

Real is on the verge of winning its third UEFA Champions League trophy in the last four seasons as the club prepares to face Juventus in the upcoming final.

Zidane’s men also won La Liga during the 2016/17 campaign.

Pulisic pleased with U.S. Soccer’s improved landscape

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U.S. Soccer has come a long way over the years, and one of the nation’s most promising young players recognizes the progress the United States has made.

[ MORE: Man City acquire Monaco’s Silva after passing medical ]

Christian Pulisic, who plays for Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund, is one of several young talents that U.S. hopes to finally bring the American men a moment of glory on the biggest of stages — the World Cup.

The 18-year-old has done just about everything a player of his age could do. He’s played in one of the top leagues in the world, appeared in various UEFA Champions League matches and now he’s likely on pace to appear in the 2018 World Cup, assuming the USMNT advances out of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

The U.S., who have reached the World Cup during seven straight cycles, have come a long way in a short period of time, and Pulisic is happy with the improving U.S. Soccer landscape.

“It’s been big flaw of ours in the soccer department that a lot of our best athletes go and play other sports,” Pulisic told The Guardian. “But I think young players have seen me, and others, go over to Europe and play in some of the best leagues — and MLS is improving so much too.

“There’s so much potential and I think it’s changing: we’ve had some bigger athletes in the past but I don’t think that defines us anymore.

“We’re going to keep moving forward, developing young players and we’re going to have a really good shot in the next few years.”

During this past Bundesliga season, Pulisic recorded three goals and added six assists for a club that has become well known for its high-powered offensive attack.

Report: Kyle Walker a top target for Manchester City

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Manchester City could be looking to bolster its backline further this summer, and the Citizens could turn to Tottenham for help.

[ MORE: Man City closing in on acquiring Monaco’s Silva ]

According to ESPN FC, Pep Guardiola‘s side is growing more and more enamored with Spurs defender Kyle Walker and believes City can acquire the experienced outside back prior to the 2017/18 Premier League season.

With City already losing Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna since the end of the PL season, Guardiola will have to address the club’s lack of depth at outside back.

Several other big clubs have been considered in the running for Walker’s services, including Chelsea, Manchester United and Bayern Munich.

The 26-year-old has been at White Hart Lane since joining Spurs in 2009 from Sheffield United and has made 222 appearances for the club in that span.