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Argentina reach World Cup final, knock out Netherlands on penalty kicks

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Argentina reached their fifth World Cup final after beating the Netherlands 4-2 on penalty kicks in Sao Paulo on Wednesday.

After a draining 90 minutes of tense action in the rain, plus 30 minutes of extra time, Maxi Rodriguez scored the winning penalty after Sergio Romero saved two spot kicks to send the Argentine’s through to play Germany at the Maracana on Sunday.

For only the fifth time in World Cup history a semifinal went to penalty kicks, as both teams locked up their defense and hardly threatened throughout a nerve-shredding 90 minutes plus extra time.

Both Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben came close for Argentina and Holland respectively but the dreaded penalty shootout decided the outcome, as a South American vs. European battle has been set up in a showpiece final in Rio de Janeiro.

The Netherlands will now face hosts Brazil in the third-place match in Brasilia on Saturday.

Three things  | Video of PKs | WC final set | 

In a raucous atmosphere in Sao Paulo the game took a while to get going as both sides felt their way into the semifinal.

Some winding runs from Messi and a long-range effort from Wesley Sneijder were the only really attacks to get the fans excited as thick clouds hung over the Arena Corinthians. Then the first meaningful effort on goal arrived as Perez was taken down on the edge of the box and from the resulting free kick Messi struck his shot firmly on target but Cillessen got his entire body behind the ball to save.

Argentina then began to turn the screw and in the 24th minute as the two Ezequiel’s combined. Lavezzi’s out-swinging corner found Garay who headed just over the bar while under intense pressure. There was then a scary moment for Argentina and Javier Mascherano, as the Barcelona midfielder clashed heads with Georginio Wijnaldum in an aerial challenge and stayed down. However after initially looking daze and confused Mascherano got up and continued.

As the first half came to a close there had been only one real effort on goal (Messi’s free kick) as the ultra-defensive tactics from both teams cancelled eachother out. In the first half Robben has just six touches on the ball, while van Persie had 11 as the two Dutch forwards had the fewest touches of any player on the pitch. Argentina, and Holland, were in full lock-down mode.

Daryl Janmaat came on for Bruno Martins Indi at halftime as the Dutch defender had picked up a yellow for a late tackle on Messi and seemed to be hobbling before the interval. A defensive reshuffle hardly saw the Dutch blink, as they continued to frustrate Argentina’s mercurial attackers.

source: AP
Robben came close but Argentina prevailed on PKs.

The second half remained just as tight as the first, with a superbly timed tackle from the brilliant Ron Vlaar ( he won 100 percent of his tackles and aerial duels during the match) on Messi thwarting the Argentine captain from a clear breakaway in the 56th minute. Several intriguing battled continued to pop up all over the pitch as the tension, pressure and prestige of making a World Cup final began to eat away at both sets of players. A clever ball from Lavezzi on the right hand side of the box seemed to have found Gonzalo Higuain unmarked at the back post but substitute Janmaat arrived in the nick of time to head the ball away.

Higuain came so close to giving Argentina the lead in the 76th minute as Perez’s teasing cross from the right found the Napoli man sliding into the box, but he toe-poked his effort into the side-netting from six-yards out. Close, but still no goals. In the dying stages of normal time Robben burst through the Argentine defense but holding midfielder Mascherano tracked his run and performed a wonderful last-ditch tackle, as the Albiceleste survived an almighty scare.

As the rain poured down in Sao Paulo, neither team gave an inch as their quest to make the World Cup final entered extra time.

In the opening 15 minutes of the extra period Holland looked lively in attack as Robben began to find more gaps and he sent a stinging drive in on goal that Romero saved easily. The ineffective van Persie was replaced by van Gaal, as he brought on Klass-Jan Huntelaar with his final throw of the dice. That meant no more heroics for Tim Krul, after the goalkeeper was brought off the bench for the quarterfinal against Costa Rica. Argentina also replaced an attacker as Rodriguez came on for Lavezzi.

There was only a small chance for Palacios in extra time after Rodriguez’s delightful chipped pass but he failed to lift his header over the advancing Cillessen. The match then headed to the dreaded penalty shootout for a place in the World Cup final.

Romero saved Vlaar’s opening spot kick, then Sneijder’s as Messi, Sergio Aguero, Garay and Rodriguez scored to send Argentina into the final.

The Dutch were devastated, Argentina was ecstatic.

LINEUPS 

Argentina: Romero; Zabaleta, Demichelis, Garay, Rojo; Mascherano, Biglia, Perez (Palacio, 82′); Messi, Lavezzi (Rodriguez, 100′), Higuain (Aguero, 82′)

Netherlands: Cillessen; Kuijt, De Vrij, Vlaar, Martins Indi (Janmaat 45′), Blind; De Jong (Clasie 62′), Sneijder, Wijnaldum; Robben, Van Persie (Huntelaar, 96′)

Martinez “thought about dancing” after Everton thumped Stoke City

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 06:  Roberto Martinez Manager of Everton looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Everton at Britannia Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Stoke on Trentl, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Everton is finding its form, and that has Roberto Martinez with half a mind to keep dancing.

Martinez admitted his Jason Derulo fandom after video surfaced of the Spaniard dancing in a suite this week, and had to admit he felt like continuing the show after Everton crushed Stoke City 3-0 on Saturday.

The Toffees climbed above Merseyside rivals Liverpool on goal differential and into eight place in the Premier League. They are finally looking like the club supporters expected to see this season.

[ MATCH RECAP: Stoke City 0-3 Everton ]

Everton has back-to-back 3-0 wins in the Premier League. Before that was a loss to Swansea City which followed a trio of draws against Man City, Spurs and Chelsea.

Martinez’s club looked fit to score even more after Romelu Lukaku, Seamus Coleman and Aaron Lennon scored first-half goals on the road at the Britannia Stadium.

Look at that face… a living dance hall. Of course we kid, and are even more grateful for Martinez’s personality.

Pochettino on Tottenham winning title: “If we believe, it can happen”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 06:  Mauricio Pochettino Manager of Tottenham Hotspur looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Watford at White Hart Lane on February 6, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is playing it cool, but Tottenham Hotspur has a real chance of winning its first-ever Premier League title.

[ MORE: Foxes beat City to stay top ]

Following Spurs’ 1-0 win over Watford at White Hart Lane on Saturday — the scoreline doesn’t reflect how dominant Tottenham were — optimism levels were high.

Four Premier League wins on the spin and six in all competitions will do that.

With Tottenham now second in the PL table and five points behind surprise leaders Leicester City, are they genuine title contenders?

“I feel very proud of the players,” Pochettino said. “We need to be calm. We are in a very good position in the league but the philosophy from the beginning of the season has been to go step by step. We are a very young squad so it is important to keep going and take every game and competition and be ready to compete.

“We need to be careful and always work in the same way. In football you can never stop. You always need to improve and fix a different situation. We still need to be more clinical, we created a lot of chances today but need to score more.We have a good idea of how we want to build the squad for the future and it is important to take this philosophy and deliver it.”

More tellingly Pochettino was also quoted as saying: “In football belief is the most important. If we believe, it can happen.”

In a season where Leicester City top the Premier League, why can’t Spurs launch a serious title challenge of their own with 13 games to go?

[ MORE: 3 things we learned as Leicester demolished Man City

As Pochettino mentioned, scoring more goals should be the main aim for Spurs as they had 26 shots against Watford and 66 percent of the ball but only scored once. But with the best defensive record in the PL and the best goal differential, Spurs are right in this title race.

Agbonlahor says Villans prepared to produce great escape

during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Norwich City at Villa Park on February 6, 2016 in Birmingham, England.
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Gabriel Agbonlahor is feeling quite buoyed by his first goal of the season.

The 29-year-old striker helped ensure his side would keep its early lead with a second half goal, and hopes the 2-0 win over Norwich City is just the latest step in the quest to avoid Villa’s first ever Premier League relegation.

[ MATCH RECAP: Aston Villa 2-0 Norwich City ]

Villa is now eight points back of 17th place Newcastle, and seven of the Canaries. It’s still a 4-point journey to 19th, but Agbonlahor and company are taking it proverbially: one game at a time.

From the BBC:

“We are going to keep fighting till the end. That is all the club expects from us. Take it game by game. There is no reason why we cannot escape. We showed fight today. We had a game plan: we defended well and attacked well.”

The Villans are facing a relatively tough stretch of matches with Liverpool, Stoke City, Everton and Man City on the docket.

What odds would you give Villa of pulling off the latest in a long line of Premier League great escapes?

Newcastle United 1-0 West Bromwich Albion: Mitrovic pushes Magpies to 17th

during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion at St James' Park on February 6, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.
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  • Magpies climb out of relegation zone
  • Baggies continue to struggle under Pulis
  • Mitrovic gets winner as hosts control match

Aleksandar Mitrovic‘s first-half goal gave Newcastle United a week above the drop zone in a 1-0 home win over West Bromwich Albion at St. James Park on Saturday.

The Magpies leapfrog losing Norwich City for 17th place in the Premier League with 24 points.

West Brom is now winless in five and sits five points ahead of Newcastle, good for 14th place.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The Magpies provided an inspired start to the match, piling on pressure and winning a pair of corner kicks. Aleksandar Mitrovic was saved at the goal line by Boaz Myhill in the most clear-cut opportunity.

Craig Gardner won a free kick on the edge of the 18, but Georginio Wijnaldum leapt off the wall to help deflect it out for an eventually unsuccessful corner.

Cheik Tiote scored from close to 40 yards out, but Lee Mason consulted with his linesman before disallowing the goal because Aleksandar Mitrovic was in the flight of the ball and offside.

Mitrovic had the next laugh, though, sprung on a break by Jonjo Shelvey and deservedly finishing his chance past Foster. Newcastle owned a 1-0 lead.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Wijnaldum flashed a header over goal of Townsend’s cross from the right, and it was still 1-0 in the 66th minute. Townsend then poked a low shot off the right post moments later, and Moussa Sissoko flashed a prime shot wide.

The Magpies were leaving themselves open to an equalizer, and it’s not as if the Baggies didn’t find a chance or two (though mostly through set pieces).