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′)

The 2 Robbies: Terriers Triumph And Chelsea Leave It Late

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe start today’s show off by discussing Huddersfield Town’s surprising win against Manchester United (00:20), Jose Mourinho’s measured post-match interview (03:50), praise Manchester City again (10:30), discuss Sean Dyche’s next move (16:10), analyze that exciting match between Chelsea and Watford (18:30) and finally, weigh in on Slaven Bilic’s future at West Ham United (27:30).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

La Liga: Barca win to maintain lead, but Valencia won’t go away

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona regained a four-point cushion atop the Spanish league with a ho-hum 2-0 win over visiting Malaga and surging Valencia dismissed Sevilla 4-0 at home on Saturday.

Barcelona faced last-placed Malaga in the closing match of the day, with added pressure from second-placed Valencia, which has won five in a row.

Barcelona is unbeaten after starting with seven straight wins and drawing with Atletico Madrid last week.

Seldom-used Gerard Deulofeu opened the scoring for Barcelona after just two minutes, and Andres Iniesta celebrated his first of the season in the second half thanks to a brilliant assist by Lionel Messi.

Defending champion Real Madrid hosts Eibar on Sunday.

Barcelona benefited from a flagrant referee misjudgment to get its go-ahead goal against Malaga. Left back Lucas Digne was allowed to center the ball after it clearly crossed the byline, and Deulofeu acrobatically back-footed it inside the net.

Despite the blow, the visitors got back up and managed to neutralize Barcelona for most of the first half, but lost striker Diego Rolan just before the second period. The Uruguayan import was forced off by injury.

Without Rolan, Malaga lacked bite in its pressure of the home backline, and Barcelona was able to polish ball circulation and find Messi with more frequency.

Messi received a clean pass from defender Javier Mascherano, drew the defense, and dropped a perfect pass for Iniesta, whose shot was deflected by defender Roberto Rosales on its way to the upper left corner.

Malaga surrendered and Barcelona dominated the rest of the way.


Gonzalo Guedes opened the scoring for Valencia near halftime with a majestic strike from outside the box after deftly outmaneuvering two defenders on the chase.

Simone Zaza added his eighth league goal after the break with a spin and low cross shot. Santi Mina came off the bench and scored the third with just five minutes to go, finishing off a speedy counterattack for the hosts.

But the show was all Guedes, and the Portuguese midfielder rounded off his great game with the closer, subtly poking the ball over goalkeeper Sergio Rico in added time.

Sevilla has lost three in a row in all competitions. Managed by Eduardo Berizzo, the team started off red-hot in La Liga but has floundered lately, ranking fifth.

 

Serie A: Napoli’s perfect season ends after draw with Inter

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MILAN (AP) Napoli’s perfect start to Serie A finally came to an end on Saturday in an enthralling 0-0 home draw with Inter Milan, the only other unbeaten side in the Italian top flight.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup | Sunday preview — Spurs vs. Liverpool ]

There were plenty of chances at the San Paolo, and Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic was kept busier than his Napoli counterpart Pepe Reina.

It was the first time since April and a 2-2 draw at Sassuolo that Napoli has failed to win in Serie A.

Napoli remained top of the standings, two points above Inter and six above Juventus and Lazio, which face Udinese and Cagliari respectively on Sunday.

[ TACTICS SESSION: Inside the brilliant mind of Kevin De Bruyne ]

Napoli was looking for a ninth successive league win. It was boosted by Lorenzo Insigne passing fit to start after injuring a thigh on Tuesday in the Champions League defeat at Manchester City.

Inter was full of confidence after Mauro Icardi’s hat trick helped it win last week’s derby against AC Milan, but it hadn’t won in Naples in 20 years.

Napoli almost went in front but Handanovic pulled off a stunning double save to deny first Jose Callejon and then keep out Dries Mertens’ rebound attempt from point-blank range.

Handanovic then kept out an effort from Insigne following a great ball over the top from Marek Hamsik.

[ MORE: Mourinho — “We deserved the punishment of defeat” to Huddersfield ]

Inter went close shortly before halftime but Reina did well to fingertip Borja Valero’s close-range attempt over the bar.

Insigne had more chances after the break, going closest with a curling effort just past the right post.

Hamsik also fired narrowly wide, and Handanovic parried a powerful shot from substitute Piotr Zielinski.

Mertens should have won the match for Napoli in the final minute but Handanovic was again on hand to keep out his close-range volley.

Tactics Session: Inside the mind of Kevin De Bruyne

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If not for Harry Kane‘s prolific scoring of goals during the early days of this season, Kevin De Bruyne would almost certainly be the early runaway favorite for 2017-18 Premier League Player of the Season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup | Sunday preview — Spurs vs. Liverpool ]

Alas, Kane, the one-season wonder that he is, seems hellbent on cracking the century mark in the PL this season, rather than waiting until 2018-19. This sets up what should be a thoroughly exhilarating seven-month battle between two polar opposite players — Kane, the goalscorer; and De Bruyne, the assist machine.

On Saturday, NBC Sports’ Robbie Earle delved into the mind of De Bruyne (above video) in light of last weekend’s 7-2 thrashing of Stoke City, during which De Bruyne notched another pair of assists to take season tally to five through eight games. Later on Saturday, De Bruyne added another in Man City’s 3-0 victory over Burnley.

[ MORE: Matchday experience — behind the scenes at Southampton ]

The first thing pointed out by Earle is the recovery — though deployed as more of a central midfielder on the day, De Bruyne sits wide with City in possession high up the field, just waiting for the opportune moment to surge forward and join the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero (now that he’s back from injury). When Jesus’ ball is too lightly weighted, De Bruyne reacts quickest to make the recovery.

From there, his head is up and scanning the entire field. One touch forward, and he’s already accounted for the positioning of each of his teammates, as well as the Stoke defenders, and every pocket of space into which he’ll either carry or play the ball. He knows the precise spot on the field he must get to in order to pull the defense to him, thus opening the necessary space (and time) for the final man — Sane, in this instance — to make his run in behind.

[ MORE: Mourinho — “We deserved the punishment of defeat” to Huddersfield ]

This is the part of De Bruyne’s game which he does better than anyone else in the world right now; no one can hold a candle KDB’s timing and vision — not Henrikh Mkhitaryan, not Isco, not Mesut Ozil, not even his brilliant teammate (and fellow six-assist man) David Silva. He’s almost operating at peak-Andres Iniesta level right now, which makes KDB and Co. appointment viewing every weekend.

Even now, after creating the passing lane and providing Sane the extra half-second to get level with his man before accelerating past in the blink of an eye. Even then, having seen the pass he has to play, there’s still the (major) matter of threading the needle through and around four defenders. On this occasion, the perfect pass is nearly 15 yards in front of Sane, and far less than that distance in front of the goalkeeper. An inch or two too short, it’s cleared by the right back; and inch or two too long, and the goalkeeper collects it easily.

As usual, no player in the world comes close to matching De Bruyne’s genius.