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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′)

Men In Blazers podcast: Leicester, Spurs continue to defy the odds

Men In Blazers - Sept. 22
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Rog and Davo break down Leicester City’s 3-1 win at Manchester City, marvel at Spurs going second in the table, and talk about the headlines surrounding the mid-table clash between Chelsea and United.

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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VIDEO: Previews of all 10 Premier League games in Week 26

Arsenal v Burnley - Premier League
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You ready for the weekend? It’s only Thursday, but of course you are.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Week 26 of the 2015-16 Premier League season promises to be a pivotal one at both ends of the table with seven games on Saturday and three on Sunday.

[ MORE: Latest PL standings

In the 10 videos below yours truly takes a look at the key headlines, news, injuries and more on each PL game.

Enjoy.


Arsenal vs. Leicester City, Sunday (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra)

Aston Villa vs. Liverpool, Sunday (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra)

Bournemouth vs. Stoke City, Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on Premier League Extratime and online via Live Extra)

Crystal Palace vs. Watford, Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on Premier League Extratime and online via Live Extra)

Chelsea vs. Newcastle United, Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra)

Everton vs. West Brom, Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra)

Norwich City vs. West Ham, Sunday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra)

Man City vs. Tottenham, Sunday (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra)

Sunderland vs. Man United, Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra)

Swansea City vs. Southampton, Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on Premier League Extratime and online via Live Extra)

Ahead of huge top four showdowns, who are the title favorites?

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This weekend is massive. Huge. Monumental.

[ VIDEO: Arsenal-Leicester preview ]

In terms of the Premier League title race having two games between all of the current top four means one thing: bedlam.

Following the Arsenal vs. Leicester City (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) and Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) encounter, we should be provided with a much better idea of where the title is heading.

[ VIDEO: Man City-Tottenham preview

Then again, if Arsenal beat Leicester and Man City draw with Spurs, there will be just five points between all four teams. With 13 games to go this is tight and tense and the most open title race we’ve had in decades. It is also awesome.

[ MORE: Arsenal to play in 2016 MLS All-Star Game ] 

Let’s take a look at all four title contenders and try to see who has the best chance of winning this thing on May 15.


Leicester City
Current position: 1st (53 points)
Biggest plus: No pressure, they were meant to be relegated
Biggest negative: None of their current squad have ever been in this situation. How will they cope?
Key man: Jamie Vardy – A few off days in front of goal recently for the PL’s main man. If he regains his touch, the Foxes will win it.
3 key games: Feb. 14 at Arsenal, Apr. 30 at Man United, May 15 at Chelsea
Strength of remaining schedule (1 is weak, 10 is tough): 2/10 – The best of any of the title contenders, on paper, and no cup games.


Tottenham Hotspur
Current position: 2nd (48 points)
Biggest plus: Mauricio Pochettino. He’s met every major challenge head on.
Biggest negative: Having the FA Cup and Europa League to contend with. Relatively small squad compared to the rest.
Key man: Harry Kane – If he can hit yet another purple patch, combined with Spurs’ solid defense, then that will be huge.
3 key games: Feb. 14 at Man City, Mar. 5 vs. Arsenal, Apr. 9 vs. Chelsea
Strength of remaining schedule: 3/10 – A very soft run-in for Spurs between now and the end of the season.


Arsenal
Current position: 3rd (48 points)
Biggest plus: They have the biggest squad and with Cech in goal their defense looks very settled.
Biggest negative: How many times have we been here before? Have to get over mental barrier, plus UCL and FA Cup to focus on too.
Key man: Alexis Sanchez – Hasn’t quite hit top form since returning from his hamstring injury. Can he hit top gear during crunch time?
3 key games: Feb. 14 vs. Leicester City, Mar. 5 vs. Tottenham, May 7 at Man City
Strength of remaining schedule: 6/10 – Probably the toughest out of all the contenders. Really need Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to pull through.


Manchester City
Current position: 4th (47 points)
Biggest plus: Strongest squad and Vincent Kompany should be returning soon. That, and wanting to send Pellegrini out on a high.
Biggest negative: Guardiola arriving means plenty of uncertainty. If Aguero or Kompany go down injured, title run could be over.
Key man: Vincent Kompany – City will always score goals with Aguero, Sterling, Silva and De Bruyne but they need Vinny back. Big time.
3 key games: Mar. 2 at Liverpool, Mar. 20 vs. Man United, May 7 vs. Arsenal
Strength of remaining schedule: 5/10 – Marginally easier than Arsenal’s because they play United and the Gunners at home. Still. Very tough.


 

Arsenal named as 2016 MLS All-Star Game opponent in San Jose

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28:  Mesut Ozil (C) of Arsenal celebrates scoring his team's second goal with his team mates Hector Bellerin (L) and Aaron Ramsey (R) during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Emirates Stadium on December 28, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Arsenal is coming to San Jose, California.

On Thursday it was announced that the Premier League giants will take part in the 2016 MLS All-Star Game at Avaya Stadium, home of the San Jose Earthquakes.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired”

The decision to play against another PL opponent makes it the ninth time that’s happened and MLS’ best will have faced seven different PL clubs in Fulham, Chelsea, West Ham United, Everton, Manchester United, Tottenham and now Arsenal.

The venue for the 2016 ASG will be San Jose’s splendid, yet slightly compact, Avaya Stadium and the game will take place on July 28 at 9 p.m. ET.

[ VIDEO: Arsenal-Leicester preview

Gunners fans in North America hoping to get tickets for the clash will have to act fast as the ‘Quakes home only holds 18,000 people, but there will be another chance to watch Arsenal play as they will face Chivas Guadalajara at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. on July 31.

Safe to say Arsene Wenger won’t need to don his famous long padded jacket for matches in California this July…

As well as seeing Arsenal stars Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Petr Cech, Olivier Giroud and more, the chance to watch young U.S. international Gedion Zelalem in action will excite many. That said, with the game coming late in July, plenty of Arsenal’s top stars may be on extended breaks due to their exertions for their national teams at the 2016 European Championships and the 2016 Copa America Centenario also being staged in North America.