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′)

Hernandez, Araujo score in 1st half, Mexico beats Costa Rica

AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo
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MEXICO CITY (AP) Javier Hernandez and Nestor Araujo scored in the first half, and Mexico overcame the absence of half a dozen players to beat Costa Rica 2-0 on Friday night in a World Cup qualifying match.

Hernandez scored on a cross from Carlos Vela to open the score in the seventh and Araujo added a goal on a header in the 45th.

[ USMNT: Recap & videoPlayer ratings ]

Hernandez scored his 46th goal with the Mexican team and tied Jared Borgetti as the all-time leading scorer.

With the win, Mexico remains undefeated and has seven points after three rounds to take sole command in the six-nation tournament. Costa Rica stays on six points and is second and Panama is third with four.

The top three teams qualified for the Russia 2018 World Cup.

Mexico beat Costa Rica for the first time since September 11, 2012, when they prevailed 1-0.

Running Away With It

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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Christian Pulisic scored and played a part in three other goals as the United States rained goals down on Honduras in a 6-0 win at Avaya Stadium in San Jose early Saturday morning.

Clint Dempsey scored two goals, and Michael Bradley and Sebastian Lletget also scored as the U.S. moved into fourth place in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. Their next match is Tuesday in Panama.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Three things ]

The United States men’s national team’s bid to recover their 2018 World Cup hopes got off to a flying start.

Sloppy Honduran defending caused a turnover outside the 18, and Jozy Altidore played Christian Pulisic in on goal. Keeper Donis Escober got a piece of Pulisic’s shot, but no one followed Lletget to the back post and the ex-West Ham and current LA Galaxy man quickly put the Yanks up 1-0.

The Yanks didn’t stop, and Lletget drew a yellow card when he beat Ever Alvarado down the right flank and forced a take down from the Honduran defender.

Alberth Elis slipped John Brooks’ mark, and the Houston Dynamo man turned to fire on goal. Tim Howard was well positioned to scoop it up.

Lletget turned out to be injured by the Alvarado foul, and Bruce Arena turned to Alejandro Bedoya in the 17th minute.

Geoff Cameron was given a yellow card in the 25th minute for a foul on Roger Espinoza. That gave a free kick to Honduras from 30 yards out, and Romell Quioto fired right at Tim Howard.

Then it was the captain who doubled the lead, as Honduras inexplicably gave him the room to walk across the arc of the 18 to rip a shot across goal. 2-0.

It was Clint Dempsey’s turn in the 33rd minute, after an otherworldly scooped pass from Pulisic.

What. A. Pass. Kid.

Honduras then took a bigger hit: the loss of star attacker Romell Quioto (Houston Dynamo) to an apparent shoulder injury.

Brooks bailed out an out-of-position Gonzalez just before halftime to keep the lead 3-0.

The Yanks needed 15 seconds to make it 4-0, with Dempsey winning a 50-50 tussle and finding Altidore for a flick to Pulisic. He netted his fourth USMNT goal. He’s 18.

Pulisic then won a free kick 25 yards out from goal by embellishing a foul, and Dempsey’s free kick tricked Escober. 6-0. For real.

A scary moment late as a dazed and wobbly John Brooks was forced off despite no apparent injury. Fox’s Jenny Taft said he was dehydrated, which is a relief.

LINEUP

USMNT: Howard; Villafana, Gonzalez, Brooks (Ream, 70′), Cameron (Zusi, 58′); Bradley, Lletget (Bedoya, 18′), Nagbe; Pulisic, Dempsey, Altidore.

Goals: Lletget (5′), Bradley (27′), Dempsey (33′, 49′, 54′), Pulisic (46′)

 

Player ratings from USMNT’s pounding of Honduras

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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Battered. Throttled. Eviscerated.

Pick your verb of dominance, the United States likely fit it well in a 6-0 destruction of Honduras at Avaya Stadium in San Jose.

[ MORE: Recap + video | Three things ]

The win boosts the U.S. in World Cup qualifying after their 0-2 start, but how did the individuals fare? Obviously well.

Starting XI

Tim Howard — 7 — The team just feels in a safer place with the veteran back there. If the U.S. goes to the 2018 World Cup, Howard remains their No. 1 (and there probably never should have been a question. Sorry Brad).

Jorge Villafana — 7 — Tidy passing and a low-risk game from the Santos Laguna man.

John Brooks (Off 70′) — 7 — An early error before recovering to be his usual free-clearing, athletic self. Scary injury took him out late, as he looked dazed. Fox’s Jenny Taft said he was dehydrated, which is a relief.

Omar Gonzalez — 5  — He wasn’t bad, but Gonzalez is still a positional question mark. Bailed out a couple times by Brooks.

Geoff Cameron (Off 59′) — 6 — Out of position and a bit hobbled, he wasn’t at his best.

Michael Bradley — 7 — One of his better USMNT games in a long time.

Sebastian Lletget (Off 17′) — 8 — Scored, then got hurt on a roasting run down the right.

Darlington Nagbe — 6 — One or two electric moments in the first half, but overall a quiet enough night for the Timbers man.

Christian Pulisic — 9 — Hard to not to hand the kid a 10. He’s quite frankly the most exciting American talent in the history of the program.

Clint Dempsey — 10 — Along with Howard, the sort of player you knew would make sure this game ended with three points. The fact that he nabbed three goals, too, is just a bonus.

Jozy Altidore — 7  — Pretty darn good night holding up the ball, and passed as well as ever, but did he drop a bit too deep too often? The answer is probably, “Who cares? They won 6-0, dude.”

Subs

Alejandro Bedoya (On 18′)  — 6 — Typical high energy, space eating job in the middle of the park from the Union man.

Graham Zusi (On 58′)  — 6 — Good late clearance preserved the shutout.

Tim Ream (On 70′)  — 6 — Interesting to note that Arena went to him over Walker Zimmerman or Matt Besler.

Three things to take away from USMNT 6-0 Honduras

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The United States men’s national team pulled a Leicester City.

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That’s a joke with truth wrapped around it, because the Yanks have had plenty of time and even a pair of friendlies to respond from the firing of Jurgen Klinsmann.

But in their first serious match without their old coach, the U.S. looked a team renewed and unleashed. Now the Americans may find themselves back in an automatic World Cup qualifying spot with a win on Tuesday in Panama.

Things change.

Vindicated

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and all of the USMNT players waited months and months to get the chance to answer their critics following a pair of embarrassing losses to open the final round of World Cup qualifying.

Sure, having Clint Dempsey, Geoff Cameron, and Tim Howard back helped a whole lot, and the seasoning Christian Pulisic is getting at Borussia Dortmund is unquestionably good for an 18-year-old.

But there’s little doubt Michael Bradley and Co. were fired up to silence their critics. Whether they admit it or not, this is a bunch that was stung by those who said they failed their old coach.

Most expected the U.S. to get a point or better against Honduras, but to do it the way they did is an unexpected bonus. A win in Panama on Tuesday would boost them into the Top Three.

And don’t worry, the old boss was pleased for his former charges.


The future is now…

I Tweeted the following after a late second half pass from Pulisic, and there was little disagreement.

Pulisic won’t be credited with an assist for his shot which rebounded to Sebastian Lletget for the opener, but he will walk away with his fourth international goal and two proper assists.

One was an absurd scoop to Clint Dempsey’s chest, and the other was a long avenue that shouldn’t have existed. Still, Pulisic found that street and provided an absolutely dynamic force all over the park.

There have been U.S. teens at big European clubs, and U.S. teens who’ve made impacts on the national team, but never both at the same time and never both at this level. Pulisic is for real, and finding his ceiling is an adventure we’re all undertaking with great enjoyment.


…But the legends sure helped

Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard will go down as two of the most important players in United States men’s national team history.

Actually, they may be duking it out for Nos. 1 and 2 when it’s all said and done.

Dempsey’s hat trick was his career in a nutshell. The first saw him body off a defender while collecting a Pulisic pass off his chest, then lashing a shot with power despite said defender dragging him down.

The second was a burst of speed to run onto Pulisic’s through ball and classic calm in the face of an onrushing keeper, holding onto the ball before sliding it home from an acute angle.

The third was this free kick. A bit aided by goalkeeper Donis Escober, but such is life.

And don’t sleep on Howard’s early performance as Honduras tried to find some sort of foothold in the match. Always well-positioned, the team just feels safer with the Colorado Rapids man between the sticks.