Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates after Angel di Maria scored his side's only and winning goal in extra time during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Argentina and Switzerland at the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tuesday, July 1, 2014. Argentina defeated Switzerland 1-0 to move on to the quarterfinals. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

At halftime: Netherlands and Argentina scoreless at half with all to play for

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After an unpredictable first-half yesterday, things are back to normal today with the Netherlands and Argentina scoreless at halftime.

Things began predictably tense with both sides adopting conservative approaches that saw forwards dropping into the midfield and midfielders dropping into defense with Javier Mascherano, Nigel de Jong, Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Gonzalo Higuain all guilty of the offense.

Argentina was the first to loosen things up when a 14th minute attack resulted in a Lionel Messi free-kick that he stroked pure but directly at Jesper Cillessen. Ten minutes later and the Argentines were at it again with Ezequiel Garay putting his diving header just over the bar, thanks to good defense from Ron Vlaar.

Holland proceeded to forgo possession in favor of a more direct attack and it proved fruitful as a pair of 32nd minute crosses required Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero to rise strongly and punch away. But Louis van Gaal’s side failed to sustain the pressure, instead opting to put 10 men behind the ball in defense and await opportunities on the break.

For both sides, they didn’t come. Will the second half prove more eventful?

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Goals:

None.

Other key moments:

14′: Enzo Perez made a streaking run up the right side but Messi was fouled before he can find the through-ball. From 20 yards out Messi’s free-kick was hit hard but well saved by Cillessen.

25′: Messi earned a corner that was swung in beautifully for Garay but the defender’s diving header was sent over the bar.

26′: Mascherano clashes heads with Bruno Martins Indi on a 50-50 ball and was left dazed and confused. The Barcelona man shook it off but it was yet another moment where, if this match were in America, Mascherano’s day would’ve been finished.

35′: Ezequiel Lavezzi was played over the top and found some space down the right side but his service to Gonzalo Higuain was interrupted by a sliding Ron Vlaar.

38′: With Messi in possession on the right side Martins Indi threw a bad elbow at the Argentine with the referee cautioning the defender. Meanwhile, Wesley Sneijder limped off following a kick to the ankle by Martin Demichelis only to return minutes later.

Questions for second half:

– Can Argentina overcome the Dutch defense?: Things got more difficult for Argentina’s attacking success with Nigel de Jong in the game but grew even worse when Van Gaal instructed his team to put 10 men behind the ball. Argentina possessed but had little success moving forward. What success they did have came from Pablo Zabaleta and Perez linking up on the right side, giving Daley Blind and Martins Indi headaches. If the Dutch defense is going to break, this looks the most likely spot. Zabaleta must continue to push forward as Mascherano provides coverage.

– Where is Robben?: After a brilliant first five matches in this World Cup, Arjen Robben has gone silent. But it’s not for lack of effort as the Dutch midfield has been unable to get him the ball despite his dropping deep. With Garay and Rojo shutting him down, Robben may want to come more central or even switch to the left where Zabaleta’s bombing runs may leave Argentina exposed. One way or another, if the Dutch are to win they need Robben to step up.

Brazilian midfielder Fred has doping ban extended to club, out until June

VIENNA, AUSTRIA - AUGUST 19:  Fred of Donetsk goes for a header during the UEFA Champions League: Qualifying Round Play Off First Leg match between SK Rapid Vienna and FC Shakhtar Donetsk on August 19, 2015 in Vienna, Austria.  (Photo by Christian Hofer/Getty Images)
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Shakhtar Donetsk striker Fred, a regular for the Brazilian national team, has seen his CONMEBOL doping ban extended worldwide to all competitions.

A FIFA disciplinary committee announced that Fred’s suspension now covers “all types of matches, including domestic, international, friendly and official fixtures.”

The 22-year-old tested positive for the diuretic hydrochlorothiazide during last summer’s Copa America, and has not played for the Brazilian national team since, having been banned for a year by CONMEBOL. He had been playing for his Ukranian club while FIFA was reviewing the case, making 12 appearances in league play and scoring two goals. He also played six times in the Champions League without scoring a goal.

The one-year ban is back-dated to Fred’s last international squad appearance, when he was on the bench for the Copa America quarterfinals on June 27 of last summer. That date will allow Fred to be eligible for the Rio Olympics, which start August 5.

Men In Blazers podcast: Irvine Welsh Pod Special

Men In Blazers - Sept. 22
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Rog talks with “Trainspotting” author Irvine Welsh about his new novel “A Decent Ride,” unconventional career arc, and love for West Ham United/Hibernian.

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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LA Galaxy newcomer Ashley Cole takes responsibility for previous MLS quote

CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 5: Ashley Cole #3 of the Los Angeles Galaxy speaks after he was introduced during a news conference at StubHub Center February 5, 2016, in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Wireimage)
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During Ashley Cole‘s introductory press conference today, where the former Chelsea legend was officially unveiled by the LA Galaxy to the media alongside Belgian defender Jelle Van Damme, a predictable question came his way.

Cole was asked about comments he made a year and a half ago when he joined AS Roma, where he said he turned down offers from Major League Soccer because he didn’t want to go “relax on the beach.”

The 35-year-old took responsibility for the quote, saying, “Of course, I hold my hands up, it was said.” However, he defended himself saying he was baited into the comments by the Italian reporter.

“I’m not going to come here and try to defend myself,” Cole said. “It was said, but it was for sure taken out of content. I was talking to the reporter, and he kind of said it to me, ‘We’re glad to have you at Roma. We didn’t expect you to be here, we thought you would go and relax on the beach.'”

“Of course you have to understand, I was at a new team, I have to tell the fans at Roma I was here to fight, I was there to win things and play in the Champions League.”

Cole said he spoke to Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, and Robbie Keane about the league before deciding to join Major League Soccer. “I know it’s going to be hard for me for sure, but I’m happy to be here, I’m going to work as hard as I can, change a few views on me being here, and we’ll see. I’m a winner, I always want to win, I didn’t come here to sit on the beach – to rest – I’m here to play football and work hard. I’m not a diva, I’m not this egotistical guy that comes and thinks he’s bigger than anyone.”

3 key battles for USMNT against Canada

CARSON, CA - JANUARY 31:  Jozy Altidore #17 of the United States chases down a pass against Iceland during the first half at StubHub Center on January 31, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The United States takes on Canada in the second of two matches throughout January camp to test those brought in and see who stands out.

They took out Iceland in the first match, and now the Canadians stand in the way at the Stubhub Center in Carson, CA at 10:30 on Friday night.

[ PREVIEW: Get the full look at US vs Canada ]

Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann no doubt has already run through is list of positives and negatives in the win over Iceland. While the win is nice, the overriding purpose here is to both evaluate certain players and determine the best formula for success moving forward into World Cup qualifying, the Copa America, and the Olympics.

So, with that in mind, here are three key matchups to keep an eye on as the USMNT players battle both Canada and each other for spots on the roster in future meaningful games.

1) United States attack vs Canada’s organization

The US was solid in possession against Iceland, but it came against an opponent that showed a more attacking intent and also appeared to have limited motivation. Canada would not be what you call a “defensive” team, but they are very organized under Benito Floro, and it shows. They’ve conceded 1 or 0 goals in each of their last 13 matches, losing just once across that time. Their goalscoring numbers have suffered, but it’s translated into marginal success.

To hold the ball against Iceland, the US used a slow build-up process beginning with Jermaine Jones (who stayed surprisingly composed and centralized during his time on the field) who fed Michael Bradley and Lee Nguyen further up the pitch. That tactic may not be as effective against a less erratic opponent, but it will be interesting to see how Klinsmann decides to break down the Canadian defensive unit. The wide areas may be vital.

The 0-0 scoreline has been a fixture in this matchup, finishing goalless the last two times and in four of the last eight, so the US will no doubt be looking to break that deadlock early lest they get frustrated as time progresses.

2) USMNT full-backs vs wide play

Michael Orozco and Brad Evans were sent back to their clubs, leaving the United States incredibly thin at a position the nation has already been weak at for years. Jurgen Klinsmann has been searching far and wide for an answer to this question, and with young Kellyn Acosta slightly out of his depth or potentially star-struck in his debut against Iceland, there are a few other question marks.

The options are limited. Acosta could get another shot if Klinsmann likes what he sees in training, or he could move to the likes of Brandon Vincent or Matt Polster. The latter logged 30 matches for Chicago last year as a rookie, while Vincent was just drafted by FC Dallas and has yet to even make a professional appearance. Either way, it’s likely Canada targets the wide areas as a point of weakness for the US, so whoever plays will be in the spotlight.

[ VIDEO: Bobby Wood scores skillful goal for club ]

3) Central defenders vs Akindele and Larin

Whether Floro decides to play Larin centrally by himself, or partner him with Akindele, the striker(s) will be the main target for Canada’s attack. Larin and Akindele both have not seen the scoresheet since a 4-0 win over the Dominican Republic in World Cup qualifying last June, so they will be itching to get back on board. Should one be deployed centrally, look for the lone wolf to split the central defenders and receive service from wide areas where Canada may exploit the aforementioned weaknesses along the outside of the US back line.

How do you see the US matching up against Canada, and visa-versa?