Game On: Van Persie starts as Netherlands and Argentina clash in World Cup semifinal

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The nearly 62,000 fans filling the Arena de Sao Paolo will be on their edge of their seat Wednesday evening when the Netherlands meet Argentina to see who joins Germany in the 2014 World Cup final.

For the Dutch, Wednesday’s match marks the sixth time since 1974 that the tiny nation, with a land area half the size of Connecticut, has made the World Cup semifinal. In three of the previous five semifinal appearances, Oranje have made the final but one each occasion have come up empty.

This will be Argentina’s fifth semifinal appearance in the World Cup but only their first in the last 24 years. All four previous trips to the semifinal stage resulted in an Albiceleste victory and twice (1978, 1986) they went on to win the tournament.

FOLLOW LIVE: Netherlands v. Argentina

Both nations arrived the semifinal unscathed but not untested. After a comfortable Group Stage, the Netherlands needed two goals in the final six minutes to overturn a 0-1 deficit to Mexico in the Round of 16 before drawing with Costa Rica 0-0 and winning on penalties (4-3). As for Argentina, it’s been five matches played with single goal victories in each match.

Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella has made two changes from the side that started against Costa Rica, replacing the injured Angel di Maria with Enzo Perez and swapping Jose Basanta for Marcos Rojo in defense. Dutch manager Louis van Gaal has elected to start the recently ill Robin van Persie and has made one change to the starting XI that defeated Belgium, bringing in Nigel de Jong for Memphis Depay in the midfield.

LINEUPS

Argentina: Romero; Zabaleta, Demichelis, Garay, Rojo; Biglia, Mascherano, Perez; Lavezzi, Messi, Higuain

Netherlands: Cillessen; Vlaar, De Vrij, Martins Indi, Blind; Kuyt, Wijnaldum, De Jong, Sneijder, Robben; Van Persie (c)

TALKING POINTS

Messi’s Tournament To Lose: With Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar out of the tournament, has this become Lionel Messi’s tournament to lose? Hard to argue that the way hasn’t been paved in gold with the 27-year-old healthy and in the prime of his career. Doing so would go miles not only to getting doubters of his ‘best ever’ status off his back but to replacing Diego Maradona as the country’s hero. Before that happens, though, he must lead his team past a stingy Dutch side.

Robben’s Status In World Football: After a brilliant last few years at Bayern Munich, Arjen Robben’s scintillating performances in this World Cup have the winger deserving recognition as one of the top players in the world. But where does he fit? Certainly behind Ronaldo and Messi but quite possibly ahead of guys like Zlatan Ibrahimovich, Franck Ribery, Radamel Falcao and, dare we say it, Neymar. Harsh? It’s debatable. But the number one reason Holland are in the semifinal is Robben and if he somehow manages to put his team into the final, well, it’s tough to argue that he isn’t firmly in the Top 3 with his eye on next year’s Ballon d’Or.

EXPECTATION

Van Gaal turns his dogs wild on Messi, hacking him to shreds, while Robben puts in a 10+ mile effort with just three blatant dives.

PREDICTION

With a little help from guys like Gonzalo Higuain, La Pulga & Co. persevere setting up incredible scenes for Sunday’s final at the Maracana.

Neymar makes history in PSG’s 8-0 thrashing of Dijon

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A pair of statements which are both true, and not at all mutually exclusive, if you allow logic and balance to prevail: 1) Neymar and his friends at Paris Saint-Germain are quite good at the soccer; 2) they aren’t challenged enough in Ligue 1.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Of course, they’ll be challenged plenty during the latter stages of the Champions League (they drew Real Madrid in the round of 16), but on a weekly basis, the level of competition in their domestic league isn’t of a high standard to indicate just how good they are. That’s the new debate with regard to PSG — it’s no longer, “Are they good? Maybe they’re just a big fish in a small pond.”

On Wednesday, led by Neymar, the most expensive transfer signing of all-time, Unai Emery’s side thrashed 10th-place Dijon to the tune of 8-0. As mentioned, Neymar did slightly more than just pull his own weight — four goals to go with a pair of assists; he lent a direct hand in six of the eight goals.

[ MORE: Chelsea survive Norwich in PKs, reach FA Cup 4th round ]

Even the statistical whizzes at Opta appear somewhat stumped by such an abundance of goals.

Anytime the keepers of stats toss out a “since we started collecting data,” be proud of your achievement. Be very, very proud.

FA Cup: Chelsea, Swansea into 4th rd; B’mouth ousted by Wigan

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Two more Premier League sides booked their place in the fourth round of the FA Cup, courtesy of third-round replays, on Wednesday, bringing the PL’s total representation to 14 clubs…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea 1-1 (5-3 PKs) Norwich City

Chelsea’s scoreless streak — for both themselves and opponents (three straight 0-0 draws across all competitions) — came to a merciful end on Wednesday, but not before surpassing the 300-minute mark. Michy Batshuayi — who, it must be said, struggled mightily in making just his third start (all in cup competitions) since mid-October — broke yet another scoreless deadlock in the 55th minute, ending the Blues’ scoreless run at 331 minutes.

With barely 30 seconds remaining in second-half stoppage time, 19-year-old left back Jamal Lewis brought the Canaries level with a thunderous header off the post.

Extra-time saw Chelsea reduced to 10, and then nine, men. Pedro was booked for diving just after the hour mark, and the Spaniard earned a second yellow card for a wild challenge in the 117th minute. Four minutes later, in second-half extra-time stoppage time, Alvaro Morata was booked for diving and proceeded to shout and gesticulate in the referee’s face. A second yellow was shown immediately.

Willy Caballero denied Nelson Oliveira on Norwich’s first attempt of the ensuing penalty shootout, giving the Blues the only cushion they’d need as Willian, David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta, N'Golo Kante and Eden Hazard all converted.

Chelsea will host Newcastle United in the fourth round on Sunday, Jan. 28.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Swansea City 2-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers

Swansea faced the greatest threat of a Cupset on Wednesday but managed to come out on top, knocking off runaway Championship leaders and champions-elect Wolves. The Swans went ahead through Jordan Ayew in the 11th minute before the prolific Diogo Jota, who’ll be in the PL one way or another next season, brought Wolves back to 1-1 in the 66th. Three minutes later, Wilfried Bony bagged the winner to see Carlos Carvalhal’s side through to the next round.

Swansea will visit League Two side Notts County, who knocked off Championship playoff hopefuls Brentford in the third round, on Saturday, Jan. 27.

Wigan Athletic 3-0 Bournemouth

Bournemouth sat 32 places above Wigan in the English football pyramid when Wednesday’s replay kicked off, and it matter not a single iota, as Paul Cook’s side hammered the Cherries at the DW Stadium. Sam Morsy, Dan Burn and Callum Elder bagged the goals for the League One leaders (three points clear after 26 of 46 rounds played). Wigan have alternated each of the last four seasons, finishing 23rd in the Championship and leading/winning League One. It’s been five years since the Latics were relegated from the PL, in the 2012-13 season.

Wigan will host West Ham United in the fourth round on Saturday, Jan. 27.

Sir Alex’s son in trouble for saying he’d “shoot” refs

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LONDON (AP) It clearly runs in the family.

Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was known for having an explosive temper during his nearly 27 years at Old Trafford, and it seems he has passed it down to his son.

Darren Ferguson, who is the manager of third-tier English team Doncaster, is in trouble for saying he would “shoot” referees because of what he perceived as their poor standards.

Ferguson was charged by the English Football Association on Wednesday for remarks that “were improper and/or brought the game into disrepute.”

The 45-year-old coach has already apologized, saying it was a “tongue-in-cheek comment” and that “I do not advocate violence against officials.”

Ferguson was unhappy his team was denied a penalty in a 1-1 draw with Plymouth on Saturday.

“The referees are part-time and the standard is appalling, their fitness levels are a disgrace, I’ve had enough of it,” Ferguson said after the match.

“What can I do? Shoot them, it would be a good idea.”

Follow Live: Chelsea, Swans, Cherries in FA Cup replays

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Chelsea, Swansea City, and Bournemouth look to avoid upsets in replays of their third round FA Cup matches.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

All three matches kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET

The Blues tangle with former Premier League peers Norwich City, this time at Stamford Bridge, in a bid to host a fourth round match with Newcastle United.

Antonio Conte‘s not messing around (too much) with the XI.

Swansea City and Wolves, meanwhile, are arguably battling for a bid in the fourth round, as a trip to Notts County is on the docket for the winner of Wednesday’s replay at the Liberty Stadium.

Bournemouth is at Wigan Athletic for a replay with the third-tier Latics, with the victor hosting West Ham United on Jan. 27.