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Lionel Messi’s stinker against Holland, explained

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It was, in the purest sense, a match neither side wanted to lose.

Holland and Argentina, both within a sniff of the World Cup final, had clear defensive objectives heading into their semifinal clash on Wednesday night.

Argentina’s objective: prevent Arjen Robben from being Arjen Robben.

Holland’s objective: prevent Lionel Messi from being Lionel Messi.

Ultimately, both game-plans ended in success as the two stars were prevented from scoring during regulation and extra time. But whereas both found it difficult to get into the match, it was Robben who shook off the cobwebs to become the danger man everyone has grown to fear.

After a first-half where Javier Mascherano, Enzo Perez, Martin Demichelis and Marcos Rojo beat, battered and double-teamed Robben out of the match, the second-half saw the Dutch wonder assess his situation and make changes to find the ball. With Jordy Claise on for Nigel de Jong, the Dutch began spraying balls out wide and it clicked for Robben: get out of the middle and demand the ball.

He went wide right, then wide left and then back to the right. He looked to dart up the wings as well as take his dribbles on the diagonal. Was it a notable performance for Robben? Not particularly. But he kept trying, kept searching for answers and eventually, was rewarded with two glorious chances to score in the 91st and 96th minutes only to be denied by the brilliant Javier Mascherano.

Messi had similar problems with worse results. He had to deal with guys like Bruno Martins Indi, who was all too happy to thump Messi any chance he had, and Nigel De Jong, who hasn’t seen a shin he doesn’t like to crack. La Pulga’s true nemesis, however, came in the form of a heaving Ron Vlaar who played out of his mind making a handful of sensational slide tackles on the Argentine.

The physical approach was nothing that Messi hadn’t seen in every match he’s played in over the last ten years. The problem was, he let it get to him. It wasn’t just infringements that prompted Messi to throw his hands in the air, it was legal tackles.

His frustration was palpable. And yet, instead of searching for solutions, Messi seemed content standing on the center-backs and simply drawing defenders away from the ball. Which is a fine technique in small doses but for prolonged periods of time? When you’re supposedly the best player in the world?

That’s not good enough.

When Messi did look to see more of the ball it was always through the middle of the pitch where he was promptly swarmed by defenders. And when that didn’t work, well, that was it. He rarely went wide. He didn’t look to change his link-up approach with Gonzalo Higuain or Sergio Aguero. It appeared, for all intents and purposes, that Messi was out of ideas.

Of course, Messi is never out of ideas. But the fact that he didn’t seem bothered to change his approach – to demand the ball, to ask for more from his teammates – was puzzling. How could his influence become so dulled on the one stage he had waited to so long to perform on?

Just 24 hours before the match news broke that a friend of Messi, Argentine journalist Jorge Lopez, had died in a car crash in Sao Paulo.

And just like that, the analysis of Messi’s anti-influence comes to a screeching halt.

So often we expect professional athletes to play through news and events that deeply affect their lives. Is it reasonable? No. But because the greats are just that, legends in human form, we expect them to rise up and conquer no matter what life throws at them.

On Wednesday, Messi faced difficult circumstances and was unable to be the hero we all expect him to be. Thankfully, fate – and four quality penalties – awarded him a second chance. And on Sunday he can prove the semifinal a flash in the pan by going on to stake his claim as the greatest footballer to ever walk the earth.

 

 

 

Sassuolo’s victory over Pescara reversed to 3-0 loss

REGGIO NELL'EMILIA, ITALY - AUGUST 28:  (L-R)  Alessandro Matri of US Sassuolo competes for the ball with Cristiano Biraghi of Pescara Calcio during the Serie A match between US Sassuolo and Pescara Calcio at Mapei Stadium - Citta' del Tricolore on August 28, 2016 in Reggio nell'Emilia, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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MILAN (AP) Sassuolo’s victory over Pescara has been reversed to a 3-0 loss.

Sassuolo won Sunday’s Serie A match 2-1 but the league now says it fielded an ineligible player.

The league says the paperwork for the signing of Antonino Ragusa, who played the final 25 minutes, had not been filed by noon the day before the match – as its rules demand.

Sassuolo says it followed the rules and will appeal.

The club was one of four teams to win both its opening matches, along with Genoa, Juventus and Sampdoria.

Report: Wilshere being chased by at least 22 clubs

Jack Wilshere, Arsenal FC
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Jack Wilshere won’t be with Arsenal following Wednesday’s transfer deadline, however, where the Gunners midfielder lands is yet to be seen.

[ MORE: Is David Luiz poised for a return to Stamford Bridge? ]

According to Daily Mail, as many as 22 clubs are in the mix to acquire Wilshere on loan, including various Premier League sides.

[ MORE: Aguero charged by FA, could be out for Manchester derby ]

While Daily Mail suggests that Crystal Palace is among the leaders to bring in the 24-year-old center midfielder this season, Bournemouth and Watford are also said to be in the mix to sign the playmaker.

Manager Arsene Wenger reportedly won’t allow the Englishman to go to any of the top four sides in England and also hopes that Wilshere lands outside of the UK .

Wilshere is also being chased by foreign clubs including Serie A sides Juventus and Roma.

The Gunners have been active as the deadline heads down its final hours, with Lucas Perez of Deportivo La Coruna and Valencia defender Shkodran Mustafi both joining the club on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, young defender Calum Chambers has joined Middlesbrough on loan and Serge Gnarby is reportedly close to joining Werder Bremen after drawing significant interest from Bundesliga sides.

US women will host Switzerland twice in October

BRASILIA, BRAZIL - AUGUST 12:  Alex Morgan #13 of United States celebrates her goal to tie the game with teammates Mallory Pugh #2, Crystal Dunn #16 and Carli Lloyd #10 in the second half against Sweden during the Women's Football Quarterfinal match at Mane Garrincha Stadium on Day 7 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on August 12, 2016 in Brasilia, Brazil.  (Photo by Celso Junior/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO (AP) The U.S. women’s national team will host Switzerland for two matches this October in Minneapolis and Utah.

The matches for the defending World Cup champions are set for Oct. 19 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, and at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Oct. 23.

The U.S. team has played Switzerland just twice before, with the Americans winning both matches.

The United States is also facing Thailand on Sept. 15 in Columbus, Ohio, before playing the Netherlands in Atlanta on Sept. 18.

The team will be without goalkeeper Hope Solo, who was suspended from the team for six months following comments she made at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. The United States was ousted by Sweden in the quarterfinals for the team’s earliest-ever exit at the Olympics.

Report: Florentin Pogba could join brother in Premier League

Florentin Pogba
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Just incase you were unaware, there’s another Pogba. And he too could be playing in the Premier League very soon.

[ MORE: Could David Luiz be making a return to Stamford Bridge? ]

While it was Paul Pogba that stole the spotlight when he returned to Manchester United for a world-record transfer fee, Florentin — his 26-year-old brother — is drawing interest from England’s top flight.

According to the Sun, David Moyes and Sunderland are launching an $8.5 million bid for the St Etienne defender as a potential replacement for Lamine Kone. The Black Cats still anticipate that Kone will exit the Stadium of Light this season after handing in a transfer request earlier this month.

Pogba has played with the Ligue 1 club since 2012 after joining from lower-division club Sedan. Additionally, the centerback has made 13 appearances for Guinea at the international level.