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Player Ratings: How players fared in Netherlands-Argentina

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The 2014 World Cup finals are set: Germany v. Argentina in what should be a clash of the highest order.

On Wednesday it was Argentina who booked their place in the finals after 120 minutes of scoreless action with the Netherlands was settled in a penalty shootout.

Both managers made changes to their teams entering the match with Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella replacing the injured Angel di Maria with Enzo Perez and swapping left-back Jose Basanta for Marcos Rojo and Dutch manager Louis van Gaal bringing on Nigel de Jong in the place of Memphis Depay.

Here’s how each player from the Netherlands-Argentina fared on a scale of 1 to 10.


Sergio Romero – 9

With the exception of a few key punches, Romero had very little to do in regulation and extra time but came up huge in penalties, saving shots from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder.

Marcos Rojo – 7

After serving a suspension against Costa Rica, Rojo inserted himself beautifully into the Argentine defense, working particularly well with Martin Demichelis in shutting down Arjen Robben.

Martin Demichelis – 8

A different player on the international level, Demichelis has established a fantastic partnership with Ezequiel Garay and was rock-solid for 120 minutes.

Ezequiel Garay – 8

Nearly scored a 25th minute header and was a constant nuisance to Robin van Persie.

Pablo Zabaleta – 8 

Alongside Philip Lahm, Zabaleta has proven himself the best right-back in the world. Made a handful of fantastic sliding tackles while proving himself a nuisance overlapping on the wing.

Javier Mascherano – 9 STAR MAN

Best match of his career. Mascherano was everywhere on Wednesday, dropping into the back four to help defend and driving the midfield forward on the attack. His most impressive feat came in the first minute of injury time when his slide tackle on Robben saved a surefire goal. He then duplicated the tackle in the 96th minute. Sensational.

Lucas Biglia – 5

Despite putting in a furious shift, Biglia didn’t see much of the ball and arguably had his smallest impact of the tournament.

Enzo Perez – 6

Did decent in the place of Di Maria with a few notable overlaps and link-ups but faded throughout the match.

Ezequiel Lavezzi – 7

Strong match for Lavezzi, who found plenty of space down the right side and was arguably Argentina’s most creative attacker moving forward.

Gonzalo Higuain – 5

Got caught dropping deep to pick up balls and did well to hold up the play but stymied his side from going forward by doing. Couldn’t establish a link with Messi but did come close to scoring, putting his effort on the wrong side of the side netting. Frustrating.

Lionel Messi – 4

A shocking performance from Messi, nowhere near his standard or where he needs to be if he’s to guide his country to glory. Looked frustrated, lost dribbles and didn’t seem bothered by the fact that he wasn’t seeing enough of the ball.


Rodrigo Palacio – N/A

On for Perez in the 81st, Palacio was lively and came closest to scoring with a header that Jasper Cillessen did well to save.

Maxi Rodgriguez – N/A

Came on for Lavezzi with 20 minutes left and saw little of the ball but did convert the final penalty to seal Argentina’s spot in the final.

Sergio Aguero – 5

An 81st minute substitute for Higuain, Aguero was too slow dispatching the one chance he saw. Clearly still injured, he’s a shadow of his former self but did manage to convert his penalty.


Jasper Cillessen – 7

Enjoyed some confident saves and showed some nice foot-skills in regulation but could’ve done better in the shootout, missing Garay’s and Rodriguez’s efforts when he should’ve done better.

Dirk Kuyt – 7

Typical Kuyt. Nothing special but hard-working and dependable. Even dispossessed Messi a few times and took his spot kick well.

Ron Vlaar – 8

Like Mascherano, this was the best performance of Vlaar’s life. Yes, he missed his penalty but he should’ve never been shooting in the first place. During regulation and extra time, Vlaar was a beast, putting in a number of brilliant sliding tackles on Messi.

Stefan De Vrij – 7

Enjoyed a few big tackles and kept the back five tight, De Vrij has made a name for himself in this tournament.

Bruno Martins Indi – 3

A poor game from the big man, who found himself caught out of position a number of times and subbed out at half time.

Daley Blind – 6

Found it difficult containing Zabaleta, Perez and Lavezzi early on but settled in late in the match when it counted.

Georgino Wijnaldum – 5

It was a big ask for this young player, especially to play inside the park opposed to his preferred winger position. Did ok at times but too often gave the ball away needlessly in the offensive third.

Wesley Sneijder – 6

An inconsistent match from Sneijder, who looked dangerous at times and lost at others. A disappointing end to a great World Cup.

Nigel De Jong – 7

Despite returning from injury De Jong put in a typical yeoman-like shift for Van Gaal, leaving it all on the pitch. It’s never pretty but it’s so effective.

Arjen Robben – 6

Quiet and subdued early on but found a way through in the 91st and 96th minutes only to see his shot blocked by Mascherano. Looked lively and likely to score in extra time when everyone else’s tongue was wagging. Spot kick was well taken sealed a fantastic cup for Robben.

Robin Van Persie – 4

Brutal match for Van Persie. Clearly affected by the flu he’s had over the last few days, the striker wasn’t helped out by Van Gaal’s setup that required him to drop deep to pick up balls in the midfield. Arguably shouldn’t have started.


Daryl Janmaat – 6

In for Martins Indi at halftime, Janmaat was unspectacular but solid in disrupting the link between Messi and Higuain/Aguero.

Jordy Claise – 8

Brilliant in possession coming on for De Jong. Settled the midfield and had the Dutch playing their best football. An orchestrator for the future.

Klaas Jan Huntelaar – N/A

Barely touched the ball after coming on in the 96th minute.

Chinese group buy 13 percent stake in Man City for $400 million

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It turns out Manchester City is valued at $3 billion.

[ MORE: Costa’s time at Chelsea up? ]

On Tuesday it was announced that after six months of talks a 13 percent stake in the City Football Group (CFG), owned by Abu Dhabi based Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, was sold to investors from China for $400 million.

CFG comprises of the jewel in its crown, Man City, plus New York City FC in Major League Soccer, Melbourne City FC in Australia’s A-league and a stake in the Yokohama Marinos in Japan.

This huge investment from a Chinese consortium — made up of China Media Capital Holdings and CITIC Capital — comes less than a month after China’s President  Xi Jinping visited City’s training ground during a tour of Britain.

Why are Chinese investors pumping millions of dollars into the already wealthy club?

The chairman of China Media Capital — a state-backed media firm — Ruigang Li believes that the consortium’s investment can help the growth of soccer in China.

“We and our consortium partner CITIC Capital also see this investment as a prime opportunity for furthering the contribution of China to the global football family,” Li said.

As for City, they aim to make the most of this link up with China with chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak hopeful of the extra growth opportunities this deal will provide.

“Our belief is that we now have an unrivaled platform to grow CFG, our clubs and companies both in China and internationally,” Al Mubarak said. “We will be working hard with our new partners to realize the potential that this deal creates.”

[ MORE:  Who is favorite for MLS Cup 2015? ]

Perhaps more important than this investment from China is the fact that the company which owns Man City is now valued at $3 billion on the New York Stock Exchange. Their close neighbors Manchester United are currently valued at $3.05 billion on the NYSE. United seeing their so called “noisy neighbors” not only succeed on the pitch but now challenge their financial dominance off the pitch, the Red Devils will be wary of City’s rise to the upper echelons of English and European soccer, and now way beyond that with their ventures overseas and particularly in China after this huge influx of cash.

If, as seems to be the case, it’s a matter of if and not when the sport of soccer explodes into mainstream society in China, City being owned by companies with close links to the Chinese state will certainly help them generate more fans, revenue and business from the country with the largest population on planet earth. Tapping into that potential — other teams like Real Madrid, Liverpool and United have a strong and loyal fanbase in East Asia — seems like a savvy move for a club who have invested billions of dollars in building themselves into a world superpower.

Serie A: Napoli go top for first time in 25 years; Inter a close 2nd

Gonzalo Higuain, SSC Napoli
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A quick roundup of Monday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

Napoli 2-1 Inter Milan

For the first time since the final day of the 1989-90 season, Napoli are top of Serie A all by themselves after a top-of-the-table clash with previous leaders Inter Milan.

Gonzalo Higuain bagged both goals for the Azzurri, the first of which came after just 65 seconds. His tally on 62 minutes held up as the game-winner after Adem Ljajic pulled one back for Roberto Mancini’s side in the 67 minute. The opener (below video) was a powerful finish from inside the penalty area which served as a strong reminder as to why a club like Arsenal is consistently linked to the Argentine striker.

Sassuolo 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina, who had a chance to stake their own claim to the top spot, dropped two points away to seventh-place Sassuolo earlier in the day, opening the door for Napoli to go top with their victory. After shooting out of the gates red hot (6 wins in their first 7 games), the Viola have now drawn back to back games — to Empoli and Sassuolo — and find themselves third, two points behind Napoli.

Borja Valero put Fiorentina ahead after five minutes on Monday, but Sassuolo equalized through Sergio Floccari just before halftime to keep their own dreams of European qualification alive.

Serie A table

Matchup by matchup: Picking a favorite for MLS Cup 2015

Portland Timbers FC
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We’re T-minus 137 hours to the kickoff of MLS Cup 2015, between Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

When the two sides meet at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday (4 p.m. ET), the general public will have picked a slight favorite to hoist MLS Cup, just like any other game. Only, this one’s a bit tougher to call — there’s no clear-cut favorite as is usually the case in MLS Cup, so we’ll do our best to explore a few key matchups that might slant Sunday’s title tilt in one direction or the other…

Crew SC width (Waylon Francis, Harrison Afful, Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay) vs. Timbers width (Jorge Villafana, Alvas Powell, Rodney Wallace, Dairon Asprilla)

  • Pinning the wingers back — There’s two ways to beat Crew SC: 1) sit with eight or nine men behind the ball and frustrate them through a lack of space to attack; or, 2) pin Finlay and Meram deep inside their own half, defensively, by getting your full backs forward and forcing them to defend. It’s doable, but it’s not easy. On the other side, best of luck to Wallace and Asprilla with the tracking back they’ll be forced into with perhaps the best attacking right back in MLS, Afful, and Francis overlapping on either side. Fanendo Adi could find himself on an island very quickly if the Crew SC full backs get forward as often as they’d like.
  • Where the help comes from — That’s the biggest issue for Portland, who ever since dropping Darlington Nagbe into midfield, play with a lone defensive midfielder, Diego Chara. He’s great at covering the entire field and providing help to blow up an opposing attack, but he can only be on one side of the field at a time. This means Borchers and Ridgewell will be stretched wider and forced to defend Finlay and Meram in space, where they’re oh so deadly.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Crew SC announce MLS Cup sold out 15 hours after qualifying ]

Kei Kamara vs. Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell

  • All it takes is one chance — Neither one of Borchers or Ridgewell can physically compete with Kamara’s rare combination of speed and athleticism — to be fair, few center backs this side of the world can. Therefore, 90 percent of “defending” Kamara will be staying tight to the 22-goalscorer during the regular season and, with any luck, not losing track of him once the ball gets out to the wings. Once Kamara gets that yard of space in any direction and the ball goes up on the cross, the center backs’ chances of winning the next ball are much, much lower. That said, Kamara will find far less space against Borchers and Ridgewell (and Diego Chara) than he enjoyed against Montreal and New York thus far in the playoffs. There’s very few center back duos with the experience and nous of the Timbers’ backbone.
  • Advantage: Timbers

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Timbers midfield three (Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri) vs. Crew SC midfield three (Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain)

  • Nagbe the key to balance — Darlington Nagbe will, one day, be an MLS Best XI central midfielder. Today is not that day, though. He’s still a work in progress, and probably the most exploitable individual on the field in Crew SC’s eyes. Tchani and Trapp are, in my opinion, the best deep-sitting midfield duo in the league, and they’ll press, harry and harass Nagbe for 90 (0r 120) minutes, probably starting a fair few of those deadly counter-attacks in the middle third of the field.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

Gregg Berhalter vs. Caleb Porter

  • Lineups set themselves — Neither coach is likely to throw out a huge surprise before kickoff — dance with one that brought you, or something like that. Up until recently, I was completely convinced that Porter was vastly overrated and didn’t understand the constant adoration that surrounded the man his first two or three years in charge. Everything was a bit stale and rigid, organized, but lacking flair. Then he moved Nagbe into midfield to allow his biggest game-changer more opportunities on the ball to affect the game much more. This leads me to believe Porter is a bit more flexible in seeing his team and system operate in slightly different ways, but only barely.
  • Advantage: Timbers

Crew SC announce MLS Cup 2015 sold out 15 hours after qualifying

Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew SC
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The building formerly known as Crew Stadium has hosted its fair share of famous soccer games since it opened in 1999 — dos a cero, anyone? — and Sunday’s MLS Cup 2015 looks set to rank right up there among them.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Roughly 15 hours after advancing to this year’s MLS Cup, which they will host this Sunday (4 p.m. ET), Columbus Crew SC announced on Monday that MAPFRE Stadium is officially sold out.

Crew SC president of business operations Andy Loughnane addressed the fanbase in a blog post on the club’s official site Monday afternoon and said, “As of late this morning we are sold out of the extra capacity seating that was created for MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium. While there is a small chance that additional seats could be released for purchase as a result of MLS holds being returned, we are sold out of all known available seats.”

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Crew SC, making their second MLS Cup appearance in club history (2008 champions), will host first-time MLS Cup contestants, the Portland Timbers, on Sunday.