Three things we learned from Netherlands-Argentina

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After going scoreless across 90 minutes plus 30 minutes of extra time, Argentina will be joining Germany in the 2014 World Cup final after winning on penalties, 4-2.

It was hardly a classic but the match did provide a number of talking points.

Here are the three biggest ones, as we had them.

Is Louis van Gaal the Dutch Jose Mourinho? 

If we’re kind, we’ll call it practical. Or pragmatic. If we’re realistic, it was anti-football in it’s purest sense, dropping 10 men behind the ball to prevent Argentina from generating any sort of rhythm. How audacious of Louis van Gaal, forcing Robin van Persie to defend like that! But he did and perhaps it’s something that we should’ve seen coming, a ramped-up version of his side’s tactics against Costa Rica.

But why? Why force the ‘total football’ Dutch into such a putrid style?

Because with the exception of Wesley Sneijder, Holland’s starting midfield lacked the technical ability to play quality football. Georgino Wijnaldum? An outside player too often caught in the middle. Nigel de Jong? He simply lacks the wherewithal to possess around the Lucas Biglia’s and Javier Mascherano’s of the world. For 61 minutes, it was brutal to watch and, dare we say, a bit reminiscent of Jose Mourinho’s tactics at Chelsea.

But then something changed – Jordy Claise came on for De Jong and suddenly the skies opened up. Was this Van Gaal’s plan? To defend for 60 minutes, tire out the Argentine’s and then use Claise’s skill to possess the ball, spread the field and try a new approach? If so it seemed to be working because with De Jong off the pitch, the Dutch looked much more like the Dutch. And that’s a huge plus for Manchester United fans.

Lionel Messi slept through prom night

It was set up to be a career defining match for Lionel Messi. If he could compel his side through this match the one trophy that has thus-far evaded him would be at his feet: the World Cup. Holland’s tactics didn’t make things easy on him, especially Van Gaal’s decision to start De Jong, but even with things packed tight Messi didn’t demand enough of the ball. Too often he was seen standing on defenders, comfortable knowing that his mere presence in taking them away from teammates was doing enough. But it wasn’t.

Argentina needed more out of Messi, they needed a hero to step forward. In the first half a few tough but legal tackles had him looking frustrated and his only chance – a free-kick from 20 yards out – was put directly into the hands of the Dutch keeper. He wasn’t finding any space through the middle so in the second half he went wide only to once again find slim pickings. Despite what the announcers said, Messi did not provide Higuain with the service that saw him nearly score (that was Enzo Perez) although he did slip a probing ball to Sergio Aguero, who was in on goal but had his shot blocked. In extra-time he popped up once, crossing the ball to Maxi Rodriguez who’s shot was handled easily by Cillessen.

Yes, he did well to score his penalty. But on what should’ve been the biggest night of his career, Messi went missing.

With offense on ice, Javier Mascherano and Ron Vlaar were absolute monsters

For as drab a match as it was both defenses were incredible and in particular, Javier Mascherano and Ron Vlaar. Both are players of decent notoriety, the former more so than the latter, but this night each enjoyed the best match of his career. Mascherano was everywhere, an endless tank of energy, helping settle his side into possession moving forward and getting back to make some crucial tackles, a number of which were on the slippery Robben. Vlaar held the back line like a tugboat anchor, keeping fellow center-backs in shape and making a number of brilliant diving slide tackles on Lionel Messi. Yes, the Villa man missed his penalty but what was Van Gaal thinking having a defender lead the kicks in the first place?

Cristiano Ronaldo could face tax-fraud charges in Spain

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MADRID (AP) Spanish prosecutors are considering whether Cristiano Ronaldo should face charges over allegations by the country’s tax agency that he defrauded the authorities of 15 million euros ($16.7 million) between 2011 and 2014.

Prosecutors said Thursday they have until the end of June to decide whether to charge the Real Madrid star, based on evidence from an investigation by tax officials.

The alleged irregularities were mostly related to money that Ronaldo had in the Virgin Islands.

Tax officials said Ronaldo adjusted his tax declarations and paid an extra 6 million euros ($6.7 million) in 2014.

Prosecutors said that if they decided to charge him, and if the Portugal captain was subsequently found guilty by a court, he would face a prison sentence of at least 15 months. However, it would be unlikely he would go to jail as a first-time offender.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi was convicted of tax fraud last year.

Terry: “I couldn’t care less” about 26th-minute farewell criticism

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John Terry is a man who… well, let’s just say, does things his way.

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For instance, remember the time Chelsea won the UEFA Champions League, by beating Bayern Munich, in penalties? Remember Chelsea’s post-game celebrations, which saw Terry, who was suspended for the final at the Allianz Arena, joyously jumping around with his teammates wearing his full kit, shin guards and all?

Was it over the top and a bit silly? Sure it was, but was anyone hurt or genuinely upset by it? Of course not. On Sunday, as Terry said goodbye to the only club he’s ever known (apart from a six-game loan spell at Nottingham Forest in 2000), he toed the line between what’s acceptable and what’s outlandish. Just like in 2012, Terry caused a minor uproar, and just like in 2012 he “couldn’t care less” — quotes from the Guardian:

“I couldn’t care less, I promise you. All I care about is celebrating with my Chelsea fans. Me and them have a wonderful rapport and have done for 22 years. Nothing that people write or say can ever get in the way of that.

“If that’s the way I want to go out, that’s the way I go out because I’ve been here 22 years, I’ve won so many trophies — so if I wanted to play one minute and come off, I would have done.

“I wanted to play 26 minutes because the shirt number means a lot to me and the supporters so as long as they are happy – and I was over the moon with the reception – I promise you I could not care less.”

“It was an unbelievable send-off from the supporters to help me to celebrate 22 years at the club.

“I’m very grateful to them, and it was something I will never forget. It was so emotional after the game, I was in bits.”

There’s something to be said about the success that Chelsea have had as a club, and the way its recency leads them to feel they are perceived by the outside world. Other clubs, “bigger,” most historic clubs — Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, for example — have been winning trophies pretty regularly for decades, while 70 percent of the major trophies (14 of 20) won in the club’s history have come since Roman Abramovich bought the club 14 years ago, in 2003. Chelsea is a 112-year-old football club.

[ MORE: Pogba, Mkhitaryan fire Man United to Europa League trophy ]

Chelsea’s players and fans are so clearly away of their bought-and-paid-for status, thus everything is celebrated on the grandest scale, almost as if to legitimize their accomplishments (which stand up just fine on their own two feet) and standing within the hierarchy of English football. “Contrived” (and admittedly so) is the word that comes to mind and best describes Terry’s send-off.

No one in this space is saying there’s anything wrong with that, but everyone connected to Chelsea must realize and accept that it looks silly to supporters of the aforementioned long-time giants, and they’re going to be pointed at and laughed at every time they do it.

FA Cup: Three key battles between Arsenal, Chelsea

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The FA Cup final usually brings out terrific entertainment for the fans, and this Saturday’s finale should be no different.

When Arsenal and Chelsea take the field at Wembley Stadium, it will be the last chance this season for some of the Premier League’s stars such as Eden Hazard and Diego Costa for Chelsea and Alexis Sanchez and Mezut Ozil for Arsenal to bring glory to their club.

[ MORE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

The match features two teams heading in different directions. Chelsea, the Premier League champions are in the ascendency after a one-year hiatus out of European competition, while Arsenal finished outside the top-four places in the Premier League for the first time in 20 years under manager Arsene Wenger.

In addition, there’s plenty of other storylines to watch on the field, from whether it’s Costa, Sanchez and Ozil’s potential last matches with their respective teams to how Arsenal will deal without two of its three regular centerbacks they’ve used this season.

Here’s a look at three key battles on the field ahead of the FA Cup final:


Arsenal’s centerbacks vs. Diego Costa

Diego Costa may be a thorn in Chelsea’s side off the field when it comes to the constant speculation of a move away from Stamford Bridge, but on the field this season he’s been brilliant. Costa scored 20 goals in the Premier League and another goal in FA Cup action, and he contributes off the ball as well, drawing the defense in towards him while opening up space for teammates including Hazard and Willian.

Heading into Saturday, it’s unclear who on Arsenal will be tasked with marking Costa. Laurent Koscielny was issued a straight red card in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Everton and will miss the FA Cup final due to suspension while fellow centerback Gabriel left the field on a stretcher after suffering a knee injury. In addition, Shkodran Mustafi is still recovering from a concussion and is a doubt for Saturday.

That leaves Wenger with just Per Mertesacker and Rob Holding as healthy centerbacks, which could force Wenger to revert back to his usual four-man backline from the more recent three-man backline that’s been used.

Regardless of who Arsenal put out there, expect Costa to be at his best, attempting to physically dominate his opponent and get under their skin.


Nemanja Matic and N'Golo Kante vs. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez

Arsenal are at their best when they play through the middle of the field before finding runners out wide, setting up crossing attempts into the middle or perhaps another chance to play through the lines in the center of the field.

Standing in Arsenal’s playmaking duo of Mezut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez’s way are Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante. Kante, as Riyad Mahrez saw last year, does so much of the dirty work defensively that he allows his teammates including Matic and Hazard to bomb forward and either create or finish goal-scoring opportunities.

Kante will have his hands full dealing with Ozil and Sanchez in midfield, and Matic may need to sit a bit deeper to cut off the passing lanes, potentially taking him out of Chelsea’s counter attack.


Eden Hazard vs. Hector Bellerin

For all the speed that Hazard possesses on the ball, there’s at least one player on Arsenal who can keep stride pace-for-pace.

With Hazard likely lining up on the left wing, Arsenal’s right wing back Hector Bellerin will likely face Hazard up one-on-one at both ends of the field, setting up a fun encounter. With Bellerin’s speed and ability to track back, he may be open to a few 40-yard springs into space down the right wing, knowing that Hazard probably won’t be in hot pursuit.

But if Bellerin doesn’t end up with the ball and there’s an Arsenal turnover, Hazard on his own or against a centerback on the left wing could be a nightmare for Arsenal to deal with.

Man United, Man City come together to support terror victims

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The Manchester derby is known as one of the world’s fiercest rivalries, but in the wake of a devastating terrorist attack this week, both sides are joining together to support the city of Manchester and victims of the attack.

Manchester United and Manchester City announced Thursday they pledged together nearly $1.3 million into the We Love Manchester community fund. The fund was set up to assist the families of the 22 people who died and 64 people who were injured in the attack.

“The barbarism of Monday evening’s attack has shocked everyone,” Manchester United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward said in a statement. “Our clubs are right at the heart of our local communities in Manchester and it is right that we present a unified response to this tragedy. The money will help of course but the work of the two clubs and their respective foundation and community scheme can build on the fantastic spirit that Mancunians have shown in the immediate aftermath.”

Folks who want to donate to the fund can visit http://www.redcross.org.uk/manchester or http://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/redcross/ManchesterEmergencyFund.

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