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?

Barcelona defends Messi over “unfair” suspension

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi’s four-match international suspension for insulting a linesman was “unfair and totally disproportionate.”

[ MORE: Messi handed ban by FIFA ]

Barcelona released a statement Wednesday expressing “its surprise and indignation” with FIFA’s decision to sideline the playmaker for so long following the incident in Argentina’s win over Chile in World Cup qualifying last week.

The punishment was announced before Argentina lost at Bolivia 2-0 Tuesday, a result that left the two-time champions at risk of not qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

Barcelona says it “wishes to reiterate its support for Leo Messi, an exemplary player in terms of conduct both on and off the field.”

Pending an appeal, Messi will only be available to play in Argentina’s final qualifier, on Oct. 10 against Ecuador.

World Cup hopes back on track: What next for USMNT?

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After a four-point haul over the past week in their two crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers, the U.S. national team is back on track and heading in the right direction.

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news ]

Bruce Arena led the USMNT to a thumping 6-0 win over Honduras last Friday and then a gutsy 1-1 draw in Panama on Tuesday in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying, as the Hexagonal standings will now look a lot better to U.S. fans who saw their team sitting bottom of the pile for the past four months following defeats to Mexico and Costa Rica which cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job.

So, the “Road to Russia” is looking a little less daunting for the U.S. but there are still tough tests ahead in the months to come in World Cup qualifying as well as a Gold Cup campaign on home soil in July.

First let’s look at the standings in the Hex. Ah, that’s better but things are now very tight aside from Mexico running away with things.

With six games to go the U.S. currently occupies the play-off spot as the top three teams in the Hex standings will qualify automatically for the World Cup and the fourth-place team has to play against the fifth-place team from qualifying in the Asian Football Confederation region.


Mexico — 10 points (+4 GD)
Costa Rica — 7 points (+4)
Panama — 5 points (0)
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USA — 4 points (+1)
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Honduras — 4 points (-5)
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 points (-4)


And these are the USA’s six remaining qualifiers as they aim to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

June 8: vs. Trinidad and Tobago
June 11: at Mexico
September 1: vs. Costa Rica
September 5: at Honduras
October 6: vs. Panama
October 10: at Trinidad and Tobago

The first three games at crucial. If the U.S. manages to get seven points from those three matches, that’s magical. Even six points by beating T&T and Costa Rica on home soil would be superb. Yet, if the U.S. drops points to one or both of T&T and Costa Rica, that puts so much pressure on themselves to pick up wins on the road at Honduras and T&T in two of their final three qualifiers. That would not be an ideal scenario.

Still, heading into the past week the aim for the U.S. was to get back on track in qualifying and give themselves a chance of making the 2018 World Cup. They’ve done that. Now, the hard work begins.

Chelsea chase Alexis Sanchez; Man United want Dier

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The summer transfer rumors are heating up long before the heat of summer arrives…

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

On Wednesday it is being claimed by the Guardian that Alexis Sanchez has become Chelsea’s “No.1 target this summer” as the Arsenal and Chile forward has yet to sign a new deal with the Gunners.

Per the report, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has drafted up a shortlist of the players he wants to sign this summer and Sanchez is at the top of the Italian managers wishlist as he is also close to signing a new deal at Stamford Bridge.

Sanchez, 28, has a deal at Arsenal until the summer of 2018 but if the north London club fails to agree a new deal with him this summer (as well as Mesut Ozil and Arsene Wenger, but that’s another story…) then they’ll have to sell him on or risk losing him for nothing as a free agent next season.

The striker scored twice for Chile in their 2018 World Cup qualifying win over Venezuela on Tuesday and has been essential all season long to Arsenal, scoring 18 goals and adding nine assists after playing through the middle on his own for much of the campaign.

Would Arsenal really sell Sanchez to a PL rival? It wouldn’t be ideal but it’s not like they haven’t done that in the past. Think of Robin Van Persie, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy.

The thought of Sanchez on one wing with Diego Costa up top and Eden Hazard on the other wing at Chelsea should be enough to get Arsenal to offer their star man whatever cash he wants — the report states he wants $310,000 a week which would almost double his current $160,000 a week salary — when they sit down to discuss the new deal at the end of this season.


Elsewhere in north London, Tottenham Hotspur’s versatile defender Eric Dier has been linked with a $50 million move to Manchester United this summer.

According to Neil Ashton of the Sun, Dier, 23, is being lined up to replace Michael Carrick in the holding midfield role at United.

Now, Tottenham are notoriously tough to do business with and chairman Daniel Levy will not want to lose one of his top prospects and an England international to a direct rival in the Premier League.

That said, Dier has been used in multiple positions by Spurs this season and Mauricio Pochettino appears to prefer Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele as the holding midfielders and the emergence of Harry Winks has seen Dier’s importance questioned by some.

The fact that Dier can play in holding midfield or anywhere across the back line will also suit Moruinho who likes to have a smaller squad to work with and per the report the Portuguese boss has been a long-time admirer of Dier. His power to break up the play and also use he ball safely could work very well alongside Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera.

PHOTOS: Bizarre Cristiano Ronaldo statue unveiled

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Hang on, is that really meant to be Cristiano Ronaldo?

On Wednesday the Portugal and Real Madrid legend had Madeira Airport named after him just outside his hometown of Funchal and during the ceremony a bust of his head was put on show.

Except, it looked horrendous…

Take a look for yourself in the photos below. See.