World Cup final focus: Argentina

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It hasn’t been pretty. It hasn’t been spectacular. But it’s been done.

Argentina is back in the World Cup final, and Lionel Messi is one win away from placing himself firmly in the conversation with Diego Maradona, something he’s never truly been able to do.

But there’s more – much more – to Argentina than Messi, and that’s what we’re here to break down.  So with the world’s biggest game nearly upon us, let’s take a look at the Argentinians.

Road to Rio
June 15, Group F vs. Bosnia & Herzegovina, W 2-1
June 21, Group F vs. Iran, W 1-0
June 25, Group F vs. Nigeria, W 3-2
July 1, Round of 16 vs. Switzerland, W 1-0
July 5, Quarterfinals vs. Belgium, W 1-0
July 9, Semifinals vs. Netherlands, D 0-0 (advanced 4-2 on penalties)

Form: The Argentinians have struggled to score goals, but defensively have been solid, having yet to trail a match for a single second this World Cup.

Possession: 59%
Pass accuracy: 80%
Shots: 95
Shots on target: 61
Goals from open play: 7
Goals from set pieces: 1

Goals: Lionel Messi (4)
Assists: Messi (1), Gonzalo Higuain (1)
Tackles: Javier Mascherano (18), Marcos Rojo (12)
Recovered balls: Ezequiel Garay (44), Mascherano (42)
Distance covered: Mascherano (67.2 km), Pablo Zabaleta (65.6 km)

Tournament appearances: 16/20
Previous finals appearances: 3
Finals record: 2-1

Outline to victory: Hey remember way back when I said it wasn’t all about Lionel Messi? I was wrong. Argentina’s here, but they’re staggering into the Maracana. Only one man can beat the Germans, and that man hasn’t scored in the knockout stage yet.  Messi is the man to make everything happen, and teams know that. There’s a disconnect when he’s being covered by two or three defenders, and so far it’s mostly kept Argentina at bay. The team must do everything in its power to get him the opportunities he needs. Or he can just make his own, he’s quite good at that too.

In addition, they will struggle if the midfield wastes possession.  Argentina have had less than 50% possession in each of their last two matches, and it’s shown with just one goal in that time.  The defense has been spectacular, with Javier Mascherano the lynchpin despite playing out of position.

Premier League Sunday roundup: Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs all draw; Reds win

NORWICH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  Petr Cech of Arsenal looks dejected as Lewis Grabban of Norwich City (7) scores their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Arsenal at Carrow Road on November 29, 2015 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)
Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images
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The Europa League slate helped give us a quartet of Sunday morning Premier League fixtures, but only five goals through those four games.

Only Liverpool seized the chance to make a move up the table, as James Milner‘s penalty conversion moved the Reds closer to the Top Four, while Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal all settled for draws.

[ SUNDAY RUMORS: Vardy, Neymar, Stones all in the headlines ]

And Arsenal is facing a worsening injury crisis

Tottenham Hotspur 0-0 Chelsea — RECAP

The most notable storyline heading into this match was Diego Costa‘s reported feud with Jose Mourinho, and the Chelsea boss opted to use Pedro up top instead of his best center forward. The play was even, and Chelsea probably looked the better for a goal, and Costa remained unused before tossing his bib toward Mourinho. Surely more to come. From the Spurs’ angle, the North London side missed a chance to assert itself as a title contestant. Mauricio Pochettino‘s side remains four points back of first place.

Liverpool 1-0 Swansea CityRECAP

Not much to like here, and Liverpool could’ve scored several times before Swans’ Neil Taylor gave up a penalty by keeping his arms out as he turned away from Jordon Ibe’s cross. James Milner converted, sending Jurgen Klopp‘s side closer to the Top Four (four points back of No. 4 Arsenal).

Norwich City 1-1 Arsenal — RECAP

Speaking of the Gunners, they scored a goal off a John Ruddy gaffe, but lost Laurent Koscielny and Alexis Sanchez to injury, also sacrificing an equalizer when Robbie Brady and Lewis Grabban teamed up to get the better of Gabriel Paulista and Petr Cech. Heady times for title hopes at the Emirates, but Sunderland and Aston Villa are next.

West Ham United 1-1 West Bromwich Albion — RECAP

A simply-gorgeous free kick goal from Mauro Zarate was on of several good bits of work by the home side, but Winston Reid picked up an own goal on his 150th West Ham appearance to leave this one a draw.

Liverpool 1-0 Swansea City: Milner’s PK the difference for Reds

during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Swansea City at Anfield on November 29, 2015 in Liverpool, England.
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Jurgen Klopp‘s resurgent Liverpool is within four points of the Top Four after a second-half penalty helped the Reds to a 1-0 win over Swansea City at Anfield on Sunday.

James Milner converted a Jordon Ibe-won PK to boost Liverpool to 23 points, good for sixth place.

Swansea is in 15th place with just 14 points, having cooled off considerably.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Liverpool nearly opened the scoring in the sixth minute when Adam Lallana slipped Jordon Ibe in on goal, but Kyle Bartley slid to tackle the ball off the goal post.

The opening 20 minutes belonged to the Reds, with timely tackles and deflections saving Swansea on several occasions.

Nothing got through.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Click here for full lineups, stats, box score ]  

Liverpool went ahead on a PK. converted the chance after Ibe’s cross was handled by Neil Taylor.

Swansea looked better from the goal onward, but couldn’t find an equalizer.

Norwich City 1-1 Arsenal: Injuries, weather, Canaries too much for Gunners

NORWICH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal evades Jonathan Howson of Norwich City during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Arsenal at Carrow Road on November 29, 2015 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)
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Two injuries starters, a wild wind, and a pesky batch of defensive-minded Canaries kept Arsenal from all three points at Carrow Road on Sunday.

Unlikely starter and hero Lewis Grabban scored late in the first half to cancel out Mesut Ozil’s goal, as Norwich and Arsenal drew 1-1 in front of a Carrow Road all-seater record crowd of 27,091.

Norwich moves to 16th with 13 points, while Arsenal is in fourth with 27. Most troubling to Arsenal is that Laurent Koscielny and Alexis Sanchez joined their long list of walking wounded.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

After a couple good saves from John Ruddy, it was a mistake from the Norwich keeper that cost the Canaries. Alexis Sanchez pounced on a bad touch off a worse long ball from Ruddy, and the Chilean’s through ball was calmly finished across goal by Ozil.

Grabban, a surprise start by Alex Neil, turned a slick pass from Robbie Brady in front of Gabriel — who had come on for injured Laurent Koscielny — and pushed the ball past Petr Cech.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Click here for full lineups, stats, box score ]  

Injuries continue to plague the Gunners. Koscielny was lost, as was Alexis Sanchez with a 60th minute apparent hamstring injury.

Alexis Sanchez leaves Arsenal match with apparent right hamstring injury

NORWICH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  An injured Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (17) is given assistance during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Arsenal at Carrow Road on November 29, 2015 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Alexis Sanchez has joined Arsenal’s long list of walking wounded.

The Chilean subbed off after 60 minutes at Carrow Road after suffering what appeared to be a right hamstring injury.

[ WATCH: Petulant Costa tosses bib at Mourinho ]

Arsene Wenger has been critical of the use of his players on international duty when not at 100 percent, but that didn’t stop him from using Alexis on a hamstring injury.

Alexis was headed for a loose ball when he tried to leap over a defender and instead pulled up with the injury.