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Game on: Brazil, Netherlands kick off 2014 World Cup’s final weekend

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It’s the match nobody wants to play, but often, the World Cup’s third pace playoff is one of the tournament’s most entertaining games. At least, that’s the silver lining around today’s match in Brasília, where host nation Brazil faces the Netherlands in the penultimate game of the 2014 World Cup.

Brazil will look to rebound after Tuesday’s 7-1 loss to Germany but will have to do so without star attacker Neymar, whose broken vertebra leaves him sidelined for today’s game. The Netherlands, coming off Wednesday’s defeat on penalty kicks to Argentina, remain undefeated in competitive matches since Euro 2012 (with Wednesday’s match officially listed as a draw).

Hoping to maintain that record, the Dutch have made only one change to the XI who started in the semifinal. Brazil, while still choosing a strong team, have made five chances, picking a defense with three Paris Saint-Germain players and an attack with a  trio of Chelsea stars..

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Brazil vs. Netherlands ]

LINEUPS

Brazil: César; Maicon, Silva, Luiz, Maxwell; Gustavo, Paulinho; Ramires, Oscar, Willian; Jô

Netherlands: Cillessen; Kuyt; de Vrij, Vlaar, Martins Indi, Blind; Clasie, Wijnaldum, Sneijder de Guzman; Robben, van Persie

(UPDATE: Wesley Sneijder has just been scratched after picking but a calf injury in pre-match warmups.)

TALKING POINTS

Matter of pride for Brazil – The lasting memory of the Seleçao’s World Cup will be Tuesday’s 19-minute stretch that saw them concede five goals. If they can rebound, however, Brazil will earn one final, conciliatory ovation from their home crowd. Nobody will forget Tuesday, but a win today gives the host nation a chance to end the tournament on a high, if muted, note.

Will the Dutch care – Louis van Gaal didn’t hold back when asked about today’s match. He doesn’t think it should be played. Though he’s chosen a strong team, it remains to be seen how much of his dismissive attitude will influence this team’s play. It sounds like the Dutch have a built-in excuse.

EXPECTATION

Though the Dutch have sat back all tournament and played on the counter, we should see a less-restrained Oranje today. That should produce a more open game, one that could replicate the excitement of the 3-2 Germany and Uruguay played four years ago.

PREDICTION

I have no clue. Whoever cares most about winning this game will probably do so. On the surface, you’d think that’s Brazil, but they may be embittered by having this disappointing World Cup dragged out. Still … Brazil, 4-2.

Ronaldo shows no sign of injury while hanging with Conor McGregor

instagram.com/cristiano/
instagram.com/cristiano/
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Cristiano Ronaldo may not be ready for the UEFA Super Cup, but he’s no longer limping around.

To explore the Real Madrid superstar’s Instagram is to see Ronaldo, sometimes clothed, hanging out with celebrities.

In the last couple weeks we’ve seen him with Eva Longoria, Jennifer Lopez, and now his “bro” Conor McGregor.

[ MORE: Who wins the League of Hate? ]

Wait, what?

Yeah, Ronaldo is friends with the MMA star, and showed no ill form (and no brace of any kind) in several posed photos with McGregor.

Although admittedly, McGregor’s IG game is a bit better: The Irish fighter posted a photo of himself sunning in his briefs with the caption, “I’m gonna get him on the Forbes list by next year. But I’m gonna get him on the tan by next week.”

Good luck with both, bro.

Great to see you bro!!💪🏽🔝

A photo posted by Cristiano Ronaldo (@cristiano) on Jul 24, 2016 at 3:48pm PD

Bruce pens letter to Hull fans: “Desperately wanted to make it work”

YORK, ENGLAND - JULY 23: Steve Bruce manager of  Hull City ahead of the pre-season friendly match between York City and Hull City at Bootham Cresent on July 23, 2014  in York, England. (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)
Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images
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Many Hull City fans didn’t want Steve Bruce to leave the club, and this open letter shows why.

After leaving the club by “mutual consent” on Friday — it was first widely reported that he quit — fans protested at Hull’s game on Monday.

[ MORE: Who wins the League of Hate? ]

Bruce may’ve had his problems with Hull’s ownership, but he certainly got his supporters’ feelings right down to the core.

From the Hull Daily Mail:

My biggest regret is having to walk away but it was a decision I had to make for the sake of the club. The last 12 months have been very tough and it felt like the right step for the club to move forward in a different direction and with someone else in charge.

I desperately wanted to make it work this summer and be a Premier League manager again but, sadly, it wasn’t to be. Nevertheless, I’ve left Hull City with some fantastic memories that I’ll always cherish, including just eight weeks ago in the Championship play-off final at Wembley.

Class from the longtime boss, and we imagine he’ll have a job very soon if he wants it.

Report: Everton to activate release clause of Stoke’s Arnautovic

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28: Marko Arnautovic (1st L) of Stoke City competes for the ball against Seamus Coleman (2nd L) and Gareth Barry (1st Rof Everton during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Stoke City at Goodison Park on December 28, 2015 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)
Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images
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Everton is going to activate Marko Arnautovic‘s $16 million release clause to bring the Stoke City striker to Goodison Park, according to a report out of Austria.

Stoke had been trying to sign Arnautovic to a contract extension, but the player was reportedly prepared to play out the final year of his deal.

[ MORE: Who wins the League of Hate? ]

The huge 27-year-old Austrian has been with Stoke since 2013, and broke through with 11 Premier League goals last season.

Arnautovic would give Everton support behind Romelu Lukaku, and insurance in case the Toffees do wind up selling their Belgian striker. Everton also has Arouna Kone as a potential target forward, but Oumar Niasse is expecting to leave after less than a year at Goodison Park.

Chelsea wins the League… of Hate; Bournemouth, Leicester not hated

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27:  Diego Costa of Chelsea celebrates his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Chelsea at St Mary's Stadium on February 27, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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A family of English newspapers conducted its annual survey of which teams are the most hated in the Premier League, and there’s a new champion.

Manchester United has dropped to second in the table to Chelsea in what the Manchester Evening News called the “League of Hate”.

[ MORE: Rooney’s England position not set ]

According to the MEN, 10,000 fans were quizzed on their love and hate:

A national survey asked fans of each top flight club which sides they hate, and which they love, and the west London club came out as the most disliked club overall.

United, who won the dubious accolade last year, have been revealed to be the next most reviled side.

It’s no surprise that the league’s more successful sides sit atop the table while newer PL clubs like Bournemouth and Burnley are not reviled. That said, Leicester’s dream story has them 19th. How much more success do they need to have before shooting up the hate table?

Here’s the Top Five, and all results:

1) Chelsea
2) Manchester United
3) Liverpool
4) Manchester City
5) Arsenal