At halftime: Higuain’s miss highlights scoreless first half of World Cup final – FOLLOW LIVE

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Argentina isn’t backing down to the German machine, and they have had the better chances, but a big miss from Gonzalo Higuain means the teams enter halftime scoreless.

Germany has had plenty of possession and showed their passing prowess, but as they have all tournament Argentina defended well to shut down passing lanes late and make some stellar tackles.

The game was wide open early, and despite teams realizing they’d like to shut down a little to minimize risk, there are still chances to come.

Moments are there to be made in the World Cup final!

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GOALS:

None.

Other key moments:

21′ – Higuain will remember this miss for the rest of his life. Toni Kroos mistakenly gifted the Napoli striker a header behind the Germany defense, but Higuain scuffed his shot wide one-on-one with Neuer. It wasn’t even close. Argentina should easily be one-up but it remains scoreless.

29′ – On an Argentinian break, Bastian Schweinsteiger brought down Eziquiel Lavezzi

30′ – Higuain thought he put the Argentinians ahead, but after taking a brilliant ball from Lionel Messi and putting it in the back of the net, the assistant’s flag raised to rule out the goal. Replays showed the striker was clearly offsides, timing his run poorly and unable to give Messi a good opportunity to send him through.

32′ – Christoph Kramer, already on in replace of the late Sami Khedira scratch, is substituted off with a head injury. He took a thumping elbow to the head from Ezequiel Garay in the 18th minute, but continued on despite looking clearly woozy. He looked even worse when he finally came off, replaced by Andre Schurrle.

45+1′ – Now the Germans have a bad miss to think about. On a corner as the first half came to a close, Benedict Howedes made a great run from the back of the pack and got his head to a free header. With the goal gaping, it hit the post and blasted back out to Thomas Muller in an offsides position.

LINEUPS

Germany: Neuer; Lahm, Hummels, Boateng, Höwedes; Schweinsteiger, Kramer (Schurrle 32′); Müller, Kroos, Özil; Klose

Argentina: Romero, Garay, Zabaleta, Biglia, Perez, Higuain, Messi, Mascherano, Demichelis, Rojo, Lavezzi

Numbers to know:

57 – Completed passes by Bastian Schweinsteiger in the midfield, as he looks to quarterback the buildups for the Germans. Argentina only completed 97 as a whole team. He was a supremely important player for Germany in the first half, who struggled to get many dangerous chances.

16 – Passes received for Lionel Messi. As he has been so far in the knockout stages, teams are double-teaming him and triple-teaming him to shut his magic down.  It’s still opened things up for his teammates, as Lavezzi and Higuain have had opportunities.

Questions for the second half:

1. Can Germany break through this Argentinian back line? It would appear Argentina is succeptible on set-pieces, but then again who isn’t. They look brilliant in open play, and Germany has to do much more work to slice it open.

2. Will Argentina recover from the pair of missed chances? Soccer is all about confidence, and while they could be considered the better side int he first half, Higuain’s confidence has to be shattered after blowing a pair of golden opportunities to be deservedly up. That could be a serious factor in the second half.

3. Will Germany’s early yellow cards come back to haunt him? Schweinsteiger and Howedes both picked up first-half cautions, and that could play into the second half narrative if Argentina looks to run at them.

Willian proves he’s Chelsea’s x-factor against Brighton

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There’s a considerable difference when watching a Chelsea team that plays with and without one of its Brazilian influences in the attacking part of the field.

Willian — who first debuted for the Blues back in 2013 — hasn’t always managed to be a regular starter for Chelsea, whether it was Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink or current manager Antonio Conte at the helm, though.

[ SOURCES: Jack Harrison expected to join Stoke City this winter ]

The 29-year-old plays with considerable flair, something that certainly isn’t uncommon amongst many players that have grown up in Brazil.

At times Willian’s overconfidence is a significant blessing, and at others it can be considered a curse, however, the former Corinthians player’s presence is something that Chelsea needs now more than ever.

That was on display on Saturday during the side’s 4-0 win at Brighton, a match in which Chelsea dominated from start to finish with Willian on the pitch. While the performance cannot solely be attributed to the attacking midfielder’s showing, it’s easy to argue that the Blues midfielder is becoming the club’s biggest x factor — one that can determine the outcome of a match.

Just look six minutes into the match, when the Blues put together one of the best team goals you’ll see in a match this year (or any year for that matter), which of course, was started and finished by none other than Willian.

What stands out about the play isn’t the brilliant slicing shot into the near post corner by the veteran playmaker, but instead the confidence that Willian exudes and brings to a Chelsea lineup that has plenty of talent to be considered one of the best teams in England and all of Europe.

After all, Conte’s group is just a season removed from winning the Premier League and still sits inside the top three in the world’s top league.

Then, there’s the Blues’ third goal against Brighton, which was set up by a smart, and instinctive, through ball played into the path of Eden Hazard by Willian (below).

Even though Hazard ends up with a ton of time on the ball to make his next decision, which was ultimately to cut inside on his preferred right foot, the run by Willian towards the end line dragged a defender away from the Belgian international — allowing the sequence to progress.

Arguing Willian’s importance isn’t a knock on Hazard — a world-class player in his own right — or Alvaro Morata, who has had the intolerable task of replacing a key player like Diego Costa.

Instead, it simply shows that Chelsea has a plethora of talent, and that some of the club’s attacking struggles throughout the 2017/18 season can be chalked up to Willian being left out of the starting XI on a regular basis.

[ MORE: Sergio Aguero continues to display brilliance for Man City ]

The Brazilian international has scored eight goals and added seven assists this season in all competitions for the Blues, despite only starting 19 matches.

The mind of manager Conte is an ever-changing one, so maybe Willian still doesn’t get the starting nod on an every week basis, but just by watching the team’s performance at the Amex Stadium it’s quite hard to argue against the player being on the field as much as possible.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Tottenham

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Southampton will host Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with both sides hoping to pick up three points for very different reasons.

The Saints are currently in the midst of a fierce relegation battle through 23 matches, and sit in 18th place in the Premier League, while Spurs are hoping challenge for a top-four position.

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Mauricio Pellegrino‘s Southampton could get defender Maya Yoshida back in time for Sunday’s match, however, the side will be without Charlie Austin once more, who is currently nursing a hamstring injury.

Meanwhile, a number of key figures will miss the match for Tottenham, including goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and Harry Winks. Also, Danny Rose and Toby Alderweireld remain sidelined with injuries, although the latter is expected to be back soon.

What they’re saying

Mauricio Pellegrino on state of the Saints: “We are not happy with our position but in three or four weeks’ time everything can change. It’s part of our competition. I feel in our team the spirit is really good and everybody is conscious about what we need. I receive these messages from players every day, and we have to convert these feelings into stats.”

Mauricio Pochettino on potential January moves: “To be honest it will be difficult. At some point you always dream but not too much exciting [is happening]. If it happens, it happens. If not, then it doesn’t happen. We are happy with the squad.”

Prediction

Harry Kane is firing at an absurd rate recently, and Southampton’s current form is worrisome to say the least. With just four wins all season, it’s hard to imagine the Saints coming out in front in their clash. Southampton 0-3 Tottenham

La Liga: Las Palmas stuns nine-man Valencia, Atleti settles for draw

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Las Palmas 2-1 Valencia

It’s never ideal when you finish a match with nine men, and that was the case on the day for third-place Valencia. Things were going according to plan for the visitors early on at the Gran Canaria when Santi Mina scored five minutes into the match.

However, goals from Jonathan Viera (22nd minute) and Jonathan Calleri (53rd minute) brought Las Palmas in front, and they wouldn’t relinquish the advantage.

Gabriel Paulista‘s second yellow card, which set up Las Palmas’ penalty kick in the second half was the first sending off for Valencia, while Ruben Vezo joined his teammate in the locker room with three minutes remaining in regulation.

The victory moves Las Palmas into 19th place in La Liga.

Atletico Madrid 1-1 Girona

Barcelona’s lead at the top of La Liga will likely grow courtesy of Atletico’s inability to apply pressure on the Blaugrana. Antoine Griezmann’s first-half strike wasn’t enough to cushion the Atleti lead, and in turn, Girona equalized with 17 minutes left in regulation when Portu scored off of a great take out of the air.

Espanyol 0-3 Sevilla

Franco Vasquez got things started for the visiting side after just 15 minutes, and before halftime Sevilla managed to double their lead through Pablo Sarabia. For good measure, the sixth-place side added a third goal in the 90th minute as Luis Muriel finished off a pass from Sarabia.


Elsewhere in La Liga

Villareal 2-1 Levante


Sunday’s La Liga matches

Alaves vs. Leganes — 6 a.m. ET
Real Madrid vs. Deportivo La Coruna — 10:15 a.m. ET
Real Sociedad vs. Celta Vigo — 12:30 p.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Barcelona — 2:45 p.m. ET

Blockbuster trade sends Kamara to Galaxy, Zardes to Columbus

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The MLS offseason has been in full force for some time now, and the blockbuster moves continue to take shape.

On Saturday, the Columbus Crew finalized a deal with the LA Galaxy to send striker Ola Kamara to the Western Conference side.

[ MORE: All of the picks from Friday’s MLS SuperDraft first & second rounds ]

In exchange for Kamara, the Galaxy have sent U.S. Men’s National Team attacker Gyasi Zardes and $400,000 in Targeted Allocation Money to the Crew. The amount of TAM could increase to $500,000 if Kamara scores 12 or more goals in 2018.

Since arriving on the MLS scene in 2016, the Norwegian had scored 34 regular season goals for the Crew, while adding five assists.

Meanwhile, Zardes has spent his entire professional career with the Galaxy up until this point, after having signed a Homegrown contract with the club over five years ago.

The USMNT winger has scored 34 goals in 131 regular season appearances since making his senior team debut for the Galaxy.