Game On: Lineups for World Cup final, will Argentina or Germany prevail?

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The 64th and final match of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil takes place on Sunday, as Argentina and Germany square off in the World Cup final.

Who will be crowned as the new World Champions?

Germany are going for their fourth title, Argentina their third, as two proud soccer nations meet at the world famous Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro in what promises to be a sensational match.

FOLLOW LIVE: Germany vs. Argentina 

Lionel Messi leads a well-drilled Argentina, while Germany’s stacked side will go for a team-first approach to overcome their South American rivals.

These sides have met in the 1986 and 1990 finals, Argentina prevailing in ’86 and Germany in ’90, and this is the first-time in history that the same nations have met in three WC finals. Both teams are unchanged  from the semifinal wins.

Will Germany and Argentina dish up a fitting finale to what’s been a marvelous tournament in Brazil?

LINEUPS

Germany: Neuer; Lahm, Hummels, Boateng, Höwedes; Schweinsteiger, Khedira; Müller, Kroos, Özil; Klose

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

Talking points

Will Lionel Messi join the greats of the game?

Messi has won just about every trophy ever invented… except for one. The World Cup. If you ask most people, they will say Argentina’s captain is already on a par with Diego Maradona and Pele as a true great of the game. However one small question mark always pops up. what about Messi’s performances for Argentina at the World Cup? Messi… he hasn’t won a World Cup? Messi has scored four times in Brazil this summer and keeps popping up at crucial times to save the Albiceleste. Can Messi be Argentina’s hero on Sunday and become a true soccer god at the Maracana?

Team first over individual talent?

Germany are full of confidence after their 7-1 drubbing of hosts Brazil in the semifinal. They are well-rested and sense that their time has arrived to win their first World Cup since 1990. Above all that, the German players work together and are a well-oiled machine under Joachim Low. With Kroos, Muller, Ozil and Neuer all coming through the ranks together, plus the experience of Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Klose, can they put in one more stunning team performance to overcome Argentina’s individual brilliance?

Expectation

This match should be a tight game, as both teams are extremely well-organized. If someone scores early then this game could open up, as Argentina and Germany possess mercurial attacking talents. However, when Germany and Argentina met in the 1990 final it was a dire match as both nations were too scared to lose in a 1-0 win for Germany. In 1986, Argentina won 3-2 in a pulsating clash. Let’s hope the latter game is replicated at the Maracana.

One blogger’s prediction

It it hard to bet against Germany, especially as their ruthless machine destroyed Brazil and has yet to click out of second-gear (the round of 16 clash against Algeria aside) for most of the tournament. However it just feels scripted that a scrappy Argentina team, led by Lionel Messi and supported by tens of thousands of Argentina fans, is going to win the tournament in the backyard of their biggest rivals Brazil. Tiredness will play a part for Argentina, but I fancy them to bag a 2-1 win and grab their third World Cup title.

USL granted 2018 2nd-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer

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U.S. Soccer has officially granted the United Soccer League second-division sanctioning, behind first-division Major League Soccer, for the upcoming 2018 season, as well as first-division status for the National Women’s Soccer League.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan unveiled by Liga MX side Club Leon ]

USL, which will feature 33 teams in 2018, had been granted temporary second-division sanctioning, alongside the North American Soccer League, in 2017. As NASL’s demise continued and accelerated — the league will not begin play this spring, opting instead for a late-summer kickoff, after a number of its teams either folded or jumped ship to USL — USL, with the help of MLS, quickly pounced to capitalize — from U.S. Soccer’s statement:

Sanctioning allows NWSL and USL to operate a Division I and II league, respectively, during the 2018 season and includes a two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards. USL has demonstrated substantial progress toward reaching full compliance since being granted provisional Division II sanctioning in 2017.

Conspiracy theorist’s take: USL supplanted NASL as the U.S.’s second-most viable professional men’s league — and more importantly, being granted official second-division status — paves the way for MLS to, at some point well down the line — say, 2030 or so — implement its own multi-tiered system of promotion and relegation, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 teams, while still remaining a single-entity structure closed to the lower reaches of the sport in America, as the lines separating MLS and USL have only become more and more blurred in recent years.

[ MORE: Donovan ready to “win championships” after ending retirement ]

MLS realizes that public demand for promotion and relegation in the U.S. has grown significantly louder in recent years — particularly given the climate of the sport after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and subsequent ongoing presidential-election campaign — thus an open-but-not-really-open system which satisfies neither side will eventually be the end result.

Wenger called ref Dean “not honest,” “a disgrace” to earn ban

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LONDON (AP) Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger accused a referee of being “not honest” and called him “a disgrace” in a rant inside the match officials’ changing room that led to a three-match touchline ban for one of English soccer’s most experienced coaches.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

The English Football Association published Tuesday the written reasons behind its decision to ban Wenger for being abusive toward referee Mike Dean after Arsenal’s 1-1 draw at West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League on Dec. 31.

In his match report given to the FA, Dean said Wenger “was pointing aggressively at me saying, ‘You’re not honest’ on numerous occasions.” Dean then said Wenger said “you’ve done this to us many times before, you’re supposed to be professional, you’re a disgrace.”

[ MORE: Newcastle sale talks collapse — Staveley, not Ashley, out ]

Wenger had been incensed at Calum Chambers being penalized for a handball and West Brom converting the resulting penalty to equalize late in the game.

The FA said “there is simply no justification for this behavior” and considered a stadium ban for Wenger.

Wenger was also fined $54,200 for his conduct.

FA Cup: Leicester, West Ham survive replays to reach 4th round

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Two more Premier League sides reached the fourth round of the 2017-18 FA Cup on Tuesday, winning their respective replays and joining 10 other top-flight clubs already through to the next round…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town

Kelechi Iheanacho moved to Leicester from Manchester City for $33 million this summer and has, through his first half-season in the East Midlands, failed to live up to that price tag. In nine PL appearances, he is yet to score his first league goal. Tuesday, however, saw the 21-year-old Nigerian international put forth a bit production and performance more befitting a player of his promise and pedigree.

Manager Claude Puel picked a side consisting of first-team regulars and lesser-used squad players for the Foxes FA Cup third-round replay against League One side Fleetwood Town. It was Iheanacho, who started alongside/just behind target man Islam Slimani, who shown brightest with a pair of goals, in the 43rd and 77th minutes, to send Leicester into the fourth round. Iheanacho’s second, the one that put the game away for Leicester, was originally ruled out for offside, but was eventually after consultation of the video-assistant referee.

Leicester will travel to League One side Peterborough in the fourth round, on Sat. Jan. 27.

[ MORE: Newcastle sale talks collapse — Staveley, not Ashley, out ]

West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town

It took far longer than Hammers fans would have liked — or expected — but West Ham, over the course of 120 minutes, survived the Cupset bid of third-division Shrewsbury Town. With eight minutes remaining before Tuesday’s replay went to penalty kicks at the London Stadium, 21-year-old defender Reece Burke fired home from inside the box to break the scoreless deadlock.

West Ham will be away to the winner of the replay between Bournemouth and Wigan Athletic (Wednesday), on Sat. Jan. 27.

Elsewhere in FA Cup replay action

Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Wednesday’s FA Cup replay schedule

Chelsea vs. Norwich City — 2:45 p.m. ET
Swansea City vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers — 2:45 p.m. ET
Wigan Athletic vs. Bournemouth — 2:45 p.m. ET

Report: Newcastle sale talks between Ashley, Staveley collapse

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Talks between Mike Ashley and Amanda Staveley over the much-desired and -rumored sale of Newcastle United are off, according to a report from Sky Sports and various other UK news outlets.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Sky has quoted a source close to Ashley as having said: “Attempts to reach a deal (with Staveley) have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time.” (Full quote below)

Ashley, the club’s current and long-beleaguered owner, has been seeking a potential buyer since putting the club up for sale back in October. Staveley emerged as the front-runner (the only runner, perhaps) in the days following Ashley’s announcement, and reportedly tabled an offer of $335 million in early December before reportedly offering something closer to $400 million a couple weeks later.

Ashley selling the club — and doing so before the end of the January transfer window, which now appears nigh impossible — appeared to be one the few scenarios in which Rafa Benitez would remain the Magpies’ manager beyond the end of the current Premier League season (Newcastle currently sit 15th, just three points clear of relegation) after constant rumors of his discontent and lack of financial backing last summer.