Gotze the hero, as Germany beat Argentina in extra time to win fourth World Cup title

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Germany won their fourth World Cup title as they beat Argentina 1-0 at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.

An entertaining first half played out, where both Gonzalo Higuain and Benedikt Howedes should have scored, but that gave way to a nerve-shredding second half and extra time period as Argentina and Germany could not be separated until the 113th minute when substitute Mario Gotze scored the game-winner.

Germany’s “Golden Generation” had their golden moment.

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Fellow substitute Andre Schurrle got free down the left and curled in an inch-perfect cross which Gotze chested down and volleyed past Sergio Romero to send Germany wild. The Bayern Munich man became the first substitute to score in extra time of the World Cup final to dash Argentina’s dreams and write himself into World Cup folklore.

With their victory Germany became the first team from Europe to win a World Cup in the Americas, as they clinched their first World Cup since 1990 after an exhausting game between two giants of world soccer.

As for Argentina, Lionel Messi failed to deliver the goods on the biggest stage of all, as a brave defensive display from Argentina wasn’t rewarded despite the Albiceleste only trailing for seven minutes during the entire World Cup.

That proved pivtoal, as the 2014 World Cup went to Das Mannschaft.

In the fifth minute a menacing counter-attack from Argentina released Higuain but the Napoli forward dragged his effort wide of the far post after Germany had enjoyed much of the early possession. The German offense started to click into place as Muller, Ozil and Klose continued to link up well as the first half wore on, however another lung-bursting run from Messi down the right saw Mats Hummels struggling for pace but the Argentine captain’s cross was cleared away from danger.

Argentina were having plenty of joy down the right-flank, as Pablo Zabaleta surged forward and drilled an inviting cross that just missed everyone. Germany continued to dominate possession but Argentina were content to soak things up and hit Das Mannschaft on the break.

source: AP
Gotze was the hero as Germany won in extra time.

In the 22nd minute Higuain missed another glorious opportunity to give Argentina the lead as Toni Kroos misdirected a header back towards his own goal and put the Argentina striker in. However Higuain shanked his effort wide with only Manuel Neuer to beat, as the Argentine players, fans and coaches looked to the sky in disbelief. As half time approached Germany began to crank up the heat as Klose and Lahm were both thwarted by Sergio Romero. Higuain then had the ball in the back of the net as Messi’s ball from the right found the striker who finished superbly but he was in an offside position. Argentina’s fans had to stop celebrating as Higuain strayed offside when he should have known better. It turned out to be an afternoon to forget for Higuain. Soon after came a real talking point as Howedes went in late and extremely high on Zabaleta but only received a yellow card from referee Nicola Rizzoli, when it could have easily been a red.

Then young German midfielder Christoph Kramer (who was a late, late replacement for Sami Khedira who injured his calf in the warm up) was then taken off after failing to shake off a head injury he received from colliding with Ezequiel Garay’s shoulder early on. The game continued to ebb and flow, as Kramer’s replacement Schurrle side-footed a powerful effort towards the top corner but Romero palmed the ball away superbly. Five minutes before the break Messi went on another surging run and only a last-ditch block from Neuer stopped the Argentine, then Kroos scuffed a shot into Romero’s arms after an uncharacteristic giveaway from Javier Mascherano. Howedes then headed against the post from six-yards out as the goal beckoned, then Muller was flagged offside as the rebound hit him during a frantic end to a pulsating first half.

At half time Argentina went for it as Sergio Aguero replaced Ezequiel Lavezzi and it almost paid instant dividends as Messi was played through but the Barcelona star dragged his shot wide of Neuer’s far post. Usually when he’s one-on-one the net ripples. Not this time. There was an air of tension around the Maracana as both teams sat with two central midfielders just in front of the back four and looked solid as a rock. The second half proved to be much tighter than the first.

source: AP
Germany managed to shackle Messi in open play.

Neuer and Higuain then collided, as the latter received a nasty blow to the head, but somehow referee Rizzoli gave a foul against the Argentine player as things heated up. Mascherano and Zabaleta were both shown yellows in quick-succession as Germany tried to get in-behind but the final ball was eluded them. In the 74th minute Messi found a second-wind as he cut inside from the right but he bent a trademark effort wide of the far post. Then in the 81st minute Ozil cut in from the right and found Kroos on the edge of the box but the Bayern Munich hit a tame effort towards goal as Germany pushed for a late winner but they neither team could find one.

After a tight second half with the scores locked at 0-0, extra time started with a bang as Schurrle was again denied by a smart stop from Romero then Aguero broke twice on the counter but Argentina couldn’t take advantage of it as the game opened up.

In the 98th minute Rojo’s whipped in a delicious deep ball from the left and Hummels misjudged it to leave Palacios in the clear but Neuer was out like a flash and the Argentina looped his effort harmlessly wide. Both sides looked incredibly tired as the second half of extra time began with 15 minutes left before penalty kicks could decide the outcome.

PKs were not needed as Gotze stepped up to be the hero.  In the 113th minute the Bayern star chested Schurrle’s cross down perfectly and finished powerfully past Romero to send the German fans into raptures. Despite a few last gasp attempts from Argentina, Germany held on to secure their first World Cup title since 1990 and are the Champions of the World.

LINEUPS

Germany: Neuer; Lahm, Hummels, Boateng, Höwedes; Schweinsteiger, Kramer (Schurrle 32′); Müller, Kroos, Özil (Mertesacker, 120′); Klose (Gotze 88′)

Goal: Gotze 113′

Argentina: Romero, Zabaleta, Garay, Demichelis, Rojo; Biglia, Mascherano; Perez (Gago, 86′), Messi, Lavezzi (Aguero, 45′); Higuain (Palacios, 77′)

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

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“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

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Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.