Three things we learned as Germany win World Cup, outlast Argentina

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Following Germany’s 1-0 extra time win over Argentina at the Maracana Stadium on Sunday, there were tense moments galore as two giants of soccer clashed in Rio de Janeiro.

The Germans prevailed and claimed their fourth World Cup title after Mario Gotze’s moment of individual brilliance sealed the trophy for Das Mannschaft.

[ RELATED: Germany 1-0 Argentina ]

[ RELATED: Twitter reacts ]

[ REALTED: Gotze fact file

In what proved to be an intriguing tactical battle between two nations with contrasting styles, we learned an awful lot about Germany and Argentina as the 2014 World Cup came to a close.

Here are three things we learned from the final, as Germany became the new World Cup champions.

Higuain, Messi, fluff their lines

In the first half, Higuain could have put Argentina 2-0 up as the Albiceleste came racing out of the traps. However, the man who clinically fired Argentina past Belgium in the quarterfinals and has been so clutch for club and country in the past fluffed his lines. Massively. First of all he was let in over the top but shanked an effort wide after five minutes, then in the 22nd minute he put another effort wide after Toni Kroos’ poor header played him in. It just wasn’t Higuain’s day as he was taken out by Manuel Neuer in the second half, and somehow a free kick was given against him. Then he was substituted. Lionel Messi, despite winning the Golden Ball award for the best player of the tournament, failed to score a single goal in the knockout stages of the World Cup and once again vanished in the final for large swathes. Messi’s big chance arrived just after the break as Lucas Biglia played him in, but the Barcelona star dragged his effort wide of the far post. Apart from a few darting runs and curling efforts from distance, Messi wandered around in the middle and looked extremely lethargic in the closing stages. He had a free kick in the dying seconds which he ballooned over the bar, then looked at the turf in disbelief as the Argentine captain winced painfully. When Argentina needed him most, Messi couldn’t come up with the goods.

source: AP
Gotze was the hero as Germany, well, win. Any shock there?

Defense dominates, Mascherano shines

Throughout the entire knockout stages Argentina failed to concede a goal in regulation. Alejandro Sabella’s side went 426 minutes without conceding  before Gotze struck the game-winner in extra time. Much had been made of the “fantastic four” up top for Argentina (Messi, Higuain, Di Maria, Aguero) but central defenders Martin Demichelis and Ezeqieul Garay were outstanding. Especially in the final. At times Argentine’s defensive unit look impenetrable but Gotze’s moment of magic was worthy of winning any game. Biglia and Javier Mascherano sat in front of the back four expertly and stereotypically snapped away at Germany’s midfield. Mascherano was simply wonderful. His timely interceptions stopped Germany’s flow time and time again and the amount of challenges he snapped into was essential in the engine room. He cajoled his side into action and was the lynchpin of Argentina’s defensive display. As for Germany, Manuel Neuer won the Golden Glove award as he kept four clean sheets and only conceded four goals in seven games throughout the entire tournament. The experience of defenders Philipp Lahm, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels proved the difference as Germany shut the Argentine’s out in the final. It was a tense, tight and gripping 1-0 win that made the world sit up and appreciate top-notch defending. We’ve seen plenty of tough games where two teams fought to the death in this tournament. The best was saved until last.

“Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.”

In England a saying has developed about Germany, with former England international and NBC’s Premier League Analyst Gary Lineker famous for these words.

“Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.”

Throughout this tournament Germany has found a way to dig deep and get past stubborn outfits like Algeria, France and then Argentina. They also possess the talent to hammer hosts Brazil and were worthy winners of the 2014 World Cup. They were the top scorers, with 18, and the best team. Germany won it with a moment of magic which deserved to win any final. Gotze’s goal was a golden moment.

His strike ensured Germany’s “Golden Generation” struck gold for the first time since 1990. In the end, as it always seems to shake out, the Germans win.

Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez injured on international duty

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Atlanta United is sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings three weeks into its inaugural Major League Soccer season, and the bite appears to be every bit as fearsome as the bark for the newcomers.

Now, the club must contend with its first bit of truly scary news.

In-form striker Josef Martinez was injured on international duty with Venezuela and is heading back to the United States for evaluation. The report says he tweaked his left thigh, and after the match head coach Rafael Dudamel said he would release Martinez back to Atlanta, saying, “I do not think it’s good for Josef to travel. This muscle tightness can take 10 days of recovery.”

Martinez was subbed off of Venezuela’s match with Peru in the 59th minute, replaced by Yangel Herrera and walking off under his own power. Venezuela drew the match 2-2, blowing a 2-goal halftime lead and leaving them bottom of the table, 14 points back of the intercontinental playoff spot.

Obviously that 10-day recovery is more ideal than any other long-term prognosis, but it would still see him miss a road visit to Seattle next Friday. The 23-year-old has a whopping five games in his first three MLS games with Atlanta and has been a force. Brandon Vazquez and Bryan Rochez are the two options currently on Atlanta’s roster to replace the Venezuelan in the lineup.

Martinez was signed on loan from Serie A side Torino, but the move was made permanent last week.

Kevin de Bruyne questionable for injury-laden Belgium

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Belgium, already without superstar Eden Hazard for the upcoming World Cup qualifier against Greece, will now be without playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who picked up an injury in training on Friday and will miss both the match against Greece and the subsequent friendly against Russia three days later…maybe.

The Belgian National Team official Twitter account sent out a quote from manager Roberto Martinez that confirmed De Bruyne would miss the pair of matches, but the tweet was quickly deleted.

Instead, this one was pushed out in its place, correcting his availability and also updating the type of injury:

Should De Bruyne miss out, it means Belgium would likely rely heavily on Dries Mertens and Kevin Mirallas for the playmaking duties, with midfielder Radja Nainggolan potentially taking on a more attacking role as well.

Belgium and Martinez also confirmed that right-back Thomas Meunier will miss out after failing to recover from an ankle injury, while Marouane Fellaini‘s status is unknown after he was held out of Thursday’s training session.

The injury also leaves De Bruyne’s status for Manchester City up in the air, with a pair of massive games in London in quick succession after the injury break. City visits Arsenal next Sunday, followed by a hop over to Stanford Bridge on Wednesday.

Landon Donovan retires again, this time for good

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After coming out of retirement last fall to join the LA Galaxy for one more shot at an MLS Cup, Landon Donovan has once again called time on his career, saying he’s certain he will not play again.

With a number of other ventures on his plate, the USMNT all-time leading scorer is looking forward to spending his time elsewhere.

“Yeah, I’m done,” Donovan said. “I’m done. No more playing for me. I have not [gone public with it yet]. But that is definitely the case.”

Donovan scored one goal in nine games for the LA Galaxy in his comeback bid, with the club ravaged by injuries and still gunning for the Cup. However, after the season was over with a loss to Colorado in the Conference Semifinals, the Galaxy confirmed it was nothing more than a short-term stopgap.

“With Landon, when he came back, it was always going to be a short-term thing,”team president Chris Klein said to the L.A. Times in December. “He’s enjoying what he’s doing and we see we’re comfortable in the direction that we’re headed.”

In January, reports claimed Real Salt Lake had offered Donovan a Designated Player contract, but it appears he’s turned it down, and will now have time to concentrate on his other ventures. Off the field, Donovan is an analyst on Fox’s soccer coverage, is on the advisory committee for the Los Angeles 2024 Olympics bid, and has joined the ownership group attempting to bring an expansion MLS team to San Diego.

Former Spurs midfielder Paulinho scores thunderbolt for Brazil

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Brazil topped Uruguay 4-1 to move on the verge of World Cup qualification, but there was much more to the first half of this match than meets the eye.

Uruguay went ahead 1-0 on a 9th-minute penalty won and scored by Edinson Cavani, and for a moment it seemed like the home side might find its way to pull within a point of Brazil at the top of the CONMEBOL standings. That would not last very long.

[ MORE: Full roundup of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying action ]

Just 10 minutes later, a bad giveaway near the midfield stripe saw Neymar casually feed Paulinho a good 50 yards from goal. The former Spurs man took matters into his own hands, charging forward and unleashing a vicious strike that continued to rise until it ripped the chords in the top-right corner.

 

Not only was the goal a sight to behold, it was an important moment in the match. Brazil was back level at 1-1, and Paulinho would be on his way to an eventual hat-trick with a pair in the second half. Neymar scored once as well to complete the 4-1 final scoreline, and the three points for Brazil saw them remain perfect in the World Cup qualifying round as they march seven clear of Uruguay at the top of the standings.

For Paulinho, the hat-trick brings him to four goals in the World Cup qualifying round, adding to his score in the 3-0 win over Argentina. They also mark an important moment for the Chinese Super League, where Paulinho now plays, having moved from Spurs in July of 2015. Some national team coaches have left players on the outside of the squad for moving to leagues such as the Chinese League or Major League Soccer, but Paulinho has clearly been an asset to Brazil despite his club situation. In fact, in China, Paulinho has scored four goals in his four league matches for Guangzhou Evergrande this season plus another in the Asian Champions League, leaving him in top goalscoring form coming into this international break, something which has clearly translated directly to international play.

The 28-year-old had lost his place in the national team squad in 2014, going over two years without a single international appearance, but has been a mainstay in the Brazilian side during this World Cup qualification cycle.