World Cup final Man of the Match rankings

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Germany has won the World Cup in extra time, outlasting Argentina who were up for the challenge but ultimately wasteful.

Lionel Messi wasn’t able to put the cherry on his legacy, but for Germany they put a handfull of near-misses behind them and capped off a two-decade long building process.

For a match that produced few goals, it was still full of individual performances, and that’s what we’re here to discuss.

Much of the action took place in the midfield, and that’s where we concentrate our list. But first, the hero…

5. Mario Götze

Not even born the last time Germany won the World Cup, the 22-year-old came on just as regulation came to a close, and replaced a legend. But it was he who produced the moment of brilliance, and that it was.

Settling Andre Schurrle’s cross with a chest touch and volleying home midair, he produced a moment his country and the world will never forget, and for that it’s impossible to ignore.

Götze is the youngest scorer in a World Cup final since Wolfgang Weber in 1966. Shots of him taking in the moment after the match were chill-inducing.

4. Ezequiel Garay

Argentina’s defense has to get credit in some way, and Garay was the best of the bunch

As the match went on, the Argentinian defense had to do more and more work, and for most of it they were up to the task. Martin Demichelis had himself a great match as well, but as they tired he did too, and was at fault for not tracking Mario Götze on the final blow, Germany’s goal.

Garay completed 35/40 passes including just two giveaways in his own half, and led the match with 11 clearances. He tracked Miroslav Klose very well, and had the most energy of his defense as the match waned on.  The Argentinian defense didn’t concede for nearly 500 minutes before Götze’s winner, and Garay was a leader at the back.

3. Jerome Boateng

From Argentina’s defense now to Germany’s defense, Boateng was a rock.  He often pressed up high to support the midfield, and pumped long balls up forward as well.  Those long balls ended up bringing his passing numbers down, but his marking abilities – even with the high line – were near perfect.

He also completed all six of his attempted tackles, meaning he was incredibly hard to beat on the ball. He won 4/6 duels in the air, and cleared the ball nine times.

His brother is embroiled in controversy with the Ghanan national team, but for Jerome, it’s delight at the end of the 2014 World Cup.

2. Javier Mascherano

Lionel Messi wore the captain’s armband, but it’s clear who ran the midfield: Mascherano. A star performance all tournament, Mascherano was a physical presence that punished Germany every time it tried to enter the middle of the pitch.

He probably should have earned a second yellow card a few times, but let off a couple of times, he rewarded his team.

Messi won the Golden Ball for player of the tournament (more on that ridiculous decision later) but Mascherano was the best player on the Argentinian team.

1. Bastian Schweinsteiger

This is actually a relatively obvious choice.  Punished repeatedly by physical Argentinian play, Schweinsteiger got up and responded every single time. When Sami Khedira went down just minutes before kickoff with an injury, young Christoph Kramer came in.

Schweinsteiger knew he would have to provide the youngster with cover already, but when Kramer himself got his bell rung and replaced by an attacker in Schurrle, it was the 29-year-old who took the middle of the pitch and made it his own.

As Messi felt the need to drop deeper and deeper into the midfield, he found himself smothered by Schweinsteiger, and he was able to distribute the passes as well.  He finished with 94 completed passes in 105 attempts, a 90% completion rate and the most completed passes of anyone on the field.

It’s not the first time Schweinsteiger’s put in a performance like this for either club or country, but he’d been somewhat of a princess this tournament, whining to the referee constantly and shying away from physicality, along with making silly challenges. Not today. He was the Schweinsteiger of old, and ruled the midfield of a World Cup final, and for that is our Man of the Match.

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia

MLS (afternoon) roundup: Historically awful MNUFC spanked again

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The fourth (partial — playing during international breaks should be banned) MLS Saturday of 2017 is two-thirds of the way complete. A quick roundup of the day’s early games…

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New England Revolution 5-2 Minnesota United

What else needs to be said about Minnesota at this point? What else can be said? The number of goals they’ve conceded in their first four MLS games: 5, 6, 2, and 5. While (we think) a bit of luck will eventually go their way, and they’ll curtail the goals they’re conceding (we can’t be sure anymore), Adrian Heath’s side is on pace to conceded 153 goals this season.

Anyway, New England picked up their first win of the season. The quality (and ease) of goals scored will tell you everything you need to know about Minnesota’s defending.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

New York Red Bulls 0-0 Real Salt Lake

Five days after firing head coach Jeff Cassar, RSL returned to their inept, toothless ways in a scoreless draw away to New York. Through four games, the Claret and Cobalt have scored all of one goal, and genuinely look the league’s most lifeless side; Minnesota have at least shown signs of quality in the attacking half.

On Saturday, New York created the majority of the game’s best chances — a pair of shots from distance, masterfully saved by deputy goalkeeper Matt VanOekel — but the chance that will live in the memories of RSL fans for a lifetime came and went in agonizing fashion.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”