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World Cup Today: Fast Facts on the Final

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WORLD CUP TODAY: SUNDAY, JULY 13

The day has finally arrived. 32 days after this all started. 63 matches are behind us. Just a few hours are ahead of us. By the time the sun sets in Rio, Brazil’s World Cup will have come to an end.

Let’s not get too panicked about how we’re going to cope. Not just yet, anyway. There’s still time to revel in what’s to come…


THE FINAL: GERMANY VS. ARGENTINA

Location: Estádio Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro
Time: 3 p.m. ET, ABC
A CLOSE LOOK AT GERMANY | A CLOSE LOOK AT ARGENTINA | PREVIEWING THE FINAL

How they got here
Argentina
Did you know Argentina have yet to go behind in a match? That doesn’t mean they haven’t struggled, though. It looked as though things were going to be all too easy when, in their first match, Bosnia and Herzegovina put in an own goal to give Argentina the lead before five minutes were out. But it took until injury time for Lionel Messi to break down Iran, then Nigeria gave them a thrilling match that ended in a 3-2 win for the albiceleste.
Winning the group set up a date with Switzerland, who made it their mission to shut down Argentina, thus taking the game to extra time. A goal from Ángel di María — set up by Messi, of course — put them in the quarterfinals. Gonzalo Higuaín scored early, and despite a Belgium fight-back, Argentina left with a 1-0 win.
Which was more than they managed against Netherlands. That was one of the few genuinely boring matches of this tournament, with both sides desperate to hang on. Penalties came, Louis van Gaal had no more substitutes to use, and Argentina came away with a special treat.
A date with Germany.

Germany
Germany caused very few surprises when winning their first match 4-0, despite the fact that their opponents were Portugal. Of course, Pepe getting himself sent off didn’t help, but Germany were already up 2-0 at that point. It was surprising, however, when they could only get a point from Ghana, but we did all appreciate the thrilling 2-2 draw. They could’ve gone through top of the group with just a draw with the United States, but Germany decided to be mean and win anyway.
Many thought it would be easy for Germany to beat Algeria, but that proved to be a sore underestimation of the Fennec Foxes. André Schürrle finally broke the deadlock just after the start of added extra time, to the dismay of everyone not wearing a Germany kit. Then came France, another game which turned out different than expected when France barely put up a fight, exiting with a 1-0 loss.
Everyone knows the ending to this story: Germany smashed Brazil 7-1 in the semifinal. Manuel Neuer still managed to be irritated when his defense allowed an injury-time goal to Oscar, however.
Think Argentina are worried?

History
Whoever lifts the cup this evening will have done it before — well, the country will have won, at least. Germany have claimed the title three times, while Argentina have won it twice. Since that last win came in 1990, however, the current players have yet to lay their hands on the World Cup.

That 1990 title was claimed by West Germany — with a win over Argentina. Yep. And at the previous World Cup, it was Argentina beating West Germany to lift the Cup. Yes, this match will provide bragging rights beyond the usual “we’re the champions of the world!”

It’s worth noting as well that Argentina were eliminated by Germany in each of the last two tournaments, so a win for the albiceleste may be particularly sweet.

What they’re saying
Argentina captain Lionel Messi: “The dream is not over yet.”

Germany midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger: “We know how to handle things.”

Short, sweet and to the point. But who will prevail?

Prediction
Argentina keep playing the organized, defensive game that brought them this far.
Germany attempt to find their way through but find themselves stifled.
We get extra time.
An exhausted Argentina defense succumbs to the wonder that is Thomas Müller.
Germany win 1-0 (a.e.t.)

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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