Top 10 forwards from the 2014 World Cup

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In case you couldn’t tell, we’re taking Monday to pause, collect our thoughts, and commit them for posterity in the wake of the 2014 World Cup. In the next series of posts, we’ll go position-by-position, considering which players stood out during the last four weeks in Brazil.

Letting the alphabet set our order, here are our top 10 forwards:

[ MORE from our 2014 World Cup review ]

Karim Benzema, France – Benzema had so many chances during France’s often dominant group stage, he should have been the tournament’s leading scorer. Even with some high-profile misses, the Real Madrid striker finished the tournament with three goals and two assists, with his team reaching the quarterfinals.

Miroslav Klose, Germany – The 36-year-old only had two goals, but they were two of the more important goals in World Cup history. His group stage equalizer against Ghana moved him even with Ronaldo for most goals in competition history (15), a record he claimed for his own with Germany’s second against Brazil in the semifinals.

Lionel Messi, Argentina – His choice as 2014 player of the tournament was debatable. His inclusion on this list is not. Whether he was the best player or not, Messi was one of the best forwards in Brazil, scoring four times and playing a part in five of Argentina’s seven goals.

Thomas Müller, Germany (pictured) – He was one goal away from a second Golden Boot, scoring five times for the second straight World Cup. Only 24 years old, Müller may one day break the record he helped Klose set against Brazil.

Neymar, Brazil – The premature end of his tournament will leave Selecao fans with eternal what ifs, but before injury sent him to the sidelines, Neymar had four goals and one assist in five games, serving as the focal point of the team that make the semifinals.

Arjen Robben, Netherlands – When you have a player like Arjen Robben, you can afford to play five defenders, set up deep and compact, and play long. With three goals and one assist, Robben helped Louis van Gaal’s plan pay off. While his numbers don’t quite match those of Messi or Müller, he was arguably more important.

Alexis Sánchez, Chile – One of the worst things about Chile’s Round of 16 exit was losing Sánchez four games into the tournament. In those games, the new Arsenal attacker scored twice, set up a third, and was sometimes his team’s only source of attack. Though his numbers weren’t dominant, Sánchez reminded people he can be one of the world’s best attackers.

Islam Slimani, Algeria – Slimani’s group stage goals against South Korea and Russia helped the Fennec Foxes reach their first knockout round, where he nearly delivered an upset against a Germany defense that was missing Mats Hummels. With two goals, one assist, the 26-year-old matched the production of some of his more famous peers, making the case for more time at Sporting in Portugal.

Enner Valencia, Ecuador – The one player on this list whose team didn’t reach the knockout stage, Valencia is also the only player to score at least three goals without reaching the tournament’s fourth game. If Slimani made the case for more time in Portugal, Valencia’s performance was a plea to move out of Mexico. Yesterday, West Ham United answered that plea, paying $20.5 million to get the Ecuadorian out of Liga MX.

Robin van Persie, Netherlands – Six games, four goals … but this, nothing but this:

via The Big Lead

After this goal, van Persie could have walked out of Arena Fonte Nova, boarded the first plane to Amsterdam, and announced his immediate retirement. We would have still put him on this list. When you make “dolphin header” a thing, there’s only so much more you can accomplish.

Wigan player races off for son’s birth after scoring 2 goals

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WIGAN, England (AP) It was better than a hat trick.

A player for English soccer team Wigan had a night to remember when he scored his second goal before dashing off the field and to the local hospital, where his girlfriend was in labor.

[ MORE: Chelsea advances to UCL Round of 16 after win over Qarabag ]

A picture of Ryan Colclough holding his new-born baby, Harley, while still in his soccer uniform was shared on social media by Wigan chairman David Sharpe.

Colclough said his father, sitting in the stands on Tuesday for Wigan’s 3-0 win over Doncaster in the second division, “gave me the action that the waters had broken,” but he didn’t want to come off until the ball was out of play.

“My head was a little bit battered, but I went and scored, looked at the manager and he said we’ll bring you off now,” Colclough said Wednesday of his 58th-minute goal, which he celebrated by pretending to rock a baby. “I came off and was straight down the tunnel, grabbed my keys and my phone, and went to hospital.”

Colclough had visited the midwife that day, and was told the baby was unlikely to arrive for “another couple of days.”

Lille suspends coach Marcelo Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) French club Lille has provisionally suspended coach Marcelo Bielsa following a string of poor results in the top tier.

[ MORE: Basel stuns Man United late to keep UCL hopes alive ]

The northern side said in a statement that Bielsa has been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club.” Lille did not elaborate.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but has failed to make the club competitive again, with the team second to last after 13 matches.

The 2 Robbies podcast: PL sides in the UCL, Pulis sacking and more

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In today’s Euro Pod Edition, the Robbies breakdown the latest Champions League action. Man United lose at Basel, Chelsea cruise at Qarabag, Spurs impress against Dortmund, Man City continue to win, Liverpool surrender a 3-goal lead against Sevilla. Plus, the guys weigh in on the Oumar Niasse ban for diving and the Tony Pulis sacking.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Europa League preview: Arsenal looks to wrap up Group H and more

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While several teams have already booked their place in the knockout phase, the Europa League reaches its penultimate round on Thursday with many big matches in hand.

[ MORE: Yannick Bolasie finally returns to Everton training ]

Of the two Premier League sides in the competition, only one will advance to the Round of 32, as Arsenal have all but assured themselves of the top spot in Group H. The Gunners can do so tomorrow with a win over Koln or a Red Star Belgrade defeat.

The other end of the spectrum features Everton, who has already been eliminated from reaching the next round after acquiring just one point in its first four matches.

European giants AC Milan can lock up a spot in the knockout phase on Thursday despite the club’s ongoing struggles in Serie A, while fellow Italian side Atalanta can move a step closer to the Round of 32 in Group E along with Lyon.

Here’s the full rundown of Thursday’s UEL matches.

Astana vs. Villareal — 11 a.m. ET
Konyaspor vs. Marseille — 1 p.m. ET
Rosenborg vs. Real Sociedad — 1 p.m. ET
Lazio vs. Vitesse — 1 p.m. ET
Viktoria Plzen vs. Steaua Bucuresti — 1 p.m. ET
Lokomotiv vs. Copenhagen — 1 p.m. ET
Zenit vs. Vardar — 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Vitoria — 1 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao vs. Hertha Berlin — 1 p.m. ET
BATE vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m. ET
Ostersund vs. Zorya — 1 p.m. ET
Koln vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET
Nice vs. Zulte Waregem — 1 p.m. ET
Lugano vs. Beer-Sheva — 1 p.m. ET
Ludogorets vs. Istanbul — 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga vs. Hoffenheim — 3:05 p.m. ET
AEK vs. Rijeka — 3:05 p.m. ET
AC Milan vs. Austria Wien — 3:05 p.m. ET
Lyon vs. Apollon — 3:05 p.m. ET
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Slavia Praha — 3:05 p.m. ET
Sheriff vs. Zlin — 3:05 p.m. ET
Partizan vs. Young Boys — 3:05 p.m. ET
Skenderbeu vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:05 p.m. ET
Everton vs. Atalanta — 3:05 p.m. ET