Argentina advances with a 1-0 win over Belgium

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Another World Cup quarter-final, and another early goal. And once again, it was the team that scored quickly that emerged with the win. Argentina advances, Belgium goes home.

It took Argentina less than ten minutes to take the lead. Lionel Messi kept hold of the ball even while three Belgium players did their best to muscle him off it. His fine footwork eventually resulted in a threaded pass to Ángel di María, who quickly attempted to find Gonzalo Higuaín in the middle of the area. The ball took a deflection off Axel Witsel to fall perfectly for Pipita, who volleyed it into the back of the net.

Higuaín very nearly doubled Argentina’s lead near the start of the second half, evading a challenge from Vincent Kompany through the simple task of nutmegging the defender. However, the woodwork decided to take Belgium’s side, with Higuaín’s shot ricocheting off the bar.

With thirty minutes left to play, it was clear Marc Wilmots needed to do something to keep Belgium’s chances alive. He elected to make a double switch, bringing on Romelu Lukaku and Dries Mertens for Divock Origi and Kevin Mirallas: a like-for-like-like-for-like change. However, he also used the opportunity to shift Marouane Fellaini further up the pitch, which nearly paid off immediately, but the Manchester United man’s header went just high.

Belgium’s new urgency and coherency was immediately evident. They nearly forced Ezequiel Garay into an own-goal off a cross from Kevin De Bruyne, but Sergio Romero was there to ensure Argentina stayed on top.

Yet Belgium still couldn’t find a break, so Wilmots made one final change – and it was a rather surprising one. Eden Hazard had failed to make much of an impression in the match, so he made way, with Nacer Chadli replacing.

Belgium threw plenty at Argentina’s goal, particularly in the final moments. Argentina needed some desperate defending to keep a strike from Lukaku from flying into the back of the net, and were fortunate that Axel Witsel, who pounced on the rebound put his shot over the bar. In the end, though, Argentina proved to be just too much for one of the favorites for the World Cup’s dark horse.

LINEUPS

Argentina: Romero; Zabaleta, Demichelis, Garay, Basanta; Biglia, Mascherano, Di Maria (Perez 33); Lavezzi (Palacio 71), Messi, Higuain (Gago 81)

Goals: Higuain 8′

Belgium: Courtois; Alderweireld, Van Buyten, Kompany, Vertonghen; Witsel, Fellaini; De Bruyne, Mirallas (Mertens 59), Hazard (Chadli 75), Origi (Lukaku 59)

Liverpool fans stranded after flights to Kiev canceled

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Close to 1,000 Liverpool supporters have been stranded as they tried to get to Kiev, Ukraine for the UEFA Champions League final against Real Madrid on Saturday.

Travel operator Worldchoice Sports had three flights full of fans heading out to Kiev fully booked but just 24 hours before their departure, fans were told the flights had been canceled due to landing spots not being available in the Ukrainian capital on Friday and Saturday.

That issue led to the Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, reaching out to the Mayor of Kiev, former heavyweight boxer Vitali Klitschko, to try and sort out the problem between the specialist travel company and Kiev’s Boryspil airport. Anderson then claimed he and Klitschko agreed to two more landing spots being available.

However, only one extra replacement flight has since been arranged by Worldchoice Sports and that still leaves hundreds of Liverpool fans without a way to get to Kiev, even though many of the fans on the flight have tickets for the game.

Worldchoice Sports said the following in a statement, with the main issue said to be the size of the aircraft chartered by the company:

“We have exhausted all avenues to try and get landing slots. We have had them from Liverpool airport and Manchester airport and we have applied for slots in the correct manner and timeframe with the authorities. To reiterate this problem IS with Kiev. We have managed to get a three-night flight secured very late in the day. We are currently offering people booked on the two-night stay the opportunity to use this. Despite some reports in the media this afternoon this is the only flight we have been able to secure.”

Both the club and UEFA have tried to intervene and help out where they can but it appears that hundreds of Liverpool fans will miss out seeing their team in a European final due to a complication with landing slots.

Brazil tests Willian up front with Neymar and Jesus

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TERESOPOLIS, Brazil (AP) Brazil’s second pre-World Cup training featured Willian in the attack with Neymar and Gabriel Jesus on Thursday, a hint that coach Tite might change his starting lineup.

Willian played with the two star strikers for about one hour in the first training with footballs at the Granja Comary ground in Teresopolis, outside Rio de Janeiro.

[ MORE: Commisso “hopeful” of $500m USSF deal ]

Tite did not use his starting midfield to play with the trio. He also used defenders Marquinhos and Miranda during the entire hour, suggesting former captain Thiago Silva will be on the bench for the moment.

If Willian is brought on to the team, Tite could remove midfielder Renato Augusto from the starting lineup, put Philippe Coutinho in his place, and open a gap for Willian.

Since last year, Tite has said he needs a “pacemaker,” and considers Coutinho one of his main options for the role.

Beijing Guoan’s Augusto is under pressure after unconvincing performances in Brazil’s midfield.

Augusto’s spot is also eyed by Fred, one of the surprises of Tite’s squad.

The midfielder said he admired Brazil players who began a World Cup on the bench and later became starters, such as Mazinho (1994) and Kleberson (2002).

“We can get inspiration from them, these players worked very hard to get their spot,” Fred said. “But if I have to be out I will keep working hard.”

Fred also said he was torn between a transfer to Manchester United or Manchester City.

Fred said he had an offer from City in January, and both were now talking to his Shakhtar Donetsk club about a transfer.

“Maybe after the World Cup I will make the choice,” the midfielder said. “Now I am only thinking about the World Cup.”

Fred said he believes his future is outside Ukraine, and doing well in the English Premier League like other Brazilians such as Chelsea’s Willian.

Tite is counting on only 18 of the 23 players in his squad at training in Teresopolis.

Winger Douglas Costa and Fagner are still recovering from injury.

Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino and Real Madrid’s Casemiro and Marcelo will only join on Monday after the Champions League final.

Training on Thursday was attended by four-time World Cup winner Mario Zagallo.

Liverpool owner Henry reflects on history, takes shots at Suarez, Coutinho

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Terrific AP reporter Rob Harris sat down for a chat with Liverpool owner John Henry, and the American businessman didn’t hesitate to unleash some prime quotes.

Liverpool, of course, is preparing for the weekend’s UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid, and feeling its oats a bit.

[ MORE: Ronaldinho marrying 2 women ]

Henry is no exception, saying of departed Reds stars Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho, “They’ll be watching this weekend and could have been playing.”

And his shots didn’t stop with the Barcelona stars. He extended it to all of La Liga. From the AP:

“You don’t want to be in the position where players want to go somewhere else, even if it is a great club like Barcelona,” Henry said. “It’s hard to understand why players would want to go to a league where the competition is so weak. They must play 30 or so meaningless matches per year waiting for Champions League matches.”

Henry also talks about his takeover, selling Fernando Torres, and how Anfield pushes Liverpool past the competition. Read the whole interview here.

Ronaldinho reportedly marrying two women at same time

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Ronaldinho always had a knack for making the difficult look simple.

He’d better hope that skill extends to a pretty unique marital arrangement.

The retired 2002 World Cup champion is going to marry two women at the same time, Priscilla Coelho and Beatriz Souza, in August.

[ MORE: Commisso “hopeful” of $500m USSF deal ]

Apparently he’s been living with the pair since December, having dated Coelho since 2013 and Souza beginning in 2016.

Ronaldinho, 38, co-existed in a three-pronged offense with Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto'o, so maybe?

From Yahoo! Sports:

Bigamy and polygamy are illegal in Brazil, but Ronaldinho’s case is a little different. He’s not planning to marry one woman, and then the other; he’s planning to marry both at the same time. That’s considered a three-person civil union, and they do exist in Brazil. The first one, between two women and a man, was recognized in 2012. Another was recognized in 2015, between three women who intended to raise a child together.