Early Dutch goals prolong hosts’ nightmare, claim third place at 2014 World Cup

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A tournament that started with expectations of a sixth World Cup has ended in embarrassment for Brazil, whose defensive failings early in today’s third place match produced the team’s second straight loss. With a late goal from Georginio Wijnaldum build on early scores from Robin van Persie and Daley Blind, the Netherlands claimed a 3-0 win in today’s playoff, leaving the host nation on the wrong end of lopsided defeats to close its tournament.

Brazil came into today’s match in Brasília having suffered its most-lopsided defeat in tournament history, a 7-1, semifinal loss to Germany on Tuesday. Given an opportunity to save some face in the nation’s capital, the Seleçao conceded twice in the first 16 minutes, paving the way to a disappointing fourth place finish.

The Netherlands were on the board in the third minute when van Persie converted a penalty conceded by Thiago Silva. Just past the quarter-hour mark, a failed clearance from David Luiz left Daley Blind with an open shot from 12 yards out, with the defender’s finish high into Júlio César’s goal giving the Dutch early, unneeded insurance.

One minute into stoppage time, a cross from the right by Daryl Janmaat found Wijnaldum just outside the six-yard box, setting up the midfielder for a one-timed finish inside César’s left post.

With the victory, the Netherlands finish its World Cup undefeated, having done 5-0-2 (W-L-D) over the course of seven games. Brazil, on the other hand, went 3-2-2, losing the final two games of its competition.

The Netherlands opened the scoring almost immediately, with van Persie, at the edge of Brazil’s defensive third, releasing Robben behind the defense through the right channel. Silva, attempting to cover from his right-center back position, was late getting to the Dutch attacker and intentionally pulled him down from behind, just outside the penalty box. Committing a pair of apparent mistakes, referee Djamel Haïmoudi pointed to the penalty spot while only producing a yellow card for Silva. Van Persie’s ensuing conversion had the Netherlands up in the third minute.

source: AP
Daley Blind, center, celebrates with Bruno Martins Indi, right, after scoring his side’s second goal. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Thirteen minutes later, the Dutch doubled its lead, with Blind given too much time from near the penalty spot to beat César high and into the right of goal. Despite replays showing the Netherlands may have been offside in the buildup to the goal, Blind took advantage of a weak clearance from Luiz, whose header of a cross from the right found Blind open in front of goal.

On the brink of a second calamity, Brazil recovered, proving the more dangerous team over the half’s final half-hour, but only able to register one, long-range shot on Jasper Cillessen, the host nation went into intermission own two goals.

As play resumed in the second half, so did Brazil’s control, but shots on Cillessen were still hard to come by. Near the 70-minute mark, as Brazil started to push 60 percent possession for the match, the hosts had only managed two shots on target, with the Dutch’s five-man defense able to stop the Seleçao’s attacks as they reached the edge of the penalty area.

Brazil finally appeared to have generated a chance in the 70th minute when Oscar was taken down in the right of the area by Blind, who was stretchered off the field moments later with an apparent left knee injury. Haïmoudi, however, produced a yellow card on Oscar for dividing, leaving Brazil without a chance from the spot.

Over final, merciful 20 minutes, Brazil continued pushing toward the Dutch goal, maintaining hopes the Selecao could get on the scoresheet, if not salvage a result. Those hopes, however, couldn’t generates chances for the home side, who proved no more successful in the match’s last moments than they had since conceding the first two goals. Once Oscar saw yellow, the remainder of the match become it denouement, with Wijnaldum’s 91st minute finish completing the Dutch’s 3-0 romp.

With the final whistle, Brazil’s chance at redemption had gone, and if anything, the performance in Brasília only validated what had happened against the Germans. Whereas four weeks ago Brazil were picked to redeem 1950, the last five days have added another nightmare.

For the Dutch, however, the win caps once of the tournament’s surprise performances. Picked by many to exit the competition at the group stage, Louis van Gaal’s team claimed five wins in seven games, derailing Spain, Chile, Mexico, and Brazil along the way.

Though van Gaal will now moves back into the club world, he leaves his national team with new momentum. When Guus Hiddink takes over, he’ll inherit a squad of young but experienced players – players who’ll be able to leverage their surprise success at Euro 2016.

LINEUPS

Brazil: César; Maicon, Silva, Luiz, Maxwell; Gustavo (Fernandinho 46′), Paulinho (Hernanes 57′); Ramires (Hulk 73′), Oscar, Willian; Jô

Goals: None

Netherlands: Cillessen (Vorm 92′); Kuyt; de Vrij, Vlaar, Martins Indi, Blind (Janmaat 70′); Clasie (Veltman 90′), Wijnaldum, de Guzman; Robben, van Persie

Goals: van Persie 3′, Blind 16′, Wijnaldum 91′

Barcelona denounces Spanish court decision on Catalan independence

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Barcelona released a statement criticizing a recent Spanish Supreme Court decision that saw 12 political activists jailed for their role in the 2017 push for Catalan independence.

The statement said that “prison is not the solution” and called the decision “condemnatory.” Instead, the club said that “the resolution of the conflict in Catalonia must come exclusively from political dialogue.”

The political activists were punished for pushing through an October 2017 referendum in Catalonia that resulted in over 90% of the population voting for independence. The referendum was declared illegal by Spain and seen within the country’s political hierarchy as an act of treason.

As one of the biggest social institutions of Catalonia, Barcelona’s statement on the matter carries significant weight both within the region and across Spain. Barcelona games often feature flags and banners calling for Catalan independence. Catalonia has also made a recent push for an independent FIFA-recognized squad, unsuccessful to this point. However, they played their first match inside a FIFA-sanctioned international window this March against Venezuela.

As a result of the court decision, the Catalan Football Federation suspended all its matches for Monday in solidarity with the accused. This includes only clubs and leagues that fall under the federation, which does not include Barcelona, La Liga, or the Spanish national team.

“FC Barcelona also expresses all its support and solidarity to the families of those who are deprived of their freedom,” the club said in the statement. Gerard Pique re-tweeted the social media version of the statement, adding the caption “Proud to be part of this Club.” Pique is a Catalan native and has appeared for the Catalonia national team 10 times.

Barcelona reportedly set to sign young Ansu Fati to first-team

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According to a report by Spanish publication Mundo Deportivo, Barcelona is readying a first-team contract for 16-year-old Ansu Fati after a collection of positive performances for the club.

The youngster was promoted to the senior side at the start of the season thanks to an injury crisis that swallowed up Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Ousmane Dembele.

He made his first appearance off the bench in the opening league game, coming on for 12 minutes against Real Betis. He then was handed a 45-minute substitute appearance against Osasuna where he registered his first goal in a 2-2 draw. That saw Fati handed his first start, and he scored again just two minutes into the eventual 5-2 win over Valencia.

With Messi struggling of late with injuries and Suarez also struck down and seeing his minutes carefully watched thanks to his advanced age, Fati’s emergence couldn’t have come at a better time for Barcelona. Therefore, the report states the new contract will feature an astronomical release clause of $220 million.

He only just signed a contract with the club back in July that saw him tied to Barcelona through 2022 and put him on a tiered pay scale that would reward him based on appearances for various youth and senior squads. His release clause in that contract was set at $110 million – already a record for a player of his age – but after his recent outburst the club may feel even that is not enough to ward off outside interest. The new contract will also reportedly boost his salary to a fixed $1 million for the season.

Convincing Fati to stick around long-term is of the utmost importance to Barcelona who has been forced to consider the future of the striker position at the club. Suarez’s age is the most pressing concern, but even the potential decline of 32-year-old Messi is a possibility for the near future. With those in mind, Fati’s contributions are critical and could signal a positive future for the Barcelona attack despite the necessary upcoming transitions.

Liverpool, Manchester United set for injury returns

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According to reports, both Manchester United and Liverpool are preparing to welcome back a number of important players from injury for their rivalry meeting at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Most notably, the Reds will reportedly have goalkeeper Alisson ready to take his place between the sticks, having missed nearly the entire season to this point with a calf injury. The Brazilian made it just 39 minutes into the Premier League opener against Norwich City before succumbing to injury, and Adrian has filled in since. While the Spaniard has played exceptionally well in his teammate’s stead, The Guardian reports that Alisson will take back his starting place no questions asked, having rigorously tested his injured leg with intensive training to make sure he is ready.

In addition to the Brazilian goalkeeper, Liverpool is also reportedly set to see Mohamed Salah prove fit to start despite his injury scare against Leicester City just before the international break.

For the hosts, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has received welcome news on a number of players prior to the matchup. Paul Pogba, who has missed three of the last four league matches and five of the last seven overall thanks to an ankle injury, is ready to go and will be available to start. The Mirror reports that Pogba spent much of the international break training in Dubai to aid in his recovery.

Also returning for Manchester United is Aaron Wan-Bissaka who has missed the last two Premier League matches with tonsillitis. It was reported that Wan-Bissaka was ready to return for the Newcastle match prior to the international break, but he missed out nonetheless and was absent from the England national team as well. Also reportedly returning is the oft-injured Luke Shaw who has not played since late August thanks to a hamstring problem.

Finally, Anthony Martial could be ready to return from his own hamstring injury. The report is that Martial would be in contention for a place in the Manchester United18-man squad, suggesting that he may need a match or two to regain full fitness for a starting spot but would be an option off the bench if needed.

Liverpool and Manchester United meet on Sunday for the 203rd time overall and 173rd time in the top flight, kicking off at 11:30 a.m. ET from Old Trafford. The matchup is significant for both sides as Liverpool looks to maintain its perfect record and eight point lead atop the Premier League table, while Manchester United is hoping for a boost from its vastly mediocre record to this point in the season, having recorded just two wins through the first eight matches.

Petr Cech earns win with 2 penalty saves in hockey debut

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Former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper joined English fourth-division hockey team Guildford Phoenix four days ago and made his debut on Sunday.

He did not disappoint.

The 37-year-old saved two penalties in the shootout, earning Man of the Match honors.

Cech is reportedly a fan of the Guilford Flames, the first-division side who use the Phoenix as their developmental side. He was signed to be the team’s third-choice goalkeeper, just a chance for him to get in on the action before his body gives way for good, but he was given a chance to play right away. He wore number 39, a nod to famous Czech goaltender Dominik Hasek. His custom helmet was adorned with Arsenal and Chelsea colors. Regulation finished level at 2-2 before Cech’s shootout heroics.

“I wanted to win, that was the main thing, and I’m glad we did,” Cech said after the match. “I was surprised that I wasn’t more nervous. I didn’t know what to expect so it was nice how quickly my body switched into matchday mode.”