Preview, Germany vs. Argentina: Messi to define, be defined by World Cup final

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One explanation that’s emerged in the wake of LeBron James’ return to the Cavaliers focuses on his former Heat teammates. Not that Cleveland offers much more, right now, but after Miami fell flat against San Antonio in last month’s NBA Finals, the question that defined James’ offseason became clear: If I have a choice between two flawed teams, why not pick the one closer to home?

Lionel Messi doesn’t get those choices, and the extent to which Argentina is flawed depends on your point of reference, but compare his Albiceleste to Germany, and the James comparison looks even more apt. On Sunday in Rio de Janeiro, Messi — the best player in his sport — will try to raise the level of his supporting cast to that of Germany – the deepest, most talented team at the 2014 World Cup.

Win, and Messi not only produces his country’s third world title, but he also cements a legend that will justify a place beside Pelé and Diego Maradona. Having already dispelled the notion that he can’t perform in World Cups, the four-time world player of the year can start to address the more justifiable claim: That he’s yet to earn a place along side history’s big two. Winning a world title on Brazilian soil may end the discussion.

Title-minded
source: Getty ImagesA Germany win moves the nation within one of Brazil’s all-time record. With an Argentina victory, the country becomes the fourth to win at least three world titles:

Nation Titles
Brazil 5
Italy 4
Germany 3
Argentina 2
Uruguay 2
France 1
England 1
Spain 1

Lose, and Messi will be left in the same position as James: Reminded of an individual’s limits in a team sport. For the mastery he shows with every touch, the vision he showed while setting up Ángel Di María’s game-winning goal against Switzerland (as well as his near-goal against Belgium), Messi has been contained in the knockout rounds. Amid rumors of fatigue, his movement has waned. After scoring four goals in group stage, Messi saw three teams willing to sit behind the ball limit his influence, taking the chance his teammates could beat them.

The Messi conundrum

But how likely is Germany, with its wealth of attacking talent, to employ similar approach? At first blush, it seems ‘not very’, but German champions Bayern Munich, for all the skill and danger they offered going forward, were content to wait for their opportunities against Messi’s Barcelona two years ago. The route saw the German titans into the Champions League final, providing a performance Germany head coach Joachim Löw is sure to consider in the buildup to Sunday’s final. Whereas the frailties in that Barça defense left the Spanish giants weak in transition, a German team build on Bayern talent could find similar success against Argentina.

It’s all part of the Messi conundrum. For opponents, the dilemma’s about how much you alter your approach. For Messi’s team, the question is whether to commit more players forward, hoping to capitalize on opponents’ conservative approach. In doing so, however, poor defenders get less help in transition, leaving you apt to be exploited by your own pursuit.

To this point, Argentina’s been unwilling to do take up that chase. In the early rounds, it didn’t matter. No matter how defensive opponents played, they weren’t able to contain Messi for 90 minutes. In the second round, Switzerland’s late-match fatigue allowed the game to open up, while the quarterfinals saw an early goal allow the Albiceleste to keep the Belgians at arms length. Only in the semifinals, when Argentina was unwilling to take chances against the Netherlands, did Alejandro Sabella’s approach nearly cost them. Penalty kicks saw them through.

Path to the final: Argentina
source: APArgentina needed penalty kicks to reach the final. Before facing the Netherlands, however, it was smooth sailing for the Albiceleste:

Round Opponent Result
Group F Bosnia-Herzegovina W, 2-1
Group F Iran W, 1-0
Group F Nigeria W, 3-2
Round of 16 Switzerland W, 1-0 (aet)
Quarterfinals Belgium W, 1-0
Semifinals Netherlands D, 0-0 (pk: 4-2)

It’s a reminder of the limits of Messi’s control. You don’t have to go too far to hear somebody note that Pelé or Maradona would take over games, but there were plenty of others matches that were beyond those legends’ reach. Not every game is there for a superstar’s taking, and between the talent around him, the tactics, and the power at Germany’s disposal, there may be relatively little Messi can control. If Germany’s going to make it all about him, another Argentine will have to step up.

The person most likely to do that is Gonzalo Higuaín, who has averaged more than 20 goals per season over the last six years in Europe. Ezequiel Lavezzi, a skilled attacker capable of taking advantage of left back Benedickt Howedes or the space behind right back Philipp Lahm, gives Argentina another hope, while Manchester City star Sergio Agüero and Inter Milan attacker Rodrigo Palacio will allow Sabella to change his team’s look. As much as any team in the tournament, Argentina has the attacking depth to exploit an occasionally generous German defense.

A test of German faith

That threat gives Löw enough reason to stay the course. Rather than worry too much about Messi, employing a plan that would force his team to change approach, the Germans can rely on their best defense: Possession. Although Argentina have maintained 58.6 percent of the ball during the tournament, Germany’s had 59.4 percent, doing so against better competition. When you have a midfield of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira, and Toni Kroos, with Mesut Özil, Thömas Müller, and Lahm providing support, the best plan may be whatever keeps the ball at their feet.

Path to the final: Germany
source: AP
Scares against Ghana and Algeria have not stopped Germany from posting the most impressive record in the tournament, winning five of six games with a +13 goal difference:

Round Opponent Result
Group G Portugal W, 4-0
Group G Ghana D, 2-2
Group G United States W, 1-0
Round of 16 Algeria W, 2-1 (aet)
Quarterfinals France W, 1-0
Semifinals Brazil W, 7-1

If that happens, Müller is likely to build on his second straight five-goal World Cup. Miroslav Klose could add to his tournament record for career goals (16). Kroos can be as influential on Sunday as he was against Brazil, while Özil’s influence may finally translate to the scoresheet.

All of which brings us back to the Messi conundrum. If Löw maintains faith in his team’s approach, relies on his talents to replicate performances we saw against France and Brazil, Germany could be the great team so many have longed for throughout this tournament. They may also open themselves up to Messi’s defining performance.

And if they do adjust for Messi, playing more compact through the middle, aggressively marking him whenever they’re without the ball? They could improve on the Netherlands’ performance, using that talented midfield to create the counterattacks the Oranje could never launch. But they also give Higuaín, Lavezzi, and Agüero more time to take advantage of that approach.

No matter how you look at it, Messi’s likely to play a decisive role. Whether plays well. Whether his teammates step up. Whether Germany adjusts. When a player’s this great, everything’s defined by his threat.

And come Sunday night, regardless of how he plays, Messi will either ascend to the next level of soccer stardom or leave his critics one last area of recourse. Unlike other great athletes, he has no choice but to be defined by this challenge.

American coach Marsch lauds players after Salzburg wins Austrian Cup

Jesse Marsch
Photo by ERWIN SCHERIAU/APA/AFP via Getty Images
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American coach Jesse Marsch has now managed a team to a silverware on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean following Red Bull Salzburg’s Austrian Cup triumph on Saturday.

Marsch’s men beat Lustenau 5-0 in the Austrian Cup Final, celebrating with a social distance-inspired celebration. Dominik Szoboszlai had a goal and an assist in the win, while Hee-chan Hwang posted two assists.

[ MORE: Thuram, Sancho honor George Floyd after scoring ]

The side’s red-hot start to the season dipped upon return from winter break after Salzburg sold a number of stars including Takumi Minamino (Liverpool), Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund), and Marin Pongracic (Wolfsburg).

Salzburg is back atop the Austrian Bundesliga after rivals LASK Linz lost six points for team training during the coronavirus pandemic.

Marsch, 46, won the 2015 Supporters’ Shield as New York Red Bulls coach, and was a regular trophy collector as a player with DC United and the Chicago Fire.

His Salzburg side impressed in a challenging Champions League group and the LASK punishment gives Marsch a look at the domestic double. There are 10 matches left in the Austrian Bundesliga season, which runs through July 5.

Sancho hits hat trick in Dortmund rout

Paderborn v. Borussia Dortmund recap and video highlights
Photo by Lars Baron / Getty Images
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Borussia Dortmund clobbered bottom-dwelling Paderborn 6-1 on Sunday, piling on the goals late at Benteler Arena.

Jadon Sancho scored three goals in his return to the Starting XI, celebrating the first by removing his jersey to reveal a “Justice For George Floyd” message on his undershirt.

Dortmund stays seven points back of Bayern Munich with five matches to play and moves four points clear of both Gladbach and Bayer Leverkusen. RB Leipzig is five points back of second and plays Monday versus Koln.

Paderborn’s three-match unbeaten run is done, the last-place side eight points back of the relegation playoff spot and nine back of automatic safety. Uwe Hunemeier scored from the spot for the hosts.

[ Bundesliga: Gladbach wins | Saturday roundup | Bayern blowout  ] 

Thorgan Hazard had a goal and an assist, as did Marcel Schmelzer. Achraf Hakimi also scored, with Mateu Morey and Axel Witsel picking up assists.

Sancho now has 17 goals and 17 assists in 27 Bundesliga appearances this season.

Dortmund controlled possession but Paderborn manufactured some minor chances early before the visitors came close.

That’s when Julian Brandt set up Raphael Guerreiro for a shot across goal that bounded wide of the frame.

Brandt had a chance to curl a shot on goal just before half, but sliced the effort.

The breakthrough came just under nine minutes after half when Paderborn goalkeeper Leopold Zingerle couldn’t hold Emre Can’s hard cross and Hazard was in the catbird seat to slot home.

Sancho then scored his first from close range before a controversial penalty awarded for a sliding block by Emre Can allowed Hunemeier to convert from the spot. That made it 2-1 in the 72nd minute.

The English winger bagged his second goal with a powerful striker Zingerle could only turn inside his near post in the 74th minute, and BVB scored three more times from the 85th minute.

American teen Giovanni Reyna came off the bench and had a goal ruled out in his 10-minute cameo. He had nine touches, completed all five of his passes, and registered a shot. Reyna both of his duels, drew one foul, and made a clearance (Stats by Sofascore).

Sancho, Thuram, Hakimi honor George Floyd after scoring (video)

George Floyd tribute
(Lars Baron/Pool via AP) (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool)
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Statements in support of George Floyd continued in German soccer on Sunday, as two African-European players used their goal celebrations to honor his memory and plead for justice.

Borussia Monchengladbach’s French star Marcus Thuram took a knee after scoring a brace Sunday in a 4-1 defeat of Union Berlin.

Then Borussia Dortmund’s English winger removed his shirt to reveal a hand-drawn “Justice For George Floyd” statement on the front of his yellow undershirt. Later, Morocco teammate Achraf Hakimi would do the same.

[ PREMIER LEAGUE: Remaining schedule | Reaction to return ]

Floyd was killed Monday after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin putting his knee on George Floyd’s neck for more than 8 1/2 minutes, and calls for justice have reverberated around the world.

The moments came a day after Dallas native and American midfielder Weston McKennie wore a black armband with the words “Justice For George” in Schalke’s match versus Werder Bremen.

Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN on Monday there have been widespread protests across the United States. Chauvin was arrested Friday and charged with murder, authorities confirmed.

Thuram also turned to Instagram to confirm that his gesture referenced Floyd’s death.

Transfer news: Cavani freed by Icardi signing, Saul teases new home

Saul to Manchester United
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Edinson Cavani is going to be one of the top targets in the free agent markets, as Paris Saint-Germain’s purchase of Mauro Icardi ushers the Uruguayan out of the Ligue 1 champions’ stable.

Icardi’s loan move to PSG from Inter Milan has been made permanent for big money, and the 33-year-old Cavani is set to bring his 259 goals somewhere else.

[ PREMIER LEAGUE: Remaining schedule | Reaction to return ]

Cavani scored 200 times in 300 matches with PSG after arriving from Napoli, scoring seven times despite being limited to just over 1000 minutes due to several injuries.

The target striker is free to negotiate with teams having nearly moved to Atletico Madrid in the January transfer window. Inter Miami has also been linked with Cavani, but that was before the coronavirus pandemic lowered the market and put an emphasis on free transfer targets.

Chelsea, Spurs, and Manchester United were (are?) also in a mix that is going to be very deep with suitors for Cavani, who has 50 goals in 116 caps for Uruguay.


Lille has received plenty of offers for young striker Victor Osimhen, but the club tells The Daily Mail that they’re expecting a fee close to what Arsenal paid them for Nicolas Pepe last season.

That was about $87 million, though Pepe had a better (not to mention full) season in 2018-19 than Osimhen’s strong 2019-20.

Pepe is about four years older than Osimhen and has 22 goals and 11 assists during his final Ligue 1 season. Osimhen, 21, has 13 and four in about 1100 fewer minutes and scored in the Champions League versus Chelsea and Valencia, so the comparison is closer than upon first look.

Here’s Lille owner Gerard Lopez:

“I am not being a sales guy because last year people didn’t believe that we had the offers we had with [Nicolas] Pepe and it turns out we had multiple of them. “Let me tell you with Osimhen, it is the same thing, whatever number you heard, the high number I have read is very much on the money of the offers that we have received. That’s where we are.”

Osimhen has been linked with Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham, and a host of clubs outside the Premier League. He lit up the Belgian league with RSC Charleroi the previous season after failing to score in his teen years with Wolfbusgr.


Atletico Madrid star and reported Manchester United target Saul Niguez is teasing a new club for him, saying he’ll announce it in three days.

We cannot be sure it won’t end with some sort of new sponsored product, but the game-controlling center midfielder has featured in reports of a “practically done” transfer to United in recent weeks.

Saul, 25, has become an indispensable part of Diego Simeone’s midfield and was one of the steadiest parts of Atleti’s victory over Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League.

He’s said to have an approximate $168 million release clause.