Gotze the hero, as Germany beat Argentina in extra time to win fourth World Cup title

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Germany won their fourth World Cup title as they beat Argentina 1-0 at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.

An entertaining first half played out, where both Gonzalo Higuain and Benedikt Howedes should have scored, but that gave way to a nerve-shredding second half and extra time period as Argentina and Germany could not be separated until the 113th minute when substitute Mario Gotze scored the game-winner.

Germany’s “Golden Generation” had their golden moment.

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Fellow substitute Andre Schurrle got free down the left and curled in an inch-perfect cross which Gotze chested down and volleyed past Sergio Romero to send Germany wild. The Bayern Munich man became the first substitute to score in extra time of the World Cup final to dash Argentina’s dreams and write himself into World Cup folklore.

With their victory Germany became the first team from Europe to win a World Cup in the Americas, as they clinched their first World Cup since 1990 after an exhausting game between two giants of world soccer.

As for Argentina, Lionel Messi failed to deliver the goods on the biggest stage of all, as a brave defensive display from Argentina wasn’t rewarded despite the Albiceleste only trailing for seven minutes during the entire World Cup.

That proved pivtoal, as the 2014 World Cup went to Das Mannschaft.

In the fifth minute a menacing counter-attack from Argentina released Higuain but the Napoli forward dragged his effort wide of the far post after Germany had enjoyed much of the early possession. The German offense started to click into place as Muller, Ozil and Klose continued to link up well as the first half wore on, however another lung-bursting run from Messi down the right saw Mats Hummels struggling for pace but the Argentine captain’s cross was cleared away from danger.

Argentina were having plenty of joy down the right-flank, as Pablo Zabaleta surged forward and drilled an inviting cross that just missed everyone. Germany continued to dominate possession but Argentina were content to soak things up and hit Das Mannschaft on the break.

source: AP
Gotze was the hero as Germany won in extra time.

In the 22nd minute Higuain missed another glorious opportunity to give Argentina the lead as Toni Kroos misdirected a header back towards his own goal and put the Argentina striker in. However Higuain shanked his effort wide with only Manuel Neuer to beat, as the Argentine players, fans and coaches looked to the sky in disbelief. As half time approached Germany began to crank up the heat as Klose and Lahm were both thwarted by Sergio Romero. Higuain then had the ball in the back of the net as Messi’s ball from the right found the striker who finished superbly but he was in an offside position. Argentina’s fans had to stop celebrating as Higuain strayed offside when he should have known better. It turned out to be an afternoon to forget for Higuain. Soon after came a real talking point as Howedes went in late and extremely high on Zabaleta but only received a yellow card from referee Nicola Rizzoli, when it could have easily been a red.

Then young German midfielder Christoph Kramer (who was a late, late replacement for Sami Khedira who injured his calf in the warm up) was then taken off after failing to shake off a head injury he received from colliding with Ezequiel Garay’s shoulder early on. The game continued to ebb and flow, as Kramer’s replacement Schurrle side-footed a powerful effort towards the top corner but Romero palmed the ball away superbly. Five minutes before the break Messi went on another surging run and only a last-ditch block from Neuer stopped the Argentine, then Kroos scuffed a shot into Romero’s arms after an uncharacteristic giveaway from Javier Mascherano. Howedes then headed against the post from six-yards out as the goal beckoned, then Muller was flagged offside as the rebound hit him during a frantic end to a pulsating first half.

At half time Argentina went for it as Sergio Aguero replaced Ezequiel Lavezzi and it almost paid instant dividends as Messi was played through but the Barcelona star dragged his shot wide of Neuer’s far post. Usually when he’s one-on-one the net ripples. Not this time. There was an air of tension around the Maracana as both teams sat with two central midfielders just in front of the back four and looked solid as a rock. The second half proved to be much tighter than the first.

source: AP
Germany managed to shackle Messi in open play.

Neuer and Higuain then collided, as the latter received a nasty blow to the head, but somehow referee Rizzoli gave a foul against the Argentine player as things heated up. Mascherano and Zabaleta were both shown yellows in quick-succession as Germany tried to get in-behind but the final ball was eluded them. In the 74th minute Messi found a second-wind as he cut inside from the right but he bent a trademark effort wide of the far post. Then in the 81st minute Ozil cut in from the right and found Kroos on the edge of the box but the Bayern Munich hit a tame effort towards goal as Germany pushed for a late winner but they neither team could find one.

After a tight second half with the scores locked at 0-0, extra time started with a bang as Schurrle was again denied by a smart stop from Romero then Aguero broke twice on the counter but Argentina couldn’t take advantage of it as the game opened up.

In the 98th minute Rojo’s whipped in a delicious deep ball from the left and Hummels misjudged it to leave Palacios in the clear but Neuer was out like a flash and the Argentina looped his effort harmlessly wide. Both sides looked incredibly tired as the second half of extra time began with 15 minutes left before penalty kicks could decide the outcome.

PKs were not needed as Gotze stepped up to be the hero.  In the 113th minute the Bayern star chested Schurrle’s cross down perfectly and finished powerfully past Romero to send the German fans into raptures. Despite a few last gasp attempts from Argentina, Germany held on to secure their first World Cup title since 1990 and are the Champions of the World.

LINEUPS

Germany: Neuer; Lahm, Hummels, Boateng, Höwedes; Schweinsteiger, Kramer (Schurrle 32′); Müller, Kroos, Özil (Mertesacker, 120′); Klose (Gotze 88′)

Goal: Gotze 113′

Argentina: Romero, Zabaleta, Garay, Demichelis, Rojo; Biglia, Mascherano; Perez (Gago, 86′), Messi, Lavezzi (Aguero, 45′); Higuain (Palacios, 77′)

Leicester City’s Rodgers: ‘Good news’ on Vardy injury

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Brendan Rodgers says there’s good news when it comes to the injury suffered by Jamie Vardy in Leicester City’s 4-1 blowout of West Ham United on Wednesday.

Vardy hurt his glute in the win, temporarily returning to the match after treatment from the trainer but ultimately subbing off before halftime.

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“It wasn’t his hamstring, so that’s good news for us,” Rodgers said, via The Leicester Mercury.

“He just felt a twinge in his glute, so we just have to wait and see on that in the next day or so. Thankfully his hamstring is okay and he just felt some pain in his glute, so we will have to assess that over the next few days.”

Vardy has a Premier League-best 17 goals, one more than Man City’s Sergio Aguero.

He was replaced by Kelechi Iheanacho, who assisted one of Ayoze Perez’s two goals on the day. Perez’s seven goals are second on Leicester, while James Maddison‘s six are third.

Iheanacho has six goals and three assists in 485 minutes and there’s reason to believe he can feast off Leicester’s playmaking if Vardy needs a match or two to heal.

Whether he can fill Vardy’s shoes in the long-term is a big question, especially as Leicester aims to return for the Champions League.

Transfer rumor roundup: Willian Jose to Spurs, Bournemouth after Croatian CB

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London could get itself another Willian.

Willian Jose, 28, was left out of Real Sociedad’s squad at his request on Wednesday, with the club Tweeting that he’d prefer not to play until his situation is resolved.

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Jose Mourinho said he would not comment on another team’s players, but Willian Jose could help Spurs bridge the gap to Harry Kane‘s return.

Willian Jose has been a double-digit scorer for Real Sociedad in La Liga for the previous three seasons, and is well on his way to another 10-goal campaign. He’s got eight goals in 20 matches this season.

Bournemouth needs defensive help, and is reportedly rivaling Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers for Portuguese giant Toni Borevkovic.

The 22-year-old Croatian has one goal in just over 3000 minutes with the side since arriving from domestic side NK Rudes.

He’s averaging 1.3 interceptions, .9 tackles, and 3.3 clearances per game in league play.

Rio Ave sits seventh in Portugal’s top flight and is managed by former Premier League boss Carlos Carvalhal.

Dropped points in Top Four race point to wild February

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Regardless of whether Wolves end Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season on Thursday, there will be five teams within seven points of fourth place heading into Matchweek 25.

Chelsea has 40, a comfortable-enough six-point lead on Manchester United, Spurs, and Wolves (who meet Liverpool at 3 p.m. ET Thursday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Sheffield United has 33 points.

February, specifically the next three matchweeks, will see the teams inside that group learn a lot more about their fates, and give Chelsea and Sheffield United big opportunities to cement their places in the Top Four and Seven, respectively.

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In the case of the latter, it’s because the Blades are the only team in the bunch who don’t face a Top Four six-pointer; Chris Wilder‘s men will meet Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, and Brighton, while the others will be beating up each other.

Chelsea’s path is fraught, but a big opportunity. The Blues travel to Leicester City before hosting both Manchester United and Spurs. Nine points there would effectively Top Four-proof Frank Lampard‘s side.

By the way, how’s this for a hot take? If any of Chelsea, Man Utd, or Spurs find their center forward or playmaker help in the window, they’ll have a leg up on their Top Four rivals. And, really, is that extra few million pounds worth the spoils of the Champions League? Yup.

Bruno Fernandes is not (yet) with United, and the Red Devils face Wolves and Chelsea in their next two matches. Spurs have City and Chelsea. Tumult is probable!

A draw with Newcastle and loss at Watford dampened Wolves’ hopes of riding into fourth. Beginning with Thursday’s visit from Liverpool, however, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men face three of the Top Seven and then a visit from Norwich City. It’s not over.

And don’t entirely rule out Leicester City from dropping into the fray; The Foxes host Chelsea and Man City, and visit Wolves.

One more nod, however improbable: Arsenal sits 10 points back of fourth but meets Burnley, Newcastle, and Everton over those three match weeks. A perfect run could have the Gunners thinking big (Man City is after that, alas).

Matchday 25
Leicester City v. Chelsea
Crystal Palace v. Sheffield United
Manchester United v. Wolves
Spurs v. Man City

Matchday 25
Sheffield United v. Bournemouth
Wolves v. Leicester City
Chelsea v. Manchester United
Aston Villa v. Tottenham Hotspur

Matchday 27
Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City v. Man City
Wolves v. Norwich City
Sheffield United v. Brighton
Manchester United v. Watford

Spurs play Wolves the next week, too!

Mourinho: Spurs don’t have attacking depth, but do have ‘family’

Mourinho on Spurs win
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In this “whole new Jose Mourinho” world, the key word is family.

Mourinho said it six times in his post-match presser after Tottenham Hotspur scrapped to a 2-1 defeat of Norwich City on Wednesday in London.

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Spurs had an early lead disappear when Ryan Sessegnon gave away a penalty to Max Aarons, and Teemu Pukki converted it for a 70th-minute deadlock.

Heung-Min Son scored nine minutes later. It was a win that is good for the whole family.

From Football.London:

“It was fantastic what happened after the 1-1, which happens in a difficult moment for us where I look to the bench and I don’t have attacking players to change the game the team is a little bit fatigued, especially Lucas, Son and of course Lamela. I took him off because he was in trouble and he is a player who is coming from very important and long injury, so very difficult.

“How can we change the game? With the family spirit, the family character and desire.”

Mourinho also praised Giovani Lo Celso‘s work on the wing for attack-short Spurs as “a good experience for the family,” and Paulo Gazzaniga‘s support for returned goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as “a good member of the family and he is such a special friend of Hugo.”

I mean, I’m getting the warm and fuzzies.

Clearly, Mourinho is stressing unity and there’s a bit of bunker mentality involved, as the manager mentioned some dicey calls not going their way against Watford, Liverpool, and now Norwich.