Argentina, Netherlands square off in World Cup semifinal

On Wednesday, Argentina and the Netherlands will face off in a World Cup semi-final. The two squads are closely matched in skill and intensity. The expectation on Robben’s and van Persie’s shoulders to create chances can be matched only by the pressure that Lionel Messi feels to bring a World Cup home to Argentina.

Both teams staved off threats in the quarterfinals, and both have unfinished business in the World Cup final. The Netherlands look to win after coming agonizingly close to their first World Cup championship four years ago, only to lose on a goal in the 117th minute.  Argentina looks to return to glory not felt since Diego Maradona led the Argentine side to a championship in 1986.

While a championship is the ultimate goal, and while the match at hand is the most important, their respective paths to this point must inform the moment.

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Germany set to face weakened host Brazil

While this semifinal game will likely be another exciting World Cup match, the odds I originally saw all over the Internet were somewhat puzzling.

A number of high-traffic sites gave Brazil the advantage, some at an 80 percent chance of advancing. The official odds, though, are more of a toss-up.

Brazil is missing its star, Neymar, after he suffered a fractured vertebra late in the quarterfinal against Colombia. It’s also missing captain Thiago Silva, who received his second yellow card of the tournament in the 64th minute of the same game. That means he’ll be suspended for the match. With the two best players out for the match, all hopes of the host country getting through to the final seem tenuous at best.

Brazil appealed to FIFA about the second booking, but it was never likely FIFA would reverse the decision. It would be incredibly controversial to do so, and FIFA is already getting enough flack for its selection of Qatar as the 2022 host of the World Cup. (Really, I still don’t get that, bribery or not.)

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Hope for future despite U.S. exit

I wasn’t initially going to write about today’s U.S.-Belgium match. But the thoughts came anyway.

Sometimes soccer is a cruel sport. But in this match, it could have been far more cruel. The U.S. created some chances, but Belgium had far more. The team that ends with 38 shots ordinarily comes out on top. At the same time, the Americans don’t have to hang their heads about taking Belgium into extra time.

A number of players stepped up in this round, not all of them the usual suspects. In fact, only one of the truly shining spots today has been a force for the U.S. in years past.

Really, what a performance from Tim Howard. It’s hard to overstate his importance to the success of the U.S. in this tournament, and especially this knockout round game. The Everton goalie only missed blocking two shots all day; neither was his fault. He did his job and then some, stopping an incredible 16 shots. It’s a World Cup record, at least as long as the stat has been recorded. As well as Howard played in goal, though, the final outcome went the right way. It’s hard to get a loss on such a stellar performance from the keeper, but the opponent was the better side.

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The Return of Altidore

U.S. Soccer announced earlier today that Jozy Altidore will be available to play tomorrow against Belgium:

That’s certainly good news for the U.S. Though only 14 men can be used in a game, including substitutes, losing one of 23 to injury severely limits tactical possibilities. That’s especially the case when he’s your starting forward.

One major question, though, is how much and at what level Altidore will be able to play. The fact that coach Jürgen Klinsmann avoided answering the question when SI’s Grant Wahl inquired how much Altidore trained at full speed this week isn’t encouraging in that regard.

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Roundup: Lincecum, USMNT, NBA/NHL drafts, sellers

This is a particularly crazy week in sports. Here are some of the highlights.

Tim Lincecum pitched his second no-hitter yesterday.

If you follow baseball, I’m not breaking that news for you.
My other post today explores a bit of how Lincecum is a different pitcher, but my post is centered on pitching injuries and prevention. Ben Reiter of SI.com has more on the no-hitter itself.

The U.S. Men’s National Team faces Germany at noon.

It’s a bit of a miracle the men have come this far through the “Group of Death,” but it would be a shame to come this far and not advance.

Sunday night’s game was deflating, as Portugal scored in the final minute of stoppage time on a beautiful cross. Maybe the U.S. should have been able to clear that ball, but let’s not lose sight of how well placed the cross was.

Jürgen Klinsmann and the U.S. men have some work to do against a powerful German squad that showed it was human when Ghana forced a draw. To ensure advancement to the round of 16, both Germany and the U.S. need a draw. The U.S. doesn’t need a win to move on, though. The different possibilities for U.S. advancement are outlined here, but we’ll know in a few hours who’s advanced.

If that’s not the sort of thing that piques your interest, just go ahead and watch the game(s). Someone will explain it all later.

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