Lionel Messi

Brazil vs. Germany – Tuesday, July 8 at 3 p.m. CT

No Neymar and no Thiago Silva. What will this mean for a Brazilian team that is making its 10th World Cup semifinals appearance? Brazil has yet to show their best, having made it to this point without any decisive victories. But perhaps that is where they find their peace going into Tuesday’s game against Germany. They know they can do better, which should be quite frightening for the opposing team. Replacing two of the most important players will be tough, but Brazil also has history on its side. The country has not lost a competitive match at home since 1975. And as shaky as they’ve been, they’ll need every ounce of advantage that they can get. Germany plays organized and disciplined, a style of play that has frustrated Brazil all of this World Cup. With a hard defensive line, Germany beats opponents by neutralizing attacks and striking when the opportunity presents itself. Players like Thomas Müller have been creating plays for the German side all tournament long. If Brazil hopes to reach its 7th World Cup final, scoring early, just as they did against Colombia in the quarterfinals, will be vital. The last time these two powerhouses met on such a grand stage was in 2002, when Brazil beat Germany 2-0 to win the World Cup.

 

The Netherlands vs. Argentina – Wednesday, July 9 at 3 p.m. CT

Through superstar Lionel Messi, Argentina is as close to winning the World Cup as it’s been since the days of the great Diego Maradona. The team has looked steady and Messi has been living up to his famed name. The country has yet to lose a match this World Cup, seeming to somehow always find a way to win. On the opposing side is the 2010 World Cup runner-up Netherlands, which has appeared to be the team of destiny so far. While they too have not lost a match this tournament, they have beaten opponents in nail-biting fashion, as they did in the penalty shoot-out victory over Costa Rica. Argentina has not made a semifinal appearance since 1990, and historically, they have only beaten the Dutch once. The Netherlands have the better numbers in both shooting and scoring for this tournament, with forwards Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie each having scored three goals so far. But they also do not have a player like Messi. Nothing will be as important for this Netherlands team as keeping the Argentinian striker at bay. Messi has the second most goals in the tournament with four, but has also constantly created scoring for teammates, which is where the true danger lies. The Dutch will need to disrupt Argentina’s world class passing attack. A more wide-open type of match can be expected from this second semifinal, and based on how both teams have played; a penalty shoot-out would not be surprising. 

Already, the 2014 FIFA World Cup has been historic in many ways, and we’re just 29 games in as of Saturday night. Here are the five biggest takeaways so far from the tournament, as well as a preview of the USA-Portugal matchup tonight at 5 p.m.

  1. South America has dominated

Teams from the host country’s continent have obliterated the competition, going 8-1-1 combined so far. But it’s not just South America, though, that has taken charge. The entire Americas have played well above their opponents at this point of the tournament. Combined, North America and South America have an 11-2-0 record. It could be a changing of the guard or it just could be that the Americas, especially the Southern continent, feel more comfortable playing closer to home. Whatever it is, teams from this side of the world are showing no sign of slowing down.

  1. Is this soccer or the NFL?

But really, the kind of offense we have seen from World Cup teams in Brazil has been incredible, and its comparison to the offense-heavy league we see in our American version of football might not be that far-fetched. The point is that this World Cup has been about scoring, and the numbers back it up. There have been 80 total goals scored so far. Compare that with 2010’s World Cup number with the same number of games played (29) and the result is 23 more goals this year. 23. That’s about one more goal per match so far at this World Cup.

  1. Star play has come from non-marquee names

We heard so much about big names like Neymar, Ronaldo and Messi before the World Cup, and while two of those three have already made an impact, they have not led the pack. It has been players like Germany’s Thomas Mueller, who’s in a four-way tie for most goals so far with three and leads FIFA’s Castrol Index: Top Player rankings, a statistic that measures the overall impact a player is having on the game. Then there’s Mexico’s keeper Guillermo Ochoa, who’s four world-class saves against Brazil were the reason El Tri was able to stun the host country in a 0-0 draw. In total, Ochoa has a World Cup-leading seven saves and zero goals allowed in what has been a surprising Mexican run so far. And speaking of surprises, there have been plenty of them already. Besides countries like Mexico playing well, not many predicted teams like Spain and England to already be out of contention. 

  1. Technology has made what’s already entertaining, even better

For those on social media, especially Twitter, the fun has existed beyond the pitch. Whether it’s the hundreds of memes that have been shared or the cool flags that twitter has created to go alongside each team’s country abbreviation, it’s safe to say this has been the most interactive World Cup to date. Never before has this sporting event been almost as easy to follow online as it has been watching live. But technology has not just been about the tweets or Facebook posts. It has also directly affected the games. This World Cup introduced goal-line technology that has eliminated any question of close-called goals. Situations like what happened in the 2010 World Cup, when a clear goal by England’s Frank Lampard was not counted as his team was trailing 2-1 in a second-round match against Germany, have been eliminated. Any close call has been easily resolved in this World Cup. Tracking player’s fatigue, among other playing factors, with specially designed chips inside of their jerseys, has also affected the overall quality of play during games. This technology has been important for team’s use in Brazilian host cities like Manaus, where the high humidity and temperatures can affect play.

5. No Vuvuzelas deafening every other noise

Everybody remembers the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and how much the loud, annoying Vuvuzelas became a part of the headlines. This time around, Vuvuzelas have been replaced with what we’re used to hearing at World Cup matches – screaming chants from fans. Brazil has provided stadiums filled with unbelievable atmospheres. For all of the talk of problems with getting the facilities ready before the games began and the safety concerns plaguing host cities, Brazil has, from a far, looked like a solid host. The fans have shown up with passion and the culture of South America has been ever-present. Between the high scoring and energizing crowds, this World Cup has been worth the four-year wait.

Quick Preview: USA VS Portugal, 5 p.m. CT at Arena Amazonia stadium in Manaus, Brazil –

Very simple. Win, and the U.S. is in to the knockout round of the World Cup. Not so simple, is how this game could play out. The Americans come in with pure confidence after their 2-1 victory over Ghana six days go and feel even better that they are facing a hobbled Portugal squad. 

The European team got dismantled by Germany, 4-0, in their first match of group play and lost one of their key defenders, Pepe, to a red card and suspension for this game. Cristiano Ronaldo’s injured knee is a concern for Portugal and a factor that will determine how powerful the team’s offense can be in attacking, based on how he’s feeling. 

But, with all that’s happened to this squad, they are still Portugal, and this is still the “group of death.” Portugal will not go out easily and they certainly won’t allow the U.S. to walk into the round of 16. Argentina’s Lionel Messi proved on Saturday, when he scored the game-winning goal for Argentia in the last minutes of the game against Iran, that if you have one of the best players in the world on your team, anything can happen. Ronaldo will try and second that notion Sunday evening. 

This matchup will be won in the midfield and in the counterattacks, where the U.S. could take advantage of a weaker Portuguese defense. Historically, the U.S. and Portugal are as even as you can get, each having two wins and one draw against each other with five total goals scored by each country as well.

Already, the 2014 FIFA World Cup has been historic in many ways, and we’re just 29 games in as of Saturday night. Here are the five biggest takeaways so far from the tournament, as well as a preview of the USA-Portugal matchup tonight at 5 p.m.

  1. South America has dominated

Teams from the host country’s continent have obliterated the competition, going 8-1-1 combined so far. But it’s not just South America, though, that has taken charge. The entire Americas have played well above their opponents at this point of the tournament. Combined, North America and South America have an 11-2-0 record. It could be a changing of the guard or it just could be that the Americas, especially the Southern continent, feel more comfortable playing closer to home. Whatever it is, teams from this side of the world are showing no sign of slowing down.

  1. Is this soccer or the NFL?

But really, the kind of offense we have seen from World Cup teams in Brazil has been incredible, and its comparison to the offense-heavy league we see in our American version of football might not be that far-fetched. The point is that this World Cup has been about scoring, and the numbers back it up. There have been 80 total goals scored so far. Compare that with 2010’s World Cup number with the same number of games played (29) and the result is 23 more goals this year. 23. That’s about one more goal per match so far at this World Cup.

  1. Star playi has come from non-marquee names

We heard so much about big names like Neymar, Ronaldo and Messi before the World Cup, and while two of those three have already made an impact, they have not led the pack. It has been players like Germany’s Thomas Mueller, who’s in a four-way tie for most goals so far with three and leads FIFA’s Castrol Index: Top Player rankings, a statistic that measures the overall impact a player is having on the game. Then there’s Mexico’s keeper Guillermo Ochoa, who’s four world-class saves against Brazil were the reason El Tri was able to stun the host country in a 0-0 draw. In total, Ochoa has a World Cup-leading seven saves and zero goals allowed in what has been a surprising Mexican run so far. And speaking of surprises, there have been plenty of them already. Besides countries like Mexico playing well, not many predicted teams like Spain and England to already be out of contention. 

  1. Technology has made what’s already entertaining, even better

For those on social media, especially Twitter, the fun has existed beyond the pitch. Whether it’s the hundreds of memes that have been shared or the cool flags that twitter has created to go alongside each team’s country abbreviation, it’s safe to say this has been the most interactive World Cup to dat. Never before has this sporting event been almost as easy to follow online as it has been watching live. But technology has not just been about the tweets or Facebook posts. It has also directly affected the games. This World Cup introduced goal-line technology that has eliminated any question of close-called goals. Situations like what happened in the 2010 World Cup, when a clear goal by England’s Frank Lampard was not counted as his team was trailing 2-1 in a second-round match against Germany, have been eliminated. Any close call has been easily resolved in this World Cup. Tracking player’s fatigue, among other playing factors, with specially designed chips inside of their jerseys, has also affected the overall quality of play during games. This technology has been important for team’s use in Brazilian host cities like Manaus, where the high humidity and temperatures can affect play.

5. No Vuvuzelas deafening every other noise

Everybody remembers the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and how much the loud, annoying Vuvuzelas became a part of the headlines. This time around, Vuvuzelas have been replaced with what we’re used to hearing at World Cup matches – screaming chants from fans. Brazil has provided stadiums filled with unbelievable atmospheres. For all of the talk of problems with getting the facilities ready before the games began and the safety concerns plaguing host cities, Brazil has, from a far, looked like a solid host. The fans have shown up with passion and the culture of South America has been ever-present. Between the high scoring and energizing crowds, this World Cup has been worth the four-year wait.

Quick Preview: USA VS Portugal, 5 p.m. CT at Arena Amazonia stadium in Manaus, Brazil –

Very simple. Win, and the U.S. is in to the knockout round of the World Cup. Not so simple, is how this game could play out. The Americans come in with pure confidence after their 2-1 victory over Ghana six days go and feel even better that they are facing a hobbled Portugal squad.

The European team got dismantled by Germany, 4-0, in their first match of group play and lost one of their key defenders, Pepe, to a red card and suspension for this game. Cristiano Ronaldo’s injured knee is a concern for Portugal and a factor that will determine how powerful the team’s offense can be in attacking, based on how he’s feeling.

But, with all that’s happened to this squad, they are still Portugal, and this is still the “group of death.” Portugal will not go out easily and they certainly won’t allow the U.S. to walk into the round of 16. Argentina’s Lionel Messi proved on Saturday, when he scored the game-winning goal for Argentia in the last minutes of the game against Iran, that if you have one of the best players in the world on your team, anything can happen. Ronaldo will try and second that notion Sunday evening.

This matchup will be won in the midfield and in the counterattacks, where the U.S. could take advantage of a weaker Portuguese defense. Historically, the U.S. and Portugal are as even as you can get, each having two wins and one draw against each other with five total goals scored by each country as well.

FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi from Argentina celebrates after scoring against Zaragoza during their Spanish La Liga match on Sunday. Messi is on his way to becoming the world’s best player.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

There’s little doubt that Lionel Messi is currently the best player in the world, but is he on course to become the best soccer player ever?

The diminutive Argentinean won the most recent Balloon d’Or, awarded to the world’s best player, and he is a frontrunner to take the award for a second straight time. His speed is unmatched, while his goal-scoring as of late has been astounding. In the past week alone, the 22-year-old winger scored seven goals.

He started the week off with a hat trick in the second half of Barcelona’s 3-0 win over Valencia last Sunday. Going into their midweek clash against VFB Stuttgart in the Champions League, Barcelona were level on aggregate 1-1. Messi initiated Barcelona’s incredible performance against Stuttgart as he scored the first goal, played a key part in teammate Pedro Ledesma’s goal and then scored once more in the 4-0 thrashing of the German club.

After Barca’s win, Stuttgart coach Christian Gross made a startling assessment, comparing Messi to Diego Maradona, one of the best players ever and the current national coach of the Argentina squad.

“They started coming at us so quickly, and we tried our best to stay with the pace,” Gross said. “[Messi] is the best player in the world. He’s a fantastic talent, and it’s incredible to think he’s only 22. We can now compare Messi with Maradona.”

As if his week couldn’t get any better, Messi had one final masterful performance left in him, and it may have been his finest of the season. Barcelona were away at Real Zaragoza, needing a win to keep pace with La Liga leaders, Real Madrid. Messi got Barcelona off to a firing start in the sixth minute when he headed a bullet past Zaragoza keeper Roberto Gago. Messi’s second goal was the goal of the match. He bounced off a defender near midfield before going on one of his trademark runs, dodging two defenders and shooting brilliantly past the keeper into the bottom right corner.

Messi still had a few tricks left for the La Liga bottom-dwellers. He completed his hat trick in the 78th minute when he got a great pass from Andres Iniesta on his left foot and put a stunningly placed shot past Gago. After Zaragoza answered with two goals of their own to make things interesting, Messi put the game away for good. He controlled a long pass perfectly at the edge of the box and completely turned around one Zaragoza defender before faking out another, and he was then dragged down blatantly in the penalty box. In a show of ultimate class, Messi, who usually takes the Barcelona penalties, conceded the opportunity this time to striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who had been struggling with his form as of late, and the Swede converted the penalty for the 4-2 win.

Barcelona are now tied with Real Madrid at 68 points but trail by two in the goal differential column. The Catalan club has two La Liga fixtures in the upcoming week before heading to the Emirates to take on Arsenal in the quarterfinals of the Champions League next Wednesday.