Netherlands beats Cameroon in Group E finale

Netherlands beats Cameroon in Group E finale

By Matt O'Leary
Special to

My fast-paced stretch of 10 games in 13 days came to an end at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town on Thursday night. Upon seeing the game schedule six months ago, I expected Group Es final group match between the Netherlands and Cameroon to be one of the most important games that I had tickets for. But once Cameroon was defeated by Denmark last Saturday, it meant that last nights game in Cape Town would be a mostly meaningless affair.

The Dutch led the group with six points and barring an unlikely set of circumstances where they lost their final game and Japan scored a number of goals in a win against Denmark, the Dutch would remain top and win Group E. Cameroon had been the first side mathematically eliminated from World Cup play following their disappointing showing in a 2-1 loss against the Danish last weekend and had could only play for pride.

The walk to the stadium had the feel of a big game. The vendors stalls were all set along the side of the road, the Dutch fans in bright orange were singing and it was overall a colorful atmosphere. Once the game started though you could tell something was missing, the game simply lacked an edge to it. I was impressed that the Netherlands started the majority of their best players and head coach Bert van Marwijk only rested their players with yellow cards. Cameroon started with a similar lineup to last weekend but star striker Samuel Etoo came out very slow. After creating a few half-chances in the first ten minutes, Cameroon did not see much of the ball in the first half as the Netherlands kept possession through the likes of Kuyt, van Bommel and Nigel de Jong.

One thing of note in the first half was the length of the wave that was started in one corner of the ground. Almost all the games I had been to featured the so-called Mexican wave at some point during games but this match easily displayed the longest wave I have seen. Green Point is a large stadium and the wave convincingly got around the stadium four or five times making for quite an impressive sight. Its the sign of a rather average game however, when the wave is the spectacle that keeps the fans most interested.

The Dutch scored about ten minutes before half-time after another African goalkeeping error. It was good football by the Dutch that allowed Robin van Persie to get behind the Cameroon defense but he should never have been able to score from such a tight angle. The ball went through the Cameroon keepers legs and the Netherlands took a deserved lead into halftime.

The second half began at a rather lazy pace as the neutrals in the stadium started to get behind Cameroon. It seemed that Samuel Etoo was trying to do everything himself and his team severely lacked the killer pass in the final third that would open up the Dutch defense. The breakthrough finally came when the Africans won a free kick on the edge of the penalty area. The consequential free kick struck Mark van Bommel in the arm and the Chilean referee pointed to the spot. The captain Etoo stepped up and fired an impressive penalty into the middle-left corner of the net to tie the game at 1-1.

Another major highlight of this somewhat drab contest was the introduction of Dutch magician Arjen Robben. Robben, considered by many to be the Netherlands most influential player had been sidelined by a hamstring injury since a week or two before the start of the World Cup. Coach Bert van Marwijk must have believed him to be fully fit to give him some minutes in their final group game. He played high on the right and was not getting too many touches in the game before he was played in behind the Cameroon defense in the 85th minute. Robben, was caught by the defenders, pulled the ball back and dribbled across the top of the 18 before firing a terrific shot off the right post. The ball rebounded perfectly to fellow substitute Klaas Jan Huntelaar who coolly slotted into the empty net to give the Dutch the 2-1 lead and the eventual win.

The Netherlands became just the second team after Argentina to win their first three games of the World Cup, and more importantly gave Robben some much needed minutes on the field. The Dutch will now square off against a determined Slovakian side in the round of 16 as the country hopes to reach their first World Cup final since 1978. People say the Netherlands are the best footballing nation to have never won a World Cup and perhaps this could be their year. They are very organized defensively and with Robben back on the field they have the necessary firepower going forward to be capable of beating anyone. Keep an eye on the Dutch as they begin their run through the knockout stage towards the elusive World Cup title.

Lionel Messi says he is quitting Argentina national team


Lionel Messi says he is quitting Argentina national team

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Lionel Messi says he is quitting Argentina's national team.

Argentina and Messi lost a final for the third year in a row, with Chile winning the Copa America 4-2 on penalty kicks following a 0-0 tie Sunday night.

His nation's career scoring leader with 55 international goals, Messi sent Argentina's first penalty kick over the crossbar.

Messi tells the Argentine network TyC Sports "the national team is over for me. It's been four finals, it's not meant for me. I tried. It was the thing I wanted the most, but I couldn't get it, so I think it's over."

Messi and Argentina lost to Brazil in the 2007 Copa final and to Germany in extra time in the 2014 World Cup final. They lost last year's Copa final to host Chile on penalty kicks.

The 29-year-old Messi has led Barcelona to four Champions League titles.

Chile wins 2nd straight Copa America title as Messi misses


Chile wins 2nd straight Copa America title as Messi misses

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Lionel Messi still awaits his first title with Argentina's national team.

Messi put his penalty kick over the crossbar, Francisco Silva converted Chile's shootout finale and La Roja won their second straight Copa America title by beating Argentina 4-2 on penalty kicks following a 0-0 tie Sunday night.

Playing two days after his 29th birthday, Messi lost a final for the third year in a row following an extra-time defeat to Germany in the 2014 World Cup and a penalty-kicks loss to host Chile in last year's Copa America. The five-time FIFA Player of the Year has won four Champions League titles and eight La Liga crowns with Barcelona, but has never taken a trophy with Argentina's senior team.

For its 100th anniversary, South America's championship was expanded to 16 nations and played in the United States, and Argentina was hoping to win its first major title since 1993.

In an ill-tempered match that included an ejection on each side and eight yellow cards, the match was scoreless through regulation and 30 minutes of extra time, with Argentina's Gonzalo Higuain missing a clear goal-scoring opportunity for the third straight final. Argentina outshot Chile 16-4 and La Roja collapsed three, four and even five defenders around the bearded Messi, then chopped down the diminutive attacker when he tried to accelerate toward the goal.

Messi, who scored five goals in the tournament, had a free kick 28 yards out in the 115th minute after Francisco SIlva fouled him, but the ball deflected off the wall and over the crossbar. Messi's 35-yard free kick was headed on target by Aguero in the 10th minute of extra time, and Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo jumped extended his right hand to tip the ball over the crossbar.

Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero saved the opening kick by Arturo Vidal, and up stepped Messi, the best player of his generation and considered alongside Brazil's Pele and Argentina's Diego Maradona as the sport's greatest ever. While he won the titles at the under-20 and Olympic (under-23) levels for Argentina, in the minds of many he needs a title with his nation's senior team to solidify his place as one of the greats.

Messi sent his shot over Bravo — his Barcelona teammate — and into the stands. Messi turned, bowed his head and clenched both fists in frustration.

Nicolas Castillo and Charles Aranguiz converted their kicks for Chile, and Javier Mascherano and Sergio Aguero made theirs, leaving the teams tied 2-2 after three rounds.

Jean Beausejour put Chile ahead, and Bravo dived to his right, saving Lucas Biglia's shot and bringing up Silva, a 30-year-old midfielder. Messi briefly pulled his jersey of his face, as if not wanting to watch.

Romero dived to his left and the shot went in to his right, giving Chile another title.

Messi crouched over, as if in pain, then got up, took off his captain's armband and walked to the bench, where he was consoled by Angel Di Maria. After Messi came back on the field, Aguero put a hand on one of Messi's shoulders. And new FIFA President Gianni Infantino gave Messi a pat on the back when Messi came onto the podium with his teammates for his second-place medal. Messi almost immediately took it off.

It was the fourth final loss for Messi, who also played for Argentina in its penalty-kicks loss to Brazil in the 2004 final.

A crowd of 82,076 at MetLife Stadium — the largest to see a soccer game in New Jersey — raised the tournament total to just under 1.48 million. The average of 46,119, nearly double the 25,223 in Chile last year, will be used by the U.S. Soccer Federation as evidence it deserves to host a World Cup again, likely as part of a bid for the 2026 tournament.

Brazilian referee Heber Lopes became the focus in the first half, ejecting a pair of defenders: Chile's Marcelo Diaz in the 28th minute and Argentina's Marcos Rojo in the 43rd. After issuing six yellow cards during a World Cup qualifier between the nations in March, Lopes handed out eight yellows, including one to Messi for diving in the 40th minute, and the two reds.

Diaz got his first yellow for hacking down Messi about 28 yards out in the 16th minute, then got his second for obstructing a charging Messi about 30 yards out. Rojo received a straight red when he slid into Arturo Vidal from behind and poked away the ball, but Vidal's leg bent awkwardly under his body as he fell.

Higuain had the best first-half chance in the 21st minute when he picked up a giveaway from Gary Medel, dribbled in and chipped the ball over Bravo only to have it roll wide of the far post. It was almost the exact time he broke in alone during the World Cup final against Germany and also shot wide. Higuain also missed a tap-in of Ezequiel Lavezzi's cross during the final minute of regulation in last year's final, then sent his penalty kick during the shootout over the crossbar.

Revolution shut out by D.C. United, 2-0

Revolution shut out by D.C. United, 2-0

WASHINGTON -- Lamar Neagle had a goal and an assist to give D.C. United an early lead that stood up in a 2-0 victory over the New England Revolution on Saturday night.

D.C., after being shut out in its two previous games and four of six, opened the scoring in the 20th minute when Luciano Acosta chipped a perfect pass over the defense to the foot of Neagle, who volleyed it in from 10 yards out.

Sean Franklin scored the second goal, his first of the season, when he knocked in Neagle's cross. Albaro Saborio sent a long ball down the right sideline that Neagle ran down and crossed to Franklin for the easy counter.

D.C. (5-6-5) leapfrogged the Revolution (4-5-7) into fifth in the Eastern Conference with its fourth shutout in the last seven games and improved to 2-0-1 in the series this season.