Argentina, Netherlands set for battle, Brazil wonders what happened

Argentina and the Netherlands were getting ready to play on Wednesday for the right to join Germany in the World Cup final as the inquisition into Brazil's humiliating exit gathered pace.

The hopes of a South America winner now rest on the shoulders of Argentina captain Lionel Messi who will lead his team against the Dutch in the second semi-final in Sao Paulo, kicking off at 2000 GMT.

The host-nation's chances ended on Tuesday when they were thrashed 7-1 by a ruthless Germany in Belo Horizonte, a result that shocked the soccer world and plunged Brazil into a state of national mourning.

Brazilian media savaged the team's limp performance with newspapers describing the match as an "historic disgrace", "national humiliation", "eternal shame" and a "fiasco".

A lot of the blame was directed at Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, whose job is now the source of wide speculation with Tite, Muricy Ramalho and Vanderlei Luxemburgo looming as his possible successor.

Brazil President Dilma Rousseff took to social media to express her disappointment to a country reeling from disappointment after spending more than $11 billion on hosting the tournament.

"I'm immensely sorry for all of us, our fans and players," she tweeted. "But let's not let ourselves give up. Brazil, get up, dust yourself off and bounce back."

Riot police, who had been deployed at fan sites around the country to handle any violent outbreaks, had a quiet night with most fans too traumatized by the manner of defeat to revolt.

An Argentine journalist was killed in Sao Paulo early on Wednesday morning when his taxi was hit by a stolen car fleeing police.

He was the second Argentine reporter to die in a car wreck while covering the World Cup.

The mood in Germany could not have been more different with more than 32 million people watching their country's victory on television, a record rating which accounted for an audience market share of almost 88 per cent.

Hundreds of thousands of Germans watched the match from the avenue leading to the Brandenburg Gate and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to attend Sunday's final at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.

INTRIGUING CLASH

Germany's opponents will be decided when Argentine and the Netherlands meet in an intriguing clash that will set up a classic rematch regardless of who wins.

Germany played Argentina in the 1986 and 1990 World Cup finals, losing the first and winning the second, and beat the Dutch in the 1974 title game.

_0">

Messi looms as the key to the match with the four-times world player of the year having scored four goals in the tournament.

_1">

Argentina have won each of their five games by a solitary goal while the Netherlands have had to work hard after opening their campaign with a 5-1 drubbing of holders Spain.

_2">

Led by striker Arjen Robben, the Dutch needed a penalty shootout to get past Costa Rica in the quarter-finals having only beaten Mexico by a controversial last-minute penalty in the previous round.

_3">

Off the field, FIFA suspended the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) because of government interference.

_4">

A regional court in Nigeria last week ordered the sacking of the existing NFF executive after the team's performance at the World Cup, where they were eliminated by France in the second round.

_5">

The court appointed a new administrator to run the game in the populous west African nation but FIFA warned Nigeria they would be banned from competing internationally unless the old leadership was restored to power.

_6">

"The suspension will be lifted once the court actions have been withdrawn and the properly elected NFF Executive Committee, the NFF general assembly and the NFF administration are able to work without any interference in their affairs," FIFA said.

_7">

_8">

_9">

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

_10">

Nibali keeps a cool head after shining on cobbles

Yellow jersey holder Vincenzo Nibali smashed his rivals on the cobbles on Wednesday, but the Italian climber knows the Tour de France is still full of traps.

After five eventful stages, the Astana rider has a lead of more than two minutes on his Spanish rival Alberto Contador while defending champion Chris Froome of Britain crashed out of the race after suffering a third fall in two days.

Nibali, who won the Giro last year and was third on the Tour in 2012, is looking to complete his set of grand Tour titles as he prevailed in the Vuelta four years ago.

Only five riders, France's Bernard Hinault and Jacques Anquetil, Belgian Eddy Merckx, Italian Felice Gimondi and Contador have won all three grand Tours.

It is an intriguing thought but despite taking early control on crash-littered day on the cobbles of northern France on Wednesday, Nibali knows several riders will be setting their sights on him with three quarters of the race to run.

Contador, along with Americans Andrew Talansky and Tejay van Garderen, Australian Richie Porte, Spain's Alejandro Valverde and Dutchman Bauke Mollema are all within three minutes with three mountain ranges to come.

"I didn't think I would distance Contador so much today," Nibali told reporters. "But I'll keep my feet on the ground. I want to remain quiet.

"It's still a long way away with lots of mountains and everybody has seen today that crashes can happen."

The next battlefield will likely be the Vosges region, with Monday's 10th stage marked by the top guns as four first-category climbs are on the menu.

The peloton, however, were in awe of Nibali's display on the cobbles, where the lightweights usually struggle.

"You've got to say that when you see the way Nibali rode, it was very impressive," said Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford.

"It's just unbelievable to ride away from Cancellara and Sagan on the cobbles."

Nibali indeed left the Paris-Roubaix specialists behind to take third place at the end of the 152.5-km ride from Ypres, Belgium.

He benefited from his preparations with former Paris-Roubaix winner Peter van Petegem, who had also helped Contador get ready for the cobbled sectors of the 2011 Tour de France.

"He's smart, he rode all season preserving himself for the Tour and he's ready on D-day," Trek sports director Alain Gallopin said.

"Two years ago we had a Tour for time trial specialists, last year a Tour for climbers. This year we'll have a proper all-rounder winning it."

_0">

_1">

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Martyn Herman)

_2">

Defending champion Froome abandons Tour after crash

Chris Froome's attempt to win a second successive Tour de France ended in bitter disappointment after less than a week of the race on Wednesday when he crashed out on stage five.

On a miserable, rain-sodden day in northern France, the Briton appeared in great pain after falling for the second time, some 70 kilometers from the finish.

The Team Sky rider stood holding the wrist he injured in another spill on Tuesday, and was limping heavily as he eventually climbed into a team vehicle after chatting to team doctor Alan Farrell and sports director Nicolas Portal.

"I'm obviously hugely disappointed," Froome said later.

"The way my hand was and the conditions, it was impossible to control my bike."

Earlier in the stage, a 152.5-km ride from Ypres, Belgium, Froome suffered his second crash in two days.

Froome hurt his wrist and suffered bruises to his left side in a fall on stage four but was cleared to start Wednesday's stage which featured several treacherous cobbled sectors.

The earlier fall on Wednesday was not too bad and he was helped back into the main bunch by his Sky team mates, but the second accident of the day proved one too many for his battered and bruised body.

The 29-year-old's build-up to the race was hardly ideal after a heavy crash last month on the Criterium du Dauphine.

Froome is the second high-profile rider to quit this year's Tour after fellow Briton Mark Cavendish suffered a high-speed crash in Saturday's opening stage bunch sprint in Harrogate.

Cavendish, winner of 25 Tour stages, underwent shoulder surgery on Wednesday as a result of the crash.

Froome's departure meant Australian Richie Porte will now assume the leader's role in the team.

"Given his fall yesterday, it was always going to be hard for Froomey to hang in there, so the decision was made on the bus that I'd have G (Geraint Thomas) and Bernie (Eisel) to ride for me, and they did an incredible job on the wet and slippery roads," Porte said.

"It was carnage before we even reached the cobbles, and I went down after the second sector myself, but fortunately I only had a few minor grazes."

Organizers announced before the start of Wednesday's stage that two of the nine cobbled sectors had been removed from the stage because of the bad weather conditions but crashes still littered the route.

(Editing by Martyn Herman)

De Jong, Van Persie start for Netherlands

Netherlands midfielder Nigel de Jong was named in the starting line-up to face Argentina in the World Cup semi-final on Wednesday, completing a remarkable recovery after straining his groin muscle in the last-16 game against Mexico on June 29.

_0">

The experienced 29-year-old had been a doubt for the rest of the tournament but he replaced forward Memphis Depay, who started the quarter-final against Costa Rica, suggesting that coach Louis van Gaal will use a 5-3-2 formation.

Striker Robin Van Persie also starts despite suffering from stomach problems before the game.

As expected, Argentina made two changes to the team who beat Belgium in the quarter-final.

Enzo Perez comes in to replace the injured Angel Di Maria and Marcos Rojo takes the place of Jose Basanta.

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Ed Osmond)

Froome out, Nibali in command after Tour mayhem

Chaos and carnage rained down on the Tour de France on Wednesday as defending champion Chris Froome crashed out of the race on stage five and Italian Vincenzo Nibali seized control.

On a miserable wet day in northern France, Froome did not even make it to the notorious cobbled sections as his second fall of the day, following another painful spill on Tuesday, led to him quitting after less than a week of his attempted defense.

The batted and bruised Briton, who fell some 70km from the finish of the 152.5-km ride from Ypres in Belgium, hobbled around in clear pain before climbing into a Team Sky car.

"Obviously it's devastating for Chris and for the team. We knew it was going to be a tough race," Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford told reporter.

With crash after crash decimating the peloton, Italian Nibali powered away from Spain's Alberto Contador on the slippery cobbled sections, taking over two minutes on the Spaniard who, before the race, was regarded as the main threat to Froome's title defense.

The Astana rider, who took third place on stage won by Dutchman Lars Boom, now leads twice former champion Contador, who is 19th overall, by 2:37.

Boom is the first Dutchman to win a Tour stage since Pieter Weening in 2005.

"It was a really stressful day and a very hard race. I wasn't thinking of the yellow jersey," Nibali told reporters.

"I was just focused on riding the best I could. I'm in good shape. I've prepared for this particular stage but the conditions today were very different from those I experienced when I came and rode on the cobbles."

Denmark's Jakob Fuglsang guided team mate Nibali home, taking second place on the stage and is second on the overall standings, two seconds behind the Italian.

RAIN PELTED

Froome had already hurt his wrist in another tumble on Tuesday and he looked edgy as the rain pelted down.

He was helped back into the peloton early in the stage after one crash which left him with some grazes but when he hit the tarmac again later it was more than his body could take.

After talking to his support crew and shaking his head, he limped to the team vehicle and climbed in.

"We really believed in Chris and his ability to win this race. But it's not to be this year," Brailsford said.

_0">

"It was exciting, wasn't it? You've got to say that when you see the way Nibali rode, it was very impressive.

_1">

"It's just unbelievable to ride away from (Fabian) Cancellara and (Peter) Sagan on the cobbles. We'll remember it for a long time."

_2">

Froome is the second high-profile casualty of the Tour so far after fellow Briton Mark Cavendish abandoned after a horror crash in Saturday's opening stage bunch sprint in Harrogate.

_3">

As Froome departed, Nibali powered ahead.

_4">

With mud splattering his face, the Italian looked light on the cobbled sectors whereas Contador struggled but at least stayed on his bike to limit the damage.

_5">

_6">

MUD DRIPPING

_7">

"It was a complicated day," Contador told reporters seconds after crossing the finish line, mud dripping from his face.

_8">

"I lost some time but the most important was to avoid crashing. We will now recuperate and look forward."

_9">

Contador had some sympathy for Froome.

_10">

"From here I want to give support to @chrisfroome, months of work and everything gone. A big loss for the Tour," he wrote on his Twitter page.

_11">

With Froome out the race will be harder to control as it heads towards the Vosges region, where Contador will fight tooth and nail to close the gap on Nibali.

_12">

Cannondale rider Sagan is third in the overall standings, 44 seconds behind Nibali, after the Slovakian stayed out of trouble to maintain his solid start to the race.

_13">

Among those who crashed on a hectic day were triple Paris-Roubaix champion Cancellara as well as overall contenders Tejay van Garderen (now 2:11 behind overall), Alejandro Valverde (2:11) and Jurgen van den Broeck (1:45).

_14">

American Andrew Talansky and Frenchman Thibaut Pinot also managed to stay on their bike and trail Nibali by 2:05 and 2:25 respectively.

_15">

Team Sky will now back Australian Richie Porte, who lies 1:54 off the pace in eighth place overall.

_0">

"It's all for Richie now, surely," said sports director Nicolas Portal.

_1">

Thursday's sixth stage will take the battered peloton over 194-km from Arras to Reims as the Tour commemorates the centenary of the start of World War One.

_2">

_3">

(Editing by Martyn Herman/Alan Baldwin)

_4">

Argentina, Dutch level at 0-0 at halftime in semi

Argentina and the Netherlands were level at 0-0 at halftime in their World Cup semi-final on Wednesday with Lionel Messi's side having most of the play and creating the best chances.

_0">

Messi's low free kick around the wall was saved by Jasper Cillessen in the 15th minute and Ezequiel Garay's diving header from Ezequiel Lavezzi's whipped-in corner went over the bar with the Argentina defender under pressure from Ron Vlaar.

The winners will play Germany in the final on Sunday.

(Writing by Ken Ferris, editing by Ed Osmond)

Blackhawks sign Toews, Kane to lucrative contract extensions

The Chicago Blackhawks have agreed to lucrative eight-year contract extensions with high-scoring forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the National Hockey League team said on Wednesday.

_0">

Financial terms of the contracts were not disclosed by the team but local media estimate each is worth $84 million.

"The commitment we have made to these incredible young men is equal to the commitment they have made to our team, our fans, our entire organization and the city of Chicago," Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz said in a statement.

"We are excited for our future and proud that they will continue to be a part of that commitment and success for years to come."

Canadian Toews, 26, became Chicago's youngest ever captain in July 2008 and has guided the team to two Stanley Cup championships during his time in charge.

"There's no organization in sports that cares more about the overall experience of their fans and the success of their players," said Toews, a three-time All-Star.

"To have the chance to continue with this amazing group of teammates and people throughout the organization is an incredible honor.

"There's nothing we want more as players than to continue to win Stanley Cups for the best hockey fans on the planet."

American Kane, 25, was a pivotal figure in both Stanley Cup triumphs, scoring the series-clinching goal in Game Six of the 2010 Finals and winning the Conn Smythe Trophy the most valuable player during the 2013 playoffs.

"It's great to be able to continue my career in Chicago," said Kane, also a three-time All-Star. "Playing with the best organization in sports and the best fans in the game is a blessing.

"Since I was drafted by the Blackhawks, the people of Chicago have really embraced me and treated me with nothing but respect. I look forward to many more years of success with the Blackhawks."

Toews and Kane led Chicago back to the Western Conference final this year, but the Blackhawks were beaten by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)

Netherlands vs Argentina semi-final goes into extra time

The World Cup semi-final match between the Netherlands and Argentina on Wednesday went into extra time with the teams level at 0-0 after 90 minutes.

_0">

(Writing by Ken Ferris)

Argentina beat Netherlands 4-2 on penalties – 2014 World Cup semi-final result

Netherlands 0 Argentina 0 – 2014 World Cup semi-final result, after extra time.

_0">

Argentina won penalty shoot-out 4-2

At the Corinthians arena, Sao Paulo

Halftime: 0-0; fulltime: 0-0; after extra time: 0-0

Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey)

(Compiled by Simon Jennings)

Coach Popovich agrees to contract extension with Spurs

Gregg Popovich, one of only five coaches to have won at least five National Basketball Association (NBA) championships, has agreed to a multi-year contract extension with the San Antonio Spurs, the team said on Wednesday.

_0">

The 65-year-old, widely known for his wry sense of humor and nicknamed "Coach Pop" or just "Pop", guided the Spurs to their fifth NBA title last month when they beat the two-time defending champion Miami Heat 4-1 in the best-of-seven finals.

As per club policy terms of the contract were not disclosed, the Spurs said in a brief statement.

Popovich, who took charge of the Spurs in 1996 and has become the longest serving active coach in the league, was in April voted NBA Coach of the Year for a third time.

He had led San Antonio to a league-best record of 62-20 during the 2013-14 regular season before they relentlessly advanced through the playoffs.

The Spurs have been a model of consistency under Popovich and, with veteran forward Tim Duncan and guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobil pivotal figures over the past decade, he has established a 1,116-533 career record, including the playoffs.

Popovich won NBA titles with the Spurs in 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2014 to emulate Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, Pat Riley and John Kundla as the only coaches to have claimed at least five.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)