Time to take Spain off the Euro 2012 favorite’s perch

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A lot of people already had Germany or the Netherlands as their Euro 2012 favorites, but in international soccer, a lot of predictions fall back on the usual tropes. German pragmatism, brilliant Oranje – with similar aphorisms, some will pick Italy or France to claim this summer’s crown, statures their more measured coaches can’t envision for squads still in the middle of rebuild processes.

Spain was this summer’s favorite, though not overwhelmingly so. Two years after the claimed their first world title with the understated force of a father’s coercing hand on a seven-year-old’s shoulder, nobody had made a better claim to being the world’s best. Germany has reached the most difficult part of their current cycle, shifting from aspirations to expectations, while the Netherlands have never been as good as South Africa’s scrappy second place finish implied.

Today, however, everything changed. The same pithy doubts that undermine the German and Dutch profiles now apply doubly so to Spain. After all, the complaints against the former underdogs are more ethereal than substantial. Germany waiting for their Özil-Müller-lead kids to come good? That may be a matter of time. And qualms about the Netherlands’ underlying quality in South Africa? Well, they did finish second.

Having lost their best defender, Spain has a real, tangible hole, though some would disagree about the quality of Carles Puyol. With his proven ability to lock down opponents in big games, he’s still the first defender I’d want if I had one game to win. There’s a reason why Pep Guardiola often shook up his defense when facing Real Madrid, jumping through hoops to match Puyol opposite Cristiano Ronaldo whenever possible. Barcelona’s suicidally high line would be impossible to pull off without Puyol’s speed and intelligence, yet asked to name Puyol’s best qualities, most are more likely to mention his tenacity and physicality, the latter more of a hair-derived stereotype than something you see on a game-to-game basis.

The 34-year-old’s though to have lost a step, becoming more mistake prone. With almost any analysis of defenders, it’s easy to use isolated examples to draw different conclusions. With Puyol, however, complaints are usually drawn along the Real-Barça divide.

Even if Puyol has slipped, his value to Barcelona has not. Same with Spain. If he’s a waning talent, he’s still a relative titan for his two teams. His loss is debilitating no matter your opinion of his value. With questions surrounding Gerard Piqué’s quality (Puyol’s partner struggling through the last half of his club season), it’s unclear who will lead the Vicente de Bosque’s line June 10.

“It’s a serious setback,” Spain’s boss told AS after news of Puyol’s injury got out, “he’s a considerable loss not only for what he gives on the pitch, but for what he contributes to the team (off it).”

“Beyond the question of whether or not it effects my [tactical] plans, he is a charismatic and hugely important player who was on the verge of 100 caps. He was in great form. It’s a real pity.”

With David Villa’s status uncertain (the Barcelona striker recovering from a broken leg), Spain has major uncertainties both up top and at the back. Roberto Soldado and/or Fernando Llorente are expected to vie for spots in attack, while today’s defense looks something like (right-to-left) Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Piqué and Jordi Alba.

Will that be good enough? Who knows, and that’s the point. With Puyol going down, there are just too many questions surrounding Spain to consider them Euro’s favorites.

ProSoccerTalk is doing its best to keep you up to date on what’s going on in Poland and Ukraine. Check out the site’s Euro 2012 page and look at the site’s previews, predictions, and coverage of all the events defining UEFA’s championship.

FIFA bans Colombia midfielder Cardona 5 games for gesture

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has banned Colombia midfielder Edwin Cardona for five matches for making a discriminatory gesture with his eyes toward a South Korean opponent.

FIFA will allow Cardona to serve the ban in friendly games, so he should be available for Colombia’s World Cup opener against Japan on June 19.

[ MORE: Pep on post-derby celebrations ]

Cardona has also been fined 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,150) because of the incident last month in a friendly in Seoul.

Cardona apologized at the time, saying he “didn’t mean to disrespect anyone, a country or a race, but if anyone felt offended, or interpreted it in that way, I am sorry.”

Spurs’ Alderweireld won’t return until February

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Spurs finally got a bit of good news this weekend with a blowout of Stoke City.

That was a followed by a tough draw against Juventus in the UEFA Champions League, and bad news on an old injury.

[ MORE: Benitez on NUFC struggles ]

Center back Toby Alderweireld is going to be gone into February, extending his time on the sidelines with a hamstring injury suffered Nov. 1 against Real Madrid.

Spurs were 6-2-2 in league when Alderweireld went down, and are just 2-2-2 since the injury. The Belgian has missed losses at Arsenal and Leicester, draws against Watford and West Brom, and wins over Crystal Palace and Stoke.

Tottenham did win both of its UCL matches since the injury.

Benitez: If we can’t add in January, work gets harder

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Newcastle United has swung from the top half of the table to the fringes of the drop zone, something that hasn’t caught Rafa Benitez off guard.

The veteran manager has not lost sight of his August transfer window shortcomings. He hasn’t dwelled on it in the media, but Benitez is also very cognizant that his team has lacked depth at striker, out wide, and at left back.

[ MORE: Pep on post-derby celebrations ]

To boot, most of his additions — Mikel Merino, Christian Atsu, Javi Manquillo — haven’t been loaded with experience.

“Some games we are the youngest team in the Premier League. We have to learn quickly. This team is working very hard. Little things we have to improve and we will be stronger.”

“We know our job. Everyone has an opinion. It’s not rocket science – we need players in some positions. If we can, fine, if not, we will have to work harder.”

Newcastle isn’t far away, but it’s woefully short at left back (to the point where it’s best options have been displaced center back Chancel Mbemba and right back Manquillo), and Benitez doesn’t trust Aleksandar Mitrovic up top with Joselu not firing (though Championship star scorer Dwight Gayle may be coming around).

Additions are still needed, and perhaps Benitez is marginally better off that Newcastle didn’t continue overachieving as it did early days.

Premier League Preview: Swansea City vs. Manchester City

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  • Man City leads all-time 22W-4D-7L
  • Swans winless in 11 vs. Man City
  • Last Swans win: 2012 at home

Manchester City can set the Premier League record for consecutive wins in a single season when it visits Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium on Wednesday (Watch live at 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Each side has scored in the last eight meetings between the two in all competitions, which is about the only bit of good news for Paul Clement‘s side outside of their weekend win over West Brom. Man City has dominated the series in recent memory, and really all time.

[ MORE: Pep on post-derby celebrations ]

And some good news for Man City, too: There won’t be any problem with what they do in their own changing room.

“Like any club, Manchester City are able to play music in their dressing room,” a Swansea City spokesman said following the fracas at the Manchester Derby.

Wilfried Bony will be fired up to face his former club, and he’s coming off a big goal to sink West Brom. He’s going to have a lot in the tank. From the Manchester Evening News:

“Every game I look forward to but it is special to play against your old team. Injuries had an impact on my time at City. When you come from a club where you play every game and then you are playing maybe once a month or two games a month it is completely different.”

Vincent Kompany is out for Man City.

What they’re saying

Swansea City back Alfie Mawson on slowing Man City“I’m very fortunate to test myself against the highest calibre of footballer there is. City are flying this season. They’ve got one of the best managers in the world. We’ve got to find a way to combat them. Every team is finding it hard and I’m sure it’s going to be a very tough game because of the quality and depth they have. We’ve got to be switched on for the entire game, as they’ll punish one lapse in concentration.”

Man City’s Kevin De Bruyne on the 11-point table lead“Lots of teams lost points this weekend so it is a big one for us [the win] just to put more pressure on the rest. We have to enjoy it and then focus again for Wednesday. It is a big gap. If we slip up we are still in the lead. We can’t be complacent. We need to do what we have all year. I prefer to be 11 points ahead than 11 points behind that’s for sure.”

Prediction

The run continues, as Paul Clement prioritizes Saturday’s trip to Everton and City cruises to a 3-0 win.