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Criscito, finito: Match-fixing probe claims Italy’s starting left back

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Alternate title: 2006 does not apply

Domenico Criscito, one of Italy’s projected starting XI at Euro 2012 (and a target of the country’s latest match-fixing probe), has been forced out of the country’s squad of Euro 2012. So yeah, this is a big deal.

How big is this Italian match-fixing probe getting? Aside from the list of prominent names being arrested in conjunction with the investigation (including Juventus head coach Antonio Conte), the controversy’s compelled James Richardson to write.

The host of the internet’s “it” podcast (The Guardian’s Football Weekly) usually confines his benign musings to audio or video. This week, the former Football Italia host has deemed Italy’s latest crisis sufficiently important to take to a keyboard. Groovy.

By “latest crisis”, I mean to allude to 2006. In the middle of calciopoli, Italy won World Cup 2006. If you bleed Azzurri blue, you might look at that data point and suggest Italy plays its best soccer under fire. Bring on the investigation, somebody (somewhere) is saying. Our team plays better when they’re under pressure.

To which I’d retort: “What team?”

In soccer years, it’s been a long time since Italy was good. How long? Well, way back when Italy was a factor at major tournaments (2006), Zinadine Zidane was still playing. Michael Owen had just returned from Real Madrid, Manchester City’s top scorer was Andy Cole, and Giuseppe Rossi had just debuted … for Manchester United.

Since 2006, it’s been all downhill for the four-time world champions. They barely make it out of what was ultimately (and surprisingly) a bad group at Euro 2008. They didn’t make it out of their group in World Cup 2010, and drawn in the same group as Spain, Croatia and Ireland, there’s a good chance they won’t get out of their group in Euro 2012.

Head coach Cesare Prandelli has no choice but to select an unremarkable collection of talent that reflects a stoic period in Italian player development. Perhaps in Brazil the likes of Mario Balotelli and Sebastian Giovinco will be the finished product. In Poland, their most accomplished attacker is 34-year-old Toto Di Natale (10 goals in 36 appearances).

At best, Italy is an underdog to beat out Croatia (who has never lost to Italy) for Group C’s second quarterfinal spot. Even if we factor in a “coming together” factor, they still look like a team riding an expired reputation. Unless Slaven Bilic’s Croatia plays to his country’s unreasonably low expectations, Italy’s in line for another major competition disappointment.

And all that is before factoring in yesterday’s news. Zenit St. Petersburg’s Domenico Criscito, who has spent over two years as Italy’s first choice left back, was forced to pull out of the squad after his room was searched by police in an early Monday raid. You can’t help but feel that were he not part of the team slatted for Euro 2012, he might have been arrest. With Criscito’s Genoa home also combed-over by authorities, it may only be a matter of time (part of the reason for withdrawing).

According to the Italian soccer federation (the FIGC), Criscito’s maintaining his innocence. He’s also sorry about the distraction he’s brought the team, part of an obligatory response. What’s he supposed to say? That the team thrives amid controversy? And he’s going the squad a service?

Best case scenario, for Italy: Criscito is as innocent as he claims, and his absence ends up being inconsequential. No team wants to lose a starter, but Italy’s got options. Giorgio Chiellini is a natural central defender, but he’s coming off a great year on the left for Juventus. The team also has Palermo’s Federico Balzaretti, one of Serie A’s best left backs. Are either of them Criscito? Over Italy’s three crucial group stage games, there may not be a difference.

The distraction of Criscito, however, could have taken the team down. The margins are so thin for Italy, a team that will have to break their Croatia cruse if they’re to make the quarterfinals. Having Criscito around may have provided a slight benefit on the pitch, but off the field, it could have undermined the entire tournament.

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.

VIDEO: James Corden becomes Arsenal’s new coach… for the day

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Arsene Wenger is celebrating his 20th anniversary in charge at Arsenal this week, but there’s a new guy on the block.

[ MORE: Pulisic in dreamland ]

In this hilarious video, British comedian James Corden takes the Arsenal squad on a tour of LA and leads a training session with Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Hector Bellerin front and center as they work on psychology, teamwork and goal celebrations.

Corden, the host of the “Late, Late Show with James Corden” on CBS, filmed the piece during Arsenal’s preseason tour of the USA this summer as they played against the MLS All-Stars in San Jose, California before heading down to LA to face Chivas Guadalajara at the StubHub Center.

Judging by Corden’s performance though, I don’t think Wenger has much to worry about…

And don’t forget, you can watch the special Premier League Download episode “Inside the mind of Arsene Wenger” on NBCSN this Saturday, Oct. 1 at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN as Roger Bennett sits down with Wenger one-on-one to discuss his two decades leading the Gunners.

Mourinho sticks up for Allardyce after England humiliation

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 04:  (L-R) Opposing managers Jose Mourinho the manager of Chelsea and Sam Allardyce the West Ham manager greet each other prior to kickoff during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham and Chelsea at the Boleyn Ground on March 4, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho is standing by Sam Allardyce.

[ MORE: Pulisic in dreamland ]

On Wednesday Manchester United’s manager was asked about Allardyce’s shocking exit as England manager after just 67 days in charge.

Following an undercover investigation by The Telegraph in the UK which showed the veteran coach talking about ways to circumvent the FA’s rules on third-party ownership (TPO) of players, Allardyce agreed to leave the Three Lions after just one game in charge.

[ MORE: Allardyce: “Entrapment has won” ]

Despite some words against each other in the past, Mourinho spoke glowingly about Allardyce and stood by the Englishman despite his disgrace.

“The only thing I can say that I like Sam. I feel sorry for that because I know that was the dream job and I feel very sorry for it. The second thing I can say is that what happened obviously is not going to interfere in any way with my relation with him. I like him. I respected him before and that is not going to change,” Mourinho said. “The third thing is that this is between him and the Football Association. I have nothing to say about it, really.”

Right now, Allardyce needs all the friends he can get as he faces potential action from the FA over his comments as the investigation continues regarding any involvement he made have had with TPO’s, agents and beyond.

USMNT Pulisic on assist vs. Real Madrid: “There’s no better feeling”

Real Madrid's Luka Modric, left, and Dortmund's Christian Pulisic challenge for the ball during the Champions League group F soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid in Dortmund, Germany, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
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Christian Pulisic continued his fairytale rise up through the ranks of the soccer world on Tuesday as the 18-year-old jumped off the bench and notched a crucial assist as Borussia Dortmund scored a late equalizer in the UEFA Champions League against Real Madrid.

[ MORE: UCL  roundup ]

Trailing the reigning European champions heading into the final few minutes at home in their Group F game, Pulisic picked up the ball on the right flank (see video below) and drove towards Real’s defense. He then clipped a dangerous ball to the back post which eventually found Andre Schurrle who rifled home. Dortmund’s fans went nuts and so did Pulisic.

The U.S. national team attacker has now made five appearances in all competitions for Dortmund this season, scoring once, and the Hershey, Pennsylvania native revealed what it felt like to play against Real in a huge UCL game at the Westfalenstadion.

Speaking to TV cameras after the game, Pulisic was still on a high from his game-changing assist in just his second Champions League appearance.

“It was an amazing game to come into, especially because the level was so high. It was an intense game, so I was just excited to get in there and show what I could do and try to help the team,” Pulisic. “Yeah [the goal] was amazing, I mean what a goal to score in that moment in that in front of the home fans. It was amazing for both of us, for everyone.”

Pulisic also revealed his pride as his stellar start to the new season continues.

“There’s no better feeling. Playing in the Champions League is a whole other sense of pride and it is amazing,” Pulisic said. “You always watch it as a kid and coming on in such a big game, it is incredible. I can’t describe it.”

The rising star of U.S. Soccer did describe what it was like to be playing and making an impact at the elite level in Europe and he hopes to stay there for a very long time.

“That’s the goal when you want to play professional soccer, you want to get to the highest level you can and that’s how you get better,” Pulisic said. “At such a young age I want to keep playing at the highest level so I can improve more and more and become the best player I can be.”

Ahead of the USA’s friendlies against Cuba and New Zealand coming up, Pulisic’s star continues to rise and there’s no doubt that when the Hexagonal round of 2018 World Cup qualifying kicks off in November that he’ll be a crucial part of Jurgen Klinsmann’s plans.

Safe to say that will likely be the case for many years to come as we simply have never seen a young U.S. player making such a significant impact on such a big stage at such a tender age.

Allardyce on losing England job: “Entrapment has won”

BOLTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Former England manager Sam Allardyce leaves his family home on September 28, 2016 in Bolton, England. Allardyce left his position as the national football manager after only one match in charge following allegations made by a national newspaper. (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)
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The fallout from Sam Allardyce‘s shocking departure as England’s manager continues.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Allardyce ]

After being caught in a “sting” operation by undercover journalists discussing how to get around FA rules regarding third-party ownership of players, plus criticizing his employers, former England manager Roy Hodgson and his assistant Gary Neville.

Following lengthy meetings on Tuesday at Wembley Stadium, Allardyce, 61, agreed to leave his “dream job” as England’s manager after just 67 days and one game in charge.

Speaking to Sky Sports news he said the meeting where undercover footage of him discussing how to circumvent FA rules was filmed, was a favor to a close friend, agent Scott McGarvey.

Allardyce spoke to a large group of journalists on Wednesday morning outside his him before flying out of the county to “chill out and reflect” on a hugely damaging 24 hours for the veteran coach.

“On reflection it was a silly thing to do. I was trying to help out someone I’d known for 30 years. Unfortunately it was an error of judgement on my behalf, I’ve paid the consequences. Entrapment has won on this occasion and I have to accept that. The agreement was done very amicably with The FA and I apologize to those and all concerned in the unfortunate situation I’ve put myself in.”

Asked if this would be the end of his managerial career in the game, Allardyce didn’t seem too hopeful. “Who knows. We will wait and see,” Allardyce said.

The former Sunderland, West Ham, Newcastle, Blackburn and Bolton manager lives in hope and he previously told Sky Sports he is “not a quitter” and hopes to get another job, but it is tough to see Allardyce returning to the game as a manager at the elite level in England ever again.

There is also the threat that Allardyce could face further action over his comments, with the FA waiting on the full transcripts from The Telegraph to decide if the matter will be taken further and if he broke any rules.

Yes, Allardyce only suggested he knew ways around transfer rules via agents and he wasn’t paid by the fictitious businessmen played by undercover journalists, despite agreeing  fee of over $518,000, but the fact of the matter is he obviously knows people who are up to no good in the game and the FA may well use his information to try and stamp out any kind of corruption.

It’s been a sad few days for Allardyce and for English soccer as the national team is without a manager after a shocking and quite unbelievable demise for Big Sam.