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.

Jose Mourinho responds to sending off, Man United win

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Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho saw his side battle to a 1-0 win away at Southampton on Saturday as they kept their unbeaten start to the Premier League season going.

Romelu Lukaku scored the only goal of the game after 20 minutes and although Saints had the better of the play in the second half, United’s defense held firm.

Towards the end of the game Mourinho was sent to the stands by referee Craig Pawson for encroachment as he stepped onto the pitch during the action.

What happened?

“I don’t know, you have to ask the referee,” Mourinho said.

He then wasted more time by shaking the hands of every member of Southampton’s coaching staff before he briefly went into the stands before the final whistle was blown.

It remains to be seen if he will face a touchline ban or fine for his actions but speaking to Sky Sports, Mourinho focused on the performance of his team.

“It is not always possible to operate at high quality but fought hard. We did what many teams in the Premier League do for 90 minutes, which was play with five defenders at the back. Credit to Southampton, they tried to play. Pellegrino changed the team and sent on another striker to play more direct.

“It was a hard game but I am really happy. Romelu Lukaku’s work is so important for us. He scored his goal and worked hard like everybody else. Nobody feels the pressure to play always attacking football because so many teams play always defensively. I felt some of the boys were not sharp. I didn’t feel like we could score three or four goals like we sometimes do so the option was to make sure we got the points.”

Burnley 0-0 Huddersfield Town: Not much cooking at Turf Moor

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  • Twenty-two fouls
  • Five total shots on target
  • Clarets unbeaten in four

Nothing was beautiful, and everything hurt.

Burnley and Huddersfield Town played a near chance-free match on Saturday at Turf Moor, staying level on nine points with the seventh-place visitors ahead of the hosts on goal differential.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Stephen Ward nearly found Chris Wood for Burnley’s opener, but unsung Town hero Christopher Schindler continued his fine start to life in the Premier League with a big intervention.

The second half provided a first bit of danger for either goalkeeper as Nick Pope had to stop Laurent Depoitre‘s bid at a goal scoring streak when Tom Ince set the table.

Aaron Mooy found Ince for a chance of his own, but the shot zipped wide of goal.

Rajiv Van la Parra tried to claim a penalty for Huddersfield Town, but instead went into the book for diving.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Swansea City 1-2 Watford: Hornets win away again

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  • Richarlison scores late winner
  • Gray gave Watford the lead
  • Watford have three-straight away wins 

Watford beat Swansea City in the final minute at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday with Richarlison netting a late winner for Marco Silva‘s men.

Andre Gray gave Watford the lead but Swansea equalized through Tammy Abraham and then Richarlison snatched all three points late on as the Hornets won 2-1 in South Wales.

With the victory Marco Silva’s men move on to 11 points for the season after winning all three of their away games, while Swansea stay on four points and haven’t won at home this season.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]  

The Hornets took the lead through Gray, his first goal for Watford, as the former Burnley striker made the most of a bad mistake from Wilfried Bony.

A poor back pass was picked up by Gray who played it wide to Andre Carrillo and his cross was half cleared but the ball fell to Gray who swept home to make it 1-0.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Swansea struggled throughout the first half with plenty of misplaced passes and Alfie Mawson gave the ball away cheaply in a poor area but Gray couldn’t grab his and Watford’s second of the game.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

After making two half time subs with Roque Mesa and Abraham coming on, Swansea rallied at the start of the second half and they equalized through Abraham.

Bony’s effort was saved by Heurelho Gomes but half time sub Abraham poked the ball home to make it 1-1.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ] 

Swansea improved dramatically after the equalizer with Mesa going close as the Welsh side pushed hard for the winner late on.

However Watford won it in the 89th minute as Richarlison made the most of mistakes from Mesa and Mawson and sent a shot over Lukasz Fabianski and in.

WATCH LIVE: Leicester City vs. Liverpool

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Liverpool hopes a better lineup at the same venue will make the difference when it visits Leicester City at King Power Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Leicester beat Liverpool 2-0 midweek in the League Cup, but the Reds didn’t have their top center back duo in Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip. They’ll start Saturday.

The Foxes have red-hot Shinji Okazaki playing with Jamie Vardy up top.

LINEUPS

Leicester City: Schmeichel, Simpson, Morgan (c), Maguire, Chilwell, Ndidi, King, Albrighton, Mahrez, Okazaki, Vardy. Subs: Hamer, Fuchs, Amarety, Iborra, Gray, Iheanacaho, Slimani.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Gomez, Lovren, Matip, Moreno, Can, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Coutinho, Salah, Firmino. Subs: Karius, Milner, Sturridge, Solanke, Klavan, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexander-Arnold.