European Championship in focus: Spotlighting Spain

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Man that matters: 

Andrés Iniesta: Seriously, it’s impossible to choose between Iniesta and Barcelona midfield mate Xavi. The coin toss landed “AI,” so here you go.

Both players represent the gold standard of midfield possession, masters of astute spacing, the critical first touch and pinpoint connections. They are the cornerstones of Spain’s “generation of brilliance” the indispensable building blocks on which Spain’s flummoxing, mobile passing game has been arranged. Both are set-up men more than goal scorers, although Iniesta certainly turned up with a massive moment of goal-scoring glory; his extra time blast from in close against the Netherlands was a historical World Cup game-winner two summers back.

First-round games:

June 10: vs. Italy (Gdansk, Poland)

June 14: vs. Ireland (Gdansk, Poland)

June 18: vs. Croatia (Gdansk, Poland)

Foursome of knowledge:

  • Periodic dips in friendlies might be concerning, but nothing seemed amiss during a trouble-free qualifying jog, one that ended perfectly at 8-0 and a plus-20 goal difference. Manager Vicente del Bosque’s world champs finished a cool 11 points ahead of distant second place Czech Republic. Of greater concern than indifferent performance in meaningless friendlies are two key injury absences. First is center back Carles Puyol, regal and imposing at once but not available. And forward David Villa is out, too; he was Spain’s leading scorer in qualifiers with seven goals in seven matches.
  • Choices to replace Villa include … uh, oh … start the Fernando Torres debate in 3, 2, 1 …: Torres has spent most of his 18 months at Chelsea thoroughly underwhelming everyone. So does Del Bosque go there? Or does he turn to in-form Athletic Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente or even Valencia’s Roberto Soldado?
  • Are we past worrying about the Barca-Real fissure that has long been the bane (or at least the worry) of Spanish soccer? Surely successive championships in major tournaments (Euro 2008, World Cup 2010) have allayed the restive.  If not, here’s the count: Spanish champs Real Madrid has five men, runner-up Barcelona has seven. Perhaps it helps that Spain’s defense is built around Real men while the midfield is largely a Catalan production from Barcelona.
  • We all spend so much time drooling over Spain’s classy passing and brilliant offensive potential that we tend to forget: goalkeeper Iker Casillas is surely among the world’s best. Spain’s captain just back-stopped Real Madrid’s La Liga crowing, and he recently became the most capped Spanish man yet, with 129 international appearances over 12 years.

Where they are going:

It seems to come down to two things. First, how hungry can you be if you’re already full? That is to say, is the drive still alive and kicking after having accomplished so much, especially after such a punishing march through La Liga, Champions League, etc. (Not much of which ended well for the Barca men; Real captured La Liga glory, at least.) The other element seemingly standing between Spain, the tourney favorites, and the chance at an unprecedented third successive major tournament trophy: those talented and confident Germans.

source:  The roster:

Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid CF), Víctor Valdés (FC Barcelona), Pepe Reina (Liverpool FC).

Defenders: Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid CF), Gerard Piqué (FC Barcelona), Jordi Alba (Valencia CF), Álvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid CF), Raúl Albiol (Real Madrid CF), Juanfran (Club Atlético de Madrid), Javi Martínez (Athletic Club).

Midfielders: Xavi Hernández (FC Barcelona), Sergio Busquets (FC Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid CF), David Silva (Manchester City FC), Santi Cazorla (Málaga CF), Jesús Navas (Sevilla FC), Cesc Fàbregas (FC Barcelona), Andrés Iniesta (FC Barcelona).

Forwards: Fernando Llorente (Athletic Club), Juan Mata (Chelsea FC), Fernando Torres (Chelsea FC), Pedro Rodríguez (FC Barcelona), Álvaro Negredo (Sevilla FC).

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.

Klopp: Liverpool supplied “very rare” near-perfect performance

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Liverpool played a near-perfect contest in posting a stylish 4-1 win over West Ham United on Saturday at Anfield.

[ RECAP: Reds 4-1 West Ham ]

The Reds went second thanks to goals from Emre Can, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane, conceding a lone goal courtesy of a Cheikhou Kouyate turnover of Can.

The result made Liverpool’s Spanish training camp look like genius, and put to bed fears that the Reds would not build off a 5-0 dismantling of Porto in the UEFA Champions League.

The win moves Liverpool into second place before Manchester United’s Sunday tilt with Chelsea. If the Red Devils fail to beat the Blues, Liverpool will finish the match week in second. From the BBC:

“I don’t think as a manager you can expect a game like this, you can hope for it but it’s very rare you get it. We got it. It was a joy to watch.

“The boys delivered, it makes me really happy. It helps us when we have time to train and prepare but we don’t often have the time. I saw a lot of things today we did in training which makes me happy.”

Klopp’s reference of preparation time is another sign that schedule congestion has not escaped the minds of the managers, and the Reds would not have had as much time off had they not been upset by West Brom in the FA Cup.

A visit from Newcastle is next, and the Reds can focus on the league because the following visit from Porto carries such a lopsided first leg score line.

West Brom 1-2 Huddersfield Town: Terriers climb

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  • Van la Parra gives Terriers lead
  • Mounie makes it 2-0
  • Dawson pullback not enough

Rajiv Van la Parra and Steve Mounie scored second half goals to boost Huddersfield Town four points clear of the drop zone with a 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns on Saturday.

Craig Dawson scored to give the Baggies hope of a comeback, but it was deflated and West Brom is now seven points back of safety with 10 matches to play.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

West Brom saw an early chance fall to Salomon Rondon, but the Venezuelan blazed over the bar.

Huddersfield were unlucky with a chance produced by Florent Hadergjonaj, as an Alex Pritchard shot caught a teammate in the face and the Terriers couldn’t clean up the loose ball.

Matt Phillips provided a typical fine cross to James McClean near the halftime whistle, but the Irish attacker belted it high.

Town took the lead after halftime, as Van la Parra’s mishit cross was rescued by Collin Quaner and sent into the goal by the same man who bungled the cross.

And Mounie made West Brom’s short-term and long-term fate look dim by putting down a second Town marker off an assist from club record signing Pritchard.

Hold on, though.

Dawson had an answer for the hosts off a Chris Brunt cross, and it was nearly level when Jonas Lossl denied Brunt late on.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Burnley 1-1 Southampton: Gabbiadini to the rescue

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  • Burnley without a PL win in 11
  • Saints with just one win in their last 15 games
  • Gabbiadini’s first goal in 17 games

Southampton struck late to grab a 1-1 draw against Burnley at Turf Moor on Saturday.

Ashley Barnes bundled home in the second half to give Burnley the lead but Sean Dyche‘s side succumbed to a predatory finish from Manolo Gabbiadini who jumped off the bench to grab a valuable point for Saints.

With the draw Burnley move on to 37 points and back up to seventh, while Southampton move out of the bottom three and have 27 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Saints had a decent chance on the break early on as Dusan Tadic, making his 150th appearance for the club, drilled a low effort towards the far corner which Nick Pope saved superbly.

Burnley were dangerous when crosses flew into the box but Saints had another chance to go ahead but Nathan Redmond‘s shot from outside the box was saved by Pope.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

The home side improved drastically before half time as they pinned Southampton back but failed to really generate any clear-cut chances.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

In the second half the encounter continued to be a tight, tense affair as Ashley Barnes nodded wide and Southampton struggled to get going in attack.

Burnley took the lead as Barnes bundled home from close range following a cross from Aaron Lennon on the left which initially saw Alex McCarthy save well form Gudmundsson but then Southampton’s defense stood still and allowed Barnes to score.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

Substitute Josh Sims then thought he had equalized as the youngster cut in, smashed on goal but Pope tipped the ball onto the post with a magnificent save.

In the 90th minute Saints did equalize as Burnley felt that referee Bobby Madley got in their way in the middle of the pitch, but Redmond found Sims who crossed from the right and Guido Carrillo nodded the ball down to Gabbiadini to swivel and smash home. 1-1.

Liverpool 4-1 West Ham: Reds run Irons ragged

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  • Can opens scoring, 30′
  • Reds build 3-0 lead
  • Antonio scores lone Irons goal
  • Liverpool goes second

Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah all scored second half goals as Liverpool went second with a 4-1 win over visiting West Ham United on Saturday.

Emre Can gave Liverpool the lead en route to a 3-0 start, before Michail Antonio answered for West Ham.

The Reds are a point ahead of Manchester United before the Red Devils play Chelsea on Sunday. West Ham is 13th, four points clear of the drop zone.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Salah touched a Firmino pass past flat-footed James Collins, and his 15-yard shot was pushed off the far post by Adrian.

It was Marko Arnautovic chipped Loris Karius but not the cross bar as West Ham looked to answer the bell.

The breakthrough came before the half-hour mark, as Salah settled his blocked corner to help win a second. This time, it was Can heading home a back post offering to make it 1-0.

Arnautovic found even more danger before half, but Karius was there to get the job done.

Salah doubled the advantage in the 51st minute, shooting low past a flat-footed Adrian.

Can set up Liverpool’s third, playing a ball over the top for Firmino to push past a charging Begovic and slide into the goal. 3-0.

Cheikhou Kouyate picked Can’s pocket within minutes to play Antonio down the right for the Irons’ opener, but Mane settled the affair soon after the Liverpool concession.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]