Spain-Euro previews

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.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.