Saturday’s pre-Euro 2012 friendlies: Dutch pre-tournament rituals

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Last weekend’s pre-Euro 2012 friendlies saw a handful qualified teams walk through some mildly interesting matches: Spain’s reserves strolled; Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark lost; and the metronomic predictability of Portugal gave us another goal-less performance.

This weekend, with most teams sprinting through their final Euro 2012 auditions, the results were noticeably better. Portugal even managed to score.

Netherlands 6-0 Northern Ireland

On June 5, 2010, the Netherlands were sent to South Africa 2010 only after villagers around Amsterdam sought the Tulip God’s World Cup blessing by bringing a ceremonial roe deer to the steps of the municipal windmill to be bludgeoned by clog. Some interpreted the ritual as a soccer game, reporting it as a 6-1 win over Hungary. The confusion led Arjen Robben to rupture a groin.

Today the ritual was repeated. This time, Northern Ireland played the roe deer and failed to scored. For the Dutch, Robin van Persie scored twice. So did Ibrahim Afellay. Wesley Sneijder and Ron Vlaar rounded out the Netherlands’ 6-0 victory.

Northern Ireland has now won only two of their last 26 matches.

Team capsule: Netherlands

England 1-0 Belgium

A second-straight impressive win for the Three Lions, having won by the same score in Norway last week.  Perhaps more important: Roy Hodgson avoided his librarian’s tendencies and started some players who could trouble an opposition’s defense.

In our England capsule, I speculated an “attacking” three of Andy Carroll, James Milner and Stewart Downing could would be “brutal.” There was an alternative: Starting Ashley Young and Theo Walcott wide, flanking Danny Welbeck. We didn’t exactly get that today (either in selection or formation), but the choices were encouraging: Welbeck was healthy enough to start up top (scoring in the first half); Young and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain were also in the starting XI. It was quite the victory for rational deduction.

England’s next game: Nine days from now, when they face France to open the teams’ Euro 2012.

Denmark 2-0 Australia

Morten Olsen’s team came into this match having lost two in a row, and while those losses were against respectable teams (Russia and Brazil), they weren’t by respectable margins, outscored 5-1 in two home games.

All that is in the past, now, though this was not a full-strength Australia, and Denmark let the Socceroos control the second half. Neither of the Danes’ goals came from open play: Daniel Agger scoring from the spot in the first while Andreas Bjelland banged home a corner in the second.

Read between the lines of Olsen’s post-match reaction and you see some worry.

“[Australia] were tired. They have had a tough week because they have been training all week long,” Olsen said. “It is important for us that we have a win at this moment.”

“[A]t this moment.” Subtext: A win is a win, and right now, we’ll take what we can get.

Silver lining: Stephan Anderson kept a clean sheet. He’s going to be Denmark’s starting goalkeeper next week, with Thomas Sorensen forced to pull out of the squad with a back injury.

Team capsule: Denmark

Portugal 1-3 Turkey

Portugal went 57 minutes without scoring (after being shut out in their last two matches). By the time Nani broke through, they were already down two. Cristiano Ronaldo missed a penalty kick. Pepe closed the match with an own goal. Most embarrassing: Ricardo Quaresema played.

Given what we’ve seen from Portugal and Denmark, is Group B even the tournament’s toughest group? Portugal’s tendency to be vastly-overrated (blame Ronaldo; blame memories of Figo) fueled most “Group of Death” talk, but general under-appreciation of Denmark made up for that. Group B could be the tournament’s toughest quartet without a decent Portugal. Denmark would make up for it.

But what if Denmark can’t? What if neither Denmark nor Portugal can scare Germany or the Netherlands? Is Group B really better than Group C (Spain, Croatia, Italy, Ireland)?

Probably not.

Team capsule: Portugal

Norway 1-1 Croatia

Eh, it happens. I’m sure Slaven Bilic would have loved to go into a tough Group C with a win in Croatia’s final game, but they’ll have to settle for a draw at a decent team who needed a stoppage time equalizer to salvage a result. That Croatia got a draw without their best player, Luka Modric, is also reason to be encouraged.

Bilic, however, may not see it that way. Yesterday, he spoke of the importance of this match as preparation for Ireland (against whom Croatia open Euro 2012). He was also expected a win:

“We couldn’t have a better warm-up for the opening match against Ireland. Norway are something like Ireland, they’re two teams very similar in their style of play and team ability. The match in Oslo will show us where we are a week before our first match … The result is always important and a victory here would bring a better atmosphere and confidence to the team.”

Team capsule: Croatia

Poland 4-0 Andorra

Andorra! An-dorra! FIFA ranking: 205. If you came across a crusty-spined Encyclopedia Brittania curated by an soccer fan who had it up to here with their stuffy editor’s job, you’d find an entry under “Spend-off Game”, and I guarantee you it says “usually played against an opponent highly unlikely to win and thereby ruin the send-off’s festivities (see: Andorra).”

Poland was up three after 40 minutes. Roberto Lewandowski scored. Ludovic Obaniak scored. Jakub Blaszczykowski scored from the spot.

Poland’s next game: Friday against Greece: Euro 2012’s opener.

Team capsule: Poland

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: Sporting KC’s Medranda scores wonder goal in win over Vancouver

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Sporting KC showed again on Friday night why they’re the rightful leaders at the top of the Western Conference, pulling four points ahead of the LA Galaxy and the Vancouver Whitecaps with a dominating 6-0 win over the Whitecaps at home.

Scottish forward Johnny Russell bagged a hat-trick in the game, all by the 48th minute, but the highlight of the night came off the foot of 24-year-old Jimmy Medranda. The Colombian scored an absolute worldie from a ridiculous angle, taking the space given to him outside the top-left corner of the box and sailing it over the head of Vancouver goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic and into the back of the net.

It was, of course, massively beneficial to Sporting KC that Vancouver went two men down in the 40th minute after a huge skirmish that saw Yordy Reyna and Efrain Juarez both sent off. Reyna earned his marching orders for throwing Russell to the ground, while Juarez reportedly used unacceptable language.

Still, KC was already up 3-0 when the incident occurred, and credit must go to teams that take advantage of what has been handed to them. Sporting KC certainly did that as Russell becomes the first Scotsman to score an MLS hat-trick since Colorado’s John Spencer in 2001, and Medranda’s wonder goal sealed the deal past the half-hour mark.

Jurgen Klopp already wants a piece of Man City next season

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Manchester City may have run away with the Premier League title this year, but Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp can’t wait for a clean slate to try and challenge City’s title defense next season.

The Reds are into the Champions League semifinals and also looking to finish the Premier League season strong in a battle for positioning in the top four, but when asked about next year, Klopp was giddy.

“Of course I don’t fear the challenge,” Klopp said in his prematch press conference ahead of Liverpool’s Premier League visit to West Brom on Saturday morning.

The German made it clear he wants a piece of Manchester City next season. “This year, if City plays a normal season – which they didn’t do – then it would have been really close until the end because we are now all close together.”

“United is four points ahead [of Liverpool], Tottenham is two points behind. It’s a real fight for these positions. All big six pretty much delivered this year but City delivered the best. We will see. It’s difficult to deal with success as it is difficult to deal with other things in football but I’m pretty sure they will be strong again.”

Liverpool is one of only two teams to beat City in league play this year, with Manchester United being the other. Klopp and company torched the City back line in a wild 4-3 victory that ended City’s 22-match unbeaten run. Ultimately, though, Klopp knows they have to look at the entire season as a whole to best the defending champs next year, not just their matches against each other.

“It’s not important how good City will be, it’s about how we can get all the other points, plus the points we got so far again,” he said. “That’s the job to do. That is why it is always possible that it is closer. But are they able to dominate? They don’t have a limit to spending and all that stuff so I don’t know.”

VIDEO: Goalkeeper sends Memphis Depay flying with skillful touch

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Former Manchester United attacker Memphis Depay has one of the brightest spots for Lyon this season that sees them battling with Monaco and Marseille for 2nd place behind a dominant PSG. He has scored 15 goals and assisted 11 others this Ligue 1 campaign, adding to his tally just four minutes into Friday’s 5-2 win over Dijon, the sixth win in a row for the club that pulled them within a point of Monaco.

However, there was a moment to forget for Depay in the victory as well.

With the score still at 1-1 in the 19th minute, Depay was sent high up the pitch to press Dijon goalkeeper Baptiste Reynet, owner of the leakiest net of the Ligue 1 season. Nevertheless, sometimes the underdog prevails, and that’s what happened as Depay flung himself at the ball to put Reynet under pressure.

One silky touch by the netminder was all it took for Depay to end up on his backside.

The 24-year-old Dutch winger has had a fantastic season and one that could potentially propel him back to the biggest stage and a bigger paycheck, but for now, we can all poke fun at his misery in the moment.

Dortmund admits interest in signing Batshuayi permanently

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Michy Batshuayi might be out for the season with a serious ankle injury, but he may have already done enough to earn a permanent move to Borussia Dortmund.

The Chelsea striker moved on loan to the Bundesliga side in January and made an immediate impact, scoring two goals on his debut, and ultimately wound up with seven goals in 10 Bundesliga games before his ankle injury brought his season to a close. Now, the Dortmund front office is speaking very highly of the Belgian goalscorer, not so subtly hinting that they will take an aggressive approach this summer.

The interest to sign him is there,” said Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke. “But first we have to wait and see who will be Chelsea’s coach next season. Then we’ll start looking.”

Chelsea has Antonio Conte currently at the helm, but there are strong rumors that the Italian will depart at the end of the season as the Blues sit comfortably outside the Champions League places. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is known for his quick trigger, and despite Conte winning the Premier League just last season, this year’s disappointment will likely not be tolerated.

That yet-to-be-determined future has a significant impact on Batshuayi’s future, as Watzke mentions. The new Chelsea boss could take a liking to Batshuayi, which could complicate his permanent move. In addition, it’s possible that current players on the Blues roster could depart, like Alvaro Morata, Olivier Giroud, or Willian, making Batshuayi’s place at Chelsea more tenable.

There’s plenty to be sorted out in the coming months, but with Batshuayi’s 10-game performance at Westfalenstadion at the forefront of Watzke’s mind, it’s clear there will be potential here as the summer draws near.