Can the Netherlands turn on the style down in Brazil? Their match vs. Chile could be a real dazzler.

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.

Men In Blazers podcast: Leicester, Spurs continue to defy the odds

Men In Blazers - Sept. 22
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Rog and Davo break down Leicester City’s 3-1 win at Manchester City, marvel at Spurs going second in the table, and talk about the headlines surrounding the mid-table clash between Chelsea and United.

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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VIDEO: Previews of all 10 Premier League games in Week 26

Arsenal v Burnley - Premier League
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You ready for the weekend? It’s only Thursday, but of course you are.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Week 26 of the 2015-16 Premier League season promises to be a pivotal one at both ends of the table with seven games on Saturday and three on Sunday.

[ MORE: Latest PL standings

In the 10 videos below yours truly takes a look at the key headlines, news, injuries and more on each PL game.

Enjoy.


Arsenal vs. Leicester City, Sunday (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra)

Aston Villa vs. Liverpool, Sunday (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra)

Bournemouth vs. Stoke City, Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on Premier League Extratime and online via Live Extra)

Crystal Palace vs. Watford, Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on Premier League Extratime and online via Live Extra)

Chelsea vs. Newcastle United, Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra)

Everton vs. West Brom, Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra)

Norwich City vs. West Ham, Sunday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra)

Man City vs. Tottenham, Sunday (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra)

Sunderland vs. Man United, Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra)

Swansea City vs. Southampton, Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on Premier League Extratime and online via Live Extra)

Ahead of huge top four showdowns, who are the title favorites?

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This weekend is massive. Huge. Monumental.

[ VIDEO: Arsenal-Leicester preview ]

In terms of the Premier League title race having two games between all of the current top four means one thing: bedlam.

Following the Arsenal vs. Leicester City (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) and Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) encounter, we should be provided with a much better idea of where the title is heading.

[ VIDEO: Man City-Tottenham preview

Then again, if Arsenal beat Leicester and Man City draw with Spurs, there will be just five points between all four teams. With 13 games to go this is tight and tense and the most open title race we’ve had in decades. It is also awesome.

[ MORE: Arsenal to play in 2016 MLS All-Star Game ] 

Let’s take a look at all four title contenders and try to see who has the best chance of winning this thing on May 15.


Leicester City
Current position: 1st (53 points)
Biggest plus: No pressure, they were meant to be relegated
Biggest negative: None of their current squad have ever been in this situation. How will they cope?
Key man: Jamie Vardy – A few off days in front of goal recently for the PL’s main man. If he regains his touch, the Foxes will win it.
3 key games: Feb. 14 at Arsenal, Apr. 30 at Man United, May 15 at Chelsea
Strength of remaining schedule (1 is weak, 10 is tough): 2/10 – The best of any of the title contenders, on paper, and no cup games.


Tottenham Hotspur
Current position: 2nd (48 points)
Biggest plus: Mauricio Pochettino. He’s met every major challenge head on.
Biggest negative: Having the FA Cup and Europa League to contend with. Relatively small squad compared to the rest.
Key man: Harry Kane – If he can hit yet another purple patch, combined with Spurs’ solid defense, then that will be huge.
3 key games: Feb. 14 at Man City, Mar. 5 vs. Arsenal, Apr. 9 vs. Chelsea
Strength of remaining schedule: 3/10 – A very soft run-in for Spurs between now and the end of the season.


Arsenal
Current position: 3rd (48 points)
Biggest plus: They have the biggest squad and with Cech in goal their defense looks very settled.
Biggest negative: How many times have we been here before? Have to get over mental barrier, plus UCL and FA Cup to focus on too.
Key man: Alexis Sanchez – Hasn’t quite hit top form since returning from his hamstring injury. Can he hit top gear during crunch time?
3 key games: Feb. 14 vs. Leicester City, Mar. 5 vs. Tottenham, May 7 at Man City
Strength of remaining schedule: 6/10 – Probably the toughest out of all the contenders. Really need Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to pull through.


Manchester City
Current position: 4th (47 points)
Biggest plus: Strongest squad and Vincent Kompany should be returning soon. That, and wanting to send Pellegrini out on a high.
Biggest negative: Guardiola arriving means plenty of uncertainty. If Aguero or Kompany go down injured, title run could be over.
Key man: Vincent Kompany – City will always score goals with Aguero, Sterling, Silva and De Bruyne but they need Vinny back. Big time.
3 key games: Mar. 2 at Liverpool, Mar. 20 vs. Man United, May 7 vs. Arsenal
Strength of remaining schedule: 5/10 – Marginally easier than Arsenal’s because they play United and the Gunners at home. Still. Very tough.


 

Arsenal named as 2016 MLS All-Star Game opponent in San Jose

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28:  Mesut Ozil (C) of Arsenal celebrates scoring his team's second goal with his team mates Hector Bellerin (L) and Aaron Ramsey (R) during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Emirates Stadium on December 28, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Arsenal is coming to San Jose, California.

On Thursday it was announced that the Premier League giants will take part in the 2016 MLS All-Star Game at Avaya Stadium, home of the San Jose Earthquakes.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired”

The decision to play against another PL opponent makes it the ninth time that’s happened and MLS’ best will have faced seven different PL clubs in Fulham, Chelsea, West Ham United, Everton, Manchester United, Tottenham and now Arsenal.

The venue for the 2016 ASG will be San Jose’s splendid, yet slightly compact, Avaya Stadium and the game will take place on July 28 at 9 p.m. ET.

[ VIDEO: Arsenal-Leicester preview

Gunners fans in North America hoping to get tickets for the clash will have to act fast as the ‘Quakes home only holds 18,000 people, but there will be another chance to watch Arsenal play as they will face Chivas Guadalajara at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. on July 31.

Safe to say Arsene Wenger won’t need to don his famous long padded jacket for matches in California this July…

As well as seeing Arsenal stars Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Petr Cech, Olivier Giroud and more, the chance to watch young U.S. international Gedion Zelalem in action will excite many. That said, with the game coming late in July, plenty of Arsenal’s top stars may be on extended breaks due to their exertions for their national teams at the 2016 European Championships and the 2016 Copa America Centenario also being staged in North America.