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.

PL Preview: Brighton vs. Stoke City

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  • Stoke leads all-time 16W-14D-9L
  • First league meeting since 2006
  • Potters have won last 8 in series

Brighton and Hove Albion meets Stoke City for the first time in Premier League history when the two battle at the Amex Stadium on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Brighton is unbeaten in its last four PL matches, with a pair of away wins and two draws at home.

They’ve been led at the back end by Shane Duffy and in attack by Pascal Gross, but it’s been a well-traveled Premier League veteran filling the goals. Glenn Murray has historic motivation to keep scoring, knowing that a marker versus Stoke would make him the first Brighton player to ever score a goal in four successive top flight matches.

Stoke followed up its win over Watford with a draw against Leicester City. The Potters have two goals and four assists from Swiss attacker Xherdan Shaqiri, and three and one from Senegalese scorer Mame Biram Diouf.

What they’re saying

Brighton’s Chris Hughton on bagging wins“For a club like us to get back-to-back wins would show the level we are playing at. It’s tough. I remember being told by somebody with one of the promoted teams that they didn’t get their first away win until February-March. That can happen and it’s exactly the same for a team getting promoted to get back-to-wins. They are hard to come by. Any way we are able to do that would certainly be a major boost for us.”

Stoke manager Mark Hughes on Xherdan ShaqiriHe is taking on more the role of the main instigator of our attacking threat. When he gets the ball, I think the whole team responds to that. You sense that maybe something’s going to happen. And I think the crowd sends it as well. And I know opposition team sense it too.”

Prediction

Few matches are more of a toss-up than this one, and there’s no recent match-ups on which to rest our heads. So we’ll side with the home team managing a point, and maybe a pair of old-timer goals from Murray and Peter Crouch, in a 1-1 draw.

Italy soccer chief resigns after failure to reach World Cup

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ROME (AP) Italian football federation president Carlo Tavecchio has resigned a week after the Azzurri failed to qualify for the World Cup.

Monday’s announcement came following calls for a complete overhaul of the nation’s most popular sport, from the amateur leagues right up to Serie A and the national teams.

[ MORE: What’s next for West Brom? ]

Sweden’s playoff win over Italy kept the four-time champion out of the World Cup for the first time in six decades.

Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura was fired two days after the loss.

For the last week, Tavecchio has resisted calls to step down but he eventually lost the support of the federation’s board of directors.

Former federation chief Giancarlo Abete said as he left the board meeting where Tavecchio resigned that a new election would be held within 90 days.

Managerial change a slippery slope for West Brom

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Tony Pulis brought much needed stability to West Bromwich Albion before his tenure soured in a hurry.

When Pulis took over at the Hawthorns, West Brom had seen both Pepe Mel and Alan Irvine do little winning in abbreviated managerial stints. Mel won three of 17 matches in charge, while Irvine could only nab five in 22.

[ MORE: Pulis sacked ]

So there is little debating, even for those who West Brom fans who revel in the club’s former free-flowing ways, that Pulis had a productive time in charge from January 2015 right on through most of last season.

But Pulis was seemingly limited to setting a points total and then kicking his heels up once Premier League safety was reached.

While that sounds a bit laughable, the facts are that the Baggies finished 10th last season despite an impressive start that saw the club comfortably eighth for much of the season. However, West Brom won five points from its final 12 matches to finish 16 points behind a European place (including five shutout losses at home).

The Baggies finished 14th the previous season, Pulis’ first full year in charge, but collapsed again after hitting the rarefied air of 11th. That final stretch? Five losses and four draws including shutout losses at home to Norwich City, Watford, and West Ham.

In doing so, Pulis belied his own budgetary critiques by proving the Baggies had the talent to compete for something relatively special.

Pulis was good at getting his side to play with the fury of a relegation contender from Day One, but it was so clear the side was sated once safety was secure. It wouldn’t be callous to opine that the manager would’ve viewed the Europa League as a nuisance to his “never been relegated” reputation (an idea buttressed by West Brom’s performances in Cup competitions, where Pulis never advanced to a quarterfinal while losing to Reading, Norwich City, Derby County, Northampton Town, and, this season, Man City).

What West Brom does next will say a lot. If it’s as simple as a rehashing of the “never been relegated” deck with Sam Allardyce, well, that’s something. But the Baggies are in the tricky predicament of having to replace a relatively stable hand who was their first good hire in three tries, while also running with the knowledge that their players clearly are capable of so much better than 17th.

The names on the bettor’s lists show what’s expected of West Brom: gritty style from an island manager. Derek McInnes is the favorite, with Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill just ahead of Sam Allardyce. Alan Pardew is next, followed by Ronald Koeman (For what it’s worth, bookies are still milking money from gamblers by including Jurgen Klinsmann’s name at 20:1 or so).

West Brom is in its eighth-straight Premier League campaign. The firing will jostle an already rocking ship, but the Baggies have steady leadership in Jonny Evans, Ben Foster, Chris Brunt, Gareth Barry, Gareth McAuley, and Craig Dawson. They have the wherewithal to achieve safety again, and can even look good in the process should a manager find the right way to use Salomon Rondon, Matty Phillips, Jay Rodriguez, Nacer Chadli, and others.

Who’s the right man for the job?

West Brom fires manager Tony Pulis

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Tony Pulis‘ reign over the Hawthorns is over, as West Bromwich Albion has fired the 59-year-old after just under three years in charge of the Premier League outfit.

Assistant coach Gary Megson takes over on an interim basis.

[ MLS: Steve Bruce to Miami? ]

The Baggies have not won a game since August, and were belted 4-0 at home by Chelsea on Saturday to leave the club one point above the drop zone.

Overall, Pulis oversaw wins in just 36 of his 121 matches, losing 49, in what will go down as one of the least successful stints in his well-traveled career. Only three PL clubs have scored less than the Baggies’ nine goals.

Here’s the club statement:

“These decisions are never taken lightly but always in the interests of the Club.

“We are in a results business and over the back end of last season and this season to date, ours have been very disappointing.

“We would like to place on record our appreciation of Tony’s contribution and hard work during a period of transition for the Club which included a change of ownership. We wish him well in his future endeavours.”

Pulis will almost certainly be back on the touch line soon, as he hasn’t spent more than a few months out of work since 2002.