Ronaldo, van Persie, and the tournament favorites: Saturday’s Euro 2012 playlist

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If you watched the United States’ World Cup qualifier Friday night, you certainly know: Euro 2012’s Group B is supposed to be the Group of Death. Given how many different ways you can define Group of Death, let’s put that label aside and concede Group B is the Euro 2012’s most anticipated sub-tournament. We’ll leave discussion of group mortality to other sites.

Germany and the Netherlands, two of the tournament’s top shelf choices, begin their quests on Saturday, each team looking for answers in defense. Germany saw non-qualifier Switzerland hang five goals on them during a pre-tournament friendly, while the Netherlands’ already questionable back line has to adjust to center half Joris Mathijsen’s dip in form.

It’s all part of a greater Euro 2012 pattern. Every contender has troubles in central defense. Spain lost Carles Puyol. England lost Gary Cahill. France can’t see to get Philippe Mexes and Abil Rami to work. Russia is without Vasili Berezutskiy. Italy has no idea how long Andrea Barzagli will really be out. So while people may be concerned about the German and Dutch defenses, in the big picture, it’s not much of a relative problem.

Not that Joachim Löw or Bert van Marwijk will see it that way.

Just like yesterday, matches kick off at noon and 2:45 p.m. Eastern on ESPN. The Dutch kick off the day in Kharkiv (Ukraine) against Denmark, with Germany taking on Portugal to close out the day.

Here is the soundtrack to Day 2 of Euro 2012.

source: AP

Side 1: Duels between Dutch and Dane

1. Hard lessons to learn

Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen’s been really talked up coming into the tournament, and with good reason. The Ajax attacker ‘s coming off a career high goal total, his second consecutive league title, and has left little doubt he is his country’s best player.

It’s really a shame his first taste of Euro action will be against Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong. The duel Dutch destroyers will leave forward Nicklas Bendtner to central defenders John Heitenga and Ron Vlaar (likely to start ahead of Mathijsen) and look to deliver a rude awakening to their 20-year-old adversary.

Eriksen may be fancied by pundits, but Saturday could prove to be a harsh learning experience.

2. Lest he be tested

If Denmark can get Nicklas Bendtner the ball, he’ll give John Heitenga and Vlaar problems. Heitenga is undoubtedly familiar with the Arsenal/Sunderland striker from their meetings in the English Premier League. Vlaar, however, hasn’t seen many players as talented as Bendtner, having spent his time with Dutch league side Feyenoord (and not being a regular for the Netherlands).

If van Bommel and de Jong perform as expected, Bendtner will be a non-factor. If Denmark head coach Morten Olsen can find away around the Netherlands’ two-man shield, he has reason to think the Danes can create goals.

source: Getty Images3. When we lost Thomas

Stephan Andersen is 30 years old. He moved to Evian in Ligue 1 last season after four years with Danish power Brøndby. He’s been part of the national team set up, yet he’s only been capped 10 times. Such is the life of a second choice goalkeeper.

Denmark’s preferred number one is Stoke City’s Thomas Sørensen, who took his 101 caps with him when back problems forced him out of the squad last week. The three goalkeepers Olsen has in Ukraine (Anderson, Anders Lindegaard and Kasper Schmeichel) have a combined 15 international appearances.

“Welcome to the big time, Stephan. Please stop Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder. No pressure. It’s just a major tournament.”

4. Memories of Warsaw

Friday’s controversy at Netherlands training could prove to be a dangerous thing, particularly considering reports coach and captain aren’t on the same page. Both men are downplaying the division, but little things like that can sometimes become distractions, especially if attempts to minimize a conflict leaves the whole issue unresolved.

Van Bommel clearly feels strongly about Friday’s incident. Van Marwijk wants to move on. Between the lines, I’m reading the coach as concerned this whole thing will become a distraction. He doesn’t want his squad craft ready-made excuses (especially considering the Netherlands have a history of letting little things divide a room).

No matter what happened at training, the Netherlands need to move on, particularly considering an adept opponent with a head coach capable of exploiting any weaknesses.

source: Getty ImagesSide 2: German-Portuguese rendezvous

5. In your head, in my head, in our heads

Germany and Portugal are much-changed sides since they met in the 2008 quarterfinals. Portugal’s been through two coaches, while Germany’s squad has seen an colossally unfair infusion of youth.

But there is something about that game that still seems applicable. Then, Portugal was riding high as tournament favorites while Germany had just been dealt a group stage setback. Yet when they met in the quarterfinals, Germany came out, controlled the match from the first whistle, and never let Portugal assert themselves.

It was like watching an old John Wayne movie, where no match how rigid the Duke looked ambling through those swinging doors, you know he was going to knock the punk hasting the bartender on his ass. Yes, movies and scripted and sports are not, but when you see Germany give a performance like that, you can’t help but wonder if both sides aren’t unconsciously playing out some pre-determined script.

Not to be trite, but it was all very German. It was a match that transcended that squad, seemingly evoked from the annals of German soccer history.

All of which begs the question: Couldn’t that happen again? Is their a mystique  to Germany – a psychological factor –  that gives them an edge in these situations? The same mystique that saw a young team make a run in South Africa? That saw a struggling program respond in 2006?

6. If I never see Carlos no more

It’s fun reading people describe Portugal as an exciting team, as if Luis Figo were still playing. Even with Cristiano Ronaldo in the fold, it’s been a long time since Portugal was watchable, let alone exciting.

There have been exceptions. The Seleccao exploded for seven goals on North Korea in the World Cup, and they posted six on Bosnia and Herzegovina in their qualifying playoff. But those results are few and far between.

In their last three matches, Portugal’s only scored once. Against Germany, that’s not going to be good enough.

Ever since Carlos Quieroz took over for Luiz Felipe Scolari after that loss to Germany, Portugal has been a side without an attacking heart. Quiroz’s debilitating conservatism broke the team. Paulo Bento is still trying to mend it.

source: Getty Images7. Always stand United

They both came through Sporting Club in Lisbon. They both moved to Manchester United, and now, they play opposite each other for their national team. Two of the best wide players in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani’s talent may be unmatched in international soccer.

Though Portugal lacks a cohesive attack, their wingers’ individual skills (and ability to attack from anywhere across the pitch) will test that suspect German defense.

Against Switzerland, Löw started Mats Hummels and Per Mertesacker in the middle and gave up five. Against Israel (Germany’s final warm up), he went back to a more familiar Holger Badstuder-Mertesacker combination.

It’s the same duo (with the same fullbacks, Philipp Lahm and Jerome Boateng) that took Germany to third place in South Africa. While some will scoff at the idea of leaving Hummels out, this quartet has worked before.

8. Spoiled cause I got too much

The attackers at Joachim Löw’s disposal are insane. It’s hard to remember the last time a team had this much attacking depth, let alone young attacking depth.

Löw’s first choices are Mario Gómez, Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil and Lukas Podolski, with Bastian Schweinsteiger shuttling next to Sami Khedira in the middle.

Let’s say all those guys travel in the same car en route to Saturday’s game, but Roberto de Niro and a band of masterless samurai hijack the vehicle. What ever would Joachim Loew do?

He’d have to settle for starting Miroslav Klose, Marco Reus, Mario Gotze, André Schürrle, Toni Kroos and Ilkay Gündogen. And Germany might still be favorites to win this tournament.

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.

Day Three: All the action from the U20 World Cup

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With the 2017 U-20 World Cup underway in South Korea, we can forgive you if you haven’t seen much of the action yet.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup latest

Due to the time difference most of the games kicking off in the wee hours (if you’re on the East Coast of the U.S.), so we thought we’d give you a chance to catch up on what you might have missed while you were sleeping.

Click on the link above for all the latest news from the U-20 World Cup, while below are video highlights from Monday’s four games as Groups E and F were in action.


Group E – France 3-0 Honduras

Group E – New Zealand 0-0 Vietnam 

Group F – Ecuador 3-3 USA 

Group F – Saudi Arabia 0-2 Senegal

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Sanchez to Bayern; Lukaku to Chelsea

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The Alexis Sanchez to Bayern Munich links continue with the Arsenal forward having just one year left on his contract and now Arsenal out of the UEFA Champions League for next season.

[ MORE: Kroenke speaks out ]

Sanchez’s international teammate, and Bayern Munich midfielder, Arturo Vidal has added further fuel to that fire.

Vidal spoke to Spanish outlet Sport and revealed he has been asked about Sanchez by the Bayern hierarchy and he wants the Chilean star to swap the Premier League for the Bundesliga.

“He is doing great at Arsenal but I think he needs to take an extra step to fight amongst the best in the world and that is why he has to come to the best team in the world. He would do great here,” Vidal is quoted as saying.

Would Bayern be a good fit for Sanchez? It would certainly be the preferred choice for Arsenal if they did have to sell him this summer.

The Gunners would be reluctant to sell to any of their Premier League rivals, so this could suit everyone. Of course they wouldn’t want to lose the man who scored 24 PL goals and added 10 assists this season, but the reality is stark for the Gunners.

Sanchez would surely slot in seamlessly with Bayern’s fluid attacking front three and as the likes of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery enter the twilight of their careers, Sanchez could be the main man in Bavaria for the next three to four years. This move would also provide Sanchez with a return to UCL action, something Arsenal can no longer offer him.


Just one day after the season came to a close Romelu Lukaku is being heavily linked with a return to Chelsea.

The London Evening Standard reports that Chelsea have put Lukaku, 24, at the top of their summer wishlist and ahead of Alvaro Morata.

Lukaku has two years left on his current Everton deal but has refused to sign a new contract and the Belgian international is being chased by several of Europe’s top clubs. His 25 goals this season meant he was the second-highest goalscorer in the PL and as reports about Diego Costa‘s leaving Chelsea for China this summer continue, Lukaku would be the perfect replacement.

Everton boss Ronald Koeman has admitted that the Belgian forward will leave to go on and become a star at a giant club but the Toffees were perhaps hoping it would be for the 2018-19 season.

As for Lukaku, he may feel like he has some unfinished business at Chelsea after being loaned out to West Brom and Everton after joining Chelsea in 2011 for a fee rising to $25 million. He played just 15 times for Chelsea and failed to score.

With his power, pace and aerial ability, you have to think Lukaku would be perfect for Chelsea’s counterattacking style. That said, his hold-up play is the one thing holding him back and that’s where Costa excels.

Chelsea sold Lukaku to Everton in 2013 for $36 million and it is believed he would cost Chelsea over double that amount to buy him back. The Blues have bought back players they sold in the past with Nemanja Matic and David Luiz prime examples, but this deal to bring back Lukaku would be a huge admittance by Chelsea that they got this one wrong.

John Terry explains 26th minute exit; winning bets revealed

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John Terry was subbed out of his 717th and final appearance for Chelsea in the 26th minute of their 5-1 victory against Sunderland on Sunday.

[ MORE: Chelsea hungry for more glory ]

Chelsea’s legendary captain called an end to his 22-year career with the Blues and the 36-year-old is yet to announce if he will retire from the game this summer or continuing playing elsewhere.

There is plenty of controversy surrounding how his final moments on the pitch for Chelsea played out.

Despite coming off in the 26th minute (his shirt number is 26) with a guard of honor from his teammates, applause from the Sunderland players and a huge ovation from the supporters at Stamford Bridge, many believe this wasn’t the right way to do things.

Speaking to Sky Sports after the game, Terry revealed that he and Conte struck an agreement before the match and that it was his idea.

“I kind of negotiated with the manager to play 26 minutes and come off,” Terry said. “I think he wanted to get the boys that didn’t play on Monday night against Watford and give them a run-out. It was a compromise between the two of us.”

Following the planned farewell it has also been revealed that several UK bookmakers have paid out on bets on Terry being subbed out in the 26th minute. Odds of 100-1 were being offered on Terry coming off in the 26th minute and although it was technically the 28th minute by the time he walked off, bookmakers in the UK were still paying out.

As things stand the bets placed on Terry’s early exit will not be investigated by the soccer authorities.

The planned nature of this farewell has not sat well with plenty of soccer purists and those suggesting that Terry wanted to milk his farewell.

I understand those arguments but with Terry able to captain Chelsea for one final time, the man who led the Blues to five Premier League titles as skipper and also won 15 major trophies at the club should be the one to decide how he bows out.

Conte was fine for it as he got to rest Gary Cahill for nearly 30 minutes ahead of the FA Cup final. Chelsea’s fans loved it. Terry’s teammates loved it. And so did Terry.

He said farewell once and for all and this final game was all about two things for Chelsea: lifting the PL trophy at the end, and Terry saying goodbye. The result didn’t matter and no matter how you feel about Terry’s planned farewell, you have to accept it happened.

Stan Kroenke releases statement on Arsenal

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Arsenal’s majority shareholder Stan Kroenke has issued a statement regarding his future ownership of the club.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

The American billionaire was at the center of fan unrest on Sunday as Arsenal finished fifth in the Premier League, missing out on a top four finish for the first time in 21 seasons under Arsene Wenger.

Kroenke’s fellow Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov (he owns 30 percent of the shares) last week offered over $1.3 billion for Kroenke’s 67 percent stake in the Gunners but Kroenke turned the bid down.

Now the company which also owns the LA Rams, Colorado Rapids, Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets, Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, have issued the following defiant statement.

“KSE UK, Inc notes the recent media speculation concerning its holding in Arsenal Holdings PLC and confirms that its shares are not, and never have been, for sale. KSE is a committed, long term investor in Arsenal and will remain so.”

That is about as definitive as it gets.

Kroenke will remain at Arsenal and until the situation regarding Wenger’s future, and that of star players Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez is sorted out, fans will continue to vent their anger at the American businessman.

With the Gunners preparing for Europa League action next season, the only thing which could save Kroenke and Co. from more unrest over the summer is if Arsenal beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final on Saturday.

Even that would only provide momentary respite before fans, former players and everyone else begins to look for answers to the bigger-picture questions on where Arsenal are heading on Kroenke’s leadership.

What a mess.