Cristiano Ronaldo

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.

Bayern’s Vidal says “ugly” Atletico not deserved UCL finalists

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27: Juanfran of Atletico Madrid and Arturo Vidal of Bayern Munich argue during the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal has declared “ugly” Atletico Madrid unworthy finalists in the UEFA Champions League.

Bayern was eliminated in the Champions League semifinal by Atleti on Tuesday, with Diego Simeone’s Spanish side advancing on away goals.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

However, Vidal believed Bayern were the better team in the second leg, saying Atletico played “ugly football” to get through.

Today ugly football – Atletico – played against the best football in the world. The only time they saw the ball was for the goal.

They are going to be dreaming about us right up to the final. They did not have the ball, they took on the best team in the world, they took their chances and got to the final.

The best does not always win in football, like today. They are not deserved finalists.

Bayern Munich controlled more than 70-percent of possession and had 33 shots compared to Atletico’s nine, but those stats mean little as Antoine Griezmann’s away goal was enough to send Atleti to the final.

[ MORE: Former England striker Joe Cole headed to NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies ]

Atletico may not play the most attractive football, but after eliminating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, it’s hard to argue anyone deserves this more than Simeone’s men.

Europa League preview: Liverpool, Shakhtar look to overcome Spanish foes

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - APRIL 28:  Cedric Bakambu of Villarreal is watched by the Liverpool defence during the UEFA Europa League semi final first leg match between Villarreal CF and Liverpool at Estadio El Madrigal on April 28, 2016 in Villarreal, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The second leg of the Europa League semifinals kick off tomorrow, with two La Liga sides looking to make it an all-Spanish final.

[ MORE: Premier League Playback ]

Villarreal holds a 1-0 lead over Liverpool, while Sevilla scored two away goals in their 2-2 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk.

Liverpool vs. Villarreal – 3:05 p.m. ET
Villarreal won first leg 1-0

Adrian Lopez’s late winner in the first leg has given Villarreal a slight lead, while the Spanish side did well not to concede an away goal. However, Liverpool have overcome deficits at Anfield before, including their memorable 4-3 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals. Emre Can is back fit for the Reds, as manager Jurgen Klopp will hope his fellow German can help the team to a cup final in his first year in charge.

[ RELATED: Liverpool preparing for another big Thursday night at Anfield ]

Sevilla vs. Shakhtar Donetsk – 3:05 p.m. ET
First leg ended 2-2 draw 

Sevilla are looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Europa League titles as the two-time defending champions face off against Shakhtar Donetsk. Sevilla are in the driver’s seat after scoring two away goals in Ukraine, and will feel confident of advancing to the final with a great home record at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.

Men in Blazers podcast: Celebrating Leicester’s title with Arlo White

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.

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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European police say Russian mafia infiltrating soccer clubs

LISBON, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 04:  Sporting Lisbon fans celebrate after their team score a goal during the Portuguese Liga match between Sporting Lisbon and Uniao Leiria at the Alvalade XXI Stadium on November 4, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.

[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]

Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.

Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.

Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.