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.

Another one: Lavezzi the latest star set for the riches of China

Paris Saint Germain's Ezequiel Lavezzi form Argentina, celebrates the opening goal during a French league one soccer match between Paris-Saint-Germain and Rennes at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Paris Saint Germain clinhed its second straight French league title on Wednesday after rival Monaco drew 1-1 against French Cup holder Guingamp. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
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The list just keeps growing; Ezequiel Lavezzi, he of Paris Saint-Germain and Argentine national team fame, is the latest star leaving Europe behind with the Chinese Super League his next stop, according to multiple reports Saturday night.

[ MORE: The latest transfer news and gossip ]

Linked with a move to Premier League side Chelsea during the recently completed January transfer window, a move away from PSG never materialized for the 30-year-old. Not on the European continent, at least.

Now, the former Napoli, San Lorenzo and Estudiantes (Argentina) attacker is set for Shanghai Shenhua, where he’ll reportedly take home something in the $11-to-15-million-per-year ballpark. When you can somehow get a raise from your current deal with a Qatar Sports Investments-owned club… well, I guess you’d be dumb not to do it.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

It was already pretty well known Lavezzi would be leaving the French capital in 2016, but when his tenure survived through much of Europe’s winter window, it seemed he would hang around until the expiration of his current contract before moving elsewhere on a free transfer.

Then came the monstrous windfall of cash into and subsequent spending by CSL clubs over the last two weeks; Lavezzi joins the likes of Ramires, Gervinho, Jackson Martinez, Alex Teixeira, Demba Ba and Fredy Guarin, among others, to move to China for massive annual salaries. At Shenhua, Lavezzi will play alongside Ba and Guarin, as well as former Everton and New York Red Bulls man Tim Cahill, who made the move to China last year.

The CSL’s transfer window doesn’t close until Feb. 26, so the spending spree may well go on a little while long.

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Atleti bounce back to keep pressure on Barca

Atletico's Jose Maria Gimenez, right, celebrates after scoring a goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico de Madrid and Eibar at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

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Atletico Madrid 3-1 Eibar

The race for the La Liga title isn’t over quite yet — though Barcelona are overwhelmingly favorites at the moment — and Atletico Madrid will have to keep winning, with just about no room for error, to keep it that way. On Saturday, they did just that by defending their home turf, to the tune of a 3-1 victory over Eibar.

Keko put the visitors ahead in the 46th minute, but Jose Gimenez quickly opened the scoring for Atleti and equalized on 56 minutes. Saul Niguez made it 2-1 to Atleti seven minutes later, and Fernando Torres’ 100th career goal (below video) gave Los Rojiblancos a bit of insurance in the first minute of second-half stoppage time. With the victory, Atleti are level on 51 points with Barca, but the Catalan giants have two games in hand on Madrid’s “other” team, the first of which they’ll play on Sunday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Rayo Vallecano 2-0 Las Palmas
Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Villarreal
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Deportivo La Coruña

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Levante vs. Barcelona (6 a.m. ET)
Real Betis vs. Valencia (10 a.m. ET)
Celta Vigo vs. Sevilla (12:15 p.m. ET)
Granada vs. Real Madrid (2:30 p.m. ET)


Bologna 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina have left the door wide open for Inter Milan to re-enter the top three — and UEFA Champions League-qualifying — places with a 1-1 draw away to Bologna. The Viola finished the game with 10 men after Matias Fernandez was sent off for two yellow cards 10 minutes apart either side of halftime.

Their opening goal, which gave them the lead in the 59th minute, was beautifully worked and wonderfully taken by Federico Bernardeschi (below video). It was quickly canceled out, though, as Emanuele Giaccherini equalized four minutes later to earn a point and strengthen Bologna’s hold on 10th place in the league table.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Genoa 0-0 Lazio

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Hellas Verona vs. Inter Milan (6:30 a.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Carpi (9 a.m. ET)
Torino vs. Chievo (9 a.m. ET)
Frosinone vs. Juventus (9 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. Palermo (9 a.m. ET)
AC Milan vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Atalanta vs. Empoli (12 p.m. ET)
Roma vs. Sampdoria (2:45 p.m. ET)

Bundesliga wrap: Bayern held to draw, but Dortmund can’t capitalize

Leverkusen's Javier Hernandez, top, and Bayern's David Alaba challenge for the ball during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich in Leverkusen, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Germany’s top flight…

[ FOLLOW: PST’s Bundesliga coverage ]

Bayer Leverkusen 0-0 Bayern Munich

The race for Bundesliga title could have been blown wide open pried open ever so slightly after Bayern Munich dropped two points away to 5th-place side Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday. It was far from a classic encounter, with just 15 shots managed between the two sides (3 on target). Bayern’s best chance came during the game’s final 10 minutes, when Robert Lewandowski nearly won it very late on.

The hosts’ best chance at pulling off the shock upset came on 53 minutes, when Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez’s volley from 25 yards out flashed just wide of Manuel Neuer’s right-hand post.

Hertha Berlin 0-0 Borussia Dortmund

The above possibility hinged, of course, on the only side within 18 points of Bayern, Borussia Dortmund, taking all three points from their visit to 3rd-place Hertha Berlin. They could not do so, thus remain eight seemingly insurmountable points behind the three-time defending champions.

U.S. national team defender John Brooks, who last week signed a new contract to remain at Hertha, is now one point closer to qualifying for the UEFA Champions League with his hometown club.

Schalke 3-0 Wolfsburg

Right on Hertha’s heels, two points back in fourth, is Schalke, who hammered Wolfsburg on Saturday, thanks to goals scored by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Johannes Geis and Alessandro Schopf. That’s three wins in their last four league games for Schalke, while Hertha have left the door wide open with three straight draws.

Elsewhere in the Bundesliga

Borussia Monchengladbach 5-1 Werder Bremen (Friday)
Eintracht Frankfurt 2-4 Stuttgart
Hannover 0-1 Mainz
Ingolstadt 2-1 Augsburg

Sunday’s Bundesliga schedule

Hamburg vs. Koln (9:30 a.m. ET)
Hoffenheim vs. Darmstadt (11:30 a.m. ET)

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Bayern Munich 20 17 2 1 50 9 41 10-0-0 7-2-1 53
Borussia Dortmund 20 14 3 3 52 24 28 8-1-0 6-2-3 45
Hertha BSC Berlin 20 10 5 5 29 21 8 6-3-1 4-2-4 35
FC Schalke 04 20 10 3 7 29 26 3 6-2-3 4-1-4 33
Bayer Leverkusen 20 9 5 6 29 21 8 5-3-2 4-2-4 32
Mönchengladbach 20 10 2 8 40 35 5 7-1-3 3-1-5 32
FSV Mainz 05 20 9 3 8 25 24 1 5-1-4 4-2-4 30
VfL Wolfsburg 20 7 6 7 29 28 1 6-3-1 1-3-6 27
FC Ingolstadt 04 20 7 5 8 14 21 -7 4-2-4 3-3-4 26
1. FC Köln 19 6 7 6 20 25 -5 3-4-3 3-3-3 25
VfB Stuttgart 20 7 3 10 31 41 -10 4-1-5 3-2-5 24
Hamburger SV 19 6 4 9 21 27 -6 2-2-5 4-2-4 22
FC Augsburg 20 5 6 9 22 28 -6 2-3-5 3-3-4 21
Eintracht Frankfurt 20 5 6 9 26 34 -8 3-3-4 2-3-5 21
Darmstadt 19 5 6 8 19 29 -10 1-4-5 4-2-3 21
Werder Bremen 20 5 4 11 24 41 -17 1-2-6 4-2-5 19
1899 Hoffenheim 19 2 8 9 18 28 -10 1-5-3 1-3-6 14
Hannover 96 20 4 2 14 19 35 -16 2-0-8 2-2-6 14

PL Sunday preview: Chelsea vs. Man United, Bournemouth vs. Arsenal

Manchester United's Ander Herrera reacts after missing a chance during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Monday, Dec. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Arsenal’s Premier League title hopes are quickly slipping away, thanks to their current four-game winless run — not to mention Leicester City’s red-hot form — much like Manchester United see themselves falling away from the race for the top-four.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Bournemouth are desperately hoping just to avoid a relegation dogfight that goes down to the wire, and Chelsea… well, they’re just kind of there, still sitting in the bottom half of the league table. Sunday’s pair of PL fixtures is full of storylines and implications in the context of the season as a whole.

Bournemouth vs. Arsenal — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and Live Extra

Arsenal’s recent form couldn’t have come at a worse time, which is hardly surprising when considering they’d been far and away the best team in England for a little over 12 straight months; they were bound to slip up at some point. Having been top of the league themselves barely two weeks ago, the Gunners have fallen to fourth, eight points behind Leicester. Not even the return of Alexis Sanchez has provided the much-needed spark for an attack that has failed to find the back of the net in three straight games (305 minutes in total, dating back to their 3-3 draw with Liverpool).

As for Bournemouth, only Leicester and Tottenham Hotspur (9 each) have won more points from their last three league fixtures than the Cherries (7). Callum Wilson (five goals), whose season ended back on Sept. 26 (knee), remains Bournemouth’s leading scorer on the season, though Arsenal youth academy product Benik Afobe has proven an inspired January signing thus far (three goals in four games). Bournemouth are winless in their two all-time meetings with the Gunners, dating back to a 3-0 League Cup defeat in 1987. When these sides met for the first time this season, back on Dec. 28, it was Arsenal who were victorious, 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium.

On the injury front, Bournemouth have a mostly clean bill of health, as Junior Stanislas (knee) is the only recent addition to long-term absentees Wilson, Max Gradel and Tyrone Mings. For Arsenal, Santi Cazorla (knee), Tomas Rosicky (thigh) and Carl Jenkinson (knee) will all miss another month at least, while Jack Wilshere (leg) and Danny Welbeck (knee) remain without definitive timetables to return.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL preview — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

Chelsea vs. Manchester United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and Live Extra

This one used to really mean something. Those were the days, weren’t they? These days, Chelsea need a win just to leapfrog Crystal Palace for 12th place. On a positive note, the Blues are unbeaten in 10 games in all competitions since the departure of Jose Mourinho, but have won just three of eight league games during that period. Diego Costa is scoring goals semi-regularly again, but he’s also acting out in his usual Sunday League-like manner, which means he could either spontaneously combust on the field of play, or hop the next flight back to Madrid without telling anyone what’s going on.

As for Man United, they’re actually scoring goals these days (six combined in their last two games – all competitions), which has Louis Van Gaal dreaming of a title challenge once again. On a really positive note, Wayne Rooney has scored seven goals in his last seven games in all competitions (five in five in the PL) and has forged a really sound partnership with 20-year-old Anthony Martial up top (three assists, one goal in last two games – all competitions). A top-four place is still a very realistic target for the Red Devils — though it likely won’t matter with regards to Van Gaal’s job status — but it’ll take everything Rooney and Martial have between them to overcome Van Gaal’s ultra-defensive tactics and score enough goals to get there.

When these sides met on the final matchday of 2015, the proceedings at Old Trafford ended a stale 0-0 draw one might expect from a Van Gaal-versus-Mourinho meeting of the minds, if only the Portuguese had still been in charge at the time. On the injury front, Chelsea are nearly 100 percent healthy, with only Radamel Falcao (leg) still unavailable for selection. For United, the latest injury report is extensive: Bastian Schweinsteiger (knee), Phil Jones (ankle) and Marcos Rojo (shoulder) will all miss Sunday’s clash, while Marouane Fellaini (knock) is questionable.