Shipped from Abroad, Euro 2012: Group of Death aims scythe at the Netherlands

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How we’ll remember …

Denmark 1, Netherlands 0: Just one of those games where the inferior side grabs a goal and holds on for dear life, though that memory won’t be fair. The Netherlands’ lack of ambition was the defining quality of the first half hour, and their lack of urgency while chasing the match portrayed a team that didn’t realize the stakes. Years from now we might look back and ask “why,” but if you watched today, you’ll know: The Dutch never looked like a team that needed a goal. Denmark, on the other hand, perfectly executed their best chance and rode some luck.

Germany 1, Portugal 0: This game was only scarcely less mundane than the scoreline. We’ll remember Germany won and how they won, but nobody’s soccer life will be compromised if they forgot it all together. Portugal played very conservatively, and while they occasionally played for an opening goal (particularly early in the second), they would have been content to let the match end as it started. Sitting, waiting, they gave Germany time to implement a Plan B, one that relied almost exclusively on crosses from the right. And one of those crosses eventually decided the match.

Team of the Day

G: Stephan Andersen, Denmark
LB: Simon Poulsen, Denmark
CB: Bruno Alves, Portugal
CB: Mats Hummels, Germany
RB: Joao Pereira, Portugal
DM: William Kvist, Denmark
M: Sami Khedira, Germany
AM: Wesley Sneijder, Netherlands
LW: Michael Krahn-Dehli, Denmark
RW: Thomas Müller, Germany
F: Mario Gómez, Germany
Subs: Miguel Veloso, Portugal; Mesut Özil, Germany; Holger Badstuder, Germany

Three lessons to take home

source:  1. Games are defined by moments – Well, perhaps not every game is defined by singular moments, but today’s were.

Denmark’s moment came early, with left back Simon Poulsen’s run that opening up the Netherlands’ defense, creating Michael Krahn-Dehli’s winner. For all the possession and chances the Dutch ranked up, they never matched that moment. Nobody seized play and created something that could not be denied, as much as Wesley Sneijder tried.

You can just imagine Bert van Marwijk sitting on the sideline, frustrated, thinking “At some point, these guys are going to have to do something. I’ve put them in a position to control this game, but somebody has to want to do it.”

At some point, the Dutch players just needed to perform.

For Portugal, the moment went against them. They defended much better than Denmark (who gave up a number of good chances), but when Mario Gómez got matched up on right back Joao Pereira at the end of a Sami Khedira cross, Germany’s striker decided the game, perfectly placing a header inside Rui Patricio’s right post.

They were isolated instances. Krahn-Dehli’s chance, Gómez’s header – they were singular opportunities for those players to affect a result. Nobody from the Netherlands or Portugal stepped up to do the same.

2. Don’t fight on two fronts – The terrible part about this lesson is there’s no way to prove it’s true, but as we alluded to in today’s preview, you couldn’t help but think all the talk coming out of the Netherlands’ Friday training session could be a distraction. If there was racial abuse lobbed at Dutch players, it’s very hard to suggest they just get past it an concentrate on the game. How do you tell a man that’s how he should feel?

Regardless, Bert van Marwijk seemed concerned. He tried to downplay the incident, ended up giving an account that contradicted Mark van Bommel’s, but couldn’t kill the issue. Once van Bommel had put the story center stage, it was something to deal with, not avoid.

Normally, I don’t buy into these types of explanation, especially when there’s no way to prove it. Usually you say “these guys are professional athletes, they’re used to this,” but in this case, it was the professional athletes stepping up, declaring this a concern. Was it a concern that would influence their Saturday result? Nobody said that, but when Mark van Bommel starts talking to the press about it in a way that represents the views of his teammates, you know it’s at least on their minds.

Who knows if it played a part in Saturday’s result. Even if a player suspects it did, his view might just be a post hoc justification – an easy way to explain why the team failed.

Regardless, taking on two opponents at once can’t help. The Danes showed they were just good enough to win. If the Netherlands’ last training session hadn’t been defined by something other than Denmark, would they have performed better on Saturday? Unfortunately, there’s no way to prove it, but it couldn’t have hurt to have one less thing to worry about.

3. It’s one win. That’s all. – Even though Denmark got three points, they’ve still got Portugal and Germany on the schedule. The three they got today may be their last, if they let up. Morten Olsen’s biggest task over the next two days will be making his team forget about Saturday.

The Danes have every reason to believe the success they’ve had against Portugal (2-1-1 in their last four competitive matches) will carry over to Wednesday. If they let the Netherlands result or their quarterfinal prospects distract them from what made them successful against the Seleccao, they’ll essentially be giving back the three they took from the Dutch.

For Germany, it’s almost the opposite. True, they have the Netherlands on Wednesday, but Joachim Löw’s goal is winning the title. What does he need to go to get Germany to where they can win on July 1? Because while today’s performance was nice, it wasn’t one that would win the tournament. Germany has work to do.

Group B “Power” Rankings

1. Germany – Clearly the class of the group.

2. Denmark – Four days from now, they could be in the quarterfinals. And, they can play much better than they did today.

3. Netherlands – The loss goes beyond mere first match disappointment. Denmark’s got the tiebreaker on them now, something the Netherlands can’t even think about until they deal with Germany on Wednesday.

4. Portugal – Losing to the Germans wasn’t a surprise. That they played so conservatively wasn’t a shock, either. The question is whether Portugal can change gears and score enough goals to get out of this grou. They’re only scored once in their last four matches.

Crystal Ball – What Needs to Happen

Group B resumes play next Wednesday:

Portugal and Denmark shared qualifying groups for World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012. The Seleccao won only one of four, with the Danes winning the last time the teams met (in November). Wednesday’s game will be different, though. It will be on a neutral site, in a major competition. It’s debatable how much qualifying’s experience will influence Wednesday’s game.

If Portugal employs an approach similar to what we saw against Germany – using Ronaldo and Nani to attack Poulsen and Lars Jacobsen – they could reverse qualifying’s trend, particularly if their middle three can keep Christen Eriksen silent. That middle three is also going to have to provide a little more support for their attackers, but that was probably already in Paulo Bento’s plans.

Then comes the big game: Netherlands against Germany. Expect both teams to play much better than they did today, but you have to worry about the Netherlands’ fullbacks – Gregory Van der Wiel and Jetro Willems – particularly given Germany’s willingness to play very wide.

Van der Wiel had a difficult time against Denmark. Thankfully, Philipp Lahm might be occupied by Arjen Robben on Wednesday. On the other side, though, the 18-year-old Willems will be tasked with containing Müller as well as making the correct choices when Mesut Özil drifts into the space. It’s asking a lot of a young man whose club career is comprised of 36 Dutch league appearances.

PST’s Euro 2012 “More Powerful” Rankings

1. Germany (–)
2. Spain (–)
3. Russia (+1)
4. Croatia (+1)

5. France (+1)
6. Denmark (NR) – Recent history hints they should be favored against Portugal. A win there likely puts them into the quarters.
7. Netherlands (-4) – A loss is a loss. We may think they’re better than this, but look on the horizon: That Germany match. Lose that, and they’re out.
8. England (-1)

… and PST’s Player of the Tournament Wunderlist

1. Alan Dzagoev, Russia
2. Andrei Arshavin, Russia
3. Simon Poulsen, Poland
4. Roman Shirokov, Russia
5. Dimitrios Salpingidis, Greece
6. Wesley Sneijder, Netherlands
7. Michael Krahn-Dehli, Denmark
8. Mario Gomez, Germany
9. Thomas Muller, Germany
10. Lukasz Pisczcek, 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.

VAR decisions at World Cup to be explained on giant screens

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) Fans attending World Cup matches in Russia won’t be left wondering about the reasons behind decisions of the video assistant referee.

After the VAR’s decision is made, replays will be shown on giant screens inside the stadiums accompanied by a written explanation.

It’s all part of the VAR information system that FIFA unveiled Wednesday .

[ MORE: Man Utd makes historic hire ]

FIFA will place someone in the VOR (video operations room) who will listen in to the VAR’s decisions and communicate them to both TV commentators and stadium personnel operating the giant screens.

“So we will have graphics on the giant screens, we will have replays after the decision on the giant screens, and we will also inform the fans about the outcome of a VAR incident and review,” said Sebastian Runge, group leader of football innovation at FIFA.

With the VAR making its tournament debut during the June 14-July 15 World Cup, FIFA is holding its final training camp this month for the 99 match officials – 36 referees and 63 assistants – who have been selected to go to Russia.

Thirteen VARs have been pre-selected and are being trained at Italy’s Coverciano complex, and FIFA referees chief Pierluigi Collina said more VARs and VAR assistants will be chosen from the 99 match officials.

Three of the 13 VARs come from Italy’s Serie A and two from Germany’s Bundesliga – elite competitions that already use video assistants.

The VAR can support the referee in four game-changing situations: goals and offenses leading up to a goal, penalty decisions and offenses leading up to a penalty, direct red card incidents and cases of mistaken identity.

Still, VARs in both Italy and Germany have received vehement criticism for long delays and bungled decisions this season.

On Monday, Mainz was awarded a penalty during halftime against a rival Freiburg side that had already left the pitch for the break – prompting the unusual scene of a team returning from the changing room to defend a penalty.

“Yesterday we had already discussed this incident here and gave match officials and VARs clear indication about what should be done if something similar in FIFA competition – specifically the World Cup – happens,” Collina said without providing further detail.

Collina added that the VAR should not be overused, adding that ideally it would intervene at all in a match.

“The goal of VAR is to avoid major mistakes,” Collina said. “The objective is not to have clear and obvious mistakes committed on the field of play. This is the target, the goal is not to re-referee the match using technology.

“There will continue to be incidents when a final answer will not be given and there will be different opinions,” Collina added.

Among other items involving the VAR:

MOSCOW CONTROL CENTER

FIFA will follow the Bundesliga model of a central control center for the VAR rather than using trucks outside stadiums.

“We will have all of the referees based in Moscow so there won’t be any stress in terms of travel,” Collina said.

For each match, Collina will select one VAR and three assistant VARs.

Training operation rooms presented to media included six monitors for the VARs and two more for technical assistants enabling the VARs to see requested replays.

There could be up to four technical assistants in the room for World Cup matches.

OFFSIDE CAMERAS

FIFA will install two extra cameras at matches to monitor offside decisions.

The cameras will be in addition to the 33 cameras used for broadcasters and they will be installed under stadium roofs.

Broadcasters will not have direct access to the cameras but if they are used by the VAR then broadcasters can show the video.

Runge added that three dimensional technology – considered the ultimate strategy for determining offside – is not ready for real-time access yet.

SWEAT AND STRESS

VARs will not officiate more than one match per day.

“It’s not like watching a match on the sofa sipping coffee,” Collina said.

Collina, who officiated Brazil’s 2-0 win over Germany in the 2002 World Cup final, explained why the VARs will wear track suits similar to referees’ on-pitch attire.

“The reason is at the end they sweat as much as someone on the field, because the tension is very high,” Collina said. “They can’t do two matches per day – it’s too stressful.”

COMMS AND HACKING

The Moscow control center will be connected to match officials via a fiber optic network.

If the network fails, the backup plan includes an old-fashioned land telephone line and a telephone stationed near the fourth referee for emergency use.

“Worst-case scenario includes a backup plan on site. That’s when the IBC is down – no power, no fiber network,” Runge said. “Then we have a plan in place where the fourth official would become the VAR and the fourth official would be replaced by the reserve referee.

“We have a cabin in the broadcast compound from where we send all of the feeds to the IBC anyway. That cabin can be turned into a smaller, light version of the VOR.”

Hacking has also been considered.

“We are aware that there might be something but our IT department put measurements in place that will protect us from that,” Runge said.

POST-MATCH BRIEFINGS

In extraordinary circumstances, FIFA will hold post-match briefings to explain decisions in greater detail.

“If something should happen that we think should properly and accurately be explained – and it doesn’t matter if it’s related to VAR or something different – if it is a matter to explain the background of a decision, as an exception certainly we will do it,” Collina said.

“But it won’t be a post-match press conference for every match, explaining every single decision taken during every single match.”

More AP soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Could PSG, Manchester United solve each other’s problems?

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It’s late on a Wednesday night without the UEFA Champions League, so let’s dance on a theoretical floor, shall we?

One of the more widely-praised transfers of the year came when Manchester United and Arsenal decided to swap problematic players with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alexis Sanchez.

While neither has been perfect in their new homes, both have had starring performances and could (should?) fit in neatly come a full offseason worth of preparation.

More swaps like these should happen more often given the glut of managerial changes across major European leagues, with square pegs sometimes finding round holes when the boss arrives in town.

And have we got a sensational swap lined up for you. And no, it’s not Jose Mourinho for Unai Emery (though should it be? Nah, forget it).

If Paul Pogba is to leave Old Trafford this summer, there are scant few teams who could afford his transfer fee. Likewise, Paris Saint-Germain has Financial Fair Play all over its case and cannot simply make moves to better build its team for the Champions League by splashing cash all over the place.

PSG bought the two most expensive players of all-time last summer in Neymar ($281m) and Kylian Mbappe ($181m). The latter is going nowhere unless FIFA intervenes, 19 years old and becoming a more complete playmaker since heading to PSG from Monaco.

The former, well, that’s a bit trickier.

Neymar has been hurt, and while there’s no doubt his absence is the primary reason PSG was eliminated by Real Madrid, his time at the Parc Des Princes has hit more than a few speed bumps, with the Edinson Cavani PK drama and more.

So if Neymar is “worth” $281 million, could he head to United in exchange for a pair of Frenchmen in Pogba and Anthony Martial?

Areola

Alves — Silva– Marquinhos — Berchiche

Verratti — Rabiot

Pogba

Mbappe — Cavani — Martial

It’s imperfect given Alexis Sanchez’s preference to also play left wing, but going to a 4-3-3 like this for Jose Mourinho would allow a certain amount of freelancing for his trident.

De Gea

Valencia — Smalling — Bailly — Young/new LB

Matic — Herrera — McTominay

Sanchez — Lukaku — Neymar

Mixing in Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata off the bench and for Cup games is not a bad luxury, plus we know United is going to splash a lot more cash to improve the center midfield and fullback depth.

There could also be a 3-4-3 of excellent repute here:

De Gea

Smalling — Jones — Bailly

Valencia — Herrera — Matic — Lingard

Alexis — Lukaku — Neymar

Ronaldo scores late to lead Real Madrid draw (video)

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s done it again, because of course he did.

The Real Madrid megastar, 33, redirected a Luka Modric shot in the 87th minute to help Real to a 1-1 draw against Athletic Bilbao at the Bernabeu on Wednesday in the club’s last match before the UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg against Bayern Munich.

[ MORE: Man Utd makes historic hire ]

Real is three points behind Atletico Madrid, which visits Real Sociedad on Thursday, and 15 points behind still unbeaten Barcelona. The final Clasico of the season is May 6 at the Camp Nou.

Ronaldo continued his bounce back from a slow start to the La Liga season. After scoring only four times in his first 14 matches, CR7 has netted in eight-straight league matches and has 24 goals in total (Add in other competitions, and Ronaldo’s bagged 41 goals in 39 matches).

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Southampton

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  • Foxes won 4-1 on Dec. 13 at St. Mary’s
  • Southampton five points back of 17th
  • Saints lead all-time 32W-27D-26L

Southampton is running out of time to save its Premier League status, and makes up its match-in-hand on several clubs with a visit to Leicester City at King Power Stadium on Wednesday (Watch live at 2:45 p.m. ET, online via NBC Sports Gold).

Saints are five points back of 17th place Swansea City, though the Welsh side has also played 33 matches. They are six points behind Crystal Palace and seven back of Huddersfield Town and West Ham United.

Leicester is eighth after losing to Burnley, its Europa League hopes dashed with Everton and Newcastle nipping at their heels.

What they’re saying

Leicester City’s Claude Puel on finishing strong: “The right way, it is important to keep this momentum until the end and we will see when the players start in the game. [They must] give their best and maintain a good level in the team. We keep a serious ambition and we need to secure our place in the top half of the table. A lot of teams are close behind us so we need to continue.”

Saints’ Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg on life in the relegation fight“The next few weeks is life-changing. Wherever our paths go, and wherever all our ways go, whether it’s short-term or long-term, this will all change our lives, this will all change our way of looking on football. I promise you, I promise to the fans, and I promise to the people standing outside, there is not one single person inside here who wants to be in this situation. There is not one person who actually thinks ‘Oh, this may be good for me in a way.’ Everyone is suffering.

Prediction

Claude Puel will be further motivated to get over on his old side, but Saints have a lot of firepower for what should be a wide-open game against sometimes-dicey back lines (often dicey in the case of Southampton). 2-2.