Dutch forward Robin van Persie reacts du

As it happened, Euro 2012: Germany begins title quest; Netherlands rocked


If you were with us yesterday, you know how this works. It’s not quite a minute-by-minute, but it is a place that will keep you up-to-date on everything that’s happening in today’s Euro 2012 action.

That action kicks off at noon Eastern with the Netherlands taking on Denmark in Kharkiv, Ukraine. At 2:45 p.m. Eastern, tournament favorites (or co-favorites, I don’t want to upset anybody) Germany face Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani and Portugal.

The group (Group B) is being billed as the Group of Death, but between today’s games and tomorrow’s Group C match ups, we’ll just call it a pretty spectacular first weekend of the tournament.

And we’ll be here throughout. Refresh this page to get the latest updates, and in the interim, here’s some linkage:

As the day goes on, we’ll have post-match thoughts and our big Saturday review, but for now, we’ve got some soccer to blog:

(All times Eastern)

1640: Germany 1-0 Portugal: Final, and Germany gets their victory. The match could have gone either way, as Pepe’s late first half chance showed. Ultimately, Germany’s reliance on crossing (particularly from the right) in the second paid off.

1637: Germany 1-0: Portugal: Another very good chance for Portugal. Ronaldo is through on the left and pulls one back for Nani from 12 yards out. He shoots but has it blocked by Holger Badstuder and goes out for a corner.

Lars Bender is on for Thomas Muller.

1632: Germany 1-0 Portugal: This game should be tied, and it’s not. A long ball is held up by Nelson Oliveira, who has to take it to the line. He cuts it back for Nani whose ridden off the ball, leaving an open chance at the right post for Silvestre Varela. He can’t lift it over Manuel Neuer, who claims the shot, preserving the lead.

1630: Germany 1-0 Portugal: Germany spent so much of this match in possession and now can’t get the ball back. Portugal’s applying more pressure than Germany has at any point of this match, and although there haven’t been any clear cut chances, there have been a lot of near-chances. One of these could come good.

Mesut Ozil is off. Decent day that people are drooling over – that’s how that works. Toni Kroos is on. He’ll have a decent spell that people will drool over.

1627: Germany 1-0 Portugal: The Portuguese are coming back. Attack built down the left is cut back for the oncoming Fabio Coentrao, whose blast takes a “cheeky” deflection before going over the bar. Minutes later a cross from Nani finds the woodwork, albeit the top of the bar.

1625: Germany 1-0 Portugal: The game’s opened up. Shocking, huh? Portugal’s midfield has to play like midfielders and we get a real soccer game? Who would have thought? We’re even seeing Miguel Veloso, who’s spent most of the game sitting right in front of the defense, venture toward Germany’s area. This is crazy.

1623: Germany 1-0 Portugal: Gómez is now coming off for Klose. Klose was originally slated to come off earlier, but then the goal happened. He hasn’t ben that bad. When we last saw Gómez, he was ruining Bayern’s chance at Champions League glory. Today he’s done well to get on the end of the crosses he’s gotten, obviously converting what started to be the winning goal.

1616: Germany 1-0 Portugal: Breakthrough, and it’s exactly how they wanted it. Germany had abandoned building through the middle an decided if they were going to win, it was going to have to come from wide. And that it did, with a ball from the right finding Mario Gomez in the middle. The Bayern man hammered it down and to the near post, beating Patricio. Germany has their lead.

1613: Germany 0-0 Portugal: Two pluses for a Germany team looking less and less likely to get their three points: Ozil has done a decent job or orchestrating things, while Thomas Muller’s crossing from the right has been very good. Here he puts a dangerous ball into the six from the sideline. Patricio swallows it up, but a near post runner could have done something with that.

1608: Germany 0-0 Portugal: That was a close one for Germany. Joao Moutinho, with a head of stream entering the final third, finds Ronaldo coming from from the left. From 16 yards out, Ronaldo winds up, but just as he looks to let go Jerome Boateng gets back to put a foot, blocking the shot. Regardless. it was the first time Portugal has been able to generate something that didn’t involve playing long, wide, then in.

1602 – Germany 0-0 Portugal: We’ll see if this continues, but it seems Germany may be resigned to playing the ball down the flanks, avoiding that trio in Portugal’s midfield. Over the last couple of minutes, it’s been stay wide, pump it in, with Mari Gomez putting one header over the bar. We’ll see if this continues.

1600 – Germany 0-0 Portugal: Just as Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Robin van Persie did before him, Lukasz Podolski seems to be volunteering to be this match’s misfiring attacker. He’s had two or three chances which, while not great, have made him look back. Here, he has a ball played to him in the left side of the area, which he promptly puts out for a goal kick.

1557 – Germany 0-0 Portugal: Perhaps this half will settle in at some point, but it looks like the game may be a little more open over this final 45. Portugal is more readily coming out of their own half (downplaying the notion they’re playing for a draw). Germany has been able to threaten a couple of times, too, with the team causing Portugal trouble once they get Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira moving.

1554 – Germany 0-0 Portugal: Twice we’ve seen a little more of what Paulo Bento wants Portugal to do. They’re hitting the ball long and wide and allowing those all-world wings to go get it. Opening the half, it was Nani with a chance to do work. This time it’s Ronaldo who forced another corner kick.

1549 – Germany 0-0 Portugal: We are back. No changes that I’ve heard of.

1534 – Germany 0-0 Portugal: Halftime. Stats. Possession: Germany 61-39. Shots: Germany 6-3. Shorts on target: 3-1. All numbers courtesy of UEFA.

1532 – Germany 0-0 Portugal: Halftime. Portugal was impenetrable at the back and generated the best chances. It’s a very Portugal performance, and while some are saying they’re set up for a draw – well, they always set up this way, which is why so many of their recent matches have ended 0-0. Are we destined for another?

1531 – Germany 0-0 Portugal: Controversy? A corner by Portugal sees Pepe put the ball of the underside of the bar. The ball goes down and nails the line, drawing some appeals for goal from Portugal. Replays showed the ball wasn’t in … so whew?

1526 – Germany 0-0 Portugal: Germany causes some excitement with their latest threat but can’t get the ball on goal. Muller plays a ball in that comes back across for him at the right post. He shot does wide of the far post, though Portugal looked a little bit lost as Germany knocked it around. Also of note: All of Germany’s buzz-worthy moments have come from right-center out. Two opportunities for Podolski were from passes from the right. A cross to Gomez in the first minutes produced a shot, while this latest flurry came from wide right.

1521 – Germany 0-0 Portugal: It’s more of the same. Germany has the ball but they’re not doing anything with it. This isn’t quite the case of the complacent Dutch that was saw in the first game. Portugal’s midfield three is sitting deep (Miguel Veloso’s scarcely five years in front of Pepe and Bruno Alves). They’re maintaining their shape as Germany tries the left and the right. Now, you see the midfield fo Schweinsteiger and Khedira slowly creeping forward, but there don’t seem to be a lot of options for Germany.

1514 – Germany 0-0 Portugal: Germany remains in control, not that they’re coming close to scoring. Portugal’s midfield three has managed Germany’s movement well. Patricio’s gone relatively unbothered in goal, and for all their possession, Germany has yet to fin something that works in the final third.

1503 – Germany 0-0 Portugal: Fist real chance for Portugal. A ball played down the left for Ronaldo allows him to size up Jerome Boateng. A series of step overs free the right back and allow Ronaldo to go left and put a ball across the six. Nobody can get on to it, but it forces a corner, where Bruno Alves can get onto a ball played to the middle of the box.

1458 – Germany 0-0 Portugal: Germany doesn’t want to pass to Mats Hummels anymore. Holder Badstuder, in possession near the center circle, looked at his central defense partner and then though better of giving him the ball. He played it to Philipp Lahm instead, but the captain was more magnanimous. Unfortunately, Hummels was slow to the ball, allowed Helder Postiga to close him down, and them played a poorly weighted ball back to Manuel Neuer. The Germany `keeper cleared it but only under heavy pressure from Postiga. For his trouble, Postiga got carded, sliding into Neuer.

1455 – Germany 0-0 Portugal: The first glimpse of one of Germany’s most effective tactics, though it yielded only a week chance. Thomas Müller, hugging the line on the right, plays a ball across the top of the area to Lukas Podolski. Coming in from the left, the new Arsenal man doesn’t hit it right, seemingly catching it with the outside of his laces. Patricio with an easy save.

1454 – Germany 0-0 Portugal: A couple of fouls (Gomez, Muller) and a bit of a tussle between Postiga and Hummels and this game’s starting to see some life.

1449 – Germany 0-0 Portugal: Still too early to say much except Germany’s first minute was impressive. The atmosphere in this match, however, seems world’s better than the nap-inducing opener.

1446 – Germany 0-0 Portugal: The last match of the day has kicked off. Portugal going from right to left.

1442 – And, here are the teams:

Portugal: Patrício, Alves, Pepe, Coentrão, Pereira, Veloso, Moutinho, Meireles, Nani, Ronaldo, Postiga SUBS: Eduardo, Beto, Costa, Rolando, Lopes, Custódio, Quaresma, Micael, Viana, Almeida, Oliveira, Varela.

Germany: Neuer, Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm, Boateng, Khedira, Schweinsteiger, Özil, Müller, Podolski, Gomez SUBS: Wiese, Zieler, Schmelzer, Höwedes, Mertesacker, Gündoğan, Schürrle, Bender, Kroos, Götze, Reus, Klose.

Hummels does start in central defense over Mertesacker, deemed not quite ready (or good enough) to start. The rest is as expected for Germany, including Gomez starting over Klose.

1441 – The anthems are being played, and Germany-Portugal is about to start. Here’s our report from the last game.

1351 – Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: Final. Before I got punch out an Offshore Drilling, some numbers: Possession: Netherlands 53-47. Shots: Netherlands 28-8. Shots on target: 8-8.

1351 – Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: Final, and the Netherlands are in trouble. They may now need to win out to get out of group, and off the back of losing to Russia in 2008’s quarterfinal, they’ve not been upset in their last two Euro matches.

1350 – Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: Review of the play showed Lars Jacobsen clearly handled the ball, but the best part was Klass-Jan Huntelaar’s Michael Ballack impression, sprinting toward the official with veins popping out of his neck.

Robin van Persie just blew another good chance.

1347 – Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: The Dutch have anther handball shout in the penalty box, their second or third of the match. Whether it was a handball or not, it’s almost not the point. The Netherlands have again just stopped playing to appeal to the official. Rather than attack a ball that’s only nine yards from goal, they’re hoping to be bailed out.

1342 – Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: Dirk Kuyt, the Netherlands’ final sub, comes on for Gregory van der Wiel, who had  sub-par game. The Netherlands haven’t mounted a meaningful attack in some time. Either they’re saving for one last push or are over it. Regardless, if there’s one man who can spur them on, it’s Kuyt.

1333 – Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: An amazing pass by Sneijder puts Huntelaar in. With the outside of his right foot (from the left), Sneijder puts Huntelaar behind the defense from 40 yards out. Huntelaar doesn’t get the ball away quickly enough and sees his shot saved by Andersen. Van Persie is there to kept collect the rebound, but the two’s hacking at Andersen bring a whistle.

It was the Netherlands’ best chance of the night, but it’s starting to look like that’s the kind of night it’s going to be.

1331 – Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: With the changes, the Netherlands are playing with Huntelaar as a No. 9, van Persie as a ten. Van der Vaart is in central midfield, and Welsey Sneijder’s playing to the left of center. Arjen Robben’s high on the right, with van Bommel holding.

Christian Eriksen’s off. Schøne’s on.

1328 – Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: Van Marwijk desperately needs to get new blood on the field. The Dutch, having not scored through that early first half push that saw them put 102 shots on goal, look discouraged. Now, in the 71st minute, the subs come on. Van der Vaart is on for de Jong, and Huntelaar is on for … Afellay? I guess it has to be that way, but he’s been good, today. But who else would you take off? A defender? You can’t right now, especially with Denmark pushing a little in the last few minutes.

1326 – Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: Part of the problem for the Dutch has been evident during Denmark’s last spell of possession. There is either a lack of intensity or lack of confidence in their defenders, so nobody’s challenging the Danish attackers, trying to get the ball off their feet. It would be nice of they picked it out a little. As is, the Danes are able to not only eat up some time but also create the odd chance, here forcing a corner.

1324 – Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: At what point does Bert van Marwijk start making changes? We’re already in the 67th minute, and the Dutch are still playing with both van Bommel and de Jong.

And as I type, ven der Vaart and Huntelaar hand in cards.

1320 – Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: A foul is given by Lacobsen on the charging Willems, giving Wesley Sneijder a chance to serve a ball in from the left flank, 35 yards out. His inswinger is perfectly placed at the far post, about 8-9 yards out, where John Heitenga has beaten his man. The offside flag it up, though, but Denmark needs to bea  bit worried. That’s twice this half that Heitenga has been able to get up and above the rest of the Danish defense.

And as I type, a cross for Arjen Robben sees the right winger head a ball wide from about eight yards out.

1318 – Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: Sneijder with another good ball for Sneijder in that channel between Kjaer and Jacobsen. The Dutch seem intent on attacking there, although Kjaer does well this time, considering Jacobsen was a little up the field when Sneijder played his ball. Corner kick sees Andersen strong coming off his line to claim it.

1316 – Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: Klass-Jan Huntelaar, Dirk Kuyt and Rafael van der Vaart are warming up … I don’t think funny is the right word, but I’m giggling. Lightly.

1312 – Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: The urgency the Dutch have shown in attack hasn’t translated to the defense. An attack that starts with a long ball down the right (retrieved by Eriksen) moves left, where Simon Paulsen takes on Arjen Robben then Gregory Van der Wiel. He gets to the line, cuts a ball back, and the pass is left to die nine yards from goal even with the far post. Two players sprint for it, and Afellay clears it out for a corner.

1308 – Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: The Dutch seem to realize the task at hand and have already generated three good chances. One, however, begs the question: What’s wrong with Robin van Persie? A 30-yard great ball along the ground from Sneijder finds van Persie running through the left channel. Squaring up to goal he takes a horrible touch that ruins his scoring chance.

Since, the Dutch have generated another chance for van Persie, a shot by van Bommel, two opportunities for Afellay … and it looks like the Danes are in for a long 45 minutes.

1304 – Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: We’re back with no chances. The Dutch have 45 minutes for get their goals. Remember: They still have to face Germany. Obviously, Denmark does, too, but points lost here not only make first place difficult, it opens the door for a very capable Danish side.

1249 – Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: Halftime stats … Possession: Netherlands 56-44 Denmark; Shots: Netherlands 13-5 Denmark; Shots on goal: Netherlands 3-5 Denmark.

All number courtesy UEFA.

1248 – Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: Halftime, and although the Dutch seems to control the game, they didn’t play with any urgency until after the goal. Even then, they didn’t generate the number of chances they’re used to. But make no mistake about it: the Netherlands have had most of the chances, haven’t converted, and the Danes executed when it counted.

1244 – Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: Another good chance for the Dutch, and some bad defending from Denmark. A long ball from John Heitenga sees van Persie win a head down to Sneijder at the edge of the box. Van Persie peals off toward the right, and nobody follows him. Sneijder finds him, giving RvP an open chance, but he doesn’t get it out of his feet fast enough to prevent Andersen from closing down the angles.

1243 – Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: The Danes are coming into the match (beyond the scoreboard). For the first time since very early, the possession number has dipped below 60 percent for the Dutch. After a long spell of possession that saw Christian Eriksen and Michael Krohn-Dehli keep the Dutch defenders on their heels, Stekelenburg’s forces into a diving save.

1240 – Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: Ibrahim Afellay is one of three Dutch starters who weren’t part of the main XI in South Africa. He’s displaced Dirk Kuyt, and just now, he showed why. Coming in from the left, Afellay takes advantage of a lunging challenge from Daniel Agger, letting a shot go from just outside the box. If floats over the bar, but Afellay did well to wait for and take advantage of a bad choice from Denmark’s captain.

1237 – Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: Stephen Andersen nearly gave away Denmark’s lead. Trying to get the ball into midfield, the Danish goalkeeper didn’t see Arjen Robben. Going in on goal with only one defender to beat, Robben moves onto his left foot from 16 yards out an nails the left post.

1226 – Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: The Danes’ first meaningful chance has put them ahead. Left back Simon Poulsen is allowed the carry the ball from 40 yards out to deep along the left flank, drawing defenders. A deflected cross finds left wing Michael Krohn-Dehli just outside the box. He collects, attacks, make one move to the outside, and is in on goal. Marteen Stekelenburg comes out be sees the shot go through his legs for the opening goal.

1224 – Netherlands 0-0 Denmark: With Denmark playing so conservatively in defense, we’re seeing some of the Dutch defenders become a little more adventurous when the team’s in possession. John Heitenga was just seem lingering in midfield, providing support when Mark van Bommel went wide. In the same sequence, Gregory van der Wiel felt comfortable enough to move into the middle from his right back position.

1219 – Netherlands 0-0 Denmark: To this point, this game has been pretty dull, but the Dutch seem willing to start taking some chances. Along the right Robben is in possession. Van Persie comes over and back (35 yards out) and take a ball to feet. Robben goes on a run and comes onto a ball flicked behind the defense. Going in alone on Andersen, Robben slows up and tries to play a ball across to Sneijder. Kjaer comes back and slides onto a ball that ends in Andersen’s arms. Wasted chance.

1217 – Netherlands 0-0 Denmark: Robben gets his first chance to come in from the right onto his left foot. From 23 yards, he forces a driving stop from Stephan Andersen.

1212 – Netherlands 0-0 Denmark: That was nice, if ultimately not that dangerous. Van Persie’s about 26 yards out and curls a ball from the right toward the far post. Wesley Sneijder is making a run from midfield and barley beats Simon Kjaer but can only chest it back across the face of goal. Van Persie can’t quite get there in time.

1208 – Netherlands 0-0 Denmark: Early, van Marwijk’s switched Arjen Robben (normally RW) with Ibrahim Afellay. Going down the left, Robben creates a chance for Robin van Persie, cutting it back toward the sot. The ball seemed slightly behind RvP, who definitely didn’t have space to run onto the shot. He pushes his first chance wide of the near post.

1207 – Netherlands 0-0 Denmark: It’s a pretty tame start. The Dutch are hogging the ball, and the Danes aren’t too intent on making them share. A couple of flashes of brillance from the Oranje but nothing worth writing about. The atmosphere’s uninspiring.

1202 – Netherlands 0-0 Denmark: Nigel de Jong went 48 seconds before committing a foul. New man.

1201 – “[Player] said to interest Manchester United.”


And … we’re off.

1159 – Captains Mark van Bommel and Daniel Agger excahnge handshakes and banners. Agger survives.

1155 – Teams are coming out on the field in Kharkiv, which looks nowhere near ready to replicate the atmosphere we saw yesterday in Poland.

1146 – Another update via UEFA as we’re about 15 minutes away from kick off in Kharkiv:

David Crossan, Metalist Stadium: My Ukrainian colleague Viktor tells me one of the reasons orange is so prominent here is because the Dutch are playing all three group games in the city and as such the locals have decided to get behind them.

1129 – Here are the teams for the noon game, Netherlands-Denmark, via UEFA:

Denmark: Andersen, Kjær, Agger, S Poulsen, Jacobsen, Kvist, Eriksen, Zimling, Krohn-Dehli, Rommedahl, Bendtner SUBS: Lindegaard, Schmeichel, Bjelland, Okore, Wass, C Poulsen, Schøne, Silberbauer, J Poulsen, Kahlenberg, Pedersen, Mikkelsen.

Netherlands: Stekelenburg, Van der Wiel, Heitinga, Vlaar, Willems, Van Bommel, N De Jong, Robben, Sneijder, Afellay, Van Persie SUBS: Vorm, Krul, Mathijsen, Bouma, Boulahrouz, Schaars, Strootman, Van der Vaart, Kuyt, Huntelaar, L De Jong, Narsingh.

One note on the Netherland’s starting left back:

David Crossan, Metalist Stadium: So left-back Jetro Willems becomes the youngest ever EURO player at 18, beating Enzo Scifo’s record from 28 years ago.

1116 – Good morning. I’ll admit: I’m going to have to get used to this routine. It’s still kinda early here in Pacific time. At least, it’s early for me.

Lineups are coming in a few minutes. Picks? Though part of me wants to think the Dutch will drop points, I’d put my money on both the Netherlands and Germany getting full points today.
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.

It’s prediction time! Who wins MLS Cup 2016?

KANSAS CITY, KS - DECEMBER 07:  The Philip F. Anschutz trophy is seen on the field before the start of the match between Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City in the 2013 MLS Cup at Sporting Park on December 7, 2013 in Kansas City, Kansas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images
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Because it’s extremely easy to predict what happens in MLS — yeah, right — the Stateside portion of PST’s staff has taken it upon themselves to predict the upcoming 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs, which kick of Wednesday night, for you. (Links to each of our Twitter accounts have been included, because… well, you know why.)

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Nicholas Mendola

Knockout round

Toronto FC over Philadelphia Union
D.C. United over Montreal Impact
Real Salt Lake over LA Galaxy
Sporting Kansas City over Seattle Sounders

Conference semifinals

New York Red Bulls over DCU
TFC over New York City FC
FC Dallas over RSL
Colorado Rapids over SKC

Conference finals

FCD over Colorado


TFC over FCD

[ MORE: Power rankings — Going to the playoffs edition ]

Andy Edwards

Knockout round

TFC over Philadelphia
DCU over Montreal
RSL over LA
Seattle over SKC

Conference semifinals

FCD over RSL
Seattle over Colorado

Conference finals

Seattle over FCD


RBNY over Seattle

[ MORE: Decision Day madness in the West | And in the East ]

Kyle Bonn

Knockout round

TFC over Philadelphia
DCU over Montreal
LA over RSL
Seattle over SKC

Conference semifinals

Colorado over LA
Seattle over FCD

Conference finals

Colorado over Seattle


RBNY over Colorado

[ MORE: Three MLS sides advance to Champions League knockout rounds ]

Matt Reed

Knockout round

TFC over Philadelphia
DCU over Montreal
LA over RSL
Seattle over SKC

Conference semifinals

Seattle over FCD
LA over Colorado


RBNY over Seattle

MLS Power Rankings: Going to the playoffs edition

Seattle Sounders' Nicolas Lodeiro (10), Herculez Gomez, center, and Jordan Morris, right, celebrate a goal by Lodeiro in the first half of an MLS soccer match against FC Dallas, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016, in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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As we prepare for the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs, which kick off Wednesday night, we take one last shot at MLS power rankings, featuring only the 12 times still fighting in the postseason.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Which are the sides most likely to represent the East and the West in MLS Cup 2016? Let’s talk it out…

Eastern Conference

1. New York Red Bulls — Bradley Wright-Phillips scored 24 goals this season, including 14 in RBNY’s last 12 games. Sacha Kljestan finished the season with 19 assists, but should have had 20. Not to bury the lead here, but they haven’t lost a game since July 3 (9 wins, 6 draws). That’s an absurd run capped off with four straight wins to finish the regular season. Throw in the fact they’ll host the decisive second leg in every round up until MLS Cup, and it’s hard to see anyone else coming out of the East..

2a. D.C. United — Outside of Sunday’s finale in which Ben Olsen sat 10 of 11 regular staters — you’re not throwing me off your scent, buddy — DCU have destroyed everything and everyone in their path over the last month (four straight wins, by a combined score of 12-3). The strategy is simple: press high, win the ball, get it wide, get it in the box, Patrick Mullins will finish it. If they don’t win it early, they drop into a defensive shell that’ll frustrate you into a rage-quit.

2b. Toronto FC — Here’s my TFC theory: they’re better off playing in the knockout round, because Sebastian Giovinco, who’s only two games back from a month out with injuries, needs that extra bit of sharpness that’s still missing. Everything around the reigning MVP fell into place pretty well with him absent — the midfield diamond still ticks over best with Will Johnson on the field, and he should be back soon — and Jozy Altidore looks like a man possessed. They’re still TFC, though, and until they’re no longer “oh, that TFC,” it’s hard to totally trust them.

4. New York City FC — Is this team good? They won 54 points from 34 games, so of course they’re good on paper, but only three teams conceded more goals on the season (57). Of course, they outscored everyone (62). That’s rarely been the winning formula in the playoffs, though, and David Villa, for every wonderful thing he’s done his first two seasons in MLS, is still only one man.

5. Montreal Impact — Didier Drogba is still a member of this team, right? While he’s mostly inconsequential outside of the Impact lacking an impact forward off the bench, that’s just a bad omen to ride into the postseason, isn’t it? There’s not much to separate Montreal and Philadelphia other than if the Impact are to win a couple games in the playoffs, I know how they do it: Ignacio Piatti turns on video-game mode and draws 20,000 jaws to the floor.

6. Philadelphia Union — The Union, on the other hand, I have no idea what them winning a game looks like — theoretically or literally. It’s been two months since they’ve done it, they don’t remember what it’s like either. Bless Jim Curtin for trotting out a super-young defensive unit out there all season — they’ll be better for it next year — but they simply ran out of steam down the stretch (14 goals conceded in 7 games without a win).

[ MORE: Decision Day madness in the West | And in the East ]

Western Conference

1a. FC Dallas — I came really, really close — like, thisfreakingclose — to putting the Sounders at 1a, and FCD at 1b. The loss Mauro Diaz (torn achilles) last week and the transfer of Fabian Castillo in August would be season-ending blows to, quite literally, every other team in MLS. Yet, this is an FCD squad that is unbelievably deep, embarrassingly rich with talent all over the field, and motivated and prepared by the smartest coach in the league, Oscar Pareja. Papi will cook up a brand new scheme that’ll transform them into an impossible out in the playoffs, rather than the light-em-up attacking juggernaut they would have otherwise been. He is solely responsible for FCD at 1a.

1b. Seattle Sounders — Since Brian Schmetzer was named the interim head coach on July 26, the Sounders’ record is as follows: 8W, 4D, 2L. I could stop right there, and that’d be a solid enough case, but I’d be ignoring Nicolas Lodeiro, who has resurrected the a team that was truly dead when they quit on Sigi Schmid on July 24. Lodeiro’s numbers: 4 goals, 8 assists in 12 games played (all 1,080 minutes). Also of the utmost importance: the emergence of Cristian Roldan, a willing and able midfield runner who might just extend the career of Osvaldo Alonso by two or three years. You do not want to see this team in the playoffs.

3. Colorado Rapids — Speaking of teams you don’t want to see, purely from a standpoint of “they are annoyingly difficult to play against,” the Pablo Mastroeni’s Rapids conceded 32 goals in 34 games this season. If there’s one team in MLS 2016 that simply will not beat itself, it’s the Rapids. Their ceiling is mostly limited, but their bottom-out floor is higher than perhaps anyone else’s.

4. LA Galaxy — Saying the following goes against everything we’ve witnessed the last decade or so, but the Galaxy are something of a non-starter heading into these playoffs, from a standpoint of “we have absolutely no idea who or what this team is.” Robbie Keane played just 17 games all year (just six since the beginning of August), and it’s pretty undeniably Giovani dos Santos’ team now (14 goals, 12 assists). Gyasi Zardes hasn’t played since Aug. 27, and he may or may not come back to play in the playoffs after breaking his foot. Steven Gerrard has played 118 minutes in the last 10 games. That’s a whole lot of questions, and very few answers.

5. Sporting Kansas City — A shaky defensive team prone to costly mistakes at the most inopportune of times; no real focal point offensively, from a strategic standpoint. They do have a 16-goal-scorer in Dom Dwyer, and a dynamic playmaker (at his best) in Benny Feilhaber, but but the supporting cast has been mostly “meh” all season.

6. Real Salt Lake — The final seven games of the regular season is not a great time for your longest winless run of the campaign. Four losses, three draws in the months of September and October.

Combined rankings

2. FCD
3. Sounders
4. DCU
5. TFC
6. Rapids
8. Galaxy
9. Impact
10. SKC
11. RSL
12. Union

Serie A: Napoli end losing streak; Inter Milan beaten again

CROTONE, ITALY - OCTOBER 23:   Josè Maria Callejon (R) and Dries Mertens of Napoli celebrate the opening goal during the Serie A match between FC Crotone and SSC Napoli at Stadio Comunale Ezio Scida on October 23, 2016 in Crotone, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images
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ROME (AP) A visit to last-place Crotone was just what Napoli needed to end a three-match losing streak.

Roma also won against a lowly opponent, beating Palermo to reclaim second place from AC Milan.

Inter Milan, meanwhile, lost its third straight Serie A match to increase the pressure on coach Frank de Boer.

Despite losing center forward Manolo Gabbiadini to a red card, 10-man Napoli won 2-1 Sunday to spoil Crotone’s first top-division game in its home stadium.

Jose Callejon scored 17 minutes in and Nikola Maksimovic doubled the lead in the 33rd, shortly after Gabbiadini was sent off.

Aleandro Rosi pulled one back for Crotone in the 89th.

Gabbiadini was on the ground after being fouled by Gian Marco Ferrari and reacted by flicking his boot into the back of Ferrari’s leg.

It was Gabbiadini’s first red card in 153 career Serie A matches.

Ferrari was shown a yellow.

Both of Napoli’s goals were aided by poor defense.

Callejon redirected the ball in by the far post after a cross from Dries Mertens was deflected right toward him. Recently called up to Spain’s national team, Callejon has been involved in a league-best eight goals this season with six goals and two assists.

Maksimovic also scored near the far post, following a corner.

Napoli had lost two straight in Serie A and was also beaten by Besiktas in the Champions League this week.

Napoli is fourth, four points behind Juventus and two behind Roma and Milan, which beat Juve 1-0 on Saturday.

Promoted to the top division for the first time in its 106-year history, Crotone played its first three home matches 600 kilometers (375 miles) away in Pescara while its Ezio Scida stadium was expanded to meet league regulations.

The Calabrian club remained with one point.

“We did well in a situation that could have been very difficult, because Crotone was playing at home for the first time, the pitch wasn’t worthy of a professional match and we were down to 10 men after a half-hour,” Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri said. “I’m happy that the lads will rediscover some confidence.”

Here’s a look at the rest of the action in the Italian league Sunday:

Mohamed Salah scored from a tight angle shortly after the half-hour mark after being set up by Edin Dzeko.

Leandro Paredes made it 2-0 in the 51st with a free kick that surprised Palermo goalkeeper Josip Posavec.

Dzeko added another in the 68th, finishing off a pretty series of passes with a low shot from the edge of the area for his league-best eighth of the season – the same number of goals he scored in his 31 appearances last season.

Robin Quaison pulled one back for Palermo in the 80th but Stephan El Shaarawy quickly restored Roma’s three-goal advantage.

Mauricio Pinilla scored the winner for Atalanta with a penalty two minutes from time.

After Davide Santon was whistled for a foul on Franck Kessie, Pinilla drilled the spot kick into the top left corner, leaving Samir Handanovic no chance even though the Inter goalkeeper guessed the right direction.

Andrea Masiello had put Atalanta in front with an early header and Eder equalized for Inter with a free kick after the break.

While Inter defeated Juventus in September, it’s been a difficult debut campaign in Italy for De Boer, who was hired when Roberto Mancini resigned less than two weeks before the season started.

“The only thing we can do is work hard to get out of this situation,” De Boer said. “I want to see the squad have more courage with the ball. … It’s a tough time for everyone.”

Inter captain Mauro Icardi failed to put a single shot on target after being punished by the club for his comments about the team’s hard-core “ultra” fans in his autobiography.

Atalanta, which extended its unbeaten streak to four matches, moved up to eighth while Inter dropped to 14th.

Torino and Lazio remained level on points, six points behind Juventus, after a draw that was determined with a penalty kick from Torino’s Adem Ljajic in added time.

After Iago Falque put Torino ahead midway through the first half, Ciro Immobile equalized for Lazio against his former club in the 71st with an acrobatic effort.

Substitute Alessandro Murgia scored his first Serie A goal in the 84th for Lazio before Marco Parolo was whistled for a questionable hand ball to set up Ljajic’s spot kick.

Nikola Kalinic scored a hat trick and Federico Bernardeschi added two more goals as Fiorentina won 5-3 at Cagliari.

Sassuolo and Bologna drew 1-1 in an Emilia-Romagna derby, Empoli and Chievo Verona played to a 0-0 draw in which Chievo protested for a goal even though goal-line technology showed that the ball wasn’t fully in; and French forward Cyril scored twice for Udinese in a 3-1 win over visiting Pescara.

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

La Liga: Real Madrid win late, stay top; Atleti lose to Sevilla

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 23: Alvaro Morata of Real Madrid CF celebrates scoring their second goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Athletic Club de Bilbao at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on October 23, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Coach Jorge Sampaoli felt Sevilla needed a big win against a top opponent to establish itself as a true contender in Spain.

He got just that on Sunday as his team defeated previously unbeaten Atletico Madrid 1-0 to stay near the top of the Spanish league.

French midfielder Steven N’Zonzi netted the winner in the 73rd minute at a packed Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium to give the hosts their third straight win.

“It was an important game to consolidate ourselves against a team that looked unbeatable,” Sampaoli said. “We did well against one of the best teams in the world. This victory makes me proud.”

Sevilla, which has won six straight at home, reached 20 points from nine rounds, one point behind Real Madrid, which is top after a 2-1 home win against Athletic Bilbao.

Barcelona, which defeated Valencia 3-2 Saturday thanks to an injury-time penalty kick converted by Lionel Messi, is third with 19 points.

“It’s going to be tight like this the entire season,” Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said.

There had been some early doubts about Sampaoli as Sevilla lost in the Spanish Super Cup to Barcelona and the UEFA Super Cup to Real Madrid. But after the up-and-down start, the Argentine coach has finally been able to put Sevilla on track. As well as contending in Spain, the Andalusian club is also in a good position to advance to the knockout stages of the Champions League.

Atletico, which had the lead coming into the weekend, dropped to fifth place, three points behind Madrid.

Diego Simeone’s team played with 10 men from the 77th on Sunday because of a second yellow card shown to midfielder Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion.

Sampaoli made key adjustments at halftime, allowing his team to take control of the game and earn the hard-fought victory under pouring rain in Seville.

N’Zonzi scored the winner on a fast breakaway, speeding past two defenders after receiving a great throughball from striker Luciano Vietto. The Frenchman entered the area and calmly sent a low shot into the far corner as Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak charged from the net.

Real Madrid needed an 83rd-minute winner by substitute Alvaro Morata to earn a hard-fought win against Athletic Bilbao.

Karim Benzema put Madrid ahead just seven minutes into the game at the Santiago Bernabeu, but Sabin Merino equalized in the 27th and held on for most of the match.

Morata, celebrating his 24th birthday, scored from close range less than 10 minutes after replacing Benzema. Athletic goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz made the initial save but Morata persisted and found the open net off the rebound.

“I feel like a 10-year-old,” Morata said. “We won and we are in the lead, it couldn’t have been better.”

It was Madrid’s second straight win after three consecutive draws in the league.

Madrid and Villarreal are the only unbeaten clubs in the league after nine rounds.

Athletic is sixth on 15 points, six behind Madrid.

French striker Cedric Bakambu scored the winner in second-half injury time for Villarreal, but it was Las Palmas’ Kevin-Prince Boateng who attracted all the attention with a remarkable goal before halftime.

Boateng’s side volley from inside the area came after a mid-air, back-heel pass by Pedro Tana, who flicked the ball across the area for Boateng to shoot firmly into the corner.

Still unbeaten in the league this season, Villarreal has won three of its last four games and is in fourth place with 19 points.

Celta Vigo rebounded from two consecutive losses with a comfortable home win over Deportivo La Coruna behind a pair of goals by striker Iago Aspas.

After a 4-3 loss to Barcelona and a 5-0 defeat against Villarreal, Celta cruised to victory against struggling Deportivo to move to eighth place with 13 points.

The teams were tied 1-1 when Aspas converted a 60th-minute penalty kick. Chilean midfielder Fabian Orellana added to the lead in the 78th and Aspas closed the scoring in the 83rd at the Balaidos Stadium.

Deportivo, which has lost four of its last five games, dropped to 17th in the 20-team standings.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/tales-azzoni