Dutch forward Robin van Persie reacts du

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

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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.”

Drink.

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.

How Sevilla hope to destroy the Madrid-Barca duopoly in Spain

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 15: Samir Nasri  (2ndR) of Sevilla FC celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates during the La Liga match between CD Leganes and Sevilla FC at Estadio Municipal de Butarque on October 15, 2016 in Leganes, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Sevilla’s ambitious hopes of becoming a La Liga contender are beginning to materialize.

With an inspired team not afraid of confronting the powerhouses, Sevilla has shown it’s ready to take the next step and seriously challenge Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

One game before the halfway mark in the Spanish league, the squad revitalized by coach Jorge Sampaoli is only a point behind leader Madrid, a team it defeated in impressive fashion on Sunday.

The come-from-behind 2-1 win came thanks to another gritty performance by Sampaoli’s team, which has mixed high-intensity defense and a fast-paced attack to impose its style against opponents, no matter how strong they are.

“A victory in a game like this allows us to remain optimistic and believe that this team can continue this run if we maintain this same determination,” Sampaoli said. “Time will tell if we can succeed.”

Sevilla’s win halted Madrid’s 40-game unbeaten streak in all competitions. Sevilla had already come close to a victory midweek in the Copa del Rey, but it conceded two late goals in a 3-3 draw that led to its elimination. It lost the first leg the week before in Madrid 3-0.

“We had three difficult matches against Real Madrid and we were superior in two of them,” Sampaoli said. “We were able to beat a team that was unbeaten.”

[ MORE: PHOTO — Juventus unveil new logo, identity rebrand ]

Sevilla this season also defeated Atletico 1-0, drew at fifth-place Villarreal 0-0, and routed sixth-place Real Sociedad 4-0. It lost 2-1 to Barcelona in an encouraging display.

It has won six of its last seven league games, including four in a row. In front of its diehard fans at Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium, Sevilla has won eight of its nine games.

It lost the European Super Cup title to Madrid in extra time last year, and this season advanced to the knockout stages of the Champions League, where it will face Leicester City in the Round of 16.

Sevilla has thrived in the lower-tiered Europa League, winning three straight titles, but its last Spanish league trophy was in 1946. The last time it finished second was in 1957.

It hasn’t had this much success in the league since 2007, when a squad that included Dani Alves and Frederic Kanoute fought for the title and eventually finished third behind Barcelona and champion Real Madrid. Sevilla led the competition after 18 matches that season, but with 37 points, two less than it has now.

Sevilla, the Copa del Rey winner in 2007 and 2010, also finished third in the league in 2009.

While Atletico Madrid made its way to the top thanks to the stout defense of coach Diego Simeone, Sampaoli’s Sevilla has been balancing a competitive defense with an effective offense led by players such as Samir Nasri, Victor “Vitolo” Machin, Wissam Ben Yedder, and Luciano Vietto.

[ MORE: PL Playback — One from six; who are the title favorites now? ]

It’s the first time since the winning campaign of 1956-57 that Sevilla has scored 38 goals in its first 18 league matches. Only Barcelona (47) and Madrid (46) have scored more this season.

“This team likes to play, it likes to attack,” said Stevan Jovetic, who scored the injury-time winner against Madrid on Sunday. “There is still a long way to go and we will be fighting against some top teams, but we will keep doing our thing and see where we can end up.”

Sampaoli, the Argentine coach who arrived with high expectations this season, has made a mark by successfully rotating players. Despite not having the same budget as Madrid or Barcelona, he has been able to make the most out of the squad put together by renowned sports director Ramon “Monchi” Rodriguez.

But despite the recent success and all the hype surrounding Sevilla, president Jose Castro is trying to keep the club grounded.

“We are excited, we are one point behind Madrid, and one ahead of Barcelona,” Castro said. “We will try to win it all, but the goal is to secure a spot in the Champions (League). The Spanish league is for other teams with a bigger budget.”

Sevilla’s next game is at last-place Osasuna on Sunday.

Courtois: Chelsea can still win title without Costa

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26:  Thibaut Courtois of Chelsea celebrates his team's second goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on November 26, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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A week from now, Diego Costa may still be a Chelsea player; he may also very well be off to the Chinese Super League by then.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The beauty insanity of the transfer market — and a volatile figure like Costa, in particular — is that no one knows which path he’ll take. After being made to train on his own on Monday, the best anyone can tell you is, “It’s 50-50.”

There aren’t many sides in the world that could stand to lose the league’s top goal-scorer (14 goals in 19 appearances this season; Chelsea have played 21 games) and still win the league title, but Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois believes that the current Blues squad is one that could hold onto its seven-point lead with 17 games remaining — quotes from FourFourTwo:

“Of course we have enough quality to replace Diego. Diego is important for us, but if he’s not there for one game, we know we can handle it as well.

“Was this a message to our rivals? Yes, just to see Chelsea won 3-0 and that loss at Spurs didn’t affect us and we can play without Diego if need be. I think everybody hoped for us to drop points and we didn’t so that was very good.”

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Eden Hazard has chipped in with nine goals of his own this season — his performances have been bordering on brilliance at points — while Pedro and Willian each have five league goals to their name. 19 goals from three secondary-type scorers is what champions are made of, until you consider the only other true striker currently in the squad, 23-year-old Premier League newcomer Michy Batshuayi, has 1) made just 13 PL appearances (all as a substitute); 2) scored just once, all the way back in August.

Louis van Gone: Ex-Man United, Barca boss LvG retires from coaching

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21:  Louis van Gaal Manager of Manchester United celebrates after winning The Emirates FA Cup Final match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium on May 21, 2016 in London, England. Man Utd won 2-1 after extra time.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t supposed to end like this for Louis Van Gaal.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

In his mind, he probably imagine himself manager Manchester United for the duration of his three-year contract before riding off into the sunset after restoring the Red Devils as Premier League champions four months from now. At the very least, he’d agree to stay on one more season to complete a bit of unfinished business after narrowly missing out on the title in his third season in charge at Old Trafford.

Instead, he was fired last May, two days after lifting the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium, and has been out of a job ever since. Van Gaal’s unemployment will now continue for the rest of his days, as the 65-year-old announced on Monday that he has retired from coaching after 26 years at Ajax, Barcelona (twice), AZ Alkmaar, Netherlands (twice), Bayern Munich and Manchester United — quote from the BBC:

“I thought maybe I would stop, then I thought it would be a sabbatical, but now I do not think I will return to coaching.”

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

After the stress put upon his shoulders while at Man United, the last eight months must have felt like heaven to Van Gaal. Why on earth would anyone ever go back?

AFCON: DR Congo go top of Group C with win; Ivory Coast, Togo draw

Congo's Lomalisa Mutambala, right, with Morocco's Faycal Fajr, left, during their African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match between Congo and Morocco at the Stade de Oyem in Oyem, Gabon, Monday Jan. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
AP Photo/Sunday Alamba
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A roundup of all of Monday’s action in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations…

Ivory Coast 0-0 Togo

OYEM, Gabon (AP) Ivory Coast’s Europe-based stars stumbled in the heat of northern Gabon in their African Cup of Nations opener, with the defending champion held by Togo to 0-0 on Monday in another twist to start the tournament.

Ivory Coast’s title-winning coach fared worse as Congo beat Herve Renard’s Morocco 1-0 in the day’s second game.

Congo, a team that was on strike and refusing to train two days ago, finished with nine men on the field and on top of Group D.

Ivory Coast created few clear chances against Togo, with Wilfried Zaha‘s blocked shot in the second half after a clever run probably its best. Zaha was substituted two minutes later and, although Ivory Coast pressed hard in stages, it never broke open Togo’s well-drilled defense in the first game in Group C in the northern jungle town of Oyem.

Togo was competitive in the first half and had two good openings with around 10 minutes to go, when Kodjo Laba missed with a header from in front of goal and Mathieu Dossevi’s deflected shot dropped onto the roof of the net.

Four of the first six games at the African Cup have been draws, with Ivory Coast’s fellow title challenger, Algeria, held to 2-2 by Zimbabwe, a team that hasn’t qualified for the African Cup in over a decade. Also, host Gabon couldn’t beat outsider and tournament debutant Guinea-Bissau in the opening game.

“After Algeria-Zimbabwe and Gabon-Guinea-Bissau, we were very careful,” Ivory Coast coach Michel Dussuyer said. “But we still have two (group) matches so we are still confident.”

Togo even started better, and Dossevi was clear on goal in the 29th minute only for Ivorian goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo to smother the chance.

Zaha was at the heart of Ivory Coast’s two best attacks, first in the first half when he sped down the right wing and sent across a dangerous low cross that was scrambled away. Then, in the 68th minute, he tricked his marker with a clever turn, cut inside, and hit a low shot that was headed to goal before two Togo defenders managed to get in the way.

Senegal and Congo are the only teams to win at the tournament.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

DR Congo 1-0 Morocco

Junior Kabananga got the winner for Congo in the 55th minute after a mistake from Morocco `keeper Monir el-Kajoui. Congo’s Lomalisa Mutambala was sent off for a wild tackle in the 81st and played the last six minutes of normal time plus six minutes of injury time with nine men when captain Gabriel Zakuani went off injured with all their substitutes used up.

Still, victory was a major mood-changer for Congo, whose players refused to train on Friday and Saturday, claiming they hadn’t been paid tournament bonuses. They also posted a video on social media during their strike, where they complained about their treatment.

On Monday, Morocco was the one frustrated: Midfielder M’Bark Boussoufa hit the crossbar in the second minute. Goalkeeper El-Kajoui tried to block a cross with his feet and managed only to divert the ball to Kabananga to score the winning goal. Then, substitutes Youssef En Nesyri and Youssef el-Arabi missed late chances.

Although Ivory Coast and later Renard failed their first tests at the tournament, the Stade d’Oyem held up despite a desperate race to be ready in time, which saw workers scrambling around the venue finishing all sorts of jobs on the day of the game. Television viewers won’t have seen the construction debris that surrounds the outside of the stadium, which juts out of dense jungle canopy around 15 kilometers outside of Oyem.

Even organizers couldn’t do anything about the heat during the opening match, though, with Togo coach Claude le Roy’s shirt covered in dark sweat patches after urging his team on to a promising draw against the defending champion Ivorians.

“It was very hot. We were sweating so much,” Le Roy said. “We did what it takes. We are satisfied with the draw.”

Tuesday’s AFCON schedule

Ghana vs. Uganda — 11 a.m. ET
Mali vs. Egypt — 2 p.m. ET