Spain's midfielder Xavi Hernandez gives

Champions, titans, and … some other game: Sunday’s Euro 2012 playlist

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Spain, coming off their win at South Africa 2010, open their European title defense against Italy. And there’s another game, but I can’t remember who’s playing. While I figure that out, let’s talk about the main event, which just so happens to be the day’s first game (12:00 p.m. ET on ESPN).

No team has won three major championships in a row, but Spain’s on the brink. They took Euro 2008 (their first major title since 1964) and followed it by 1-0’ing their way to their first world title. Come Sunday, they’ll be without the leading scorer and best defender, but after a perfect qualifying cycle, many are still picking the world’s top-rated team to retain their title.

They’re the type of expectations people used to have of Italy, but not any more. After a disappointing Euro 2008 and failing to get out of their group in South Africa, Italy’s had to acclimatize to life as second-tier power. Cesare Prandelli replaced Marcelo Lippi with the hope that he’d usher in the next era of Italian soccer. Goalless since Nov. 11, Italy’s future’s still out of reach.

Much of the hype surrounding the match up is based on history. Spain’s the biggest name in international soccer right now, while Italy’s won five major titles hint there’s some, eternal, ever-lasting quality to their game. But that quality’s produced only one win in the last two major tournaments (in fairness, they’ve only lost twice, too). They did dominate their qualifying group, a group in which Estonia finished second.

Oh, and it turns out, the second game of the day is pretty darn good. In fact, there’s a chance it may be the more competitive of the two. Both Croatia and the Republic of Ireland have legitimate chances of coming out of this group.

It may not be the group of death, but Group C is might be the most difficult to predict.

I’ll have my picks in the live blog, which will go up later today. We’ll also have recaps, a day three review, and oh yeah: All your tournament information here.

For now, let’s get to your Euro 2012 Sunday playlist:

source:  Side 1: Things we’ve lost

1. No clue who I’ll miss more

Carles Puyol’s 99 caps would make him the most experienced player in Spain’s back line, in addition to its best. Having undergone knee surgery in May, Puyol moves to the stands to join David Villa (pictured, above), whose comeback from a December shin fracture couldn’t return him in time for Euro. His 51 goals is not only Spain’s all-time record, it’s 23 more than Spain’s next most-prolific scorer.

That scorer is Fernando Torres. If you haven’t heard, the Chelsea striker hasn’t been very good for some time now. He only scored six times in the English Premier League last season, and with Spain over the last 20 months, he’s only scored twice. This would be a significant problem for any team, but for Spain – a team that relied on Villa for five of their eight World Cup goals – it’s red alert.

At the back, only Gerard Pique will be starting in the same position he played in South Africa. Sergio Ramos moves from right back to the middle, Alvaro Arbeloa takes over on the right, while Jordi Alba has ascended to first choice left back.

The defense should be fine. The attack, though has never recovered from the changes Vicente del Bosque implemented after he took over for Luis Aragones (post-Euro 2008). He went to a double pivot, injecting Xabi Alonso into the team at the expense of David Silva. Silva’s back in the XI (thanks in part to Villa’s absence), but Spain’s still playing with fewer attackers than they should.

2. Hard to know how far we’ve come

Another major problem for Spain: Miles. How many miles have Barcelona’s stars – Xavi Hernández, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets – accumulated over the last five years? How about Alonso for Real Madrid? That’s Spain’s entire engine room.

Long club seasons with little rest. Deep runs in all competitions. A national team competing for everything it can. There’s a price to pay for that. It’s unclear whether Spain can put it off for another tournament.

source:  3. 4 to 3

Italy’s set to go three at the back, the only team in the tournament to try it. Daniele de Rossi (pictured, right), normally a deep lying midfielder, looks set to play with Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. Christian Maggio and (surprisingly) Emanuele Giaccherini are set to start as wing backs.

The formation gives Prandelli three in men in the middle along with the ability to play five at the back (or have the wing backs track released fullbacks, when needed). Midfielder Andrea Pirlo will be relied upon to make the connections with forwards Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli, who will have their hands full dealing with Spain’s pressure while they wait for their packed in teammates to transition into attack.

Who knows if it will work, but with de Rossi in defense, Italy will have one more player capable of holding the ball, preserving whatever possession they can keep from the Spaniards.

4. Mario

Mario Balotelli was controversially left off the 2010 World Cup squad. Controversy saw Balotelli leave Italy, and controversy followed him to Manchester City. Clearly, it’s hard to separate Marion Balotelli from controversy.

Here are a couple of uncontroversial things about Mario Balotelli: He’s as talented as anybody in this tournament, and Italy needs him. They have nobody in their squad that’s scored more than 10 international goals.

Whatever excuse Marcelo Lippi had for excluding Balotelli in 2010, it’s is gone. There are no more excuses.

source: Getty ImagesSide 2: B-sides and demos

5. Come and get me

Ireland is the easiest team in the tournament to predict, and coach Giovanni Trapattoni doesn’t bother hiding it. The Republic’s head coach didn’t bother naming a preliminary roster (going straight to the final team, which has since changed). He also revealed his starting lineup earlier this week.

Why? Because it doesn’t matter. Whatever combination of players Trapattoni uses will play the same way. It will be 4-4-2/4-4-1-1. They’ll sit very deep, stay compact, and value organization above opportunity.

Which is not to say that don’t value opportunity. They’re just very big on organization, which is why when they do get forward, it’s going to have to be on the backs of Kevin Doyle and Robbie Keane (pictured, above). If the forwards can bring wide midfielders Aiden McGeady and Damien Duff into the play, so be it.

That, however, is all frosting for Ireland. They allowed only seven goals (in 10 games) in qualifying. They only scored 15. Their priorities are clear.

6. Deciding if I want to go

Slaven Bilic recently described his team’s propensity to sit deep and rely on the counter as a a necessity. The Croatian defense is slow, and the midfield can’t leave it exposed. With Luka Modric distributing from the middle, Croatia can rely on one of the world’s best passers to manage their transitions.

But how does that work against a team that don’t come get you? Trappatoni is not going to let Ireland get out of their game just because Croatia wants to play another. They’ll wait out Croatia, and when Bilic changes to go for the points, Ireland will hit them.

Croatia need to have a more progressive mindset from the get go. They will undoubtedly have been working on it this week, with Bilic having said he both expected a win and doesn’t see Ireland as a threat.

source: Getty Images7. My star is burning out

Croatia’s biggest concern isn’t their opponent. It’s the fitness of their star.

Luka Modric came into camp warn down by a demanding English Premier League season. Bilic has tried to nurse him back to health, holding him out of the teams’ two pre-tournament friendlies.

There many be no team as dependent on one player as Croatia. That includes Sweden, who have gotten results without Zlatan Ibrahimovic. While it’s possible Croatia could still get out of Group C without a fit Modric, there’s no way they can make a meaningful run.

8. Forgetting what we never knew

Spain and Italy are in big letters on top of the marquee. When you drive by, you don’t even see the small print at the bottom, though they may put on a better show.

No, Croatia and Ireland are unlikely to provide as much entertainment as their big name group-mates, but the game looks closer on paper. Where Spain could post a multi-goal result on Italy, the day’s second game is unlikely to be worse than a one-goal affair.

And beyond Sunday’s game, Croatia and Ireland each have a good chance of getting out of group. With Ireland’s style and discipline, it’s not hard to imagine them catching one team and getting to five points. On the other hand, Croatia is favored to beat Ireland, and they’ve never lost to Italy.

It’s a bit sad Italy’s been allowed to overshadow Croatia and Ireland. It’s unfair to Italy, putting excessive expectations on a decent team, and it certainly undersells the group’s “underdogs.”
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.

Watch Live: Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur (Lineups and Live Stream)

AP Photo/Tim Ireland
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Tottenham Hotspur’s thin hopes of winning the Premier League demand all three points from its visit to Chelsea on Monday (Watch live on NBCSN at 3 p.m. ET and online via Live Extra).

Spurs are eight points behind Leicester City, and a loss or draw makes the Foxes the 2015-16 champions.

[ MORE: Burnley clinches promotion to the Premier League ]

Reigning champion Chelsea, in an odd twist, can play the spoiler for either its London neighbors or the fairytale Foxes.

 

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Begovic; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta; Mikel, Matic; Willian, Fabregas, Pedro; Diego CostaSubs: Amelia, Baba, Loftus-Cheek, Kenedy, Oscar, Hazard, Traore.

Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris (c), Walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose; Dier, Dembele; Lamela, Eriksen, Son; Kane. Subs: Vorm, Davies, Wimmer, Carroll, Chadli, Mason, Clinton.

“It’s magic” — Goal hero Vokes hails Burnley’s Premier League return

BURNLEY, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 02:  Sam Vokes of Burnley (obscured) scores their first goal past goalkeeper Matt Ingram of QPR during the Sky Bet Championship match between Burnley and Queens Park Rangers at Turf Moor on May 2, 2016 in Burnley, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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Sam Vokes‘ 61st minute header has Burnley back in the Premier League at the first time of asking, and there’s only one way to describe it.

Magic.

[ MORE: Bobby Wood to Hamburg for $4 million? ]

Burnley clinched automatic promotion thanks to its 1-0 win over QPR and Brighton’s draw earlier in the day. With Brighton facing Middlesbrough this weekend, only one could pass Burnley in points.

Take away the math, though, and Burnley is flying off the emotion of the 1-0 win.

From the BBC:

“It’s magic, it’s a great feeling. You could feel the anticipation around the place when we kicked off. We knew what we had to do after the Brighton result earlier. Magic scenes here today. Getting that goal sparked relief around the place. I missed a lot of the Premier League last season but hopefully I’ll get another chance next season.”

And here’s Sean Dyche, classically stoic in the face of extreme emotion:

“That was well off our performance level but the result was all that mattered today. The resilience, belief and character got us through. You can’t be brilliant every week, we don’t think we’re the real deal, but we’re a real group that sticks together.”

If you don’t know much about Burnley, we suggest Joe Posnanski’s SportsWorld piece from last season’s Premier League campaign.

Congrats to the Clarets.

Burnley clinches automatic promotion to the Premier League

PRESTON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 22:  Andre Gray of Burnley holds up one finger to indicate the score to opposing supporters as he is substituted during the Sky Bet Championship match between Preston North End and Burnley at Deepdale on April 22, 2016 in Preston, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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One claret and blue team has been relegated from the Premier League, but another is taking its place.

Sam Vokes did not score in 15 Premier League appearances last year with Burnley, but his goal on Monday boosted the Clarets back into England’s top flight.

[ MORE: Bobby Wood to Hamburg for $4 million? ]

Vokes, 26, headed home in the second half to give Burnley a 1-0 lead over Queens Park Rangers, and the Clarets held on to make sure their absence from the Premier League was a mere season long.

The win gives Burnley 90 points with one match to play. With Middlesbrough and Brighton & Hove Albion sitting on 88 points and playing each other on the final day of the season, only one winner can pass the Clarets.

Report: USMNT striker Wood would cost Hamburger around $4 million

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 29:  Bobby Wood #7 of the United States Men's National Team controls the ball against Guatemala during the FIFA 2018  World Cup qualifier on March 29, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The United States defeated Guatemala 4-0.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
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There seems to be growing interest in USMNT striker Bobby Wood, who is having a sensational season for Union Berlin in 2.Bundesliga.

Linked with Liverpool in March, Wood is now said to be desired by Hamburg in Germany’s top flight.

[ MORE: Klinsmann calls up 40 for Copa America camp ]

Hamburg’s strike corps consists of young target forward Pierre-Michel Lasogga, ‘Gladbach loanee Josip Drmic and veteran Ivica Olic.

Bild.de says the fee is around $4 million, but that the club has yet to begin discussing terms with Union.

Wood has 17 goals and 3 assists in league play this season, and has also become a mainstay with the U.S. team under Jurgen Klinsmann.

[ MORE: Timbers striker wanted by Palace, St. Etienne ]

Union Berlin is sixth in 2.Bundesliga, while Hamburg is 11th in Bundesliga.

Fellow USMNT striker Aron Johannsson has faced a long injury lay-off with Werder Bremen, while a similar situation has faced Terrence Boyd. The latter is with Red Bull Leipzig and is set for a promotion to the Bundesliga barring extreme unlikelihood over the final few weeks.