Spain's midfielder Xavi Hernandez gives

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

1 Comment

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.

Kolo Toure undergoing medical ahead of Rodgers reunion at Celtic

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MAY 13:  Kolo Toure of Liverpool talks during the Liverpool UEFA Europa League Cup Final Media Day at Melwood Training Ground on May 13, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sky Sports reports that longtime Liverpool defender Kolo Toure has found a home under his former manager.

The 35-year-old center back was released by the Reds this summer, and is undergoing a medical ahead of joining Brendan Rodgers at Celtic.

[ MORE: Sunderland hires Moyes ]

Toure joined Liverpool from Manchester City in 2013, one year after Rodgers took the helm at Anfield.

The move would be Celtic’s second signing under Rodgers, as the Glasgow side added French forward Moussa Dembele from Fulham earlier this summer.

Report: Juve buys Higuain for $103m, tipped as precursor to Pogba sale

NAPLES, ITALY - JANUARY 31:  Gonzalo Higuain (R) and MArek Hamsik of Napoli celebrate the equalizing goal during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Empoli FC at Stadio San Paolo on January 31, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s a move that screams its own headlines, yet is being tipped as a precursor to a larger one.

According to Sky Sports, Juventus has purchased Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli for an incredible $103 million, equaling the second-highest transfer fee in football history (Cristiano Ronaldo).

Higuain is 28 years old, making the fee even harder to fathom despite his status as the reigning Serie A goal leader. His 36 goals in 35 matches was by far his best campaign, though he’s always been a productive striker.

[ MORE: Sunderland hires Moyes ]

Moreover, the massive money only fuels the fire that Juventus is possibly selling Paul Pogba to Manchester United or Real Madrid for what will certainly be a world record fee, eclipsing the $110 million Real paid for Gareth Bale in 2013.

Higuain was also tipped for a move to Arsenal, but that always seemed improbable given the reported fees and Arsene Wenger‘s preference for younger players.

It’s a huge risk for Juventus, even given the probability of Pogba money arriving in Turin.

Sunderland hires Moyes to replace Allardyce as manager

FLORENCE, ITALY - MARCH 07: David Moyes speaks during the "Panchina D'oro season 2014-2015" at Coverciano on March 7, 2016 in Florence, Italy.  (Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

SUNDERLAND, England (AP) David Moyes was hired to take charge of Sunderland as Sam Allardyce‘s successor on Saturday, returning to Premier League management two years after being fired by Manchester United.

Moyes signed a four-year contract less than 24 hours after Sunderland announced Allardyce’s departure to become England manager. Allardyce secured Sunderland’s Premier League status after inheriting a struggling team last October but the northeast club doesn’t want to be in regular relegation battles.

[ MORE: Five relegated transfer targets ]

“It is our aim to become a better, stronger and more stable football club,” Sunderland chairman Ellis Short said. “With a manager of David’s caliber and experience at the helm, we have a fantastic opportunity to begin looking upwards, rather than downwards every season.”

The 53-year-old Moyes has a managerial career to rebuild at Sunderland after three disappointing years.

The Scot’s relative success at Everton from 2002-13 earned him the high-profile job at United after Alex Ferguson’s retirement. But Moyes was fired 10 months into a six-year contract after missing out on Champions League qualification.

Moyes next headed to Spain but he was dismissed by Real Sociedad last November after a poor start to the season. Now Moyes is hoping for another period of stability in his dugout at Sunderland.

[ MORE: Steffen leaves Freiburg for Crew ]

“I have taken over a big British club, with a great support and I’m looking forward to working in the Premier League again,” Moyes said. “I look forward to continuing the good work done by Sam.”

Sunderland said it had been pursuing Moyes for almost five years.

“I have spoken with him on many occasions and I have always been hugely impressed,” Short said. “He was my number one managerial target for the last five appointments, but his desire to honor existing contracts meant we were not able to bring him to Sunderland previously.”

USWNT cruises past Costa Rica in final pre-Olympic warm up

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 09: Julie Johnston #8 of the United States shoots past Nomoumelelo Nyandeni #18 of South Africa during a friendly match at Soldier Field on July 9, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The United States defeated South Africa 1-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The U.S. Women’s National Team wasn’t really lacking confidence heading into Friday night’s clash with Costa Rica, but the squad’s utter dominance certainly didn’t hurt things as Jill Ellis’ group gets ready to head to Brazil for next month’s Olympic Games.

[ MORE: Pulisic says Klinsmann links to England job made sense ]

The USWNT captured a 4-0 win against Costa Rica in the side’s final send-off match before the Olympics, extending the no. 1 ranked team in the world’s unbeaten streak to 15 matches.

It only took a quarter of an hour the USWNT to find the lead, but it always looked like it was coming for Jill Ellis’ group. Meghan Klingenburg made a great run deep into the Costa Rica area, and played a perfect square pass across the face of goal for Crystal Dunn to give the U.S. the lead in the 15th minute.

Mallory Pugh got her name on the scoreboard in the 22nd minute after making a brilliant darting run forward and beating the Costa Rican goalkeeper at the near post.

The U.S. pushed their advantage to 3-0 on the stroke of halftime when Becky Sauerbrunn’s free kick was headed home by Carli Lloyd in first-half stoppage time.

With a number of chances in the second half that didn’t take the right bounce for the USWNT, Christen Press made no mistake from close range in the 79th minute and gave the home nation a four-goal lead.

Dunn continues to impress on the international stage, and nearly gave the U.S. an advantage after just seven minutes. The 24-year-old gathered the ball inside the penalty box before unleashing a strong effort that struck the crossbar and stayed out.

The U.S. found another dangerous opportunity three minutes later, when Carli Lloyd was brought down from behind on the edge of the penalty area. Costa Rica defender Katherine Alvarado was shown a yellow card for the rash tackle, but the USWNT couldn’t make anything of the ensuing free kick.

While Costa Rica put in a valiant effort against their competition, the Ticas were no match for the Americans, and failed to muster up any shots on target throughout the night. The 29th ranked team in the FIFA World Rankings struggled to move the ball past midfield for most of the outing largely due to the USWNT’s constant press.