Spain v Italy - Group C: UEFA EURO 2012

Offshore drilling, Euro 2012: Spain 1, Italy 1

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source: Getty Images

Man of the Match: Andreas Iniesta was just on another level. There were so many small instances where he showed himself as clearly the best player on the field. It’s hard to pick out one or two, and given how subtle and mundane each instance was, the few I could pick out would surely understate his brilliance.

Every time Iniesta got the ball, he moved with a directness and intent that consistently threatened the Italian defense. He had not trouble beating one, two men off the dribble before finally having to give up the ball in the penalty area.  He teamed with David Silva and Cesc Fabregas to produce almost all of Spain’s significant chances, and the work he did off the ball guaranteed him constantly getting touches.

NBC Sports: Italy earns tie with defending champs Spain

Packaged for takeaway:

  • The match was amazing, if subtly so. Italy was well organized and found ways to constantly challenge Spain, keeping the favorites from bearing down on them. Spain incessantly asked questions but just couldn’t find the right combinations to unlock the Italian defense.
  • The buzz prematch surrounded Spain going without a striker, through the choice was barely noticed. Cesc Fabregas came in where David Villa might otherwise be, but Spain employed the same, short passing, possession, movement-based approach. It’s been a while since Villa played like a traditional striker, with the national team gravitating more and more toward Barcelona’s tactics. Today was just an extension of that.
  • It was Barcelona except Del Bosque still insisted on using both Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso. Alonso was superfluous, yet as Spain spent the last half hour looking for a winner, he stayed on. Between that choice and bringing on Fernando Torres for the last 20 minutes (more on that, later), I’m convinced Vicente Del Bosque is either a Liverpool fan or Rafa Benítez’s uncle. At this point, it’s a reasonable suspicion.
  • Spain’s best tactic was building through Iniesta on their left, avoiding the side defended by Giorgio Chiellini (with Thiago Motta in front of him) while targeting Leonardo Bonucci, Christian Maggio and Claudio Marchisio. Daniele de Rossi, dropped into a back three for the game, was called on a number of times as Iniesta and Silva picked the side apart.
  • The approach had the unfortunate consequence of marginalizing Jordi Alba. All the building on the left blocked Alba’s runs from left back. When Del Bosque brought off Silva for Jesus Navas (who played right wing), Alba came alive, his flank opened up.
  • On the other side, it seemed Spain missed Sergio Ramos at right back. Alvaro Albeloa (another former Liverpool man) was adequte, but he provided nothing going forward. The one time he ventured into attack, he put a cross out for a goal kick. With David Silva naturally cutting inside, that flank is wide open. Ramos could take advantage of it. Arbeloa can not.
  • But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Italy didn’t just sit back an let themselves be picked apart. With Antonio Cassano and the center of all their first half changes, Italy hit intermission having come closer to an opener. Cassano created three chances (two by taking on Alvaro Arbeloa), drew a foul that led to a Andrea Pirlo crack at Iker Casillas’s net, and put two shots of his own on goal.
  • Italy eventually found an opener, but Cassano wasn’t involved. Spain broke down on multiple levels, allowing Pirlo to carry a ball from deep to the edge of the attacking third, where he let go of a pass that beat Gerard Pique, allowing substitute Antonio Di Natale to run onto a go-ahead goal. Either Pique and Sergio Busquets, who allowed Pirlo to dribble around him, could have prevented the goal.
  • Spain responded two minutes later with Iniesta playing a ball to Silva, who turned near the arc and found Cesc Fabregas sprinting through the Italy defense. Fabregas buried an equalizer and, from then on, Spain was largely the more dangerous side (save a late chance for Claudio Marchisio).
  • source: Getty ImagesWithin seven minutes, Del Bosque had taken both his goal scorer and his assist man off. David Silva never saw another play, with Jesus Navas coming on before the kickoff. That change worked out well, even if it would have been better to sacrifice Alonso. The next change, bringing off Fabregas for Fernando Torres, turned comical:
    • In the 71nd minute, Torres was put in alone on Gianluigi Buffon only to have Buffon take the ball off his foot without needing to go to ground. Torres, taking the ball 28 yards from goal, had plenty of time to set up Buffon.
    • In the 82nd minute, Torres was set up for one-on-one against Chiellini, and after backing him down to the edge of the six, he failed to get provide a ball for either of his two oncoming teammates. Again, the ball was taken off his feet.
    • In the 82nd minute, he was yellow carded.
    • In the 85th minute, he was played into space between Italy’s central defenders and chipped a ball over the crossbar.
    • In the second minute of injury time, he gave away a ball with Spain on a mini-break.
  • On final note on Italy: The pressure their forwards provides really helped limit the amount of effective possession Spain could keep. Whether it was coming back to challenge Spain’s midfielders or forcing Iker Casillas into long kicks where he might otherwise want to play to defenders’ feet, the Azzurri’s pursuit high up the pitch provided a small distraction.
  • It’s a great point for Italy, but it’s unclear how much it will matter as it concerns advancing. They still have to face Croatia and Ireland, but they can do so with the certainty that they’ve left South Africa being them.
  • For Spain, it’s a disappointing result, but they didn’t play bad. They just played bad by their standards. There’s lot of room for improvement, even if Del Bosque’s unlikely to ditch Alonso. They saw what Alba can provide with a less congested left flank, and they saw the possibilities presented by their three interchanging forwards. Now Del Bosque just needs to find the right tweaks.

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.

Arsenal’s majority shareholder, Stan Kroenke, buys $725 million Texas ranch

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Well, Arsenal fans, you know that big splash in the transfer market you were hoping for? Umm, this is awkward.

[ MORE: Leicester fan set for huge bet win ]

Okay so maybe the majority shareholder of the Gunners, American billionaire Stan Kronke, isn’t directly responsible for pumping Arsene Wenger‘s transfer war chest full of money but imagine if he’d offered to give Arsenal $725 million rather than buying this incredible ranch in Texas?

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired”

Kroenke sealed the deal for the legendary Waggoner Ranch in Texas — the largest ranch within one fence-line — and he now owns over 865,000 acres of land which easily placed him among the top 10 largest landowners in the USA.

That land also equates to three times the size of the City of Los Angeles which is the city, coincidentally, that Kroenke has just moved his Rams NFL franchise to from St. Louis.

SO, what do you get for $725 million at the Waggoner Ranch? 14,000 cows, 500 horses and 1,100 producing oil wells to start with. It also lies in six counties, has 30 cowboys on the property and 120 employees overall.

[ MORE: Report – Mourinho tells friend he will take over at United

What would you get in the soccer world for $725 million? Well, Wenger could probably sign Lionel Messi, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo plus pay their wages and still have some cash left over.

Don’t get carried away though, Arsenal’s sustainable business model has seen them rise up the rankings in Forbes’ rich list and there will be no haphazard spending anytime soon. Much to the annoyance of every super-ambitious Arsenal fan out there.

That includes you, Piers Morgan…

Here’s a few pictures of what Kroenke has just bought. Preseason tour to Texas for a but of lassoing with Alexis Sanchez, Mr. Wenger?

Solo: USWNT finding new identity ahead of Olympic qualifying opener

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With the U.S. women’s national team set to kick off their CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament on Wednesday (Watch live, 8:30 p.m. ET online via Live Extra) against Costa Rica in Frisco, Texas, goalkeeper Hope Solo knows the reigning World Cup and Olympic champs will have to reinvent themselves.

She’s been here before.

[ STREAM: Olympic qualifying live ]

Following the retirement of several key players — Abby Wambach, Shannon Boxx, Lauren Holiday and Lori Chalupny among them — after their 2015 World Cup win in Canada, Jill Ellis’ team has been trying to create a new identity over the past few months.

It’s something that’s easy to say but a lot tougher to do.

“It’s really interesting. I’ve been on this team for quite some time and I’ve heard many times ‘let’s create a new identity. We have to find our own identity, this team moving forward,” Solo said. “It’s something I’ve heard quite a bit but it’s never easy to do. We’ve lost some big name players, a lot of players have retired. We have young players coming in and the Olympics are right around the corner. We have to find a way to play to the best of our ability with some older players, brand new players and everybody in-between. It’s not easy but it is not foreign to us.”

Despite all the upheaval the USWNT are still the favorites to win their fourth Olympic gold on the spin at Rio 2016 this summer.

Placed in Group A for CONCACAF qualifying for the 2016 Olympics — the top two teams from the eight-team tournament advance — alongside Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and Mexico, the U.S. should breeze into the knockout rounds where they will likely face old foes Canada in the final.

Remember, over the next 11 days you can stream all 15 games live online via NBC Sports Live Extra with up to four games also shown on NBCSN.

Here’s the full schedule as Solo and Co. aim to seal their spot in the 2016 Olympics with minimum fuss.

Leicester fan will win $50,000 from $10 bet if Foxes win Premier League

Leicester’s Jamie Vardy celebrates after scoring against Manchester United, his eleventh consecutive goal in the Premier League, during the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Manchester United at the King Power Stadium, Leicester, England, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. Vardy becomes the first man to score in 11 consecutive English Premier League soccer matches after finding the back of the net against Manchester United today.(AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
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As their odds of winning the Premier League title continue to be slashed, tales of Leicester City fans set to win an incredible amount of cash continue.

The latest story is a beauty.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired” ]

On the eve of the 2015-16 Premier League season one Leicester City fan, Chloe Cope, decided to put $10 on her side to win the title. The odds were 5,000 -1. So, with the Foxes five points clear at the top of the table with just 13 games to go, the first league title in Leicester’s 132 year history would not only bring unbeliavable amounts of jubilation to the East Midlands city but also plenty of cash for its fans. $50,000 for this Miss Cope, in fact.

The story gets even better. Check this out.

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Miss Cope’s flutter on her beloved Foxes was actually her first-ever bet. She opened up an online betting account last summer in the UK with Sky Bet and was rewarded a free $30 bet which she used to make a bet that Leicester would finish in the top six this season. That’s virtually assured so she will win another $637.

The two bets she made back on August 7 2015 are shown in the Tweet below via Jacqui Oatley.

A few other Leicester fans are also in line to win plenty of cash, but this one seems to have the most riding on it.

Will big changes in Europe threaten UEFA Champions League’s future?

FC Barcelona, 2014-15 UEFA Champions League winners
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With talk of the UEFA Champions League being threatened by a “super league” of some sort, that notion has been undermined by some of Europe’s top teams.

For now.

[ MORE: What is USMNT’s best XI?

On Wednesday in Paris the European Clubs’ Association (ECA) met at its 16th annual congress and confirmed it will seek to change the way the UEFA Champions League and Europa League is run when the current term of agreement cycle expires at the end of the 2017-18 season.

With over 200 member clubs the ECA represents many of the biggest teams on the planet with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Chelsea all included.

In the past there has been a growing notion for a European “super league” to replace the Champions League and that perennial European giants should not have to rely on qualifying for Europe via their domestic competitions.

That is one of the factors currently being discussed by the ECA, as they released the following statement after the congress in France this week.

“In light of the upcoming 2018-21 UEFA Club Competition Cycle, the clubs are currently discussing the future of UEFA’s main club competitions, namely the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League. As in the past, the clubs are in constant dialogue with UEFA to further develop and improve both competitions. All ECA Member Clubs have gathered in informal working groups to exchange initial thoughts and ideas.”

[ MORE: Reports claim Mourinho to United is “done deal”

The current ECA chairman and chairman of Bayern Munich, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, also spoke about the need to revamp both club competitions.

“I believe both ECA and UEFA are interested in an evolution of the competitions. Stagnation means regression,” Rummenigge said. “We have always jointly looked into ways to further develop and improve the competitions. It is important to find a good and balanced solution for everyone involved.”

So, overall, it seems that for now both ECA and UEFA is willing to work together to improve the current format of the UCL rather than go their separate ways and the ECA member clubs beginning their own competition, as had been mooted by Rummenigge and other high-ranking officials in the past.

What changes could be discussed for the 2018-21 UEFA Club Competition Cycle?

For me, it seems like it would be a good idea to somehow reduce the number of UCL teams who enter the group stage. That would help it preserve its elite status and potential shave two matchdays off the schedule to lessen the pressure on teams. Currently 32 teams qualify in eight groups of four teams and a total of 78 teams from across UEFA’s 54 member nations qualify for the UCL each season. 46 fall by the wayside in the qualifying rounds and many of those teams are too small to ever dream about getting anywhere near the group stages.

[ PHOTOS: New PL logo released

Perhaps just having one playoff round to make the UCL and limiting the number of spots for nations with lower UEFA coefficients is the way to go. That way those nations would back their teams competing in the Europa League and that competition will gain more prestige as a direct correlation between teams performing well in the Europa League will lead to certain nations being granted places in the UEFA Champions League. That’s the case now, but adding extra emphasis to the Europa League should be a big part of the next cycle.

The biggest situation the ECA seem to want to sort out here is how some of Europe’s biggest teams did not qualify for the UCL. The overriding notion seems to be that the ECA wants them to qualify each year. Even though the likes of past UCL winners Liverpool, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund weren’t involved in Europe’s elite competition this season, did the tournament really suffer because of it? In terms of gate revenue, perhaps, but it seems that the ECA is conflicted about the best way to get as many of its member teams involved in the elite competition as possible.

Another idea I’m just throwing out there could be to hand teams a spot in the UCL based on their current coefficient which takes into account their previous performances in UEFA Club Competitions. Perhaps four spots per season could be reserved for teams who don’t qualify for the UCL domestically, but have the highest coefficient of the non qualifiers. Just a thought.

There’s clearly plenty to sort out but it seems like — for now, at least — we haven’t seen the end of the UEFA Champions League. But tweaks will need to be made to stop it regressing.