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.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”

Boa Esporte goalkeeper back to prison as murder appeal denied

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The risk clearly wasn’t worth it for Boa Esporte.

The Brazilian club signed Bruno Fernandes de Souza in March, not long after the convicted murderer and goalkeeper was released from prison on appeal.

Fernandes, 32, had been jailed for ordering the murder of a lover, who was fed to dogs by the killer. Boa Esporte lost several big sponsors for signing him, but vocally defended the move.

The owner, Rone Moraes da Costa, said he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to revive his career. Fernandes admitted his mistakes but said he wasn’t “a bad guy”.

According to the Associated Press:

“Brazil’s Supreme Court decided on Tuesday to deny an appeal to Boa Esporte goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes de Souza, who was released in March while appealing a 22-year sentence in the 2010 killing of Eliza Samudio.”

So it’s back to jail for Fernandes, and we’ll be waiting with baited breath to hear from Boa Esporte’s owner.

Conte: Chelsea “ready to fight to the end”

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Following Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Spurs and Tuesday’s blowout of Southampton — the 4-2 score line didn’t tell the story of the second half — Antonio Conte is fired up for Chelsea to complete its Premier League title run.

The manager admits that his side was under pressure after Spurs narrowed the table gap to four points last week, but the wins have eased the Blues’ burden.

Chelsea had lost two of four PL matches before the weekend.

From Football.London:

“I think we passed a big, big psychological step after the defeat to United. We lost three points and had to prepare a semi-final against Tottenham and then another tough game in the league. In that moment we had a really important test and our answer was very good.

“We must think that this race is open, we have reached the final of the FA Cup. The situation in the league is totally open. We are ready to fight to the end. We must be proud for the job we are doing and to fight to the end.”

Spurs can bring the gap back to four with a win at Crystal Palace on Tuesday, but have a tougher run-in with five matches to play. As long as the gap is within six points, anything is possible, but the Blues have certainly answered the bell over the past four days.

Chelsea: Big win “feels like a massive step” to title

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“It feels like a massive step to be honest,” said game-changing goal scorer Gary Cahill of Chelsea’s 4-2 win over Southampton at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

Chelsea’s Premier League lead stands at seven points after the win, which saw a dominant second half from the hosts.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Perhaps it was cued up by Cahill’s first half stoppage time header, which boosted the Blues to a 2-1 lead just before the whistle.

Cahill darted in front of Diego Costa‘s scissor kick attempt to power a header past Fraser Forster.

“(Costa) tried to claim it afterward as well,” Cahill said. “When the ball’s just lofted over, it’s dying to be attacked. We went into halftime with our tails up and it was a big boost for us.”

Cesc Fabregas said Southampton surprised the Blues tactically, leading to an entertaining first half that could’ve seen either side ahead before half.

“We needed a little bit of time to adapt to what they did because we prepared for something else,” he said.

Fabregas said the win was big with second-place Spurs watching at home. Tottenham plays at Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

“We needed a good response after the Man United game. We have to keep going with five games to go, to keep it up and make the last push. It would be a big shame if now we relaxed. We just have to push now more than ever,” he said.

“It’s a statement for (Spurs), for us, for everyone, but most of all for us.”
Eden Hazard agreed.
“We scored four beautiful goals,” said the Belgian, who scored the game’s first goal. “It’s good to play before and put pressure on them.”