Offshore drilling, Euro 2012: Czech Republic 2, Greece 1

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Man of the Match: The Czech Republic did its damage wide, with Petr Jiracek making the biggest mark. Against Russia, he played in central midfield, but head coach Michal Jirek decided to sit Jan Rezek and move Jiracek wide  . The move paid off within three minutes, with Jiracek beating Jose Holebas on a run from the right, getting onto a ball from Thomas Hübschman, and putting the Czechs in front. Throughout the match, Jiracek combined with Theodor Gebre Selasse to terrorize Greece’s left flank, and when the Czechs shifted gears and looked to bleed out the match, Jiracek was one of the teams’ hardest workers.

NBC Sports: Czech Republic beats Greece 2-1

Packaged for takeaway:

  • With two goals in six minutes, the Czechs put the match away early. Of course, we didn’t know that at the time, but we should have suspected. Greece eventually came into the game but never threatened Petr Cech, their goal a gift from the Chelsea `keeper. I would call Greece’s performance disappointing, but that would be both a cliché and an understatement.
  • The second goal highlighted the two major problems Greece at the match’s onset.
    • Problem one: Their bad flank. It was another goal build down Greece’s left, a side that’s been terrible all tournament. Theodor Gebre Selasse beat Jose Holebas, got a ball into the six (barely eluding goalkeeper Kostas Chalkias), allowing Vaclav Pilar to direct a ball into the empty net.
    • Problem two: Early disorganization, uncertainty. Kostas Katsouranis played a major part in the second goal. The veteran Greek destroyer was forced into defense, with both of Greece’s first choice central defenders out (suspension and injury). A more experienced defender probably would have cleared the Gebre Selasse ball with his left foot, but Katsouranis looked uncertain. This allowed Pilar to slide in, put the winner home, notching his second goal of the tournament.
  • Soon after, Chalkias had to come off. It was the second match in a row where injury forced Santos into an early substitution. Having played from behind for most of the tournament, the Greece coach has had his hands tied.
  • Greece left back Jose Holebas has probably been the tournament’s worst player. Can you think of another player who has performed worse? I’ll admit I may not have thought about this enough, but between Poland’s success down Greece’s left and the goals the Czech Republic produces, I can’t think of another player who has done worse.
  • A series of interesting lineup changes by Santos probably hurt. Then again, he didn’t know his team was going to give up two goals early. He moved Giorgios Samaras from left forward to number nine, a chance didn’t work. Samaras couldn’t win the nice long balls Kostas Kastsouranis played forward, losing a number of aerial challenges to Tomas Sivok. When Samaras shifted back to his regular left-sided attacking role, he was one of Greece’s few bright spots.
  • In the preview, I talked about Greek youth needed to step up. Santos gave 19-year-old Kostas Fortounis a chance, putting him in the starting XI. He was not only quiet, he failed to help against Gebre Selasse, the right back giving (what on another day would be) a man of the match performance. Fortounis was eventually brought off.
  • Michal Bilek’s changes, however, worked. The left side of defense that was so leaky versus the Russians was fixed by moving Michal Kadlec in to left-center half while David Limbersky, in at left back, was one of the team’s better players. Inserting Thomas Hübschman allowed Jiracek to move outside, with Hübschman providing a nice assist on the first goal.
  • There was only two areas of concern for the Czechs:
    • Petr Cech had another howler, mishandling a soft Samaras ball sent in from 35 yards, gifting Theofanis Gekas a goal.
    • The team’s also getting nothing from Milan Baros, whose effort was discouraging. In the 60th minute, a small bump in the back from Kyriakos Papadopoulos was enough to stop Baros contending for a long ball. Those type of bumps happen on 94.6 percent of long balls (I made that number up). Minutes later, Bilek took Baros off.
  • Going forward, the Czechs are into the quarters with a win over co-hosts Poland. Greece needs a win over Russia to have a chance. Both matches kick off simultaneously on Saturday.

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.

Transfer Rumor Wrap: Liverpool rejects Barca bid for Coutinho, Roma offer for Mahrez turned down

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Liverpool isn’t planning on cashing in on one of the Premier League’s stars this summer.

Jurgen Klopp and Co. gave Barcelona a resolute “no” after Barcelona submitted a transfer bid of more than $93 million for Philippe Coutinho. Coutinho signed a new five-year contract with the club in January.

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“The main thing I think about is how we can make the next step with the players we had last season,” Klopp told reporters in Hong Kong earlier this week. “The good news is that actually we didn’t lose – and we will not lose – a player we want to keep this summer. That’s the best news actually and then we’ll see who can bring into the squad.”

Coutinho signed for Liverpool in 2013 but had a breakout year in 2015-2016, earning the PFA Young Player of the Year. Last year Coutinho became an even more consistent goal-scorer and playmaker, scoring 13 goals with seven assists in 34 Premier League appearances.

Keeping Coutinho is of supreme importance for Liverpool, which is back in the UEFA Champions League for the first time since the 2014-2015 season.

(more…)

La Liga releases schedule: First El Clasico coming in December

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It’s Christmas in July for fans of La Liga Friday as the Spanish league published its schedule for the upcoming season.

Defending champions Real Madrid travel to Deportivo La Caruña on August 20, the opening match of the season while its rival Barcelona hosts Real Betis.

As it’s La Liga, the first date most fans searched for was the first El Clasico of the season, and the biennial battles between Real Madrid and Barcelona will take place on December 20 and May 6, with Real Madrid hosting the first match.

The first match comes just ahead of the Spanish winter break, while the second match comes at a busy period at the end of the season, where both teams will be hoping to still be competing in the UEFA Champions League.

Other interesting matches to keep an eye on in the first few weeks of the season include Real Madrid hosting Valencia in week two, the Barcelona derby between Barca and Espanyol in week three and Atletico Madrid taking on Sevilla in week six.

Here’s a look at this year’s La Liga schedule.

Conte: Costa “situation was very clear” in January

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At this point, there is no doubt Diego Costa‘s future lies away from London and Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte broke his silence on the Brazilian-born Spain international striker, saying he’s been ready to move on from Costa since January, when Costa and Conte had a disagreement following a big-money offer from Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian during the winter transfer window.

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“I don’t like to talk about players who are not here but the only thing I can tell you [is that] in January, the Costa situation was very clear, for the club for him and his agent,” Conte told reporters Friday. “For me the situation is closed.”

It’s an amazing turn of events after Costa scored 20 Premier League goals in Chelsea’s title-winning 2016-2017 season, including 14 goals through the end of December. But after falling out with Jose Mourinho a year earlier, the same issue happened again under Conte, with Costa proving much less effective down the stretch.

But Conte and Costa were able to put their differences aside on the field, photographed multiple times hugging after wins, as well as after winning the title.

Costa is reportedly now agitating for a move back to his former club Atletico Madrid, but the Spanish club’s transfer ban until the next window complicates matters. In a World Cup year, would Costa be willing to sit out half a season just to leave Chelsea?

If Costa’s time in the Premier League is up, he’ll go down as one of the league’s best pound-for-pound goalscorers. He scored 52 goals in 89 Premier League appearances, with seven more cup goals in his three-year spell at Chelsea.

And if he is gone, defenders across the Premier League will sure be happy to wave goodbye.

Sparta Prague signs France midfielder Rio Mavuba

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PRAGUE (AP) Sparta Prague says it has signed France midfielder Rio Mavuba to a three-year contract.

The 33-year-old Mavuba comes from French club Lille, which he joined in 2008. Before that, he played for Bordeaux and Spanish club Villarreal.

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Mavuba was on the France team at the 2014 World Cup.

He is the 10th player signed by Sparta after Italian coach Andrea Stramaccioni took charge in May.