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.

Championship Playoff Final preview: Huddersfield Town vs. Reading

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These two teams weren’t supposed to be here, at Wembley on Monday at 10:00 a.m. ET playing for a spot in the Premier League.

Everyone talked about how beautiful Fulham played. Everyone talked about how Sheffield kept on winning. Everyone kept talking about the favorites. Everyone wrote off the other guys.

Yet here we are. Reading, owner of a +4 goal differential. Huddersfield Town, owner of a -2 goal differential. Reading, winners over Fulham thanks to a bogus handball. Huddersfield, on to Wembley after a penalty shootout in the rain.

Here we are. The game that will catapult one team to the riches of the Premier League, the game that will send another team back to the depths of the Championship, consigned to progress with the heartbreak of knowing they were so close.

[ MORE: USMNT roster announced for upcoming World Cup qualifiers ]

The Championship playoff final is one of the biggest enigmas in the European soccer landscape. Teams like Reading looking to return to familiar lands of plentiful bounty, others like Huddersfield looking for glory never experienced before.

Huddersfield has not seen top flight action since 1972, and former American international David Wagner has them on the precipice. “There were a lot of statements before the semi-finals about momentum and about form,” Wagner said. “It is another example where we have proven that experience and what has happened in the past is irrelevant. After the 120 minutes against Sheffield Wednesday there were a lot of tired legs, but now after a training camp in Portugal and training on the grass here, everybody is ready to go.”

As far as form goes, Town is struggling. They drew both legs of the Sheffield Wednesday playoff semifinal 0-0, and finished the regular season on a three-match losing streak. They haven’t won a match since April 14th.

Reading, meanwhile, finished the year with wins in seven of their final nine regular season games, and they downed an attacking Fulham side 1-0 at home in the second leg of their semifinal. They’ve been stellar at winning close games all year, winning 18 regular season games by just a single goal, and losing just four, with seven draws. If Jaap Stam can lead his side back to the Premier League, it would mark just a four-year turnaround from their previous relegation from the top flight.

Riches await the winner. The sides couldn’t be more different, and yet on Monday, they both face the same brick wall.

Epic fake injury mars Hungarian league title match

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Sometimes it works out perfectly. Two teams, a title on the line, one match to decide it.

The top two teams in the Hungarian top flight, also known as the NB I, were set to play each other on the final day of the season to decide the title winner.

Budapest Honved hosted Videoton, with the winner set to win the league title. A draw would have given Videoton the victory on goal differential.

With the match 0-0 at halftime, it progressed tensely through the second half. So tense, in fact, that the teams felt they needed to do everything in their power to earn an edge. Even fake injuries. Terribly.

34-year-old Videoton striker Danko Lazovic, a veteran who has been around Europe with Zenit St. Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen, and a host of Eredivisie teams,  looked to earn a foul in the attacking half. He put so much effort into selling the foul that, well, he went a little overboard. And by a little overboard, we mean he went berserk on the field, rolling around and flailing on his back.

There are many factors that make this an absolutely epic moment. First, his team had already earned a foul without the dive. The referee had blown the whistle for a shove moments before Lazovic went down. Second, his teammate looks to come over and help him sell the foul a little more realistically, and instead of accept his teammate’s assistance, he shrugs off the help and continues to flail. Third, as karma would have it, Honved would score the title-winning goal six minutes later as they would go on to win 1-0.

Kids, don’t try this at home. It’s not a good look.

MLS Snapshot: Atlanta United 3-1 NYCFC

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The game in 100 words (or less): Revenge, at the hands of a 3-1 scoreline. The match started out a little too fast for Atlanta, one of the quickest teams in MLS, but they settled things down and finished ruthlessly. NYCFC, meanwhile, defended miserably and failed to match the intensity of the hosts. First-round draft pick Julian Gressel was an utter menace down the right, and Miguel Almiron was decisive in front of net. NYCFC took advantage of the weekly Atlanta defensive mistake for a lifeline with 20 minutes to go, but it was too little too late.

Three moments that mattered

16′ – A big deflection off a NYCFC midfielder sprung an Atlanta attack, but the hosts took the chance well. Gressel latched onto the ball on the right edge of the box, and he cut the ball back where three Atlanta attackers were waiting unmarked. It came to Almiron, and while his finish was less than ideal, some ugly goalkeeping saw the ball slip under the armpit of a diving Sean Johnson who overshot the effort.

19′ – It came unraveled for NYCFC in a heartbeat. The right side of the defense fell asleep for a split second, allowing Hector Villaba to burst through on a ball by Yamil Asad, and Villaba finished expertly into the far top corner with Maxime Chanot unable to catch up.

23′ – Not even a half-hour gone and the game was already wrapped up, with the third goal sporting the most glaring defensive mistake by the visitors. As Gressel battled with Alexander Callens for a loose ball down the right, Callens appeared to have the edge, but instead of playing the ball, he went down under the slightest contact from Gressel. When the referee let play continue, Gressel was all by himself, and with a 4-on-1 developing, he found Almiron for the easiest of finishes.

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Man of the match: Juilan Gressel.

Goalscorers: Almiron (16′, 23′), Villaba (19′), Harrison (71′).

Serie A roundup: Roma pips Napoli for 2nd, Lazio falls

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Francesco Totti’s legendary career came to a close in fitting fashion as Roma scored a last-minute winner to secure 2nd place in the Serie A table.

On the final day of the season, Napoli’s win at Sampdoria moved them momentarily into second, but Roma snatched the spot back as Diego Perotti scored in the 90th minute to beat Genoa 3-2. Totti had come on as a 54th minute substitute.

[ MORE: Francesco Totti’s career achievements make him an all-time great ]

The win saw Roma end the season on 87 points, one above Napoli’s 86. That puts Roma into the Champions League group stage, while the third-place finish for Napoli places them in next season’s Champions League playoff round. They finish the season with a dominating 4-2 win over Sampdoria that saw four different Napoli goalscorers find the back of the net.

Below the Champions League battle, Atalanta held onto its fabulous fourth-place finish as Lazio fell 3-1 at Crotone. With Lazio already down 2-1 midway through the first half, Angolan defender Bastos received a second yellow card. Down to 10 men, Lazio still controlled the majority of possession but saw themselves outshot, only able to pop off three shots on target. The loss has no significant bearing, as both Atalanta and Lazio qualify for the Europa League group stage, while AC Milan seven points adrift in sixth makes the Europa League third qualifying round.

AC Milan finishes the season a point above rivals Inter despite a 2-1 final-day loss to Cagliari. The game was tied 1-1 down the stretch, but Gabriel Paletta was sent off with 15 minutes remaining, and Fabio Pisacane scored three minutes deep into stoppage time to give Cagliari the win.

Inter, meanwhile, finished the year on a high note as they hammered Udinese 5-2, most notably on a brace from Eder. Ivan Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic also scored in the win, while the fifth came on a late own goal. Inter finished the year on 62 points, five less than last season’s 67 which was good enough for fourth place.

Elsewhere, Fiorentina finished a disappointing season with a disappointing 2-2 home draw with last-placed Pescara, while Palermo beat Empoli 2-1 and five goalscorers helped Torino pound Sassuolo 5-2.