Shipped from Abroad, Euro 2012: Group A’s second round memories, team of the day, and lessons

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How we’ll remember …

Czech Republic 2, Greece 1 As another reminder that Greece just aren’t that good, and we still can’t quite figure out what happened in 2004. Their second half recovery against Poland tricked us. Today they gave the tournament’s worst performance, going down two goals within the first six minutes. Their only consolation was Petr Cech’s second half gift, but in a Czech uniform, he gives one to everybody. Cech’s obligatory donation leaves a flattering scoreline.

Poland 1, Russia 1 – One of the tournament’s best-played games defuses a tinder box packed with Russian nationalism and Polish reaction. Thousands of Russia supports took to the streets of Warsaw to demonstrate on Russia Day (celebrating the country’s independence). Counter “demonstrations” saw hundreds arrested. Despite a potentially incendiary banner of great and unusual size being unfurled at the National Stadium, the action stayed on the field, with Poland taking a point from the group favorites.

Team of the day

G: Vyacheslav Malafeev, Russia
LB: David Limbersky, Czech Republic
CB: Sergei Ignashevich, Russia
CB: Damien Perquis, Poland
RB: Theodor Gebre Salesse, Czech Republic
M: Thomas Hübschman, Czech Republic
M: Eugen Polanski, Poland
W: Petr Jiracek, Czech Republic
W: Jakub Blaszczykowski, Poland
F: Alan Dzagoev, Russia
F: Robert Lewandowski, Poland
Subs: Aleksandr Anyukov, Russia; Vaclav Pilar, Czech Republic; Andrei Arshavin, Russia

Three lessons to take home

1. Wide is back en vogue – Who dominated the middle of the park? Today, who cares.

Yesterday’s matches highlighted the development. Today’s reinforced it. Bringing anger from the edges (as they’d say in helmet-pad football) is how the Czech Republic and Poland got it done.

The first instance came three minutes into the day when Petr Jiracek came from the Czech Republic’s right flank, beat left back José Holebas, and gave the Czechs a lead they’d never relinquish. In the second game, Poland got wide midfielders Ludovic Obraniak (playing wide today) and Jakub Blaszczykowski on the right to exploit Yuri Zhirkov.

Tomorrow, Thomas Müller (Germany) and Michael Krahn-Dehli (Denmark) will be back in action, each having the chance to continue the trend. The Netherlands’s defense is vulnerable, with Müller set to be matched up against 18-year-old Jetro Willems. Krahn-Dehli will be wide versus a 4-3-3 which, thanks to Portugal’s approach, needs its wings to serve as outlets high (we’ll see if Paulo Bento opens up against Denmark).

2. Fullbacks matter. They really matter – We saw two 4-3-3 formations on Tuesday (Russia and Greece), each showing why fullbacks are important both executing and attacking the systems.

Russia’s fullbacks were integral to an attack that dominated possession (57 percent, per UEFA). Yuri Zhikov was solely responsible for Russia’s width on the left, allowing Andrei Arshavin to cut in and orchestrate the attack. Aleksandr Anyukov was able to get forward and exploit a flank left vacant when Alan Dzagoev cut inside. Zhirkov and Anyukov kept opposing fullbacks Sebastian Boesnich and Lukasz Piszczek true to their original positions, preventing them from compacting the defense by collapsing inside.

At the other end, Russia and Greece’s 4-3-3 were exposed after failing to protect their fullbacks. Earlier today, I mentioned Jose Holebas has been the worst player of the tournament, but somebody who wanted to argue otherwise could offer he’s received little help from his left wing. Be it Girogios Samaras or Kostas Fortounos, Greek’s left-sided attacker either has no defensive responsibility or has abdicated it.

For Russia, they can’t leave Yuri Zhirkov by himself, but Andrei Arshavin doesn’t have the fitness to help. In the past, when Arshavin’s has been health enough to track back, he’s been ineffective (Guus Hiddink often used Diniyar Bilyaletdinov to help, but the former Everton midfielder’s not in the team).

The 4-3-3 leaves Zhirkov exposed, and while most teams won’t be able to take advantage of it, the weakness is the difference between Russia being a dark horses and legitimate contenders. Teams like Germany and Spain will not be as forgiving as the Czech Republic and Poland.

3. Group stage will start to take its toll – Long after I forget the result, I’ll remember Andrei Arshavin at the end of today’s Poland-Russia match.

Late in the game, as Russia set up to pursue a winner, the ball was worked to right-center back Aleksei Berezutskiy, who wanted to play the ball forward to Arshavin (about 12 yards in front of him). All of Russia’s attacked where going through there playmaker, but if Arashavin had anything to say about it (if he could catch his breath to get the words out of his mouth), this one was going to be different. Arshavin points back to Sergei Ignashevich (the other center half), which Berezutskiy seemed to take as a joke before playing the ball to Arshavin anyway. Of course, Arshavin immediately got rid of it, hitting it to Ignashevich before resuming his exercise in respiratory stress.

It’s an extreme example but still a reminder: Three games in nine games is going to be a lot from some of these players. Two games in four days is more than most have to deal with during their club seasons. Managers rotate their stars, protect their veterans, and only in must-win situations are players pressed. Even Chelsea, during their run to their Champions League title, had to develop two lineups to protect the team they used in Europe.

Injuries are an issue, too. Tomas Rosicky, coming off a career high in games played, left today’s Greece-Czech Republic game at halftime. An Achilles problem has him doubtful for Saturday’s match with Poland.

A fragile player even when he’s being preserved, Rosicky enters a danger zone when you try to turn him around on three day’s rest. It’s unlikely he’s the only player being pushed to (and beyond) his limits.
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.

Everton loses Coleman to leg break on Ireland duty

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A horror tackle from Wales’ Neil Taylor snapped Seamus Coleman‘s leg in gruesome fashion on Friday.

Taylor was given a red card, and Coleman was stretched off the pitch in the 0-0 draw.

[ MORE: UEFA World Cup qualifying wrap ]

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill confirmed what was apparent from the match replay: the Everton man has a broken ankle.

“It’s a bad break. He’s a fantastic player and character. It’s a major blow for the lad, his club and us.

“Apparently it wasn’t the best challenge in the world – I haven’t seen it. He’s gone to hospital. I saw his reaction immediately and it didn’t look good. He was holding is leg up and it didn’t look good.

This is not only awful for the player, but causes stress as Everton mounts its assault on the Top Six. The right back has also manned right mid for Ronald Koeman this season, and has four goals and four assists in 26 Premier League matches.

Mason Holgate, Muhamed Besic, and Phil Jagielka have played some right back for Everton, while Ramiro Funes Mori has deputized at left back.

Emotional McClean speaks after honoring deceased teammate (video)

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After wearing the No. 5 to honor of his recently deceased teammate, James McClean met with the media following Ireland’s 0-0 draw with Wales in World Cup qualifying on Friday.

McClean played with Ryan McBride at Derry City, and left Ireland camp to attend funeral services after McBride died following a match last weekend. McClean was also mourning the death of friend and Sinn Féin politician Martin McGuinness.

Throw in a gruesome injury to teammate Seamus Coleman and, in McClean’s words, “I’ve had better weeks”.

[ MORE: UEFA World Cup qualifying wrap ]

McClean, 27, spoke with evident emotion following a Man of the Match turn in Ireland’s draw (video below).

“It was a really tough week. The lads here have been great. They rallied around me. The manager was first class as well. He let me go up to Derry there on Tuesday and say my goodbyes. It’s been a tough week with Seamus injury as well. It’d been nice if we had have got a win and ended on a positive note, but it wasn’t to be.

“(McBride and McGuinness) were going through my thoughts today. I wanted to put in a performance that would make them proud. In the national anthem and the moment’s applause, holding my wee girl, it was emotional but I tried to put that in the right way into my performance. Hopefully tonight I’ve done the lads proud.”

World Cup qualifiers: Wales in trouble; Buffon hits 1000

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Friday’s matches mark the midway point of the main round of qualifying in UEFA, and the tables remain tight near the top of Groups D and G.

[ MORE: Smalling hurt, Gibson called up ]

Group I, however, is seeing some distance between first and second thanks to Croatia’s result versus Ukraine.

Republic of Ireland 0-0 Wales

Neil Taylor was sent off in the 69th minute for Wales, whose World Cup hopes are in trouble.

Seamus Coleman was stretchered off after the tackle, with a scary-looking injury that will leave Everton fans sick in more ways than one. Coleman’s leg was broken, and left dangling by the challenge.

Ireland couldn’t take advantage of the sending off, and failed in a bid to overtake Serbia for first in Group D. The Irish trail on goal differential, and will host Serbia on Sept. 5.

But Wales will rue the result more, remaining four points back of second-place Ireland. Chris Coleman’s side drops a point behind Austria as well, and will not have Taylor or Gareth Bale (card accumulation) in its next match. That comes against leaders Serbia.

Italy 2-0 Albania

Daniele De Rossi scored a 12th minute penalty kick won by Andrea Belotti, and Ciro Immobile scored late to provided the goals in Gianluigi Buffon’s 1000th appearance for club and country. Fittingly, it ended in a clean sheet. The match was briefly delayed after flares were thrown onto the field.

Spain 4-1 Israel

David Silva, Vitolo, and Diego Costa stakes the Spaniards to a three-goal lead, with Lior Refaelov ruining David De Gea‘s clean sheet with 11 minutes to play. Isco scored the match’s final goal.

Spain remains atop Group G on goal differential, eight better than second place Italy. Israel is four points behind both.

Croatia 1-0 Ukraine

Fiorentina’s Nikola Kalinic’s 38th minute goal was enough for the hosts, and Croatia is now five points clear of Ukraine and three above Iceland midway through qualifying.

Elsewhere
Austria 2-0 Moldova — RB Leipzig’s Sabitzer nabs winner
Liechtenstein 0-3 Macedonia — Ilija Nestorovski bags brace
Kosovo 1-2 Iceland — Sigurdsson PK the match winner
Georgia 1-3 Serbia — Mitrovic, Tadic lead the way
Turkey 2-0 Finland — Brace for Cenk Tosun

Boro’s Gibson called to England after injury to Man Utd’s Smalling

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Scoring goals has been the biggest problem for Middlesbrough in its return to the Premier League, and that overshadows how well the Northeast club has defended its own goal.

Ben Gibson has been a huge part of that, and now he’ll earn the chance to represent his nation thanks to an injury to Chris Smalling. Gibson will join England ahead of Sunday’s home World Cup qualifier against Lithuania.

[ MORE: Podolski leads Germany past England ]

Gibson has far and away been Boro’s best player, leading the side in blocked shots and clearances. The blocked shots total is tied for ninth in the Premier League, 11 behind current leader and new England teammate Michael Keane.

Smalling’s undisclosed injury is a bigger problem for Manchester United, which had already lost center back depth on England duty when Phil Jones was hurt.