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.

The 2 Robbies: North London Runs Rampant On Merseyside

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In today’s podcast, Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle talk two exciting Premier League matches. First, they discuss Tottenham Hotspur’s 4-1 win against Liverpool (0:24). Mustoe thought Spurs were gifted the win by the Reds (0:50), while Earle thought they were very impressive indeed. Then, they break down Arsenal’s 5-2 win at Goodison Park (17:38).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Vote of confidence: Bilic expected to remain West Ham manager

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Nine games into the 2017-18 Premier League season, Slaven Bilic and Ronald Koeman find themselves in a neck-and-neck race to (not) be this campaign’s first manager fired.

[ MORE: Spurs break the hoodoo, thrash Liverpool at Wembley ]

After suffering home defeats of 3-0 (to Brighton) and 5-2 (to Arsenal), respectively, this weekend, from this point forward every breath taken could be their last in their current job — unless the results begin to change, quickly. With Everton having only played on Sunday, no final decision is believed to have been made regarding Koeman’s future.

Having played on Friday and had the weekend to mull things over, though, West Ham United’s owners have reportedly decided that Bilic will remain in the job for at least another two games, a period during which he must secure his job long-term, according to a report from Sky Sports.

Up next for 16th-place West Ham is a trip to Selhurst Park to take on bottom-of-the-league Crystal Palace on Saturday. 18th-place Everton visit Leicester City on Sunday.

Pochettino’s Spurs put on show for Maradona, Kobe

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Post writers, us included, were drawn to Liverpool’s continued defensive woes following Tottenham Hotspur’s 4-1 demolition of the Reds at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

With Jurgen Klopp‘s personality and post-match quotes regarding uncapitalized goat Dejan Lovren, that’s understandable, but it would be a big mistake to not celebrate the class of Spurs on Sunday.

[ MORE: Match recap | Klopp, Matip reaction ]

Harry Kane is world class, scoring twice and providing a clever assist on another goal as Mauricio Pochettino‘s men showed the well-oiled nature of their machine.

And he was glowing on a match day that saw Kobe Bryant and one of Pochettino’s Argentine heroes, Diego Maradona, at Wembley:

“I spoke to Diego Maradona before the game, it was very emotional. He brings very good energy. He is the best player ever in football history.”

That the win is coming after a draw with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu is even more notable, considering the manners of each match. Hugo Lloris joined Kane as a star of the show of a more defensive-minded away midweek, but was merely a component as Spurs went for the jugular against the dicey defense of Liverpool.

Margins are small in the Premier League, but you could easily make an argument that Spurs are unlucky to sit five points behind Manchester City. Their star goalkeeper Hugo Lloris made gaffes in their lone league loss, to Chelsea, and a failure to finish myriad chances allowed Chris Wood‘s late goal to stand as an equalizer against Burnley.

“It is the third season that we are trying to catch someone. Manchester City are doing very well, they have an amazing squad and one of the best managers in the world. We see what happens, we believe, we will try to catch them. We are focused every day.

There’s another rough stretch ahead for Pochettino’s men, who don’t face City until Dec. 16. Presumably it’ll be second choice at West Ham in the League Cup this week before a trip to Old Trafford, and Spurs have the luxury of making that tough visit without fearing Paul Pogba on the other side of the pitch.

Then, it’s Real Madrid at home in the Champions League, a visit from Palace, and the international break. The North London Derby follows away, and Spurs will hope to have the UCL group sewn up before a trip to BVB days later.

The remaining schedule, save a trip to currently tricky Watford, would set them up to move within touching distance of City following the Dec. 16 match at the Etihad. The interim sees Man City facing Arsenal and Manchester United, so it wouldn’t be absurd to think Spurs could make up ground should City stumble (as unlikely as that looks right now).

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Klopp, Matip react to another rough Liverpool defensive showing

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Joel Matip is shouldering the blame for Liverpool’s defensive collapse against Tottenham Hotspur, while the Reds’ manager is placing it on at least partially on Matip’s partner for the first half hour.

“Most teams at home with the stand in their back are always stronger,” Matip said after the 4-1 loss at Wembley Stadium.

[ RECAP: Spurs 4-1 Liverpool ]

“I am a defender and I should take care of this. We don’t think about the title race at the moment, we only try to get back in a good mood for next week.”

As for Klopp, he’s angry as expected following the shipping of four goals to Spurs. That verb works doubly here, as giveaways and mistakes were common place amongst the Reds’ backs and midfield.

Dejan Lovren had a rough day, subbing out after 31 minutes. The injured center back played a big part in Spurs first two goals, including leaping for and missing a Hugo Lloris long ball. From the BBC:

“If I am involved in this situation on the pitch, then Harry cannot get the ball.”

“We have to realize that we are responsible for this and nobody else. Of course we can fix it and we have to fix it as well.”

Klopp also detailed what went wrong with each of the four goals, then proffering that “the game was finished then.” Right.

There’s a lot to love about Klopp, who can be a tactical wizard. But he’s also struggled to convince players of their roles, and has shipped some very decent center back depth out-of-town. The latter is the reason Klopp used a less than fit Lovren on Sunday, and it burned them against a well-oiled Spurs side.

Follow @NicholasMendola