Ronaldo, history’s overlooked tale, and Denmark-Portugal: Wednesday’s Euro 2012 A-Side

Leave a comment

source:

When Group B was drawn, most people felt sorry for Denmark, seeing them as the group’s weakest link. It just shows you how little people care about international soccer outside of major tournaments. They weren’t paying attention to the two qualifying campaigns, where Denmark went head-to-head with Portugal and beat them.

Side 2: Your Netherlands-Germany playlist

In 2008, the countries were drawn together in Group 1 of UEFA World Cup qualifying. Denmark finished top of the group, taking four points from Portugal. In 2010, they were drawn together in Group H of Euro 2012 qualifying. Denmark finished top of the group, splitting their games with Portugal.

In 2012, the teams are drawn into Group B of the European Championships. Denmark probably won’t finish top of the group, but based on the teams’ recent meetings, there’s a good chance they’ll finish ahead of Portugal.

The craziest thing about people overlooking recent history: Portugal hasn’t won anything. Usually when teams are overrated, it’s because they won major tournaments (think France, Italy in the last two major tournaments). Portugal’s not only never won, the only time they made a major final was when they hosted Euro 2004. Denmark, on the other hand, has won a major title (Euro 1992).

But that’s all in the past. Portugal may very well be better than Denmark. We might find out on Wednesday. But there’s no reason to see the Danes a fourth of four.

Here’s your playlist for Wednesday’s noon Eastern kickoff:

Side 1: Denmark vs. Portugal

1. Miss you when you’re gone

Christian Eriksen was a non-factor on Saturday. Given the drama underscoring the result, nobody missed him, but if the 20-year-old Ajax midfielder goes the whole tournament without doing something special, all his hype will be for naught. Having led his club side (Ajax) to consecutive Dutch titles, Eriksen’s been tabbed as a potential breakout star.

How much that Dutch performance is worth is open to debate. There is this strange aura surrounding the Dutch league because of historic successes at Ajax and PSV as well as the luster of the Dutch national team. But it’s been a while since the Eredivisie was among Europe’s best leagues, something reflected in Eriksen’s stats. In his three year career, Eriksen’s been good for a goal every six games in league, and an assist in every three. In Europe, his rates fall to a goal every 11 games, an assist every seven.

How good is Christian Erikson? He looks very good to the eye. If he did some damage in this group, it would help his case.

source:  2. Sweet thoughts in my past

Denmark can’t let their past successes go to their heads, including Saturday’s win over the Netherlands. Lacking the talent of their group-mates, their successes have been built on organization and execution. Nobody watches Morten Olsen’s team and thinks “They never looked like they had a plan,” but if they make like upstarts and buy into their own hype, they’re going to stop doing the little things that have got them to this point. You know … organization and execution.

With Denmark, there’s little chance of that happening. Morten Olsen’s been in charge of the team for 12 years, an eternity for a national team coach. His players are more drilled in team’s system than anybody they’ll face in this tournament. Against a familiar opponent, they’ll be very aware of what works and what doesn’t, who to stop and who they don’t have to worry about.

Come kickoff, none of Denmark’s previous successes matter. They probably be drilled in that, too.

3. Cristiano

Cristiano Ronaldo had a good game on Saturday. He created four scoring chances, mostly exploiting one-on-one situations against Germany right back Jerome Boateng. His teammates weren’t able to convert, and Paulo Bento’s tactics left him without support, but he was still able to have an impact (albeit a small one).

That’s not quite good enough for a player that’s supposed to be the world’s best. While it’s not fair to judge Ronaldo exclusively against that standard, it is fair to say Portugal have adjusted their approach based on expectations of his performance. That means their midfield sits very deep, plays long balls behind the defense for him to run onto, and they expect him to produce.

Plan B is to the do the same with Nani (who plays right while Ronaldo plays left), but it’s a plan subject to the same shortcomings as Plan A. Much of the time Nani has the ball, he’s expected to create and finish his own chances.

The only difference: Nobody thinks he’s a failure when he can’t do the remarkable.

4. Help for him

Analysts noticed how effective Portugal was after Germany scored and they had to open up. The pressure Portugal applied over the last 20 minutes had people asking why they don’t play that way all the time. Apparently every other opponent plays as if protecting a 1-0 lead in match’s final moments?

There’s this assumption about a Portuguese style of play that’s turned into a fallacy. People assume they’re entertaining, but they rarely are. Just because they have Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t mean his teammates play like him.

Nonetheless, Portugal does need to open up. Their midfield three played far too deep against Germany, and while they almost got a point, they were also sitting ducks. When Germany made its second half adjustment and started crossing for Mario Gómez, it was a matter of which came first: the final whistle, or the inevitable Germany goal.

Against decent competition, Portugal can’t expect to hold out. They need to have something going forward, if for not other reason than to offset the goal they’ll probably allow.

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.

Arena reacts to USMNT draw, expects CONCACAF fight to end

2 Comments

Bruce Arena didn’t enjoy watching Tuesday’s 1-1 draw between the United States and Panama, but he’s not upset with the result.

“The referee didn’t blow his whistle too much, and that’s the way the game looked for 90 minutes,” Arena said.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Arena’s Yanks struggled to find their flow in the draw, ravaged by injuries to their back line. Arena praised his back four for their performance in difficult circumstances on the road with new teammates.

And he’s feeling a lot better than a week ago, when the U.S. had zero points and sat last in the table.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

“We’re obviously in better shape with four points in two games. We’ve made progress. Every game in qualifying is going to be critical for every team. Everyone’s in it. It’s going to be a battle for the second, third, and fourth spots.”

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

Panama 1-1 USMNT: Ugly, scrappy point for both sides

Leave a comment

The United States will finish the international break in the Hex’s fourth place after a 1-1 draw at Panama in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

Clint Dempsey scored off a feed from Christian Pulisic to give the U.S. a brief 1-0 lead, and Gabriel Gomez leveled the score before halftime.

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Here’s the Hex table as it stands, with the U.S. on pace for a playoff spot against Asia’s playoff winner:

Mexico — 10 points
Costa Rica — 7 points
Panama — 5 points
———————
USMNT — 4 points
———————-
Honduras — 4 points
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 points

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The first 10 minutes were a bit frenetic, with the U.S. focused on adventurous first touch passes when it managed to earn the ball from Panama.

That feel wasn’t aided by the officiating, as Cesar Ramos was inconsistent in a very physical opening quarter-hour (and never pulled a single card).

Felipe Baloy flashed a header over the cross bar off a 16th minute corner kick as he lost Jozy Altidore and nodded back across goal. It was a bit of set piece foreshadowing, as Arena has yet to fix a long-held USMNT problem.

Christian Pulisic was fired up when Luis Tejada shoved him to the turf in the 20th minute.

Tim Ream bailed out Jorge Villafana, who wasn’t as composed and smart as his Friday versus Panama, sliding to divert Armando Cooper’s cross for a corner kick.

Jermaine Jones cued up Pulisic moments later, but the youngster had to wait for a bounding ball to settle before Panama conceded a corner. That opportunity was wasted by an overly aggressive Gonzalez, who was called for a foul before the ball arrived in the 18.

Howard saw his first danger and averted it when Alberto Quintero shook Zusi to rip a shot on frame. It was 0-0 after 32 minutes.

Then, the breakthrough. Dempsey moved to within a goal of Landon donovan’s all-time mark thanks to Pulisic, who cooked Felipe Baloy and held off Roman Torres before laying off to the veteran. 1-0, 39′.

The lead lasted all of three minutes, as Gomez pounced on a loose ball with the Yanks’ back line at sixes and sevens off a long throw-in. Gomez turned off Jermaine Jones and lost Villafana to bury his chance behind Howard. 1-1, 44′.

The second half began with more chunky play until Villafana blazed down the left wing on an overlapping run to cross for Pulisic, whose shot was forced out for a corner which led to nothing.

Dempsey then turned a Michael Bradley free kick to a waiting Jaime Penedo as the Yanks started to refind their flow.

Panama found a doorstep chance when Torres nodded down for Tejada, but Howard made an exceptional nether regions “leg” save to keep it 1-1.

Arena introduced Alejandro Bedoya for Darlington Nagbe with 20 minutes to play, a move that was a testament to the physical nature of the game.

Fittingly, it was creative work from Pulisic that helped the U.S. win a corner kick soon after, though Penedo claimed the offering.

More chances came Panama’s way, as the U.S. spent much of the late stages desperately clearing loose balls. On another night, with better finishing from Tejada, the Yanks would’ve been sunk.

Three takeaways from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw at Panama

AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco
1 Comment

What did we learn from the United States’ 1-1 draw in Panama City on Wednesday?

For one thing, that the coach isn’t going to matter without a number of your very best players.

[ MORE: Match recap | Player ratings ]

The USMNT saw precious few moments of brilliance from its injury-ravaged side, saved by its soon-to-be all-time leading scorer, its 18-year-old star attacker, and its legendary goalkeeper.

But mainly, we saw that you can change the boss, but you need better performances to make a difference.

Limits of depth tested in ugly affair

Bruce Arena was without his best center back pairing thanks to injury, and you could argue he was without his best back four if you see Fabian Johnson as a left back (John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, DeAndre Yedlin, and Johnson).

The U.S. also couldn’t pair Bobby Wood with Jozy Altidore or Clint Dempsey, and lost Sebastian Lletget to injury on Friday. Timmy Chandler has rarely thrived with the USMNT, but it certainly would’ve been nice if Arena had called him up for the second match alone (He was suspended Friday for yellow card accumulation).

Given the above, this was not a pretty match. You just have to hope this isn’t the result that keeps them from Russia.

Mexico, revisited (What game plan?)

This might be an unpopular take, but Tuesday’s loss was nothing more than the performance put forth against Mexico in Columbus.

The main differences? Tim Howard was there to make a tremendous save, and Panama is nowhere near to the level of El Tri.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The Yanks didn’t have a great plan other than to outwork Panama. This isn’t a big knock on the coach’s tactics given the lack of starting caliber players noted above, but once Panama flooded the middle of the pitch with fouls and tight tackles, an answer wasn’t provided by the players or the coach.

Plan B hasn’t been a U.S. strong suit for a long time, perhaps back to the finer moments of the Bob Bradley era. Arena got away with one on Tuesday.

Rough road ahead

This is something we know, but my was it reinforced: Winning CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers at home is a necessity, because there’s carnage and bad pitches on the road.

Perhaps that could’ve changed if referee Cesar Ramos brought a yellow card out for either team at any point in the proceedings. Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe were fouled as part of Panama’s game plan, and the Yanks’ beleaguered defense went with a similar plan as the sloppy match wore into the waning moments.

The U.S. is still in control of its own World Cup destiny, of course, but simply must handle its business in remaining home matches against Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, and Costa Rica. T&T is next, and anything other than three points sends them into Azteca in a bad, bad way.

Player ratings from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw in Panama

Leave a comment

Player ratings reverted to old form after Tuesday’s 1-1 draw in Panama City, though fortunately one of the other U.S. tropes is dead.

That’s because “Christian Pulisic is the future” can officially be moved into “Christian Pulisic is the present”.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

The Borussia Dortmund teenager again manufactured the United States’ best moment, feeding Clint Dempsey for the Yanks’ lone goal.

Starting XI

Tim Howard  — 7 — Don’t know what he’s supposed to do on the goal, but his jewels save to deny Luis Tejada could be a World Cup saver.

Jorge Villafana  — 4 — One of the many star men from the win over Honduras was too adventurous and less composed. Bad combo.

Omar Gonzalez  — 4 — I say this in a way that ignores Timmy Chandler’s fine work in the Bundesliga: Is Gonzalez going to be Bruce Arena’s Chandler? Hopefully this is the last time he has to start.

Tim Ream — 5 — Had a bad time on the goal, and made several bad plays. But it’s hard to get a read on the Fulham’s man night because he bailed out Gonzalez and Villafana on a number of occasions.

Graham Zusi  — 5 — Gets bumped up a point for handling a very difficult situation, still adapting to right back in a match where Panama’s tactics were to attack his side. A better second half than the first.

Michael Bradley  — 6 — Nothing exceptional from the captain, but still an upgrade from his form under Jurgen Klinsmann. A little too deep in the formation on the evening, but that could’ve been the plan?

Jermaine Jones  (Off 75′) — 5 — Ornery as usual, his only successes came in standing up for his oft-fouled midfield mates.

Darlington Nagbe  (Off 68′) — 6  — This game looked set up for him to pick the ball up from Michael Bradley and dance into the midfield, but he only got a few chances as Panama’s tactics were aimed at fouling the Yanks’ two best dribblers in him and Pulisic.

Christian Pulisic  — 9 — A simply incredible bit of work to work two veteran defenders and assist Dempsey’s goal. Failing an unforeseen dip in company, Pulisic is going to be one of the most important players in American men’s history.

Clint Dempsey  — 6 — Scored the goal that earned the point, but otherwise fought to be a part of the match. That’s the sign of a legend, though, still finding a way to make himself matter on a poor evening.

Jozy Altidore  — 5 — Might’ve had a dozen touches in the game. Part of this was down to the U.S. aiming balls at his head and not his feet, but not his day.

Subs

Alejandro Bedoya (On 68′)  — 6 — Dogged work rate from the Union man.

Kellyn Acosta (On 75′) — 6 — Some creativity on display in limited time

Paul Arriola (On 83′) — N/A —