As it happened: Germany, Portugal sit top of Group B; Dutch lose second straight

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It was highlighted as the must-see match of group stage when UEFA drew Euro 2012 in December. After all, it isn’t every day two of the top four teams meet in the group stage of a major competition, though Netherlands-Germany wouldn’t need such grandiose context to get our attention. One of the world’s major international derbies, pride is a palpable factor whenever these neighbors meet.

Of small concern for the Dutch are reports of discontent. That’s expected after a disappointing result, but with the Netherlands having a history of being undermined by this kind of nonsense, Wesley Sneijder’s remarks are eye-opening. I fully expect Robin van Persie to say squad ethos is fine and half the locker room supports him.

First up, though, is Denmark-Portugal – two teams who have been drawn together in the last two qualifying cycles. If those results are any guide, the Danes are slight favorites.

We’ll be updating you on the day’s significant events below. In the interim, here’s some pre-match reading:

And now that you’re through skipping over the bullets, here’s Wednesday’s action:


(All times Eastern)

1636 – Netherlands 1-2 Germany, Final – Germany stay top of Group B, with the Netherlands in last place. The van Persie goal helps a potential three-way, goal difference scenario for second place, but things still look very bleak for the Dutch.

It could be worse, though. If they post a lopsided result on Portugal while Denmark fall to Germany, then they’re through.

1635 – Netherlands 1-2 Germany – Last moments, and Germany brings on Lars Bender for Thomas Muller. The Netherlands are having a difficult time getting the ball off them. Camera shows Netherlands bench with van Bommel and Robben commiserating.

1630 – Netherlands 1-2 Germany – Jerome Boateng picks up a care for time wasting. He’ll miss the next game.

1625 – Netherlands 1-2 Germany – Nope. Arjen Robben is the man coming off for Kuyt. He puts on a show by walking all the way around the pitch then shows his frustration by yanking off his kit as he approaches the bench. Apparently, he’s not sitting on the bench. He’s sitting outside his team’s dugout, frustrated at having been taken off with his team needing a goal.

1623 – Netherlands 1-2 Germany – Toni Kroos is on for Mesut Ozil, who put on quiet a show of skill, even if none of it necessarily translated into something on the scoresheet. Dirk Kuyt is going to come on for the Dutch eventually. He might take van der Wield or Willems’ place.

1614 – Netherlands 1-2 Germany – Mario Gómez is coming off. Miroslav Klose is one.

The Dutch are looking much better in their final third. They’re moving the ball better than they have all half, with Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder fully into this game.

But it’s Robin van Persie that breaks through. Taking the ball to feet from the left, he turns inside and loses Mats Hummels. A right footer from 20 yards goes into the right of goal. The lead’s only one.

1606 – Netherlands 0-2 Germany – The Netherlands have had a couple of danger-moments, but all from outside the area. Van Persie struck a very nice ball in the 58th minute, and moments ago Wesley Sneijder almost snuck a 30-yard shot far post past Neuer. Of course, Neuer’s better known as the antagonist from Jack and the Beanstalk, so it’s hard to sneak a ball back him.

Germany is still in control, though. The Netherlands as escalating, but Germany’s able to clam things when they want, with the trio of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira, and Mesut Ozil defining this match.

1547 – Netherlands 0-2 Germany – Two changes for a Netherlands team that desperately needs a shake up. Mark Van Bommel, whose last action was a frustrating takedown of Lukas Podolski, is off, as is Ibrahim Afellay. Team-first Rafael van der Vaart is on, as is Klass-Jan Huntelaar.

We’re underway.

1537 – Netherlands 0-2 Germany, Halftime – The numbers … Possession: Netherlands 59-41; Shots: 3-3; Shots on target: 2-2.

1532 – Netherlands 0-2 Germany, Halftime – For the Netherlands’, at least it’s over. Germany is up two and is playing exactly the game they want. They’re sitting back and absorbing feckless Dutch attacks before busting into attack, ruthlessly exploiting their advantage down the right. Both goals were balls played to Schweinsteiger from the right, the German midfielder’s one touch finding Mario Gomez.

What’s the point of playing both Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong if you’re going to let this happen? One of those two should be coming out to challenge Schweinsteiger before he plays the ball for the second. On the first, they didn’t even have to come out. Schweinsteiger was able to get very high up the pitch before playing the ball.

Replays show a number of other errors. Van der Wiel helps Gomez on for the first goal (Gomez with a very nice turn to take the ball), while Jetro Willems has been ruthlessly targeted.

1523 – Netherlands 0-2 Germany – Schweinsteiger. Gomez. Goal.

Neuer plays a long ball to the right that Gomez collects and plays back to Ozil. He plays back to the middle for Schweinsteiger, up plays forward to Gomez. The Bayern attack calmly puts a perfectly places shot right inside the far post. It’s 2-0.

1520 – Netherlands 0-1 Germany – So here’s how this game is going to go, if the last 10 minutes are an indication: Germany’s going to absorb the Dutch attack, and if the Netherlands want to fool around with it before entering the final third, that’s fine. Once there, Germany’s going to try to win the ball and hit the Dutch quick on the counter, and with Thomas Müller having his way with Jetro Willems, expect a number of those “hits” to come down the right.

Here’ Müller forces a foul, and Mesut Ozil’s ball into the six finds a ridiculously unmarked Holger Badstuber. He thumps it down, but it finds Stekelenburg. It’s still 1-1.

1509 – Netherlands 0-1 Germany – That was just too easy. From the get go, Netherlands had been applying no pressure high, and here it allows Mats Hummels to start a movement, hitting right to Muller. Again, not enough pressure allows Muller to curl back and in from the right, eventually squaring to the middle for Bastian Schweinsteiger (one of his first ventures forward this tournament) who plays a ball forward for Gomez. Gomez turns and finishes into the left of net, easily beating Maarten Stekelenburg.

The Dutch were just following the ball around, not doing much, and Germany was able to string together four easy passes.

1503 – Netherlands 0-0 Germany – We get the first glimpse of a tactic that should work all night. Thomas Müller beats Jetro Willems on the right floats a cross into the box, and fun ensues. A shot is eventually blocked at seven yards …

And the Dutch break into a counter that ses Ibrahim Afallay given his second opening to roll a ball to the top of the six. Between those two chances and a couple of long diagonals targeting a left-leaning Robin van Persie, perhaps the Dutch have decided Jerome Boateng is German’s weakest link.

1452 – Netherlands 0-0 Germany – Robin van Persie gets the first chance of the match after losing Mats Hummels to get onto a ball the drops near the spot. His touch goes straight to Manuel Neuer.

1445 – Netherlands 0-0 Germany – And we’re off. Netherlands kicking off going left to right in orange. Germany’s in white.

1437 – Lineups for the match that starts in just under 10 minutes. There are no surprises:

Germany: Neuer, Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm, Boateng, Khedira, Schweinsteiger, Özil, Müller, Podolski, Gomez SUBS: Wiese, Zieler, Schmelzer, Höwedes, Mertesacker, Gündoğan, Schürrle, Bender, Kroos, Götze, Reus, Klose.

Netherlands: Stekelenburg, Van der Wiel, Heitinga, Mathijsen, Willems, Van Bommel, N. De Jong, Sneijder, Robben, Van Persie, Afellay SUBS: Vorm, Krul, Bouma, Vlaar, Boulahrouz, Schaars, Strootman, Van der Vaart, Kuyt, Huntelaar, L. De Jong, Narsingh.

Big controversy with Rafael van der Vaart complaining about playing time. People saying they’re surprised Huntelaar didn’t come in. C’mon now, people. There’s a difference between what we want to happen and what we think will happen. Nobody should have expected changes at this point from Bert van Marwijk.

1436 – We’re back after writing this, our post-match report on the Portuguese victory.

1352 – Denmark 2-3 Portugal – Huge and deserved in for Portugal, and Denmark have failed to take advantage of the three points they got from the Dutch. For now, Portugal goes second in the group, Silvestre Valera the hero off the bench.

1345 – Denmark 2-3 Portugal – Minutes after coming on for Raul Meireles, Silvestre Varela has restored Portugal’s lead. A cross from the left from Fabio Coentrao sees Varela’s levt-footed try blocked. It bounces out to where Varela can turn onto a right-footed half-volley, blasting it just inside the right post.

Paulo Bento takes off Nani – who had a very, very good day – and brings on Rolando to help close this out.

1339 – Denmark 2-2 Portugal – Excellent execution by Denmark leads to a second Denmark goal that I’m not sure Portugal could have stopped. Those Ronaldo misses are looming large now.

Ball out to Lars Jacobsen deep on the right is crossed beautifully for Bendtner at the far post. Bendtner’s a good two yards wide, seven yards out and meets a ball that barely gets over Pepe. He redirects it two feet inside the post, and although Rui Patricio gets a hand to it, he can’t keep it out.

Obviously, Portugal is in big trouble now.

1336 – Denmark 1-2 Portugal – Oh, wow. How does Ronaldo not convert that one? Oliveira holds up play and squares it wide to Nani, who picks out Ronaldo’s run behind the defense. Again, he is alone on Andersen, but this time Andersen’s committed too soon. Ronaldo appears to panic a bit and just kick at it instinctively. The shot goes well wide of the right post.

1333 – Denmark 1-2 Portugal – Portugal influencing play a little bit more, as if Denmark’s having to regroup to come up with another plan. It looks like the Portuguese have this one firmly under control.

1320 – Denmark 1-2 Portugal – Portugal is ready to make their fist chance. Helder Postiga’s coming off. Nelson Oliveira will come on.

Denmark is still having the better of possession and look to be making some progress toward goal. They’re working the ball to the flanks and putting in some dangerous balls, though Pepe is starting to assert himself, leaving the Danes with no real chances.

1316 – Denmark 1-2 Portugal – Ball played long for Dennis Rommedahl ends up the hands of Rui Patricio, but the veteran winger has pulled up and immediately calls to the bench. Seems his hamstring went, and there’s no discussion. He’s coming off. Tobias Mikkelsen comes on, making his second consecutive substitute appearance.

1310 – Denmark 1-2 Portugal – Portugal just missed a great chance to restore their two goal lead. A ball for Nani played to Postiga 10 yards into Denmark’s half is dummied, allowing the ball to roll to Cristiano Ronaldo. He has enough room to get in alone on goal from 40 yards out. He pulls up just inside the box as Stephan Anderson comes out and, going for the far post, sees his shot saved.

Denmark has dominated possession in this half but have not gotten Rui Patricio involved.

1303 – Denmark 1-2 Portugal – We are back. Portugal is now moving from left to right. No further changes at halftime.

1248 – Denmark 1-2 Portugal, Halftime – After a pedestrian start, the match came to life, with Portugal going through a controlling 20 minutes before Denmark pulled one back.

By the end of the half, Denmark are stopped dropping so deep in anticipation of crosses, and they seemed much better for it. Their defenders were able to win more balls quicker, and by the end of the half, the Danes had restored their significant possession advantage.

The numbers … Possession: Denmark 58-42; Shots: Portugal 6-4; Shots on target: 4-4.

1241 – Denmark 1-2 Portugal – Beautiful goal for Denmark, and a much needed response. Nicklas Bendtner heads the Danes within one.

The play starts on the left, but Michael Krahn-Dehli hits a ball to the right for an oncoming Lars Jacobsen. He’s closed down and has to play it back to the middle for Jakob Poulsen. He plays a great ball far post for Krahn-Dehli, whose run beats Joao Moutinho. As Riu Patricio comes to defend, Krahn-Dehli heads it back across the box for Bendtner, who heads in uncontested from a yard out.

1236 – Denmark 0-2 Portugal – Since the 15-minute mark, Portugal’s been in complete control, and with Helder Postiga fishing high to the near-post on a Nani pass to the middle of the box, they’ve got a two goal lead.

Portugal’s threat on crosses into the middle had forced Denmark’s defense to prematurely recede into their area. It hurts here as Nani, on the right wing, has plenty of room to pick out Postiga coming across the box. Postiga beat Simon Kjaer to the ball and one-times it into the top of the net.

1225 – Denmark 0-1 Portugal – A corner whipped in by Joao Mountinho finds Pepe at the near post, and it’s 1-0, Portugal. Denmark was man marking, and Pepe went around a crowd of Portuguese runners to lose Daniel Agger, leaving him unmarked on Moutinho’s in-swinging cross.

1215 – Denmark 0-0 Portugal – Neither side has created a meaningful chance on goal. Denmark has had the better possession but, according to the numbers, not more of it. A big blow for the Danes: Niki Zimling is off. The midfielder had just hit a nice ball for Dennis Rommedahl, but with reports that he’d been working through an ankle problem, he’s coming off. Jakob Poulsen is on, and Morten Olsen’s down a sub.

1200 – And we have started. Denmark is in red going from left to right. Portugal is in white.

1156 – Teams are out on the field and singing their anthems Looks to be a good crowd for today’ds first game.

1154 – The patronization of Denmark continues. Scanning various pre-match punditry, the consensus is Denmark should be happy with a draw against a team like Portugal … all of which reinforces on thing: I shouldn’t be so reliant on English-language soccer coverage.

1115 –Still 45 minutes until kickoff, here are the teams:

Portugal: Patrício, Alves, Pepe, Coentrão, Pereira, Veloso, Moutinho, Meireles, Nani, Ronaldo, Postiga SUBS: Eduardo, Beto, Costa, Rolando, Lopes, Custódio, Quaresma, Micael, Viana, Almeida, Oliveira, Varela.

Denmark: Andersen, Kjær, Agger, S Poulsen, Jacobsen, Kvist, Eriksen, Zimling, Krohn-Dehli, Rommedahl, Bendtner SUBS: Lindegaard, Schmeichel, Bjelland, Okore, Wass, C Poulsen, Schøne, Silberbauer, J Poulsen, Kahlenberg, Pedersen, Mikkelsen.

Both starting lineups are unchanged since Saturday.

Today’s picks: Two 1-1 draws. Forced to say who’s more likely to win, I’d give you Denmark and Germany.

 
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.

Sky Blue’s Sam Kerr named NWSL league MVP for 2017

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CHICAGO (AP) Sky Blue FC forward Sam Kerr has been named the National Women’s Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player for this season.

Kerr, a standout on the Australian national team, had a league-record 17 goals and became the league’s fifth Golden Boot winner to also be named MVP.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

She became the first NWSL player to score four goals in a game on Aug. 19 against the Seattle Reign. Kerr rallied Sky Blue from a 3-goal deficit to beat the Reign 5-4.

Kerr’s award was announced Friday. The league had earlier announced the season’s other award winners: North Carolina’s Abby Dahlkemper was named Defender of the Year, teammate Ashley Hatch was named Rookie of the Year, Portland’s Adrianna Franch was named Goalkeeper of the Year and the Thorns’ Mark Parsons was named Coach of the Year.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!

Ozil to Manchester United?!? Wenger reacts to gossip

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Sometimes, even the biggest Arsene Wenger detractors have to feel for the guy.

Coming off a thrilling late win in Serbia, one that saw Olivier Giroud cap off a team goal straight out of the creative Wenger playbook, the manager should’ve been discussing how to stretch those good vibes into this weekend’s visit to Goodison Park.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

Yet no. Instead of talking about how the Gunners would respect the struggling Toffees, Wenger had to address speculation from several outlets claiming Mesut Ozil would move to Manchester United, perhaps as soon as January.

Feeling it? No, no Wenger was not feeling it. From Arsenal.com:

“We have to deal with all kinds of speculation when the players are at the end of their contracts. On the other hand, to be professional is to give 100 per cent as long as you are somewhere. For the rest, we came out many times and said that’s the situation. It [the media] can come out tomorrow and say that he extends his contract here. It will be exactly the same, it will not change anything. When you play the next game, commit 100 per cent. … When a player plays for Arsenal Football Club, his commitment cannot be linked with the length of his contract, it has just to be linked with the responsibility and the ambition he has to win the football game.”
Of course most big clubs have to deal with such drama on a year-to-year basis and, yes, having Ozil and Alexis Sanchez still in town was completely avoidable. But the idea that Ozil could leave, for free, to Manchester United? We’re sure Gooners the world over will be thrilled with the gossip.

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

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Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.