Rivalries renewed, unexpected desperation, and Netherlands-Germany: Wednesday’s Euro 2012 B-Side

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The most anticipated match of group stage kicks off at 2:45 p.m. Eastern when two of the pre-tournament favorites meet in Kharkiv, though when Germany and the Netherlands were drawn together in December, few thought their Group B meeting could be an elimination match. Both ranked among the top four in the world, most assumed the teams would advance out of Group B, which meant taking care of business against Denmark and Portugal. The Netherlands’ Saturday loss changed all that.

Side 1: Your Denmark-Portugal playlist

By the time the whistle blows, the Oranje will know if they need a result. If Denmark beats Portugal, a Germany win eliminates the Dutch. Even a draw would handcuff the Netherlands, leaving them hoping an already qualified Denmark will take full points from Germany. Though one point would keep them alive in that scenario, the Netherlands would lose control of their own destiny.

Those are the stakes for the latest iteration of one of world’s great soccer rivalries. Laced with geographic, political, stylistic, and competitive implications, the teams have met 37 teams, including the 1974 World Cup final, won by a West German team that didn’t touch the ball until after the Dutch had scored. While much of the rivalry was defined as Dutch idealism versus Germany pragmatism, the changes implemented by Dutch head coach Bert van Marwijk now make the sides more spitting images than foils.

On Wednesday, the stakes are much higher for one of those images, though after this weekend’s disappointment, the Netherlands may be pulling another facet of their past into focus.

Here’s your Group B B-Side:

Side 2: Netherlands vs. Germany

5. Catch my own fall

The Netherlands have a (perhaps exaggerated) history of internal strife undermining the national team. The most recent example was Euro 2008, when a reported battle of egos between Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder caused fissures. The team rolled through what was thought a tough group (in hindsight, it looks very easy) only to be eliminated by Russia in the quarterfinals.

For the first time since Euro 2008, the Netherlands have hit a mid-tournament pothole. In South Africa, their only setback was in the final. They never had to deal with adversity.

source:  Between the unfortunate incidents at last week’s training session, the weekend loss, and the tension of and international derby, you wonder if some clichéd specter isn’t about to reappear.

6. Walking through the back door

Right back Gregory Van der Wiel had a tough opening match, and he was supposed to be one of the good ones.

The Dutch defense was a big question mark coming into the tournament, and with one of their World Cup starters performing below expectations, the answers aren’t encouraging. Left-center half Ron Vlaar (starting ahead of Joris Mathijsen) was fine, and 18-year-old Jetro Willems alleviated some fears, but neither had enough opportunities to assuage the skeptics.

Germany gives the defense a chance to convert some doubters. Willems is going to be tested by Thomas Müller, Van der Wiel will have to stop Lukas Podolski, while the entire back six will try to contain Mesüt Özil.

If they do, they’ll not have quieted the critics. They’ll probably have won the game.

7. Intensity

Germany won’t get the steady buildup most teams get through group stage. Normally there’s a cautious opening game followed by the match that puts you in position for the final round. In that third game, you’re either already through or have to fight for your life. Regardless, the knockout stages are coming into focus.

Thanks to the Netherlands losing their first match, Germany will get third match intensity in the middle of group stage. They’re emotions Germany will need to match it if they have designs on finishing first.

Though a win will keep them at the top of the group, a draw keeps their first place destiny in their hands. They don’t need to win to have a good day.

8. No Free Rides

Like the Dutch, the Germans came into the tournament with questions surrounding their defense. Those questions were nowhere near as intense as those posed at their opponents, but there were still doubts, particularly surrounding center half Per Mertesacker, who struggled after his move to Arsenal.

Joachim Low made the tough call, benched Mertesacker, and vaulted Mats Hummels into the starting lineup. He and Mario Gomez are the only changes to the team that finished third at the World Cup. In defense, that means Jerome Boateng starts at right back, with Holger Badstuber and captain Philipp Lahm on the left.

Whether injecting Hummels was the right choice is yet to be seen. Portugal didn’t test the defense until late, when they looked quite good while doing so. Overall, there was little to learn from the back line’s first 90 minutes.

Against the Dutch, the back four should be so lucky. The Bayern Munich-heavy defense will be familiar with teammate Arjen Robben as well as Wesley Sneijder, who led the Inter Milan team that downed Bayern in the 2010 Champions League final. Then there’s Robin van Persie, the leading scorer in the English Premier League.

As with the Dutch defense, we’re likely to answers after Wednesday’s game. Given few would argue Mats Hummels is a worse player than Per Mertsesacker, this defense may be an improvement on the one that took Germany to third in South Africa.

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.

Barkley ineligible to make Chelsea debut in FA Cup replay

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Ross Barkley was expected — and himself expected — to make his Chelsea debut on Wednesday, when the Blues host Championship side Norwich City in a third-round FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge.

Alas, the 24-year-old English midfielder has been ruled ineligible due to a lesser-known and -applied rules surrounding transfers and player registration.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup | Wednesday preview ]

Barkley completed his move from Everton to Chelsea, for $20 million, on Jan. 5, the day before Chelsea and Norwich drew 0-0 at Carrow Road. In order to be eligible for Wednesday’s replay, Barkley is required to have completed his transfer prior to the noon cut-off the day prior to the original tie. While the time of official approval is unknown, Barkley’s move wasn’t announced by the club until after 5 p.m. in the UK.

As such, Chelsea will attempt to set up a behind-closed-doors friendly this week, in order to provide Barkley a bit of game action as he builds fitness and sharpness ahead of a potential debut against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). Barkley hasn’t seen a single minute of first-team action this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the summer.

FA Cup preview: Three more PL sides face 3rd-round replays

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Three more Premier League sides, including a top-four fighter, attempt to join a dozen of their top-flight contemporaries in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Wednesday…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea and Swansea City host Championship opposition in the form of Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, respectively, while Bournemouth will make the 500-mile roundtrip to take on League One side Wigan Athletic.

The Blues, who now sit fourth in the PL after their disappointing 0-0 draw with Leicester City, could manage only a scoreless draw with the Canaries at Carrow Road earlier this month. They are winless in their last four games across all competitions — all draws — including their League Cup semifinal first-leg draw with Arsenal last week; the last three of those all finished without a single goal scored. Chelsea, who are tied with Liverpool with the fourth-most FA Cups in their history (7), lost out to Arsenal in last season’s final at Wembley Stadium.

Swansea are undoubtedly the side on highest Cupset alert, as Wolves are the runaway leaders and champions-elect in the Championship (10 points clear after 27 of 46 rounds played), thus able to devote more attention to the FA Cup than the typical second-division side. With the two sides separated by just a single place in the English footballing pyramid (Swansea, 20th in the PL; Wolves, 1st in the Championship), they appear destined to swap places by the end of May.

Meanwhile, Bournemouth’s punishment for conceding a pair of early goals to a side currently 32 places below them in the pyramid, is the long, midweek trip from the south coast to the DW Stadium in the northwest of England. It was the Premier Leaguers who needed a two second-half goals, including Steve Cook‘s 90th-minute equalizer, to draw level at home in the first meeting.

Tuesday’s FA Cup replay actionFULL ROUNDUP

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town
West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town
Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Agent: 37-year-old Ronaldinho has retired

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SAO PAULO (AP) The brother and agent of 2005 Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldinho announced Tuesday that the former Brazil and Barcelona playmaker has retired from football.

Roberto Assis made the announcement to Brazilian media on behalf of the 37-year-old midfielder, who played his last professional match in 2015 for Brazil’s Fluminense.

“Ronnie’s professional career is over. He wants to be a football ambassador, do charity, and work with his friends in music from now on,” Assis told The Associated Press.

Assis hopes to schedule some farewell matches for Ronaldinho after the World Cup in Russia, which ends July 15. The initial plan is to play games in Brazil, Europe and Asia and to also get Brazil’s national team involved, Assis said.

Last July, Ronaldinho said on the sidelines of a friendly in Chechnya that was he was “too old” to return to action.

The Brazilian’s decorated career also includes one World Cup title (2002), one Champions League victory (2006) and two Spanish league titles with Barcelona, and two FIFA world player of the year awards (2004 and 2005).

Ronaldinho started his professional career at Gremio in southern Brazil in 1998. He left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2001 and was signed by Barcelona two seasons later.

At the Camp Nou, he was the engine of a team that took Barca back to the limelight. However, after a series of club trophies, Ronaldinho’s career took a downturn. He was often accused by Brazilian and Spanish media of lacking professionalism, despite his mentoring of a then youthful Lionel Messi.

In 2008, with Messi then leading Barcelona, Ronaldinho left for AC Milan. Despite being part of a team that won Serie A in 2011, he failed to reach his previous heights as a player.

When returning home became a real option, Ronaldinho frustrated Gremio’s efforts to re-sign him and joined Flamengo instead.

Disappointing performances in Rio de Janeiro took him to Atletico Mineiro, a club that then was more often fighting against relegation than for titles.

Yet a more mature Ronaldinho took Atletico to a different level.

In his last great run, Ronaldinho carried Atletico with his superb passes and dazzling dribbles to second place in the 2012 Brazilian Championship.

A year later, he was the key to his club lifting its first Copa Libertadores, South America’s most prestigious club trophy, but his hopes of playing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were dashed.

Ronaldinho left to play for Mexico’s Queretaro in 2014-15, but was mostly on the bench.

He played his last seven matches as a professional for Fluminense, though his performances were a far cry from his best days in Spain.

Now living in Rio, he has appeared in advertisements all over the world since leaving Fluminense.

USL granted 2018 2nd-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer

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U.S. Soccer has officially granted the United Soccer League second-division sanctioning, behind first-division Major League Soccer, for the upcoming 2018 season, as well as first-division status for the National Women’s Soccer League.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan unveiled by Liga MX side Club Leon ]

USL, which will feature 33 teams in 2018, had been granted temporary second-division sanctioning, alongside the North American Soccer League, in 2017. As NASL’s demise continued and accelerated — the league will not begin play this spring, opting instead for a late-summer kickoff, after a number of its teams either folded or jumped ship to USL — USL, with the help of MLS, quickly pounced to capitalize — from U.S. Soccer’s statement:

Sanctioning allows NWSL and USL to operate a Division I and II league, respectively, during the 2018 season and includes a two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards. USL has demonstrated substantial progress toward reaching full compliance since being granted provisional Division II sanctioning in 2017.

Conspiracy theorist’s take: USL supplanted NASL as the U.S.’s second-most viable professional men’s league — and more importantly, being granted official second-division status — paves the way for MLS to, at some point well down the line — say, 2030 or so — implement its own multi-tiered system of promotion and relegation, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 teams, while still remaining a single-entity structure closed to the lower reaches of the sport in America, as the lines separating MLS and USL have only become more and more blurred in recent years.

[ MORE: Donovan ready to “win championships” after ending retirement ]

MLS realizes that public demand for promotion and relegation in the U.S. has grown significantly louder in recent years — particularly given the climate of the sport after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and subsequent ongoing presidential-election campaign — thus an open-but-not-really-open system which satisfies neither side will eventually be the end result.