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.

MLS Snapshot: Red-hot RSL end Sounders’ unbeaten run at 13

Photo credit: Real Salt Lake / @RealSaltLake
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The game in 100 words (or less): With the Seattle Sounders’ 13-game unbeaten run now a thing of the past (and the final four of those games all draws), Real Salt Lake (two losses in their last two, including wins in four of their last five) might just be the hottest team in MLS not named Atlanta United (just one loss in their last 12, including wins in three of their last four; combined score: 17-3). Furthermore, Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Seattle at Rio Tinto Stadium boosts RSL into fifth place in the Western Conference, two points clear of the San Jose Earthquakes and Houston Dynamo, as Mike Petke’s side makes this year’s improbable, late charge toward the MLS Cup Playoffs, in much the same fashion Brian Schmetzer’s Sounders did a year ago. Jefferson Savarino, who scored one and assisted one on Saturday, has proven himself a star on the rise in recent weeks, and has RSL playing their best soccer of the year at exactly the right time.

[ MORE: MLS weekend preview — ATL host MTL; RSL desperate vs. SEA ]

Three moments that mattered

52′ — Savarino slams home Rusnak’s pass for 1-0 — RSL have themselves an attacking trio (Savarino, Albert Rusnak and Brooks Lennon) that loves to play together, and that joy really shines brightly in moments like this.

66′ — Mulholland slams home from Savarino’s cross for 2-0 — Savarino turned provider just 15 minutes later, getting in behind Joevin Jones, corralling Joao Plata’s through ball, and picking out Mulholland atop the six-yard box.

92′ — Rimando makes a stunning save to deny Dempsey — Clint Dempsey tried to sneak a quick free kick past Nick Rimando, but the all-time greatest goalkeeper in MLS history was over it.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jefferson Savarino

Goalscorers: Savarino (52′), Mulholland (66′)

MLS Snapshot: FCD’s winless skid hits 10 in loss to MNUFC

Photo credit: Minnesota United / @MNUFC
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The game in 100 words (or less): Just when FC Dallas think they’ve hit rock-bottom, the fall a little bit farther. Oscar Pareja’s side saw its winless skid hit 10 games on Saturday, with a 4-1 loss away to Minnesota United, a side themselves with all of three wins from their last dozen games. Gone now are the games in hand that buoyed FCD’s hopes just a few weeks ago, as they’re now level on games played with many of the sides presently ahead of them in the race for a Western Conference playoff spot, save for Real Salt Lake (level on points) and the San Jose Earthquakes (one point ahead). Following their sixth loss in 10 games, FCD remain eighth in the West, a point behind the Houston Dynamo for the sixth and final playoff place (RSL play later on Saturday with a chance to go fifth themselves. Minnesota, meanwhile, distance themselves from the 10th-place LA Galaxy and sit just six points behind FCD, having rebounded nicely after an appalling start to their expansion season.

[ MORE: MLS weekend preview — ATL host MTL; RSL desperate vs. SEA ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

14′ — Akindele arrives late, slams home for 1-0 — Tesho Akindele waltzed through the penalty area, unnoticed and unmarked, before arriving at the top of the six-yard box just in time to meet Michael Barrios’ cross.

24′ — Ramirez finishes after a beautiful through ball sets him up — Kevin Molino picked the right pass, and played it perfectly (with a bit of help from Walker Zimmerman), and Christian Ramirez made no mistake with the finish.

35′ — Ibarra volleys past Gonzalez to make it 2-1 — Ramirez turned provider on Minnesota’s second goal, lofting the ball into the penalty area for Miguel Ibarra, whose first-time take beat Jesse Gonzalez to put the home side ahead.

68′ — Shuttleworth denies Diaz from the spot — Two games, two saves from the penalty spot for Bobby Shuttleworth.

71′ — Finlay finishes some fancy build-up for 3-1 — Heartbreak on one end of the field, heartbreak on the other end of the field. Anything and everything that could go wrong for FCD, continues to go wrong for FCD.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Christian Ramirez

Goalscorers: Akindele (14′), Ramirez (24′), Ibarra (35′), Finlay (71′), Danladi (88′)

MLS Snapshot: Fire lose again, continue slide into KO round

Photo credit: MLS / @MLS
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The game in 100 words (or less): The Chicago Fire’s slide toward the mean — some might call it regression, indicating maybe, just maybe, they overachieved during the first half of the season — continued on Saturday, following a brief reprieve to begin the month. Veljko Paunovic’s side lost its seventh game in 11 outings, falling 3-1 away to the Philadelphia Union. Bastian Schweinsteiger remains sidelined with a calf injury, but the rest of Chicago’s key figures — Nemanja Nikolic, Dax McCarty, David Accam and Matt Polster remain in place. Chris Pontius did the majority of the damage on Saturday, bagging Philadelphia’s first two goals, followed by CJ Sapong for the third. Luis Solignac grabbed a consolation goal inside the final 25 minutes, but the damage had been done. The result means Chicago (48 points) remain third in the Eastern Conference, still four points back of New York City FC and just two points clear of Atlanta United, who have two games in hand.

[ MORE: MLS weekend preview — ATL host MTL; RSL desperate vs. SEA ]

Three moments that mattered

10′ — Pontius heads the cross home for 1-0 — Keegan Rosenberry cut inside and delivered a delicate, left-footed cross into the box. Pontius got away from his man and met the ball with his head at the top of the six-yard box.

55′ — Pontius again, this time on the rebound — Fafa Picault’s shot was saved by Matt Lampson, but no one followed up to boot the rebound clear. Pontius reacted quickest, and the lead was two.

64′ — Sapong pokes it home for 3-0 — This is Sapong’s 14th of the season, tying Sebastien Le Toux’s club record (2010), and reminded me once again the Peter Vermes insisted on playing Sapong as a winger for multiple seasons before trading him.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Chris Pontius

Goalscorers: Pontius (10′, 55′), Sapong (64′), Solignac (67′)

Serie A: Dybala scores two more, Juve win 4-0; Napoli perfect, too

Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images
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MILAN (AP) Paulo Dybala continued his astonishing start to the season as he netted twice to help Juventus beat 10-man Torino 4-0 in a Serie A derby on Saturday.

Miralem Pjanic and Alex Sandro scored the others after Torino midfielder Daniele Baselli was sent off after 24 minutes of the Derby della Mole.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Goals galore on a wild Saturday ]

Dybala took his tally to 10 goals in the opening six league matches, just one less than he scored in the whole of the last campaign.

Juventus stayed perfect in Serie A, as did Napoli which won at Spal 3-2 earlier.

Roma, which has played a match less, remained six points behind after beating Udinese 3-1.

Torino shot itself in the foot early on, first by gifting Juventus the lead as Baselli and Tomas Rincon gave away possession and Dybala drilled into the bottom right corner from the edge of the area.

Matters grew worse for Torino eight minutes later when Baselli, who had already been booked, clumsily clattered into Pjanic and he was shown a second yellow card and dismissed.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Goals galore on a wild Saturday ]

“I was too eager for the derby, I cared too much about this game. I made a mistake. I apologise to my teammates, our fans, the club,” Baselli wrote on Twitter.

Pjanic doubled Juve’s lead shortly before halftime, curling into the left side of the net after Juan Cuadrado cut back a cross.

Sandro headed in a corner in the 57th and it could have been more for Juventus but Torino goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu pulled off some fine saves, and Mario Mandzukic hit the post.

In stoppage time, Dybala dinked the ball over Sirigu after good linkup play between Pjanic and substitute Gonzalo Higuain.

Algeria left back Faouzi Ghoulam was the unlikely match-winner for Napoli seven minutes from time, with a run from the halfway line.

[ MORE: Mauricio Pochettino — “I am in love with Harry Kane” ]

“If Spal plays like this all year, this will be a difficult place,” Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri said.

“We don’t feel we’re the `anti Juve,’ we’re a team which is getting a lot of points and we have improved in comparison to the past years: We are more able to withstand negative moments of matches.

“We have had a good start, that gives us confidence and enthusiasm to continue working.”

Spal lost its previous three matches but took a surprise lead early when Mirco Antenucci rolled the ball across for Pasquale Schiattarella, who is from Naples, to smash it into the bottom left corner.

The home side’s lead lasted only 77 seconds. Lorenzo Insigne curled an effort inside the near post.

Spal was causing Napoli problems but it was the visitors who led in the 71st when Jose Callejon headed in Ghoulam’s cross.

[ MORE: Mourinho bewildered by sending-off; Man United beat Southampton ]

Federico Viviani put Spal back on level terms seven minutes later with a free kick but Ghoulam scored what was to be the winner shortly after.

Stephan El Shaarawy scored twice to keep up the pressure on Napoli and Juventus.

All the Roma goals came in the first half, with El Shaarawy pouncing after Edin Dzeko‘s opener.

Capital side Roma has played a match less than most Serie A teams coming into the weekend, as its fixture at Sampdoria was postponed because of bad weather.

Dzeko seems determined to retain the Serie A top goalscorer award he won last year and he opened the scoring with his fifth goal in three matches.