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.

Lukaku rejects big comparisons: “I can’t say I’m in my prime”

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Romelu Lukaku has bagged a bunch of goals and played on three Premier League teams, but knows there’s another level to his game as he opens up life at Manchester United.

Rejecting comparisons to big strikers like Didier Drogba (because they’re different style players) and Robert Lewandowski (because he’s not yet at that level), Lukaku gave his thoughts about his career’s next steps.

[ MORE: Q&A with Edin Dzeko ]

Lukaku didn’t score in the PL for Chelsea, but has a 17-goal campaign on loan to West Bromwich Albion as well as 15-, 10-, 18-, and 25-goal seasons for Everton.

From Sky Sports:

“I’m 24 years of age, I cannot say I am the complete package, I can’t say I’m in my prime.

“There is still a lot of work to be done and I am delighted there is still a lot of work to be done. That means I can become even better than I am now.”

Lukaku most needs consistency in his game. Even in his massive campaign last season, he twice went four matches without a goal. While it’s possible to have fine performances but not find finish, Everton went 1W-3D-4L in those combined stretches and five of those matches were against bottom half sides.

Something tells us having Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Marcus Rashford setting him up could help, too.

Q&A: Edin Dzeko on Roma, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Champions League

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PST spoke to a quartet of AS Roma players this week as the club contends the 2017 International Champions Cup in the United States with the aim of a profile piece on i Lupi captain Daniele De Rossi’s quest for an elusive scudetto.

That piece came out well, but the conversations with some of his teammates were just as fun. While Kevin Strootman’s resilience and Hector Moreno’s Mexican ambassador status neatly fit into individual posts, our talk with ex-Man City striker and reigning Capocannoniere winner Edin Dzeko works better in Q&A form.

[ MORE: How will Chicharito slot in at West Ham? ]

Plenty has changed since Dzeko scored in Man City’s wild title-clinching finish against QPR. Dzeko talked about his surprising and explosive 29-goal Serie A season, his interest in a UEFA Champions League return to the Etihad Stadium, and a love for representing his home nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Enjoy.

PST: Obviously we know your quality from having scored 25-plus goals three times in seasons at Wolfsburg and Manchester City, but what was it like going from 10 goals to 39 in your second season at Roma?

Edin Dzeko: “It was definitely one of the best in my career. When you get up in your years you are supposed to go down, but actually I’ve gone up. I felt good and from the beginning of preseason I trained hard and it was an important season after getting to know the qualities of the teams and players in the league after my first season in Italy. Last year was big proof of it and like it always is, it was harder than it looked.”

PST: You’ve won the Bundesliga and the Premier League, the latter twice. Last season you shaved Juventus’ table advantage to four points. Can this be the year?

Dzeko: “I have hope that I can do the same in Italy. It’s definitely not easy with Juventus having it the last few years and not selling, only buying new players. Last season was really good for us. We were very close but we still dropped some easy points against the small teams and that cost us at the end. Next year we play Champions League. We changed coaches and a few players left and others came so we have to gather up to the new style of the coach and the new players have to learn what it is to play in Italy. Hopefully this season can be better than last, but we have to go step-by-step.”

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

PST: Wolfsburg had never won, and Man City hadn’t in 40-plus years. Can those experiences help in pushing Roma to its first scudetto since 2001?

Dzeko: “Hopefully. Also when I went to City and we won the first and second title, the team was probably was one of the best in England where it’s also not so easy to win the title. I have another three years contract in Rome and this town and these fans deserve a title. It’s such a shame, every year without a title for this club.”

PST: What would it mean?

Dzeko: “It would mean everything. Hopefully we will manage to do this in the next few years, but it would mean everything to them. I’d habe a lot of good feelings if Roma would manage to win the title. It would be amazing for all the players. They will love us and never forget. The people in Rome, they live for football. They live for us.”

PST: Hector Moreno mentioned that hunger in training was evident in just the few days he’s been there.

Dzeko: “You have to be hungry for good things because it’s a new young team, a new coach, and the team is step-by-step building itself in new directions. We lost four, five players from last seasons so it’s never easy to bring seven, eight new players and immediately work it out. So this preseason is important.”

(Photo by Marco Rosi/Getty Images)

PST: You’re Bosnia and Herzegovina’s all-time leading scorer, and you seem to relish international breaks and pulling on the shirt. 

Dzeko: “I’m proud of myself for what I’ve achieved because I remember when I was young and I was looking to the players, my idols, who were playing with Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s something special, we can take it to heart and I’m proud that I can be the idol of some young boys in Bosnia that can still believe they can do some good things and positive stuff in the future. When someone from our small country goes out and plays in a league like Italy, it gives the confidence for the rest of the young people that they can know that everything is possible.”

PST: You’re also pretty active in causes around Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Dzeko: “It’s important for me because it’s my country, it’s the country that gave me everything, where I grew up for 18 years before I left for Czech Republic first and then Germany, England, Italy. I want to help the people who need help because I have the possibility to do it. I will always be there for them and I’m also the UNICEF ambassador that makes me even more proud because I love kids.”

PST: Finally, Roma is in a different pot than Manchester City for this year’s UEFA Champions League. Would you like to be drawn with your old team, or prefer the clubs stay separate?

Dzeko: “I would love it, to be fair. I would love to go back there and even against City I bring so many good memories from the beautiful days and my connection with the fans and club. I would definitely look forward to it.”

Reports: Swans rebuff Everton bid for Sigurdsson; want $65M

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What’s $7-13 million amongst peers?

Swansea City has reportedly shot down either a $52 and/or a $58 million Everton bid for Gylfi Sigurdsson, offers that falls shy of Swans’ $65 million asking price.

$65 million? Why that’s almost Benjamin Mendy money.

Either way, with Sigurdsson absent from Swansea’s U.S. tour, a move seems predetermined.

[ SERIE A: Can De Rossi help Roma catch Juve? ]

The BBC says Monday’s offer was the $52m price, and that it was Everton’s first offer, though The Guardian says it’s a second $58m bid from Everton for the Icelandic playmaker who almost single-handedly ensured the Welsh side’s Premier League status last season.

Reports of an initial $52 million bid also came earlier this month.

Sigurdsson, 27, scored nine goals last season and teamed with Fernando Llorente to form a potent duo. He first made his PL impression with seven goals during a half-season loan from Hoffenheim, and moved to Spurs for a tumultuous two seasons.

He’s since recorded seven-, 11-, and 9-goal seasons for Swans.

Everton has spent big this summer and look set to have the depth to compete in both the Premier League and UEFA Europa League.

VIDEO: Chicharito talks West Ham signing, opener at Manchester United

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Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez is back in the Premier League, and will debut for his new club at the home of his old club.

The league schedulers didn’t know the Mexican striker would be a member of West Ham United on Opening Day, but nonetheless have the first weekend ending with an 11 a.m. ET kickoff between the Irons and Red Devils of Manchester United at Old Trafford.

[ MORE: How will Chicharito slot in at West Ham? ]

Combine a new home with an old haunt, and you’ve got one fired up Little Pea:

“A little bit more than my teammates probably, of course to be back to Old Trafford to start this adventure this season with my new team. It’s gonna be a very important one and I’m going to be very happy to be there.”

Hear more from the latest West Ham buy below: