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.

Barcelona plan Cruyff tribute at club’s training center

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) One year after his death, Barcelona says it will name the future stadium at its training center after Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

The new stadium at Barcelona’s training center just outside the Catalan city will be called “Johan Cruyff Stadium” in honor of the club’s former player and coach.

Barcelona says in a statement that “the most emblematic building in the facility where future Barca players are coached is to be named after somebody who played such a central role in fostering youth talent at the club.”

Barcelona also says it will commission a “commemorative sculpture” of Cruyff, who died of lung cancer on March 24 last year at age 68. The statue will be placed at Barcelona’s main Camp Nou stadium.

Cruyff is largely credited with launching Barcelona’s era of trophy success, both as a player and a coach.

As a player, Cruyff joined Barcelona midseason in 1973 and led the middle-of-the-table team to its first national title in a decade.

He later returned as a coach and guided Barcelona to four consecutive Spanish leagues from 1991-94 and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

“I think the tributes are very warming,” said Cruyff’s son, Jordi Cruyff. “It sort of changes the sadness that we might feel as family to lose a father, a husband and a grandfather. It changes to a certain kind of pride to understand that he left something behind.”

MLS Snapshot: Defense optional — Crew SC outlast Timbers, 3-2

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The game in 100 words (or less): As far as teams who get out in the open field and score the lion’s share of their goals on the counter-attacking, there aren’t many MLS teams better than Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. The two sides met Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, site of their MLS Cup 2015 clash, and lived up to their reputations. Of the five goals scored, two were notched on flat-out counters and two more came to pass through quick transitional movements. Portland (9 points) dropped their first points of the season, falling 3-2 to goals scored by Justin Meram, Ola Kamara and Niko Hansen, while Crew SC have back-to-back wins and find themselves level on points (7) with the New York Red Bulls with each side having played four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Asprilla opens the scoring early on — 2017 Crew SC defending, same as 2016 Crew SC defending.

11′ — Meram fires home the rebound for 1-1 — One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses last season was their set-piece defending. Looks like not much has changed.

19′ — Higuain feeds Kamara for a 2-1 lead — The question mark that Portland will eventually have to answer is this: How much, if at all, have they improved defensively in the open field? Based on this Crew SC counter-attack, the answer might be “not much.”

45+3′ — Adi recovers to make it 2-2 — Everything Adi does these days (even the bad things, like this first touch) ends up being good.

84′ — Hansen cleans up at the back post for 3-2 — Jake Gleeson made a spectacular reaction save to deny Kamara his second goal of the game, but the rookie, making his MLS debut, was in the right place at the right time.

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

Men of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Asprilla (4′), Meram (11′), Kamara (19′), Adi (45+3′), Hansen (84′)

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia