Offshore drilling, Euro 2012: Greece 1, Russia 0

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Man of the Match

It’s so hard to devalue Giorgos Samaras’ stellar work along Greece’s left side and later in the center. Still, it just feels so wrong not to bequeath MoM honors to the man who pounced with such menace and scored such a grand and historic goal, as Giorgos Karagounis did. Besides, Karagounis’ 120th cap tonight equaled Theodoros Zagorakis’s national record, so it really was a memorable night in Warsaw for the veteran Greek frontrunner.

NBC Sports: Greece beats Russia 1-0 to earn quarterfinal spot

Packaged for take-away

  • What is this 2004? Where seemingly better teams come and go … but somehow fall 1-0 to the Greeks?
  • Greek manager Fernando Santos made four lineup changes, reckoning a need for a very experienced lineup that included the 35-year-old Karagounis. And they played a wonderfully intelligent match, absorbing pressure, recognizing Russia’s tendency to get a bit narrow, digging up a goal and then managing out the match – all without goalkeeper Michalis Sifakis ever needing to be overly heroic.
  • Having seen his team fall behind early in Greece’s first two group matches, Santos urged his men to get into the match “straight from the referee’s whistle.” Message heard, apparently, as the Greeks pressed for about the first 10 minutes, with balls flashing dangerously across Russian goal before Andrey Arshavin and Co. got a toehold on the game.
  • Samaras started on the left but was often isolated, with midfield help slow to arrive. His ability to get past one defender and draw a second or third Russian element posed a constant threat and served the essential purpose of subtracting just enough pressure from a Greek back line and midfield that needed just that little bit of assistance. Those 15-20 pass build-ups for Russia pushed Greece further and further back in the first half, so someone had to buy some time once the Greeks did gain the ball, and it was Samaras who did so brilliantly.
  • Russia took control after 10 minutes, patiently probing for chances. But more stable shooting was the missing element, the one that ultimately keeps Dick Advocaat’s quality side from moving on. Aleksandr Kerzhakov, in particular, just couldn’t straighten out his shooting shoes. His movement off the ball was always helpful, but the former Sevilla man did his part as 25 attempts flew mostly high or harmlessly wide. Advocaat had seen enough of his off-target efforts by halftime, removing Kerzhakov.
  • Still, Russia seemed to have matters in hand – before it all turned south, when Karagounis exploited a defensive error and put the Greeks ahead just before intermission. Russian center back Sergei Ignashevich went to sleep or had a brain fart or something, heading a rather benign throw-in toward the middle, where a wide-eyed Karagonis pounced. He drove into the box and fired a ball with purpose under Vyacheslav Malafeev.
  • The goal lifted the Greeks, who were quite credible in the second half, gaining more possession and creating the higher quality chances. Giorgos Tzavellas’ exceptional 70th minute free kick got over the wall and had Malafeev beaten – but just could’t quite beat the woodwork, whacking right off the corner of the goal.
  • Karagounis probably drew a penalty kick in the 61st with a daring dash through the Russian defense. There was sure contact with Ignashevich (yes, him again), but instead of earning a spot shot Karahounis got booked (incorrectly, it appeared) for embellishment or diving or whatever. It’s a shame, because he’ll miss the quarterfinal.
  • If we’re picking nits – and we really should be, seeing as a powerful, pacey and skilled Russian side has been eliminated – perhaps Advocaat’s team was just too narrow. Even left fullback Yuri Zhirkov, who made some blistering runs forward, tended to move inside as he broached the attacking third.
  • Things became even more congested for Russia as the Greeks’ 4-2-3-1 became a 4-5-1 after the break, with wide men Samaras and Dimitris Salpingidis moving their starting positions back about 15-20 yards.
  • Had to say whether it was brilliant, collective midfield tracking and defending, or whether the old Arsenal form for Arshavin popped up at the worst time. Either way, the roaming Russian playmaker simply wasn’t to be found in the second half. He disappeared almost completely for about 20 minutes, finally showing up late to supply a couple of flicks and crosses that almost connected.

Premier League Power Rankings

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Which players are on fire in the Premier League?

[ MORE: Power Rankings archive ]

Players from Tottenham and Liverpool feature prominently in our latest top 20 after four wins from their last five for both teams, while some of Manchester United’s stars continue to rise.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections.


  1. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – Up 5
  2. Harry Kane (Tottenham) – Up 1
  3. Heung-Min Son (Tottenham) – Up 5
  4. Paul Pogba (Man United) – Up 9
  5. Marko Arnautovic (West Ham) – Up 10
  6. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Down 6
  7. Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City) – Down 3
  8. Jesse Lingard (Man United) – Down 6
  9. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) – Up 2
  10. David De Gea (Man United) – Even
  11. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – New entry
  12. Anthony Martial (Man United) – New entry
  13. Leroy Sane (Man City) – Up 1
  14. Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – Down 4
  15. Raheem Sterling (Man City) – Down 9
  16. Ederson (Man City) – Down 7
  17. Dele Alli (Tottenham) – New entry
  18. Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea) – New entry
  19. Antonio Valencia (Man United) – New entry
  20. Bakary Sako (Crystal Palace) – New entry

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Aubameyang to Arsenal; Sturridge to leave

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Borussia Dortmund are not happy with Arsenal over Arsene Wenger‘s comments about their star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

[ MORE: Sanchez to United “likely”

The Gabonese striker, 28, was left out of their squad last weekend due to disciplinary problems and it is believed a fee of $76 million would be enough for Dortmund to sell the top scorer in the Bundesliga last season.

Arsenal have been linked with a move for the striker with Alexis Sanchez’s move to Manchester United “likely” to happen, but when asked about Arsenal’s reported interest in Aubameyang on Thursday, Wenger was coy on any deal.

However Dortmund’s sporting director, Michael Zorc, was not, as he hit out in a magazine interview.

“We find it disrespectful to speak about players of other clubs”, Zorc said. “There is no contact with Arsenal. We assumed that Arsene Wenger would have enough to do to take care of the performances of his own players.”

Dortmund’s manager, Peter Stoger, has since said he assumes that Aubameyang will stay and learn from his latest mistake, which was being late for a meeting.

What could the forward bring to Arsenal if he did leave Dortmund? Goals. And lots of them. It has been reported that the Gunners could offer Olivier Giroud as part of the deal, which could soften the blow of Aubameyang’s exit for the Germany giants, and if there’s a chance this deal can get done, Arsenal should do it.

Despite issues with his behavior off the pitch, Aubameyang has always delivered on the pitch. He has scored 141 goals in 212 games in all competitions, including 21 in 23 games this season and 40 in 46 appearances last season.

With Sanchez on his way, Aubameyang’s arrival, and reuniting him with Henrikh Mkhitaryan (who looks set to join Arsenal from Man United) could get the Arsenal fans back on board (still a big maybe…) after a disastrous start to 2018 for Wenger’s men.


Daniel Sturridge is said to be interesting both Sevilla and Inter Milan.

The Liverpool forward, 28, is in serious jeopardy of not making England’s squad for the World Cup this summer as he continues to warm the bench at Anfield with Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane ahead of him in the pecking order. Jurgen Klopp just doesn’t have a need for Sturridge’s style of play and prefers the movement and industry of Firmino instead of Sturridge’s instinctive finishing.

According to Sky Sports, La Liga side Sevilla want to take Sturridge on loan for the rest of the season, while the BBC say that Inter Milan are also interested in a loan move for Sturridge.

The main issue here is that Liverpool are only interested in a permanent deal for Sturridge, who they value at $45 million. Given the fact that he has suffered multiple injuries over the past three seasons and has 18 months left on his current contract it is highly unlikely anyone will stump up that kind of cash, despite his obvious top-class finishing ability.

Sturridge will surely move on in January with his World Cup spot on the line. Sevilla are in the Champions League last 16 and in La Liga’s top four, while Inter are pushing for the Italian title. Either would welcome Sturridge’s predatory instincts and it appears that if the Englishman wants to stay in the PL he will have to settle for a move to a team in midtable or battling against relegation. A move abroad could be the smart play on his behalf.

Teething problems intensify the VAR debate

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It doesn’t matter if you are a fan of VAR or you aren’t. It’s going to happen. Get used to it.

With Video Assistant Referees trialed in English soccer for the first time over the past few weeks during both FA Cup and League Cup games, the debate has intensified around its value and how it should be used.

First off, let’s define exactly when VAR will be used. According to the International Football Association Board (IFAB) guidelines, VAR will only be used to “correct clear errors and for missed serious incidents” which have “match changing” outcomes.

The four areas VAR can be used for are:

  • Goals
  • Penalty kicks
  • Red cards
  • Mistaken identity

It is important to remember that the referee on the pitch is the only one who can sanction whether a video review is necessary after consulting with VAR officials who are watching on monitors and recommend, via an ear piece, if certain instances are worth a second look. The referee can then go and take a look at the incident on a TV monitor on the side of the pitch himself, if necessary, before either keeping his original decision or changing his mind.

So, with all that in mind, why are we still having problems? Number one: fans, players and even managers still seem to be unsure as to exactly how this technology will be used.

Hand gestures making a square TV symbol are now happening in grounds across the UK, trying to suggest to the referee that he needs to go to VAR. Extra pressure is being placed on officials and despite the system being trialed in Major League Soccer, Serie A and the Bundesliga with limited issues over the past 12 months, it seems like the English game is struggling to adapt to the concept even though it will make the life of referees much easier in the long run.

All in all, VAR can slow down the flow of the game but that’s only if huge game changing moments occur multiple times. How often does that really happen? Once or twice, on average, in a single game, if that?

I was one of those so-called purists who wasn’t in favor of the technology to start with, but seeing how easy it can be to rectify mistakes over the past few weeks, I’m all for it now. Kelechi Iheanacho‘s second goal for Leicester in their FA Cup replay win against Fleetwood Town on Tuesday proved how great this can be. Replays showed he was clearly onside and the goal was awarded after initially being ruled out. It took 10-15 seconds without the referee even going to a pitch-side monitor to check it out.

Simple. Easy. Effective.

That goal was an example of a “clear and obvious error” which, per the IFAB guidelines, is why VAR exists. But in Chelsea’s FA Cup win against Norwich City on penalty kicks on Wednesday, there was an incident where VAR was used but didn’t overturn a decision which caused controversy.

Willian was booked by referee Graham Scott for diving in the box, even though replays showed there was clear contact with a defender but VAR officials didn’t believe there was a definitive reason to overturn the initial decision.

Antonio Conte had the following to say about the new technology as he wants it to improve.

“If we want to use a new system, I can’t accept a big mistake,” Conte said. “In this case, the Willian penalty was a big, big mistake. Not from the referee on the pitch, who took quickly a decision to book Willian and didn’t have any doubt, but from the person watching the game [Jones]. I hope the VAR wasn’t a referee because if you see that watching on television and don’t think that’s a penalty … he has to improve. It was very clear.”

Well, Antonio, you may have to accept mistakes, especially at the start, but was that decision really a mistake?

The VAR official may have simply been agreeing with the referee on the pitch that there was contact between Willian and the Norwich defender but that the Chelsea man left his leg hanging out and tried to buy a penalty kick. Even though there’s an extra official looking at video footage of the event, unless he believes the referee has got the decision horribly wrong it will not be overturned.

As for Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who saw the technology used in his sides 0-0 draw at Chelsea last week in the League Cup semifinal first leg, he remains an advocate of VAR and believes this trial run is extremely helpful.

“Will there be some hiccups up at the start? Certainly,” Wenger said. “We have to improve the system, but we have to go for it.”

That is the correct answer here.

It will take time to get used to the technology, just like it did in MLS. But fans, players and coaches need to not only embrace VAR but also educate themselves as to when and how it can be used.

I have no doubt that if the system is introduced into the Premier League for the 2018-19 season it will be hugely beneficial. Largely because the PL have sat back and let the FA trial the system and other leagues around the world work out the kinks. By the time next August rolls around, we will have months of use of VAR at the top level with the 2018 World Cup also set to use the technology.

Look at last weekend in the Premier League. Two key decisions likely changed the outcome of games between clubs battling to stay in the Premier League. Abdoulaye Doucoure’s late equalizer for Watford would have taken all of 10 seconds to review and overturn as he clearly punched the ball into the net against Southampton to seal a 2-2 draw.

While Newcastle’s Mo Diame clearly handled a goalbound effort which not only cost Swansea a penalty kick but would have seen Diame sent off. Both incidents would have been cleared up quickly and easily without minimum fuss.

That is what this system is for. The gray areas of diving and intent with handballs will still exist, just like they did before VAR. But the clear-cut calls which officials can’t see and don’t get right will be overturned when new replays become available to them.

That’s where they need the most help and that’s why VAR should be welcomed into the English game with open arms.

The debates will still rumble on in pubs, stadiums and offices in the UK. The system being trialed to stop those never-ending debates is currently having the opposite effect.

Brazil’s Ronaldinho confirms retirement and plans farewell

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SAO PAULO (AP) World Cup and 2005 Ballon D’Or winner Ronaldinho confirmed on Wednesday his retirement from football. The 37-year-old’s last professional football match was in 2015 for Brazil’s Fluminense.

The Brazilian’s brother and agent announced the player’s decision on Tuesday. Ronaldinho confirmed the decision one day later in an Instagram post.

“After almost three decades dedicated to football, I say goodbye to my biggest dream. A fulfilled dream,” the playmaker said. “I did what I love the most as a professional for 20 years and another 10 years in the academy. I lived this child’s dream intensely.”

Obrigado Sr. meu Deus, por esta vida que me deste, família, amigos e minha primeira profissão!!! Após quase três décadas dedicadas ao futebol, me despeço do meu maior sonho, sonho realizado!!! Fiz o que mais amei profissionalmente por 20 anos, e 10 como formação de base. Vivi intensamente este sonho de criança, cada instante, viagens, vitórias, derrotas, a resenha, hino nacional, a caminhada no túnel, vestiário, entrada em campo, as chuteiras que usei, as bolas boas e ruins, homenagens que ganhei, os craques que joguei, os que admirei e joguei e os que só joguei no play, mas admiro até hoje! Enfim tudo foi incrível!!! Meu pai e minha família me apoiaram muito pra chegar até aqui, foi um trabalho em equipe. Chegamos ao fim da primeira etapa com uma história bonita pra contar… Vocês me conhecem, e sabem bem que sou tímido e não tenho o costume de falar muito, mas tenho que dizer a vocês muito obrigado, de coração, de alma lavada, pois fiz o que amo com a ajuda de todos, treinadores, preparadores, comissões inteiras, dirigentes, torcida a favor e contra, o motorista do ônibus, o roupeiro, o gandula, o árbitro e a imprensa. Obrigado, construímos juntos esta história, sem vocês nada seria possível… No mês de março faremos um anúncio de como será esta despedida e os próximos passos. Por enquanto, aqui vai meu muito obrigado ⚽. Aquela frase famosa “gracias vieja” por ser a minha fonte de inspiração por tanto tempo e companheiros de muitas vitórias!!! Obrigado a todos pelas mensagens e carinho!!! Um abraço forte, fui muito feliz fazendo deste esporte a minha vida e profissão.

A post shared by Ronaldo de Assis Moreira (@ronaldinho) on

Ronaldinho, who had his best club moments at Barcelona, thanked teammates, coaches and fans for his career. He also praised the football with a reference to Real Madrid’s legendary player Alfredo di Stefano (1926-2014).

“Thanks, old woman, for being my biggest source of inspiration for so long,” Ronaldinho said.

“You know me and you know that I am shy, I am not used to speaking much. But thank you all from the bottom of my heart.”

Ronaldinho said he will announce details of the farewell in March.

On Tuesday his agent Roberto Assis told the Associated Press that Ronaldinho’s plans include being a football ambassador for Barcelona, doing charity and working with music.

Ronaldinho’s decorated career also includes one Champions League victory with Barcelona in 2006 and two FIFA player of the year Awards in 2004 and 2005.

He played 101 matches and scored 35 goals for Brazil from 1997 to 2013. At the Camp Nou, Ronaldinho was an integral member of a squad that took Barca back to the limelight. The Brazilian played 207 games for the Catalans and gave 94 goals and 61 assists to the team.

Ronaldinho’s club career also includes Gremio, Flamengo and Atletico Mineiro in Brazil, Paris Saint-Germain in France, AC Milan in Italy and Queretaro in Mexico.

Several clubs and players around the world are still praising Ronaldinho for his football legacy, including his former teammate and protegee Lionel Messi.

“I learned a lot by your side. I’ll forever be grateful to you for making everything so easy when I joined the first team,” Messi said in his social media channels.

“I was lucky enough to share many things with you and I’m really happy about that because, as well as being a star out on the pitch, you’re an excellent person and that’s the most important thing. Although you’ve decided to retire, football will never forget your smile,” the Argentine said.

Three-time World Cup winner Pele also gave praise to the retiree.

“You brought a smile to everyone’s face, Ronaldinho. I hope you glide through life, like you glided through tackles,” Pele said.