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.
A former Sevilla star is training in MLS, as the veteran midfielder looks to continue his career stateside.
Diego Capel was spotted training with the Seattle Sounders on Thursday, despite club manager Brian Schmetzer initially playing coy on who the player was.
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“We have a player that’s in camp,” Schmetzer said. “He’s a good player. He’s probably worn the number 10 in his career. Maybe as a youth player. Maybe it’s just a player borrowing Nico’s jersey.”
The Sounders have suffered several major injuries in their attack to start the 2018 MLS season, which also contributed to the team’s derailment in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
While Capel traditionally has played on the wing throughout his career, the Sounders could use all the help they can get in the attacking third.
Jordan Morris has already been ruled out for the season with an ACL tear, while Nicolas Lodeiro and Will Bruin are currently sidelined for the club with respective injuries.
Capel came up through the ranks of Sevilla, while also playing for notable European sides such as Sporting Lisbon and Anderlecht.
The 30-year-old last played for the Belgian side in 2017, but has been a free agent since.
A roundup of Friday’s international friendlies….
England suffered an early setback in Holland after Joe Gomez limped off the pitch with an injury. However, the Three Lions bounced back with a 1-0 victory when Jesse Lingard struck after halftime.
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A drastic second-half turnaround for Colombia gave the South American side a 3-2 victory over France. Olivier Giroud and Thomas Lemar had Les Bleus out in front in the first half with a 2-0 lead, but the Colombians responded with three unanswered finishes to grab the win.
Mohamed Salah‘s second-half strike wasn’t enough to pace Egypt due to Cristiano Ronaldo’s late brace for Portugal (his 80th and 81st international goals), while Victor Moses‘ penalty kick helped Nigeria top Poland.
Meanwhile, Brazil picked up a convincing 3-0 win over this summer’s hosts Russia. Barcelona teammates Philippe Coutinho and Paulinho each scored in the second half, after Miranda opened the scoring for the Selecao.
Germany and Spain settled for an exciting 1-1 draw, while Argentina topped Italy, 2-0, without Lionel Messi or Sergio Aguero in the lineup.
Below are all the scores from today’s friendlies involving teams that will play in Russia this summer.
Portugal 2-1 Egypt
Argentina 2-0 Italy
Germany 1-1 Spain
Netherlands 0-1 England
Poland 0-1 Nigeria
Scotland 0-1 Costa Rica
France 2-3 Colombia
Uruguay 2-0 Czech Republic
Japan 1-1 Mali
Russia 0-3 Brazil
Saudi Arabia 1-1 Ukraine
Greece 0-1 Switzerland
Tunisia 1-0 Iran
Serbia 1-2 Morocco
Peru vs. Croatia — 8:30 p.m. ET
Mexico vs. Iceland — 10 p.m. ET
Joe Gomez‘s World Cup hopes may have taken a major hit on Friday after the Liverpool defender exited England’s match against Holland after just 10 minutes.
[ MORE: USMNT releases new kits ahead of Paraguay friendly ]
The extent of the 20-year-old’s injury is unknown at this point, but the Reds defender was in noticeable pain as he limped off the pitch at the Amsterdam Arena.
Gomez was replaced by Leicester City center back Harry McGuire following the stoppage.
The Jonathan Gonzalez situation still stings for many U.S. Men’s National Team supporters, and the encouragement from Mexico’s camp regarding the midfielder’s bright future isn’t making things better for Americans.
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El Tri manager Juan Carlos Osorio reaffirmed his belief that Gonzalez is one of the many promising prospects within the Mexican national team ahead of the country’s friendly against Iceland on Friday.
Gonzalez, who switched his national team allegiance to Mexico from the U.S. earlier this year, has been called up for the match after the 18-year-old made his Mexico senior team debut against Bosnia back in January.
“Jonathan, to start with, is part of a group of Mexican players that I’ve referred as having a good present and a promising future and that excites me to continue, along with Edson Alvarez, Omar Govea and others that aren’t here like Orbelin [Pineda] and Erick [Gutierrez],” Osorio said at a news conference on Thursday.
“Gonzalez is a good midfielder and can fight for a place with anyone. Like everyone, he has to improve a lot of things to win a place.
“After deciding to play for Mexico, it is our responsibility to give him a platform to develop and consolidate himself as a player.
“That’s why he’s in this call-up, and hopefully he can establish himself and show the qualities I mentioned.”
The former USMNT youth prospect has quickly become a regular for club side Monterrey, who currently sits sixth in the Liga MX table.
Gonzalez has appeared in 38 matches across all competitions for the four-time league champions and earned honors in the Liga MX Best XI following the 2017 Apertura season.