Soccer Euro 2012 Greece Russia

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.

Klinsmann praises Nagbe: “He knows he has to push the envelope”

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Pedro Larrea #15 of Ecuador reacts as Nagbe Darlington #10 of the United States celebrates with Christian Pulisic #17 of the United States after scoring against Ecuador during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
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Breaking into a Jurgen Klinsmann side isn’t easy, especially for an attacker.

With the United States men’s national team boss quite happy to trot out Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and — when healthy — Jozy Altidore, becoming a regular isn’t easy.

So making the most of your opportunity is key, and Darlington Nagbe has done that most times he’s hit the pitch for the USMNT.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

And scoring a 90th minute winner against Ecuador, even in a 1-0 friendly win, is going to help his odds of sticking in the coach’s mind. Klinsmann said Nagbe “knows he has to push the envelope”, and lauded him for doing so while cautioning that he’s never questioned the offensive acumen of Portland Timbers’ man.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“Now you also want to tell him ‘Listen, you’ve got to make an impression. You’ve got to learn to play both ways and grind it out defensively, go into 1v1s and win balls as well,’” Klinsmann said.

“And that’s just going forward. He has tremendous talent with the ball at his feet going forward. That’s what we enjoy in MLS every weekend. But the international side is both ways, and that’s what we’re working on. And he’s getting better and better at doing that.”

Nagbe was among a handful of U.S. players to shine during a dominant second half that saw the Timbers midfielder snare the decisive goal, and it’s not a stretch to say he was the brightest. Let’s hope to see him get a chance to start on Saturday against Bolivia.

Lukaku will listen to Everton but “I have my own ideas in mind

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Romelu Lukaku of Everton arrives for the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Everton at the Stadium of Light on May 11, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Romelu Lukaku‘s future looks to be away from Goodison Park.

The big Belgian striker authored 25 goals across all competitions this season, including 18 in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Zlatan has “taken a decision” ]

But as he prepares for the Euro 2016 tournament, Lukaku’s comments make it seem likely that even new investments from up high aren’t going to keep him on Merseyside.

From Sky Sports:

“We have a new investor at Everton and out of courtesy I will listen to what he has to say. But I have my own ideas in mind. I want to win titles.

“I have had a very good season, but it is time for me to write myself a CV. That is why I play football. I got that trophy-winning mindset from Chelsea.”

Lukaku would be a big ticket item on the transfer market, and should go for more than the $41 million price tag Everton paid to get him from Chelsea.

Ibrahimovic says he has received offers from England, Italy

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 11:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Paris Saint-Germain walks out for a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg match against Manchester City at Etihad Stadium on April 11, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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STOCKHOLM (AP) Still looking for a team for next season, Zlatan Ibrahimovic says he has “concrete offers” from England, Italy and other countries.

The 34-year-old Sweden striker, who has said he is leaving Paris Saint-Germain, has yet to announce where he is headed after the European Championship.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

Ibrahimovic says “I have taken my decision,” but he didn’t elaborate.

At Euro 2016, Sweden will play in Group E with Belgium, Italy and Ireland.

Benitez stay is huge, but Newcastle cannot be content with players

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 30:  Rafael Benitez (R) manager of Newcastle United congratulates Andros Townsend (L) after their 1-0 win in the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Crystal Palace at St James' Park on April 30, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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As posted yesterday, Rafa Benitez met with the media after Newcastle United confirmed that the trophy-winning manager has decided to stay with the club despite relegation, and said this is his ship now.

This is huge news for the Magpies.

The 56-year-old Spaniard couldn’t rescue the sinking ship he inherited from Steve McClaren, and is tasked with lifting Newcastle back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

For years, Newcastle’s managers have been subject to the approval of chief scouts, managing directors and owner Mike Ashley. What Benitez has now is assurances that no player is being sold without his permission, and none being bought without his approval. Which means no midseason sales of Yohan Cabaye because the iron is hot, or unrequested purchases like Xisco.

Of course that could mean we’re headed for a huge August or January bust-up when Ashley or Lee Charnley pulls the rug out from some big acquisition that could firm up Newcastle’s standing in the top flight, but we’ll stay on the sunny side for now and assume Benitez’s people made that part of his contact air tight.

It means Newcastle could line up, basically, the same as last season. There are plusses and minuses to that, of course, as the club was relegated thanks to woeful form and players who were perhaps rightfully accused of only showing up for primetime matches.

Consider:

— Newcastle took as many points from Manchester United (2) as Aston Villa.

— The Magpies went 2-0 against Tottenham Hotspur, grabbed four points from Liverpool, beat West Ham and drew both Manchester City and Chelsea.

— They also lost to relegation rivals Norwich, drew Sunderland twice and were swept by Watford.

So while Benitez holds sway to keep Moussa Sissoko, Georginio Wijnaldum and Daryl Janmaat despite the big money they could command on the open market, he has to be 100 percent sure they won’t mail it in.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Kevin Nolan of Newcastle United celebrates scoring the opening goal with team mate Andy Carroll (L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Liverpool at St James' Park on December 11, 2010 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Carroll and Nolan (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

There’s no certainty there, and one of the main things that helped Newcastle bounce right back up to the PL in 2009-10 was a crew that got its footing in the Championship by Week 13 and never looked back: the Magpies lost just once in the league from Oct. 24 onward thanks in large part to heart-and-soul players who stuck around after the drop (Kevin Nolan, Jonas Gutierrez, Fabricio Coloccini, Andy Carroll and others).

Among those who fit the bill for understanding the task at hand are Andros Townsend, Jonjo Shelvey, Jack Colback, Chancel Mbemba and Coloccini. Others, like Sissoko and Siem De Jong, risk poisoning the well. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be kept around, but Benitez will need to know transfer rumor and agent hijinks aren’t in the offing.

Make no mistake about it, Benitez in control is better than anything the Magpies have had in ages and Newcastle is far more likely to replicate the instant promotions of West Ham and itself than the divisional drops of Leeds United and Portsmouth.