Wayne Rooney, bamboo forests, and England-Ukraine: Tuesday’s Euro 2012 B-Side

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Sunday’s great moment in old time-y overthink came courtesy of the ITV studio panel  One of England’s broadcasters for Euro 2012, the network has Roy Keane and Roberto Martínez as part of their rotating panel analyzing his year’s championships. When asked how Wayne Rooney should be re-assimilated into England’s team, Martínez said from the bench. You not only don’t want to mess with a good thing, but the competition for spots in the starting XI would be a good thing. Surprisingly, there were no snickers, with Keane going so far as to agree with Martínez, saying the team that beat Sweden deserved to keep their places.

The strangest part about this is the near-180 degree turnaround that’s happened since Wayne Rooney’s suspension. When he earned a three-match ban (later reduced to two) after seeing straight red to close qualifying, the apoplexy was comical. What will England do without Wayne, the papers bemoaned. Probably play three group games like everybody else, I thought to myself. Now that England’s undefeated through two matches, Rooney’s only slightly more meaningful than Jermain Defoe or some other potential impact sub? You can just imagine Alex Ferguson on the phone to the FA, If you’re not going to use the boy, send him home already.

If English soccer isn’t thrilled to have Rooney back, then they’ve got something in common with Ukranians, who surely aren’t happy that an already difficult opponent will be bolstered ahead of a potential elimination game. Between that, their tournament’s only goal scorer being doubtful (Andriy Shevchenko, knee), the pressures of potentially becoming the fourth straight co-host to fall in group stage, Ukraine has three too many things to worry about.

Then again, this is exactly the type of scenario that tends to bring English soccer’s downfall.

The match kicks off at 2:45 p.m. Eastern. England goes through with a win or a draw and can win the group with either result, depending on what France does against Ukraine. England could also get through with a loss, provided Sweden works some magic.

Here’s your playlist:

Side 2: England vs. Ukraine

5. Shock and awe

Word broke late Monday that Theo Walcott may not only be cleared to play (after suffering a hamstring injury) but could start in place of James Milner on the right of midfield. With Rooney set to partner Danny Welbeck up top and Ashley Young likely to retain his spot on the left wing, England’s suddenly putting together the counterattacking team we dreamed about in our preview. No team in this tournament will be as dangerous on the break as an England led by Welbeck, Rooney, Walcott and Young.

This is absolutely amazing. I can’t explain how excited I am about this, which is bad, because I’m a writer (I get paid to explain how I feel). I just spent a good six minutes walking around my kitchen trying to get my head around the feeling. And I don’t even like England that much. Just the idea of watching the game with that constant, gut-hallowing anticipation that something amazing can happen?  It’ll be like having Axl Rose back in his prime.

I can’t remember the last time I felt this way about an international soccer game. It’s not that the move makes England all that great. It just makes them a hell of a lot fun.

6. Beating expectations

One of the pleasant virtues of England’s pre-Euro preparation was the lack of expectations. Usually England treats every major tournament like it’s the finale of LOST, and they’re always left to deal with Jack’s pathetic regress into a bamboo forest. This tournament was more like the New Girl. Everybody expected it to be terrible only to find it was pleasantly tolerable.

Things are changing, though. England expects to beat Ukraine. Worse, so do their supporters. For a country that has habitually failed to meet expectations, the switch from let’s hope for quarterfinals to Wayne’s back, `nuff said feels like somebody’s tempting fate.

Does anybody else see where this is going? Bamboo forest, people.

7. No options?

Look at Ukraine’s talent and how England play and you wonder how the co-hosts can break their opponents down. But in England’s aggression, the co-hosts could find hope.

Ukraine’s best options are wide with Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka. If Hodgson does drop James Milner, that will leave Theo Walcott and Ashley Young wide. Particularly on the left, where Konoplyanka can get to Glen Johnson, Ukraine has hope. On the right Oleh Gusev overlapping Yarmolenko could also prove problematic for Ashley Cole.

The problem is what Ukraine does if they beat England wide. Nobody besides Shevchenko has scored, and if he can’t play, who’s left to capitalize should the wingers create chances? Andrei Voronin, who has scored eight international goals in 74 appearances? Behind Shevchenko, Ukraine’s most prolific scorers are Gusev and central midfielder Sergey Nazarenko. Each have 12 career international goals, but neither will be play in a positions where they’ll be expected to score.

Ukraine coach Oleh Blokhin said Shevchenko was “50-50” to play. Given speculation he may retire after the tournament, you’d expect him to play unless his leg’s falling off.

8. Destroy on command

Even before news of Walcott’s potential start came out, defensive midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk was going to play an important role. He’s the man who would me matched up with Wayne Rooney, more often than not. Thirty-three and capped 118 times, Tymoshchuk would leave the team with one icon should Shevchenko be unable to go.

But with Walcott’s potential inclusion and England ready to unleash the counter attack to end all counter attacks, Tymoshchuk’s role has gone from important to vital. In front of a back line that lacks foot speed, Tymoshchuk must prevent England attackers from meeting the defense at full speed.

If he can’t, England won’t have to worry about failing to meet expectations.

 

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.

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

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Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

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Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

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Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

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Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

[ MORE: USMNT’s 23-man roster questions ]

That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

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Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

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We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio (EDIT: This post initially questioned the omission of Jesse Gonzalez, but his one-time switch from Mexico to the USMNT has yet to go through).

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Yes, Spector is 31 but this is about still qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, not the 2022 cycle. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

What about you? Any other gripes? Or do you love the bunch?