Mario Gomez, rekindled memories, and Germany-Greece: Friday’s Euro 2012 playlist

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source: AP

Giorgos Karagounis may have played hero last Saturday when Greece secured an unlikely place in Euro 2012’s quarterfinals, but against Germany on Friday, Greece’s 35-year-old captain will be watching from the stands, having picked up an unfair yellow card in the 2004 champions’ upset of Russia. Already been booked once in group stage, the caution triggered an obligatory suspension for the Panathinaikos midfielder, one of the team’s last links to the 2004 squad.

Goalkeeper Kostas Chalkias was also on that 2004 team, as was Kostas Katsouranis, who partners Karagounis in midfield (just as he does at Pana). They’re the only three links to that title winner, though you wouldn’t have known it by watching Saturday’s win. It was the same kind of smash and grab Otto Rehhagel used to orchestrate one of the most unlikely titles in international soccer history.

Were Greece to replicate that success, this year’s run will trump 2004’s for more far-fetched success. If forms holds (which, it probably won’t), Fernando Santos’s team will have to beat Germany, the England-Italy winner, followed by Spain, the favorite to come out of the bracket’s other half. The teams Greece beat to claim 2004’s title? France, the Czech Republic, then Portugal. If the difference in names isn’t convincing (and really, it’s not that persuasive), consider the element of surprise. Greece isn’t sneaking up on anybody this year.

Germany’s lore says they’re the least likely nation to be caught by surprise, but if Greece is looking for cracks in the dike, there are three reasons for hope.

  • First, the team Joachim Löw chose for Denmark was the youngest German side to ever start a European Championship game. Inexperience might see this lauded group overlook the lightly regarded Greeks.
  • Second, Germany has had trouble closing out matches. At the end of their three group games, all of Portugal, the Netherlands, and Denmark were given reason to think an equalizer was within reach.
  • And finally, although the trumpets are sounding for Mats Hummels, the German defender is very mistake prone. Undoubtedly talented, the young defender often commits to tackles too easy, and as Robin van Persie showed while exploiting him for his only Euro goal, mental mistakes are known to happen.

None of this should obscure the fact that Germany have a big edge in this one. The only team to go through group stage with a perfect record, the Germans have been made 4-to-11 betting favorites by British sports book William Hill. To put that in perspective, Spain are 4-to-5 to beat France. Greece are 9-to-1 to win on Friday.

Match kicks off at 2:45 p.m. Eastern. Here’s your playlist.

source: Getty Images1. Someone to sign

As we’re reminded every time a team’s outplayed but gets a result, soccer is a bottom line business. Dominate possession and chances and leave with nothing? Then all you have is nothing. The standings have no silver linings.

The bottom line’s wins, and it’s written in goals, and right now, Greece is short on men to score. The team has only three goals (one off the foot of the suspended Karagounis), and nobody’s scored more than once.

It gets worse. Except for their winner against Russia, Greece’s goals have come courtesy of opponents’ goalkeeping errors. Either Manuel Neuer’s going to oblige them on Friday, or they need somebody to step up.

Theofanis Gekas (right) is the most likely hero. Having lost his spot against the Czech Republic, Gekas was restored to the starting XI after coming off the bench to grab a goal. His 22 goals in 61 appearances makes him Greece’s only legitimate scoring threat, and with six years’ experience in the Bundesliga, Gekas will have some familiarity with his opponents.

2. Problem solved?

Greece’s biggest weakness over their tournament’s first two matches was the left side of their defense, but Santos benched left back José Holebas for the Russia match, elevating Girogos Tzavelas to the starting XI. Tzavelas nearly repaid Santos’ move with an insurance goal, clanging Vyacheslav Malafeev’s crossbar late.

Whether Greece’s problems on the left are really solved remains to be seen. Russian apathy and a tendency to get too narrow left Tzavelas largely untested. He won’t be so lucky against a Germany team that tends to lean right, taking advantage of Thomas Müller’s ability on the wing. With Mesut Özil drifting in that direction while Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger support through the middle, we’re sure to find out if Greece’s leak has been plugged.

source: Getty Images3. A little patience

Germany already has some experience breaking down a deep-sitting defense. In their first game of the tournament, the favorites faced a Portugal team that sat back in their 4-3-3. It’s a near-identical approach to what they’re likely to face on Friday.

After an hour of trying to flow through the Portuguese, Germany found a solution. Just start pumping balls in to Mario Gómez. It didn’t take them long for find a winner.

Gómez isn’t always so clinical. More often that not, he’s silent, choosing to stay between the goal posts rather than drift and help his teammates build the attack. It’s a big change from Miroslav Klose, whose willingness to go right helped Thomas Müller win the Golden Boot in South Africa.

When he’s not silent, Gómez is often doing the wrong things, as evidenced during the Champions League final. Against Greece, however, he’ll be Bayern’s best chance to break through. Rather than needing somebody to combine with Müller, Germany’s more likely to need somebody who can be served.

4. Next step in the process

Upon reflection, it seems Germany hasn’t been that impressive. At least, that’s been the critical evaluation in the wake of Sunday’s victory. If Germany doesn’t have another gear, the thinking goes, they’re unlikely to win their first major title since 1996.

The squad’s age needs to be kept in mind. None of its starters are over 27 years old. Euro 2012’s the first senior tournament they’ve entered with favorites’ expectations. When they came home from South Africa, third place was enough. This time, however, the team’s supposed to win.

It’s all part of that process we’ve alluded to all tournament; however, that process ends with first place. Given a meeting with England or Italy is looming, Germany has to start improving now.

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.

Southgate: Racism isn’t just a Russian problem

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Credit England boss Gareth Southgate for honesty.

The national team manager was asked about the plethora of stories regarding racism in Russian football ahead of this summer’s World Cup.

[ MORE: PSG punished for incidents vs. Real ]

Given the climate between Russia and England, there are any number of roads he could’ve taken in reply. Suffice it to say, he chose the high one.

Pointing out that racism is everywhere, Southgate used the example of Kick It Out manager Troy Townsend showing the coach some racist comments posted on a photo of English youth national team.

“Our teams mix and the youngsters look up to the senior team,” said Southgate. “I know most of those young players really closely and I’ve seen them come through. To see them abused in that way is absolutely disgusting. When we speak about other countries, I find it difficult to deflect what we’ve seen there.”

“I don’t think we should just talk about racism in Russia. We have got to get our own house in order. There are still things going on in our own country around racism that aren’t correct. We keep pointing the finger at Russia, where we are going to be guests in the next couple of months, but we haven’t resolved the issue in our own country and until we do I think we should stop firing those things off elsewhere.”

Full marks to Southgate for that, now more folks need to turn words into action and cut the vile comments off at the knees.

PSG fined, will have to close part of stadium at next UCL match

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Paris Saint-Germain’s fans had a bit too much fun in their UEFA Champions League loss against Real Madrid, but apparently just a bit.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

Les Parisiens  are facing a partial stadium ban for next season’s first UCL contest after their fans were charged with blocking a stairway, setting off fireworks, and using a laser pointer.

The punishment includes closing the North Stand at the Parc Des Princes and a fine of a little over $52,000.

The stadium ban is one thing, but $52,000, UEFA? How will PSG ever afford it? Neymar will certainly have to take a pay cut.

(If you’re curious, Neymar makes approximately $1 million per week).

Injuries leave host Russia limping ahead of World Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) With less than three months to go until the World Cup in Russia, the host nation’s players are dropping like flies.

A spate of knee injuries this year has left the Russians hurrying to find cover at the back and trying to replace a key attacking threat.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

First, center back Georgy Dzhikiya tore his knee ligaments during a friendly in January. The same happened to Viktor Vasin a month later. Russia’s defense was already thin, so those injuries prompted calls for the 35-year-old Berezutsky twins, Alexei and Vasily, to return from international retirement. They refused to do so.

Now coach Stanislav Cherchesov must also seek a replacement for Zenit St. Petersburg forward Alexander Kokorin, who tore his knee ligaments in the Europa League last week. That puts more responsibility on the shoulders of Fyodor Smolov, now likely to be Russia’s undisputed first-choice striker for the World Cup.

“We’re not complaining about anything,” Cherchesov said Thursday. “Fate is often testing us in various ways but we always try to be ready.”

The injuries mean Cherchesov will be forced to experiment during Friday’s friendly against Brazil and Tuesday’s game against France, both at home. Short-term medical issues have ruled three more fringe players out of those games.

Here’s a closer look at the issues facing Russia ahead of the World Cup:


If you had to pick one Russian striker for the World Cup, it might as well be Fyodor Smolov.

On track to be the Russian league’s top scorer for the third season in a row, Smolov has been working on his English skills as he eyes a move to the Premier League.

Smolov was linked with West Ham during the January transfer window but opted to stay with FC Krasnodar, saying he didn’t want to abandon his team as it battles for a spot in the Champions League next season.

With Kokorin almost certainly out of the picture for the World Cup, Russia’s backup options include Anton Zabolotny, who is still settling in at Zenit after a recent move from newly promoted FC Tosno. The 22-year-old Alexei Miranchuk can play as a forward, but is better in a deeper role.


Russian players tend to stay in their domestic league, but there’s one big exception in midfield – Denis Cheryshev.

The winger came through the Real Madrid youth system when his father was coaching there and is now at Villarreal, but frequent injuries have dented hopes he can add some spice to the national team.

Now he’s fit again and in the squad to face Brazil and France.

Elsewhere in the midfield, there are the promising and creative youngsters Roman Zobnin and Alexander Golovin, but Russia doesn’t currently have a dominant defensive midfielder.


Cherchesov has a reputation as a difficult coach to get along with, and Russian media have regularly reported fallings-out with various players.

One of those outside the squad is Igor Denisov, who last played for Russia in 2016. He has been playing well in a defensive midfield role this season for Lokomotiv Moscow, the team at the top of the Russian league standings. Denisov and Cherchesov clashed during the latter’s time as Dynamo Moscow coach.

Also absent from the squad is forward Artyom Dzyuba. A talented striker who has scored 11 goals in 22 games for Russia but has a reputation for being hot-headed, Dzyuba was deemed surplus to requirements at Zenit and sent on loan to Arsenal Tula. In three games there, he has scored three goals and set up two more to put himself back in the World Cup contention.


Russia’s soccer team hasn’t escaped the country’s doping scandals.

Defensive midfielder Ruslan Kambolov is under investigation by FIFA for a possible doping case revealed by Moscow laboratory documents, but hasn’t been suspended.

The team’s schedule was disrupted Wednesday by drug-testing, which took more than five hours and delayed training. On Thursday, the team said five more doping control officers turned up to take samples from the team.

Wilshere injured, could play in England’s second friendly

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I have no idea what tendinopathy means, but Arsenal and England will be hoping it’s only a minor thing for Jack Wilshere.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

The resurgent Gunners midfielder is going to miss at least one of England’s friendlies this international break after suffering a knee injury in training.

“Jack just felt some tendinopathy in his knee but it’s nothing too serious,” Southgate said. “We decided to leave him back at base and see how he responds, and we hope to have him with us on Saturday.”

England is in Netherlands on Friday, and returns to London to host Italy at Wembley on Tuesday.

Arsenal doesn’t play until April 1 when it visits Stoke City.