Germany's forward Mario Gomez warms up d

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

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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.

Arsenal’s majority shareholder, Stan Kroenke, buys $725 million Texas ranch

Jeff Fisher
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Well, Arsenal fans, you know that big splash in the transfer market you were hoping for? Umm, this is awkward.

[ MORE: Leicester fan set for huge bet win ]

Okay so maybe the majority shareholder of the Gunners, American billionaire Stan Kronke, isn’t directly responsible for pumping Arsene Wenger‘s transfer war chest full of money but imagine if he’d offered to give Arsenal $725 million rather than buying this incredible ranch in Texas?

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired”

Kroenke sealed the deal for the legendary Waggoner Ranch in Texas — the largest ranch within one fence-line — and he now owns over 865,000 acres of land which easily placed him among the top 10 largest landowners in the USA.

That land also equates to three times the size of the City of Los Angeles which is the city, coincidentally, that Kroenke has just moved his Rams NFL franchise to from St. Louis.

SO, what do you get for $725 million at the Waggoner Ranch? 14,000 cows, 500 horses and 1,100 producing oil wells to start with. It also lies in six counties, has 30 cowboys on the property and 120 employees overall.

[ MORE: Report – Mourinho tells friend he will take over at United

What would you get in the soccer world for $725 million? Well, Wenger could probably sign Lionel Messi, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo plus pay their wages and still have some cash left over.

Don’t get carried away though, Arsenal’s sustainable business model has seen them rise up the rankings in Forbes’ rich list and there will be no haphazard spending anytime soon. Much to the annoyance of every super-ambitious Arsenal fan out there.

That includes you, Piers Morgan…

Here’s a few pictures of what Kroenke has just bought. Preseason tour to Texas for a but of lassoing with Alexis Sanchez, Mr. Wenger?

Solo: USWNT finding new identity ahead of Olympic qualifying opener

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With the U.S. women’s national team set to kick off their CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament on Wednesday (Watch live, 8:30 p.m. ET online via Live Extra) against Costa Rica in Frisco, Texas, goalkeeper Hope Solo knows the reigning World Cup and Olympic champs will have to reinvent themselves.

She’s been here before.

[ STREAM: Olympic qualifying live ]

Following the retirement of several key players — Abby Wambach, Shannon Boxx, Lauren Holiday and Lori Chalupny among them — after their 2015 World Cup win in Canada, Jill Ellis’ team has been trying to create a new identity over the past few months.

It’s something that’s easy to say but a lot tougher to do.

“It’s really interesting. I’ve been on this team for quite some time and I’ve heard many times ‘let’s create a new identity. We have to find our own identity, this team moving forward,” Solo said. “It’s something I’ve heard quite a bit but it’s never easy to do. We’ve lost some big name players, a lot of players have retired. We have young players coming in and the Olympics are right around the corner. We have to find a way to play to the best of our ability with some older players, brand new players and everybody in-between. It’s not easy but it is not foreign to us.”

Despite all the upheaval the USWNT are still the favorites to win their fourth Olympic gold on the spin at Rio 2016 this summer.

Placed in Group A for CONCACAF qualifying for the 2016 Olympics — the top two teams from the eight-team tournament advance — alongside Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and Mexico, the U.S. should breeze into the knockout rounds where they will likely face old foes Canada in the final.

Remember, over the next 11 days you can stream all 15 games live online via NBC Sports Live Extra with up to four games also shown on NBCSN.

Here’s the full schedule as Solo and Co. aim to seal their spot in the 2016 Olympics with minimum fuss.

Leicester fan will win $50,000 from $10 bet if Foxes win Premier League

Leicester’s Jamie Vardy celebrates after scoring against Manchester United, his eleventh consecutive goal in the Premier League, during the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Manchester United at the King Power Stadium, Leicester, England, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. Vardy becomes the first man to score in 11 consecutive English Premier League soccer matches after finding the back of the net against Manchester United today.(AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
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As their odds of winning the Premier League title continue to be slashed, tales of Leicester City fans set to win an incredible amount of cash continue.

The latest story is a beauty.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired” ]

On the eve of the 2015-16 Premier League season one Leicester City fan, Chloe Cope, decided to put $10 on her side to win the title. The odds were 5,000 -1. So, with the Foxes five points clear at the top of the table with just 13 games to go, the first league title in Leicester’s 132 year history would not only bring unbeliavable amounts of jubilation to the East Midlands city but also plenty of cash for its fans. $50,000 for this Miss Cope, in fact.

The story gets even better. Check this out.

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Miss Cope’s flutter on her beloved Foxes was actually her first-ever bet. She opened up an online betting account last summer in the UK with Sky Bet and was rewarded a free $30 bet which she used to make a bet that Leicester would finish in the top six this season. That’s virtually assured so she will win another $637.

The two bets she made back on August 7 2015 are shown in the Tweet below via Jacqui Oatley.

A few other Leicester fans are also in line to win plenty of cash, but this one seems to have the most riding on it.

Will big changes in Europe threaten UEFA Champions League’s future?

FC Barcelona, 2014-15 UEFA Champions League winners
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With talk of the UEFA Champions League being threatened by a “super league” of some sort, that notion has been undermined by some of Europe’s top teams.

For now.

[ MORE: What is USMNT’s best XI?

On Wednesday in Paris the European Clubs’ Association (ECA) met at its 16th annual congress and confirmed it will seek to change the way the UEFA Champions League and Europa League is run when the current term of agreement cycle expires at the end of the 2017-18 season.

With over 200 member clubs the ECA represents many of the biggest teams on the planet with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Chelsea all included.

In the past there has been a growing notion for a European “super league” to replace the Champions League and that perennial European giants should not have to rely on qualifying for Europe via their domestic competitions.

That is one of the factors currently being discussed by the ECA, as they released the following statement after the congress in France this week.

“In light of the upcoming 2018-21 UEFA Club Competition Cycle, the clubs are currently discussing the future of UEFA’s main club competitions, namely the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League. As in the past, the clubs are in constant dialogue with UEFA to further develop and improve both competitions. All ECA Member Clubs have gathered in informal working groups to exchange initial thoughts and ideas.”

[ MORE: Reports claim Mourinho to United is “done deal”

The current ECA chairman and chairman of Bayern Munich, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, also spoke about the need to revamp both club competitions.

“I believe both ECA and UEFA are interested in an evolution of the competitions. Stagnation means regression,” Rummenigge said. “We have always jointly looked into ways to further develop and improve the competitions. It is important to find a good and balanced solution for everyone involved.”

So, overall, it seems that for now both ECA and UEFA is willing to work together to improve the current format of the UCL rather than go their separate ways and the ECA member clubs beginning their own competition, as had been mooted by Rummenigge and other high-ranking officials in the past.

What changes could be discussed for the 2018-21 UEFA Club Competition Cycle?

For me, it seems like it would be a good idea to somehow reduce the number of UCL teams who enter the group stage. That would help it preserve its elite status and potential shave two matchdays off the schedule to lessen the pressure on teams. Currently 32 teams qualify in eight groups of four teams and a total of 78 teams from across UEFA’s 54 member nations qualify for the UCL each season. 46 fall by the wayside in the qualifying rounds and many of those teams are too small to ever dream about getting anywhere near the group stages.

[ PHOTOS: New PL logo released

Perhaps just having one playoff round to make the UCL and limiting the number of spots for nations with lower UEFA coefficients is the way to go. That way those nations would back their teams competing in the Europa League and that competition will gain more prestige as a direct correlation between teams performing well in the Europa League will lead to certain nations being granted places in the UEFA Champions League. That’s the case now, but adding extra emphasis to the Europa League should be a big part of the next cycle.

The biggest situation the ECA seem to want to sort out here is how some of Europe’s biggest teams did not qualify for the UCL. The overriding notion seems to be that the ECA wants them to qualify each year. Even though the likes of past UCL winners Liverpool, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund weren’t involved in Europe’s elite competition this season, did the tournament really suffer because of it? In terms of gate revenue, perhaps, but it seems that the ECA is conflicted about the best way to get as many of its member teams involved in the elite competition as possible.

Another idea I’m just throwing out there could be to hand teams a spot in the UCL based on their current coefficient which takes into account their previous performances in UEFA Club Competitions. Perhaps four spots per season could be reserved for teams who don’t qualify for the UCL domestically, but have the highest coefficient of the non qualifiers. Just a thought.

There’s clearly plenty to sort out but it seems like — for now, at least — we haven’t seen the end of the UEFA Champions League. But tweaks will need to be made to stop it regressing.