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.

Hernandez, Araujo score in 1st half, Mexico beats Costa Rica

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Javier Hernandez and Nestor Araujo scored in the first half, and Mexico overcame the absence of half a dozen players to beat Costa Rica 2-0 on Friday night in a World Cup qualifying match.

Hernandez scored on a cross from Carlos Vela to open the score in the seventh and Araujo added a goal on a header in the 45th.

[ USMNT: Recap & videoPlayer ratings ]

Hernandez scored his 46th goal with the Mexican team and tied Jared Borgetti as the all-time leading scorer.

With the win, Mexico remains undefeated and has seven points after three rounds to take sole command in the six-nation tournament. Costa Rica stays on six points and is second and Panama is third with four.

The top three teams qualified for the Russia 2018 World Cup.

Mexico beat Costa Rica for the first time since September 11, 2012, when they prevailed 1-0.

Running Away With It

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Christian Pulisic scored and played a part in three other goals as the United States rained goals down on Honduras in a 6-0 win at Avaya Stadium in San Jose early Saturday morning.

Clint Dempsey scored two goals, and Michael Bradley and Sebastian Lletget also scored as the U.S. moved into fourth place in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. Their next match is Tuesday in Panama.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Three things ]

The United States men’s national team’s bid to recover their 2018 World Cup hopes got off to a flying start.

Sloppy Honduran defending caused a turnover outside the 18, and Jozy Altidore played Christian Pulisic in on goal. Keeper Donis Escober got a piece of Pulisic’s shot, but no one followed Lletget to the back post and the ex-West Ham and current LA Galaxy man quickly put the Yanks up 1-0.

The Yanks didn’t stop, and Lletget drew a yellow card when he beat Ever Alvarado down the right flank and forced a take down from the Honduran defender.

Alberth Elis slipped John Brooks’ mark, and the Houston Dynamo man turned to fire on goal. Tim Howard was well positioned to scoop it up.

Lletget turned out to be injured by the Alvarado foul, and Bruce Arena turned to Alejandro Bedoya in the 17th minute.

Geoff Cameron was given a yellow card in the 25th minute for a foul on Roger Espinoza. That gave a free kick to Honduras from 30 yards out, and Romell Quioto fired right at Tim Howard.

Then it was the captain who doubled the lead, as Honduras inexplicably gave him the room to walk across the arc of the 18 to rip a shot across goal. 2-0.

It was Clint Dempsey’s turn in the 33rd minute, after an otherworldly scooped pass from Pulisic.

What. A. Pass. Kid.

Honduras then took a bigger hit: the loss of star attacker Romell Quioto (Houston Dynamo) to an apparent shoulder injury.

Brooks bailed out an out-of-position Gonzalez just before halftime to keep the lead 3-0.

The Yanks needed 15 seconds to make it 4-0, with Dempsey winning a 50-50 tussle and finding Altidore for a flick to Pulisic. He netted his fourth USMNT goal. He’s 18.

Pulisic then won a free kick 25 yards out from goal by embellishing a foul, and Dempsey’s free kick tricked Escober. 6-0. For real.

A scary moment late as a dazed and wobbly John Brooks was forced off despite no apparent injury. Fox’s Jenny Taft said he was dehydrated, which is a relief.

LINEUP

USMNT: Howard; Villafana, Gonzalez, Brooks (Ream, 70′), Cameron (Zusi, 58′); Bradley, Lletget (Bedoya, 18′), Nagbe; Pulisic, Dempsey, Altidore.

Goals: Lletget (5′), Bradley (27′), Dempsey (33′, 49′, 54′), Pulisic (46′)

 

Player ratings from USMNT’s pounding of Honduras

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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Battered. Throttled. Eviscerated.

Pick your verb of dominance, the United States likely fit it well in a 6-0 destruction of Honduras at Avaya Stadium in San Jose.

[ MORE: Recap + video | Three things ]

The win boosts the U.S. in World Cup qualifying after their 0-2 start, but how did the individuals fare? Obviously well.

Starting XI

Tim Howard — 7 — The team just feels in a safer place with the veteran back there. If the U.S. goes to the 2018 World Cup, Howard remains their No. 1 (and there probably never should have been a question. Sorry Brad).

Jorge Villafana — 7 — Tidy passing and a low-risk game from the Santos Laguna man.

John Brooks (Off 70′) — 7 — An early error before recovering to be his usual free-clearing, athletic self. Scary injury took him out late, as he looked dazed. Fox’s Jenny Taft said he was dehydrated, which is a relief.

Omar Gonzalez — 5  — He wasn’t bad, but Gonzalez is still a positional question mark. Bailed out a couple times by Brooks.

Geoff Cameron (Off 59′) — 6 — Out of position and a bit hobbled, he wasn’t at his best.

Michael Bradley — 7 — One of his better USMNT games in a long time.

Sebastian Lletget (Off 17′) — 8 — Scored, then got hurt on a roasting run down the right.

Darlington Nagbe — 6 — One or two electric moments in the first half, but overall a quiet enough night for the Timbers man.

Christian Pulisic — 9 — Hard to not to hand the kid a 10. He’s quite frankly the most exciting American talent in the history of the program.

Clint Dempsey — 10 — Along with Howard, the sort of player you knew would make sure this game ended with three points. The fact that he nabbed three goals, too, is just a bonus.

Jozy Altidore — 7  — Pretty darn good night holding up the ball, and passed as well as ever, but did he drop a bit too deep too often? The answer is probably, “Who cares? They won 6-0, dude.”

Subs

Alejandro Bedoya (On 18′)  — 6 — Typical high energy, space eating job in the middle of the park from the Union man.

Graham Zusi (On 58′)  — 6 — Good late clearance preserved the shutout.

Tim Ream (On 70′)  — 6 — Interesting to note that Arena went to him over Walker Zimmerman or Matt Besler.

Three things to take away from USMNT 6-0 Honduras

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The United States men’s national team pulled a Leicester City.

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That’s a joke with truth wrapped around it, because the Yanks have had plenty of time and even a pair of friendlies to respond from the firing of Jurgen Klinsmann.

But in their first serious match without their old coach, the U.S. looked a team renewed and unleashed. Now the Americans may find themselves back in an automatic World Cup qualifying spot with a win on Tuesday in Panama.

Things change.

Vindicated

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and all of the USMNT players waited months and months to get the chance to answer their critics following a pair of embarrassing losses to open the final round of World Cup qualifying.

Sure, having Clint Dempsey, Geoff Cameron, and Tim Howard back helped a whole lot, and the seasoning Christian Pulisic is getting at Borussia Dortmund is unquestionably good for an 18-year-old.

But there’s little doubt Michael Bradley and Co. were fired up to silence their critics. Whether they admit it or not, this is a bunch that was stung by those who said they failed their old coach.

Most expected the U.S. to get a point or better against Honduras, but to do it the way they did is an unexpected bonus. A win in Panama on Tuesday would boost them into the Top Three.

And don’t worry, the old boss was pleased for his former charges.


The future is now…

I Tweeted the following after a late second half pass from Pulisic, and there was little disagreement.

Pulisic won’t be credited with an assist for his shot which rebounded to Sebastian Lletget for the opener, but he will walk away with his fourth international goal and two proper assists.

One was an absurd scoop to Clint Dempsey’s chest, and the other was a long avenue that shouldn’t have existed. Still, Pulisic found that street and provided an absolutely dynamic force all over the park.

There have been U.S. teens at big European clubs, and U.S. teens who’ve made impacts on the national team, but never both at the same time and never both at this level. Pulisic is for real, and finding his ceiling is an adventure we’re all undertaking with great enjoyment.


…But the legends sure helped

Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard will go down as two of the most important players in United States men’s national team history.

Actually, they may be duking it out for Nos. 1 and 2 when it’s all said and done.

Dempsey’s hat trick was his career in a nutshell. The first saw him body off a defender while collecting a Pulisic pass off his chest, then lashing a shot with power despite said defender dragging him down.

The second was a burst of speed to run onto Pulisic’s through ball and classic calm in the face of an onrushing keeper, holding onto the ball before sliding it home from an acute angle.

The third was this free kick. A bit aided by goalkeeper Donis Escober, but such is life.

And don’t sleep on Howard’s early performance as Honduras tried to find some sort of foothold in the match. Always well-positioned, the team just feels safer with the Colorado Rapids man between the sticks.