Cristiano Ronaldo, wing commanders, and Czech Republic-Portugal: Thursday’s Euro 2012 playlist

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Two weeks ago Portugal looked like a good bet to finish last in Group B. Now they’re favorites to advance from Euro 2012’s quarterfinals. How did this happen? They walked into the Group of Death with most seeing them well behind Germany and the Netherlands. The quartet’s other team was Denmark, a nation that’s bested Portugal in the last two qualifying cycles. Now, they’re bonafide dark horses – as good a bet as any to win this, beyond Germany and Spain.

The biggest difference has been goals. Between their playoff win over Bosnia and Herzegonvina and the start of Euro 2012, the Seleccao scored one goal in 270 minutes. It wasn’t exactly a shock. Portugal’s established quite a reputation for squandering their attacking talent. Blame the lack of a number nine, or blame former coach Carlos Quieroz. No matter, the scoring drought extended into Group B play, where Portugal was shut out by Germany in their opening match.

Then came a relative explosion. Three goals against Denmark served as revenge. Wrapping up group play, Portugal scored twice against the Netherlands, both goals coming from their dormant giant: Cristiano Ronaldo. If he finally starts bringing his club-world quality to international soccer, Portugal may be more than mere dark horses.

Their Thursday opponents, the Czech Republic, can do for some awakenings of their own. While people debate whether Milan Baros should persist as the team’s starting striker, the leading scorer at Euro 2004 has gone silent. He went the competition’s first 250 minutes without registering a shot on goal. Suffice to say, he remains scoreless.

Combined with the health concerns surrounding captain Tomas Rosicky, and the Czechs may be left relying on their wingers to carry them. To this point, that’s where all their firepower’s come from, with left wing Vaclav Pilar and opposite Petr Jiracek getting help from right back Theodor Gebre Selassie. With Tomas Hubschmann holding down the middle, it’s been enough, albeit against a weak group.

The easy ride stops at 2:45 p.m. Eastern as Euro 2012 starts its quarterfinal round. Here’s your playlist:

1. New pattern

A howler in each of the Czech Republic’s first two games had goalkeeper Petr Cech looking more like his 2008 self than the man who helped carry Chelsea to the Champions League title. Against Poland, however, he made it 90 minutes without an issue, and while that was mostly because of the control the Czechs exerted over the match’s final 60 minutes, results are results. The scoresheet alone really doesn’t provide much context.

On Thursday, Cech’s going to be tested far more often. Cristiano Ronaldo is hitting a run of form, and if that doesn’t translate into questions for Cech, it’s going to at least force some corners. On the other side, Nani has been one of the tournament’s best wingers. His crossing will test Cech’s decision making.

After Robert Lewandowski was taken out of Saturday’s game, Poland didn’t have much to offer. Portugal won’t be so easily dissuaded.

2. Wide view

Portugal’s wingers can cause nightmares, but given how the Czech Republic’s threatened from wide, Paulo Bento and his staff might have had a moment’s pause before falling asleep on Wednesday. Vaclav Pilar could still prove the tournament’s breakout player. Petr Jiracek’s make an impact on each of the two matches he’s started on the right. Theodor Gebre Selassie’s been the competition’s biggest threat from the back.

Bento, however, shouldn’t lose any sleep over the problem. Fullbacks Fabio Coentrao (left) and Joao Periera (right) have given all-tournament performances, and for as good as Nani has been going forward, he has also exhibited years of work drilled into him by Alex Ferguson and Manchester United. While Gebre Selassie is set to start on Cristiano Ronaldo’s side, there’s no reason Portugal’s wingers can’t be flipped. Ronaldo has shown an aversion to starting as a nine, but for one game, he should be willing to move to his less-favored right wing.

3. Remember Holland

Portugal may slowly be leaving the Caros Quieroz era behind, but in their decisive group match against the Netherlands, they reverted to their shell. It was only after the Netherlands took the lead that Portugal woke up. From there forward, they controlled the match. Who would have known the Dutch can’t defend? (Answer: Everybody except Portugal, seemingly.)

Will Bento learn from the Holland match? There’s no reason for them to come out in their shell except reflexive conservatism. Against the Czech Republic, they can do as they did against Germany and Holland, start their midfield deep, and hope the Czechs expose themselves like they did against Russia. Or, they can control the match from the opening kickoff like the better team they are.

4. Time for answers

It seems Michal Bilek has been putting off his team’s attacking issues. I say “seems” because he doesn’t have a lot of options. If Tomas Necid, their 22-year-old forward protege, isn’t going to be used, there aren’t many alternatives to Milan Baros. There were fitness issues surrounding Necid, but if he isn’t healthy, why is he in the squad?

Baros isn’t the only issue. Tomas Rosicky’s recovering from an Achilles injury that kept him out of the Poland match. That’s one problem. Another is his productivity. Rosicky failed to make an impact in the two games he’s played. It might be best to give Daniel Kolar a second start and leave Rosicky as an as-needed option.

Regardless, Bilek can’t wait any longer. Portugal’s the best team the Czechs have faced since opening against Russia, a game they lost 4-1. He either addresses the attack or leaves the tournament with some “what ifs”.
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.

Stoke City-West Ham delayed due to power outage

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A major power outage at the bet365 Stadium means West Ham United’s visit to Stoke City won’t start on time.

An update will come around the regularly scheduled kickoff time of 10 a.m. ET.

[ MORE: Palace blasts Leicester ]

As it stands, ex-Stoke attacker Marko Arnautovic is set to start against his former club.

LINEUPS

Stoke City: Butland, Cameron, Shawcross, Wimmer, Pieters, Shaqiri, Fletcher, Allen, Ramadan, Diouf, Crouch. Subs: Grant, Berahino, Choupo-Moting, Tymon, Adam, Ngoy, Edwards.

West Ham United: Adrian, Zabaleta, Collins, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Masuaku, Noble, Obiang, Lanzini, Arnautovic, Antonio. Subs: Hart, Rice, Makasi, Haksabanovic, Chicharito, Sakho, Ayew.

Watch Live: Chelsea v. Saints, Arsenal v. Newcastle; 5 PL games

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Five Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday and you can watch them all live online.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Chelsea host Southampton, Arsenal welcome Newcastle to the Emirates Stadium and Stoke clash with West Ham, while Burnley head to Brighton and Watford lock horns with Huddersfield.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for all five games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Chelsea vs. Southampton – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Newcastle – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Brighton vs. Burnley – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
10 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. West Ham – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM(Kick off delayed due to a power outage at stadium) 
10 a.m. ET: Watford vs. Huddersfield – NBC Sports Gold  [STREAM]

Leicester City 0-3 Crystal Palace: Benteke the hero

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  • First away win, goals of season for Palace
  • Benteke with a goal, assist
  • Leicester’s first defeat in five
  • Palace unbeaten in seven, longest ever run in PL

Crystal Palace beat Leicester City 3-0 at the King Power Stadium on Saturday as first half goals from Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha set Roy Hodgson’s side on their way to a first away win of the season with Bakary Sako hammering home another goal in stoppage time.

Leicester’s run of four-straight wins came to an abrupt end as Claude Puel‘s side struggled from start to finish and Palace looked dangerous on the break with Benteke scoring one, setting up another and making amends for his missed penalty kick late on against Bournemouth last weekend.

To add to Leicester’s woes Wilfried Ndidi was sent off in the second half for picking up two yellow cards.

With the win Palace move on to 17 points and push out of the relegation zone and into 14th place, while Leicester remain on 26 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Palace started well early on with Jeffrey Schlupp pulling a ball back across goal which was crying out to be finished, then Ruben Loftus-Cheek broke free on the edge of the box but his low shot was well saved by Kasper Schmeichel.

Leicester looked threatening on the break as the first half wore on but Puel’s side failed to create clear cut chances and they were hit with a hammer blow.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Neat build-up play on the right saw the ball fall to Andros Townsend and his delightful inswinging cross found Benteke who nodded home Palace’s first away goal of the season.

There was a sense of relief for Benteke and a deserved lead for the Eagles, but soon after Benteke almost headed into his own net but his defensive clearance flew inches wide and then Jamie Vardy went close for the hosts.

Benteke then created Palace’s second goal as he drove forward with the ball, played in Zaha and the Ivory Coast international drilled home. 2-0.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Palace sat back and soaked up plenty of Leicester pressure in the second half, with the Foxes going close with Riyad Mahrez having a low shot saved well by Julian Speroni and Benteke heading wide at the other end.

On the break the Eagles threatened as the second half wore on and Leicester pushed to get back into the game, but Ndidi then picked up two yellows cards with the second for a shocking dive in the box.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Hodgson’s men held on comfortably to continue their impressive recovery and added a third goal in stoppage time with Sako smashing home.

January exits at Manchester United?

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Jose Mourinho has already stated his opinion that he isn’t a big fan of the January transfer window but he may buy this year, and it appears he could be willing to sell a few players next month too.

With the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Luke Shaw out of favor at United and linked with moves away from Old Trafford, Mourinho was asked if he was happy to let players leave in January.

Citing the sale of Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin last January, Mourinho didn’t hesitate to leave the door open for players who want out.

“For the right price, that is my approach as a manager in case the club advise. Every player has a price,” Mourinho said. “If a player is not happy and if a player brings with him a request with the number that we consider is a good number it happened with Memphis (Depay) and Morgan (Schneiderlin), I would never say no.”

In a word, if you’re not in Mourinho’s plans now and you aren’t happy, there’s the door.

Mkhitaryan leaving to return to Borussia Dortmund wouldn’t be a huge surprise as they’d likely get a large chunk of the $35 million transfer fee back that they paid for him in the summer of 2016.

Shaw’s situation is a little different, with United perhaps wanting to use the left back in any potential deal for Danny Rose and Tottenham do not seem to be willing to sell Rose until the summer.

Still, both appear to have no future at United and Mourinho is nudging them towards the exit.

With Mourinho also leaving the door open for a potential signing in January, could United spend big to try and put pressure on league leaders Man City? It seems unlikely, but it appears Mourinho is lining things up for somewhat of a shakeup next month.