Offshore drilling, Euro 2012: Spain 2, France 0

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Man of the Match: An early Spain goal meant there weren’t many stand out performances, the game contested between an Spain team lacking ambition and a France side deprived of the ball. Xabi Alonso, however, had a day to remember, scoring twice in his centennial appearance for La Roja. A fine first half header provided the early winner, with a late penalty kick completing the midfielder’s double.

NBC Sports: Spain beats France 2-0 to reach semifinals

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Pre-match changes sent heads spinning as to what the coaches had in mind, and given how the match slowed down after Spain’s opener, the game’s most interesting aspect was the mundane tactical battle set up by Laurent Blanc’s selection:
    • For Spain, it wasn’t much of a mystery. Fernando Torres was out. Cesc Fabregas was in, with Vicente Del Bosque coming good on his mid-week misgivings about his starting XI. This meant Spain planned to play with … (wait for it) … a false nine! ZOMGs!
    • For France, the changes were more meaningful. Philippe Mexes was suspended, so Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny came in. Anthony Revelliere was also brought into the defense, with normal starting right back Mathieu Debuchy pushed into midfield. Florent Malouda came in to bolster to the middle, while Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa went to the bench.
    • That Nasri and Ben Arfa were dropped wasn’t much of a surprise. Nasri had come under fire for being too slow in his passing and not diligent enough with his defending. Ben Arfa was talking on his cell phone in the locker room after the Sweden game, electing not to take part of the team’s post-match discussions.
    • France’s formation was 4-5-1, with its initial distribution mimicking a kind of 4-3-2-1 except for Debuchy playing as a type of right-sided sweeper. Blanc obviously didn’t want Andres Iniesta deciding the match. Debuchy tracked the Spain star until he could be handed off to Revelliere, and vice-versa. When Revelliere was pulled wide, Debuchy would drop into the space.
    • Adding to some of the confusion on the defense’s right, Adil Rami did much of the marking on Cesc Fabregas, which (given how Spain played) pulled him in a number of different directions. Debuchy helped here, also. When Rami was taken too far out of position, that usually meant the ball was on the right, which allowed Debuchy to drop into that space.
    • As the half went on, Franck Ribery started going out to his normal left wing position, leaving France with an amorphous 4-5-1.
  • Nineteen minutes in, Iniesta destroyed all that planning. Yohan Cabaye (who had been playing on the right of France’s “2” level in midfield) came to support, help that seemed to cause some confusion. Debuchy and Revelliere didn’t know what to do without being able to use Iniesta as their indicator. This allowed left back Jordi Alba to blow down the flank and, after Iniesta had drawn everybody to him, get behind the defense and onto a through ball.
  • Alba’s cross from the left of the area was perfect, finding Alonso ghosting into the box, connecting with him 14 yards out (even with the right post). Alonso hit a perfect header to the left of Hugo Lloris, bouncing it four yards in front of the line and into goal.
  • But where was Alonso’s man? Replays showed Alonso start his run from near the center circle. Florent Malouda never broke out of a walk.
  • Another interesting first half tactical nuance was Sergio Busquets’ positioning. Spain employs a much-maligned double pivote, but in the first half against France, he was often positioned much higher than Alonso, at one point applying the pressure to the French defense. Was this a response to France’s lineup? Their set up? Until the goal, Spain played with two players at Xavi Hernández’s level of the field.
  • After the goal, France started to take more liberties going forward. They generated two crosses into the penalty area down their left side but failed to offset Spain’s possession dominance. The rest of the half had the same feel of Spain-Ireland’s first period – the holders having swapped their drive for a goal.
  • France maintained their approach, beginning the second half with the same set up. The only tweak was making Ribery into more of a forward, though the team’s best chances continued to come from their left side. In the 62nd and 71st minutes, France could have easily had equalizers, but nice reads from Iker Casillas snuffed out problems before they could take root.
  • Del Bosque tried to change things up, bringing on Pedro Rodríguez and Fernando Torres (France had already brought on Samir Nasri and Jeremy Menez). The substitutions had only one effect: More offside calls against Spain. Koscielny had a pretty easy time trapping Torres.
  • France continued to be the more dangerous side, but unable to offset Spain’s possession, they couldn’t sustain an attack. Their moments of pressure were too isolated to build on each other, preventing them from catching Spain off-guard.
  • Spain finally put the match away in extra time when Pedro drew a questionable penalty from Reveilliere, leaving them with a flattering scoreline.
  • The win gives Spain a semifinal a meeting with Portugal – 90 minutes that could prove very similar to what we just endured. Portugal has a recent win over Spain but are likely to erect a bunker. Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani offer new threats, but the conflict is the same: Can Portugal allocate the resources they need to hold Spain off while still providing a way to get the ball to their dangermen?

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.

Gabriel Jesus confident he’ll return for Man City this season

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Gabriel Jesus bursted onto the Manchester City scene upon arrival, but an injury back in February has left the talented Brazilian sidelined ever since.

[ MORE: Everton loses Coleman to leg break on Ireland duty ]

The lively attacker suffered a broken metatarsal last month against Bournemouth, which required surgery, but the 19-year-old remains confident that he’ll be able to feature again this season for the Citizens.

“I don’t know, I have no return prediction,” Jesus told SporTV. “But I hope I can still play some games this season.”

Initial thoughts were that Jesus would miss around three months, all but ending his first Premier League season. Now, Jesus is hoping that he’ll be able to pick up where he left off prior to the devastating injury.

“It’s good,” Jesus said on his road to recovery. “Thank God, the effort, not just mine, but from all the physiotherapists in Manchester, doctors and everyone. It was not easy for me.

“It’s my first injury. Not muscle injury, but it’s the first time something happens that leaves me out of games. So it was not easy.

“But I saw that, of course, no one wants this to happen, but it could be worse. So we operated soon, I decided to operate and give it time.”

In just his first four matches with Pep Guardiola‘s side, the young Brazilian netted three goals and even dethroned Sergio Aguero in the starting lineup.

CONCACAF chief Montagliani seeks World Cup entry for all co-hosts

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A joint-bid for the 2026 FIFA World Cup is looking more and more possible, and CONCACAF chief Victor Montagliani believes that if that does happen then all co-hosts should be granted a spot in the tournament.

[ MORE: Making sense of USMNT’s emphatic win over Honduras ]

With FIFA president Gianni Infantino looking to finalize World Cup expansion plans from 32 to 48 teams over the coming weeks, it seems as though Montagliani’s hopes could become a reality for CONCACAF and other regions planning on creating multi-nation bids.

“I don’t think we should be dictating how a confederation allocates their slots from a hosting standpoint. That’s up to them,” Montagliani said.

FIFA will conduct its next meeting on Thursday when Infantino and all six confederation presidents meet in Zurich, Switzerland to decide on World Cup expansion, which Infantino has been adamant about since taking the reigns of soccer’s governing body.

2026 could play an important role for the United States, as it is seen as a critical piece in a joint-bid with Mexico and Canada to host the World Cup.

Additionally, Montagliani has hopes of making a combined Copa America with North and South America a permanent fixture after recently holding discussions with South America’s FIFA vice president Alejandro Dominguez.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Friday night’s massive USMNT victory ]

However, one area that would be left uncertain is the future of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which is currently held every two years.

“If that is the case and we get that done, then we have to have a serious look — is it really tenable to have a Gold Cup?” said Montagliani, whose FIFA stakeholders panel faces tough talks on adding and subtracting dates when clubs must release players on international dates.

“Do we really need it [the Gold Cup]?” he suggested. “Is it just clogging the calendar for the players?”

Lukaku coy on Everton future, says “decision has already been made”

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Romelu Lukaku has made it no secret that he hopes to play Champions League football, and reality may be setting in that the opportunity to do so won’t come at Everton.

[ MORE: Everton loses Coleman to leg break during Ireland match ]

While the Belgium international hasn’t dealt his hand in regards to his future at Goodison Park, it seems as though the Toffees could be losing out on keeping their star striker.

[ MORE: UEFA qualifying roundup — Wales in trouble, Buffon hits 1000 ]

Last month, agent Mino Raiola claimed that Lukaku’s deal with the English side was 99.9 percent complete, however, the 23-year-old has still yet to ink a new contract.

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s UEFA World Cup qualifier against Greece, Lukaku says that his future plans are already made up.

“The decision has already been made so I can’t talk about that,” Lukaku said of his future at Everton.

The former Anderlecht standout has had nothing but success since joining Everton, first on loan and then making a permanent transfer from Chelsea in 2014. Over the combined stints, Lukaku has bagged 83 goals in all competitions for the Toffees, but the young attacker says there’s nothing wrong with having “ambition.”

“There is nothing wrong with ambition. You have to embrace it and where you are as a footballer,” Lukaku said. “I’ve made a long way until now but the road is still long and I know I have to improve and get better. I want to help Everton as much as I can, as well as the national team. I think a lot of stuff can be achieved.

“Sometimes people will mistake things that I say but it’s just ambition that I have; I want to win titles and trophies and I don’t think people should take that as arrogance — people should embrace it.

“This is what footballers need to achieve if they want to become the best, and I think young kids need to learn that too.”

Making sense out of USMNT’s emphatic win over Honduras

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In the lead up to Friday night’s clash at Avaya Stadium, the U.S. Men’s National Team was faced with a must-win scenario. What came next though was a bit more shocking than most U.S. Soccer supporters could have possibly imagined.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT’s win over Honduras ]

An emphatic 6-0 scoreline was how it finished in San Jose, California as the USMNT took down Honduras to lift itself out of the cellar of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, but it’s how Bruce Arena’s side picked up the result that was so impressive.

After an extended layoff that began in the final months of the 2016 Major League Soccer season, Clint Dempsey has returned to both club and country with a vengeance following Friday’s performance. The artist formerly known as “Deuce” recorded a hat-trick in a span of 22 minutes to solidify an already convincing American lead, leaving Dempsey just two goals shy of Landon Donovan’s all-time USMNT scoring record (57).

Dempsey wasn’t the only bright spot though, as Sebastian Lletget, Darlington Nagbe, Jozy Altidore and most notably, Christian Pulisic, turned in stellar performances that really left Honduras with no chance to find its rhythm in the match.

The 18-year-old Pulisic continues to be the talk of the town when it comes to the USMNT, and rightfully so given his club situation. There’s never been a U.S. talent succeeding at a club as big as Borussia Dortmund at such a young age, and Pulisic’s effort against Los Catrachos proved further that the young attacker could be the playmaker the Yanks have been looking for since Donovan’s retirement.

Meanwhile, another player that turned in a great performance was Jozy Altidore, and probably not for the reasons you’d normally think. The Toronto FC striker didn’t get on the scoresheet, however, it was Altidore’s hold-up play and vision that helped the U.S. dominate Honduras.

Altidore has long been a staple of the American attack, and an important one at that with his 37 international goals, which ranks third all-time for the U.S.. If the 27-year-old is able to replicate more performances like Friday night though, that makes the Stars and Stripes significantly more dangerous because of Altidore’s duel-threat ability.

The lone area the U.S. will look to clean up heading into Tuesday’s important qualifying match against Panama will be some of the team’s defensive letdowns. Jorge Villafana turned in a strong performance in his WCQ debut at left back, while veteran Omar Gonzalez had several moments of weakness in the heart of the American backline.

The Pachuca defender was caught out of position on several occasions and gave the ball away at times as well, but fortunately for the U.S., Honduras was unable to capitalize on those errors.

Overall though, the U.S. did exactly what it needed… and then some. The three points was all Arena’s group could have hoped for from the start after lackluster performances against Mexico and Costa Rica back in November, but adding six goals could certainly help down the road as well if goal differential becomes a key factor in the Hexagonal.

It’s difficult to say the U.S. is back because that’s a relative phrase that can be interpreted in numerous ways. The USMNT put in a stellar performance, albeit without key players like Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin defensively, while Bobby Wood and Jermaine Jones are two others that didn’t feature.

[ MORE: Three takeaways from USMNT’s emphatic win on Friday night ]

Only time will tell when it comes to how this team gels over an extended period of time, but it was certainly a dream start for the Americans as Arena Part Deux continues.

Up next, Panama.