Spain v France - UEFA EURO 2012 Quarter Final

Offshore drilling, Euro 2012: Spain 2, France 0

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source: Getty Images

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.

U.S. U-20s awaken in 2nd half vs. Haiti, keep WCQ hopes alive

USMNT U-20 team (Photo credit: U.S. Soccer)
Photo credit: U.S. Soccer
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With many thanks to the hat trick scored by Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake, on loan from Liverpool), the U.S. U-20 national team’s hopes of qualifying for the 2017 U-20 World Cup remain intact.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

After dropping all three points in their opening group-stage game against Panama on Saturday, Tab Ramos’ young Yanks faced elimination from CONCACAF’s U-20 Championship in Costa Rica with a defeat to Haiti on Tuesday. After 15 minutes, the Americans found themselves a goal down, the prospect of winning zero points from their first two games a terrifying possibility.

Then, Lennon struck from the penalty spot. A draw wouldn’t be enough, realistically, though, as they’d still trail Haiti by three points ahead of the final group game, against Saint Kitts and Nevis, with the top two sides from each team advancing to the classification stage.

The score remained 1-1 until halftime, after which point the Yanks roared to life with three goals in a seven-minute span. Luca de la Torre (Fulham) scored the first of the bunch, an empty-net finish after a failed punch by the goalkeeper. Lennon quickly followed suit with two more to make it 4-1.

With three points from two games and a goal differential that now sits at +2, the Yanks are second in Group B, just ahead of Haiti on goal differential (+1). Panama sit atop the group with six points and a +5 goal differential. A U.S. victory over Saint Kitts and Nevis, to go with a Haitian upset of Panama, would see the Americans finish top of the group go into Group E in the classification stage, which would see them accompanied by a pair of second-place sides. The first-place side in each classification group qualifies for May’s tournament in South Korea.

Guradiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” as a club

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City reacts as Leonardo Jardim head coach of AS Monaco looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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In the past, when faced with adversity in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester City could do little more than wilt and crumble as their European dreams when up in smoke year after year, typically in embarrassing and/or heartbreaking fashion.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

On Tuesday, when faced with 2-1 and 3-2 deficits late into the second half of their round-of-16 first leg against Monaco, deja vu was quickly setting in for anyone who’s followed Man City’s rise from middling afterthought to mega-rich conglomerate with aspirations of world domination. Then, something strange (based on years of recent history) happened: Sergio Aguero fired City back to level at 2-2 in the 58th minute. Sure, more shocking defending saw the deficit restored three minutes later, but again, Aguero dissented.

For this reason, and perhaps this reason alone considering the putrid defensively display over the course of 90 minutes, first-year City manager Pep Guardiola should be heartened by Tuesday’s events at the Etihad Stadium. In his mind, it was a massive step forward in the club’s psyche — quotes from the BBC:

“I am so happy for the result, we are still alive. These kind of things help this club to achieve another step. We attacked in small spaces. That’s why they wanted me to come here. Everybody has to be congratulated.

“We are going to fly to Monaco to score as many goals as possible. If we don’t score in Monaco we will be eliminated.”

UCL: Aguero, Falcao bag braces as Man City edge Monaco, 5-3

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City (C) celebrates with John Stones (L) and Leroy Sane of Manchester City (R) as he scores their third goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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  • Sterling gives Man City an early lead
  • Falcao hits back with a brace
  • Aguero’s brace breathes life back into City

Radamel Falcao and Sergio Aguero bagged dueling braces, while the defenders and/or goalkeepers from their respective sides engaged in dueling disasters, resulting in a bonkers UEFA Champions League round-of-16 first leg for the ages: Manchester City 5, Monaco 3.

Leroy Sane, David Silva and Raheem Sterling combined to put Man City in the lead after 28 minutes (WATCH HERE). Sane danced brilliantly and effortlessly past four defenders before playing Silva to the endline. The cross was simple for Silva, with Sterling arriving into acres of space in the goalmouth.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

That’s as good as the first half would get for City, though, as their annual Champions League meltdown commenced six short minutes thereafter (WATCH HERE). The Nicolas Otamendi-John Stones-Bacary Sanga triangle of deadly defending fell asleep in unison, which allowed Falcao all the time and space in the world to size up and head home his 23rd goal (in 29 games — all competitions) this season.

Eight minutes later, everyone else in sky blue joined the aforementioned trio for nap time. Fabinho, who also whipped in the cross for Falcao’s goal, dropped the most delicate of long balls onto the foot of Kylian Mbappe, and the 18-year-old fired his first-time shot past Willy Caballero without a single defender five yards from him in any direction.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

The second half began just as disastrously for City as the first ended. Otamendi tripped Falcao inside the penalty, and after discussing with his assistant on the endline, referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz awarded Monaco a penalty kick — City felt hard done by after Aguero wasn’t awarded a clear-cut penalty in the first half — which Falcao then proceeded to hit weakly into the waiting arms of Caballero. The tide had turned back in City’s favor.

Ageuro fired City back onto level terms just short of the hour mark, with many thanks to the horrendous howler of Danijel Subasic. Aguero’s effort on goal was tame, and right at the Croatian international, but the ball went right through his hands and found the back of the net to make it 2-2, a scoreline which lasted all of three minutes.

Stones tried his very best Otamendi impression, which looked like halfhearted defending as Falcao left him for dead and chipped Caballero in the 61 minute. The renaissance of Falcao will almost certainly result in a summer full of transfer stories linking him with a move back to the Premier League.

Aguero brought City back to level terms again in the 71st minute, unleashing a stunning volley from David Silva’s corner kick. Stones tapped home at the back post six minutes later to put City 4-3 ahead, and Sane completed the epic comeback with an empty-net finish in the 82nd minute.

In the end, City still have plenty of work to do in the second leg, having conceded not one, not two, but three away goals. One thing is a near certainty: no extra time shall be needed.

UCL: Atletico Madrid blitz Bayer for 4 away goals, win 1st leg 4-2

Atletico's Antoine Griezmann, front, is congratulated by his teammate Saul Niguez after scoring their side's second goal during the Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match between Bayer Leverkusen and Atletico Madrid in Leverkusen, Germany, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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  • Four away goals for Atleti
  • Niguez, Griezmann, Gamerio, Torres on the scoresheet
  • Bellarabi, Savic (OG) give Bayer a lifeline

If you spent your Tuesday glued to Manchester City’s thrilling 5-3 victory over Monaco in the UEFA Champions League, you may now direct your attention to the day’s other first-leg festival of goals: Bayer Leverkusen 2, Atletico Madrid 4.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

Saul Niguez opened the scoring with a stunning curler after 17 minutes (WATCH HERE), and Antoine Griezmann doubled Los Rojiblancos‘ advantage eight minutes later to put Diego Simeone’s side in a commanding position with two early away goals.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

Karim Bellarabi pulled one back for Bayer just three minutes into the second half, but Kevin Gamerio converted from the penalty spot to restore Atleti’s two-goal lead just before the hour mark. Stefan Savic gave one back to Bayer in the form of an owl goal in the 68th minute, before Fernando Torres brought the visitors’ away-goals haul to four in the 86th minute.