Will the Italians triumph once again?

Offshore drilling, Euro 2012: Italy 0 (4-2 on kicks), England 0

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Man of the Match: The week off must have done him good, because Andrea Pirlo looked anything but a old, tiring playmaker. The 33-year-old midfielder gave his best performance of the tournament, and although none of this efforts bore fruit, it wasn’t for a lack of quality. His diagonal passes from deep midfield defined Italy’s play in their attacking phase, while long passes from his own half frequently made England’s high defensive line look misguided.

NBC Sports: Italy beats England in shootout in quarterfinal

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Remember all the doom and gloom I conjured before the match? For half the match, they looked utterly idiotic, the teams giving us the tournament’s best game. The second half of the match (the last hour) was pretty terrible. We got our dramatic ending, but boy did we have to sit through a lot of England passivity before we got it.
  • Formation paralysis: 3-5-2? 4-3-1-2? 4-4-2? 1-2-3-2-1-1-1? Italy’s formation was the talking point coming into the match. Would they start four at the back? And would Mario Balotelli return to the starting XI? Yes to both of those questions.
    • Balotelli returned to the lineup after being benched for Ireland while
    • Leonardo Bonucci and Ricardo Montolivo got starts for the injured Giorgio Chiellini and the reportedly hobbled Thiago Motta.
  • England started strong. That ponderous team that seemed reluctant to attack through group stage? They didn’t show up until later. At the onset, England attacked decisively, their best chance coming when Glen Johnson ran through the middle of the box and onto a James Milner cross. It should have been a goal, but Johnson overran the pass, let the ball get caught in his feet, and ended up pushing a shot at Gianluigi Buffon.
  • It was the second goal scare of the match. In the third minute, out of nowhere, Montolivo spun a ball from 25-yards into Joe Hart’s right post.
  • After  being on the back foot for 15 minutes, Italy starting coming into the match. They took another 10 minutes to assert themselves, but over the first half’s final 20 minutes, they were the better side.
  • By then, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck, who had been so diligently monitoring Andrea Pirlo at the beginning, were giving the Italian regista more room. Part of that may have been Italian adjustments. Throughout the tournament, Pirlo had been the main provider for Antonio Cassano, who’d been the team’s driving force in the final third. In the first half, Italy had better success playing directly to Cassano and then, after the defense collapsed, playing back to Pirlo, who could then target Italian attackers.
  • Once that was established, the game opened up for Italy, who had a much more direct presence about them when the halftime whistle blew. Going into the locker rooms, Italy had held 60 percent of the match’s possession.
  • No changes in the second half meant Italy could pick up where they left off. Soon, Pirlo was picking up the ball deep, playing as he would against a team that had no intention of stopping him. This led to a number of long balls played over the top for Balotelli, the striker’s speed constantly beating England’s curiously high line.
  • Over the half’s first eight minutes, Italy missed three great chances. Daniele de Rossi was delivered a sitter on the second ball in from a corner. Balotelli couldn’t covert a ball blocked in front of goal by Hart, while Montolivo was a step too slow getting to the rebound of Balotelli’s shot.
  • Hodgson had to make the first move, though judging by the timing, there was no “had to” about it, in his mind. At the hour mark, Andy Carroll and Theo Walcott came on for Danny Welbeck and James Milner, substitutions that seemed planned prior to kickoff. Both players had done good work, particularly Milner, who gave his best performance of the tournament. If that substitution was pre-ordained, Hodgson should have reconsidered.
  • Carroll nearly paid off within six minutes, backing Andrea Barzagli down to the edge of the six before knocking down a ball for Ashley Young. It was England’s best chance since the fifth minute, but Young scuffed it wide.
  • Still, England had a slightly better presence in the match after the changes, perhaps spurring Cesare Prandelli’s first changes. Antonio Cassano, playing 18 minutes more than his customary hour, gave way for Alessandro Diamanti. One minute later, Antonio Nocerino came on for De Rossi.
  • It wasn’t long until Italy regained control of the match, dominating possession as England started playing like a team that was either conserving their energy or coming to grips with their status as second best. Were they playing for extra time? Penalties? Hodgson’s subs had fail to restore England’s drive.
  • Just before full time, Claudio Marchisio chipped a ball over the defense for Nocerino, whose fine first touch set up a volley from 13 yards. Glen Johnson (also putting in his best match of the tournament) tracked the run and got a foot to the shot.
  • England’s entire defense played well, as did Joe Hart. The high line was a problem, but that was the coach’s tactic. Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker were strong in midfield, but up top, Rooney gave another performance covered in rust. England would have probably been better without him.
  • England had a final chance before full time, a Rooney overhead kick sent into the stands, but after 90 minutes, the match had started to become what we’d expected: Lots of Italy possession; England not really caring; few good chances. Where England’s speed, six, strength and athleticism had given Italy problems in the first half, they neglected to use those qualities in the second. Instead, they sat deep, waited, hoping for something to happen, just as they’d done against France and Ukraine.
  • Thirty extra minutes were useless. Italy controlled extra time, generating a slew of half chances and a Nocerino goal that was called off for offside. England provided the periodic scare. It wasn’t much different than we saw over the last 30 minutes of regulation. Italy were clearly the better side but lacked the know how in the final third to take it.
  • Bemoan penalty kicks if you want, but they’re better than a coin flip. At least they test a few soccer skills. They were also the only way this match was going to end. Without them, these teams would still be playing, and after two hours of seeing England siphon off their own will, this one needed to end.
  • The kicks:
    • Italy went first and chose Mario Balotelli. Hesitating before hitting it, Balotelli nuzzled it into the lower left corner. 1-0, Italy.
    • Steven Gerrard went first for England and hit it in the same spot. 1-1.
    • Ricardo Montolivo was next and, trying for the same spot, pulled it wide, leaving it 1-1.
    • Wayne Rooney went high and into the middle of goal, he put the Three Lions up 2-1.
    • Andrea Pirlo was third for Italy, putting a beautifully “cheeky chip” into the middle of goal as Joe Hart dove left. 2-2.
    • Ashley Young was next and had a chance to restore England’s lead, but his high shot into the middle of goal nailed the crossbar. 2-2.
    • Antonio Nocerino showed Hart right and went left, putting Italy up 3-2.
    • Ashley Cole, a constant in his teams’ shootouts, was fourth for England. He went right and saw his shot swallowed up by Buffon, giving Italy a chance to close it out with their fourth kick.
    • Alessandro Diamanti, who flamed out at West Ham two years ago, got the chance to put Italy into the semifinals. Again Hart went right, and again the shot went left. Italy won the shootout, 4-2.
  • England fans will lament their country’s poor luck in penalty shootouts, but it’s difficult to have too much sympathy for a team that put no effort into winning the match. Except for the game’s first 15 minutes, Italy were clearly the better side, finishing with 64 percent possession and almost all of the dangerous moments. They played like semifinalists. England didn’t.
  • More numbers: Total shots: 35-9, Italy; Totals on target: 20-4, Italy. They’re Barcelona-esque numbers, even if the performance’s style wasn’t very Barça at all. England let them dominate.
  • And after two hours, it seems like a very English performance. Solid at the back with a certain strength and athleticism throughout their team, England had little else. They lacked the tactical nous to break the Italians.
  • And for Italy, it was a very Italian performance. This week, Buffon mentioned Italy has always kept matches close. This was no different, though not for lack of trying. Italy was the better team throughout, and although they go into the semifinals having only beaten Ireland, they are still in the final four.
  • Next up is Germany, a team that has the tactical nous to complement their speed and technical quality. The Azzurri will be decided underdogs, but starting to embody the spirit of champions’ past, anything seems possible.

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.

MLS Snapshot: Houston Dynamo 0-2 New York City FC (video)

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: David Villa #7 of New York City FC celebrates his first half goal with teamate Andrea Pirlo #21 againd the Toronto FC at Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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The game in 100 words (or less): With one goal already accomplished for New York City FC this season, Patrick Vieira’s group made positive strides in capturing another on Friday night in Houston. David Villa’s 20th and 21st tallies of the season gave the visitors the lead after halftime and NYCFC managed to hold onto the points from there. With just two matches remaining following the win over the Dynamo, NYCFC currently sits atop the Eastern Conference on 51 points. Meanwhile, the Dynamo remain nine points out of the final spot in the West with four matches to play.

[ MORE: NYCFC’s Vieira gets big praise from Dynamo counterpart ]

Three moments that mattered

27′ — Harrison tests Willis from distance — Chances were at a minimum in the opening stanza, but Joe Willis had to get down quickly here to deny Jack Harrison on this blast.

52′ — Villa hits his 20th on the season — The Dynamo defense won’t be pleased when they watch this one again, but in his typical fashion, David Villa found his way in on goal.

73′ — Saunders watches as Rodriguez hits post — It can be a game of inches at times and the Dynamo were certainly on the wrong end of this one as Raul Rodriguez’s effort struck the post and stayed out.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: David Villa

Goalscorers: David Villa (52′, 90′)

SKorean soccer club loses points over corruption scandal

JEONJU, SOUTH KOREA - MAY 24:  Besart Berisha action during the AFC Champions League Round Of 16 match between Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Melbourne Victory at Jeonju World Cup Stadium on May 24, 2016 in Jeonju, South Korea.  (Photo by Han Myung-Gu/Getty Images)
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) The South Korean soccer league deducted nine points from league leader Jeonbuk Hyundai on Friday after one of the club’s employees was convicted of bribing referees in 2013.

The K-League also fined Jeonbuk 100 million won ($90,600). The club, which saw its 14-point lead over second-place FC Seoul reduced to a five-point margin, issued an apology and vowed to take measures to prevent it from happening again.

A court in Busan on Wednesday sentenced a Jeonbuk scout to a suspended prison term of two years for paying referees in exchange for favorable decisions in several league matches in 2013.

An official from Jeonbuk said the scout has been suspended by the team and it will soon make a decision whether to terminate his employment. He refused to be named, citing office rules.

The K-League had vowed reforms after being rocked by a massive match-fixing scandal in 2011, when 52 players were indicted for taking bribes in return for trying to manipulate the outcome of matches or betting their own money on the games.

Mangala replaces Mathieu in France squad

PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 03:  Kolbeinn Sigthorsson of Iceland and Eliaquim Mangala of France compete for the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 quarter final match between France and Iceland at Stade de France on July 3, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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PARIS (AP) Barcelona defender Jeremy Mathieu has been removed from the France squad for upcoming World Cup qualifiers for an unspecified reason.

[ MORE: What’s Arsenal’s best XI in the Arsene Wenger era? ]

The French football federation gave no explanation for coach Didier Deschamps’s decision to replace Mathieu with Eliaquim Mangala, only saying he made the move “following a discussion” with the Barcelona player. Mangala is currently on a season-long loan at Valencia from Manchester City.

France takes on Bulgaria on Oct. 7 at the Stade de France before traveling to Amsterdam to play the Netherlands three days later in Group A.

EXCLUSIVE: Michael Bradley on Toronto FC’s long-awaited renaissance

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Michael Bradley #4 of Toronto FC heads over to take a corner kick during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Times have changed in Toronto for the local football club. The Reds are no longer, to put it bluntly, the bad club that failed to deliver results to a passionate fan base expecting so much more.

A club that missed the playoffs in each of its first eight seasons has clinched a postseason berth for a second-straight season. And this year, for the first time ever, TFC will finish this season with more wins than losses.

You read that right. For the first time ever. Yes, it was that bad.

[ MORE: JPW talks with USMNT prospect Gooch ]

It would overstate things to say Bradley showed up and fixed things for the Reds, turning them from a bad big club to a big, bad one overnight; For one thing, TFC missed the playoffs during his first season and Bradley only netted twice in a return to MLS which was expected to be dominant (though he was, per 90, one of the best possession players in the league that season).

Yet as time as gone on, in an organization that frankly had not seen much winning at all, Bradley has not just led the way as a battler emerged from BMO Field; The 29-year-old TFC and USMNT captain now leads a winner, one he’s quick to point out comes from an organization, not any single personality.

“I’ve tried every day since I got here to spill my heart and soul into it and to try to help in every way that I can,” Bradley told ProSoccerTalk.

“For a lot of people who have been here for the last years to see the way that things have continued to move forward and progress, there’s a big sense of pride. We’re by no means where we want to be. There are big goals around here in terms of continuing to turn this into a team and a club that can compete and win on a regular basis.”

Yep, times have changed for the better. And at the center of it all, whether he admits it or not, is the steely reserve of an American in Canada.


[ MORE: Wisconsin sophomore set to face Mexico, USMNT ]


Michael Bradley is deliberate in his choice of words, and pauses several times to make sure his point is clearly made.

The train powers along once he finds the right track, however.

It’s fitting, because Greg Vanney’s defensive system with Bradley works in a similar way. Patiently wait for the right time to take the ball, then surge forward and take no prisoners. Find Sebastian Giovinco. Find Jozy Altidore. Find Jonathan Osorio, or another attacker… or just fire away.

“On our best days, we have a team that plays in a real good way,” Bradley says. “When we have our best group on the field, our football is good, the ball moves quickly, we’re a team that is able to put the game on our terms with the ball but not do it in a way that’s not just needless possession.

“We circulate the ball, but also do it with an eye toward playing forward and make sure we get it to our dangerous attacking players quickly and in good moments. Defensively we’re able to tighten things up and found a way to make it very hard on other teams to play against us.”

Heading into Saturday night’s home match with DC United, TFC has won seven of its last 12 MLS matches. That stretch has seen Toronto lose just once, and the Reds have weathered an injury to reigning MLS MVP Giovinco with a win and three draws.

TORONTO, ON - MAY 10: Michael Bradley #4 of Toronto FC during an MLS soccer game against the Houston Dynamo at BMO Field on May 10, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Bradley’s deliberate expression of feeling comes into play again when he considers the challenges of TFC’s summer, injuries not withstanding. The captain is thrilled with how the Reds have found contributions from all over the field, but would love to see their best XI for a sustained stretch of action.

Finding chemistry with a team during the MLS season, where a club can lose its best players for weeks at a time thanks to the unorthodox calendar, is a massive challenge. Bradley knows it’s not just Toronto who’s troubled by it, but he also senses how good the team could be with a season’s worth of build-up.

The excitement ratchets higher and higher in his voice as he contemplates the complementary pieces in a healthy, non-international break hampered Greg Vanney lineup. TFC went 1-2 during the Copa America, losing to the Red Bulls and Orlando City. Those points loom with Toronto in a three-way battle for the top of the East.

“We feel like we’re on a very good team, and I mention the other stuff because it’s a shame that over the course of a 34-game season there are so many other things that go into it,” Bradley said. “Which means you are not able to play your best team on as consistent a basis as you’d like.”


[ MORE: LA’s Dos Santos gets Mexico call-up ]


The conversation turns, briefly, to the United States men’s national team.

The leader of the unit, Bradley has been through the highs and lows of wearing the stars and stripes since a very young age.

KANSAS CITY, KS - MAY 28: Michael Bradley #4 of USA directs a header away from the Bolivia forwards in the first half of an international friendly match between Bolivia and the United States on May 28, 2016 at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)

The captain has 121 caps and 15 goals, a journey that began when he was capped at age 18. He’s seen the improbable Confederations Cup comeback run, the thrills of the 2010 World Cup, and several Dos a Ceros. He’s also seen the 2015 Gold Cup failure, the disheartening loss to Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup, and more positional banter than any player in U.S. history.

Given his lofty status within the federation, and his early start, he’s the right person to ask about the USMNT’s teenage sensation Christian Pulisic. And he’s happy to talk about the kid, though not about the big picture, and mentorship. Yeah, he talks to the kid about soccer. No, that’s not for media consumption. So stop asking.

“Christian is a really good kid,” Bradley said. “He’s smart, he’s into it, he’s talented, motivated.

“(But) Everybody needs to stop asking what kind of advice to give him. The most important thing for him is, and I said this to somebody last week, is to continue to find the most joy every day in playing, in training, in improving, in stepping on the field on Saturday and competing and trying to be as good as possible. As long as he never loses the joy of what it means to step on the field and play football, then he’s going to continue to improve and take himself to great places.”

You get the sense that, consciously or not, Michael Bradley has ushered these thoughts from personal experience.


The captain of America loves his adopted hometown north of the border.

And Bradley isn’t exactly measuring Toronto against a one-light city in the sticks. After leaving New Jersey as a teenager in 2005, Bradley has lived amongst the abbey and villages of Monchengladbach, the Dutch windmills of Friesland, and the many wonders of the Eternal City, Rome.

But there’s something in the fourth biggest North American city that works for Bradley.

“It’s a city that is so incredibly diverse,” Bradley begins. “When you get around different parts of the city, the types of people you meet and see who come from all over the world, that part is special. Since the first day that my family and I got here, this has felt like home.

“Our daughter was born here. Our son goes to kindergarten here now and comes home; He’s an American, he was born in Rome, but goes to kindergarten in Toronto and comes home every day singing, “O Canada”, because at the beginning the day that’s what they do. It’s an amazing city, and a place we’re proud to call home.”

Bradley is signed through the end of 2019, and Toronto has turned down several overseas pleas for the midfielder.

Orlando City's Kaka, center, battles with Toronto FC's Michael Bradley, right, as Amando Cooper looks on during the first half of a soccer game, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016 in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
(Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

And TFC should be good for a long time. Only two rostered players are over 30: outstanding back Drew Moor and Benoit Cheyrou. This on a team that has won the joint-most road games in MLS, allowed the second-fewest goals, and ranks third in goal differential (plus-12).

“We’ve in some ways have such a high standard for ourselves that when you get home and you have a few games at home and you’re not able to find the winner, you’re not able to make that final play to win the games and take all three points, when you’re only able to come away with a tie, that people — and we include ourselves in this — are disappointed,” Bradley said.

“The feeling inside our group on certain days, lately even when we’ve tied a few of these games at home has been disappointment and frustration, and feeling like there was more there for us. That’s a positive thing. We’ve gotten ourselves to the point where we expect to step on the field every weekend and compete to win. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing against, and where we’re playing. That’s the mentality that we have.”


[ MORE: MLS Playoff picture — Who can clinch? ]


To sum it all up, a personal angle that might underscore the impressive turnaround in Canada’s largest city.

Living in Buffalo and loving the sport the way I do, my friends and I got in on TFC season tickets in 2008, Toronto’s second season. We’d make the 90-minute or 3-hour drive, depending on the city’s unholy, construction-driven traffic, and revel in the soccer paradise created by the Red Patch Boys.

Visits by River Plate, Pachuca, and Real Madrid sustained interest in the team, but in a way we became numb to names: Amado Guevera, Torsten Frings, and Danny Koevermans were trotted out and left without a playoff run. Taking a dozen or so day trips to watch losses that made the average at-best Maple Leafs look like 1980’s Oilers became too much to justify the cost.

Oddly enough, TFC went from hot new Toronto property to one that started to feel like just another entity. When Jermain Defoe and Julio Cesar didn’t spur a playoff run, morale seemed at an all-time low. As a soccer writer now with no true allegiance, it was more with a sigh of “Wouldn’t it be cool if they were good?” when Altidore, Vanney, and Giovinco joined Bradley. When Clint Irwin, Will Johnson, and Drew Moor joined mainstays Justin Morrow and Jonathan Osorio, there was even more legitimate reason for hope.

But hope is different from getting the job done, and that’s something for which Bradley and Vanney deserve a ton of credit. There are more Toronto demons to overcome — there’s little doubt a sports teams’ playoff stench can linger over a town once the postseason hits (Again, I’m from Buffalo) — but for now it’s worth lauding a club which has found its forward-thinking despite the skeletons in their Ontarian closet.

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07: Michael Bradley #4 and Jozy Altidore #17 of Toronto FC celebrate a goal by teammate Tsubasa Endoh #9 during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)