Shipped from Abroad, Euro 2012: Looking forward with four teams left

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Crystal Ball: What Needs to Happen Next Round

Spain’s the known quantity. While there’ve been qualms about how they’ve gone about business defense, they can win this competition using the same patient, conservative, possession-sensitive approach that has got them to the semis. The approach leaves two unresolved issues: a.) Whether del Bosque will make any tweaks and finally try to limit Spain’s exposure, and b.) whether Portugal can exploit whatever exposure del Bosque provides.

Expect Portugal to play their preferred game: reserved, reactionary, reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo. In the previous two rounds, we advocated Portugal be aggressive from the get-go. Not here. Over potentially 120 minutes, Ronaldo and Nani are likely to get the chances they need. They just need to convert and allow Portugal to sit deep, keeping Spain at arm’s length.

If Germany’s going to get their much sought after major competition victory over Italy, it’s hard to imagine a better time than Thursday. Italy’s still in a regroup mode, with their semifinal appearance doing wonders to restore the national team’s place in the world soccer pecking order. Germany is the better team, and with Miroslav Klose and Marco Reus proving viable options against slower defenses, Joachim Löw has multiple ways of breaking down the Italians.

Who knows how Italy plans on beating the Germans. On paper, the game looks like a mismatch. But Italy wasn’t expected to get a result from Spain, yet they did. They’ve also never trailed in the tournament, having gotten results form three of the world’s top eight teams along the way. Is Germany so special that they aren’t subject to the same hiccups that befell Spain, Croatia and England?

PST’s Euro 2012 “More Powerful” Rankings

Taking a long term look, toward teams’ title hopes.

In:

1. Germany – To answer the question we just posed: Yes, Germany is so special that they won’t be subject to the same issues that left Spain, Croatia and England deadlocked with Italy. The attitude that made Croatia so successful in their second half against Italy? Germany plays like that from the opening kickoff.

2. Spain – Expect to see the real, full throttle Spain on Wednesday. To this point, they haven’t had to turn it on, and they may not need to turn it on to beat Portugal, either. But ahead of Sunday’s final, they need to find out if they still have that extra gear in them.

3. Portugal – And if they don’t, the Seleccao can pounce. The key will be pressing for chances from the start. The worst thing that can happen for Portugal is to see early success by sacrificing their attack. Perhaps that means keeping Nani deep while having their striker (likely to be Hugo Almeida) track back on Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso, leaving Cristiano Ronaldo alone. That could get them into the second hour at 0-0, giving them only a sliver of the match to equalize after Spain gets their customary winning goal.

4. Italy – Whatever mistakes Germany make, the Italians more are capable of exploiting them than any team the favorites have faced to this point. And as good as the Germans are, mistake-free games haven’t been their thing. As many chances as Andrea Pirlo has generated for Mario Balotelli, it’s not hard to envision Mats Hummels paving the way for at least one great chance.

Out:

5. England – Though England showed well at Euro 2012, they leave the tournament with little to build on for Brazil 2014. Still, given where this team was at the point Fabio Capello resigned, this is a great result for Roy Hodgson and The FA.

6. Czech Republic – The players probably would have preferred Michal Bilek employ a more aggressive approach against Portugal, but after a bad opening night against Russia, the Czechs represented themselves well at Euro 2012.

7. Greece – Their quarterfinal loss wasn’t as close as the final score indicates, but they managed to knock off a good Russian team while give the Germans a momentary second half scare. This seventh place ranking speaks to the cliff teams like Russia, France, the Netherlands and Sweden plunged off, but given how little was expected of the Greeks, their fans should be elated with their shock quarterfinal appearance.

8. France – By the end of the tournament, their stock had fallen farther than Enron’s.

… and PST’s Player of the Tournament Wunderlist

1. Andrea Pirlo, Italy
2. Andres Iniesta, Spain
3. Mesut Ozil, Germany
4. Sami Khedira, Germany
5. Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
6. Fabio Coentrao, Portugal
7. Xavi Hernández, Spain
8. Pepe, Portugal
9. Joao Moutinho, Portugal
10. Mario Gomez, Germany

For the first time this competion, we have somebody who’s a clear frontrunner for the Player of the Tournament. And really – who would be upset with Andrea Pirlo winning this award?

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.

La Liga: Sevilla win late to move even with Atletico Madrid in 3rd

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MADRID (AP) Wissam Ben Yedder scored three minutes after entering the game to give Sevilla a late 2-1 win over 10-man Celta Vigo in the Spanish league on Thursday.

The victory moved Sevilla even on points with third-place Atletico Madrid with four matches left. Third place guarantees an automatic spot in the Champions League next season, while the fourth-placed team has to go through a playoff.

Ben Yedder netted the winner from close range after a low cross by Samir Nasri in the 79th minute, beating a defender to the ball and hitting the top of the net with a right-footed shot.

“It was a complex game but the team was able to overcome the difficulties,” Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli said.

Joaquin Correa put the host ahead after halftime, and Iago Aspas equalized by converting a penalty kick just minutes later. Aspas did not celebrate the goal out of respect to fans of his former club.

Sevilla dominated from the start and was pressuring vigorously in search of the winner, especially after Celta went a man down when midfielder Pablo Hernandez was sent off with a second yellow card in the 56th with the game 1-1.

Sergio Escudero and Nasri each struck the crossbar a few minutes apart late in the second half, and Vicente Iborra also had hit the woodwork earlier in the game played under steady rain in Seville.

It was the third win in four matches for Sevilla after a streak of five games without a win.

Sevilla and Atletico are level on points, but the Madrid club is ahead on the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Top PL Storylines: Bye-bye, St. Totteringham’s Day? So long, Sunderland?

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Ahead of Week 34 of the 2016-17 Premier League season, we’re most looking forward to keeping an eye on the following storylines…

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Cancel St. Totteringham’s Day?

8,018 days (otherwise known as 22.9 years) have passed since Tottenham Hotspur last finished above Arsenal in the Premier League. First of all, that’s a lot of days. Secondly, the time to reset that clock is nearly upon us, as Tottenham take a 14-point lead into Sunday’s North London derby (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) — perhaps the final one to be played at White Hart Lane. With Arsenal having only five games left to play after Sunday, a 17-point deficit would be mathematically impossible to overcome, and would guarantee Spurs’ first PL finish above Arsenal since the spring of 1995.

The fact that Spurs could end that embarrassing, heinous streak in a game against Arsenal, in perhaps their next-to-last game at White Hart Lane, and maybe even close to within a single point of Chelsea in the title race… it’s almost all too timely and too perfect to believe it could really happen… to Spurs.


Finish the job

With all due respect to Middlesbrough (home), West Bromwich Albion (away), Watford (home) and Sunderland (home), Sunday’s trip to Goodison Park, where they’ve lost on their last two visits (all competitions) and they’ll take on seventh-place Everton (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com), is far and away the toughest remaining fixture on Chelsea’s schedule as they chase a fifth PL-era title (fifth in all eras). Having booked their spot in the FA Cup final by beating Spurs last weekend, Antonio Conte is dreaming of — and a favorite to win — a double in his first season at Stamford.


Someone has to finish top-four

Ahead of the weekend, two points separate Liverpool (third), Manchester City (fourth) and Manchester United (fifth), with Arsenal another four back in sixth (but possessing a game in hand). Given all the points dropped by each of the aforementioned sides in recent weeks, it’s important to remember that someone has to finish third and fourth in the PL this season.

We’ve already discussed Arsenal’s titanic task, so here’s the challenges facing the other three this round: Liverpool, at Watford (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com); Man City, at Middlesbrough (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, on  NBCSports.com); Manchester United, vs. Swansea City (7 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com).


So long, Sunderland?

For five seasons now, Sunderland have flirted with relegation from the PL; and every previous season, they’ve pulled a rabbit out of the hat and managed to stay up. This season, though, under David Moyes, there appears to be no rabbit. With five games to go, safety is a whopping 12 points away, which means a loss to Bournemouth on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSports.com), coupled with a win or draw by 17th-place Hull City, would officially send Sunderland to the Championship next season. If the Black Cats somehow find their way out of this predicament, a northeastern knighthood awaits Mr. Moyes.

French authorities investigating 2018, 2022 World Cup bids

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PARIS (AP) French financial prosecutors are investigating the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and have heard former FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

A person with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press on Thursday that France’s financial prosecutor services (PNF) opened the investigation on grounds of private corruption, criminal association, influence peddling, and benefiting from influence peddling relating to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

Blatter was questioned in Switzerland last week as a witness, the same person told the AP.

The office of the attorney general of Switzerland said in a statement that “at the request of and in the context of proceedings being conducted by French justice authorities, it has questioned Mr. Joseph Blatter in his capacity as a person providing information on the 20th April 2017 in Zurich.”

The PNF opened its investigation last year.

FIFA has also been targeted by investigations led by Swiss and US authorities. Last month, FIFA sent 1,300 pages of internal investigation reports into suspected bribery and corruption to Switzerland’s attorney general. The documents complete a 22-month probe by legal firm Quinn Emanuel, which FIFA retained in the fallout from United States and Swiss federal prosecutors revealing their sprawling investigations of soccer corruption in May 2015.

Blatter said last week that he met with U.S. Department of Justice investigators and insisted he was not a suspect in their bribery and corruption case linked to FIFA.

Blatter was suspended from office in September 2015 and later banned from soccer by the FIFA ethics committee.

Johannsson expected to leave Bremen this summer — is MLS next?

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Aron Johannsson’s time at Werder Bremen is all but finished, as the 26-year-old American-born, Icelandic-raised striker is expected to leave the club this summer after 22 months with Die Werderaner.

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

Having failed to make much of an impact during his second season in the Bundesliga, following a few promising days early in the fall of 2015, the German press stated on Thursday, in no uncertain terms, “Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club” — quotes from Kicker (translation courtesy of Google Translate):

In addition, Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club. The US boy was not able to get through the hard competition in the storm, claimed more time, which can hardly be guaranteed in the next season. The fact that Baumann is already talking about finding a meaningful solution with the striker in the summer can be interpreted as follows: Johannsson will leave Werder.

Since various bits and pieces are lost in the above translation, allow us to offer a translation of the translation: the “hard competition in the storm” refers to the three or four strikers presently ahead of him in the pecking order. Johannsson fell down the depth chart due in large part to a hip injury which cost him the final seven months of last season.

Johannsson was recently quoted as saying, “It’s not my desire to leave, but at the end of the day it’s important that I play. I love football, but I need to play to be happy.”

[ MORE: John Brooks hip injury is worrying ahead of World Cup qualifiers ]

So, what’s next for Johannsson?

He can probably forget about a move to a top-division team in any of Europe’s premier leagues (England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France). A move back to Holland, where he starred at AZ Alkmaar (39 goals in 81 games) before moving to Bremen, would make sense if his goal is to stay in Europe at all costs. Another strong season (just a half, even) could earn him another shot with a first-division side roughly the size of Bremen.

Then, there’s MLS, which Johannsson’s been linked with before, and has publicly expressed a desire to join one day. As a current U.S. national team player, a move to MLS would mean a trip through the league’s allocation order for Johannsson. As of this posting, the Houston Dynamo hold the no. 1 spot in the allocation order, with Columbus Crew SC, San Jose Earthquakes, Minnesota United and Orlando City SC rounding out the next five.

[ WATCH: If you haven’t Darlington Nagbe’s latest golazo ]

Any team in MLS could land Johannsson by acquiring the top spot in the allocation order, via trade, and agreeing (what would almost certainly be) a Designated Player contract with him.

At the age of 26, Johannsson will likely feel there is still something left for him to accomplish in Europe. A strong showing in this summer’s Gold Cup (he’s a perfect candidate for Bruce Arena’s “B-team”) could open plenty of eyes — and doors. Money talks, though, just as the opportunity to be the face of the franchise and score a boatload of goals in MLS might also do.