Spain's national soccer player Hernandez attends a training session at the team's training center in Kirscha in Donetsk

Cristiano Ronaldo, memories of 2010, and Spain-Portugal: Wedneday’s Euro 2012 playlist

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source: Reuters

At the beginning of the month, Portugal looked set to be an unfortunate casualty of the Group of Death, with Germany and the Netherlands picked to get through. Two and a half weeks, a Dutch collapse, and some exorcizing of Danish demons later, the Seleccao are riding a three-match winning streak into Wednesday’s semifinal with Spain. And if debunking conventional wisdom wasn’t enough for the Portuguese, they have one big reason to like their chances against the defending world and european champions: a 4-0, November win in Lisbon.

It was, however, just a friendly, and given some of the other stumbles Spain have had in the last year, Portugal would be wise not to take too much from it. Since the World Cup, Spain has also lost to Argentina, Italy, and England – all friendlies. hrough Euro qualifying and the finals, they’ve stayed undefeated, implying they’ve developed two gears: play, and play to win.

Which gear they’ve been in during this tournament’s been unclear. Three wins in four matches is a record bested by only Germany, yet in most of their games, the holders have looked more controlling than dominant. La Roja dazzled in their group stage win over Ireland, but in their other three matches, Spain played to their emerging stereotype: Unwilling to take the risks necessary to score goals. Just like all stereotypes, the reputation’s part hyperbole, part truth.

Portugal represents a big step up. Yes, Spain has faced and survived Italy, but with an in-form Cristiano Ronaldo, Iberia’s other power may be primed for the biggest win in their history.

Match kicks off at 2:45 p.m. Eastern. Here’s your playlist.

1. We’ve been here before

The most important defender for Real Madrid, Portugal center half Pepe is not only used to playing Barcelona, he’s used to succeeding. At least, he’s used to experiencing as much success as anybody has against Barça, experience that should serve him and his teammates well on Wednesday. As Spain keeps Portugal’s defense under constant pressure, Pepe can help maintain the Seleccao’s organization, his teammates having the confidence of knowing he’s been there before.

The same effect can be seen in midfield, though the leader there is more unlikely. Raul Meireles served as one of the keys to Roberto Di Matteo’s conservative set up as Chelsea claimed Champions League. He may not be Portugal’s best midfielder, but he’s the one that’s actually been crucial to a team that’s beat a Spain-like attack.

Portugal has the talent and approach to thwart Spain, but they don’t have experiences getting it done. With Pepe and Meireles, they have two players who’ve successfully implemented the plan, if not for Portugal.

2. Cristiano

Portugal can beat Spain without Cristiano Ronaldo having a big day, though it would be a lot easier if he did. Having scored all the Portuguese goals in their last two wins, Ronaldo has shown he’s capable of carrying his team to the semifinals. He’s also left Paulo Bento in search of a Plan B.

Nani seems like the most likely understudy, especially if Portugal can get him behind Jordi Alba. Even though Nani’s been most effective this tournament when providing for Ronaldo, he’s still capable of getting goals, especially when Joao Moutinho’s providing for him.

Beyond that, set pieces are a possibility, but with Portugal unlikely to hold much of the ball, corners and restarts could be few and far between.

Portugal has built their team around Cristiano Ronaldo, so for better or worse, they’ll need him to have a big day if they’re going to get past Spain. Based on how Ronaldo’s played over the couple of weeks, there are worse places to be.

3. Staying back

Given Portugal’s strength on the wings, Vicente del Bosque has a choice to make regarding his fullbacks. As the tournament’s progressed, both Jordi Alba and Arvalo Arbeloa have been pushing forward with little regard with what goes on behind them. Against Ronaldo and Nani, it’s not a strategy del Bosque’s likely to be comfortable with, given his four years of risk aversion.

Del Bosque might be thankful for some middle ground. Keeping Arbeloa back isn’t that big a deal. He hasn’t contributed much in attack anyway. Alba, however, has improved with each game and provided an assist from the left against France. Keeping him back could have a much bigger effect.

It might not be an issue. Against the Netherlands and Germany, Nani often played very deep on the right – much deeper than Ronaldo’s corresponding position on the left. If Portugal reveres Spain as much as they revered the Germans and Dutch, Nani won’t be asked to pin Alba back. Instead, he’ll likely the one asked to run with the soon-to-be Barcelona left back.

4. Patience

And if Spain’s not going to release their fullbacks, Portugal’s going to be very difficult to break down. But if we’ve learned anything about Spain, it’s that they will break you down. Just give them time. All the 1-0s in South Africa attest to that, with the world champions needing extra time to convert their dominance over the Dutch into the 2010 World Cup.

It may take as long to get past Portugal, but Spain needs to stay patient. That doesn’t mean they should refrain from diversifying their attack by using Jesus Navas, Santi Cazorla, Fernando Llorente – they definitely should do all those things. Along the way, they should remember that it took them 63 minutes to get their goal against Portugal in South Africa. They should remember that’s not uncommon.

For all the danger Portugal presents, they’re not better than the German team Spain dominated in the 2010 semifinals. Spain needed 73 minutes to break through them. Portugal’s not better than the Dutch team Spain dominated in the final. It look La Roja 116 minutes to get that goal.

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.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: This is it, don’t get scared

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur is challenged by Gary Cahill of Chelsea during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane on November 29, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Week 36 of the Premier League season is here and we have a full slate of action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live online ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Click play on the videos below to hear my score prediction and preview of each game.

[ VIDEO: Top 5 storylines

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Newcastle United 2-0 Crystal Palace (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA Network) – [STREAM]

Arsenal 3-1 Norwich City – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Manchester United 2-1 Leicester City – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Chelsea 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Swansea City 1-1 Liverpool – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Stoke City 1-1 Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

West Brom 2-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Everton 2-1 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Southampton 3-1 Manchester City – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Watford 1-2 Aston Villa – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Top 5 storylines in Premier League: Week 36

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Week 36 of the 2015-16 Premier League season is here.

[ MORE: Full TV schedule – Week 36

That’s right, remarkably we have just three weeks to go in the season. I can’t quite believe it either.

With Leicester City on the brink of winning the title, an intense top four battle and a massive scrap between three teams for the final two relegation spots, it’s going to be madness.

Here’s a look at the top five Premier League storylines you should be keeping on eye on this weekend.


Foxes can clinch – (Manchester United vs. Leicester City, Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra 

“Now is the real chance to win the title. Next season you never know what happens. Once in a life.”

Those were the words of Claudio Ranieri ahead of Leicester’s trip to Old Trafford. The Italian manager knows he’s on the brink of immortality. The Foxes need just three points from their remaining three games to secure the title but they will be under no illusion that Manchester United will roll over this Sunday. Oh no. Despite reports of United’s fans offering up their season tickets in the home end for Leicester fans to potentially see their team win the title, there will be no such gesture of goodwill from Louis van Gaal and his players.

United have won six of the last eight in the PL, have reached the FA Cup final and Van Gaal needs a top four finish to realistically be around next season. They need a win. Yes, Leicester is without Jamie Vardy but Ranieri always seems to find a way of re-energizing this team. He really won’t have to say much this weekend. It’s simple: “beat Manchester United at Old Trafford and you are champions of the Premier League. You will go down in history forever.”

With Wayne Rooney pulling the strings in midfield, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford a threat in-behind Leicester and David De Gea in top form, Leicester will face a tough test. Then again, every week we write them off and they just keep winning.


Bitter Chelsea ready to battle – (Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur, Monday, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra 

Speaking of the PL title, remember who the reigning champs are? This is awkward. Of course, it’s Chelsea. Following Jose Mourinho’s midseason departure after a disastrous start to the campaign saw the Blues languishing just above the drop zone, Guus Hiddink has steadied the ship with a top 10 finish at least keeping things respectable ahead of Antonio Conte’s summer arrival.

That said, plenty of Chelsea’s players seem to have played themselves out of Conte’s plans in recent weeks with turgid performances. They won’t be lacking in effort on Monday, though, as the Blues are desperate to make sure that if Leicester slip up then London rival Tottenham don’t take advantage of it.

With Mauricio Pochettino confirming he has verbally agreed a new contract at Tottenham ahead of this game, all is rosy as Spurs. They have a new stadium on the way, a talented a hungry young squad and are making real progress under Pochettino as they’ll be in the UEFA Champions League next season. Chelsea is jealous, envious and maybe a little bitter to see their London rivals challenging for the PL. Eden Hazard has said the players will do their utmost to make sure Spurs don’t beat them on Monday. Expect an intense London battle at Stamford Bridge, a ground that hasn’t been a happy hunting ground (one win in their last 13 visits) for Tottenham in the past.


Wenger under pressure – (Arsenal vs. Norwich City, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra 

Arsene Wenger hit back at Arsenal’s critics ahead of this game but the fans are starting to stay away from the Emirates and that is bad news from the Frenchman.

After two decades in charge, any Arsenal fan will thank Wenger for what he has done for the club. However, the growing feeling from many is that they want a change. Wenger hasn’t delivered the PL since 2004 and this season their title charge crumbled. They should have won it. Leicester and Tottenham are not superior to them, at least on paper, but Wenger’s side showed a mental fragility at a pivotal point of the season and now they’re challenging for fourth place instead of the title.

When the season is over Arsenal’s board will have to take a long, hard look at what’s next. With empty seat in their last home game, Wenger insisted it isn’t a problem. He can’t keep burying his head in the sand.


Pardew to be a villain? – (Newcastle United vs. Crystal Palace, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra 

Alan Pardew led Newcastle to the top five and the quarterfinals of the UEFA Europa League. He also had them embroiled in a relegation battle and had an up-and-down relationship with the fans during his time in charge at St James’ Park.

When he returns with his Crystal Palace side this Saturday he will get a mixed reception. The Eagles have won just once in the PL in 2016 and sit on 39 points and not out of relegation trouble themselves even if it seems very unlikely they’ll go down. Their run to the FA Cup final has been a distraction but there will be plenty of focus from Rafael Benitez and Newcastle. They know the next two games is their chance to save themselves.

Newcastle are three games unbeaten and host an out of sorts Palace and then travel to Aston Villa. They must win those two games to give themselves a chance of staying up. If Pardew leads Palace to victory at St James’ he may just have to stay in the locker room for a while after the final whistle has blown…

With Sunderland away at Stoke and Norwich away at Arsenal this weekend, the Magpies know a win could see them leapfrog both and get out of the relegation zone. That would be huge as their confidence continues to build under Benitez. Is it too little too late, though? Look at the situation above. It is tight.


Top 4 battle intense

West Ham United face a tricky trip to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday (10 a.m. ET on Premier League Extratime and online via Live Extra), while Manchester United host Leicester City and Manchester City travel to top six chasing Southampton on Sunday (11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra). West Ham, United and City are all battling it out with Arsenal for the final two Champions League spots.

Nobody can afford to slip up.

As we mentioned, United are looking strong and although West Ham have lost just one of their last 10 games they’ve also drawn four of their last five to curtail their progress. City drew 0-0 with Real Madrid in midweek and may have one eye on the return leg at the Santiago Bernabeu next Wednesday. Can Manuel Pellegrini afford to rest key players like Kevin De Bruyne, Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart ahead of that game?

The top four battle will likely go down to the wire and its likely one of the contenders will slip up this weekend with tough games for all four.  

Van Gaal: We cannot let Leicester win the title

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Louis Van Gaal is a party pooper. He wants Manchester United to beat Leicester City this Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) at Old Trafford.

Au contraire.

[ MORE: How are Leicester here? ]

Van Gaal, 64, wants his side to beat Leicester this weekend so they can have an even bigger celebration at the King Power Stadium the following weekend against Everton when they will likely win the Premier League.

He’s a sly old fox. No pun intended.

Anyway, with United pushing for a top four finish after winning six of their last eight games in the PL, Van Gaal is adamant his team must win on Sunday to deny Leicester the one win they need to secure the title.

“I think we have to beat Leicester because we are still in the race for the first positions, so we have to beat them,” Van Gaal said. “We cannot allow that they are the champions this weekend at Old Trafford. I think they shall be the champion a week later, so we don’t spoil the party, just postpone it a little bit.

“I was the first who said that they could be champions and now a presenter [Match of the Day’s Gary Lineker] has to wear underwear when they are the champions. For me it is not a surprise; I say that many, many times. I believe in team building and the manager has done that with this team. They had the circumstances to play always with the same team as they did not play so many matches as the other teams in the league, so it is always possible. It is good for the Premier League and the sport of football that not always the same teams are the champion.”

With Leicester missing Jamie Vardy, plus United losing just once at home against Leicester in the league in the last 44 years, the Red Devils will be confident of dashing the Foxes title hopes. At least for this week.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up this summer? ]

Wayne Rooney is back to his creative best, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are looking razor sharp and David De Gea is on top form. You would think United could win this and significantly boost their top four hopes.

Than again, this is Leicester. This season they’ve proved that just when you think you have things figured out, they surprise you again.

Not LVG, though. He will have his party hat and streamers ready just in case…

WATCH: Premier League TV schedule, stream links – Week 36

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Week 36 of the 2015-16 Premier League season and this is the week we could have a brand new champion.

It all kicks off at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday as Stoke City hosting relegation battler Sunderland (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) to the Potteris. Can Sam Allardyce‘s side keep their good run going and grab a vital win in the race against the dreaded drop? At the same time fellow relegation rivals Newcastle United host Crystal Palace (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra) at St James’ Park. Former Magpies boss Alan Pardew will be the villain but the Magpies are three games unbeaten.

[ WATCH: Premier League via Live Extra ]

Rounding things off on Saturday, Arsenal welcome Norwich City (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra) to the Emirates Stadium. Arsene Wenger is under pressure from the fans as the Gunners are battling for a top four finish, while the Canaries are battling for their lives and are currently in the drop zone.

A busy Sunday sees three games back-to-back with Swansea hosting Liverpool (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) at the Liberty Stadium. The Reds are still chasing a top six finish but will be distracted by their Europa League exploits. Then, the big one. Leicester City head to Manchester United (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) knowing a win will win them the Premier League title. Can Claudio Ranieri‘s men clinch the PL trophy at Old Trafford?

Top six chasing Southampton then host top four hopefuls Manchester City at St Mary’s (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra). Will Ronald Koeman‘s men keep their good run going against a Man City side who drew with Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal in midweek?

Then, Week 36 finishes off on Monday with a massive London derby. Tottenham know that if Leicester slip up at Manchester United, then they will need at least a win or a draw at Chelsea on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) to keep the title race alive. Can Mauricio Pochettino‘s men capitalize on any slip up from the Foxes to keep the title race going?

You can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports Live Extra and the NBC Sports Live Extra App. If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here. They are available soon after the final whistle, but rights limit us to a certain number each week. Looking for game highlights? Try this.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.

FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday

10 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Sunderland – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Newcastle United vs. Crystal Palace – USA [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Watford vs. Aston Villa – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Everton vs. Bournemouth – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Brom vs. West Ham – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Norwich – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday

7 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]
9:05 a.m. ET: Manchester United vs. Leicester City – NBCSN [STREAM]
11:30 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. Manchester City – NBCSN [STREAM]

Monday

3 p.m. ET: Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur – NBCSN [STREAM]