Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas (L)  sc

Offshore drilling, Euro 2012: Spain 0 (4-2 on kicks), Portugal 0

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Cesc Fabregas beats Rui Patricio in Wednesday’s shootout, sending Spain past Portugal into Euro 2012’s final. (Getty Images)

Man of the Match: Sergio Ramos has always had the potential to be a world class center half, but having spent much of his career as a right back, the Real Madrid defender made his reputation on his ability to lock down the right flank. Today, he added another line to that resume, serving as clean up man against a Portuguese team that had a number of chances chances to flash their counterattacking prowess. Opta credits Ramos with a team-high seven clearances, five of them of the effective/influential variety. Ramos was also second on the team with 80 successful passes, hitting at an 89 percent clip.

NBC Sports: Spain tops Portugal in shootout to make Euro final

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Prematch, Vicente del Bosque threw us (and Portugal) a curve ball that never really broke. Despite not cracking the starting XI for any of Spain’s first four games, Sevilla’s Alvaro Negredo got the start at striker, relegating both Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas to the bench. Despite Spain going two hours in search of a goal, Torres never took his track suit off.
  • The logic? Perhaps the physically stronger Negredo would hold up better against bruising Portugal duo Pepe and Bruno Alves (Alves affirmed his bruising tendencies by four times going up and through the back of Spanish forwards ahead of aerial challenges).
  • There was one instance where the Negredo logic seemed to work. In the 29th minute, a long ball out of the defense found Negredo deep in the right of Portugal’s area. Holding up play, Negredo eventually found Xavi Hernandez, who played to the left to Andres Iniesta, who put a 16-yard shot out of play.
  • Portugal’s performance was the biggest reason Spain wasn’t able to better utilize Negredo. Implicitly disagreeing with the Blanc Doctrine (France’s coach implying Spain demands major adjustments because of the amount of time you’re without the ball), Paulo Bento’s surprisingly team played with more ambition than they did in the tournament opener against Germany (and, arguably, any opening 15 minutes this tournament).
  • They didn’t sit back. They came out and met Spain on the ball and only rarely allowed the holders’ quick passing game to get through their line. At halftime, Portugal’s possession number was in the mid-40s and would finish at 43.
  • Another close number at halftime: Chances. Neither team had any. Spain saw a couple of Iniesta shots fail to test Rui Patricio, while Portugal’s best chances came from crosses eventually swallowed up by Iker Casillas.
  • This wasn’t your normal No goals, no shots, but Spain has control, and it’s only a matter of time game. Portugal was not only on even footing with the champions, but there was a feeling that the match was being played on their terms.
  • Perhaps that’s why del Bosque was the first to make major changes. Negredo was off  in the 54th, giving way to Fabregas. Six minutes later, Jesus Navas came on for David Silva. The changes made Spain more dangerous, with Fabregas combining with Iniesta to start puncturing the Portuguese defense, but by the time Pedro Rodriguez came on for Xavi (80th minute), it was clear Spain needed more than just new personnel.
  • The big question: Xavi? Why was Xavi Hernandez coming off? Perhaps it was a fitness concern, with Vicente del Bosque skeptical his best playmaker could make it to minute 120. It’s just curious to see Silva (who’d had a decent game) and Xavi come off while Xabi Alonso – who’d had little to meaningfully do – stayed on. Why del Bosque can’t, no matter the scenario, get away from playing two deep-lying midfielders?
  • Portugal held off on their changes until late in the half before an obligatory substitution, bringing on Nelson Oliveira for Hugo Almeida. Just as in the first half, it seemed the half played out as they wanted, with a 90th minute chance for Cristiano Ronaldo nearly sending Portugal through:
    • Spain drew a foul 35 yards out on the left flank, the inswinging restart cleared out to Raul Meireles, who broke Portugal into the counter. He found Ronaldo on the left, who was able to set up an open chance for himself at 15 yards out. His left-footed shot was skied into the crowd, sending us to extra time.
  • After full time, Spain seemed to realize how close they were cutting things. Come minute 91, they took full control of the match. It wasn’t typical Spanish work you `til you wilt control. It was a more measured, deliberative response.
  • In the 104th minute, the approach paid off with the best chance of the match. Building down the left, Spain got to the line and cut a ball back to Iniesta, six yards out at the near post. He redirect was saved by Patricio.
  • By the time the second extra period started, Portugal had regressed into a much more passive stance. They were allowing Spain to keep the ball, more concerned about containing their opponents than regaining possession. For 15 minutes, we saw the match we had expected before kickoff.
  • Spain got one more chance before kicks. A throw-in down their left saw play move across the middle for Jesus Navas, who worked  with Alvaro Arbeloa to break down the left side of Portugal’s defense. Eventually, Navas had a shot from 12 yards out to the right of goal, Patricio’s right hand blocking a ball headed far post.
  • Spain had five shots and created four chances in extra time. Portugal: Zero and zero.
  • Penalty kicks:
    • Xabi Alonso went first, with a kick to the right of goal saved by Rui Patricio.
    • Joao Moutinho, first for Portugal, had his shot to the left saved by Iker Casillas.
    • Andres Iniesta was the first to score, going right after sending Patricio left. It was the only kick on which Patricio guessed wrong.
    • Pepe pulled Portugal even, side-footing a ball inside the left post, beating a driving Casillas.
    • Gerard Piqué restored Spain’s lead, skipping a shot over Patricio, who had correctly guessed left post.
    • Bruno Alves looked to go next, but Nani quickly came and took his spot, the order temporarily confused. Putting into the top-left of goal as Casillas dove right, Nani made it 2-2.
    • Sergio Ramos chipped a ball high into the right of goal, over Patricio, putting Spain back in front: 3-2.
    • Now it was Alves’ turn, with Cristiano Ronaldo apparently set to do fifth. If Alves missed, however, Ronaldo may never get to kick. Going for power, Alves hit the cross bar, leaving Cesc Fabregas in control of the match.
    • Fabregas nailed a perfect kick off the inside of the left post, leaving a moment’s doubt as to whether it would stay in. The ball rolled along the inside of goal, into the right side netting, by then well inside the goal. For the third time in a row, Patricio guessed right, but for the third time in a row, Spain scored, winning the shootout 4-2.
  • Though Spain was the slightly better team on the day, it wouldn’t have been unjust to see either team go through. But for Portugal to go out before Ronaldo kicked leaves a huge what if. It’s strange, because there’s no reason to think Alves wouldn’t have missed his kick had he gone fifth, but when you leave a tournament, you never want to feel like you could have done something else. Even if this something else is born from superstition, it’s still there.
  • Had Portugal won, Pepe would have been the clear Man of the Match. Mats Hummels’ exploits have drawn more attention because (amazingly) he was still unknown to most before this tournament. He also is a more skilled than more central defenders and thus is more apt to open eyes. But Pepe has been the best defender of this competition, having given multiple dominant defensive performances. He remains in the discussion as the world’s best defender (when he’s on the field), a status Pepe re-affirmed on Wednesday.
  • Spain moves on to their third straight major tournament final having likely transcended their most difficult obstacle. True, Germany may be a better team than Portugal, but as we saw today, Portugal was a good stylistic match against Spain. But Spain survives, moves on, and now awaits the winner of tomorrow’s Germany-Italy showdown.

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.

Morgan, USWNT cruise past Costa Rica 5-0 behind early flurry of goals

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The U.S. Women got off to a flying start in Olympic qualification Group A play by torching Costa Rica 5-0, including goals from Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Crystal Dunn.

Morgan led the way with a double, including one in the opening 12 seconds – only six passes off the opening kick – that set the record for quickest goal in U.S. Soccer history. Lloyd and Dunn both struck in the opening 15 minutes to make it 3-0 before Costa Rica even had time to blink. Lloyd’s came on a penalty after Dunn was felled for the captain’s 83rd international goal, and then the latter bagged one of her own minutes later on a rebound off a shot by Morgan.

[ VIDEO: Alex Morgan caps off a 12-second, six-pass goal ]

The visitors were able to make it Morgan scored her second after the hour mark to cap the goal tally. Jill Ellis completed her trio of substitutions after the fourth goal and the U.S. saw the game out easily.

The fifth came late on a cross from Tobin Heath that fell to Christen Press in the box. With her back to the goal, the 27-year-old produced a simply stunning first touch, back-heeling the ball down before whipping around the opposite direction to lose her defender and firing home the fifth goal.

With the final whistle, the United States improved their record against Costa Rica to a perfect 13-0. The U.S. will play Mexico next on Saturday before finishing out Group A play against Puerto Rico on Monday, February 15.

VIDEO: Alex Morgan scores goal against Costa Rica in 12 seconds

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The United States got off to a historically roaring start in Olympic qualifying. Taking on Costa Rica in Frisco, Texas to begin Group A play, Alex Morgan opened the scoring in just 12 seconds, taking just six passes to complete the masterpiece.

According to the USWNT twitter account, the goal is the fastest in U.S. Soccer history.

According to CONCACAF, the goal is also the quickest in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying, breaking Abby Wambach’s of 35 seconds in a 14-0 domination of the Dominican Republic in 2012.

[ WATCH LIVE: USWNT vs Costa Rica live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

The United States scored three goals in the first 15 minutes against Costa Rica tonight. They will take on Mexico and Puerto Rico across the next five days.

Watch Live: USWNT vs Costa Rica in Olympic qualifying

SAN DIEGO, CA - JANUARY 23:  (L-R) Carli Lloyd #10 of the United States is congratulated by teammate Alex Morgan #13 after a goal against Ireland at Qualcomm Stadium on January 23, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
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The United States women are set to begin Group A play in Olympic qualification, taking on 36th ranked Costa Rica at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas at 8:30 a.m. ET.

The game takes place after a 17-day camp at the national training camp in Carson, California.

[ WATCH LIVE: USWNT vs Costa Rica live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

Other teams in the group include Mexico and Puerto Rico. The Mexicans dominated Puerto Rico 6-0 in the first game.

LINEUP

United States: Solo; Krieger, Johnston, Sauerbrunn, Klingenberg; Brian, Horan, Dunn, Lloyd, Heath; Morgan.

Columbus, NYCFC release new kits to mixed results

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New York City FC
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Two Major League Soccer clubs have put their kits out there for the 2016 season. They’ve received a mediocre welcome at best.

Columbus was the first, and their kit makes a bold statement moving away from the traditional yellow and black that so often adorns their regular shirts. Instead, the kit incorporates the Columbus flag onto it. The release has seen quite a negative reaction on social media.

The kit was unveiled at the Columbus City Hall on Wednesday, featuring the traditional adidas stripes, although instead of the usual placement on the shoulders, the stripes come down the side of the torso. Recently, adidas has the tendency to copy general jersey patterns across its multiple properties, so look for this design with other clubs in the near future.

The negative reaction to the Columbus release isn’t terribly surprising considering fans often enjoy sticking to tradition, and backlash is common when clubs deviate from the norm. As an additional hurdle, the color contrast between red and yellow is somewhat stark, lending to the difficult reception. Add in the bright pastel blue shorts and…yikes.

While the club didn’t describe how they will utilize this kit during the season, it’s likely to be the primary (at least for now) as the club release says the kit portfolio also includes last year’s black kit, which is traditionally the away kit.

NYCFC’s release of their secondary kit was more positive, receiving a mixed response on social media.

As you can see, adidas again copied their general outline with the stripes down the side of the torso. However, the German clothing manufacturer did much better with the general design of these kits than the Columbus ones. I will give a bit of personal opinion here: I absolutely love these kits. The ripple effect accentuates the crest with a near-3D effect, and the colors mesh perfectly which serves to assuage the eye from being overwhelmed by a busy design. If there’s any criticism, it’s that without an outline, the Etihad logo tends to get in the way a bit, but that’s nitpicking. Well done NYCFC. Columbus…I’ll leave that one to you all.