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.

Dani Alves fires back at Diego Forlan

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After Neymar and Edinson Cavani’s penalty drama that has blown up over the last few days and potentially led to Neymar’s exclusion from the PSG squad this weekend, Uruguayan legend Diego Forlan went on sports radio in his home country to not just back his former international teammate Cavani, but also throw a pair of Brazilians under the bus.

Forlan obviously denounced Neymar’s role in the dispute, but he also picked out Neymar’s club and country teammate Dani Alves for favoring his countrymate.

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“What doesn’t make any sense is what Alves does, he doesn’t give the ball to Cavani and then gives it to Neymar as if he were his [explitive]. Cavani deserves respect. He has been scoring goals for years, taking penalties. There has to be respect. Neymar would not have done that with [Lionel] Messi. He didn’t want Cavani to take the penalty. He was like a little boy annoying him.”

Well, as you can imagine, Alves did not take kindly to being sucked into the fray, and fired back as a result. “I don’t know what match you were watching,” Alves wrote on Twitter, “but for your information, I didn’t take the ball away from any of my teammates. It was just the opposite, it was taken from me!

“And also for your information, the last penalty kick for PSG was mine. So shut your trap and stop making drama in my name.”

This whole situation has blown up more than most penalty disputes (which happen relatively often) likely due to the international affiliations. With the decades-old bad blood between Brazil and Uruguay, it’s no surprise that people are taking sides. Forlan swept up another Brazilian in the mix, and understandably he did not appreciate the cheap shot.

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Liverpool

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  • Leicester City has won 2 straight home PL games vs Liverpool
  • Jamie Vardy has 5 goals in 3 PL games vs Liverpool
  • Liverpool leads the PL with 40 shots on target this season

Jamie Vardy is good to go for the Foxes as they welcome Liverpool to the King Power Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 a.m. ET on NBC or live online via NBCSports.com).

These two teams matched up midweek in League Cup play, with Leicester City winning 2-0, and they did so without Vardy who missed out with a groin strain. He’s since recovered, and will likely play a part. Christian Fuchs and Leonardo Ulloa are also ready to go, with Fuchs back after an eye injury in training, while Ulloa took a knock to the head midweek but is ready to go.

The Foxes need a win in the worst way, as a loss would leave them with their joint-worst point total through the first six matches of a top flight season since 1994/95, the year they were relegated.

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League games

Liverpool, meanwhile, has issues of its own to sort out. They are winless in all competitions since August 27th, and on a larger scale, Jurgen Klopp is taking heat for having less points than Brendan Rodgers did through his first 73 league games of his Liverpool tenure.

The Reds are also facing a bit of injury trouble, with Dejan Lovren still out with back problems, while Joel Matip and Emre Can both suffered slight injuries in the midweek loss and are questionable for Saturday. Should all those miss out, the already leaky defense would prove even more porous.

What they’re saying

Jurgen Klopp on Liverpool chasing the ball: “We come too close together in the situation where the first ball is going after a throw-in and it means for the second ball we don’t have a good formation. We need to get more natural in these things because it’s not that difficult to be honest but it happens too often. Now we have to work and then it will be even more difficult to create something against us.”

Craig Shakespeare on Jamie Vardy vs. Liverpool: “Is he a bogeyman? I am hoping so. Sometimes strikers will have good memories of playing against certain teams. Centre forwards go through these purple patches and everybody would like one who can get you 20 goals a season.”

Prediction

If anything is certain in a Liverpool match, it’s that the first goal doesn’t matter. Since the start of last season, the Reds are tops in the league with 20 points from losing positions. However, they’re also fifth in the league in that same timeframe with 20 points lost from winning positions. With that in mind, a wild game is likely in store, but with the inconsistent form for either side of late, it’s tough to pick a winner. A 2-2 draw is a likely result.

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 17 of its last 23 Premier League games
  • Alvaro Morata has 3 goals and 2 assists, all with his head
  • Stoke has lost just 1 of its past 7 home games vs defending champions

Eden Hazard is back and at full strength as Chelsea travels to the Britannia to take on Stoke City Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

With Hazard back and Diego Costa finally shed to Atletico Madrid, the Blues have positioned themselves to make a run at the Premier League’s top spot. Chelsea has not lost since their Opening Day misstep against Burnley, and despite firing a blank in last weekend’s 0-0 draw with the Gunners, Chelsea is still just three points off the top spot, and will look to put pressure on the Manchester clubs.

In addition to Hazard, the Blues also get Temoue Bakayoko and Pedro back in the lineup as well, although David Luiz is suspended after his late red card last weekend.

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League games

This season has been a roller coaster ride for Stoke City, having picked up four points against Arsenal and Manchester United, but also losing to Newcastle and Everton, plus a very disappointing defeat midweek to Bristol City in the Cup. The Potters are missing a host of defenders, with Geoff Cameron and Ryan Shawcross both injured, plus Kurt Zouma ineligible to face his parent club. Kevin Wimmer is also touch and go with a hamstring injury, not expected to be available.

What they’re saying

Mark Hughes on Chelsea’s discipline issues: “Chelsea at the moment look like they are getting yellow and red cards more frequently, but that might be just an anomaly, something happening in the moment. I don’t think it is prevalent in their team. They are just strong when they need to be. It is not going to be tactic we are going to irritate them with, to step over the line, because if I’m honest I don’t think I’ll have the players to do that.”

Antonio Conte on Stoke: “The most important thing for us is to go game by game. Tomorrow it will be a really tough game. We must prepare very well this game in all the situations, tactically, physically, to be disciplined. Stoke won against Arsenal and then drew against Manchester United. It means Stoke is a really good team.”

Prediction

Stoke City has given tough teams trouble, and could again if Maxim Chupo-Moting shows up at his best again, but it’s much more likely that Chelsea will ease by in this game. The Potters have fallen off slightly this season, and while their draw against Manchester United shows they pack some punch, it won’t be enough to see off a Chelsea side buoyed by the return of Eden Hazard. Chelsea could win their opening three Premier League away matches for the first time since 2009…their third away fixture of that campaign was a 2-1 victory at Stoke, so we’ll go for the same scoreline here.

Hope Solo says she has settled grievance with US Soccer

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Hope Solo has settled a grievance with U.S. Soccer over her suspension from the women’s national team following comments she made at the Rio Olympics.

The settlement was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. The 35-year-old goalkeeper was suspended for six months and her contract with the federation was terminated after she called the Swedish team “a bunch of cowards” following the U.S. team’s quarterfinal loss.

Details about the settlement, reached last month, were not released. The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Players Association filed the grievance on Solo’s behalf.

In a statement provided Friday to The Associated Press, Solo reiterated her regret over the comments.

“As I expressed in my apology to the Swedish captain immediately following the match, I have tremendous respect for the Swedish team, and in describing the style of play, I used a choice of words that was both offensive and not at all what I had intended to convey,” she said.

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“We have amicably resolved the matter and are moving forward in a positive way,” she added.

U.S. Soccer did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Women’s Soccer Team Players Association declined to comment.

Solo anchored the team in goal for the 2015 Women’s World Cup victory, allowing just three goals in seven games with five shutouts during the tournament – earning her a second straight Golden Glove Award.

For her career, Solo has made 202 total appearances with the national team, with 153 wins and an international-record 102 shutouts.

The defending champion U.S. women were ousted from the Olympics last summer when Sweden advanced 4-3 on penalty kicks following a 1-1 draw.

Solo’s “cowards” quote came immediately following the loss. Sweden went on to play in the gold-medal match against Germany.

Solo told the AP in an interview late last year that she spoke to coach Jill Ellis and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati following the loss, and felt that the issue was put to rest. After she returned to the United States, she said she was blindsided by the announcement about her suspension.

She said she believes U.S. Soccer wanted her off negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. Solo has been an outspoken advocate for equal pay and was among the players who filed a complaint against the federation with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging wage discrimination.

“Let’s call it what is, which is a firing,” Solo told AP then. “It was a termination of my contract effective immediately with severance. That is a firing. It wasn’t a suspension, that’s what they told the media because it looked better. But I got fired. I got fired for what they say was using the word `cowards’ but in reality they got rid of an adversary in the fight for equal pay.”

U.S. Soccer said at the time that Solo was suspended following a culmination of actions, and separately her contract was also terminated with the team.