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.

Conte: My Chelsea will never play for a draw, home or away

HULL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01:  Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea reacts to his team scoring during the Premier League match between Hull City and Chelsea at KCOM Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte knows what he’s doing — he’s playing the game made popular the world over by his predecessor and Sunday opponent, Jose Mourinho, and so many others who went before him.

[ MORE: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Where other managers shy away from the controversy and the spotlight brought upon themselves by the psychological warfare waged by so many of the giants of the managerial profession, Conte has embraced the added attention he’ll now face when Chelsea host Manchester United on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and online via

While Mourinho hasn’t been quiet in the build-up to his return to Stamford Bridge — how could he, given the considerable demand for comment? — he has mostly kept the cheap shots to himself and attempted to treat the affair like any other. Of course, it’s not that for him; for the Chelsea fans; for Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who made the decision to fire Mourinho 10 months ago; and now, for Conte, who’s suddenly thrust onto the other side of the battlefield ahead of Mourinho’s grudge match — quotes from

“No, I think it is always right to play for a win. I try to transfer these thoughts to my players always. If you play at home or away, it must be the same.

“You must start the game with only one target: to win. Not to play for a draw. I don’t like this. It is not football. I don’t like this.”

“I think it is important to win, but for me also, it is important to win in the right way. Because, sometimes, it happened to me. I won in the past with other clubs, but I wasn’t satisfied with the performance.

“When you win is important, but it is important to also play good football, to play with a good intensity, to show always the will to win, the passion. For me, that’s important.”

The obvious inference here is that Mourinho’s teams have always been set out to play in a defensive manner — often times aiming for, or, at the very least, achieving 0-0 draws — something the Portuguese did earlier this week, away to Liverpool.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup: Liverpool, Arsenal go joint-top ]

Conte didn’t ask to be the anti-Mourinho when he was named Chelsea’s new boss — not directly so, at least — but it comes as part of the territory when taking over from a mountain of a manager like Mourinho. Cool as ever, Conte is relishing his new role.

Introducing Zabivaka, Russia’s 2018 World Cup mascot

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 21: Official Mascot Wolf was chosen as Official Mascot of FIFA 2018 World Cup Russia and Nazario Ronaldo during 'Vecherniy Urgant' (Evening Urgant) TV show on Channel 1 at Ostankino on October 21, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
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MOSCOW (AP) Russia has chosen a cocky wolf wearing sporty goggles as the mascot for the 2018 football World Cup.

The wolf was chosen in online voting over two other mascot candidates — a cat and a tiger wearing a space suit.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup: Liverpool, Arsenal go joint-top ]

The announcement was made early Saturday at the end of an hour-long broadcast on state Channel One television. More than 1 million Russians voted in the contest, according to the broadcast.

World Cup matches are to take place in 11 cities in June and July 2018. The venues are in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Kazan, Krasnodar, Rostov-on-Don, Samara, Saransk, Volgograd, Nizhny Novgorod and Yekaterinburg.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 21: (L-R) Wolf, the winer of FIFA 2018 World Cup Russia Official Mascot, Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Vitaly Mutko, TV host Ivan Urgant and Nazario Ronaldo attend at 'Vecherniy (Evening) Urgant' TV show on Channel 1 during at Ostankino on October 21, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
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Aguero looking vulnerable as Man City evolves under Guardiola

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 15:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City shows dejection after the final whistle during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Everton at Etihad Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Manchester City’s spine of goalkeeper Joe Hart, center back Vincent Kompany, midfielder Yaya Toure and striker Sergio Aguero has anchored the team since 2011 in the most decorated period in its history.

[ MORE: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

One by one, it is being dismantled by Pep Guardiola.

Hart has been sent out on loan to Italy.

The injury-hampered Kompany no longer appears first choice.

Toure has been ostracized.

And the seemingly unthinkable is happening: Aguero is coming under pressure for his place.

Aguero started on the bench for the English Premier League game against Everton on Saturday after playing two matches for Argentina during the international break. More surprisingly, he stayed among the substitutes for the Champions League match at Barcelona on Wednesday, when Guardiola preferred to play midfielder Kevin De Bruyne up front.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup: Liverpool, Arsenal go joint-top ]

Aguero has been untouchable, a guaranteed starter since joining from Atletico Madrid in July 2011. Suddenly, possibly the most popular player among City fans – and a scorer of 102 league goals in his first five seasons at the club – is vulnerable and seemingly dispensable, even if he is likely to regain his place for the Premier League match against Southampton on Sunday.

When asked if Aguero was being phased out, Guardiola said on Friday the player’s future was at City.

“When Sergio decides to leave Manchester City, it will be his decision,” Guardiola said. Then, echoing comments he made about Hart in August before allowing him to leave, Guardiola added: “I appreciate him (as) a football player. I appreciate (as) a man what he did here.”

It’s not just the recent selection decisions that hint at a sense of unease between Guardiola and Aguero.

Guardiola has said publicly on at least two occasions this season that he wants more from Aguero than just goals, just like he wanted more from Hart than simply making saves. After Aguero’s hat trick in the Champions League win over Borussia Moenchengladbach, Guardiola said: “I cannot teach him (about his talent in the penalty box) but he has to know that behind, the rest of the team wants to help him and that is what I want to convince him.”

While on international duty with Argentina this month, Aguero was quoted as telling Argentine media that Guardiola “is very picky about everything, (and) it’s good.

“The good thing is that I’m getting used to him and automatically going straight into pressing the centre backs.”

[ MORE: Sunday’s PL preview — Mourinho back at the Bridge; City-Saints ]

Aguero, who is contracted to City until 2020, has 11 goals in 10 appearances this season, and 19 in his last 20 dating to last season. There are few better, attainable strikers around and it will be intriguing to see how the situation pans out, especially with Brazil forward Gabriel Jesus due to arrive in December to provide competition up front.

Guardiola said on Friday he had no regrets about his decision to drop Aguero for the Barcelona game, which City lost 4-0 after having goalkeeper Claudio Bravo red-carded. That made it four games without a win for Guardiola, and a failure to beat Southampton would equal the longest streak without a victory in his coaching career.

In an answer that lasted more than 6 1/2 minutes on Friday, he defended his tactics at Camp Nou and praised the personality of his young players like John Stones and De Bruyne.

Guardiola repeated he will not change his style.

“I think about that, yes,” he said. “But after that, the solution is not better than what I believe. So I cannot. Do you know why as well? Because in seven years (at Barcelona and Bayern Munich), I won 21 titles. … So it’s three titles per year playing in that way.

“No, no, I’m not going to change. First, it’s going to happen that (if) it’s not going well in the future, next season isn’t going well in that way, I will go home.”

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Messi wins it late for Barca; AC Milan shock Juve

VALENCIA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 22:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates with his team mates as Neymar Jr. and Luis Suarez reacts on the pitch after being hit by objects thrown from the seats after scoring his team's third from the penalty spot during the La Liga match between Valencia CF and FC Barcelona at Mestalla stadium on October 22, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup: Liverpool, Arsenal go joint-top ]

Valencia 2-3 Barcelona

Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez led Barcelona back from 2-1 down to take all three points at the Mestalla Stadium and reclaim the top spot in La Liga. There’s lots to unpack here, beginning with the nasty tackle that’ll keep Andres Iniesta (knee ligament damage) out of action for up to two months. Then there was the controversial fashion in which Messi gave Barca an early lead.

Valencia hit back twice before Suarez drew the visitors level again, and Messi converted from the penalty spot in the 93rd minute to seal the victory, at which point Neymar was hit by a bottle thrown onto the field by someone in the stands. In the end, Barca are back on top, until Real Madrid are allowed to have their say on Sunday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Espanyol 3-3 Eibar
Real Sociedad 3-0 Alaves
Granada 0-0 Sporting Gijon

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Celta Vigo vs. Deportivo La Coruña — 6 a.m. ET
Sevilla vs. Atletico Madrid — 10:15 a.m. ET
Malaga vs. Leganes — 12:30 p.m. ET
Villarreal vs. Las Palmas — 12:30 p.m. ET
Real Madrid vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:45 p.m. ET

AC Milan 1-0 Juventus

The kids are (a whole lot more than) alright at AC Milan. 18-year-old midfielder Manuel Locatelli unleashed a stunning strike in the 65th minute, as Milan shocked the world by upsetting the five-time (and six-time, presumably) defending champions, Juventus, at the San Siro. Then it was 17-year-old goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma’s turn to play his part, in the form of a stunning save to deny Sami Khedira an equalizer with the last kick of the game.

Juve remain top of the Serie A table, but it’s Milan who now sit second, just two points behind them.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Sampdoria 2-1 Genoa

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Udinese vs. Pescara — 6:30 a.m. ET
Torino vs. Lazio — 9 a.m. ET
Atalanta vs. Inter Milan — 9 a.m. ET
Cagliari vs. Fiorentina — 9 a.m. ET
Crotone vs. Napoli — 9 a.m. ET
Empoli vs. Chievo — 9 a.m. ET
Bologna vs. Sassuoo — 12 p.m. ET
Roma vs. Palermo — 2:45 p.m. ET