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.

If the 2018 World Cup started today…

Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images
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Another international break has passed, with fortunes rising and falling in most of FIFA’s confederations (Africa took a break during the break, having staged AFCON in January).

[ MORE: All World Cup qualifying news ]

Brazil joined hosts Russia as nations to have qualified for the 2018 World Cup, and 30 spots remain. Let’s take the opportunity to project the field for Russia.

In October, we took the projected qualifiers and simulated all the way down to the World Cup final. Germany beat Brazil. Let’s go again. Who will “win” it this time?


QUALIFICATION

We’ll again use actual qualification, as flawed and early as it is in some confederations, to be predict our combatants.

Asia (7 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia
PLAYOFF: Uzbekistan vs. Australia

PROJECTION: While Uzbekistan has been better in terms of overall form, Australia’s experience boosts it into a match-up with the USMNT.

Africa (2 of 6 qualifiers played)
IN: DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt

CONCACAF (4 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama
PLAYOFF: United States

(AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

South America (14 of 18 qualifiers played)
IN: Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Chile
PLAYOFF: Argentina

Oceania (4 of 6 qualifiers played)
PLAYOFF: New Zealand vs. Tahiti

UEFA (5 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: France, Switzerland, Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium, Croatia
UEFA PLAYOFFS: Sweden, Portugal, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Italy, Greece, Iceland

SIMULATED PLAYOFFS (random draw):
Sweden vs. Iceland — Sweden wins
Portugal vs. Republic of Ireland — Portugal wins
Northern Ireland vs. Slovakia — Slovakia wins
Italy vs. Greece — Italy wins

Intercontinental playoffs:

Australia vs. United States — USMNT wins
Argentina vs. New Zealand — Argentina wins


FIELD (FIFA Rankings)

  1. Russia (hosts, 60)
  2. Argentina (1)
  3. Brazil (2)
  4. Germany (3)
  5. Chile (4)
  6. Belgium (5)
  7. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    France (6)

  8. Colombia (7)
  9. Portugal (8)
  10. Uruguay (9)
  11. Spain (10)
  12. Switzerland (11)
  13. Poland (12)
  14. England (13)
  15. Italy (15)
  16. Croatia (16)
  17. Mexico (17)
  18. Costa Rica (19)
  19. Egypt (20)
  20. Slovakia (25)
  21. USA (30)
  22. Iran (33)
  23. Burkina Faso (36)
  24.  (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

    DR Congo (38)

  25. South Korea (40)
  26. Nigeria (41)
  27. Sweden (45)
  28. Ivory Coast (47)
  29. Japan (51)
  30. Serbia (52)
  31. Panama (53)
  32. Saudi Arabia (57)

THE POTS

The 10 European qualifiers mean two will have to join Pot 2. Our random selections were… Croatia and Spain.

Pot 1 (seeds): Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Chile, Belgium, France, Colombia, Brazil

Pot 2 (CAF, CONMEBOL, UEFA): DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Uruguay, Croatia, Spain

Pot 3 (AFC & CONCACAF): Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, USMNT

Pot 4: (UEFA): Sweden, Slovakia, Italy, Switzerland, Serbia, Poland, England, Portugal


THE DRAW

Group A: Russia, DR Congo, Saudi Arabia, Sweden
Group B: Chile, Croatia, Mexico, Portugal
Group C: Brazil, Nigeria, Panama, Switzerland
Group D: Germany, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Poland
Group E: Argentina, Spain, Japan, Slovakia
Group F: France, Ivory Coast, South Korea, Italy
Group G: Belgium, Uruguay, USMNT, England
Group H: Colombia, Egypt, Iran, Serbia

So… should we play it out? We’ll try to throw in some upsets and not just go with the chalk.

Round of 16
Mexico (B2) def. Russia (A1)
Brazil (C1) def. Poland (D2)
Spain (E1) def. Italy (F2)
Belgium (G1) def. Egypt (H2)
Portugal (B1) def. DR Congo (A2)
Germany (D1) def. Nigeria (C2)
France (F1) def. Argentina (G2)
Colombia (H1) def. England (G2)

Quarterfinals
Brazil def. Mexico
Spain def. Belgium
Germany def. Portugal
France def. Colombia

Semifinals
Brazil def. Spain
France def. Germany

Final
Brazil def. France

Dempsey leads way for MLS players during Cup qualifying

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The latest round of World Cup qualifying saw a major increase in the number of players from MLS called in for their national teams.

A number of those decisions paid off for their countries, perhaps no one more than Clint Dempsey.

A few months ago, Dempsey wasn’t even in consideration for the U.S. after missing the latter half of last season because of a heart issue. But the Seattle Sounders forward scored four times in two matches as the U.S. gathered four critical points in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Dempsey was part of an influx of MLS players contributing during the latest round of qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

In all, MLS had 55 players called in for qualifying in CONCACAF, CONEMBOL (South America) and UEFA (Europe) competitions. Last September, the league saw 58 players called in to their national teams, but there were more countries still alive in qualification at that time. The 55 players selected this time was an increase of 16 from the last round of qualifying matches in November, and 40 of the 55 saw action during the two days of competition in the past week representing 12 countries.

In the three CONCACAF games last Friday, 29 of the 84 players to see the field were from MLS. That outpaced LigaMX, which had 17 players among the 84 used in the three matches.

Dempsey wasn’t the only MLS player coming up big for his country. Minnesota midfielder Kevin Molino had the only goal for Trinidad and Tobago in its 1-0 win over Panama. The Vancouver duo of Christian Bolanos and Kendall Waston teamed for the only goal in Costa Rica’s 1-1 draw with Honduras.

But not all went well for MLS players during qualifying.

Young Atlanta star Josef Martinez injured his left leg during the second half of Venezuela’s 2-2 draw with Peru in CONEMBOL qualifying. Martinez returned to Atlanta and an MRI revealed a left quadriceps injury that will keep the MLS leader in goals scored out for four to six weeks. Martinez had five goals in Atlanta’s first three games.

U.S. midfielder Sebastian Lletget was forced off early in the match against Honduras but not before scoring the opening goal for the Americans. Los Angeles announced Tuesday that Lletget suffered a Lisfranc injury that will require surgery and he will be sidelined for four to six months.

[ MORE: BWP a DP; Nephew called up to England U16 ]

MATCH OF THE WEEK: The club that set the bar for expansion debuts faces the newcomer looking to topple that standard.

The Seattle Sounders will host Atlanta United on Friday night. It’s the only regular-season matchup between the two sides, but there’s more than just the competition on the field.

Seattle’s expansion season of 2009 was regarded throughout the sports industry as arguably the best franchise launch ever, not just in MLS. Between ticket sales and fan engagement, Seattle’s start could not have gone better.

Atlanta might be setting a new standard. Atlanta drew more than 55,000 for its first match and more than 45,000 for its second home game, a win over Chicago. Atlanta seems to be following significant parts of Seattle’s blueprint, down to having an influential NFL owner highly involved from the start.

As for the on-field product, the validity of Atlanta’s promising start will be tested over the next month with four straight road matches.

“It’s definitely still an expansion team,” Atlanta defender Michael Parkhurst said. “We’ve got our bumps and bruises along the way. Off the field, everyone’s still trying to get sorted and situated to the new city.”

BEST OF THE REST: Toronto finally gets to come home after opening the season with three straight road games. The Reds will host Sporting KC on Friday night. The trade-off for opening the season on the road is that Toronto gets five of its next six league matches at home and was able to get five points out of those three road contests to start.

Also of note will be what kind of lineup Vancouver rolls out on Saturday night against Los Angeles. The Whitecaps play in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals four days later.

BACK ON THE BENCH: Real Salt Lake introduced Mike Petke as its new head coach Wednesday, less than two weeks after firing Jeff Cassar. Petke was the head coach of the New York Red Bulls for two seasons, including the 2013 season when they won the Supporters’ Shield. After two years out of coaching, Petke signed on to be the head coach of the Real Monarchs, the minor-league club associated with RSL.

OFF TARGET: The other expansion debut this season by Minnesota United is on pace to set records, but not any they want to be associated with. Simply put, Minnesota can’t play defense.

Minnesota allowed at least five goals for the third time in four matches in last week’s 5-2 loss at New England. Minnesota allowed five goals to Portland and six to Atlanta and is on pace to allow more than 150 goals this season.

LAST WORD: “I’ve been very encouraged by what I’ve seen over the last 10 days. It’s going to take some time to piece that team together.” U.S. coach Bruce Arena after the latest round of World Cup qualifying.

Messi explains actions that warranted 4-match ban

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Lionel Messi is set to miss four Argentina matches for something we arguably see every week on TV.

That doesn’t make it okay, but is anyone else scratching their head at the suspension handed down to the world’s best player for verbal abuse of an official?

[ MORE: Barca defends Messi ]

Messi, 29, shouted an obscenity at the linesman in Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile, and was both banned and served the first match of his ban on Tuesday, as Argentina was beaten 2-0 in Bolivia.

Messi explained his actions Wednesday with the following:

“My expressions were never directed to the referee, they were said to the air,” Messi told La Nacion.

That’s pretty ridiculous, yeah? But I can’t help but feel the four matches are a bit harsh. Hardly a high-level match goes by without seeing a player clearly being derisive toward an offical, and usually lipreading proves it wasn’t G-rated.

Again, I have no problem for setting a standard, as abuse of officials is unnecessary (and even those of us who are serially offenders know it).

But if confederations and leagues want to get serious about cutting it out, this can’t be a one-off suspension; End the group upbraiding of referees during games, the wild gesticulations, so on and so forth.

Bradley Wright-Phillips gets new deal; Nephew called up to England U-16

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It’s been a big 24 hours for the Wright-Phillips family.

Bradley Wright-Phillips signed a new Designated Player deal with the New York Red Bulls, while his nephew has been called up the England U-16 national team.

D’Margio Wright-Phillips is the son of Shawn Wright-Phillips, the former RBNY player currently plying his trade with Phoenix Rising of the USL.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Of course that will only serve to grow the pride of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who adopted Bradley and Shaun.

The details:

BWP has signed a new multi-year deal with the Red Bulls which brings the 70-goal man into Designated Player status.

“I’d like to thank Denis, Jesse, and everyone at the club for the opportunity to continue wearing this shirt and playing in front of the best fans in MLS,” said Wright-Phillips. “I am very proud of what has been accomplished in my time here, but my sole focus is on trying to win MLS Cup.”

As for D’Margio, he’s in Manchester City’s academy and obviously taking the right steps toward making it three generations in the Premier League. Both Shaun and Bradley spent time in City’s academy.