Offshore Drilling, Euro 2012: Italy 2, Germany 1

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source: AP

Man of the Match: Though most of the work was done before Mario Balotelli headed Italy in front, the Italian striker soon got his chance to assert himself as this game’s best player. With a blistering right-footed blast in the 34th minute, Balotelli left Manuel Neuer no chance to keep Germany within one, the eventual match-winning goal curling into the side netting from 18 yards out. The shot was hit so hard, Neuer never bothered to move.

In a match where Italy came in decided underdogs, it was apropos that their rebellious long shot had his international breakthrough, rewarding the faith a patient Cesare Prandelli had put in his recalcitrant star. Scoring twice to put his country into a major tournament final, Italy’s enigmatic 21-year-old is no longer unfulfilled promise.

NBC Sports: Italy beats Germany 2-1 to reach Euro 2012 final

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Germany’s need to avoid mistakes was a theme pre-match, and true to form, mistakes were the favorite’s undoing.
    • Mats Hummels’ tournament went from ‘promising’ to ‘decidedly mixed’ after he was beaten badly by Antonio Cassano in the 20th minute, the Italian attacker providing for Balotelli’s first goal. It was the second time this tournament Hummels was the main culprit on a goal allowed.
    • Germany was caught in transition on the second, with Philipp Lahm losing track of Balotelli, allowing Ricardo Montolivo to hit the attacker with a 40-yard pass ahead of Italy’s second goal.
  • The goals came after a promising start from the Germans, who were able to exploit Italy’s lack of width to get down the flank and aim crosses at the edge of Gianluigi Buffon’s six-yard box. The most dangerous of their chances came in the 12th minute when Jerome Boateng hit a ball toward Buffon, whose weak block nearly gifted Sami Khedira the opening goal.
  • It was all part of an opening sequence that looked eerily similar to the England-Italy match. Germany were the more energetic team, quick transitioning into their attacking third while doing a good job containing Andrea Pirlo.
  • Joachim Low had surprisingly inserted Toni Kroos into the starting XI instead of Thomas Müller (Mario Gomez and Lukas Podolski returned to the lineup). It quickly became apparent why. The Bayern Munich star, making his first start of the tournament, was tasked with keeping tabs on Pirlo, with Mesut Ozil moving out right in the defensive phase.
  • Unlike England, Germany persisted with Operation Disrupt Andrea, forcing Italy to be more direct into attack. Long balls for Balotelli frequently established possession or drew fouls, with Cassano proving an influential alternate outlet, often turning long passes to the left into shots 25-plus-yard shots on Manuel Neuer. Eventually Cassano changed tact and, still operating through the left, created the opening goal.
  • After Italy’s second goal, Germany was ceded control of the ball, though they failed to stress Buffon before half time. With the match playing out exactly as Italy wanted, Löw needed to change things up.
  • That’s exactly what he did coming out of halftime. Gomez and Podolski were out. Miroslav Klose and Marco Reus were in. The changes, perhaps coupled with a Germany’s newfound desperation, led to a number of early second half chances:
    • (49′) Lahm played off Kroos to create an open shot from the edge of the box, one which eventually went out of play.
    • (55′) Khedira ghosted onto a Ozil cutback from the line only to see his shot from six yards out blocked.
    • (56′) Klose burst through the left channel only to be thwarted by nice support from Leonardo Bonucci.
    • (62′) A direct kick from Reus was put off the cross bar after Kroos earned a foul (and card) from Bonucci.
  • Just before the hour, Prandelli started making his changes, a series of like-for-likes portraying his comfort at how Italy was set up: Cassano gave way for Alessandro Diamanti (58′); Montolivo came off for Thiago Motta (63′); and Balotelli was swapped for Toto Di Natale (70′). By that time, Germany’s momentum was gone, and although Löw eventually added another attacker (bringing on Müller for Boateng), the match seemed settled.
  • If anything, it was Italy that was more likely to score the next goal, with Claudio Marchisio having good chances to ice the match in the 67th and 75th minutes. With Germany putting themselves down a defender, Italy searched for an insurance goal goal, pushing midfielders forward in the 79th minute in an attempt to put the match to rest.
  • In the 82nd minute, Di Natale was put in alone from 40 yards out only to pull up, try his chances from the edge of the box, and put his shot into the outside side netting. Seconds later, an offside call on a Federico Balzaretti goal kept Italy up two.
  • Balzaretti gave Germany a late life line, handling a cross at the edge of the six that led to a penalty shot. Finishing to the right above the diving Buffon, Mesut Ozil pulled German within one with two minutes left in (four minutes of) stoppage time.
  • But two minutes were nowhere near enough for a team who had been second-best all day and had just spent 20 minutes thwarting a third goal. The Germans never got another chance at Buffon, the referee blowing the whistle just after the clock hit 94:00.
  • It was a masterfully exploitive performance for Italy, taking advantage of two early mistakes en route to the upset. Given the low expectations they carried into the tournament – troubles on the homefront, disappointing performances in their last two competitions, attempts by Prandelli to change the team’s style of play – it’s difficult not to root for them. There is something reassuring when a team reminds you most conventions are best served when they’re defied.
  • For Germany, the disappointment comes on multiple levels. Not only were they favored, more talented, and the form side coming into the game, but the match represented one of their best imaginable chances to exorcise their Italian demons. Instead, they give a performance that lends credence to the incredible: that Italy has some kind of cosmic advantage over the Germans.
  • That advantage sets up a Sunday meeting with Spain, a rematch of Group C’s opening game. Then, Italy took a second half lead through Di Natale before being drawn after a Cesc Fabregas goal.
  • Italy still hasn’t trailed or been beaten at Euro 2012, but against Spain, they’ll face a team won’t make near as many mistakes as the Germans. However, as Italy has reminded us over the last three weeks, the on-paper match ups only mean so much.
  • Spain will be favored on Sunday in the same way Germany was favored to day. It’s nothing the Italians can’t overcome.

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.

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.

Arena should give Ream a look in Brooks’ absence

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With John Brooks out three months thanks to a horribly timed thigh injury, the United States yet again has to scramble to fill a void at the back. It’s not the first time an injury to Brooks has left the USMNT scrambling for cover at a thin position.

In the successful Gold Cup this past summer, with a largely domestic squad in place, Omar Gonzalez saw the bulk of the time at central defender, with Matt Besler his partner through the final two matches. However, with European-based players now in contention for spots with the early September international break, those two are unlikely to continue, at least not together.

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The most obvious choice to start September 1st against Costa Rica and likely shoo-in should he remain healthy for the next two weeks is Geoff Cameron. The 32-year-old has been back and forth between defense and midfield with club and country, and although he has publicly acknowledged his preference for a spot higher up the pitch, he was used in a back-three in Stoke City’s Premier League opener last weekend and is steadiest at the back.

But with a spot next to Cameron up for grabs in Brooks’ absence, a player who should get serious consideration is United States fill-in extraordinaire Tim Ream.

Ream has had to work hard to earn his place with the U.S., and while he’s seen time of late, he’s not been a first-choice pick. The 29-year-old has four caps so far in 2017, with two of those starts, including one in the impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca with the US still clawing its way back up the Hex standings. Even then, Ream would likely not have earned that spot had Arena not chosen to rotate nearly the entire squad between the pair of qualifiers in that window. His other start this year, the 1-1 draw at Panama, only came after Cameron pulled out of the squad the day of the game with a late injury. The last time Ream started back-to-back matches for the U.S. came back in 2015 when he was somewhat of a regular through the second half of the calendar year.

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But now, with Brooks out, Ream looks like the perfect man to fill in again. The 29-year-old defender finished last season in top form as Fulham narrowly missed out on promotion, earning the official website’s Man of the Match award in a May 2nd draw with Brentford, and won it again in the club’s final match of the season.

Without missing a beat, Ream has picked up where he left off last campaign in the first few matches this month. Last weekend against Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Ream’s center-back partner Tomas Kalas was sent off 36 seconds into the match, forcing Fulham to play a man down for 89 minutes. Ream and company solidified the back, conceding just once in the 61st minute en route to a 1-1 draw.

The club still likely requires reinforcements at the CB position – Ream was forced to partner with right-back Denis Odoi against Reading with Kalas suspended and Michael Madl injured – meaning Ream could see an influx of competition in the coming weeks. However, as it stands, the American is far and away the best (and most improved) central defender on a club favored for promotion.

Gonzalez performed well in the Gold Cup, and Matt Besler was serviceable, but with few other options in the heart of defense to take Brooks’ place, Bruce Arena could yet again look to Ream for an in-form replacement.