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.

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

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Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

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Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

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Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

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Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

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That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

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Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

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We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio (EDIT: This post initially questioned the omission of Jesse Gonzalez, but his one-time switch from Mexico to the USMNT has yet to go through).

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Yes, Spector is 31 but this is about still qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, not the 2022 cycle. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

What about you? Any other gripes? Or do you love the bunch?