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.

Wigan player races off for son’s birth after scoring 2 goals

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WIGAN, England (AP) It was better than a hat trick.

A player for English soccer team Wigan had a night to remember when he scored his second goal before dashing off the field and to the local hospital, where his girlfriend was in labor.

[ MORE: Chelsea advances to UCL Round of 16 after win over Qarabag ]

A picture of Ryan Colclough holding his new-born baby, Harley, while still in his soccer uniform was shared on social media by Wigan chairman David Sharpe.

Colclough said his father, sitting in the stands on Tuesday for Wigan’s 3-0 win over Doncaster in the second division, “gave me the action that the waters had broken,” but he didn’t want to come off until the ball was out of play.

“My head was a little bit battered, but I went and scored, looked at the manager and he said we’ll bring you off now,” Colclough said Wednesday of his 58th-minute goal, which he celebrated by pretending to rock a baby. “I came off and was straight down the tunnel, grabbed my keys and my phone, and went to hospital.”

Colclough had visited the midwife that day, and was told the baby was unlikely to arrive for “another couple of days.”

Lille suspends coach Marcelo Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) French club Lille has provisionally suspended coach Marcelo Bielsa following a string of poor results in the top tier.

[ MORE: Basel stuns Man United late to keep UCL hopes alive ]

The northern side said in a statement that Bielsa has been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club.” Lille did not elaborate.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but has failed to make the club competitive again, with the team second to last after 13 matches.

The 2 Robbies podcast: PL sides in the UCL, Pulis sacking and more

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In today’s Euro Pod Edition, the Robbies breakdown the latest Champions League action. Man United lose at Basel, Chelsea cruise at Qarabag, Spurs impress against Dortmund, Man City continue to win, Liverpool surrender a 3-goal lead against Sevilla. Plus, the guys weigh in on the Oumar Niasse ban for diving and the Tony Pulis sacking.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Europa League preview: Arsenal looks to wrap up Group H and more

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While several teams have already booked their place in the knockout phase, the Europa League reaches its penultimate round on Thursday with many big matches in hand.

[ MORE: Yannick Bolasie finally returns to Everton training ]

Of the two Premier League sides in the competition, only one will advance to the Round of 32, as Arsenal have all but assured themselves of the top spot in Group H. The Gunners can do so tomorrow with a win over Koln or a Red Star Belgrade defeat.

The other end of the spectrum features Everton, who has already been eliminated from reaching the next round after acquiring just one point in its first four matches.

European giants AC Milan can lock up a spot in the knockout phase on Thursday despite the club’s ongoing struggles in Serie A, while fellow Italian side Atalanta can move a step closer to the Round of 32 in Group E along with Lyon.

Here’s the full rundown of Thursday’s UEL matches.

Astana vs. Villareal — 11 a.m. ET
Konyaspor vs. Marseille — 1 p.m. ET
Rosenborg vs. Real Sociedad — 1 p.m. ET
Lazio vs. Vitesse — 1 p.m. ET
Viktoria Plzen vs. Steaua Bucuresti — 1 p.m. ET
Lokomotiv vs. Copenhagen — 1 p.m. ET
Zenit vs. Vardar — 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Vitoria — 1 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao vs. Hertha Berlin — 1 p.m. ET
BATE vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m. ET
Ostersund vs. Zorya — 1 p.m. ET
Koln vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET
Nice vs. Zulte Waregem — 1 p.m. ET
Lugano vs. Beer-Sheva — 1 p.m. ET
Ludogorets vs. Istanbul — 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga vs. Hoffenheim — 3:05 p.m. ET
AEK vs. Rijeka — 3:05 p.m. ET
AC Milan vs. Austria Wien — 3:05 p.m. ET
Lyon vs. Apollon — 3:05 p.m. ET
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Slavia Praha — 3:05 p.m. ET
Sheriff vs. Zlin — 3:05 p.m. ET
Partizan vs. Young Boys — 3:05 p.m. ET
Skenderbeu vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:05 p.m. ET
Everton vs. Atalanta — 3:05 p.m. ET