Shipped from Abroad, Euro 2012: How We’ll Remember the Semifinals

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The winners get one more game, but for the semifinals’ losers, a critical eye and a savage dissection is their immediate reward. Finishing one step short of the finish line, their demises tease one of our favorite questions: What if.

What if Portugal had ordered their kickers differently, or converted that counter attack at the end of regulation? What if Germany hadn’t played their worst half of the tournament in the face of their toughest opposition? What if they had done a little more to mitigate their predictable mistakes?

It’s a ridiculous but irresistible game, and for many, it’s all that remains. After their teams came tantalizingly close to the finals, scrutiny, blame, and questions are what fans use to offset unrequited hope.

We have two more days to dwell on Spain and Italy. Looking back on the semifinals, our thoughts dwell on the teams we’ve lost.

How We’ll Remember …

Spain 0 (4), Portugal 0 (2) – As a cagey if unremarkable affair, one that threw a more gas on the already tiresome “is Spain boring” debate. We’ve quickly became a world of spoiled toddlers, having spent of last Christmas’ gifts. Yeah, but what are you getting me this year. Given how we’ve embraced and discarded Spain, we’ll either finally get that pony or no gift at all. I know which one we deserve.

We should also come to remember this as a huge missed opportunity for Portugal. Portugal is a talented team, but they’re only modestly endowed compared to the teams likely to compete for the next two Euros: Spain, Germany, France. Toss Belgium in if you need a wildcard.

The point: Portugal isn’t one of the nations you see when looking out at the oncoming European landscape. Their performance in this year’s competition was built on a number of great performances glossing over a limited and (beyond the first XI) thin team. Is it reasonable to expect the likes of Pepe, Cristiano Ronaldo, Fabio Coentrao, Joao Pereira, Joao Mourinho, and Burno Alves to performance as well in Brazil and France? Perhaps one or two will, but all simultaneously again? It’s not going to happen. Other players could step in, but who?

Going out on penalty kicks to the defending World and European champions, Portugal may come to see this as a regrettably close call.

Italy 2, Germany 1 – As a reminder that the sport’s stories are told on the field, not with keyboards. It’s an important point considering Germany’s narrative arc, a path that saw them in Sunday’s final. That’s not going to happen, putting to waste all the time spent portraying Euro 2012 as a German coming out party. Instead, it’s an Italian renaissance.

Instead of relying on a story of German ascendance that started in South Africa, people like me are going to have to start writing about what is happening. Rather than the focusing on rosy story lines whose telling require no more than the dressed up recycling of a few timeless tropes, we’ve been handed Italy. Of course, there are plenty of clichés about Italian resourcefulness that could be used in lieu of tales of what Cesare Prandelli is actually doing.

For Germay, the Italy loss should go down as a learning experience. For the players who had trouble putting together mistake-free matches, the loss reminds them of international soccer’s small margin of error. Where talent gaps are not as big as in the club world and players don’t have as much training time together, mistakes can be much more difficult to overcome. When Germany fell two behind Italy on Thursday, they didn’t have the kind of tricks club teams develop over hundred of hours of preparation.

Joachim Löw may also take a few lessons from the tournament. For all the talk of his team wanting the title, Löw’s team inexplicably lacked urgency. They played more like a team that had already accomplished something than a still-improving squad. Löw also seemed rash to bring on the post-Miroslav Klöse world after the veteran showed himself healthy, and he never made the needed decision to bench a hobbled and increasingly ineffective Bastian Schweinsteiger. If the international game does feature of small margin of error, Löw did his team no favors.

Team of the round

G: Gianluigi Buffon, Italy
LB: Fabio Coentrao, Portugal
CB: Sergio Ramos, Spain
CB: Pepe, Portugal
RB: Joao Pereira, Portugal
DM: Sergio Busquets, Spain
M: Andrea Pirlo, Italy
M: Daniele de Rossi, Italy
AM: Mesut Ozil, Germany
AM: Ricardo Montolivo, Italy
F: Mario Balotelli, Italy
Subs: Jordi Alba, Spain; Xabi Alonso, Spain; Antonio Cassano, Italy

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.

Money from Wembley replay will ‘support Rochdale for two or three years’

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Worst-case scenario for Tottenham Hotspur: drawing League One side Rochdale in Sunday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash; best-case scenario for the Dale: drawing the Premier League giants and forcing a replay at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

For a club the size of Rochdale — 10,200-seat stadium, and never been above the third tier of English soccer — the financial impact of raking in half of the game’s gate receipts “will support the club for the next two or three years,” according to manager Keith Hill — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t know how much it is worth but a lot of money has gone into the new pitch. That was a heavy investment for us. Hopefully the money we make will support the club for the next two or three years. We will cut our cloth accordingly and we won’t be in debt.”

As for Steve Davies’ 93rd-minute equalizer, Hill was adamant that it was nothing short of what they “deserved”:

“It was a feeling of reward, not relief, because the performance deserved at least the opportunity for us to go to Wembley for a replay. I’ve always wanted to do that against a Premier League team and manager. Why not take them on and try to win? It could have been football suicide but I thought we gained their respect and to score the goal we did was tremendous. The players were magnificent.”

Tottenham Hotspur, soccer philanthropists.

Try, try again: Messi seeks 1st goal vs. Chelsea in 9th attempt

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LONDON (AP) As unlikely as it sounds, Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal against Chelsea after drawing a blank in eight previous Champions League matches.

The five-time World Player of the Year is likely to get another chance to break his duck this week and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes the past will count for little when Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

“I hope we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player,” Conte said ahead of the last-16, first-leg Champions League game. “The most important thing is the present.

“We must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge. It won’t be easy because we know very well this player, we are talking about one of the best in the world.”

The teams have produced some epic games in the past although they have not met in the Champions League since Chelsea pulled off a remarkable backs-to-the-wall semifinal victory over Barcelona on the way to winning the trophy in 2012.

Messi missed a penalty in the second leg at the Nou Camp as the London club overcame the first-half dismissal of captain John Terry, and a 2-0 deficit, to draw the game 2-2 and secure an unforgettable 3-2 aggregate win.

Bayern Munich hosts Besiktas in Tuesday’s other game while the following day sees Manchester United traveling to Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk playing host to Roma.

Two weeks ago, the prospect of a Chelsea win over Barca would have been unthinkable after Conte’s men had slumped to successive defeats by two of the Premier League’s lesser lights.

The London club was still smarting from a 3-0 home loss against Bournemouth when it traveled to Watford and succumbed to an embarrassing 4-1 reverse.

Chelsea has got back on track since then, though, easing past West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in the league last Monday before swatting aside second-tier Hull 4-0 in the FA Cup four days later.

Conte has several selection dilemmas. He must choose between captain Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger for a place at the back, and between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front.

Cesc Fabregas will also be desperate to play against his former team but may have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Barca has lost only once in 38 matches this season since falling in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid in August. It has a seven-point lead at the top of La Liga and has reached the final of the Copa del Rey.

Messi is having another stellar campaign, scoring 27 times in all competitions, and he helped set up two goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Eibar.

Philippe Coutinho is ineligible for Barca following his move from Liverpool.

Mourinho claiming injury crisis ahead of CL showdown

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The next three weeks will go a long way toward defining Jose Mourinho’s second season at Manchester United, with the Red Devils facing not only fellow top-four aspirers Chelsea and Liverpool, but also contesting their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Sevilla.

[ MORE: VAR provider admits incorrect graphic displayed on TV ]

Thus, it’s not exactly the most convenient time for the words “injury crisis” to rear their ugly heads yet again, but that’s the challenge Mourinho claims he faces ahead of Wednesday’s CL clash.

Paul Pogba missed Saturday’s FA Cup victory with a last-minute illness; Marcus Rashford is dealing with a leg injury and remains questionable, as are Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini are all but officially out, according to Mourinho — quotes from ESPN.co.uk:

“I didn’t rest one single player so we had today every player available here. I didn’t rest anyone. I brought two kids that played on Friday 90 minutes [for the under-23s] because I don’t have another player, so we arrive at this crucial moment with some problems.”

“Can we recover some of them to Wednesday? I believe so. I think Rashford, Herrera, Valencia — I think they have a chance.

“Paul, I don’t know. Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Marouane, Zlatan — I don’t think they have any chance.”

Mourinho dealt with a similar rash of injuries very late on last season, as his side barreled its way into, and eventually won, the Europa League final, securing a place in the CL this season. With a top-four finish all but out of reach at the time, Mourinho opted to rest his bare-bones group of first-team regulars in Premier League action and prioritize Europe’s “other” competition.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

This time around, United sit second in the PL table, just four points clear of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur, and the path to winning the CL will prove far more difficult than taking on the likes of Saint-Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht, Celta Vigo and Ajax.

Serie A: Napoli, Juve hold serve in 1-point title race

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona now 31 games unbeaten | Real Madrid 17 points behind ]

Napoli 1-0 SPAL 2013

The battle for Serie A supremacy isn’t ending anytime soon, as Napoli and Juventus continue to match one another (nine straight wins for each side) in Europe’s only remaining major title race.

On Sunday, they even traded 1-0 victories — Napoli at home to SPAL 2013, with Juve triumphing over Torino in the Turin derby.

Brazilian midfielder Allan bagged the only goal for Napoli after just six minutes, finishing off a mesmerizing, free-flowing move that’s become synonymous with Napoli this season. The video-assisting referee came into play just after the hour mark, when Marek Hamsik headed home to make it 2-0 before the VAR wiped it away for offside.

Napoli’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest in club history.

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Juve’s victory came at something of a cost, though, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain was lost to an ankle injury after just a quarter-hour (the injury occurred after just three minutes), followed by a potentially serious knee injury for Federico Bernardeschi, who replaced Higuain, in second-half stoppage time. Higuain isn’t expected to miss significant time, with the club calling it a twisted ankle.

In between the injuries came Alex Sandro‘s 33rd-minute winner, a tap-in from close range masterfully set up by Bernardeschi. One additional positive for Juve: Sunday also saw Paulo Dybala return after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. The Argentine star entered as a second-half substitute.

“Paulo played 30 minutes at a good level,” Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m pleased with his and everyone else’s performance. This is a good result against a well-organized Torino side.”

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria
Atalanta 1-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 2-1 Sassuolo
Benevento 3-2 Crotone