Post-Match Press Conferences - Germany v Portugal, Group B: UEFA EURO 2012

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



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.

Serie A: Napoli go top for first time in 25 years; Inter a close 2nd

Gonzalo Higuain, SSC Napoli
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A quick roundup of Monday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

Napoli 2-1 Inter Milan

For the first time since the final day of the 1989-90 season, Napoli are top of Serie A all by themselves after a top-of-the-table clash with previous leaders Inter Milan.

Gonzalo Higuain bagged both goals for the Azzurri, the first of which came after just 65 seconds. His tally on 62 minutes held up as the game-winner after Adem Ljajic pulled one back for Roberto Mancini’s side in the 67 minute. The opener (below video) was a powerful finish from inside the penalty area which served as a strong reminder as to why a club like Arsenal is consistently linked to the Argentine striker.

Sassuolo 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina, who had a chance to stake their own claim to the top spot, dropped two points away to seventh-place Sassuolo earlier in the day, opening the door for Napoli to go top with their victory. After shooting out of the gates red hot (6 wins in their first 7 games), the Viola have now drawn back to back games — to Empoli and Sassuolo — and find themselves third, two points behind Napoli.

Borja Valero put Fiorentina ahead after five minutes on Monday, but Sassuolo equalized through Sergio Floccari just before halftime to keep their own dreams of European qualification alive.

Serie A table

Matchup by matchup: Picking a favorite for MLS Cup 2015

Portland Timbers FC
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We’re T-minus 137 hours to the kickoff of MLS Cup 2015, between Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

When the two sides meet at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday (4 p.m. ET), the general public will have picked a slight favorite to hoist MLS Cup, just like any other game. Only, this one’s a bit tougher to call — there’s no clear-cut favorite as is usually the case in MLS Cup, so we’ll do our best to explore a few key matchups that might slant Sunday’s title tilt in one direction or the other…

Crew SC width (Waylon Francis, Harrison Afful, Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay) vs. Timbers width (Jorge Villafana, Alvas Powell, Rodney Wallace, Dairon Asprilla)

  • Pinning the wingers back — There’s two ways to beat Crew SC: 1) sit with eight or nine men behind the ball and frustrate them through a lack of space to attack; or, 2) pin Finlay and Meram deep inside their own half, defensively, by getting your full backs forward and forcing them to defend. It’s doable, but it’s not easy. On the other side, best of luck to Wallace and Asprilla with the tracking back they’ll be forced into with perhaps the best attacking right back in MLS, Afful, and Francis overlapping on either side. Fanendo Adi could find himself on an island very quickly if the Crew SC full backs get forward as often as they’d like.
  • Where the help comes from — That’s the biggest issue for Portland, who ever since dropping Darlington Nagbe into midfield, play with a lone defensive midfielder, Diego Chara. He’s great at covering the entire field and providing help to blow up an opposing attack, but he can only be on one side of the field at a time. This means Borchers and Ridgewell will be stretched wider and forced to defend Finlay and Meram in space, where they’re oh so deadly.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Crew SC announce MLS Cup sold out 15 hours after qualifying ]

Kei Kamara vs. Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell

  • All it takes is one chance — Neither one of Borchers or Ridgewell can physically compete with Kamara’s rare combination of speed and athleticism — to be fair, few center backs this side of the world can. Therefore, 90 percent of “defending” Kamara will be staying tight to the 22-goalscorer during the regular season and, with any luck, not losing track of him once the ball gets out to the wings. Once Kamara gets that yard of space in any direction and the ball goes up on the cross, the center backs’ chances of winning the next ball are much, much lower. That said, Kamara will find far less space against Borchers and Ridgewell (and Diego Chara) than he enjoyed against Montreal and New York thus far in the playoffs. There’s very few center back duos with the experience and nous of the Timbers’ backbone.
  • Advantage: Timbers

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Timbers midfield three (Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri) vs. Crew SC midfield three (Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain)

  • Nagbe the key to balance — Darlington Nagbe will, one day, be an MLS Best XI central midfielder. Today is not that day, though. He’s still a work in progress, and probably the most exploitable individual on the field in Crew SC’s eyes. Tchani and Trapp are, in my opinion, the best deep-sitting midfield duo in the league, and they’ll press, harry and harass Nagbe for 90 (0r 120) minutes, probably starting a fair few of those deadly counter-attacks in the middle third of the field.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

Gregg Berhalter vs. Caleb Porter

  • Lineups set themselves — Neither coach is likely to throw out a huge surprise before kickoff — dance with one that brought you, or something like that. Up until recently, I was completely convinced that Porter was vastly overrated and didn’t understand the constant adoration that surrounded the man his first two or three years in charge. Everything was a bit stale and rigid, organized, but lacking flair. Then he moved Nagbe into midfield to allow his biggest game-changer more opportunities on the ball to affect the game much more. This leads me to believe Porter is a bit more flexible in seeing his team and system operate in slightly different ways, but only barely.
  • Advantage: Timbers

Crew SC announce MLS Cup 2015 sold out 15 hours after qualifying

Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew SC
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The building formerly known as Crew Stadium has hosted its fair share of famous soccer games since it opened in 1999 — dos a cero, anyone? — and Sunday’s MLS Cup 2015 looks set to rank right up there among them.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Roughly 15 hours after advancing to this year’s MLS Cup, which they will host this Sunday (4 p.m. ET), Columbus Crew SC announced on Monday that MAPFRE Stadium is officially sold out.

Crew SC president of business operations Andy Loughnane addressed the fanbase in a blog post on the club’s official site Monday afternoon and said, “As of late this morning we are sold out of the extra capacity seating that was created for MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium. While there is a small chance that additional seats could be released for purchase as a result of MLS holds being returned, we are sold out of all known available seats.”

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Crew SC, making their second MLS Cup appearance in club history (2008 champions), will host first-time MLS Cup contestants, the Portland Timbers, on Sunday.

PL clubs combined to pay out $200 million in agent fees in 2015

Liverpool Unveil New Signing Christian Benteke
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What a time to be an agent in the footballing world, eh? The rich just keep getting richer and richer and richer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The steady increase in transfer fees being paid for players — bad, good, great and amazing alike — has made quite a few “selling” clubs rich reach over the last decade or two, to be sure, but it’s also made another group of people obscenely rich: player agents.

As the soccer world has gone crazy with its “now, now, now” approach — managers must win now, or they’re fired; new signings must become stars now, or they’ll be sold; etc. — agents are the ones making out like bandits — no losses to be sustained on players who turn out to be flops; no future loss of wages due to taking “too long” to settle in and being labeled a flop — at the expense of clubs and, most cruelly, the players.

More than $195 million was paid out agents by Premier League clubs across the January and summer transfer windows, with Liverpool — ever the club in constant change — paying out $21.5 million in agents fees to remain top of the table for a second straight year. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal were the four other clubs to top $15 million.

[ MORE: Premier League Payback — The Diego Costa era over at Chelsea? ]

Agents not only receive a fee when players change clubs through transfers, but can only be compensated again and again when one of their clients signs a new contract with their current club.

For instance, Wayne Rooney has signed at least four new contracts since joining Manchester United in 2004, the latest of which came barely three years after he was given a new five-year deal in Oct. 2010 upon handing in a transfer request in an attempt to force a move to Manchester City. Rooney’s current weekly wage is reported to be in the neighborhood of $450,000. His agent, Paul Stretford, will have received a sizable payday upon negotiating the deal in Feb. 2014.

At the end of the day, sports are little more than a business, and it’s the ones who play the game — the political game, that is — the best, and most ruthlessly, who are making out like bandits.