England Training and Press Conference - UEFA European U21 Championships

UEFA U-21 European Championship Preview

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Today in Israel, the UEFA Under-21 European Championships begins with a whole host of top soccer nations vying for success.

Spain, Italy, Holland, Germany and England will start as the favorites from the eight teams who qualified for the finals.

The two groups of four teams are as follows.

In Group A hosts Israel are joined by Norway, Italy and England.

While Group B is incredibly tough, with reigning champions Spain alongside Holland, Germany and Russia. Wow. This will be fun.

This tournament has produced plenty of gems in the past, with the likes of Juan Mata, Petr Cech, Andrea Pirlo and Luis Figo all wining the player of the tournament award in U-21 championships gone by.

This 2013 tournament is no different, with David de Gea, Isco, Rodrigo, Wilfried Zaha, Tom Ince, Lewis Holtby, Marco Verratti, Fabio Borini and Luuk de Jong all on show.

So Spain will undoubtedly be the favorites to lift their second straight U-21 title, thanks to the vast array of talent they have in their ranks, but Holland and Germany are hot on their heels in Group B.

While England kick off their campaign against Italy this afternoon (ESPN U, 2:20pm ET) with head coach Stuart Pearce confident of success. “They have got a good spirit about themselves. We go in with a good record, on the back of nine games not conceding a goal, so confidence is strong.”

England have been in superb form in qualifying and despite several absentees through injury and other issues, they should give a good account of themselves and at least make it to the semifinals. The tournament will be played in four venues across Israel, check out those impressive stadiums here.

The top two teams from each group will make it to the semifinals, and it will be a tight tournament with the proud soccer nations desperate to grab the prestigious tag of Under-21 champions of Europe.

All-time, Italy lead the way with five titles, Spain have three, while England Holland and Russia have all won two U-21 titles. Plenty will be on the line as the much coveted tournament kicks off in the far eastern corner of the Mediterranean.

The fixtures for the entire competition are below, so make sure you keep an eye out for some of Europe’s up and coming stars. This is the best place to spot them.

European Under-21 Championship fixtures

Group A

Wed Israel v Norway (Netanya)

Wed England v Italy (Tel Aviv)

Sat England v Norway (Petah T)

Sat Italy v Israel (Tel Aviv)

Tues Israel v England (Jerusalem)

Tues Norway v Italy (Tel Aviv)

Group B

Thurs Spain v Russia (Jerusalem)

Thurs Netherlands v Germany (Petah Tikva)

Sun Netherlands v Russia (Jerusalem)

Sun Germany v Spain (Netanya)

12 Jun Spain v Netherlands (Petah T)

12 Jun Russia v Germany (Netanya)


15 Jun Winner Group A v Runner-up Group B (Netanya)

15 Jun Winner Group B v Runner-up Group A (Petah Tikva)

Final 18 Jun Jerusalem

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.