Mario Balotelli leaves Italy camp, out of Confederations Cup

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Late yesterday, it was announced that Mario Balotelli would miss Italy’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Spain. On Monday, news got worse.

The AC Milan striker, one of the few internationally established goal scoring threats in Cesare Prandelli’s squad, has reportedly left the Italian squad, a muscle strain ending his tournament:

Italy has eight goals in three games in Brazil, and given Balotelli’s only scored two of them (one from the penalty spot), the case for his indispensability doesn’t come through in the numbers. Discard the numbers, look at his play, his team’s set up, and the squad around him, and the influence of Balotelli’s difficult to exaggerate.

Super Mario may only have one open play goal in group play, but he serves an essential purpose at the top of Prandelli’s formation, one that has morphed from a 4-3-1-2 to a single striker look as a second forward has failed to emerge. That one-front is more demanding on Balotelli, particularly as he’s asked to win balls out of the back and hold up play while the likes of Claudio Marchisio and Emanuele Giaccherini. join the attack. With the team averaging just under three goals per game, something was going right for Italy, and Balotelli was a large part of it.

Gilardino, who plays as a lone striker at club level, is the obvious replacement, but his role in a 4-2-3-1 somehow seems different than the role Balotelli’s played. Italy can adapt, but with a more physically limited man up top, they’ll have to be less dependent on their striker.

Balotelli’s club teammate Stephan El Shaarawy doesn’t carry the same limitations, but he has yet to develop the kind of game that lends itself to Balotelli’s responsibilities. And with only one goal in nine international appearances, the 20-year-old is still feeling his way out at international level.

All of which is to say the obvious: Neither player is Mario Balotelli. Not many are. For all his enigmatic behaviors, few players provide their teams as many options as Balotelli, options that were evident in last year’s Euro 2012 semifinal when Italy upset Germany.

Balotelli’s two-goal game led the Italians to that tournament’s final. Unfortunately, if the Azzurri are going to spring another surprise, they’ll need to find a new hero.

Stampede at stadium in Honduras kills multiple people

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TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) Officials in Honduras say thousands of soccer fans trying to force their way into a stadium for a championship match stampeded in panic when police fired tear gas, and at least four people and an unborn fetus were killed in the crush and 25 others were injured.

A spokesman for University Teaching Hospital says the victims died from suffocation and multiple broken bones from being trampled Sunday. Spokesman Miguel Osorio says a fetus died when its mother suffered severe injuries.

The stampede happened at the National Stadium as fans tried to push their way into the jammed venue to see the game between Motagua and Honduras Progreso.

About 600 police officers were guarding the stadium and used water cannon and tear gas trying to push back the crowds.

LIVE, at the half: Huddersfield miss glorious chances v. Reading

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It is tough to explain how Huddersfield Town aren’t ahead at half time of the Championship playoff final at Wembley Stadium on Monday.

[ LIVE: Follow the action from Wembley

The Terriers had two glorious chances early on but Michael Hefele headed wide and then Izzy Brown — on loan from Chelsea — somehow put his effort wide from a yard out.

Reading only had a few forays forward but Jaap Stam’s men held firm with the score locked at 0-0 at the break.

Will David Wagner’s Huddersfield live to rue those missed chances?

Follow the second half live from Wembley by clicking on the link above.


 

LIVE: Playoff final – Huddersfield v. Reading for PL spot

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The richest game in world soccer is here.

[ LIVE: Follow the action from Wembley ]

Huddersfield Town and Reading clash at Wembley Stadium in the Championship playoff final, one win away from the Premier League with the final promotion spot up for grabs after Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion clinched automatic promotion.

Whoever wins this match will alter the path of their club for the foreseeable future.

The winner will not only receive a place in the PL but also a huge sum of $218 million for next season and if they stay up for just one season in the Premier League it is estimated to be worth $372 million.

Below is the team news…

Click on the link above to follow live updates from Wembley, while we will have analysis, reaction and more during and after the game.

VIDEO: Watch Francesco Totti’s emotional Roma farewell

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After a 25-year career at AS Roma, Francesco Totti was handed a fitting farewell on Sunday.

The hometown hero, now 40 years of age, called time on his incredible Roma career and looked overwhelmed.

[ MORE: Totti’s incredible career

Coming on for the 786th and final appearance of his stunning career, the all-time leading scorer for Roma (307 goals in all competitions) helped his team secured a dramatic last-gasp 3-2 win over Genoa to seal second place in the Serie A table and an automatic spot in the UEFA Champions League next season.

Totti spurned big money moves to Real Madrid and Barcelona where he could have won the biggest trophies and individual titles in the game to stay at Roma. He won just one Scudetto with Roma but famously said that was worth 10 league titles had he played for another team.

[ MORE: Serie A final day roundup ]

Following the game it was all about Totti as his teammates and manager broke down in tears, and so too did Totti as he went on a lap of honor with his wife and children at a sold-out Stadio Olimpico.

Rome’s favorite son said goodbye and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Watch the emotional farewell in the videos below.

I know. I have something in my eye too…