Blatter says injuries are down to tiredness, but is that the primary reason stars are ruled out of World Cup?

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FIFA President Sepp Blatter has spoken out about the recent spate of injuries affecting the 2014 World Cup.

Blatter told reporters, “[it’s] too long a season and always the same players are always in the same competitions. Now they are tired.”

He may have a point. Diego Costa and Cristiano Ronaldo, both of whom played in the Champions League final, are struggling to shake off injuries. Franck Ribéry and Marco Reus both played in the German Cup final, and both have seen their World Cup dreams fall by the wayside.

However, Riccardo Montolivio, who broke a leg in Italy’s friendly with Ireland, saw his Milan side’s Champions League hopes ended by March. Radamel Falcao and Monaco were only playing in domestic competitions, as were Kevin Strootman and Roma, and Christian Benteke and Aston Villa.

Besides, can injuries such as broken legs really be blamed on the amount of matches played in a season?

Perhaps Blatter should consider examining friendlies – which aren’t always so friendly. Brazil’s win over Serbia certainly showed that, as did the hard tackling of the Honduras players in Saturday night’s goalless draw with England.

Such friendlies do carry weight. They’re factored in when FIFA ranks international squads, which in turn affects which teams are seeded for international tournaments, thus giving them more favorable draws. These warmups have also been stages upon which teams can signal their preparedness for the World Cup, hoping to send a warning for other sides to not discount them quite so soon.

Obviously friendlies aren’t the only problem. But quite a few players were set to board the plane, only to be left behind due to an injury picked up in a warm-up match. Montolivo and Reus are two such players. So too is Nigeria’s Elderson. Costa Rica’s Álvaro Saborío and Holland’s Rafael van der Vaart picked up injuries while preparing for the World Cup.

Maybe, in addition to reconsidering the structure of the soccer calendar, in which many players feature in two (or more) games per week, it’s also time to put some thought into how friendlies in general, and World Cup preparation in particular, should be handled.

EURO 2016: Who’s headed to France?

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - OCTOBER 10: Volkan Sen of Turkey in action during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group A Qualifier match between Czech Republic and Turkey at Letna Stadium on October 10, 2015 in Prague, Czech Republic. (Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images)
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The group stage of qualification is complete, as 20 teams have clinched a berth at EURO 2016, which kicks off next summer in France.

The top-two finishers in each group automatically qualified, as did the best third-place side out of all the groups (Turkey). France qualified automatically as the host nation.

[ MORE: EURO 2016 roundup ]

That leaves eight third-place teams to battle for the final four spots through a two-legged play-off. The draw for the matchups will take place on October 18, and those matches will be held from November 12-17 as a home-and-home play-off.

Group A

  1. Czech Republic
  2. Iceland
  3. Turkey (automatically qualified as best third-place side)

Group B

  1. Belgium
  2. Wales
  3. Bosnia and Herzegovina (qualified for play-off)

Group C

  1. Spain
  2. Slovakia
  3. Ukraine (qualified for play-off)

Group D

  1. Germany
  2. Poland
  3. Republic of Ireland (qualified for play-off)

Group E

  1. England
  2. Switzerland
  3. Slovenia (qualified for play-off)

Group F

  1. Northern Ireland
  2. Romania
  3. Hungary (qualified for play-off)

Group G

  1. Austria
  2. Russia
  3. Sweden (qualified for play-off)

Group H

  1. Italy
  2. Croatia
  3. Norway (qualified for play-off)

Group I

  1. Portugal
  2. Albania
  3. Denmark (qualified for play-off)

EURO 2016: Dutch disaster as Netherlands fail to qualify

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - OCTOBER 13:  Robin van Persie of the Netherlands (19) reacts during the UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying Group A match between the Netherlands and the Czech Republic at Amsterdam Arena on October 13, 2015 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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The group stage of qualifying for the 2016 European Championship has come to a close, and one of the top teams in the world will not be playing in France next summer.

Netherlands 2-3 Czech Republic

The Netherlands finished second at the 2010 World Cup and third at the 2014 World Cup, but have failed to qualify for EURO 2016. Playing in front of a home crowd in a must-win match against the Czech Republic, the Dutch got off to a dreadful start, falling behind 2-0 as manager Danny Blind was forced to make a substitution within the opening 40 minutes. The Czech Republic was sent to ten men before the break, but an own-goal from Robin Van Persie made it 3-0 as the Dutch couldn’t recover. A disastrous result for the Netherlands, as big changes will surely come from the top down.

[ RELATED: David de Gea fighting for starting goalkeeper position with Spain ]

Italy 2-1 Norway

Italy finishes atop Group H without a loss after defeating Norway 2-1 today. Norway took the lead through Norwich City’s Alexander Tettey, but late goals from Alessandro Florenzi and Southampton’s Graziano Pelle gave the Italians all three points.

Malta 0-1 Croatia

With Norway’s loss, Croatia jumped into second place in Group H and secured qualification to EURO 2016 with a 1-0 win away at Malta. Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic scored the game’s only goal, as Croatia advances despite having one point deducted due to inappropriate actions from their fans.

Elsewhere in EURO qualifying

Group A

Turkey 1-0 Iceland
Latvia 0-1 Kazakhstan

Group B

Belgium 3-1 Israel
Wales 2-0 Andorra
Cyprus 2-3 Bosnia and Herzegovina

Group H

Bulgaria 2-0 Azerbaijan