Prandelli’s progress, England’s threat, forgetting basics: Talking points from Italy’s win over England

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One of the most anticipated matches of the World Cup’s opening week lived up to expectations, with both Italy and England flashing second round form during the Azzurri’s 2-1 win in Manaus, Brazil. Yet despite goals from Claudio Marchisio and Mario Balotelli offsetting Daniel Sturridge’s first half equalizer, each side showed enough weaknesses to give future opponents hope. For Italy, that meant reminding the world of its inherent limitations, while England showed a surprising inability to deal with the obvious.

Here are five talking points from today’s marquee matchup:

1. This is so Prandelli’s Italy – Dominating possession, leveraging the skill of its midfielders, and relying on movement around its core. This is so Cesare Prandelli’s Italy, a team that represents the perfect balance of its coaches’ philosophy, players’ skills, and culture’s value.

In that way, there’s this brilliant, admirable balance to the Italians, especially considering their dependence on a few singular talents. Built around Andrea Pirlo, relying on Mario Balotelli, and hoping to protect its savvy but slow defense, all of the Azzurri’s defying qualities were on display in today’s opener.

Compared to the team that flopped four years ago, it’s a refreshing if imperfect change. Even against England, the defense’s shortcomings and the lack of attacking options was a problem. Just as we saw at Euro 2012 and the Confederations Cup, these issues could be Italy’s downfall.

Still, let’s not overlook the progress Prandelli’s made. Let’s not take his journey for granted. In the wake 2010’s group stage exit, the former Fiorentina boss had to completely remake this team. Now, as he approaches the end of his journey, we can appreciate the results.

[ MORE: Colombia downs Greece | Costa Rica shocks Uruguay | Ivory Coast takes on Japan ]

2. Pirlo didn’t decide the match – Here’s a brief synopsis of the English media’s expectations for the match: Pirlo, Pirlo, and more Pirlo. At least, that’s what I remember. The coverage was so focused on the regista, you’d be forgiven for asking “how’s Italy going to win if they play 1-on-11?”

And no mistaking it, Pirlo was good. Organizing, probing, distributing as Italy pushed England in their defensive third, all the sublime greatness we associate with the 35-year-old icon was on display.

Thanks in part of England’s approach, he completed 105 passes at a 95 percent clip. England’s high man: Steven Gerrard, completing 67 balls. It was an amazingly prolific and efficient day – one that will leave mouths agape as people scan the final numbers.

Pirlo, however, didn’t decide the match. He may have dictated it, but it was Claudio Marchisio, Mario Balotelli, and Antonio Candreva that influenced the game’s biggest moments. At the final whistle, Pirlo’s greatness was clear, but his teammates’ contributions were just as important.

[ MORE: Soccerly covers the World Cup ]

source: AP
England’s Raheem Sterling, left, and Daniel Sturridge, right, react after Italy’s Mario Balotelli scored today’s winning goal. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

3. England’s attackers deserved the hype – Once the game opened up, it was clear Italy wasn’t going to be able to keep up. Raheem Sterling, when he dropped to pick up the ball, saw room as he turned toward the defense. Wayne Rooney took advantage of the same space in the second half. Danny Welbeck was able to beat defenders one-on-one, while Italy had problems with Daniel Sturridge’s runs. If England finished their chances, they were going to get a result. Unfortunately, their best chance of the second half fell to Rooney, who remains scoreless in World Cup.

Mind you, England did this is against Italy. Yeah, their defenders are slow, but they’re good, and we know how organized their midfield can be. The Three Lions may have only scored one goal, but they created enough chances to expect more going forward.

What does that say about Wednesday’s game, where England will face and even more stoic Uruguay central defense? Or in the group finale, where Costa Rica won’t offer as much resistance in the middle. It says …

4. There’s no margin for error, but reason to believe – … that England should still be favored to get out of its group. Perhaps Uruguay will recover from today’s loss, and maybe Costa Rica is for real, but based on what we saw today, the Three Lions should be considered favorites in each of their last two games. Even with this loss, Roy Hodgson should maintain his sights on the second round.

5. Hodgson’s team failed at the basics – Who would have bet the one big deficiency would be something so fundamental? Especially from a Roy Hodgson team? Nobody got out to meaningfully challenge Claudio Marchisio on the opener, and in the second half, the most basic of movements was able to get Antonio Candreva behind Leighton Baines before he cut back for his cross.

I don’t know if Roy needs to break out the ropes, but some back to basics drills might be in order. Or, given that more weak defending down their left led to the first goal, Hodgson may need to make some tough decisions about how to protect Leighton Baines, particularly given how little influence England had in the middle of the park.

Hodgson’s not really going to regret passing over Ashley Cole … is he?

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”