Spain’s reign may be over, but la Roja will be ready come Euro 2016

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It’s not so much that people hate Spain, though based on the reaction Wednesday’s result, you could come to that conclusion. More likely, the reaction’s about success, and how the sports world reacts to it. Through Spain’s triumph at Euro 2008 was adored, their elimination from Brazil 2014 was met with a backlash. After six years of being sold the Spaniards’ virtues, the world is done with la Roja.

Given how sports cycles work, it’s be natural to assume Spain need to reset, and to a certain extent, that’s obviously true. Carles Puyol is gone, Iker Casillas and Xavi Hernández are past their primes, and the opposition has had time to adjust. Tiki-taka’s not dead, in the face of waning talent, it’s no longer enough.

But as Sid Lowe reminded us today at The Guardianit may not be long before the emperor has new clothes. There’s a generation of new talent which, having already made an impact at club-level, is ready to step in, and if results at UEFA’s U-level competitions are any indication, this generation will again prove superior to their European peers. Opportunity seems to be their biggest problem.

That’s why Spain’s Brazil 2014 can turn into a blessing, of sorts. For too long, Vicente Del Bosque has had to consider whether to fix something that wasn’t broken, but one-sided matches against the Netherlands and Chile left no doubt. The team’s beyond broken. It’s shattered, giving Del Bosque license to not only tweak but completely rebuild.

But consider the collection of talent that will be part of that rebuild:

source: Getty ImagesDavid de Gea, G, Manchester United – It’s now clear the 23-year-old is the best keeper in Spain’s pool. Though an injury has kept him from contributing in Brazil, he’ll represent an upgrade if (or, when) he takes the one-shirt during qualifying for 2016. Having established himself a Manchester United, de Gea’s a tough call Del Bosque should have made before Brazil 2014.

Iñigo Martínez, CB, Real Sociedad – The lack of depth in central defense was one of Spain’s major problems in Brazil, but if Martínez (23) had been integrated into the team sooner, Del Bosque would have had more options when his central pair failed so spectacularly against the Dutch. After making the all tournament team at last year’s Euro U-21 championship. Martínez got his first senior team cap, but Del Bosque has since remained loyal to more established stars.

Koke, M, Atlético Madrid (above)
Thiago Alcantara, M, Bayern Munich
– Out injured for Brazil, Alcantara (23) captained the team that won last year’s U-21s, while Koke’s (22) performance at Atlético Madrid earned him time on Wednesday. If Xabi Alonso’s starting spot is also reconsidered (as it should be), these two could join Sergio Busquets as the new core of Spain’s team; at least, in midfield.

source: APIsco, M/F, Real Madrid
Jesé Rodríguez, F, Real Madrid (right)
Álvaro Morata, F, Real Madrid
Daniel Carvajal, RB, Real Madrid
Asier Illarramendi, M, Real Madrid
– Particularly with its three young attackers, Real Madrid has an enviable collection of up-and-coming talent, one that will threaten to from a gap between the Merengues and Barcelona. On the international level, the means a Roja side that won so much with a Barcelona core will turn to Spain’s other titans to prolong its success. The style of play may not shift dramatically, but it will change, proving more versatile in the future.

Marc Bartra, Barcelona
Martín Montoya, Barcelona – Not that the Catalan giants won’t be represented in the next generation, too, thanks to these two defenders. Unfortunately, neither of these prospects have gotten a prolonged chance at Barcelona. If they perform as they did at last summer’s U-21s (both making the team of the tournament), Spain will a have new generation to augment Sergio Ramos, Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba, and Cesar Azpilicueta, none of whom are over 28 years old. Sevilla left back Alberto Moreno (21) will be an option, too.

Iker Muniaín, Athletic Bilbao
Ander Herrera, Athletic Bilbao – Muniaín has been contributing to Athletic’s first team for so long, it’s had to believe he’s only 21 years old. Yet between him and Herrera (24), another enviable central midfield talent, the Lions have two more talents that can join Javi Martínez as contributors to La Roja.

And then there’s all the older players who, as Spain tweaks its approach, could become more valuable. Manchester City winger Jesus Navas was desperately missed over the last two games, and while Fernando Llorente is redundant to Diego Costa, redundancy isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a 23-man squad.

What will that look like on the field? Something like:

G – David de Gea
LB – Jordi Alba
CB – Sergio Ramos
CB – Gerard Piqué
RB – Daniel Carvajal
DM – Sergio Busquets
CM – Thiago Alcantara
CM – Koke
AM – Andrés Iniesta
F – Jesé Rodríguez
F – Diego Costa

Perhaps Isco’s in there instead of Jesé. Perhaps one or two other spots are different, but while some are critical of that central defense, when healthy, that duo has won titles. Regardless, Spain’s not going anywhere. In fact, la Roja may improve.

No longer worried about disrupting a proven formula, Spain’s coach can look at the team’s talent with a open mind. The right combination could help reclaim a spot on top of the soccer world.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.