Shipped from Abroad, Euro 2012: Group C’s second round memories, team of the day, and lessons


source: Reuters


How we’ll remember …

Croatia 1-1 Italy: As a missed opportunity, though we’ll have to wait three days before we know who missed it. Group C’s most likely scenarios have one of these teams spending next week on the Adriatic wondering if they could have done more in their second group game. Now Croatia faces Spain in a match where they’ll likely need points, while Italy gets an Ireland side against whom they don’t match up particularly well.

Spain 4-0 Ireland: As one of the more lopsided performances in the competition’s history. The 859 passes Spain completed (UEFA count) were a competition record, a total that hints the 4-0 final may flatter the Irish. If Spain were a little more ruthless – a little more willing to risk losing the ball once in a while – the final score could have been really embarrassing.

Team of the Day

G: Stipe Pletikosa, Croatia
LB: Ivan Strinic, Croatia
CB: Leonardo Bonucci, Italy
CB: Daniele de Rossi, Italy
RB: Alvaro Arbeloa, Spain
M: Xavi Hernandez, Spain
M: Andrea Pirlo, Italy
M: Luka Modric, Croatia
LF: Andres Iniesta, Spain
RF: David Silva, Spain
F: Fernando Torres, Spain
Subs: Sergio Busquets, Spain; Claudio Marchisio, Italy; Antonio Cassano, Italy

Three lessons to take home

1. Ninety minutes, not 45 – Yesterday, Denmark didn’t show up until halftime in their 3-2 loss to Portugal. Had they played the full 90 as they did after half, the Danes would be in the quarterfinals.

If they watched that match, neither Italy nor Croatia learned anything from it. Italy dominated the first half but left their attacking impetus in the locker room, playing a second 45 minutes as if waiting for the final whistle to come.

Croatia were meek in the first, came out of halftime motivated, and put themselves in a situation to win at match’s end. Yes, a lot of Croatia’s improvement was owed to some halftime adjustments from Slaven Bilic, but the Croats’ individual first half performances, independent of the tactics, were left wanting.

Whichever set of players is on that Adriatic beach next week, reflecting in the small window they have before having to report back to their clubs, they’ll think back to their lost half. In the second match, why couldn’t we put in a full 90?

2. Speed kills – Ireland allowed seven goals in 10 qualifiers. It only took 180 European championship minutes to match that number.

They were completely at Spain’s mercy. If Spain want to score more, the would have. They went about their four with the urgency of a mail carrier. If a statistician told them the needed six to be absolutely certain all goal-based tiebreakers would go their way, they would have scored six.

Ireland just couldn’t match Spain’s speed, and without physical midfielders to provide a deterrent to going through the middle, Giovanni Trapattoni’s players were sitting ducks. As long as Spain executed – and executed with that unique technical proficiency that allows them to do everything at full speed – they were going to run through the Irish.

What was Trapattoni’s recourse? I suppose he could have played five at the back to close down space. He could have deployed a packed in 4-2-4-0. But he sure couldn’t get faster players.

Whereas Ireland might be able to frustrate a team like Italy, Spain just races by them.

3. Twenty-four team Euros are going to stink – Spain-Ireland was so lopsided because of a tournament favorite’s extreme stylistic advantage over one of the competition’s worst sides. It’s not the type of scenario you come across every Euro, and given the route Ireland took to Poland, it’s easy to make a case that they’re not one of UEFA’s top 16 teams.

In 2016, the European championships expand to 24 teams. That means two more weeks of games and up to eight more Ireland-level teams in the tournament.

If all those nations bring Ireland-level support to France, it will be a net gain for the competition. Else, the only things the extra teams will bring are more lopsided results.
ProSoccerTalk is doing its best to keep you up to date on what’s going on in Poland and Ukraine. Check out the site’s Euro 2012 page and look at the site’s previews, predictions, and coverage of all the events defining UEFA’s championship.

Struggling Atleti in unfamiliar territory under Simeone

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MADRID — This is uncharted territory for many Atletico Madrid fans.

Few other times in recent years have they seen their team struggle so much under Diego Simeone.

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Few other times have they seen their coach fail so often while trying to put the team back on track.

Atletico hit a new low under Simeone on Thursday when it was eliminated by third-division club Cultural Leonesa in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey. The 2-1 loss in extra time was the team’s worst result in the cup competition since losing to third-tier club Albacete at the same stage in 2011-12.

Two days after that loss in 2011, Atletico hired the then-mostly unknown Simeone to replace Gregorio Manzano, a move that kick-started one of the club’s most successful eras and led to a Spanish league title, two Europa League trophies and two Champions League final appearances.

Atletico did go through difficult moments under Simeone, including when the team failed to advance past the group stage of the Champions League a couple of seasons ago.

“There were always complicated moments in past seasons, maybe after we didn’t make it in the Champions League, or when we lost in the Champions League finals,” Simeone said. “After being at the club for so long, things like this can happen, although they shouldn’t happen.”

There is a greater sense of urgency about the team’s struggles this time.

In addition to Wednesday’s embarrassing Copa del Rey elimination, Atletico lost the Spanish Super Cup final to Real Madrid on Jan. 12, and already is eight points off the Spanish league lead after 20 matches.

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Before, there used to be a notion that Simeone would quickly turn things around and put the team back on track, but this time there aren’t many signs things will improve again soon.

Atletico has yet to impress since undergoing its biggest squad revamp under Simeone at the end of last season, when it lost Antoine Griezmann and other veteran players such as Filipe Luis and Diego Godin. Young Portugal forward Joao Felix, who arrived to replace Griezmann after a transfer from Benfica worth more than 120 million euros ($133 million), has yet to meet expectations.

More concerning, Atletico is not being nearly as effective as it used to be, when it always seemed to find a way to win matches despite not playing well.

The team remains solid defensively — it has the second-best defense in the Spanish league with 14 goals conceded — but it hasn’t been able to do much in attack recently.

“Everything is harder when you can’t score,” Simeone said.

Only seven teams have scored fewer goals than Atletico’s 22 in the 20-team standings.

Diego Costa has been mostly out injured, and Victor “Vitolo” Machin and Alvaro Morata haven’t done much in attack. Morata is the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals in all competitions, and no one else has more than five.

“We have to be humble enough to be self-critical,” Simeone said. “We need to keep working to try to be ready for the challenges that we have ahead of us. We have a very good squad and I’m sure that the results that we want will start arriving soon.”

Atletico biggest chance to rebound will come next month against European champion Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League. The first leg will be on Feb. 18 in Spain.

Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong

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Jose Mourinho seems to be quite happy that the Premier League will implement its first-ever winter break next month, allowing players a bit of rest and recovery time during a marathon campaign, but says its timing makes the break almost worthless for clubs competing in European competitions.

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The next four weeks will play out as follows for Tottenham Hotspur: FA Cup against Southampton this weekend; PL fixture against Manchester City next weekend; the following weekend off which results in two weeks without a game; PL fixture against Aston Villa the following weekend; Champions League first leg against RB Leipzig three days later.

In Mourinho’s perfect world, that first round of PL fixtures following the break would be held a week earlier, leaving the seven English clubs competing in the Champions League and Europa League with a week and a half between games before setting out once again to chase European glory. Instead, Tottenham, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea will all have a quick turnaround from PL action to UCL competition — quotes from the Guardian:

“It is what it is. I’m not happy that the break comes in the wrong moment. The break should be before the Champions League and, in the end, before the Champions League we don’t have the break. We have to play Aston Villa on the Sunday, playing [RB Leipzig three] days later. So we don’t really care about the break, honestly.”

Mourinho’s point is a solid one: if the winter break is going to exist — and it should — then why shouldn’t its benefits be maximized? Non-European sides — typically those with smaller squads — would still have the full two weeks between games, while those in Europe are able to better leverage their slightly larger squads with only 10 or 11 days between games — still a lengthy break relative to the rest of the season.

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It’s only the first year of the winter break in the PL, so perhaps hopefully they’ll receive Mourinho’s criticism — and that of any other managers — constructively.

Serie A: AC Milan extends unbeaten run since Zlatan’s arrival

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BRESCIA, Italy (AP) Ante Rebic scored his third goal in two matches, goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was superb and AC Milan won 1-0 at relegation-threatened Brescia on Friday to climb into the Europa League places in Serie A.

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Rebic, who scored twice in a win over Udinese last weekend, pounced on a loose ball directly in front of the goal following a cross from Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 71st minute.

Since Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan over the holiday break, Milan is unbeaten with four wins and a draw across all competitions.

Donnarumma produced several difficult saves to deny Dimitri Bisoli and Ernesto Torregrossa.

Also, Milan fullback Theo Hernandez hit the crossbar in the closing minutes.

The Rossoneri moved up to sixth place, four points behind fifth-place Atalanta.

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“Our goal is to qualify for Europe,” Donnarumma said. “We’ve got to continue like this and not rest for a moment. There’s another big Italian Cup match coming up with Torino midweek and we want to reach the semifinals.

“We’ll take it one game at a time and try to keep this momentum going.”

Brescia was without Mario Balotelli, who was suspended for two matches after protesting a booking last weekend that ended up with the striker being sent off.

Brescia remained one point above last-place Genoa.

FA Cup: Sheffield Wednesday into 5th round; Derby headed for replay

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Sheffield Wednesday became the first club to reach the fifth round of the 2019-20 FA Cup by beating Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road on Friday.

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The Owls took a 1-0 lead into halftime after Morgan Fox squeezed his shot past the goalkeeper from a tight angle, and Sam Winnall put the EFL Championship side 2-0 up by slotting the ball home just before full-time. QPR pulled a goal back through Nahki Wells just moments later, but it wasn’t enough and the game finished 2-1.

It’s the second time in three seasons that Wednesday has reached the fifth round after doing so just twice in their previous 17 seasons.

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Elsewhere, fellow Championship side Derby County, featuring Wayne Rooney who played all 90 minutes, couldn’t see off League Two side Northampton Town and will be forced into the dreaded replay after struggling to a scoreless draw away from home.

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.