As it happened: Spain eliminate Ireland; Italy pushed to third

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Thursday’s Euro 2012 slate kicks off with Group C’s pivot game, with Italy and Croatia potentially deciding who will join Spain in the quarterfinals. Of course, Spain is not actually there. They have to take care of business against Ireland in what could be on of the most lopsided matches of the tournament … and even if they do (win, that is), their knockout round spot won’t be clinched. Clearly, we’re getting too far ahead of ourselves.

When Italy-Croatia kicks off at noon Eastern, we’ll pass group stage’s halfway mark. With 12 games down, two of the pre-tournament favorites (Germany, Spain) have stayed on course, one (Netherlands) have donned a life preserver, while a fourth team (Italy) can make its case as a real contender today. A convincing performance against Croatia on the back of their draw with Spain will make us believers.

But first, your daily pre-match reading list:

And now that you’re through skipping over the bullets, here’s Thursday’s action:


(All times Eastern)

1635 – Ireland 0-4 Spain, Final – That was unfortunately predictable. Spain were just too quick, too precise, and too relentless, and it translated to the scoresheet. Spain goes top of the group on goal difference and likely only need a draw against Croatia to win the group.

1620 – Ireland 0-4 Spain – This is sad. Short corner leads to Fabregas dribbling to the right of goal before turning from a sharp angle to power it past Given into the far side netting. This is the type of match I was imagining when I said it could be the most lopsided of the tournament, but I didn’t really think it would happen.

1615 – Ireland 0-3 Spain – Torres gets his curtain call. Cesc Fabregas comes on in what would be a turning point game for Torres. Moments later, Iker Casillas is forced into a save on Robbie Keane.

Spain has 65 of the possession and is outshooting Ireland 23 to 6. Shots on target is 18 to 4.

James McClean’s about to come on.

1612 – Ireland 0-3 Spain – We hinted it could happen pre-game, and it’s come to fruition. Andres Iniesta wins a ball in midfield, David Silva’s there to touch it through the Irish line to Torres, who has 30 yards to set up Shay Given. Finishing into the right of goal. Fernando Torres has his brace.

1608 – Ireland 0-2 Spain Xabi Alonso is off. Javi Martinez is one. Spain’s sense of urgency has waned, and Ireland’s had a few forays forward. Spain’s possession is at 64 percent. They’re outshooting Ireland 22 to 5.

1557 – Ireland 0-2 Spain – A diving punch from a Xavi shot sees Shay Given keep Ireland within two. Spain’s at 63 percent possession and a 19-4 shots edge. They look like they want to pile on some goals, possibly with tiebreaker scenarios in mind.

1550 – Ireland 0-2 Spain – Another goal to open a half, and another one which is a little pathetic. Iniesta is given a ball in the left of area. He puts it on goal, and Dunne punches it right to David Silva at the penalty spot. He take two, three, four touches without a challenge, the defenders frozen in front of him. Finally, a picks out a spot – the lower left hand corner – opens his left foot onto a ball that goes between two sets of legs and beats Shay Given.

1547 – Ireland 0-1 Spain – We’re back, and Ireland has made one change. Jon Walters is on. Simon Cox is off.

1519 – Ireland 0-1 Spain, Halftime – Spain hogged the ball. Possession at 62 percent (per UEFA). Not a ton for Given to do. Expect some variant on this message to repeat, though for now, it’s halftime.

Other numbers: Shots: 14-4, Spain. Shots on target: 10-2, Spain.

It’s only a one goal game, though. Freakiness still in play.

1519 – Ireland 0-1 Spain – Spain hogging ball. Possession at 63 percent (per UEFA). Not a ton for Given to do. Passes are 255-93 in favor of Spain. Expect some variant on this message to repeat.

1511 – Ireland 0-1 Spain – Spain hogging ball. Possession at 61 percent (per UEFA). Not a ton for Given to do. Expect some variant on this message to repeat.

1500 – Ireland 0-1 Spain – UEFA claims Spain have only held 57 percent of the possession. That can’t be correct. This game is looking like it could end 1-0 with Spain holding 80 percent of the possession.

1449 – Ireland 0-1 Spain – He did it! Fernando Torres takes the ball off Richard Dunne’s foot and blasts it right over Shay Given for an earlier opener, and Shay Given probably should have saved that. It has a blast from 10 yards out, but it was high over Given’s head. He just needed to get a hand up.

Andres Iniesta plays a great ball for David Silva after some high pressure from Glenn Whelan allows Iniesta space behind him. Silva’s tackled by Richard Dunne how is far too slow clearing the ball. Torres comes in from behind touches it away, with his next touch finding nylon.

1446 – Ireland 0-0 Spain – We have started. Ireland is in green going from left to right. La Roja is in … well, roja.

1436 – We’re just under 10 minutes from kick off. Here are the lineups, each with one prominent change:

Ireland: Given, St Ledger, Ward, O’Shea, Dunne, Whelan, McGeady, Andrews, Duff, Keane, Cox SUBS: Westwood, Forde, Kelly, McShane, O’Dea, Gibson, Hunt, Green, McClean, Doyle, Walters, Long.

Simon Cox is in. Ireland’s best player on Monday, Kevin Doyle, is off. Giovanni Trapattoni: Contrarian. Mad scientist.

Spain: Casillas, Piqué, Ramos, Arbeloa, Alba, Iniesta, Xavi, Alonso, Busquets, Silva, Torres SUBS: Valdés, Reina, Albiol, Martínez, Juanfran, Fàbregas, Cazorla, Navas, Pedro Rodríguez, Negredo, Mata, Llorente.

Fernando Torres is in. If I say the obvious, that this is a terrible decision in light of other options, I either stand to be proven very wrong (he really could score twice today yet still not really be that good) or he’ll stink and I’m not saying anything new. I’ll just say I feel for Fernando Llorent, Alvaro Negredo, Pedro Rodríguez, Cesc Fabregas, Santi Cazorla … and Pepe Reina.

Let’s be honest: Spain’s winning in spite of Vicente del Bosque, at this point. The double pivot? The chaos at striker? The inhibiting allegiances to old guard players?

1431 – Here’s our Offshore drilling on the day’s first match.

The worst: Ireland is such a good matchup for Spain that they’ll probably win 3-0 and give people the impression Del Bosque pushed the right buttons.

I need to calm down.

Lineups coming soon.

1353 – Italy 1-1 Croatia –The final whistle goes, and teams each take one. Croatia hits on four ahead of Monday’s meeting with Spain, while Italy goes into the Ireland match with two points.

Match report is coming. Go get some lunch.

1347 – Italy 1-1 Croatia – We have five minutes of added time because of the smoke break. Croatia’s lost a bit of their edge. This one looks set to be drawn.

1339 – Italy 1-1 Croatia – Eduardo is on. Nikica Jelavic is off. Antonio Cassano is off. Sebastian Giovinco is on. Croatia is still controlling this match.

1331 – Italy 1-1 Croatia – Stay classy, Croatia fans. Flares/smoke bomb on set off create a white cloud in Italy’s end. Play has to stop while the smoke clears.

1329 – Italy 1-1 Croatia – Mario Mandzukic has had a poor game, but for strikers, goals cure all, especially when they’re late equalizers. With his third goal of the tournament, the Wolfsburg attacker has brought Croatia even.

Danijel Prajnic plays a ball left to Ivan Strinic and makes an overlapping run that pulls Christian Maggio away. It gives Strinic room to cross far post, where Giorgio Chiellini has misjudged the flight of the ball. It floats over his head and onto the right foot of Mandzukic, who has time to bring the ball down and bang it home.

It’s a disappointing goal for Italy to allow, but as much as they had allowed Croatia to take the game to them in the second half, they were asking for something like that to happen.

1324 – Italy 1-0 Croatia – Slaven Bilic makes his first chance, bringing on Danijel Pranjic for Iven Perisic. Italy has already made a move, bringing off Thiago Motta, whose head bounced off the turf, for Ricardo Montolivo. Italy’s not made what looks like will be a regular substitution: Toto Di Natale for Mario Balotelli, who has been mostly good but also showed some poor decision-making.

Most of this half has been played in Italy’s half. They’ve been unable to break out on counters, meaning Cassano’s been a non-factor.

1311 – Italy 1-0 Croatia – The Croats have come out strong, putting a number of shots toward Gianluigi Buffon, though none have seriously troubled him (and few have actually required his intervention). Modric is attacking more than distributing, but he still can get anything out of Jelavic of Mandzukic. The game’s paused now as a firework/flare is thrown onto the field. Croatian plays go over to plead that their supporters cease being idiots.

1301 – Italy 1-0 Croatia – We are back, and as good as Italy were in the first half, Croatia is one cross, one beat defender, one header away from canceling out a first half were they were second best.

1250 – Italy 1-0 Croatia, Halftime – Pre-game we talked about this being Italy’s chance to assert themselves as real contenders. They absolutely are playing to that level. Andrea Pirlo has been great – possibly asserting himself as the tournament’s best player, to this point. The combination of him an Antonio Cassano form a great, creative center to the club.

The stats: Possession: Italy 11-3; Shots: Italy 11-3; Shots on target: Italy 6-3.

1247 – Italy 1-0 Croatia, Halftime – Intermission, and Italy goes in deserved leaders. While there were spells where it seemed Croatia was building something, there was never a point where you felt them the better team. By the end of the half Italy was in firm control of the game.

1239 – Italy 1-0 Croatia – The best attacking spell of the match ends with a great Pirlo strike from left of goal, giving Italy the lead.

One minute before, Italy pushes for a goal that only some Stipe Pletikosa heroics keep out. A Pirlo ball for Cassano sees Cassano find Claudio Marchisio in the left channel with a brilliant ball. A nice touch set him up for a shot that’s remarkably blocked by Pletikosa. The rebound goes to Marchisio, who sees another shot blocked, but on the clearance, Croatia gives up a foul.

From two yards outside the area, just above the left corner of the penalty area, Pirlo gets a ball up and over the wall, beating a valiant effort from Pletikosa, putting Italy in front.

1233 – Italy 0-0 Croatia – The play’s been a little more event than the second 10 minutes, but just past the 30 minute-mark, Italy is still creating the better chances. The greatest danger comes when they can get the ball to Cassano in transition, but when that doesn’t happen Pirlo is still doing a good job of moving the ball around. They haven’t been holding enough of the ball to get Thiago Motta and Claudio Marchisio forward much, but when they do (as they did a few minutes ago), it creates nervy moments for Croatia.

1222 – Italy 0-0 Croatia – For the first time, we see Croatia putting together the passes they’ll need to use to get in and out of that Italy defense. They end up putting a cross in from the left that sees Nikica Jelavic and Giorgio Chiellini are tangled, and a foul’s given on Croatia. On the restart Croatia regains possession and quickly comes back down the right, with Darijo Srna putting a dangerous ball near post. Nobody getson it, and Gianluigi Buffon swallows it up.

1216 – Italy 0-0 Croatia – Mario Balotelli’s movement is terrorizing Vedran Corluka, who again looks terrible. Both Cassano and Pirlo have been able to find him quite easily. Croatia, going forward, look contained. In defense, they seem like they’re just hoping Italy doesn’t execute.

1201 – Italy 0-0 Croatia – We are underway. Italy’s in blue, moving left to right. Croatia is in white.

1158 – Teams are shaking hands. We’re minutes away from kickoff.

1127 – Today’s lineups:

Croatia: Pletikosa, Strinić, Ćorluka, Schildenfeld, Rakitić, Vukojević, Modrić, Srna, Perišić, Jelavić, Mandžukić SUBS: Kelava, Subašić, Šimunić, Buljat, Vrsaljko, Vida, Pranjić, Badelj, Dujmović, Kranjčar, Kalinić, Eduardo.

Italy: Buffon, Maggio, Chiellini, Bonucci, Motta, Marchisio, Giaccherini, De Rossi, Pirlo, Balotelli, Cassano SUBS: Sirigu, De Sanctis, Ogbonna, Balzaretti, Abate, Barzagli, Montolivo, Diamanti, Nocerino, Di Natale, Borini, Giovinco.

Croatia is unchanged, and it Italy, despite days of speculation Cesare Prandelli would make up to three moves. If Prandelli’s willing lie to us about a piddling soccer lineup, what else is he willing to do?

I feel so used.

My picks today (I don’t think I’ve gotten a pick right yet): Italy 3-1 Croatia, and Spain 4-0 Ireland. That seems wild … maybe I’m getting punchy.
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.

Solskjaer warns “could have been one of those nights” for Manchester United

Manchester United Solskjaer
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was clearly relieved after his dominant but wasteful Manchester United finally beat goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson and Copenhagen in extra time of their Europa League quarterfinal in Cologne.

“I think it was just one of those nights,” he said after the win. “I think we deserved to win, that’s clear, but they made it very hard for us.”

Johnsson made 13 saves as United out-attempted the minusM-1000 underdogs from Denmark by a 26-9 margin. The Red Devils blocked several Copenhagen chances in tight, making the Danes’ total of zero shots on target a bit deceiving.

[ RECAP: Manchester United 1-0 Copenhagen ]

“Their keeper was unbelievable and we hit the post a few times,” Solskjaer said. “It could have been one of those nights that you end up with a shootout. We had to block, defend well and they made it hard for us.”

But United was clearly the better team on the day, as expected. Juan Mata entered late in the game and was an influential sub in extra time.

He says the Red Devils were a bit beat up on a hot night in Germany.

“The team is quite tired physically,” Mata said. “At this stage of this season it is important to win games like today and we go through. We stay in Germany for quite some time and hopefully we can win.

“Both teams got a little tired and there were more spaces and more chances. They played some good football and credit to them. We could have scored more goals in extra time but we are through.”

United will meet either Sevilla or Wolves in a dynamite semifinal in one week.

Manchester United breaks through Copenhagen in extra time

Manchester United - Copenhagen
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Manchester United – Copenhagen: The Europa League’s biggest underdogs of the quarterfinals took the tournament favorites to extra time before succumbing 1-0 in Cologne.

Bruno Fernandes highlighted his Man of the Match performance by converting an Anthony Martial-won penalty in the 95th minute for Manchester United, the only way past Copenhagen’s terrific goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson.

But Fernandes gave United a scare, needing care for his hamstring at the final whistle.

[ MORE: Liverpool announces new left back ]

Johnsson made 13 saves, seven from inside the box, to keep Copenhagen within a sucker punch of eliminating the Red Devils over 90 minutes.

Manchester United heads to Dusseldorf for an Aug. 17 semifinal against the winner of Tuesday’s tilt between Wolves and Sevilla.


Three things we learned

1. Copenhagen plays prime tournament soccer: The heaviest underdogs in the quarterfinals, Copenhagen executed a traditional 4-4-2 in a less-traditional low block for much of the match. The low block wasn’t the surprise, but instead of two banks of five, the rows of four with two men hassling up front challenged United for time and helped spring a number of dangerous counters. The Danes opened up in extra time after going behind, but taking it to extra time was more than many expected out of them.

2. VAR denies the Red Devils: A rout would’ve been on if this match was staged a year ago without VAR, as the assistant referee twice allowed United goals to go to video. Harry Maguire was offside before assisting the first would-be Red Devils goal, while Mason Greenwood was off before ripping a rocket off the far post and into the goal.

3. Bruno is a beast: Fernandes was everywhere, cueing up his teammates for chances when he wasn’t smashing them off the frame in a bid to win it himself. The Portuguese playmaker registered three key passes, put three of his five shots on target, and won the majority of his duels on top of scoring the game’s lone goal (SofaScore). Now United must hope his late leg injury was just a product of 120 minutes and nothing major.

Man of the Match

Fernandes, and yes we had him here before he smashed his penalty home. Fernandes is now the Europa League’s leading scorer with seven goals between Sporting Lisbon and United.


Manchester United – Copenhagen recap

United has plenty of the ball in the first 10 minutes but Copenhagen provided legitimate danger that Eric Bailly managed in his own six.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka blocked a cross with his face and needed treatment, looking quite dazed before returning to the game.

Another Copenhagen chance was blocked in the six by Bailly (again), who proved a wise choice over Victor Lindelof.

VAR had a look at an early United goal and rightly chalked Harry Maguire offside in the build-up. And it took Mason Greenwood’s hammer off the far post off the board for offside early in stoppage time.

Copenhagen was in it at the break. Would United pay?

[ MORE: Lukaku leads Inter past Bayer Leverkusen ]

The early stages of the second half remained with the Red Devils, Copenhagen parking all its men behind the ball at times.

Rashford flubbed a chance to shoot or pass to Paul Pogba when Bruno Fernandes spotted him at the back post just after the hour mark.

Fernandes tried his luck from distance in the 63rd, ripping a shot off the far post.

Ex-Everton man Bryan Oviedo nearly put Copenhagen ahead in the 66th only to see Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Bailly clog his shooting lane after Rasmus Falk dazzled to get into the box.

Karl-Johan Johnsson made a flying save on Anthony Martial to force an 84th-minute corner that came to nothing for United.

Johnsson denied Martial again in-tight at the start of stoppage time, but the high was short-lived as the Frenchman was dropped in the box moments later.

Fernandes stepped to the spot and used a stuttering run-up before blasting his penalty home.

Martial nearly had it 2-0 after the restart when he dribbled through the Copenhagen 18 but took it himself instead of laying off to Juan Mata in what would’ve been a fairly straight-forward chance for the Spaniard.

Johnsson denied Fernandes at the end of the first 15 minutes of extra time, United unfortunate to not score on the ensuing corner when Mata’s shot was blocked to Lindelof, who fired off the outside of the post.

Lindelof made a fine intervention to block a close-range equalizer bid in the 116th.

Inter Milan rides early goals past Bayer Leverkusen

Inter Milan - Bayer Leverkusen
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While Manchester United and Copenhagen played chess across the country, Inter Milan and Bayer Leverkusen were staging double jumps all over a checkerboard in Dusseldorf.

Romelu Lukaku and Nicolo Barella scored twice in six first-half minutes before Kai Havertz answered in the 24th to account for all the goals in Inter’s 2-1 defeat of Bayer.

Lukaku has scored in nine-straight UEL matches, a new record.

[ MORE: Liverpool announces new left back ]

Inter now waits for an Aug. 16 semifinal in Cologne, where it will meet the winner of Tuesday’s match between Basel and Shakhtar Donetsk

Bayer now must settle for the Europa League again via its fifth-place finish in the Bundesliga.

The three goals in the nine minutes were highlighted by Lukaku doing his best “Harry Kane versus Leicester City” falling down finish.

Nicola Barella put Inter ahead after a quarter-hour when he made the most of a loose ball outside the 18.

A Manchester United connection saw Inter ahead by two when Ashley Young found Romelu Lukaku and the Belgian striker maintained his composure while being dragged to the ground, beating Lukas Hradecky with a low shot.

Kai Havertz and Kevin Volland’s interplay near the box ended with the transfer rumor mainstay slipping a shot home to bring Bayer back within one.

Lukaku had penalty decisions taken off the board by VAR in each half.

Who’s next for Manchester United if Sancho stays at Dortmund?

Chiesa to Manchester United
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The transfer rumor mill is usually buzzing this time of year, but it’s nearly a cacophony following Michael Zorc’s announcement that Jadon Sancho will be staying at Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Liverpool announces new left back ]

Reports say Manchester United is not quitting on the idea of Sancho at Old Trafford, but here are some other targets if the Red Devils have to look away from the English phenom.

Federico Chiesa, Fiorentina

Linked with United for some time including a Monday nod from Football-Italia, Chiesa’s approximately $80 million price tag is high but half of what Dortmund is asking for Sancho.

The versatile playmaker has often been linked with Juventus, though Fiorentina is loathe to do business with The Old Lady unless absolutely necessary after big sales of Roberto Baggio and Federico Bernardeschi to Juve in the past.

The 22-year-old already has 17 Italian caps and scored 10 goals with six assists for La Viola this season in Serie A play, career bests in both.

Douglas Costa, Juventus

This one could become even more feasible if Juve latched onto Chiesa.

Juve desperately needs to get younger and Costa doesn’t figure to fit into the plans of Andrea Pirlo, a month away from his 30th birthday.

Costa works better on the right side and would be a worker bee looking to set up Rashford and Martial or cut back for Bruno Fernandes. He boasts double-digit assist seasons in the Bundesliga (Bayern), Serie A (Juve), and Ukraine (Shakhtar Donetsk).

TURIN, ITALY – MAY 19: Douglas Costa (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)

Raul Jimenez, Wolves

This one still feels like a long shot of long shots given the players’ age and status at Wolves, but the El Tri star has been linked with United in the past.

Jimenez doesn’t solve the wing issue presented by Sancho staying at BVB, and you’d fancy the Red Devils to go after one of Wolves’ wingers before Jimenez.

But Solskjaer enjoys Marcus Rashford at left wing and could use Anthony Martial at right wing a bit more often than center forward. Throw in Mason Greenwood and the boss would have a lot of permutations to use around Bruno Fernandes in a front three or four.

Ivan Perisic, Inter Milan

Mentioned as part of a swap deal for Alexis Sanchez, that’s less on the cards after the Chilean accepted a Man United payoff to move to Inter for free.

The 31-year-old favors the left wing and Inter would be happy to offload him after Bayern declined its option to buy the loanee who managed seven goals and 10 assists in just over 1600 minutes.

That’s pretty good output for a part-time player who kept some tread on the tires.

Perisic to Manchester United
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – JULY 15: Ivan Perisic of Croatia (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

James Rodriguez, Real Madrid

If you’re sensing a thread amongst most of these players, it’s no surprise considering United has a wage scale to meet the needs of many wantaways.

Real desperately wants to get something for Colombian star James, who at 29 played less than 800 minutes for La Liga’s champions this season.

His two-year loan stint at Bayern also saw him as a part-time player, but like Perisic a productive one. James scored 15 times with 20 assists over two seasons with the Bavarians.

Kingsley Coman, Bayern Munich

This would cost a lot of dough.

The 24-year-old has been a part of nine-straight league winners between Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, and Bayern.

Okay that’s cheating a bit considering his Ligue 1 crowns came off a handful of appearances over two seasons at the Parc des Princes.

But the left and right winger might be on for a change of scenery with Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane set to dominate the preferential places at Bayern.