Shipped from Abroad, Euro 2012: Team of the day, memories from Group C’s closing round

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How we’ll remember …

Spain 1, Croatia 0 – As a typical match from Spain’s dominant period, but we’ll also remember it as a game that saw a deserving team seen out of Euro 2012, finishing third in what turned out to be the true Group of Death. If Croatia didn’t have to go for a win at the end, they probably hold out for a draw and finish group play undefeated. They still would have finished third in the group, but when you look at the rest of the tournament, you could make a case that one of the competition’s three of four best teams (on form) are out after three games.

Italy 2, Ireland 0 – As boring as we could have predicted. It wasn’t a bad game, and it certainly wasn’t as dull as the worst soccer games we’ve seen. It was just so predictably passive. “Oh, Italy and Ireland? Neither of these teams are going to do anything.” And they didn’t. Italy hogged possession and, aside from Antonio Cassano, offered no creativity. They just kicked the ball around Ireland’s defense, trying to open it up, and when that didn’t happen, they’d try something unlikely to come off because they hadn’t put the hard work into setting it up.

Team of the Day

Suffice to say, there weren’t a lot of stellar performances on Monday.

G: Iker Casillas, Spain
LB: Jordi Alba, Spain
CB: Gordon Schildenfeld, Croatia
CB: Sean St. Ledger, Ireland
RB: Ivan Strinić, Croatia
M: Sergio Busquets, Spain
M: Xabi Alonso, Spain
M: Andrea Pirlo, Italy
AM: Luka Modric, Croatia
AM: Andres Iniesta, Spain
F: Antonio Cassano, Italy
Subs: Kevin Doyle, Ireland, Daniele de Rossi, Italy, Andrea Barzagli, Italy

Three lessons to take home

1. Order of matches matter – If Croatia had gotten Italy’s order of games, they might be going through. At least, they would have finished the tournament without a loss (who knows how the tiebreakers would have gone), since they wouldn’t have had to open up at the end of today’s game in pursuit of a goal. Instead, they’d be beating Ireland.

Don’t fell bad for the Croats, though. They were one of the better teams in group stage, but they also controlled their own destiny. They weren’t subject to fate, the tides, Mike Seaver – whatever force you think controls the world. Going into their match with Italy, they knew without a win, they’s probably three from Spain. It’s a scenario they should have tried harder to avoid.

Italy, on the other hand, could draw their first two matches knowing a win over Ireland would probably put them through. Their goal against Spain gave them the edge in the three-way tiebreaker and the knowledge that they wouldn’t have to alter their game during group stage.

Croatia knew what they had to do and didn’t; however, the order of matches didn’t help them.

2. Getting it right doesn’t always mean getting it done – In our previews, we mentioned the delicate balance that needs to be struck when facing Spain. You need o account for their threat, but you have to maintain a threat of your own to keep them from completely laying siege.

Slaven Bilic got it right. We didn’t talk about the possibility of him dropping a striker, but that’s what he did. He switched from a 4-4-2 formation to a 4-4-1-1, moving pushing Luka Modric up while going with three defensive-minded players and Ivan Rakitic in midfield.

Spain dominated possession but thanks to Modric, Croatia very nearly took the lead in the second half. The plan didn’t fully come off, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right plan.

The same can be said for Giovanni Trapattoni’s approach. Under pressure to change things up for Italy, Trap decided to start the team that got him to the tournament. And it worked, from open play at least. Ireland were on even footing with Italy before Shay Given misplayed an Antonio Cassano shot. The resulting corner led to Italy’s opening goal.

Like Bilic, Trapattoni got his tactics right, but whereas Croatia was up against a team you can’t completely solve, Trapattoni saw player error undo his planning.

3. Cagey soccer is not good soccer – Monday’s matches were painful. I wanted to turn mine off but decided that wasn’t a good career move.

Croatia and Spain were through at the start of the day, which may have led to some measured play from the Croats, who waited for Italy to break through. Of course, they did, temporarily went top of the group, leaving Croatia looking winning goal. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get the ball off a Spanish team that had more incentive to prevent goals than score them.

It brings us back to one of this week’s themes: These three-game mini-tournaments are weird. They don’t feature enough games to truly distinguish the teams from each other, so you’re left with final days where complications can overwhelm drama.

Over the last two days, that wasn’t the case, as the group dynamics led to interesting scenarios. Today, however, everything felt stagnant.
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Manchester United triggers Bailly contract extension

Manchester United triggers Bailly contract extension
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Manchester United has picked up a two-year option on Eric Bailly‘s contract, according to Sky Sports.

The Red Devils now have the giant 25-year-old center back under wraps through the 2021/22 season.

Bailly is nearing full fitness after his latest injury setback, knee and ankle injuries costing him dozens of matches since arriving from Villarreal in 2016. He underwent knee surgery in late July.

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There’s little reason for United not to pick up the option, as Bailly could’ve left for free in the summer and the extension allows for a possible transfer fee.

That said, Bailly has been very good with healthy and in-form, especially in an exceptional debut season at Old Trafford. He has 34 caps for the Ivory Coast, and is nearing the prime age for a center back.

United visits Liverpool at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday, and Bailly is not expected to play.

The center back may get a chance to get to know Bruno Fernandes, who is being tipped for a $77 million transfer. He likely won’t see Ashley Young, who’s arrived in Milan ahead of a transfer to Inter.

Report: Bruno Fernandes to Manchester United after Lisbon Derby

Manchester United lands Bruno Fernandes
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Bruno Fernandes may get his move.

The 25-year-old Sporting Lisbon midfielder wants a move to Manchester United, and Sky Sports is reporting that the two clubs are close to agreeing on a fee.

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The move will cost $56 million and could escalate to $77 million with incentives, and that it could happen as soon as the end of Friday’s derby between Sporting and Benfica.

From Sky Sports:

Part of the negotiations over a deal for Fernandes included Manchester United not wanting him to play in Friday’s game but the player and Sporting insist that he was going to play in order to say a proper goodbye to the club and the supporters.

United will be crossing its fingers over Fernandes’ health during the 4:15 p.m. ET kickoff is Lisbon.

Sporting is already 12 points off the Champions League places, and 16 off Benfica’s title pace.

Fernandes has been red hot for Sporting, notching 15 goals and 13 assists in 25 appearances, including five and three in five Europa League outings.

He scored 32 times with 18 assists in 2018/19, and could take United’s Top Four push to a whole new level.

Liverpool’s Klopp rips AFCON move, says FIFA needs to step in but won’t

Liverpool's Klopp rips AFCON move
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Jurgen Klopp is furious about Cameroon moving the Africa Cup of Nations to January 2021, something that would hinder the Reds’ likely title defense.

(No, Klopp is not counting his title chickens before they hatch, even if it’s a foregone conclusion).

Cameroon moved the tournament from summer to winter due to its climate, which seems like a decision that could’ve been made ages ago. The nation had hosting rights stripped away for the 2019 tournament, but will host in 2021.

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The Reds could be without Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Naby Keita for the better part of a month should Senegal, Guinea, and Egypt all qualify for the tournament. Joel Matip could be there with hosts Cameroon if the federation is successful in convincing him to return to the international fold.

Klopp went on a lengthy and mostly understandable diatribe against the move. We write mostly because there’s something lost in translation regarding the import of the tournament.

He’s upset at how it will tax his squad and how he keeps the players happy if he needs to add players just to deal with one month of the schedule.

“Do we really want to open this book? I couldn’t respect Africa Cup of Nations more than I do, I like it, I’ve watched it a lot. Difficult circumstances a lot of times,” Klopp said, via The Liverpool Echo. “It is another tournament, there are too many of them. Other thing is it doesn’t help African players. We won’t sell Naby, Mo or Sadio because of it but if we bring someone in, it affects the decision. Normal process. We have to think about that. Players aren’t asked. … FIFA, who should [step in] doesn’t look like being involved. It’s a strange situation. If we want lesser games they will say take less money. I will say, I am ready to do so. Yes.”

He continued.

“For us it’s a catastrophe, If we say (a player) can’t go, he’s suspended. How can the club who pay his salary not decide. If he’s injured and we say he cannot play for us, we have to send him to Africa so they can have a look. We don’t have any say. We just plan the route. These are all things that should not be like this. I speak about it now and no one will listen. The moaner from Liverpool again. It’s a complete waste of time. As long as nothing changes, I will keep saying it. It’s about the players, not me.”

Manchester City (Riyad Mahrez), Arsenal (Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang), and Leicester City (Wilfried Ndidi) are among the many clubs who could lose stars for a month.

Premier League tells referees to view replays for red cards

Premier League tells referees to view replays for red cards
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LONDON (AP) The Premier League has advised its referees to use sideline monitors to make a final ruling on red card decisions.

Through 22 rounds of the first Premier League season with video review, referees have not gone over to the screens at any point to watch replays after being told to use them sparingly. Instead, referees have been relying on feedback from the video assistant referee in a London control room.

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But officials were reminded at a meeting of Premier League referees this week that they should go over to what is known as the “referee review area” when VAR suggests upgrading a yellow card to a red or downgrading a red to a yellow.

It has been a more familiar sight at games in other European competitions, like the Champions League, to see referees watching replays in the stadium.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports