Wayne Rooney, bamboo forests, and England-Ukraine: Tuesday’s Euro 2012 B-Side

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Sunday’s great moment in old time-y overthink came courtesy of the ITV studio panel  One of England’s broadcasters for Euro 2012, the network has Roy Keane and Roberto Martínez as part of their rotating panel analyzing his year’s championships. When asked how Wayne Rooney should be re-assimilated into England’s team, Martínez said from the bench. You not only don’t want to mess with a good thing, but the competition for spots in the starting XI would be a good thing. Surprisingly, there were no snickers, with Keane going so far as to agree with Martínez, saying the team that beat Sweden deserved to keep their places.

The strangest part about this is the near-180 degree turnaround that’s happened since Wayne Rooney’s suspension. When he earned a three-match ban (later reduced to two) after seeing straight red to close qualifying, the apoplexy was comical. What will England do without Wayne, the papers bemoaned. Probably play three group games like everybody else, I thought to myself. Now that England’s undefeated through two matches, Rooney’s only slightly more meaningful than Jermain Defoe or some other potential impact sub? You can just imagine Alex Ferguson on the phone to the FA, If you’re not going to use the boy, send him home already.

If English soccer isn’t thrilled to have Rooney back, then they’ve got something in common with Ukranians, who surely aren’t happy that an already difficult opponent will be bolstered ahead of a potential elimination game. Between that, their tournament’s only goal scorer being doubtful (Andriy Shevchenko, knee), the pressures of potentially becoming the fourth straight co-host to fall in group stage, Ukraine has three too many things to worry about.

Then again, this is exactly the type of scenario that tends to bring English soccer’s downfall.

The match kicks off at 2:45 p.m. Eastern. England goes through with a win or a draw and can win the group with either result, depending on what France does against Ukraine. England could also get through with a loss, provided Sweden works some magic.

Here’s your playlist:

Side 2: England vs. Ukraine

5. Shock and awe

Word broke late Monday that Theo Walcott may not only be cleared to play (after suffering a hamstring injury) but could start in place of James Milner on the right of midfield. With Rooney set to partner Danny Welbeck up top and Ashley Young likely to retain his spot on the left wing, England’s suddenly putting together the counterattacking team we dreamed about in our preview. No team in this tournament will be as dangerous on the break as an England led by Welbeck, Rooney, Walcott and Young.

This is absolutely amazing. I can’t explain how excited I am about this, which is bad, because I’m a writer (I get paid to explain how I feel). I just spent a good six minutes walking around my kitchen trying to get my head around the feeling. And I don’t even like England that much. Just the idea of watching the game with that constant, gut-hallowing anticipation that something amazing can happen?  It’ll be like having Axl Rose back in his prime.

I can’t remember the last time I felt this way about an international soccer game. It’s not that the move makes England all that great. It just makes them a hell of a lot fun.

6. Beating expectations

One of the pleasant virtues of England’s pre-Euro preparation was the lack of expectations. Usually England treats every major tournament like it’s the finale of LOST, and they’re always left to deal with Jack’s pathetic regress into a bamboo forest. This tournament was more like the New Girl. Everybody expected it to be terrible only to find it was pleasantly tolerable.

Things are changing, though. England expects to beat Ukraine. Worse, so do their supporters. For a country that has habitually failed to meet expectations, the switch from let’s hope for quarterfinals to Wayne’s back, `nuff said feels like somebody’s tempting fate.

Does anybody else see where this is going? Bamboo forest, people.

7. No options?

Look at Ukraine’s talent and how England play and you wonder how the co-hosts can break their opponents down. But in England’s aggression, the co-hosts could find hope.

Ukraine’s best options are wide with Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka. If Hodgson does drop James Milner, that will leave Theo Walcott and Ashley Young wide. Particularly on the left, where Konoplyanka can get to Glen Johnson, Ukraine has hope. On the right Oleh Gusev overlapping Yarmolenko could also prove problematic for Ashley Cole.

The problem is what Ukraine does if they beat England wide. Nobody besides Shevchenko has scored, and if he can’t play, who’s left to capitalize should the wingers create chances? Andrei Voronin, who has scored eight international goals in 74 appearances? Behind Shevchenko, Ukraine’s most prolific scorers are Gusev and central midfielder Sergey Nazarenko. Each have 12 career international goals, but neither will be play in a positions where they’ll be expected to score.

Ukraine coach Oleh Blokhin said Shevchenko was “50-50” to play. Given speculation he may retire after the tournament, you’d expect him to play unless his leg’s falling off.

8. Destroy on command

Even before news of Walcott’s potential start came out, defensive midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk was going to play an important role. He’s the man who would me matched up with Wayne Rooney, more often than not. Thirty-three and capped 118 times, Tymoshchuk would leave the team with one icon should Shevchenko be unable to go.

But with Walcott’s potential inclusion and England ready to unleash the counter attack to end all counter attacks, Tymoshchuk’s role has gone from important to vital. In front of a back line that lacks foot speed, Tymoshchuk must prevent England attackers from meeting the defense at full speed.

If he can’t, England won’t have to worry about failing to meet expectations.

 

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.

Report: Newcastle’s Clark knocked out on Spanish dance floor

Scott Heavey/PA via AP
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A wild story out of Spain says an Englishman knocked Newcastle United defender Ciaran Clark unconscious at a night club.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

Clark was on vacation in Spain, where he was spending time at Crystal’s Bar in Punta Ballena, Magaluf very early Sunday morning.

Clark and a man “in his 30s” got into an argument that saw the Irish defender knocked out, according to the BBC.

Clark was left unconscious and taken to hospital after an argument between him and the suspect broke out on the dance floor.

The 28-year-old suffered cuts and bruises to his face.

Clark, 28, scored twice in 20 Premier League appearances this season, his second at St. James’ Park.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 9 — Iceland’s next step, Brazilian bounce back?

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Brazil is one of the favorites of the 2018 World Cup, while Iceland is the smallest nation to qualify for the world’s biggest tournament.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

On Friday, both enter their second match days feeling quite different after 1-1 draws.

They won’t face each other, of course, but the contrast is striking nevertheless.

Brazil opens the day’s action when it squares off with Costa Rica, who fell to Serbia in the opener. For Serbia, a dark horse of the tournament, it will be a meeting with Switzerland.

Then there’s Iceland’s bid to climb into the Group D driver’s seat by knocking off Nigeria. A win from Iceland would make Lionel Messi and Argentina’s task of qualifying for the knockout rounds extremely unlikely.

Below is Friday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group D
Nigeria vs. Iceland: Volgograd, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group E
Brazil vs. Costa Rica: Saint Petersburg, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Serbia vs. Switzerland: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Sampaoli defends Messi, blasts Argentina

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Jorge Sampaoli is lambasting his team after a 3-0 loss put Argentina on the edge of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup’s knockout rounds.

“The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Lionel Messi’s brilliance,” Sampaoli said. “The team doesn’t gel as well as it should.”

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Sampaoli said his players could not find a way to get the ball to Messi, and that the introduction of Boca Juniors youngster Cristian Pavón was aimed at opening up the field a little bit.

And Sampaoli is not shying away from the long-discussed comparison between Messi and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. From the BBC:

“Cristiano is a great player and he has achieved a lot with club and country. Right now it is hard to compare these two players because of the ability in the Argentinian squad clouds the judgment. Leo is in a difficult position because the squad doesn’t gel with him. As coach I have to accept that. I don’t feel shame but I definitely feel pain. It has been a long time since I have gone through this experience as a coach and obviously it is more painful when I’m wearing the colours of my country.

“We have no alternative but to give it our all in the final match. We have not performed at the level the country expects. We were ambitious ahead of the game but now it is harder for us as a group. We did think this would be the match we can take off as a team, but it wasn’t in the end. I think this is an excellent squad but we didn’t gel or come together. We need to take advantage of the next match, when the pressure will be on, and hope to progress.”

Now, of course Sampaoli is going to defend Messi, but Argentina’s team is not chopped liver. The side certainly isn’t as deep or solid as Croatia, but 1-1 with Iceland preceded this one.

That said, Argentina’s performance once Croatia essentially decided to surround Messi was unacceptable. If favored Nigeria doesn’t handle its business against Iceland, the World Cup finalists won’t have a prayer of going back.

Modric urges humility after big win, stunning goal (video)

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There are few teams who’ve looked as strong as Croatia at the World Cup in Russia.

[ RECAP: Argentina 0-3 Croatia ]

Zlatko Dalic’s men now have a pair of shutout wins against decent competition, topping Nigeria 2-0 over the weekend before hammering Argentina 3-0 on Thursday.

The nature of those performances will have many, us included, debating just how far Croatia can run in this tournament. Veteran midfielder Luka Modric is hoping his team doesn’t do the same.

Let’s not be euphoric or get ahead of ourselves,” Modric said. “Of course this win will boost our confidence for the next game, and we have shown we can create opportunities, but let’s keep our feet firmly on the ground.”

Modric noted that Willy Caballero‘s howler “was a shot in the arm,” but added that they had played a “perfect game.”

That’s true. And while so much focus will be on Messi’s struggles, don’t sleep on the terrific performance of Vatreni. 

Modric also seemed to bristle when asked about shutting down Messi.

“I don’t want to talk about other players. We are happy with our own performance. We wanted to cut out Messi receiving the ball because he is the most dangerous player.”