Wayne Rooney, flash points, and England-Italy: Sunday’s Euro 2012 playlist

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source: Reuters

Saturday afternoon I opened my mailbox to find a notice from a former employer. My retirement plan had no declared beneficiary. The message I, a Euro-obsessed man, inferred: Sunday’s England-Italy match may kill you.

That’s also when it hit me: I’ve become far too obsessed with England-Italy. To verify, I looked back at all the hyperbole I’ve spewed since Tuesday:

  • “We’re probably in for one of the worst matches of the tournament, …”[source][/source]
  • “England and Italy is a dream matchup … for people who are having trouble dreaming.”[source][/source]
  • “If you know anybody with an untreatable sleeping disorder, prop them up in front of a television at 2:45 p.m. Eastern on Sunday. The national teams of England and Italy will put forth their best attempt to cure world insomnia. It should be a banner day for the sleep disorder community.”[source][/source]
  • “I’d suggest brewing a lot of coffee for Sunday’s game, as you’re going to need help staying awake.”[source][/source]
  • “I hope they start with penalty kicks and save us two hours of ennui.”[source][/source]
  • “[R]eprobate fans like myself will reflexively watch Sunday’s quarterfinal, thereby meeting most DSM-IV criteria for addiction and dependence.”[source][/source]

Somebody call Dr. Drew.

It’s a stupid list, one that makes me feel bad because even if we do get a stoic match between two teams whose styles merge with the dissonance of microphone feedback (add that to the list), we’ll still have two fabled nations meeting in the knockout stage of a major international tournament. How excited would we have been at the beginning of the tournament if somebody told us this would be a quarterfinal?

That this should be a really, really close, well-played game should be enough to justify our excitement. Here I could be all cliché-y and talk about why we love sports, but we don’t really love sports just for the competition. I can’t remember the last time I watched AYSO soccer, but I sure remember some of those games being close. Sunday’s match is going to be close, the stakes will be huge, and we’ll have 22 of the world’s best athletes playing it out.

It may be one of the tournament’s worst matches (who knows), but it’s still a Euro 2012 quarterfinal, and I don’t know about you, but my life isn’t so all-fire important that I can’t sit down and see if the thing can’t exceed my expectations. What else am I going to do? Live out my life in 120 character bursts?

And with that, here’s the playlist for Sunday’s quarterfinal, the 2:45 p.m. Eastern kickoff deciding who moves on to face Germany on Thursday.

source: AP1. (Didn’t used to be an) Empty tin

After one match, Italy midfielder Andrea Pirlo looked like the tournaments best player. Then a slowed down a little versus Croatia, and when he didn’t recover against Ireland, it was obvious. The short turn around time is taking its toll.

Pirlo isn’t especially old. He’s only 33, but he has accumulated a tone of miles. Only once in the last decade has he failed to play at least 40 matches in a season (counting club and country appearances). For a four year stretch between 2003-04 and 2007-08, he played over 50 matches in every year. It’s not quite Lampardian, but it’s still a lot of wear and tear.

Between Italy’s last group game and Sunday’s quarterfinal, the Juventus regista has had five days off.  Hopefully, Pirlo will be recharged, because in a match that looks to even on paper, one small sway could tilt the scales.

2.Volatile pair (Volatile game)

It’s a bit strange that Mario Balotelli’s antics have been singled out ahead of a game that will feature John Terry. Balotelli’s portrayed as an impulsive, immature talent that exercises poor judgement, but compared to Terry’s knee to Alexei Sanchez’s back ahead of the Champions League final (which Terry had to miss, serving a red card suspension), Balotelli looks more quixotic than malicious.

Teams with Antonio Cassano, Balotelli forms one of the most volatile attacking tandems in tournament memory, but they’re not the only sparks in Sunday’s potential tinder box. Wayne Rooney entered this match serving a red card suspension, Ashley Cole’s off-field behavior has had it’s Balotellian turns, Thiago Motta (perhaps unfairly) has seen red in a Champions League semifinal, while no U.S. Men’s National Team fan need be reminded what Daniele de Rossi did to Brian McBride.

There are a number of flash points in Sunday’s game. Thankfully, none of them are truly likely to spark.

source: Reuters3. Wide open spaces

As similar as these teams are, one has wide play, and the other does not. Seems like a big difference, right? It will be, if England exploit it.

Italy provides no real help for their fullbacks (or wingbacks, if they play 3-5-2). The narrow midfield invites the opposition’s wide players onto Ignacio Abate and Federico Balzaretti, though none of their Group C opposition exploited it. Ireland doesn’t exploit anything, Spain play too narrow, while both Croatia fullbacks (Darijo Srna, Ivan Strnic) had good games against the Italians.

England should provide more of a challenge. On Italy’s right, the threat of the two Ashleys (Cole and Young) should be clear. Claudio Marchisio is going to have to help Abate. On the other flank, James Milner’s nowhere near as dangerous, but somebody’s going to have to get out and contest his crosses. And if Milner’s not out there, it’s going to be Theo Walcott – an even more dangerous proposition.

4. A small wish for Wayne Rooney

It’s rare that a great player has such a glaring chance to define a match. Is Wayne Rooney a great player? I don’t really know. A lot of that depends on how you define great, but on Sunday he’s going to the be one, glaring, meaningful difference between two teams that couldn’t be more evenly matched.

Perhaps it’s an unfair expectation, but players who have blessed places in the starting XI are usually those who’ve shown they can do special things. And so when an England fan looks at Italy and looks at the Three Lions, it’s not without reason that they look at Rooney and think they can win. Italy’s just like us, except we have Wayne Rooney. They don’t.

And if England’s eliminated? How did that happen? We have Wayne Rooney. They don’t.

I don’t know if Wayne Rooney’s a great player, but some people might make their decisions tomorrow.
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.

Bale’s agent denies loan reports; ‘not many clubs can afford him’

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Gareth Bale‘s agent Jonathan Barnett has called recent reports claiming the Real Madrid superstar could be loaned elsewhere “ridiculous” on the basis that “there are not many clubs that can afford him anyway.”

[ MORE: Daniel Levy reportedly met with Real Madrid about Bale ]

Bale has reportedly been unhappy in Madrid and at odds with manager Zinedine Zidane, leading to months of speculation that he could leave the Santiago Bernabeu. However, due to his nearly $600,000-per-week wages, very few — if any — clubs in the world can afford his wages, let alone the transfer fee required as well.

Therefore, a loan move would seem to make sense, only Barnett seems to be offended that a player of Bale’s caliber would ever be discussed as a loan candidate — quotes from the BBC:

“Why would one of the best players on Earth go on loan? That’s ridiculous. At the moment, he is going to be playing football for Real Madrid and he has got two and a half years left on his contract.

“He is happy and hopefully he will win a couple of more things with Real Madrid.”

“Things can change, but loans are ridiculous and there are not many clubs that can afford him anyway.”

Bale’s contract runs through the summer of 2022. He has scored just two goals in nine league games this season.

Bayern signs Odriozola on loan from Real Madrid

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich signed Spain right back Alvaro Odriozola on loan from Real Madrid on Wednesday to help ease its defensive worries after a spate of injuries.

[ MORE: Eriksen holds talks with Levy; Inter “still confident” ]

The Bavarian powerhouse said the 24-year-old Odriozola signed a deal to the end of the season after successfully passing a medical examination.

“We decided to fulfill our head coach Hansi Flick’s wish to strengthen the defense and decided for Alvaro Odriozola,” Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said. “We’re very happy with the transfer and thank the management at Real Madrid for the very friendly and cooperative talks.”

Bayern defenders Niklas Sule, Lucas Hernandez and Javi Martinez are out with injuries and 23-year-old Benjamin Pavard — a center back — had been filling in at right back. Odriozola’s arrival will free the French player to return to his usual position.

[ MORE: Cavani “will go to Atletico Madrid” if PSG let him leave ]

Madrid paid a reported $33 million to sign Odriozola from Real Sociedad in 2018, but the winger has barely played since. He made only four league appearances this season, with Dani Carvajal preferred at right back.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane gave the go-ahead for Odriozola’s transfer on Tuesday. Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao were also reportedly interested.

Odriozola has one goal in four appearances for Spain.

Bayern is hoping to claw back a four-point deficit on Bundesliga leader Leipzig to claim a record-extending eighth straight title.

Eriksen holds talks with Levy; Inter ‘still confident in this deal’

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Christian Eriksen met with chairman Daniel Levy on Tuesday in his latest attempt to secure his Tottenham Hotspur exit during the January transfer window, according to a report from Sky Sports.

[ MORE: Levy reportedly met with Real Madrid about Gareth Bale ]

Eriksen already has a pre-contract agreement with Inter Milan in place, but the Danish playmaker and the Serie A club are hopeful of completing the signing this month. Inter submitted a $14.5-million bid (plus bonuses) for Eriksen earlier this week, but Levy is said to be holding out for his $22-million valuation, fully guaranteed, of the player.

Eriksen’s agent is also expected to meet with Levy following Wednesday’s Premier League clash with Norwich City (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold) in yet another attempt to broker a deal between the two clubs.

[ MORE: Cavani “will go to Atletico Madrid” if PSG let him leave ]

Inter Milan chief executive Giuseppe Marotta remains optimistic that an agreement can be reached this month, as he told Sky Italia, “We’re waiting and we’re still confident in this deal.”

In the Mixed Zone: Chelsea v. Arsenal

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LONDON — To make sure you have every angle covered for the marquee Premier League games, our new feature “In the Mixed Zone” will take you behind-the-scenes and into the tunnel areas to hear from the star players moments after their magic has decided games or drama has ensued.

[ MORE: In the Mixed Zone ]

The idea is to set the scene of being inside the tunnel area in Old Trafford, by the dugouts at Stamford Bridge and in the swanky new players area in Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium as Premier League stars walk out of the dressing room and break down the game with media members around the world.

We will tell you what they are saying and the kind of antics going on amid the hubbub of the mixed zone as players from both teams have their say on the 90-plus minutes of action we’ve just witnessed.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Here’s the scene from pitch side at Stamford Bridge in the hour or so after the full time whistle blew between Chelsea and Arsenal, as their crazy end-to-end clash ended in a 2-2 draw after late drama, red cards and superb solo goals.

Safe to say one set of players were more keen to stop and chat with us than the other, as Arsenal’s players must have a secret exit…


10:30 p.m. (local time): Mixed Zone opens on the side of the pitch at Stamford Bridge, just in front of the dugouts as a flimsy advertizing board is put up. Chelsea’s players are warming down in the background. With Pedro, Batshuayi, Alonso and Mount running sprints up and down the pitch on a chilly west London night. To be fair, I may join them. Cannot feel my hands after two hours or so sat outside tapping away at a laptop…

10:35: Reece James is the first player to walk the mixed zone, walking a little gingerly and dodging behind the sponsorship boards as he is looking sheepish. The young defender, dressed in a tracksuit, missed the game through injury but Frank Lampard confirmed it was nothing serious.

10:38: One of just a few Arsenal players to walk through the mixed zone (seriously, have they borrowed Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak!?) Rob Holding has a big smile on his face as he says hello. A late sub, Holding spent a ridiculous amount of time warming up on the sidelines as it looked like he would come on in the first half but Granit Xhaka played very well at center back.

10:42: Next up is current Chelsea striker (for how much longer?) and former Arsenal star Olivier Giroud. Asked about a reported move to Inter Milan and if this was his last time on the pitch at Stamford Bridge, Giroud laughed when journalists said “Arrivederci” to him. Giroud won’t speak about a move to Inter Milan, which is understandable as he didn’t make it onto the pitch. But maybe with Tammy Abraham picking up a knock he won’t be allowed to head to Milan after all…

10:45: Talking of Milan, Andreas Christensen looked very moody and magnificent as he strode past the media like it was a catwalk in the famed fashion capital of Italy and the world. A tough night for the young Danish center back once again, as Chelsea’s fans were very nervous every time he got on the ball and the Blues were guilty of giving up possession cheaply at the back.

10:48: Robert Pires has been seen gliding around the press areas as he works for French TV. Imagine him on the wing for this Arsenal side! My word, that man could open a can of beans with his left foot…

10:51: With a lull in the players walking through, we popped into the press conference room to hear from Mikel Arteta. Sporting a lovely turtleneck sweater, Arteta was beaming when asked about the character of his young side as they played for over 60 minutes with 10 men and looked the more likely to win it late on. Arteta singled out Bakayo Saka, Granit Xhaka, Hector Bellerin, Alexandre Lacazette and Gabriel Martinelli for special praise but admitted his entire team showed the desire he is asking for as they look to turn things around.

“The togetherness and leadership they showed today, this is what I wanted to see. It’s very important for the development. We are in the a process and are going in the right direction but I think tonight is a special night for everybody,” Arteta told BBC’s Match of the Day. Right on, Mikel, right on.

Arsenal skipper Hector Bellerin, who was lauded by the away fans after his late left foot swinger grabbed them a point, talks about their progress under Arteta in touch circumstances with so many players injured and out of position: “The second half had been very tough for the team. You could see the spirit in the team. I am very proud and the manager I’m sure is very happy with how we responded with 10 men.”

BTW, Bellerin’s cockney/Spanish accent is absolutely amazing. That is all.

10:54: Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic strolls through as he rolls a suitcase. One journalist is clearly a fan but is upset he doesn’t stop often: ‘Mateo is such a nice guy but he never stops to talk. The worst thing about it? He speaks five languages, so he could speak to every media member here!’ If I was Kovacic I’d be showing off my incredible linguistic skills. Shortly after him is little N’Golo Kante, who slipped to allow Arsenal to make it 1-1. Kante, shy as ever, had his head down as he rolled his miniature suitcase alongside the side of the pitch.

10:55: Oh, this is very interesting. Tammy Abraham limps out of the tunnel area and hobbles along the side of the pitch. He took a late whack and has been icing his right leg. “Tammy, you can’t get injured!” jokes one journalist as he intimates that Abraham is their only real option up top. “Mate, don’t, I know, I know” is his reply with half a laugh and half a grimace.

10:57: David Luiz, usually a shoe in to stop and talk, didn’t stop and that was understandable. His return to Chelsea saw him sent off but his team rallied to pick up a draw as TV cameras showed him in agony late in the game, watching the action on the smallest TV in history in the tunnel area. It was Luiz’s fault for giving away a penalty kick as he brought down Abraham as he tried to make up for Mustafi’s error. But there was mutual respect in the mixed zone because Luiz is one of the good guys who always stops. He will stop next time, for sure, we hope…

10:59: Okay, a quick pop back into the press conference room as the final few stragglers come out. Frank Lampard is up and looks like Christmas has just been canceled. He questions Chelsea’s game management after going 2-1 up late on and bemoans their lack of creativity in the final third. When then ask him for an injury update on USMNT star Christian Pulisic and if he thinks the Pennsylvanian Messi would have made a different to unlock this Arsenal defense.

“Yeah, a game like today could have been a good where he would have been helpful for us because he was playing well for a patch. But other people have to stand up in those situations,” Lampard said, as he nodded in realization.

When will Pulisic be back?

Lampard confirmed he is making good progress but will not be fit until after the mid-season player break in February, which means he will miss their FA Cup trip to Hull City this Saturday and their clash at Leicester City on Feb. 1. He may not be back until Feb. 17 when they host Manchester United in the Premier League, which means in total he will have been out for a period of six weeks.

“In terms of when he’s back, it is not going to be a week, it is probably be the other end of the early February break but he is getting better and he isn’t far away,” Lampard added.

11:04: Back outside in the cold, Kurt ‘Happy’ Zouma and Michy Batshuayi walk through together and the former is living up to his name as he is beaming with a massive smile as he says hey. Can’t help but think that Zouma will be back in the Chelsea team for their FA Cup clash against Hull this weekend, and probably the trip to Leicester City next weekend.

11:09: Hear he is, the nicest man in football. Cesar Azpilicueta (Dave, to the Chelsea fans) is smiling and laughing as he emerges from the tunnel. “I’m not speaking to you guys, nothing for you!” he jokes as he looks over to the mixed zone. He does go and have a chat with Chelsea TV as he puts on a comically large set of headphones. Azpilicueta, who put Chelsea 2-1 up late on as it looked like being the winner, then shows off his amazing language skills as he talks to English radio, outlets from the Middle East, then speaks in French to RMC and Canal+ and chats in Spanish to one journalist. He then speak to us about Pulisic and how important it is that he returns to full fitness. In a nutshell, Azpilicueta is an impressive dude.

“Christian is a magnificent player. Since he joined us in the summer he has shown us his potential and we know that he can make the difference at any time. Whenever a player is injured it is not good for a team because we lose potential and I hope to have him back soon,” Azpilicueta said. “After coming to Europe as a young boy to Germany, he came to Chelsea and it is one step forward, playing for Chelsea every game, fighting to win and fighting for trophies. In my role I’ve tried to help in settle into the city and the club. He has a brilliant attitude. Always trying to improve. I am sure he will become bigger and bigger.”

Here he is speaking in French because he can.

11:15: Senior Chelsea officials are then seen ushering guests out and there are plenty of handshakes. Journalists chatter about who it is, maybe a new owner!?

11:16: The flimsy advertizing board is gone. The stadium is pretty much empty. The Mixed Zone is closed as frost descends on freezing London.