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.

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.