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Spain’s three-week master class in prudent, patient application of effort (a.k.a., playing Spanish possum)

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Admittedly, claiming a major tournament on a thoughtful platform of efficiency and “prudent conservation” isn’t so sexy.

It’s certainly not as alluring or intoxicating as, say, creating history by mercilessly punishing a litany of hapless opposition, by winning through a series of lopsided results.

Spain may reign today, but everyone had hoped for more of that flashy 4-0 flourish along the way. We wanted to be treated to more of the Spanish hammer (as in Sunday’s Kiev kick-around) rather than seeing the champs chisel deliberately away with the precision tools.

But the manner in which Spain just made history really deserves proper recognition. Because the Spanish just stitched together a masterpiece – never mind some unappreciative grumbling along the way about Spain making its case in underwhelming style.

But Vicente del Bosque didn’t bring Spain to Eastern Europe to wow and impress in first-round matches or in some early elimination contest. They came to make grand history, and such high ambition cannot be entrusted to breathless unrestraint.

We may have wanted to be entertained; but Spain simply wanted to win, coveting that unprecedented third major tournament title (Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, Euro 2012). So win they did, through patient self-regulation, through the tricky tenets of “doing just enough.”

We talked for three weeks of Spain never achieving the best version of itself, about apparent contentment and the need for blessed discontent, about possibly lacking that final, telling pang of hunger.

But did we have it wrong all along? Was del Bosque (pictured) simply having his men play a little Spanish possum en route to Sunday’s final in Kiev?  We all wondered where the “real” Spain might be hiding. In reality, they just didn’t need to be “full Spain” very often.

source:  They wisely determined just how much of the full Spanish treatment three successful weeks in Poland and Ukraine would require. So they got a lead and then got smart time and again, dropping the energy output a smidge – while the rest of us selfishly shouted “Go, go, go! … Why won’t they go?”

All that passing, passing, passing – the possession for possession’s sake that sometimes looked like Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso and the rest were cruising down a highway but content to travel at a safer “school zone speed.”

It made us wonder if Spain was vulnerable. In truth, we weren’t giving Spain sufficient credit for thinking this one through.  Italian manager Cesare Prandelli took in ample praise for getting things right against Germany, and deservedly so. But what about that wily ol’ del Bosque, a cunning Spanish fox who got it right in a bigger way.

Let’s not forget, this really is a grueling tournament. The teams Sunday in Kiev were playing their sixth match in 22 days. That’s one contest about every three and a half days – and what a taxing, debilitating slog it is.

Early Sunday the ESPN announcers wondered why del Bosque’s men couldn’t look more like they did in extra time against Portugal, when they leaned in for further offensive push, pinning the Portuguese back with the extra run, the quicker pass, the earlier ball forward and the higher intensity, generally.

But again, perhaps we weren’t giving Spain enough credit for managing the energy level, for always keeping a restrictor plate on this classic car, for doing just enough and leaving plenty in reserve.

Don’t forget, this is a Spanish team that won a World Cup by scoring eight goals (Just eight, in seven matches!), another lesson in patient application of effort. So perhaps trophy acquisition at Euro 2012 by way of wise conservation shouldn’t have been surprising at all.

By the 60th minute Sunday, Italy looked exhausted. Yes, it was unfortunate the Azzurri had to finish with 10 men, but Prandelli’s unit would likely have been similarly pooped with 11.

The Italians, not quite good enough to hold something back and still steer through the elimination rounds, were spent.

Spain, one of the best teams of all time (there can be little argument now) could afford to pace the enterprise a bit. They did so expertly.

Ligue 1: Monaco, Lyon qualify for UCL; Weah’s first start for PSG

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PARIS (AP) — Memphis Depay scored a hat trick as Lyon came from behind to beat Nice 3-2 and qualify for the Champions League at the expense of Marseille in the French league on Saturday.

Lyon, which had a one-point lead over Marseille ahead of the last round, kept its lead intact and finished in third place behind Paris Saint-Germain and deposed champion Monaco. The first three teams in the French league qualified for the Champions League.

“Lots of joy tonight, everybody was very focused and motivated,” said Lyon forward Nabil Fekir, who is widely expected to leave the club this summer. “It caps an exceptional season.”

Alassane Plea scored Nice’s goals.

Depay scored all three goals in the second half.

Nice coach Lucien Favre confirmed he will leave the club in the offseason.


After losing the Europa League final to Atletico Madrid on Wednesday, Marseille missed out on the Champions League for the second time despite beating Amiens 2-1.

“We had a superb season but our efforts did not pay off,” Marseille top striker Florian Thauvin said.

Marseille ended fourth and will play the Europa League next season alongside Rennes and Bordeaux.


Monaco won at Troyes 3-0 and finished runner-up, 13 points behind PSG, which drew at Caen 0-0. The goalless draw guaranteed Caen stayed in the topflight while Troyes was demoted to the second division.

Monaco needed just one point to qualify for the Champions League but made sure it finished runner-up with a win. The Principality side was in complete control as Rony Lopes scored twice and Jordi Mboula sealed Troyes’ fate in added time.

Troyes finished 19th and joined last-place Metz in the second division.

Toulouse, which beat Guingamp 2-1, will have to win a playoff against a second-division club to remain in the topflight.

Elsewhere, Italian coach Claudio Ranieri won his last game in charge of mid-table Nantes, 1-0 over Strasbourg.


In the absence of Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe, PSG coach Unai Emery gave Timothy Weah — George Weah’s 18-year-old son — his first start in Caen.

Caen finished the season with only 27 goals, the worst total since Arles-Avignon was demoted with 21 in 2011.

Leicester splash $29M to sign Porto, Portugal RB Pereira

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The summer transfer window only opened on Thursday, and Premier League clubs are already handling their pre-World Cup business — perhaps in an attempt to avoid the post-tournament inflation of fees and wages.

[ MORE: Chelsea top Man United to win 8th FA Cup | Three things ]

Leicester City announced on Saturday that Porto and Portugal right back Ricardo Pereira is moving to the King Power Stadium for a fee of $29.5 million. Pereira, 24, was named to Portugal’s 23-man squad for next month’s World Cup in Russia, where a strong showing could have easily lifted his price tag closer to $40 million and added another $10,000 to his weekly wages.

Having been linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur just last summer — he seemed a natural replacement and reinvestment following Kyle Walker‘s move from Tottenham to Manchester City — ninth-place Leicester will rightly feel Pereira’s arrival is something of a massive coup for the club, given his considerable European experience — both in the Champions League and Europa League — so early in his career.

[ MORE: Conte’s tumultuous tenure at Chelsea (likely) ends with a trophy ]

Pereira previously played for current Leicester manager Claude Puel while on loan to Ligue 1 side Nice (2015-16 season), and has his new boss’s seal of approval.

“I’m delighted to have a player of Ricardo’s quality on board for next season,” Puel told the club website. “I remember him well from my time at Nice.”

Real Madrid draw Villarreal; Bale makes case to start UCL final

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Real Madrid showed Liverpool its strengths and weaknesses a week before their Champions League final.

Madrid squandered first-half goals by Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale in drawing at Villarreal 2-2 on Saturday in its last match before attempting to win Europe’s most coveted trophy for a third year in a row.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane aligned what could be his starting 11 for the final against Liverpool, except for giving 20-year-old son Luca Zidane his competitive debut in goal.

Zidane left striker Karim Benzema on his bench in favor of starting Ronaldo and Bale alone up front and playing Francisco “Isco” Alarcon along with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos as playmakers in front of holding midfielder Casemiro.

Madrid showed the same dominant form that has taken it to another Champions League final in the first half at Villarreal.

But after Ronaldo and Modric were replaced by Benzema and Lucas Vazquez with half an hour remaining, Zidane’s bunch displayed the same complacency and faulty defending that scuttled its Liga title defense months ago.

The draw in the final round meant Madrid finished the Spanish league in third place behind Atletico Madrid and champion Barcelona.

Bale opened the scoring with a solo effort in the 11th minute, and Ronaldo headed in a superb cross by Marcelo just after the half-hour mark.

Fifth-place Villarreal outplayed the visitors in the second half and leveled through goals by substitutes Roger Martinez in the 70th and Samuel Castillejo in the 85th.

“We played a very, very good first half, with determination, scoring goals, but the second half was the exact opposite,” Zidane said. “The important thing is that we didn’t have any injuries and can now rest well for next weekend. We are only thinking about winning the final.”

Bale, who struggled for most of the season to make Zidane’s first-choice 11, has finished the season strong and appears to have earned a spot in the Champions League final.

His opener against Villarreal, created when he let Modric’s pass run through as he spun around his marker, was his 14th goal in the last 10 rounds.

“Gareth has never given up,” Zidane said. “He has trained well. Nothing has changed. The only difference is that now he is scoring.”

Ronaldo’s goal was his 26th in the league. Barcelona’s Lionel Messi leads the competition with 34.

Castillejo snatched the draw after he raced behind Marcelo to receive a lobbed pass from Rodrigo Hernandez. Luca Zidane, who normally plays for Madrid’s reserve team in the third divison, stopped his initial chipped shot but Castillejo slotted the rebound into the open net.

Saudi Arabia midfielder Salem Al Dawsari made his Liga debut as a second-half substitute for Villarreal.

Vela’s latest golazo one-upped as LAFC lose late to Portland

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This much is certain about Los Angeles FC: there’s never — ever — a dull moment when Bob Bradley‘s expansion side is on the field.

[ MORE: Toronto FC score late to beat Orlando, get season back on track ]

Not only are the goals plentiful — for both sides (23 scored, 18 conceded in their first 11 games) — but they tend to be of the highest quality — again, for both sides.

Take, for example, Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to the Portland Timbers, a result which extends Portland’s winning streak to five games and sends Giovanni Savarese’s side third in the Western Conference, now just three points behind LAFC (with a game in hand).

LAFC fell 1-0 behind when Cristhian Paredes scored his first MLS goal in the 52nd minute, then a pair of world-class stunners saw the visitors pull level in the 74th and fall behind once again in the 81st.

[ MORE: Chelsea top Man United to win 8th FA Cup | Three things ]

First, the latest bit of curling genius from Carlos Vela…

It’s not the first — and almost certainly won’t be the last — time we’ve seen that exact goal scored by LAFC’s Mexican superstar. Only this time, Vela was immediately upstaged by Samuel Armenteros, who up to that point had been held without a goal in his first two-plus months in MLS. This is one way to formally introduce yourself to the Rose City faithful…

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