New finalists, familiar title contenders at expanded Euros

Leave a comment

LONDON (AP) The European Championship enters a new era with Spain seeking to reassert its old supremacy.

[ MORE: Prosecutors split on Messi tax fraud guilt ]

Invincible between 2008 and 2012 while claiming back-to-back European titles and finally tasting World Cup glory , the Spanish halo slipped two years ago with a humiliating blowout in Brazil.

[ MORE: FIFA HQ raided by Swiss officials, again ]

How better to show that the first-round elimination in 2014 was just a blip than by completing a hat trick of European titles in Paris on July 10. It will be a tougher challenge than before, with the Euros growing by eight teams to 24 in France.

Although Spain’s national team has not collected a trophy since Euro 2012, domestic clubs have swept up continental trophies for the three seasons. The Champions League has been won by Real Madrid (twice) and Barcelona while Sevilla completed a hat trick of Europa League titles in May.

The sternest challenges in France for Vicente del Bosque’s team are likely to come from World Cup holder Germany and the host nation, boasting a talented young squad but whose plans have been derailed – as so often – by off-field controversy.

Then there is the next rung of contenders yet to conquer the continent, just the type of teams Del Bosque fears.

A golden generation of Belgium players, embodied by Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, has to live up to their promise and start delivering on the international stage for the world’s second-ranked team. England is defensively susceptible but has a plethora of fresh attacking options, including Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford, capable of challenging if not emerging with winners’ medals.

“It’s very difficult – very difficult – because there are other teams that have been far from big titles for the last few years and need to win this,” said the 65-year-old Del Bosque, who could be entering his last tournament as Spain coach. “We want to get rid of whatever happened in the past and face the future as a big challenge.”

Unlike at the World Cup, Spain’s title defense can surely not end at the first hurdle in France this month. Croatia, the Czech Republic and Turkey await in Group D and even a third-place finish could be sufficient to advance in the reconfigured tournament’s new round of 16.

Germany is more anxious than Spain about the group stage following setbacks in qualifying and friendlies since lifting the World Cup and veterans like former captain Philipp Lahm retiring. After games against Poland and Ukraine, Germany faces Northern Ireland, a first-time finalist which qualified as group winners.

“I am a player who likes to play against big names, big opponents, because you always know who is approaching,” Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer said. “And so it is a little inconvenient. Most times you can only lose against such (smaller) teams.”

And underdogs can thrive at the Euros. Just look at Denmark winning in 1992 and Greece lifting the trophy 12 year later. Neither nation made it to France.

What chance another surprise champion 12 years on? Albania, Iceland, Slovakia and Wales joined Northern Ireland in qualifying for the first time.

Only Wales boasts a true world-beater in its ranks. It’s more than Gareth Bale‘s goals that have powered the Welsh to their first tournament since the 1958 World Cup. It’s the dedication of the world’s most expensive player to commit to the national cause when Real Madrid provides the status, silverware and salary.

“He sets the level and the bar for everybody else to try to aspire to,” Wales coach Chris Coleman. “Because his standards are so high then that brings the best out of the rest of us, me included.”

Just as Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo does for Portugal. For the 31-year-old Ballon D’Or holder who has won every significant club and individual honor, a title with Portugal is all that is missing.

“He is so decisive that he can win some matches and be very important,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said. “But he has to have the support of the whole team.”

The French are seeking the support of a nation still reeling from a 2015 scarred by attacks on Paris where the Stade de France was targeted by suicide bombers as France played Germany in November.

Preparations for Didier Deschamps’ team have not been smooth. Striker Karim Benzema was cut due to his involvement in an alleged extortion scam over a sex tape. France, however, can still deploy one of the most sought-after midfielders in Paul Pogba.

Deschamps, who captained France to glory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, sees a need to build trust with his players.

“The new generation of players has flaws but also many good qualities,” the coach said. “This French national team is rather young, but these young players play for the best clubs.”

France’s World Cup hopes were only ended by eventual champion Germany in the quarterfinals two years ago. Like Spain, Italy and England couldn’t even make it out of their groups in Brazil.

Italy has a challenging first round, with Belgium and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden in Group E alongside Ireland.

“We are experiencing a time of transition, especially regarding talented people in Italian football,” said Italy coach Antonio Conte, who moves to Chelsea after the Euros. “In Italy, just 34 percent of players who play in the championship are Italian. This means that the proportion has fallen and it’s very difficult to find players who can wear the blue shirt.

“We also have a history and a tradition that we have to respect and this has a weight and a pressure.”

Few of the 552 players and 24 head coaches won’t be feeling the pressure in the 51 games across 31 days in France.

FORMAT

Top two advance to the round of 16 along with four best third-place finishers.

GROUP A: Albania, France, Romania, Switzerland.

GROUP B: England, Russia, Slovakia, Wales.

GROUP C: Germany, Northern Ireland, Poland, Ukraine.

GROUP D: Croatia, Czech Republic, Spain, Turkey.

GROUP E: Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Sweden.

GROUP F: Austria, Hungary, Iceland, Poland.

Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

Tottenham – Newcastle United: How to watch, start time, prediction, odds

Leave a comment

Tottenham – Newcastle United: Can Newcastle United score an upset against travel-weary Tottenham Hotspur in North London on Sunday (Watch live at 9 am ET Sunday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)?

Spurs have gone from London to Bulgaria to Southampton to Macedonia and are now back in London for Sunday’s match-up with a Newcastle team that surprised them at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium a little over a year ago.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Spurs bent Shkendija in Europa League play on Thursday, with Heung-min Son posting a goal and two assists over 90 minutes. Harry Kane and Giovani Lo Celso came off the bench in what could be a sign of Jose Mourinho’s intent for Sunday.

Newcastle has been off since Wednesday’s 7-0 demolition of 10-man League Two side Morecambe in the League Cup. Steve Bruce did the trick without fitness-question Allan Saint-Maximin as well as rested Jonjo Shelvey and Callum Wilson.

STREAM TOTTENHAM – NEWCASTLE UNITED LIVE

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Tottenham – Newcastle United this Sunday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Tottenham – Newcastle United (INJURY REPORT)

Tottenham Hotspur – QUESTIONABLE: Sergio Reguilon (ankle) | OUT: Gareth Bale (knee), Japhet Tanganga (thigh)

Newcastle United – QUESTIONABLE: Allan Saint-Maximin (ankle), Jamal Lewis (eye) | OUT: Matty Longstaff (thigh), Martin Dubravka (ankle), Fabian Schar (shoulder), Paul Dummett (thigh), Dwight Gayle (knee)


What they’re saying: Tottenham – Newcastle United

Spurs boss Jose Mourinho on Tanguy Ndombele’s 90 minutes versus Shkendija: “He played very well. Of course in a game where I can imagine our percentage of ball possession was very, very high and our percentage is high he feels obviously much more comfortable. However, even without the ball he had recovery, he had duels, he had defensive transition. It was a really positive game from Tanguy, really happy.

Newcastle’s Steve Bruce on meeting Spurs: “We can’t think we can go and play against the top teams and match them just in a game of football. We have to do something different, tactically. We did it well against the top teams last year. Let’s hope we can do the same again this year.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Newcastle United is not expected to get anything out of this, +600 to win and +360 to take a point compared to Tottenham’s -225 to win.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction: Tottenham – Newcastle United

The Magpies can take some hope from Palace’s consecutive wins away to Manchester United, but Spurs should deliver the goods. Questions about Saint-Maximin’s fitness even if he does play ask even more, as does the fact that Steve Bruce has been keeping Miguel Almiron on the bench to start matches. Throw in Bruce versus Mourinho and it’s safe to expect Spurs to overcome their travel-weary legs and post a 3-1 win.


How to watch Tottenham – Newcastle United stream and start time

Kickoff: 9 am ET Sunday
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Serie A: Inter win 7-goal thriller with 87th, 89th-minute goals (video)

Inter Milan - Serie A
Photo by Mattia Ozbot/Soccrates/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A roundup of all of Saturday’s results in Serie A, where Inter Milan scored twice in the final five minutes of regular time to beat Fiorentina 4-3…

[ MORE: Transfer news: Rice in, Jorginho out at Chelsea; Skriniar to Spurs ]

Inter Milan 4-3 Fiorentina

This is your weekly reminder that Serie A remains the most underrated, insane top-flight league in the world — particularly in the last-game-of-the-day time slot, at 2:45 pm ET. Seven-goal thrillers capped off by a late goal, or two, are more of the rule than an exception.

Anyway, Inter Milan’s title dreams looked set to begin with a home defeat to last season’s 10th-place finishers until Romelu Lukaku and Danilo D’Ambrosio scored an 87th-minute equalizer and an 89th-minute winner, respectively.

Inter started in a hole, down 1-0 after just three minutes. Lautaro Martinez pulled Antonio Conte’s side level in first-half stoppage time, but it was hardly an ideal start to the season. Federico Ceccherini put the ball into his own net in the 52nd minute to put Inter ahead.

The lead lasted just five minutes and just as quickly turned into a deficit, as Gaetano Castrovilli and Federico Chiesa bagged goals in the 57th and 63rd minutes. That, of course, only served to set the stage for the end-of-game heroics.

Torino 2-4 Atalanta

Saturday’s other thriller only featured six goals, though it still proved to be highly entertaining as well.

Andrea Belotti fired Torino ahead after 11 minutes, but Atalanta were level through Alejandro Gomez just two minutes later. Eight minutes after that, Luis Muriel put them 2-1 ahead. It was 3-1 in the 42nd minute, but Belotti scored again to make it 3-2 just a minute later. Marten de Roon restored a bit of breathing room and made it 4-2 with the game’s final goal in the 54th.

After finishing third, four points behind Inter and five behind champions Juventus, it’s a strong start for Gian Piero Gasperini’s side in 2020-21.

Other Serie A results

Sampdoria 2-3 Benevento
Cagliari 0-2 Lazio

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Spezia v Sassuolo — 6:30 am ET
Hellas Verona v Udinese — 9 am ET
Crotone v AC Milan — 12 pm ET
Napoli v Genoa — 12 pm ET
Roma v Juventus — 2:45 pm ET

La Liga: Real Madrid steal late win against 10-man Betis

Real Madrid - La Liga
Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A roundup of all of Saturday’s results in La Liga, where Real Madrid were quite fortunate to come out with three points…

[ MORE: Transfer news: Rice in, Jorginho out at Chelsea; Skriniar to Spurs ]

Real Betis 2-3 Real Madrid

Opposition own goal? Check. Opposition red card? Check. Late-game penalty kick? Also check. The defending La Liga champions needed all of that in a span of 35 minutes, and a bit more, to escape their trip to Betis with three points.

Things started off well for Zinedine Zidane’s side Federico Valverde put Los Blancos ahead after 14 minutes, with a little help from Karim Benzema. The 1-0 scoreline didn’t survive until halftime, though, and neither did the 1-1. Aissa Mandi and William Carvalho each scored two minutes apart for Betis just before the break.

Real Madrid got back to level terms three minutes after the restart, thanks to an own goal from Emerson. 20 minutes later, Emerson was shown a straight red card for denial of a goal-scoring opportunity. Things went from bad to worse for Betis in the 82nd minute, when Marc Bartra was deemed to have handled the ball inside the box following video review. Sergio Ramos stepped up and sealed the win with a delicate chip down the middle.

Full-blown crisis averted, for now, after drawing with Real Sociedad on the opening day of the season.

Valencia 1-1 Huesca

This season looks set to be a hugely difficult one for Valencia as the club endures untold financial hardship and looks to sell off as much of the first-team squad as possible in an attempt to balance the books.

Saturday’s draw with newly promoted Huesca was simply the latest chapter, of which there will be many, of struggle for Javi Gracia’s side.

Other La Liga results

Alaves 0-0 Getafe
Elche 0-3 Real Sociedad

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Osasuna v Levante — 6 am ET
Eibar v Athletic Bilbao — 8 am ET
Atletico Madrid v Granada – 10 am ET
Cadiz v Sevilla — 12:30 pm ET
Real Valladolid v Celta Vigo — 12:30 pm ET
Barcelona v Villarreal — 3 pm ET

Fulham – Aston Villa: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

Fulham - Aston Villa
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Fulham – Aston Villa: How early is too early to call a game “must-win” in the Premier League? Perhaps we will find out on Monday (Watch live at 12:45 pm ET, online via Peacock), when bottom-of-the-table Fulham host Aston Villa at Craven Cottage.

FULHAM – ASTON VILLA STREAM LIVE

Scott Parker’s side has had a torrid start to life back in the PL — not at all dissimilar to the way their last stint ended — and find themselves with zero points and seven goals conceded after their first two games. Losing 3-0 to Arsenal on the opening day of the season wasn’t altogether surprising, but following that defeat with four more goals conceded to Leeds United last weekend will undoubtedly have done a number on the Cottagers’ confidence.

Villa, on the other hand, have played just once and secured a 1-0 victory over Sheffield United earlier this week. A win on Monday would see Dean Smith’s side start the season with back-to-back PL victories for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Fulham – Aston Villa this Monday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Fulham – Aston Villa (INJURY REPORT)

Fulham – No injuries or suspensions

Aston Villa – OUT: Bjorn Engels (thigh), Tom Heaton (knee), Wesley (knee), Ahmed Elmohamady (thigh)


What they’re saying: Fulham – Aston Villa

Scott Parker, on a “must-win” game: “I don’t see it as drastic as a must-win. We want to win. I know it’s either high or low in a drastic world, but we need to stay level and take realism of where we are in the campaign and where we are as a team. We will try everything we can to take some points and be up to the challenge. I don’t think we’re the only team at this present moment in time who have let in some goals in the first two games. It’s not ideal, of course not. Villa at home on Monday is a game we’re going to try to get three points.”

Dean Smith, on needing another signing: “We’re always looking in the market, we’re probably one short in the squad at the moment so we’ll keep looking at that. I think there’s seven days left until the window shuts internationally, another seven days domestically. Our sporting director at the moment has got his finger on the pulse, hopefully we might get one more in and maybe a couple more out.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

This one is just about a coin flip with Fulham (+185) ever so slight underdogs to Villa (+150). In a game that could go either way like this one, the draw (+225) might just be the safe middle ground.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction: Fulham – Aston Villa

There’s not much to separate these two sides right now, and there likely won’t be much ground between them come the season’s final table. There should be a few goals, but that’ll be more down to poor defending than excellent attacking quality from either side. Fulham 2-2 Villa.


How to watch Fulham – Aston Villa stream and start time

Kickoff: 12:45 pm ET Monday
Online: Stream via Peacock