Konstantinos Mitroglou

Six Olympiakos players, two Cottagers headline Greece World Cup squad

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Unity in the back takes on another meaning for the Greece World Cup squad, which has five Olympiakos defenders in camp ahead of the 2014 tournament in Brazil.

Fernando Santos of Portugal has selected his squad, and chosen three players from the United Kingdom: departing Celtic striker Giorgios Samaras and Fulham’s Giorgos Karagounis and Konstantinos Mitroglou.

The World Cup will be Santos’ last journey as Greece boss, as he’ll manage “The Pirate Ship” no more after the tournament.

Goalkeepers: Alexandros Tzorvas (Apollon Smyrnis), Michalis Sifakis (Atromitos), Orestis Karnezis (Granada), Panaglotis Glykos (PAOK), Stefanos Kapino (Panathinaikos)

Defenders: Avraam Papadopoulos (Olympiakos), Dimitris Siovas (Olympiakos), Kostas Manolas (Olympiakos), Giannis Maniatis (Olympiakos), Jose Holebas (Olympiakos), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Borussia Dortmund), Giorgios Tzavellas (PAOK), Loukas Vyntra (Levante), Vasilis Torosidis (Roma)

Midfielders: Alexandros Tziolis (Kayserispor), Andreas Samaris (Olympiakos), Kostas Katsouranis (PAOK), Giorgos Karagounis (Fulham), Panagiotis Tachtsidis (Torino), Sotiris Ninis (PAOK), Ioannis Fetfatzidis (Genoa), Kostas Fortounis (Kaiserslautern), Lazaros Christodoulopoulos (Bologna) Panagiotis Kone (Bologna)

Forwards: Dimitris Papadopoulos (Atromitos), Dimitris Salpingidis (PAOK), Giorgios Samaras (Celtic), Konstantinos Mitroglou (Fulham), Theofanis Gekas (Konyaspor)

Fulham’s pricey savior won’t even make the bench against Chelsea

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it’s January. The team you just bought is sitting in the relegation zone, in danger of slipping down into the Championship. Parachute payments aren’t going to help you recoup your investment. What do you do?

Well, bring in a bunch of players during the winter transfer window, of course. That’s just what Fulham did, bringing in cover at midfield, experience at the back and a returning hero in Clint Dempsey. Then, when the Cottagers still couldn’t win a game, it was out with René Meulensteen and in with Felix Magath, the second managerial change of the season. The new coach secured a draw against fellow strugglers West Bromwich Albion last time out, but Fulham remain dead last.

Which is why it comes as something of a surprise that Magath has announced that Konstantinos Mitroglou, secured from Olympiakos for a hefty £12m, won’t even make the bench when Chelsea come to town on Saturday afternoon. You’d think that the Premier League’s bottom side would want all their resources available in an attempt to thwart the leaders, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Mitroglou made an appearance last week against West Brom, coming on as a substitute, and managed to impress in a stint with Fulham’s U21 side. At first it was thought that Magath would leave him out because he’s still not yet fit enough – he came to Fulham carrying an injury – but now, it seems, the coach believes the Greek isn’t ready to handle the intensity of the Premier League.

The mystery deepens when you consider the fact that Magath himself did say that Mitroglou is fit enough to play 30 minutes. With his reputation as a finisher, combined with Darren Bent’s increasingly dismal reputation in that area, it seems he’d be valuable to have on the bench. But Mitroglou needs work before he’ll play again, the Fulham manager says.

£12m is a lot to spend on a player that’s not even going to warm the bench. But if Magath manages to outwit the visiting José Mourinho, questions about the intelligence of this decision will likely be pushed to the back burner.

Dimitar Berbatov close to Monaco switch in most fitting transfer ever

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With Fulham committing the future of their striker position to record signing Konstantinos Mitroglou, the club has been shopping luxury attacker Dimitar Berbatov’s expiring contract.

The Bulgarian – who could unquestionably double as a Bond villain – is now reportedly close to a move to AS Monaco.

Just do a Google Image search for Dimitar Berbatov and you’ll see why the possibility of his Deadline Day move is hilariously fitting.

The cigar-smoking, tuxedo-wearing, selfie-taking, dapper veteran was originally rumored to be headed back to his old club Tottenham as part of a swap for Lewis Holtby, but with the young midfielder already joining the Cottagers in his own loan deal, the time is right for Monaco to swoop.

However, according to French media, despite Berbatov already agreeing to a short-term loan move and completing a medical, Fulham have changed up their asking price at the last minute, now apparently demanding young defender Nicolas Isimat-Mirin in return.

The London club have been heavily linked with 30-year-old Everton defender John Heitinga, but if they can convince Monaco to part with Isimat-Mirin, they would likely pull out of the running for the former Toffees Player of the Year.

There are a lot of moving parts to this deal, but so far nothing has come to pass that suggests Berbatov won’t be finishing out the season in the tax-free French province.

European World Cup playoff roundup: France on the brink of first failed qualifying campaign since 1994

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France is on the brink of missing their first World Cup in 20 years, with today’s disappointment in Kiev the headline result after the opening legs of Europe’s four World Cup 2014 playoffs.

Thanks to goals by Roman Zozulyn and Andriy Yarmolenko, Les Bleus will need to turn around a two-goal deficit next week in France. Compounding their problems. France will need to do so without one of their best defenders, with Laurent Koscielny’s stoppage time antics earning the center half a straight red card.

Elsewhere, Greece gave themselves a buffer ahead of their trip to Bucharest, Croatia missed an opportunity to put away their tie in Iceland, and Cristiano Ronaldo came up big against Sweden.

Here’s what happened around Europe on Friday:

UKRAINE 2-0 FRANCE
61′ Roman Zozulyna, 82′ Andriy Yarmolenko (p.k.)

After an hour of even play where the visitors may have been the slightly better side, Ukraine broke through. Carrying a ball in from their left flank, the hosts found veteran Edmar just inside the France penalty area, the naturalized Brazilian then one-touching a ball to the other side of the box for Roman Zozulya. Shrugging off right back Mathieu Debuchy, the Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk attacker beat Hugo Lloris for the match’s opening goal.

Had the score stayed 1-0, France could have consoled themselves with the slight reprimand. Instead, an 82nd minute penalty conceded by Koscielny allowed Yarmolenko to double Ukraine’s edge, the attacker banging his conversion off the woodwork and good in front of his home crowd.

In the 91st minute, things got worse for Koscielny, who was shown straight red after shoving Olexandr Kucher to the ground while taking exception with a studs-up challenge on Debuchy. After seeing yellow for the play, Kucher would earn a second booking five minutes later. Both players will miss the second leg in Paris.

PORTUGAL 1-0 SWEDEN
82′ Cristiano Ronaldo

From our previous post:

It was the beginning of a one-sided half, the early close call potentially convincing Sweden to hold out earlier than they may have liked. For the next half hour, Erik Hamrén’s team stay deep and compact, forcing Portugal to do something special to beat them.

That moment came in the 82nd minute, with Miguel Veloso’s run out of central midfield and beating Larsson to put in a far post cross. That’s where Ronaldo out-muscled left back Martin Olsson, giving Portugal the lead they needed ahead of Tuesday’s leg in Sweden.

[MORE: Portugal 1, Sweden 0: Cristiano Ronaldo wins battle of titans (that wasn’t)]

ICELAND 0-0 CROATIA

Croats may be disappointed with today’s result, particularly considering a straight red card to Iceland right back Olafur Skulason left the home side playing the last 40 minutes with 10 men. Croatia’s best chance in the time came from Ivan Perisic, who’s first-timer of a Mario Mandukic knockdown left Hannes Thór Halldórsson flat footed as the ball flew just wide of his left post.

Yet despite a 14-4 edge in shots and a 6-0 advantage in shots on target, the favorits never broke through, even if the 0-0 result leaves them in good shape ahead of Tuesday’s decider in Zagreb.

GREECE 3-1 ROMANIA
14′, 66′ – Konstantinos Mitroglu, 19′ Bogdan Stancu, 21′ Dimitrios Salpingidis

The Greeks used some free kick trickery to get on the board in the 14th minute, a feigned run onto onto a restart seeing the defensive line retreat ahead of a actual cross, one that was played short of the line. After that ball was sent out of the box for Dimitrios Salpingidis, the Greek attacker was able to chip the advancing defense, Konstantinos Mitroglou eventually redirecting the lob into the right side of goal.

Five minutes later, Romania returned the favor, a more traditionally executed free kick seeing an in-swinger from Gabriel Torje heading home by Bogdan Stancu just before the cross curved out of play. When, two minutes later, Salpingidis redirected a Vasilis Torosidis shot into the Romanian net, the match had all the makings of a shootout.

For nearly an hour, however, the match stayed 2-1, a result the Romanians would have been content to take into next week’s reverse in Bucharest. But in the 68th minute, more set meet magic gave Greece their final goal, with a restart flicked on by Konstantinos Katsouranis put home by Mitroglou at the far post, the striker’s ninth international goal giving Fernando Santos’s team a two-goal lead after 90 minutes.

UEFA Champions League fulltime snapshot: Ball-hogging Paris Saint-Germain; efficient Real Madrid

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Stats are great adjectives, but particularly in soccer, they’re hardly ever nouns. They can be used to describe what you saw happen, but they can’t be trusted to fully describe what you haven’t seen. You have to know what caused the number.

Take today’s game in Belgium. Jupiler League champions Anderlecht more than doubled Olympiacos’s shots (18-8) and held 61 percent of the ball, yet they still lost by three goals. Does that mean the Belgians were unlucky? Hardly. And early goal from Konstantinos Mitroglou (his first of three) meant those numbers were always going to be lopsided, the Greek champions content to play without the ball, particularly with a lead. The final shots on goal were 4-4, but Anderlecht have no blame to being their visitors’ equal.

Then there’s the game in Paris, which saw Benfica put up comparable numbers to Paris Saint-Germain in shots (11-9) and shots on goal (6-4). But they were routed, 3-0. The possession number (71 percent for PSG) hints the hosts controlled the game, gave up some chances, but were set apart by the better execution going toward goal, and while that’s partly true, a better description of the match would cast PSG as dominant in the first half (going into intermission up three) while seeing Benfica even out the shots on goal during a mostly benign second period.

Among the other numbers that stood out today, Bayer Leverkusen bounced back from round one disappointment with a win over Real Sociedad, posting Wednesday highs of 25 shots and 11 shots on goal. PSG’s 71 percent possession was the day’s best, while Galatasaray were able to get two goals in Turin despite holding only 41 percent of the ball. And the day’s most lopsided scoreline, Real Madrid’s 4-0 win over visiting Copenhagen, saw los Blancos put only seven shots on frame.

Here are the rest of the day’s key numbers, courtesy of Opta and WhoScored.com:

Group Home-Road Score Shots Shots
on Goal
Possession
A Shakhtar Donetsk-Manchester United 1-1 6-4 2-1 57-43
A Bayer Leverkusen-Real Sociedad 2-1 25-11 11-7 44-56
B Juventus-Galatasaray 2-2 26-7 5-4 59-41
B Real Madrid-Copenhagen 4-0 23-11 7-5 61-39
C Paris Saint-German-Benfica 3-0 9-11 6-4 71-29
C Anderlecht-Olympiacos 0-3 18-8 4-4 61-39
D CSKA Moscow-Viktoria Plzen (Final) 3-2 18-12 6-5 48-52
D Manchester City-Bayern Munich 1-3 9-20 3-8 34-66