Riccardo Montolivo

AP Photo/Antonio Calanni

Europa wrap: Milan runs riot; Everton wins; USMNT’s Horvath posts clean sheet

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The matches were plentiful as clubs from around Europe angled for a spot in the UEFA Europa League group stage in the first legs of playoff round ties.

[ MORE: Schalke’s American teenager ]


Panathinaikos 2-3 Athletic Bilbao

Ageless Aritz Aduriz just keeps scoring, and La Liga’s visitors erased a 2-0 deficit with a pair of goals from the 36-year-old — he’s not really ageless, guys and girls — sandwiched around a De Marcos tally.

Everton 2-0 Hajduk SplitRECAP

Stylish assists from Leighton Baines and Wayne Rooney set-up Michael Keane and Idrissa Gana Gueye for rare goals, and Everton could’ve had many more in the first leg. Hajduk, however, showed some danger late and a raucous, disruptive, and even violent visiting crowd showed the second leg will be anything but simple for Ronald Koeman‘s men.

Club Brugge 0-0 AEK Athens

USMNT backstop Ethan Horvath kept a clean sheet with a two-save performance for Brugge, and the Greek visitors won’t take any away goals home for the second leg.

AC Milan 6-0 Shkendija

In another realm, Milan is still scoring goals. Andre Silva netted twice in the first 28 minutes, Fabio Borini and Luca Antonelli also scored. And how about Riccardo Montolivo?

 

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov 1-1 Oleksandriya
Apollon Limassol 3-2 Midtjylland
Krasnodar 3-2 Red Star Belgrade
Dinamo Zagreb 1-1 Skenderbeu
FH 1-2 Braga
PAOK 3-1 Ostersund
Vardar Skopje 2-0 Fenerbahce
Viktoria Plzen 3-1 AEK Lamaca
Altach 0-1 Maccabi Tel-Aviv
Ludogorets Razgrad 2-0 Suduva
Domzale 1-1 Marseille
Osijek 1-2 Austria Wien
Viitorul 1-3 Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax 0-1 Rosenborg
Legia Warsaw 1-1 Sheriff
Partizan 0-0  Videoton
Maritimo 0-0 Dynamo Kyiv

Blatter says injuries are down to tiredness, but is that the primary reason stars are ruled out of World Cup?

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FIFA President Sepp Blatter has spoken out about the recent spate of injuries affecting the 2014 World Cup.

Blatter told reporters, “[it’s] too long a season and always the same players are always in the same competitions. Now they are tired.”

He may have a point. Diego Costa and Cristiano Ronaldo, both of whom played in the Champions League final, are struggling to shake off injuries. Franck Ribéry and Marco Reus both played in the German Cup final, and both have seen their World Cup dreams fall by the wayside.

However, Riccardo Montolivio, who broke a leg in Italy’s friendly with Ireland, saw his Milan side’s Champions League hopes ended by March. Radamel Falcao and Monaco were only playing in domestic competitions, as were Kevin Strootman and Roma, and Christian Benteke and Aston Villa.

Besides, can injuries such as broken legs really be blamed on the amount of matches played in a season?

Perhaps Blatter should consider examining friendlies – which aren’t always so friendly. Brazil’s win over Serbia certainly showed that, as did the hard tackling of the Honduras players in Saturday night’s goalless draw with England.

Such friendlies do carry weight. They’re factored in when FIFA ranks international squads, which in turn affects which teams are seeded for international tournaments, thus giving them more favorable draws. These warmups have also been stages upon which teams can signal their preparedness for the World Cup, hoping to send a warning for other sides to not discount them quite so soon.

Obviously friendlies aren’t the only problem. But quite a few players were set to board the plane, only to be left behind due to an injury picked up in a warm-up match. Montolivo and Reus are two such players. So too is Nigeria’s Elderson. Costa Rica’s Álvaro Saborío and Holland’s Rafael van der Vaart picked up injuries while preparing for the World Cup.

Maybe, in addition to reconsidering the structure of the soccer calendar, in which many players feature in two (or more) games per week, it’s also time to put some thought into how friendlies in general, and World Cup preparation in particular, should be handled.

Italy 23-man World Cup roster announced

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Italy has announced the 23 players that will be on the plane to Brazil. The biggest surprise? Giuseppe Rossi is not included.

The Jersey-born forward made the decision to represent Italy, and would’ve gone to the 2010 World Cup had he not been injured. Now, injury keeps him from Brazil as well – Rossi was spectacular for new side Fiorentina in the first half of the season, but missed the second half, and looked a shadow of his former self when taking on Ireland on Saturday.

Roma forward Mattia Destro also didn’t make the cut, despite scoring 13 goals in 20 appearances. It’s a reminder that Cesare Prandelli places a heavy emphasis on team discipline, and Destro’s decision to punch Davide Astori during a league game probably didn’t sit well with the Italy coach.

Noted bad-boy Mario Balotelli did make the squad, however.

Also left behind are defenders Christian Maggio, Andrea Ranocchia* and Manuel Pasqual and Brazilian-born midfielder Romulo. Midfielder Riccardo Montolivo was ruled out with injury after breaking his leg during the Ireland match.

*Ranocchia will travel with the azzurripending fitness of Gabriel Paletta and Andrea Barzagli

Italy 2014 World Cup Squad

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Mattia Perin (Genoa), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris St. Germain)

Defenders: Ignazio Abate (Milan), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Matteo Darmian (Torino), Mattia De Sciglio (Milan), Gabriel Paletta (Parma)

Midfielders: Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Thiago Motta (Paris St. Germain), Marco Parolo (Parma), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), Marco Verratti (Paris St. Germain)

Forwards: Mario Balotelli (Milan), Antonio Cassano (Parma), Alessio Cerci (Torino), Ciro Immobile (Torino), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli)

Riccardo Montolivo fractures leg, will miss the World Cup with Italy

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Midfielder Riccardo Montolivo will miss out on a trip to Brazil after fracturing his left leg in Saturday’s goalless draw with Republic of Ireland.

After a collision with defender Alex Pearce, Montolivo attempted to walk off his injury. But it was clear he was in pain and, just eight minutes into the friendly, needed assistance to make his way to the sidelines. He was carried away on a stretcher and sent straight to the hospital, where X-rays confirmed a fractured tibia.

After the match, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli confirmed that Montolivo will undergo surgery in Milan and will miss the World Cup. It’s heartbreaking news for Montolivo who, at 29, is unlikely to get another chance at the tournament – unless, of course, he ages as well as Andrea Pirlo.

It’s upsetting news for Italy as well. Although Prandelli has yet to announce his 23-man squad, Montolivo was almost certainly going to be included in the roster. While many azzurri supporters are not fans of the midfielder, alleging that he drifts out of games and often contributes little, he’s a favorite of Prandelli.

And it’s fair to say that Montolivo will be missed in Brazil. His eye for a pass and ability to get himself into positions that trouble the opposition’s defense helped to spur Italy’s attacks. His most likely replacement, Marco Veratti, is still young, contributes almost nothing defensively and has a definite tendency to disappear in matches. He’s an exciting young talent, but Italy may end up missing Montolivo’s refinement and his leadership.

The azzurri have other concerns as well. Alberto Aquilani, who replaced Montolivo after his injury, left the game before halftime with a concussion. His Fiorentina teammate, Giuseppe Rossi, missed nearly half the season with injury, and failed to impress during the Ireland match.

In 2010, Italy left South Africa after the group stages, picking up just two points from what looked to be a rather weak group. Will this be another disappointing World Cup for the azzurri?

Italy back to penalties, take third place in the Confederations Cup

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Another 120 minutes for the Italians, and again no result.

This time however, the penalty kicks went their way.

After a 2-2 final score following the conclusion of extra time, Gianluigi Buffon saved 3 of the 5 Uruguayan penalties to lead his side to the third place spot at the 2013 Confederations Cup.

The Uruguayans will be looking to take penalty practice ahead of the 2014 World Cup, as they offered Buffon little trouble in the shootout.

The match was an exciting one, with back-and-forth action for just about the entire first 90 minutes.

Italy took the lead early in the 24th minute when a gorgeous free kick by Alessandro Diamanti from way out banged off the corner of the crossbar, then off the shoulder of Uruguay keeper Fernando Musalera, and Davide Astori tapped it in for the finish. FIFA originally awarded the goal to Diamanti, but the most high-profile usage yet of goal-line technology confirmed the ball had not gone over the line before Astori tapped it in, giving Calgari defender his first international goal for the Azzurri.

(MORE: Our first major look at goal-line technology on TV, and it was glorious)

Edinson Cavani drew level for Uruguay after halftime when Luis Suarez cut back a pass to the Napoli striker and he nudged the ball to the far post past Buffon.

Alessandro Diamanti was back at it again for the Azzurri on set piece play, as his free kick in the 73rd minute went past Musalera and into the top corner to regain the lead for Italy.

Free kicks continued to play an important role, as just five minutes later Cavani doubled his goal tally with a blistering set piece into the top left, although Buffon will wish he had done better off the ball.

The Italians were forced to play the final ten minutes of extra time down a man, when Riccardo Montolivo was sent off with a second yellow, forcing him to miss Italy’s next FIFA-sanctioned match.

Italy impressed many in this tournament, taking Spain to the brink as well in the semifinals, and their prospects ahead of the World Cup are quite promising. They didn’t have their full squad in either the semis or the third place match, missing a combination of Montolivo, Andrea Pirlo, and Daniele De Rossi over the course of the two games.

For Uruguay, it’s their second straight fourth-place finish in a senior FIFA tournament after their same finish in South Africa 2010. They also finished fourth in their only other Confederations Cup appearance in 1997.

Uruguayan manager Oscar Tabarez will be looking to tweak a few things for sure before Brazil next year. His three-headed striker monster up front of Suarez, Cavani, and Diego Forlan is nice on paper, but in order to have the trio up front it requires two of them to play out of position on the wing, and inconsistency follows. At times Forlan’s crosses are dangerous and so are Cavani’s runs, but the consistency wasn’t there over the course of this tournament, and it will be something Tabarez may want to address.