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Pirlo’s poise exposes ordinary England

England were eliminated from Euro 2012 by Italy on Sunday night, with the Azzurri rightful winners. Despite a one-sided game it took penalties kicks to confirm Italian progression, with Ashley Young and Ashley Cole off-target.

One player stood out above the rest in the form of Andrea Pirlo. The veteran is certainly one of the best deep-lying playmakers in world football, and his ability on the ball, range of passing and ability to keep his side in possession shone through.

Pirlo’s poise on the ball was in contrast to the dogged but wasteful Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker, and shows the technical gulf between English football and some of their European rivals. The Three Lions simply did not have a midfield general to run the show this summer, which is unlike all other nations – Schweinsteiger, Xavi, Moutinho etc have shown the importance of this at Euro 2012.

And then, there was this…..

Masterful Andrea Pirlo, take a bow

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England vs Italy, Spain vs France and the Euro 2012 quarter-finals

All 16 teams in Euro 2012 have now played their three group games, and as such half have progressed to the knockout rounds, whilst the other half have departed for home. The quarter-finals line-up has produced four interesting ties, with the room for error now miniscule. Betfair Euro Cup 2012 odds point towards the likes of Germany and Spain progressing towards the final, but there has been a number of shocks in the competition already. Here is a breakdown of the next round of Euro 2012 fixtures.

Czech Republic vs Portugal

Michal Bilek’s Czech Republic side topped Group A unexpectedly, a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that they were thumped 4-1 by Russia in their competition opener; wins over Greece and Poland sees the eastern Europeans through to the last eight. Keyman Tomas Rosicky is carrying an injury and as such is a doubt for Thursday’s game, whilst the likes of Vaclav Pilar and Petr Jiracek have stepped up to score goals for the side.

Portugal also were beaten in their first game, but came back to finish as runners-up in Group B after wins over Denmark and Netherlands. Paulo Bento’s men rely heavily on skipper Cristiano Ronaldo, who bagged a brace in the 2-1 victory over Netherlands last time out, after initial mediocre form in the tournament. The Real Madrid superstar’s form will be critical in ascertaining just how far the Iberian nation can go in Ukraine and Poland.

Prediction – Czech Republic 0 Portugal 2

Germany vs Greece

One of the tournament favourites, Germany have lived up to their highly-fancied billing with three wins out of three games to top Group B. Joachim Low’s men have a blend of experience and youth, and have strength in every position – currently the team to beat in the competition.

Greece have shown extraordinary determination to overcome the odds this time round, and have a never-say-die attitude that Germany will find difficult to break down. A 1-0 win over Russia in their last game confirmed the side as Group A runners-up at their opponents’ expense.

Prediction – Germany 1 Greece 0

Spain vs France

Spain have not been their imperious selves in the tournament to date, but glimpses of brilliance show that the holders will still take some beating this summer. A last-gasp win over Croatia ensured that Vicente del Bosque’s men topped Group C, but they will now face a step up in the quality of opponent.

France were looking in line to top Group D, but an unexpected 2-0 defeat to Sweden in their last game ended a 23-match unbeaten streak and resulted in a runners-up finish. Laurent Blanc’s men have the players to cause an upset, but must be at their very best to stand a chance against the world champions.

Prediction – Spain 1 France 1 – Spain to win on penalties

England vs Italy

Arguably the most even and interesting of the four fixtures. England topped Group D with two wins and a draw, with a solitary Wayne Rooney strike ensuring a 1-0 win over Ukraine in their last pool game. Roy Hodgson’s men have been uninspiring, but will hope a dogged performance can send them through to the semis.

Italy are unbeaten in the tournament after two draws and a win saw the Azzurri finish second in Group C. Cesare Prandelli has played both 3-5-2 and 4-4-2 in the tournament, and must get his tactics and team selection right if his side are to progress past the Three Lions.

Prediction – England 2 Italy 1

England overlooked XI: How well would this bunch do at Euro 2012?

England put in a gutsy and relatively composed performance against France in their Euro 2012 opening fixture, with Roy Hodgson’s men recording a 1-1 draw against Les Bleus in their first game in Group D. Despite this, some of the new manager’s squad selections have been queried; here is an alternate England XI that was overlooked.

GK – Ben Foster – Opted to retire from international football due to past disappointments, the Birmingham man proved a consistent performer for West Brom last term.
LB – Kieran Gibbs – Potential in spades, Gibbs is one of Arsene Wenger’s youth projects and could well play a role in the national set-up after Ashley Cole’s days are done.

RB – Micah Richards – Despite being an important player at the Etihad Stadium, Richards seems to have done something to annoy the powers that be at the FA.

CB – Rio Ferdinand – Omitted for ‘football reasons’, Ferdinand apparently was too good to call up after Gary Cahill’s injury. Hmmm

CB – Ledley King – In this fantasy team lets pretend King is fully fit and functioning. Rolls Royce of a football player.

LW – Adam Johnson – A victim of Roberto Mancini’s star-studded squad, the former Middlesbrough winger has the ability to deliver if he is in the mood.

RW – Aaron Lennon – One of the surprise omissions, Lennon’s blistering pace and penetration is vital at White Hart Lane, and could have been for the Three Lions too.

CM – Paul Scholes – Mercurial, masterful, magic but getting old, Paul Scholes is one of the best players to play in the Premier League over the last 10 years. Fact.

CM – Michael Carrick – Has been overlooked once more even though he starts most weeks for Manchester United. In England’s little black book alongside Richards.

ST – Grant Holt – The Norwich targetman proved a right handful for Premier League defences in 2011-12, and he netted 15 goals. The Italians or Spanish in the knockout stages wouldn’t have enjoyed encountering him for the first time.

ST – Daniel Sturridge – Was an important player for Chelsea under AVB, but lost his way in the second half of 2011-12; still a talented player and one for the future for England.

Ferdinand’s leadership, Richards’ physicality, Scholes’ guile, Lennon’s pace, Carrick’s passing range and Holt’s bullying tactics; I think this team would have done ok……

Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil and Euro 2012 distractions

Whilst Euro 2012 is on the Ninety Minutes Online team have outsourced their considerable resources to cover the tournament for other leading media outlets. As such posts for the next while may well be sparse.

However just quickly, after watching the Germany vs Portugal game last night a few things came to the fore. Firstly, Mesut Ozil steadied a rocky Germany ship that was in no way sure to beat Paulo Bento’s men. The Real Madrid playmaker showed poise and confidence on the ball and it is easy to see why he is so highly regarded at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Another Real Madrid man, Fabio Coentrao, had an enterprising game for Portugal at left-back, showing solidity in defence but a real attacking threat when he ventured forward.

However, Los Blancos’ main man Cristiano Ronaldo was decidedly muted and did not look like the player that scored against every Primera Division team in 2011-12. Playing predominantly in a wide position CR7 struggled to make any impact on the game; Nani looked more dangerous on the other flank. Ronaldo’s claim to be amongst the best players to have ever played the game hinges on whether he can replicate club form on the international set-up, and last night’s showing did little to inspire confidence that he can be talked about in the same light as Pele, Maradona, Cruyff etc.

Whilst Ronaldo toiled, Messi starred. The current Ballon d’Or holder scored a meticulous hat-trick in Argentina’s 4-3 win over Brazil to show why he is the world’s best; check out this wonderful winner.

Enjoy the remainder of Euro 2012

Chelsea’s Torres in Spain Euro 2012 squad, but no Roberto Soldado

Vicente del Bosque has the task of bringing home a third straight international tournament success this summer, with the triumphs at Euro 2008 and in the 2010 World Cup meaning Spain are favourites for this year’s Euro 2012. The successful trainer has named his squad for the tournament in Ukraine and Poland, with a raft of star names included. However, with David Villa injured, Del Bosque’s selection in attack was sure to be interesting, and one name is surprisingly omitted: Roberto Soldado.

Goalkeepers

  • Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Victor Valdes (Barcelona), Pepe Reina (Liverpool)

The reigning world champions have an embarrassment of riches between the sticks, with one of the game’s best in the form of Iker Casillas set to lead the side. However, if something unforeseen should happen to the Real Madrid stopper, Valdes and Reina are more than able deputies.

Defenders

  • Raul Albiol (Real Madrid), Jordi Alba (Valencia), Alvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Juanfran Torres (Atletico Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Javi Martinez (Athletic Bilbao)

With Carles Puyol injured, it will be interesting to see just who Del Bosque picks to fill the experienced Barcelona man’s boots. The personnel and shape of the defence will depend on where Sergio Ramos is deployed, with the Santiago Bernabeu man’s versatility of playing either on the right or in the centre an attribute. Ramos is likely to play in the centre alongside Gerard Pique, but Del Bosque could also use him at right-back, and partner the Camp Nou man with Javi Martinez. Jordi Alba looks a shoe-in at left-back.

Midfielders

  • Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Xavi (Barcelona), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid), Santi Cazorla (Malaga), Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona), David Silva (Manchester City), Jesus Navas (Sevilla), Juan Mata (Chelsea)

With only four strikers selected in the contingent and the sheer quality of the players listed above, it is likely that Spain will play with five in midfield, with a 4-5-1 formation without the ball quickly changing to a 4-3-3 whilst in possession. Xabi Alonso and Xavi are certainties in the centre of the park when fit, and they may well be joined by either Cesc Fabregas or Sergio Busquets, depending on whether Del Bosque wants to keep it tight or include an extra attacking player. David Silva and Andres Iniesta may well start from wide areas, but look to get space in-field and provide chances. Santi Cazorla could be used if Spain look for width and delivery.

Attackers

  • Pedro (Barcelona), Alvaro Negredo (Sevilla), Fernando Torres (Chelsea), Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao)

Likely to be one of four in attack, however Pedro could also be used as a supporting striker. Negredo, Torres or Llorente will be charged with finishing the chances created by the mercurial midfield maestros, which should be plentiful. After the Sevilla man’s season of injuries and Torres’ torrid time at Stamford Bridge, the omission of Roberto Soldado is surprising to say the least. The Valencia marksman has continued to progress this season at the Mestalla, and was for some (including myself) the pick of the available forwards to fill David Villa’s shoes. Atletico Madrid’s Adrian also missed out.

Del Bosque’s squad is dominated by World Cup winners, Barcelona and Real Madrid superstars and has extraordinary depth. Spain rightly go into the competition as frontrunners, however it will be interesting who gets the nod up front and given the task of firing La Roja to their third consecutive glorious campaign.

Published – Soccerlens

Republic of Ireland’s greatest international tournament results

Republic of Ireland go into this summer’s Euro 2012 tournament as overwhelming underdogs, with a group of Spain, Italy and Croatia to battle against. Despite Giovanni Trapattoni’s men being disregarded due to the quality of their Group C opponents, the Emerald Isle will look to take inspiration from previous positive results to have a chance of progressing through the pool. Thousands of Irish fans will purchase cheap flights to travel to Poland and Ukraine with hope, but these results should also prove that anything is possible.

Republic of Ireland 1 England 0 – Euro 88

Jack Charlton’s side were drawn against old enemies England in the group stages of the 1988 European Championships in West Germany, and were given little hope of recording a result. However, a loping Ray Houghton header after six minutes sent the travelling Irish fans into delirium and a strong defensive effort gave Ireland a momentous victory.

Republic of Ireland 1 Italy 0 – World Cup 1994

Again, faced with a tough group, Ireland qualified from Group E in the 1994 World Cup thanks to a unforgettable 1-0 win over European giants Italy in their opening game. Ray Houghton was again the man to provide the winner, with a sublime lofted shot beating Gianluca Pagliuca in the Azzurri goal. A draw with Norway sealed progression through to the knockout rounds, and Italy’s elimination, with stars such as Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi heading home early.

Republic of Ireland 1 Germany 1 – World Cup 2002

A last-gasp Robbie Keane strike in Nilgata gave the Republic of Ireland a point and a memorable result against Germany in the 2002 World Cup, with the draw eventually seeing the Irish side to progression through Group E. The likes of Keane, Shay Given and Damien Duff will look for similar results this summer, ten years on.

Just to get the Emerald Isle’s fans in the mood for Euro 2012 and the upcoming Group C fixtures against Spain, Italy and Croatia, Aer Lingus have released a new video encouraging the supporters to get behind Giovanni Trapattoni’s men….

England squad for Euro 2012: Hodgson makes his mark

When Roy Hodgson was named England manager many pundits commented that he was a conservative manager, who would play it safe in his squad selections. His 23-man squad for Euro 2012 has blown this theory out of the water though, with some big decisions made and a couple of surprise selections.

Goalkeepers
The selections of Joe Hart and Robert Green are no surprise. Hart has firmly established himself as one of the best and most confident keepers in Europe, whilst Green has had another consistent season at West Ham and is a very able back-up. The inclusion of John Ruddy, ahead of Scott Carson and David Stockdale, has come as a surprise though. Loaned out by Everton to nine clubs, he has finally found a home at Norwich City and has come into his own.

Defenders

A number of the defenders picked themselves. At right-back Glen Johnson has been a regular member of the squad for a number of years, whilst Hodgson is also blessed with two fantastic left-backs in Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines. Gary Cahill has earned his place with solid performances over the last year for club and country while Joleon Lescott has been one of the unsung heroes in Manchester City’s title winning campaign. Phil Jones has had an up-and-down season for Manchester United, but continues to show great promise and also has the versatility to play at right-back as well as centre-back.

The major talking point though has been the inclusion of John Terry and the omission of Rio Ferdinand. The Manchester United man has only made one England appearance in the last year and his form and constant fitness issues have clearly had a major impact on what Hodgson describes as a “footballing decision”. Many people will also wonder whether having Terry in the squad will cause problems in the dressing room. The fact is though, Terry has performed better than Ferdinand this season and if it was a straight choice between the two, Terry was always going to be the winner – Hodgson has made the correct choice.

Midfielders

In midfield Hodgson has gone for a blend of youth and experience. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard have the drive to lead from midfield  and also are consistent performers for their clubs. With being named captain as well, the Anfield talisman can provide great inspiration and leadership as he does for Liverpool. Gareth Barry and Scott Parker will provide a solid base for the midfield whilst James Milner can play any of the four midfield positions and even right back if need be.

Theo Walcott has improved considerably for Arsenal in the second half of this season both in front of goal and in terms of his composure with his final pass or cross. Ashley Young has had a good first season with Manchester United and his willingness to run at his opponent and his excellent set piece delivery made him an easy selection.

Stewart Downing however is a baffling selection. Whilst he is the only natural left-footed winger in the squad, his record of no Premier League goals or assists all season is a major cause for concern. Another shock inclusion is Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but it would be unfair to compare this selection to that of Walcott for the 2006 World Cup. Chamberlain has proven his ability in the Champions League this season, and his performance in the centre of midfield against AC Milan at home was hugely impressive.

Forwards

Of the forwards, Wayne Rooney is an easy choice despite the fact he misses the first two games. Danny Welbeck has impressed in partnership with Rooney this season and is skilful, quick and has shown absolutely no fear of any centre-back pairing. Jermain Defoe remains one of the most natural goalscorers in the country and with Darren Bent unfit he had to be in the squad. The shock choice in the attackers is Andy Carroll. Despite impressive performances in the final few games, Carroll only scored six goals in his first 40 games of this season and despite three in his last seven he needs too many chances to score a goal and you do not get these at international level.

Notable omissions

Apart from the obvious omission of Rio Ferdinand there are a few other players who will feel they are unfortunate to miss out. Micah Richards has been very consistent this season and a big part of Manchester City’s success. Michael Carrick has been impressive in the second half of the season and England may well miss his range of passing and ability to control the pace of the game. Aaron Lennon and Daniel Sturridge will feel unfortunate to lose out to Stewart Downing as both have provided more goals, assists and better performances than the Liverpool man. Paul Scholes meanwhile was thought to be interested in coming out of international retirement, but the 37-year-old was not deemed worthy of a place.

By Chris Newman

England vs France: The key battles in this Euro 2012 grudge-match

England have been drawn against old enemies France in Group D of Euro 2012, and the clash on June 11th will have a major bearing on each side’s chances of progression in the tournament. With a month to go before the nations do battle the Three Lions are slight favourites, but it should be a close encounter. With Sweden and Ukraine in the pool also, both teams will look to get an early advantage in the competition.

With the domestic campaigns drawing to a close in the Premier League and Ligue 1, Laurent Blanc and Roy Hodgson will have their squads for the tournament all but decided, with a few decisions potentially still to be made. Les Bleus coach has named a strong looking provisional squad, with a raft of English-based players included, whilst the West Brom man has revealed that he will name his contingent on Wednesday.

Despite the full tournament squads yet to be announced, the main players for both sides are known and will play a key role in deciding the outcome of the encounter. France have a good blend of young talent and experienced heads, and their strength lies in central midfield and in a couple of talented individual attackers. The battle for possession in the centre of the park will be a key element to deciding the outcome, with Blanc able to choose from Yohan Cabaye, Yann M’Vila, Alou Diarra and Morgan Amalfitano in the heart of his midfield. Scott Parker will have a role to play in breaking up the French passing game, whilst the likes of Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard will look to mix it with their opponents.

French matchwinners include skilful wingers Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa, whilst the goalt-hreat will be provided by Karim Benzema. England’s full-backs must monitor the widemen carefully, with a big responsibility falling on Kyle Walker, Micah Richards or Glen Johnson’s shoulders to shackle Bayern Munich superstar Ribery. The centre of the English defence will also be wary of giving Benzema space, as the Real Madrid man is one of Europe’s form strikers currently.

Going the other way, new boss Hodgson will be without his talismanic forward Wayne Rooney due to suspension, and has key decisions to make in attack. With Darren Bent still on the sidelines with injury and on the borderline of missing out, no other centre forwards shout out as sure things. Hodgson will consider the likes of Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Jermain Defoe, Andy Carroll and maybe even Peter Crouch to lead his line, but the English attack will be limited due to Rooney’s absence.

The eventual England squad should have pace to burn however, with widemen Ashley Young, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon all with the necessary speed to harry the French defenders. There is also a case for Paul Scholes’ inclusion to add a bit of creativity to the side, but Hodgson will look to his wingers to provide the necessary penetration.

The game is sure to full of natural pride and passion, but England must compete with the technical abilities of the France side to get a result. The odd goal may well decide this game, but it should be an exciting and enthralling match.

Published – Ghana Soccernet

Roy Hodgson: Is this surprise selection the man to lead England to glory at Euro 2012?

Roy Hodgson has been announced as Fabio Capello’s successor with the countdown to Euro 2012 well under way. The FA have taken a considered and patient approach in finding the next Three Lions boss, but with Tottenham’s Harry Redknapp also thought to be keen on leading the nation, have the governing body made the right choice?

The expectancy of England to perform wonders in Ukraine and Poland is not as high as in the lead-up to previous international tournaments, and Hodgson’s appointment will not inspire any additional confidence in the travelling supporters. With nations such as Spain, Germany and Netherlands expected to lead the way this summer, the West Brom boss will need to get the best out of his squad to stand a chance of making the final stages of the tournament.

Even before Capello walked away from the role with the home nation, Redknapp has been the frontrunner and favourite to lead the nation due to his excellent achievements at White Hart Lane. It seemed like a matter of when rather than if the Spurs boss would assume the role, with the media brewing up a storm in a teacup in backing the north London manager.

However, given careful consideration, maybe there is rational thought behind the selection of Hodgson. Despite a terrible and brief stint at Liverpool, he has transformed West Brom’s fortunes and taken a mediocre squad away from relegation against the odds and into the safe-haven of mid-table.

The Hawthorns supremo has been praised for his man-management skills and careful approach, whilst he also has experience of international football. Redknapp is perceived as more of a club manager, who enjoys the wheeling-dealing of the transfer market and daily interaction with players.

Hodgson will not be the first surprise, unlikely or second-choice man to fill the national void, after the likes of Steve McClaren and Terry Venables got the top job unexpectedly. The fortunes of the latter certainly outweighed that of the former, but for England to excel this summer Hodgson must dispel any rumblings over his worth and selection.

With the competition kicking off in a month’s time and the selection of the squad in around a week, Hodgson has work to do, and will not necessarily thank the FA for the short timescales to get organised and comfortable in the role. Fixtures against France, Sweden and Ukraine in Group D will test England’s ability and resolve, and the FA will hope that their choice of boss will be vindicated come the final on July 1st.

Published – Yahoo

When the underdog had its day – Recent World Cup and Euros shocks & surprises

ALGERIA – WORLD CUP 1982

Algeria shocked the giants of West Germany 2-1, one of their two victories in the group stage. However, they were denied qualification when Germany beat Austria 1-0 in controversial circumstances – the result conveniently allowed both teams to progress at the African nation’s expense. In subsequent tournaments, the final two games in each group have always been played simultaneously.

CAMEROON – WORLD CUP 1990

The first African country to reach a World quarter-final, Cameroon dramatically won the tournament’s first match, 1-0 against Argentina, despite having two players sent off. Then two goals from Roger Milla, accompanied by his unforgettable goal celebrations, saw them to a second round win over Colombia, setting up a quarter-final with England. Bobby Robson’s team were lucky to progress after equalising with a late penalty and sealing the match in extra time via another spot kick.

DENMARK – EURO 1992

Undoubtedly one of the most remarkable stories from any Euro finals. Many of the Danish players had departed on holiday when, at a few weeks notice, they were invited to compete in the finals following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.

Denmark began unremarkably, failing to score in their first two matches, but a 2-1 win over France saw them through to the semi-finals. A brace from Henrik Larsen gave them a 2-2 draw with an exceptionally strong Netherlands team, and Larsen was again on target in their successful penalty shoot-out. A 2-0 win over Germany completed the Danish fairytale.

BULGARIA – WORLD CUP 1994

This East European nation has only progressed beyond the group stage at a major tournament on one other occasion, but led by the talismanic Hristo Stoichkov, they reached the semi-finals here.

Hopes were not high following a 3-0 loss to Nigeria, but Stoichkov proceeded to score in every game thereafter. The victories over Argentina in the group stage and Germany in the quarter-final surely rank as the greatest occasions in Bulgarian football history. Their tournament ended with defeat to Italy in the last four. Stoichkov, with Barcelona at the time, was the joint winner of the tournament’s Golden Boot and was later crowned European Footballer of the Year for 1994.

SOUTH KOREA – WORLD CUP 2002

Co-hosts South Korea topped their group having beating Poland and Portugal, but they hadn’t finished making the headlines. A 2-1 round of 16 victory over Italy duly followed, however Ahn Jung-Hwan’s reward for scoring the winner was to be sacked by his Italian club Perugia!

The upsets continued as the Koreans beat Spain on penalties, before losing 1-0 to Germany in the last four. Park Ji-Sung, who has had an excellent career with Manchester United, was one of the players who sprung to prominence.

GREECE – EURO 2004

150-1 outsiders Greece shocked the footballing world by emerging as tournament winners in 2004. They scraped through the group stage, but then 1-0 wins over France, Czech Republic and Portugal took them to an unlikely title. Much of their success was built on a well-organised defence and the tactical expertise of their German coach Otto Rehhagel, but in Georgios Karagounis and Angelos Charisteas, Greece had two skilful players capable of mixing it with the best.

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