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Archive for June, 2012

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Semifinal: FT Italy 2 – 1 Germany

Semifinal: FT Italy 2 – 1 Germany

Germany recall Lukas Podolski, Mario Gomez and Toni Kroos: Neuer, Boateng, Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Khedira, Kroos, Ozil, Podolski, Gomez.
Subs: Wiese, Gundogan, Schmelzer, Howedes, Schurrle, Klose, Muller, Bender, Mertesacker, Gotze, Reus, Zieler.

Italy recall Giorgio Chiellini, back from a thigh injury: Buffon, Balzaretti, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini, Pirlo, Marchisio, Montolivo, De Rossi, Balotelli, Cassano.
Subs: Sirigu, Ogbonna, Thiago Motta, Abate, Di Natale, Giaccherini, Borini, Giovinco, Diamanti, Nocerino, De Sanctis.

At 20′, Cassano twists and turns magnificently down the left, escaping from Boateng and Khedira with one marvellous twiddle, then whipping a cross over the six-yard area, where Balotelli – having beaten Badstuber to the ball – powers home a header. That was top class. This is on! Germany 0 -1 Italy.

At 36′, Italy deal with the corner and stream upfield. Down the left, just inside his own half, Montolivo sprays a diagonal ball down the centre for Balotelli, who is suddenly clear, 40 yards out! He stomps towards the area, and whacks an unstoppable curling blooter past Neuer and into the postage stamp of the top-right corner. That was a stunning finish. He whips his shirt off to show his guns, and is booked, but doesn’t seem to care, much as you’d imagine. 2-0 for Italy.

At 90′, A ball played straight down the middle bounces onto the ground and up onto Balzaretti’s hand. he was under pressure from Klose. The ref points to the spot. Ozil steps up, and wastes no time in screaming a spot kick into the top right. Germany 1 – 2 Italy.

Italy were excellent, a much deserved victory in a very entertaining match. Playing like that, Spain will have an awful lot to think about on Sunday. They dance about and celebrate wildly, while Germany do that thousand-yard-stare thing.

 

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Semifinal : AET Spain* 0 – 0 Portugal

Semifinal : AET Spain* 0 – 0 Portugal

Teams:
Spain: Casillas, Arbeloa, Ramos, Pique, Alba, Busquets, Alonso, Xavi, Iniesta, Silva, Negredo

Portugal: Patrício; Pereira, Alves, Pepe, Coentrão; Veloso, Moutinho, Meireles; Nani, Ronaldo, Almeida

Spain were the better side in extra-time, when Portugal clung on. Pedro and Navas made a big difference, bringing width, speed and directness. But it was too late and so we have a shootout.

PENALTY KICK!!

Alonso hammers a low shot to the keeper’s left but Patricios saves superbly! Spain 0-0 Portugal.

Moutinho takes an odd baby-steps run-up and then taps it to the keeper’s right … and Casillas emulates his counterpart! Spain 0-0 Portugal.

Iniesta rolls it down the middle as Patricio dives to the corner, confounding another prediction. Spain 1-0 Portugal.

Pepe takes a run-up as if he’s preparing for a long jump and then places a lovely low kick past Casillas’s dive and into the bottom corner. Spain 1-1 Portugal.

Piqué tonks it into the bottom corner. Spain 2-1 Portugal.

Nani. Alves started to walk towards the ball but Nani ordered him back … and then smacked a textbook penalty into the top corner. Spain 2-2 Portugal.

Ramos does the Panenka! Patricio buys it. Spain 3-2 Portugal.

Alves, his turn apparently having come, crashes a powerful shot against the bar. Spain 3-2 Portugal.

Fabregas sends it past Patricio and in off the post! Spain 4-2 Portugal. Spain are through to the final. And Ronaldo didn’t even get to take a kick.

 

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AET Italy* 0 – 0 England

AET Italy* 0 – 0 England

England are unchanged from the win over Ukraine. Roy Hodgson must have been slightly tempted to unleash Andy Carroll, who must be feral by now, to test out Italy in the air. Instead it’s Danny Welbeck up front and his pace could trouble the pace-averse Barzagli and Bonucci. Italy make one change: in comes Mario Balotelli for Antonio Di Natale and Prandelli does stick to the 4-3-1-2 diamond formation instead of switching to a 3-5-2.

England have had one shot on target, Glen Johnson’s effort in the fifth minute. Italy have had a goal disallowed, two shots off the post, countless chances and all the play. Somehow England have dragged the match, kicking and screaming, to penalties. Absurd. That was such an inept performance in so many ways.

PENALTIES: England 0-1 Italy* (Balotelli). A short run-up, a stutter and a finish into the bottom-left corner. Nerveless.

PENALTIES: England* 1-1 Italy (Gerrard). England’s captain steps up and goes the same way as Balotelli, even though Buffon went the right way.

PENALTIES: England 1-1* Italy An atrocious penalty from Montolivo! He tries to emulate Balotelli and Gerrard but puts it so far wide!

PENALTIES: England 2-1 Italy* (Rooney) Rooney thumps it into the bottom-left corner, Buffon sent the wrong way. Advantage England!

PENALTIES: England 2-2 Italy* (Pirlo) How are your nerves? With Italy desperately needing Pirlo to score, he Panenkas it down the middle! Outrageous.

PENALTIES: England* 2-2 Italy There goes the advantage, Ashley Young smashing it against the bar! I was telling anyone who’d listen that he’d miss.

PENALTIES: England 2-3 Italy* (Nocerino) Nocerino scores and the pressure is all on England now.

PENALTIES: England* 2-3 Italy A dreadful penalty from Ashley Cole! He hits it tamely towards the bottom-right corner and Buffon easily saves! If Diamanti scores, England are out.

ITALY WIN 4-2 ON PENALTIES! ENGLAND ARE OUT! Alessandro Diamanti coolly sends Hart the wrong way and strokes the ball into the bottom-left corner, Hart going the wrong way. England have lost on penalties again. Same old.

England deserved nothing more after a performance that could, if we were being generous, be described as battling and, if we were being harsh, be described as inept. Apart from a first-half flurry, they failed to keep the ball, were devoid of ideas and were indebted to the woodwork, the linesman’s offside flag, luck and some awful Italian finishing. Italy thoroughly dominated and while the focus will be on the two Ashleys for their penalty misses, that would mask the sad truth: England simply weren’t very good. Still, at least they don’t have to play Germany.

 

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FT France 0 – 2 Spain

FT France 0 – 2 Spain

At 19′, Iniesta lifts a lovely short pass down the left to set Jordi Alba free. Debuchy slips, allowing the Spaniard to scuttle into the area. He pulls a cross back to Xabi Alonso, ten yards out, level with the far post after cutting in from the right. Alonso – on his 100th appearance – heads the cleverest of finishes down and back across Lloris, into the left-hand side of the net. Magnificent. 1-0 for Spain.

At 90′, Pedro twists, turns, and executes a couple of stepovers down the inside left and into the French area. Reveillere balloons into view and knocks him to the ground. Spot kick! PENALTY TO SPAIN!

Spain 2-0 France. Alonso pelts the penalty into the left-hand side of the net, Lloris going the other way.

The reigning world and European champions Spain go through to the semi final, where they will meet their Iberian rivals Portugal. Spain are clearly the best team in the world, almost impossible to beat; that’s hardly news, and nobody’s arguing otherwise. But crowds and audiences are under no obligation to enjoy the spectacle.

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FT Germany 4 – 2 Greece

FT Germany 4 – 2 Greece

Lukas Podolski, Thomas Muller and Mario Gomez have been replaced by Andre Schurrle, Marco Reus and Miroslav Klose. With the right-back Lars Bender also making way for Jerome Boateng, who is available again after suspension, all of Germany’s goalscorers in the tournament are on the bench.

Greece make two changes from the side that bundled Russia onto an early plane. Sotiris Ninis comes in for Fanis Gekas and Grigoris Makos replaces the suspended captain Giorgos Karagounis. Giorgos Tzavellas starts at left-back despite a leg problem; Greece’s other left-back, Jose Holebas, is suspended.

At 39′, Lahm picked up a crossfield pass from Khedira in an inside-left position, moved away from a pathetic excuse for a challenge from Ninis and then, as the ball sat up perfectly 20 yards from goal, cut across a storming right-footed shot that swooshed into the far corner, through the outstretched fingers of the keeper Sifakis. Some might say Sifakis could have done better as he dived to his left, but it was beautifully struck. I don’t know if the keeper was culpable; the defenders certainly were. The original challenge on Lahm was woolly at best, and then nobody got out to block the shot. 1-0 for Germany.

At 55′, Salpingidis, the beard to be feared, surged down the right onto an excellent stabbed pass from Fotakis and then sidefooted a magnificent low cross between the German defenders and the keeper Neuer. Samaras, sliding in four yards from goal, forced it gleefully through Neuer and into the net before charging off to join an almighty Greek huddle on the touchline. What an astonishing twist. 1-1.

At 61′, Ozil freed Boateng down the right, and he took a touch before slinging a cross into a crowded area. It dipped over the head of a couple of players at the near post and then Khedira, arriving late in front of the static Maniatis, belted a right-footed volley into the roof of the net almost before the keeper Sifakis had started to move. That’s a cracking goal because it looked easier to go with the left foot, and the ball was also at a really awkward height. I’ve no idea how he got over the top of that volley, because 99 times out of 100 it would have gone high over the bar. 2-1 for Germany.

At 68′, Miroslav Klose scored for the 47th international tournament in a row, and ends the contest. It was desperate goalkeeping from Sifakis, who came into no-man’s land in an attempt to get to Ozil’s inswinging corner from the right. He was nowhere near, and all Klose had to do was jump above Papopdopoulous to head into the naked net from six yards. 3-1.

At 74′ ,Marco Reus has slammed in another volley to make it 4-1. Ozil’s subtle, silken through ball put Klose in on goal; his shot was blocked well by the advancing Sifakis and the rebound came to Reus, 15 yards from goal to the left of the near post, and he blootered his volley in off the underside of the bar. Three of Germany’s four goals tonight have been brutally emphatic. 4-1 for Germany.

At 88′, Fotakis’s cross from the left hits the outstretched hand of Boateng, and it’s a penalty to Greece. It might have been a harsh decision: Boateng had his back turned to play, although his arm was dangling away from his body. The Beard To Be Feared slides a cool low penalty to the right as Neuer goes the other way. He has had a terrific tournament. 4-2.

Germany go into their fourth consecutive semi-final at a European Championship or World Cup. They could have won by six, and I suppose there might be some frustration in that sense, but overall this was a fine attacking performance from a wonderful young team. Mesut Ozil was a joy to watch. Greece fought gamely in the second half, even though they were out of their depth. This was a 4-2 thrashing. Germany will face Italy or Two Banks of Four in the semi-final on Thursday.

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FT Portugal 1 – 0 Czech Republic

FT Portugal 1 – 0 Czech Republic

Painstaking research conducted by someone else reveals that the Czech Republic have been the most dynamic team of Euro 2012 so far, covering more grass than incontinent cows. And while Cristiano Ronaldo spent the first two matches of the tournament suggesting that he couldn’t hit one of said bovines on the backside with a banjo, the Real Madrid stallion found his range in spectacular style during his country’s third group game against the United Nations of Holland, thereby compensating for Portugal’s lack of a decent specialist striker and giving them the look of a top-notch side that is getting it together at exactly the right time.

Portugal’s opponents in tonight’s quarter-final are also drawing inspiration from Chelsea, as the Czech Republic intend deploying all of their dynamism to park a fleet of buses in front of Petr Cech’s goal. Tomas Rosicky will not be fit enough to start, and that no friendly wizard has magicked Jan Koller back into the fray and renewed whatever spell it was that made Milan Baros so deadly eight years ago. Their plot, then, seems to be for Cech to prevail on penalties again. For Portugal’s sake, Ronaldo better have been doing his banjo practice.

Teams:
Czech Republic: Cech; Gebre Selassie, Sivok, Kadlec, Limbersky; Hubshman, Plasil; Jiracek, Darida, Pilar; Baros
Portugal: Patricio; Pereira, Pepe, Alves, Coentrao; Meireles, Veloso, Moutinho; Nani, Postiga, Ronaldo

At 79′, Ronaldo has done it! A fine diving header from 10 yards after Moutinho surged from deep to collect a pass and clip a cross in from the right. Lovely goal! 1-0 For Portugal.

Portugal deservedly swagger into the semi-finals, where they will pose a real threat to either Spain or France. Ronaldo was brilliant but he was not alone: Moutinho and Coentrao were great too. The Czechs defended very well for long periods and, of course, did well to get to this stage. But they never looked like going any farther.

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FT France 0 – 2 Sweden

FT France 0 – 2 Sweden

Sweden have nothing to play for but mischief. France, meanwhile, are set fair. They have not lost for 22 matches and only a defeat by Sweden as heavy as Tomas Brolin could prevent them from making the quarter-finals but Laurent Blanc does not merely want to get there, he also wants to avoid having to come up with a solution to the riddle of how to beat Spain there. So he wants France to top Group D and turning the Swedes to pulp is their best way of doing that (although if England beat Ukraine by more than France beat Sweden, then Spain it is for Les Bleus.

Blanc might have been tempted to deploy Olivier Giroud to exploit Sweden’s well-known aerial shortcomings but he has decided to stick with the tried-and-trusted ploy of one-twoing their way through defences. Hatem Ben Arfa comes in for Jérémy Menez to add extra
ingenuity, while the only other change from the previous game sees the first appearance in the tournament of Yann M’vila, who will start
instead of Yohan Cabaye alongside Alou Diarra in a sturdy central midfield.

At 54′, Wilhelmsson initiated it with some diligent work on the left before Larsson clipped a cross in an Ibrahimovich met it with a magnificent volley from the edge of the area. Lloris didn’t even get a finger to it. 1-0 for Sweden.

At 90′, awful defending allowed Sweden to overrun Les Bleus and when a Wilhelsson shot came back off the bar Larsson thundered it into the roff of the net from eight yards! 2-0 for Sweden.

A fine performance by Sweden crowned with two excellent goals. France, meanwhile, produced a display as lethargic and incoherent as any during their 2010 World Cup misadventure. Play like that against Spain and they will be tonked worse than Ireland were.

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FT England 1 – 0 Ukraine

FT England 1 – 0 Ukraine

England play their usual 4-4-2 with Rooney in a withdrawn role behind Welbeck, infront of a midfield in which Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker will provide the heartbeat, bookended by Ashley Young and James Milner on the left and right.

Expect the Ukraine to line up in a 4-3-1-2, with Anatoliy Tymoschuk in a defensive midfield role, with Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko further up the field to his left and right. Denys Garmash will play in the hole behind a front two of Artem Milevskiy and Marko Devic.

At 47′, Rooney heads home at the far post from about two inches out after great work by Steven Gerrard and a howler from Ukraine keeper Andriy Pyatov. 1-0 for England.

England have seen off Ukraine, with Wayne Rooney nodding home the only goal of the game. England will play Italy in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals. Curiously, my pre-tournament Guardian prediction was that England would be eliminated in the quarter-finals, by Italy … on penalties.

 

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FT Italy 2 – 0 Republic of Ireland

FT Italy 2 – 0 Republic of Ireland

So it’s all change for Italy. Ignazio Abate, Andrea Barzagli, Federico Balzaretti, Antonio Di Natale come in. Out go Leonardo Bonucci, Mario Balotelli and the wing-backs Christian Maggio and Emanuele Giaccherini. For Ireland, Kevin Doyle gets another start, but, as expected, there’s no experimentation from Trapattoni.

At 35′, Ireland couldn’t clear after Di Natale’s clever shot from the byline. Italy won a corner, Cassano got across his marker and flicked a header that pinged off Given and dropped down over the line before Damien Duff could clear. 1-0 for Italy.

A wonderful, wonderful goal came from the Manchester City striker at 90′. A corner swung in and an acrobatic volley crisper and sweeter than a Granny Smith apple. 2-0 for Italy.

So Italy go on to face whoever finishes atop Group D, be it England, France or Ukraine. They wobbled in the opening 20-odd minutes and almost shattered in the final 15, but they survived in the end.

 

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FT Croatia 0 – 1 Spain

FT Croatia 0 – 1 Spain

Spain are unchanged after reluctantly accepting that playing a striker increases your chances of scoring goals, even when that striker is Fernando Torres. Croatia have left out a striker: Everton’s Nikica Jelavic is replaced by who-cares-who-he-plays-for-he’s-not-English-based’s Domagoj Vida in a reshuffled side, with Slaven Bilic presumably wanting to keep the 4-2-3-1 that worked so well in the second half against Italy. Danijel Pranjic also comes in for Ivan Perisic on the left of the attacking midfield triumvirate.

At 88′, Fabregas, under no pressure from a tired back four, played a delicious scooped pass to put Iniesta through on goal. He eschewed the pass, of course, instead laying it square past Pletikosa for Navas to walk it to within six inches of goal before hammering it gleefully into the net. The Art Project has its justification; they have actually walked the ball in. I thought Navas was offside after Iniesta’s touch, but replays show he was level. Iniesta’s two touches were masterful: he stretched to control the ball with his left breast and then, before Pletikosa had set himself for the shot never mind anything else, stabbed it gently past him for Navas to score. 1-0 for Spain.

Croatia are out of Euro 2012, while Spain go through as group winners. They did it their way, wearing Croatia’s defence out with tiki taka before applying a killer blow at the death. It was uncomfortably close, though, and Croatia had a couple of significant opportunities: Rakitic missed a great chance and they should have had a penalty with four minutes to go and the score 0-0.

Croatia’s gameplan was immaculate, given the quality of their opponent, but you need more than just an immaculate gameplan to beat this remarkable Spanish team. You can argue all night that their approach is reducing the effectiveness of a great team, yet it will still take something close to a perfect storm for anybody, even Germany, to beat them. They will play the runners-up in Group D.