Euro 2012 Preview: Part 3

Group C is what I will be covering in this part 3 of a 4-part series previewing the Euro 2012 groups.  Group C consists of Spain, Italy, Republic of Ireland, and Croatia.

Spain: Spain will be looking to defend it’s title from Euro 2008 where they bested Germany in a close 1-0 final.  Spain will be looking to cruise through their group after not losing a game and only conceding 5 goals in qualifying.  The player likely to start at the lone striker position for Spain will most likely be Fernando Llorente.  He had a great season with his club team in Spain and will be asked to continue that for his country.  Of course players like Casillas, Iniesta, Xavi, Pique, the list goes on and on and on and on, etc…  Spain is filled with talent at every position and are clearly one of the favorites to win this tournament.  The only way I see them losing this tournament is by making little mistakes or just simply being bested in one game by an opponent that works harder than them.  To beat Spain, you just need to be thinking one step ahead of them and put in a good work rate.  I expect Spain to at least make it to the semis.

Italy:  Italy have a lot to prove after having an abomination of a display at the 2010 World Cup where they did not make it out of their group.  Mario Balotelli will be looking to be one of Italy’s top players at this tournament.  Regardless of whether you think he is a player of character, the man has a lot of skill.  Danielle De Rossi will surely be a forced to be reckoned with in the midfield, where he will be looking to control the midfield and be a defensive barricade to protect Gigi Buffon, Italy’s veteran and world-class keeper.  Striker Antonio Cassano will also be looking forward towards playing in a major tournament under Italy manager Prandelli, who has loved the striker’s work-rate and performances for the national team so far.  I think Italy will be able to advance to the knock0out rounds but beyond that I don’t know if this Italian team can manage many games after that.  They still have some catching up to do with the likes of Spain, Germany and the Netherlands.

Republic of Ireland:  There would be nothing more rewarding than for the Irish to advance out of the group stage.  Ever since they were robbed of being awarded a trip to the 2010 World Cup by the French national team and the referees which reffed that game, the Republic of Ireland will be looking to prove themselves on the international stage once again.  While Ireland may not have depth, their starting XI are quality.  There strength lies in their experience keeper Shay Given and their veteran striker Robbie Keane.  And even between those two, the other players on the Irish team are good as well, including midfielders Aiden McGeady and Damien Duff.  The defensive team will be anchored by Richard Dunne.  Personally I think it would be pretty cool if Ireland could advance out of their group, but it will be very hard to do, as their group is rather difficult.

Croatia: The Croatian team is a very impressive team to watch when they are in-form.  The have a diverse team with players of many different play-styles.  Croatia’s team is led by the brilliant Luka Modric, Darijo Srna, and keeper Stipe Pletikosa.  Croatia will be hoping that their attack can help bend games into their favor, as the Croatian defense tends to struggle and perform inconsistently. While Croatia has their moments, I have a hard time picturing them in the knock-out rounds since they find themselves in a challenging group where teams will need to give their all if they want to progress. But if anything Croatia would be the team to upset either Spain or Italy, and thus, progress out of the group.

I predict that Italy and Spain will advance out of the group, but if one of those teams do not, I think Croatia can advance out of the group. But (and that is a BIG but) that will be hard to do, as I think Italy and Spain will do enough to advance.

 

 

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Euro 2012 Preview: Part 2

Euro 2012 Preview: Part 2

Euro 2012 begins tomorrow folks.  I. Can’t. Wait.  But as stated yesterday, here is my 2nd of a 4 part series previewing Group B.

Group B:  The teams in Group B are Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, and Portugal.  On Satuday Denmark and Netherlands play each other and Germany and Portugal play each other.  Also known as the “Group of Death”, Group B is expected to be a hotly contested group filled with passion and unbridled energy from both the fans, the coaches, and the players.

Netherlands:  The Dutchmen, inventors of “total football”, are one of the teams expected to lift the trophy this tournament.  The Dutch have an excellent attack littered with world-class attackers and a talented midfield.  Scoring an impressive 37 goals goals in qualifying, the Dutch are definitely not short on attack; it is their defense that will need to solidify the team’s place if they wish to be a part of Europe’s best this summer.  Players like Van Persie, Huntelaar, and Sneijder will surely do their part as they are consistent and coming off of great form from their club teams.  The Dutch keeper Stekelenburg will also be looking forward to this tournament after he had a phenomenal last tournament, the 2010 World Cup where he only allowed 6 goals for the whole tournament (2 of which were penalty kicks).  I expect the Dutch to be in top form this year and be strong contenders for being the Champions of the tournament.

Denmark:  When one thinks of top teams in Europe one doesn’t typically think of Denmark as being one of those.  However, Denmark had an impressive qualifying campaign.  While Denmark doesn’t have many big-name players, every player on Denmark’s team contributes to the team’s performances.  Bendter, Lindegaard and the young Christian Eriksen will be looking to guide the team out of the “Group of Death”.  Denmark has an uncanny knack for a high work rate and putting in good effort.  That may or may not be enough for Denmark to make it to the knockout round of the tournament.  However, I won’t be surprised if Denmark is bested by the other teams in the group and fails to advance.

Germany:  The Germans have endured a long string of recent “success” on the international stage of tournaments.  The 2002 World Cup saw them get 2nd, the 2006 World Cup saw them in 3rd place, in Euro 2008 they were 2nd, only being bested by Spain in the final, and then most recently finishing in 3rd place at the 2010 World Cup after losing to Spain in the semi-final then beating Uruguay in the consolation match for 3rd place.  Germany will have the youngest team at Euro 2012, a team even younger than their team at the 2010 World Cup, which was touted for it’s youthful line-up.  Germany’s youth has led Germany to a renewed hope of European and international success in soccer.  I’m looking forward to the introduction of Mario Götze to the international soccer stage.  He is touted to be one of the best youngsters in the world, ever since he scored his first international goal against none other than, Brazil, at the tender age of 19.  Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski will be looking for goals and chemistry to help lead the attack with the likes of youngsters of Özil and Müller.  Maybe this might be Mario Gomez’s year to come up big at an international tournament after having his best season to date with Bayern Munich.  Other prominent players like Schweinsteiger, Lahm and Neuer will be holding down the back and controlling the pace of the game.  I am very excited to see this German team potentially win it’s first trophy since Euro 1996.  I expect Germany to easily make it out of the group, and potentially, the final.

Portugal:  Quick, think of Portugal’s best player!  Obviously, it is Cristiano Ronaldo.  One of the best players in the world will be looking to carry his team to European glory and prove their worth on the international stage once again.  Portugal is one of Europe’s proven best.  The team is flooded with talent like Nani, Meireles, and Coentrao. Who are all major players at their clubs who provide excellent skills and assets to the team.  When Portugal is playing, expect them to “play”.  They have a high work rate and drive that allows them to control the game and attack relentlessly throughout the game.  Portugal will need to score many goals in their group games if they want to progress out of the group.  Therefore, I predict that Portugal will be risky and play a very offensive tournament to get early goals, then try to hold their lead by defending rigorously to secure a win and ultimately, their advancement out of the group.

In my opinion I expect Germany and the Netherlands to progress out of the group, with Portugal coming in a close-third.  Portugal could surprise me, however, and play excellent soccer and kick the Netherlands or Germany out of the running.  Sorry Denmark, but you are in a very tough group surrounded by talent in every direction.  Group B, the “Group of Death”, will one of the most hotly contested, if not the most contested, group in the tournament.  The chances of the champion of Euro 2012 being in this group is very, very high.

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Euro 2012 Preview: Part 1

The European Football Championship, also known simply as Euro tournament, begins this Friday in Poland/Ukraine.  Personally I can’t wait for this as this is easily the next most interesting international soccer tournament behind the World Cup.  Like the World Cup, the Euro tournament is held every 4 years.  Every game, every minute, and every goal, will be on ESPN. I expect this year’s tournament to be full of nerves and excitement. I want to preview the tournament’s 4 groups and the teams within each one.  For this 1st part, I will only preview Group A.  My 2nd, 3rd, and 4th parts will cover Groups B, C and D, respectively.

Group A:

The teams that fill Group A are Poland, Greece, Czech Republic, and Russia.  This group will kickoff on Friday and it should be a very exciting first day of the tournament.

Poland:  Some of the key players I am looking forward to seeing in action is the Dortmund Borussia-trio of Lewandowski, Piszczeck, and Blaszczykowski.  All 3 of those players had excellent seasons and played a vital part to Dortmund’s success in the Bundesliga and the German Cup.  Arsenal’s keeper and the Polish goalie, Wojciech Szczesny, will be looking forward to his first major international tournament, and so will the Polish people.  He could very well be the hope that Poland fans will look towards in securing progression from the group’s stage.  Poland has an interesting attack, and I feel that it may come down to how many goals they might let in.

Greece:  Greece won the tournament 8 years ago.  Can they win it this time around?  Probably not.  While Greece does have a fairly decent team that won their qualification group and with a defense that only allowed 5 goals and never lost a game, they don’t have quite the stamina and push, I personally feel, to make it out of the group strongly.  Greece’s talent lies in players such as the young duo of Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Sotiris Ninis, who each have been making great strides to be noticed internationally and who show much promise for the future.  Experienced players such as striker Gekas, midfield-leader Karagounis, and defender Torosidis, will be looking to carry Greece out of the group stage and surprise Europe like they did in 2004. Greece didn’t allow 1 goal through-out the entire knockout stage of Euro 2004, showing a phenomenal display of defense.  Greece will be looking towards the tactics of the past to find hope for the future.

Czech Republic:  I can’t find much to say about the Czech Republic.  While the team doesn’t have many big-name players, veterans such as Peter Cech, Tomas Rosicky, and Michael Kadlec will be looking to propel their team to out of the group stage and into the knockout rounds.  The Czech’s won’t find it easy though, as they had a rough time going through qualification.  I find it very hard for this Czech team to make it out of the group, but hey, they could surprise me.

Russia: Russia made it through their qualifying group rather easily scoring many goals.  That’s considering, however, they had a rather easy group compared to other teams that made it to Euro 2012.  Russia has a decent amount of talent on their team that has experience and youth scattered into the mix.  Players like Akinfeev, Arshavin and Dzagoev will be the main ones to watch.  Those 3 players will be in the mix and should hopefully be coming up big for Russia in the group stage.  The advantage that Russia has over some of the other teams in Group A is a solid starting lineup.  Many of the players in Russia’s projected XI either have experience or talent to where Russia should be a very interesting and exciting team to watch.  I expect Russia qualify into the next round.  Most likely, in my opinion, the group stage will be a time where Russia can examine their weaknesses and prepare themselves against tougher opponents they will find in the knockout round of the tournament.

For Group A I don’t expect many upsets or surprises.  I expect Russia and Poland to advance, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Greece make it through instead of Poland or Russia.  Sorry Czech Republic fans, I just don’t see this year being your year.  I wouldn’t be surprised either to see Greece or Poland become the “dark-horse” of the tournament and upset a tournament favorite in the competition.  But I guess we will have to wait and see.  Both games of Group A will be played around mid-day on this Friday June 8, 2012.  Tomorrow, I will post the next post, Part 2, of this four-part series previewing Euro 2012.

 

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Sapong strikes again!

Teal Bunbury’s absence tonight and in the coming months (depending on how well the U-23 Olympic team performs) shouldn’t be a problem for Sporting Kansas City.  C.J. Sapong has been proving to me at least, that in the past 2 games he can be as good, if not better, than Teal Bunbury at SKC’s center forward position.  After coming off as being last season’s MLS Rookie of the Year, C.J. has opened this season with 2 goals in 2 games.  His physicality and energy he has been providing on the field is invaluable, and he proved it with his performance tonight in SKC’s home-opener.  I can’t wait to see what Sapong has in store for the months to come. Let’s go Sporting!

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DC United v Sporting KC- Key Points

In last night’s nervy game between DC United and Sporting Kansas City, a few main things jumped out at me, while some things were reaffirmed for me.  The game proved some of the good and not so good aspects of the SKC team.

Good

  • Short Game:  Sporting Kansas City was having very good possession controlling the ball for 57% of the game (ESPN).  Sporting Kansas City’s short pass game was brilliant, allowing them to control the tempo of the game.  Sporting has shown that they work under better circumstances when they can keep possession of the ball, rather than working off of the counter-attack.
  • Sapong:  Whether he starts or comes on as a substitute, C.J. Sapong plays well.  He proved it last night as he displayed an excellent work rate during the 15 or so minutes he was on the field.  He was able to cap off his performance with a headed goal from a corner kick orchestrated by Graham Zusi.
  • Collin-Besler:  The physical pair of Collin and Besler playing center-back solidify the defense of SKC.  Collin’s physicality on free-kicks and Besler’s strength on throw-ins combines with their superb communication the two share on defensive coordination.  These fitness of the players will largely be responsible for how the season plays out for Sporting’s road games, where they will be continually tested.
  • Attack, attack attack:  Sporting KC loves to be able to test the opposition as much as any other team, but they do it with force and technique consistently through the game.  Sporting KC was able to do this with its deadly arsenal up top with Bunbury (Sapong), Convey (Peterson), and Kamara leading the way.  It only makes things easier on the forwards when you have the a trio with the likes of Zusi, Espinoza and Julio Cesar behind you loaded with experience.  Attacking is what Sporting does best, and that is what they need to continually do to beat teams, press them the full 90 minutes.

Not So Good

  • Finishing:  Yes, United’s keeper Hamid played a fantastic game last night and I can’t take that away from him but Sporting must be able to finish their chances better.  After awhile, 1-0 wins are going to be tiring for the team mentally and physically when they should have been putting the game to bed long ago like it was on Saturday night.
  • Defensive clearance:  This one is mainly meant for Seth Sinovic.  This guy is one of my favorite players on the team but he was a little off his game last night.  He caused a few close calls by being a little complacent with his passing and clearances, almost resulting in United’s young Andy Najar to breakaway for a goal or two.  Luckily for him though, Sporting kept the clean sheet allowing only one shot on target against Jimmy Nielsen.
  • Long balls:  Oh, Sporting.  Please, oh please don’t be sending long balls up the field if they haven’t been working for most of the game.  SKC seemed a little desperate at times last night when they would be lofting long balls up the field one after another.  Keep it on the ground where you are winning possession and consistency.  Save the air-balls for free-kicks.  If there is one area that SKC needs to be working on this year it is long ball passing.

Otherwise, there is not much to critique about Sporting Kansas City’s first game of the season.  They played extremely well from start to finish and were able to secure 3 points on the road while maintaining a clean sheet.  What more can you ask for right?  Sporting have already proved that they will be very hungry for the MLS Cup this year, and they are looking to rub elbows with some of the league’s best this season once again.  “I (honestly) believe that we will win.”  I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season has in store for my favorite team.  Best of luck to Sporting to continue greatness on and off the pitch.

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Xherdan Shaqiri: Arjen Robben’s Replacement?

Xherdan Shaqiri: Arjen Robben’s Replacement?

  About a week ago it was announced that Xherdan Shaqiri would be signing on to Bayern Munich at the end of the season.  Bayern Munich are fortunate that they were able to “snatch” up this guy before other teams had urges to do the same.  Shaqiri will be finishing his last season with Basel this spring.  Recently, Shaqiri has been doing great things domestically and for cup competitions.  He proved to be very effective during the Group Stage of Champions league, especially in Basel’s game against Manchester United.  He finished the game with 1 assist but many of the plays and both of the goals were largely orchestrated by him.  While Shaqiri may be young he has already had much pressure put onto him in his few seasons as a professional footballer.

Shaqiri is not expected to come to Bayern as a starter but perhaps as a eventual replacement for Arjen Robben.  The similarity between Robben and him is pretty obvious.  They both love to sprint up the wing and then cut to the inside to use their strong foot, which is their left foot.  They typically play on the right flank of the field as well.  Is this a sign that Bayern will be preparing to sell Robben this summer at the end of the season?  While Robben has been a blessing for many Bayern fans such as my self for the countless goals he has gathered during his time in Munich, his constants stints of injury, lack of creativity when it comes to new scoring methods, and his lack of character at some points makes me question if Bayern should keep him.

Personally I feel that Bayern should be ready to sell Robben at the end of the season if he does not improve by the end of the season.  If he does, keep him till the winter and make a decision there.  If he does not improve and remains constant this season, Bayern should be ready to fork over Robben for a good sum of cash.  Most footballers don’t stay at a club forever.  Change can be a very relieving thing for footballers during their career.  This may happen to be the case for Arjen Robben.

I see Bayern as a smaller scaled version of the German national team in many aspects.  The formations, the tactics, and of course the players.  Bayern contains many German national players of great quality.  And like the German national team, they are brimming with new youth to fill the ranks.  You have Thomas Müller, Nils Petersen, Holger Badstuber, Jerome Boateng, and the list goes on.  Youth is one of the top reasons Germany did so well at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.  Bayern can find some of their answers to success by doing the same.  Youthful players like Shaqiri can bring new life and creativity to a team that might need to find new avenues towards scoring and keeping clean sheets.  Shaqiri will not be a solution but and addition to a team that can look to the future for success.  Bayern’s purchase of Shaqiri will not only be a great business deal for the team, but for Shaqiri’s personal career for club, country, and personal experience.

Allianz Arena

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Davy Arnaud for Seth Sinovic: Why Sporting KC definitely ended up on top

Courtesy of Chris Reimer

     I can remember watching Seth Sinovic back in his college days about 4 years ago.  He captained Creighton University Bluejays of Omaha, Nebraska for 2 years.  Coming to the team as a walk-on he cemented his place in the starting lineup and marked his place as a key player to the Creighton defense.  Besides the Nebraska Cornhuskers, the Creighton Bluejays’ Mens soccer team can be considered the next biggest thrill to watch in Nebraska.  During the games I got to watch as a Creighton fan, Seth Sinovic’s energy and drive to succeed were very evident.  He could score, assist, and be a vigorous defender all in one game.  Little did I know that I would later have the privilege of watching this Leawood, Kansas native play for the MLS team I love and support, Sporting Kansas City.

     At the end of the year, confusion filled my mind at how Sporting KC could have ended the year on such a sorrowful defeat in the MLS Cup semi-finals after overcoming many obstacles throughout the season such as being the worst team in the MLS at one point in the season.  I was only getting more excited, however, at the thought of next season being better than the last.  As the many MLS drafts, specifically the Expansion draft, were beginning to roll around I began wondering who (if I was Peter Vermes) I would keep and let go from my team.  Many players names began to fill my mind but one that I could not imagine being left off the “protected roster” was Seth Sinovic.  He started the year off as a unused sub during SKC’s dismal start to the season.  Around May though, Sinovic began to have his chances and began being used as a starter for the team.  Results began to come together, goals were being scored, clean-sheets were being collected.  I am not saying the Seth Sinovic was the only reason SKC was finally getting the results they wanted.  He did however play his role in achieving that success.  What Seth brought to the defense was what he was always good at.  A good work rate, a defender who loves to work up the wing and whip in crosses, and the occasional slide tackle to the opposing player.  He fulfilled his duties as a defender.

     But alas, Seth was left off of the “protected roster”.  And subsequently he was drafted by Montreal Impact.  Montreal were smart in picking up Sinovic.  He proved his worth in the 2011 season.  But fans like myself were shaking our heads as to why we essentially surrendered one of our best defenders.  In just a few short days Seth ended up being back on SKC and Davy Arnaud was traded for Seth Sinovic and allocation money as well.  So maybe Peter Vermes did this on purpose to gain some money, I don’t know.  But what I can tell you is that we ended up on top with that deal.  Yes, Davy Arnaud was a leadership talisman and an brilliant play-maker for Sporting Kansas City all over the years.  Sporting Kansas City/Kansas City Wizards was the only professional team Arnaud had played for.  His numerous accomplishments will not be forgotten.  But with most things, change occurs and this can bring about better results.  In the long term, this deal will prove very profitable for the Sporting Kansas City Dynasty.  Davy Arnaud has been plagued with injury recently and he wasn’t able to work his way back into the starting lineup.  But nevertheless Arnaud is a fantastic player and he will hopefully be able to carry his skills to to help the Impact to a satisfactory opening season.  Good luck Davy and to Seth this year.  Davy Arnaud, you were an excellent player.  Thanks for everything.  Good luck to you as well Seth Sinovic.  Bring us clean-sheets aplenty!

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