World Cup 2014: Cesare Prandelli on a quest to have Italy in peak condition with his blue-chip Azzurri

March 28, 2014

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“Brazil is renowned as the home of joga bonito. But here’s a question: will the conditions allow beautiful football to be played at the 2014 World Cup? Considering the heat and humidity, the games every four or five days, the thousands of kilometres and many hours of travel in addition to the pressure of expectation the answer is: maybe not. Stamina and fitness are likely to be as important if not more so than skill and technique. This has informed the selection policy of Italy coach Cesare Prandelli. He doesn’t just want footballers booked on the plane to Brazil, he wants the best athletes the game has to offer too. That impression only hardened after Italy’s 1-0 defeat to Spain in Madrid at the beginning of this month.” Telegraph – James Horncastle


World Cup watch: Mario Balotelli, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ukraine crisis

March 10, 2014

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Police Battle Protesters in Kiev as Crisis in Ukraine Deepens
“The World Cup in Brazil is only 95 days away, with the opening match between Brazil and Croatia taking place in Sao Paulo on 12 June. BBC Sport, with the help of European football expert Andy Brassell, is taking a weekly look at happenings from across the world of football and what impact they could have on the tournament in the summer.” BBC


Wednesday’s friendlies: What we learned

March 7, 2014

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“The final international break of the season produced some interesting results, and perhaps more importantly, offered a few hints about how major contenders might play in Brazil. Here are four conclusions from the week’s matches…” ESPN – Michael Cox (Video)


Football violence: a view from around the world

December 19, 2013

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Spartak Moscow fans displaying a Nazi flag during a game at Shinnik Yaroslavl.
“Brazil: violence around games on the rise. Brazil ends 2013 with a record in football violence deaths. It was a miracle that nobody died in the festival of thuggery that took place on 8 December at the Atlético Paranaense v Vasco de Gama match in Joinville, during the last round of the Campeonato Brasileiro, whose shocking images were beamed all around the world. That, however, did not prevent Brazilian football finishing its 2013 season with the saddest of milestones: the 30 deaths in football-related incidents this year is the highest number in the history of the game in the country. What’s more worrying is that fatal cases have been rising steadily in the past few years. …” Guardian

World Cup – and outbreak of supporter violence – link Brazil and Russia
“In six months’ time the World Cup will land in the home of joga bonito clad in a Fifa-approved wrapping of sun, sea and samba. But the dark side of the beautiful game in Brazil was in evidence earlier this month, when images of running battles between fans of Atlético Paranaense and Vasco da Gama shocked the watching world. The game was being held at a neutral ground in Joinville due to previous clashes between fans of the two clubs, but within 10 minutes Globo was broadcasting close-up footage of supporters repeatedly stamping on the heads of their rivals and chasing one another around the stadium bowl. Following a long interregnum, the fighting was eventually broken up by armed security firing rubber bullets into the crowds and an army helicopter landing on the pitch, but not before several fans were seriously injured.” Guardian


It’s a squad thing – Part 1

December 17, 2013

Gary Neville instructs England players in 2006
G Nev exhorts his boys.
“In the first of two posts, Jonny Sharples picks his favourite squads, from the nearly men to the gloriously overachieving. Managers are often heard discussing the importance of having a squad: the depth of it, the balance of it, the blend of it. If you get the right mix of players and you could challenge for, and sometimes win, trophies; get it wrong and you could see fall outs within the squad and trouble on the pitch. Sometimes, though, the squad that a manager brings together can just been really fun or really interesting. It can capture your imagination and strike a chord with you for nothing more than being exciting or having a somewhat cult feel. I decided to pick five of my favourite squads that, for whatever reason, have stuck in my head throughout the years. Each squad is selected on the basis of a particular season or tournament that they were brought together, reflecting the temporary nature of players being teammates one minute and opponents the next…” Put Niels In Goal – Part 1


2014 Fifa World Cup: Gary Lineker’s guide to the eight seeds

December 7, 2013

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“England have been drawn in Group D for the 2014 World Cup, meaning they will face seeded team Uruguay as well as Italy and Costa Rica. Hosts Brazil are in Group A, reigning world and European champions Spain are in Group B and three-time champions Germany are in Group G. Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker, speaking before the draw was made, takes a closer look at the eight seeded national teams…” BBC


Territorial Discrimination in Italy

December 1, 2013

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“Remember that mom who always went back on her word? The one whose kid would fail his classes, get suspended from school, and then be allowed to go out the next weekend after you thought he’d never see the light of day again. The mom who threatened to ground her kid for the next two months but always caved and never held firm. Well that mom is exactly like the Italian Football Federation (FIGC), an organization whose menacing threats are undermined by a severe lack of enforcement. Specifically, as territorial discrimination by fans in Serie A continues to escalate, the FIGC’s lackadaisical approach hinders the hope of any indelible progress being made.” Soccer Politics (Video)


View from the other side: Three (unconventional) reasons why Germany never beats Italy

November 15, 2013

“The two most successful national teams in Europe face each other for the thirty-second time. However, in World Cups and European Championships, it’s always been a one-way trend. Italy and Germany are two countries with intertwined football destinies. Each has won the World Cup in each other’s home, and very often their duels give way to breathtaking spectacles, which have ended up creating the biggest rivalry in European international football. However, the worst thing when you go to see a highly anticipated show, is knowing how it ends. Because it spoils the taste of the whole thing.” Bundesliga Fanatic


World Cup Qualifying: Standings and scenarios for Tuesday’s games

October 15, 2013

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“World Cup dreams will be realized, dashed or deferred on Tuesday as qualifying continues around the globe. On the home front, the U.S. booked passage to Brazil last month and then clinched first place in CONCACAF’s Hexagonal with Friday’s 2-0 win over Jamaica. The only thing left to play for on Tuesday night in Panama is a seed next summer. Unfortunately for Jurgen Klinsmann and Co., chances are slim. The top seven sides in next month’s FIFA ranking (beside Brazil) will be anointed. According to ESPN statistican Paul Carr, the U.S. would have to defeat Panama while the Netherlands loses at Turkey, Switzerland loses to Slovenia, Poland ties or beats England, Ecuador ties or beats Chile and Uruguay misses out on qualifying altogether. Here’s a summary of what’s at stake elsewhere. Ties in group play are broken by goal differential in all games, goals scored in all games and then assorted head-to-head criteria.” SI


World Cup qualifiers: Romelu Lukaku sends Belgium to Brazil

October 12, 2013

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“Romelu Lukaku scored twice as Belgium beat Croatia 2-1 to secure their place at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Striker Lukaku, on loan at Everton from Premier League rivals Chelsea, scored twice in the first half, with Niko Kranjcar grabbing a late consolation. Belgium were joined by Germany and Switzerland in qualifying for next year’s tournament. Germany defeated the Republic of Ireland 3-0, while Switzerland won 2-1 in Albania.” BBC


Spain beats Italy on penalties

June 28, 2013

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“Jesus Navas scored the decisive penalty as World Cup holder Spain beat Italy 7-6 in a shootout Thursday after extra time ended 0-0, setting up a showdown with host Brazil in the Confederations Cup final. Nobody missed in the shootout until Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci shot over the bar to give Navas an attempt at the winner. The recently signed Manchester City midfielder coolly beat goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon to end a top-class battle and send Spain to another major final.” ESPN (Video)

Scolari to mull over Hulk dilemma ahead of final
“We cannot yet declare that Luiz Felipe Scolari has turned Brazil into a successful side, and it would be unrealistic to consider them an overly entertaining one. Nevertheless, among encouraging performances and positive results, the main feature of Brazil throughout the Confederations Cup so far has been the sheer consistency of selection.” ESPN (Video)


As opponents adapt, Jordi Alba helping to give Spain a new dimension

June 27, 2013

“The beauty of this Spain team is that it keeps evolving. After technical skill and the ability to retain possession finally overcame the neurosis of past failure at Euro 2008, there came the years of control in 2010 and 2012, as World Cup and another European Championsip were collected playing safety-first keep-ball. For all the criticism of its supposed negativity in Poland and Ukraine there were signs of another Spain emerging, one that had begun to come to terms with the problem posed by an opponent that sits deep against it.” SI – Jonathan Wilson


Neymar scores, Brazil tops Italy 4-2 to finish Confed Cup group play

June 23, 2013

“Neymar scored for the third straight Confederations Cup game, curling in a delightful free kick, as Brazil beat Italy 4-2 to complete Group A with a perfect record on Saturday. Dante, who replaced the injured David Luiz, put Brazil ahead in first-half stoppage time but Emanuele Giaccherini levelled six minutes after the re-start after being sent clear by Mario Balotelli’s clever back-heeled flick.” SI


Italy 4-3 Japan: Italy start terribly but Prandelli makes an early change to prompt a comeback

June 23, 2013

“Italy were rather fortunate to win an amazingly open match. Against Mexico, Italy were superb down the left but disappointing down the right, so Cesare Prandelli kept the left flank intact and changed two players on the right of his 4-3-2-1 – Christian Maggio replaced Ignazio Abate, while Alberto Aquilani came in for Claudio Marchisio. Alberto Zaccheroni, up against his home country, brought in Ryoichi Maeda upfront, moved Shinji Okazaki to the right, and dropped Hiroshi Kiyotake. Japan were excellent in the first half hour, but a combination of Prandelli’s substitution and a crazy, end-to-end game somehow let Italy back in.” Zonal Marking


Italy 2-1 Mexico: Italy excel down the left flank

June 20, 2013

“Italy dominated for the majority of the match, and Mario Balotelli was a fitting matchwinner. Cesare Prandelli selected a 4-3-2-1 system, using Juventus duo Claudio Marchisio and Emanuele Giaccherini behind lone striker Balotelli. Mexico coach Jose Manuel de la Torre used a standard 4-2-3-1 system, playing Giovani dos Santos behind Javier Hernandez. Mexico had some bright moments, particularly through the lively Dos Santos – but Italy were the better side, and created more goalscoring opportunities.” Zonal Marking

“Italy completed a superb fightback to knock Japan out of the Confederations Cup and book their place in the semi-finals in a hugely entertaining game. Japan went 2-0 up via Keisuke’s Honda’s penalty and Shinji Kagawa’s strike. But Italy responded in some style when Daniele De Rossi headed in before Atsuto Uchida’s own goal and Mario Balotelli’s penalty made it 3-2.” BBC


Andrea Pirlo hands out reminder and celebrates Italy centenary in style

June 17, 2013

“Andrea Pirlo works hard at making football look easy. Whether picking out a team-mate with a 40-yard assist or converting a high-pressure penalty in a European Championship quarter-final, his default expression is one of studied nonchalance. So after marking his 100th international cap with a goal on Sunday, he made sure that his words matched his demeanour.” Guardian (Video)


Confederations Cup 2013: Spain remain team to beat in Brazil

June 14, 2013

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“Despite some resistance from the Republic of Ireland at the Yankee Stadium, they outgunned Giovanni Trapattoni’s men 2-0 in their last game before the Confederations Cup campaign gets under way in Brazil this weekend. On Sunday, the world and European champions play their first group game against Uruguay, as La Roja begin their bid to bring yet another international trophy back to Madrid.” BBC

Uruguay’s fighting spirit comes to the fore
“Uruguay turning up for a tournament on Brazilian soil is enough to send a shudder down the local spine. The other day Pele was remembering the World Cup final of 1950, and his father in tears as the sky blues came from behind to shock the host in Rio’s newly built Maracana stadium. Now Uruguay is back once more, this time for the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup.” The World Gane – Tim Vickery

Confederations Cup 2013: Spain team profile
“… Whether in a 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 or 4-6-0 formation, the modern-day Spanish side, with a little help from their free-flowing Barcelona contingent, have ripped up the formation book – even winning tournaments with the false number nine/strikerless line-up. Barcelona’s Victor Valdes is expected to start the tournament as Spain’s number one goalkeeper in the major change from Euro 2012, with Iker Casillas missing out.” BBC

Face of World Cup host Brazil? Look no further than Neymar
“When the World Cup hopes and dreams of arguably the world’s most successful footballing country rest on your skinny shoulders, you’re going to need all the help you can get. It is not known what great works of literature Neymar chose when packing his suitcases for Barcelona, but he could have done worse than to seek solace in a little Shakespeare. Dank and drizzly though it can sometimes be, Santos’ Vila Belmiro stadium, our hero’s erstwhile home, is a long way from the gloomy battlements of Hamlet’s Elsinore. Nevertheless, there are more than a few parallels between the life and times of Brazil’s current idol and Shakespeare’s classic paean to troubled young manhood.” SI

Confed Cup Preview: 5 storylines to watch
“The Confederations Cup (June 15-30) is the ritual eight-team dry run designed to give the World Cup hosts the chance to iron out any kinks in their stadia and transport systems a year before the big show begins. The tournament pitches the hosts, reigning World Cup holders and six confederation champions (with Italy qualifying as Euro runners-up to World Cup holders Spain) into battle.” ESPN (Video)

A rare Confederations Cup – all the teams, for once, want to win it
“Tournaments are like birthdays: they are as significant as you want them to be. To many the Confederations Cup is a meaningless intrusion on the football calendar, a rinky-dink competition that proves nothing more than Fifa’s greed. After all, the World Cup already exists to establish the best team on the planet so what, other than money and attention-seeking, is the point of a mini-tournament between the leading teams from each continent?” Guardian

Starting anew: Deeper Spain lacks strong XI
“While club football’s evolution from a ‘team game’ into a ‘squad game’ has been widely acknowledged the past two decades, the situation at the international level remains uncertain. After all, major international tournaments are decided during the course of four weeks, rather than eight months. Whereas the speed and intensity of modern football ensures club managers frequently rotate their squad to prevent burnout in the spring, international managers often squeeze every last drop out of their regular starting XI.” ESPN – Michael Cox


For Italy’s ‘ultras,’ nothing black and white about football and racism

February 21, 2013

“Hardcore Italian football ‘ultra’ Federico is a Lazio supporter who happily admits directing monkey chants at black players. It is ‘a means to distract opposition players’ says Federico, a member of the Irriducibili (‘The Unbeatables’) group which follows the Rome-based team. ‘I am against anyone who calls me a Nazi,’ Federico told academic Alberto Testa, who spent time ‘embedded’ with Lazio and Roma ultras for the book ‘Football, Fascism and Fandom: The UltraS of Italian Football,’ co-authored by Gary Armstrong.” CNN


How is wrestling at corners interpreted in different European leagues?

February 13, 2013

“… If you are English and ask anybody in Russia about wrestling at corners, the discussion inevitably turns to a World Cup qualifier in Ljubljana in 2001. With the score at 1-1, Slovenia won a last-minute corner. The referee, Graham Poll, twice prevented it being taken to warn Russian defenders about shirt holding. When the corner finally came in, Viacheslav Daev tussled with Zeljko Milinovic and Poll, his patience gone, gave a penalty. While shirt-pulling and wrestling certainly goes on in the Russian league, the hangover from that decision means that it is seen as very much a British obsession. Jonathan Wilson” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Celtic 0-3 Juventus: Celtic cause problems in the first half, but Juve’s finishing far superior

February 13, 2013

“There was much to admire about Celtic’s performance, but they couldn’t sustain their early effort. Neil Lennon decided to use Efe Ambrose at the back, despite his participation in Nigeria’s 1-0 Africa Cup of Nations win on Sunday evening. Upfront, Lennon used three attackers – Kris Commons, James Forrest and Gary Hooper. Antonio Conte is still without Giorgio Chiellini, so Martin Caceres was on the left of defence, and Federico Peluso was the left-wing-back. Alessandro Matri’s good run of form saw him get another start upfront. An odd match – for spells in the first half Juventus looked genuinely rattled, and yet they had already gone 1-0 up with Matri’s early goal. Celtic’s first-half performance depended on energy and brave pressing, which resulted in tiredness late on.” Zonal Marking


Champions League group stage approaching a climactic finish

November 22, 2012

“This has been one of the most memorable Champions League group stages in history, and Matchday Five will be a pivotal moment for several big clubs. It could see the elimination of champions from England, Holland, Russia, Portugal, and Italy, while reigning champion Chelsea has a nerve-wracking away game to negotiate too. The previous Matchdays have provided late drama, superb goals, surprising shocks and stars of the future. Here are some storylines to watch from Matchday Five…” SI


In Praise Of Giorgio Chiellini

October 14, 2012

“Many things come to mind when watching 26 year old Giorgio Chiellini in the distinctive black and white stripes of Juventus or the proud blue of the Italian national team. Yet, even in this age of instant media and overused superlatives, first impressions still count for much and perhaps in this case that snapshot proves unerringly accurate. With his shaven head, robust tackling and constant yelling – at opponents, team-mates and even himself – it is hard not to describe Chiellini in exactly the way we initially view him; a typically uncompromising Italian defender. He is something of a throwback, bringing images of the man markers – ‘stoppers’ as they are called in Italy – of yesteryear, a modern take on the old school type of player the peninsula became synonymous with thanks to the rugged displays of men like Giorgio Ferrini, Pasquale Bruno and of course Juve’s own Claudio (not so) Gentile.” In Bed With Maradona


Russia, England under scrutiny as World Cup qualifying resumes

October 12, 2012


Xabi Alonso, Franck Ribery, quarterfinal match
“1. Capello faces crunch match against Portugal. It’s far too early to call it a crisis, but for all the money that Russian football has lavished on players and coaches this summer, there has been precious little return — yet. The country’s two Champions League representatives, Zenit St. Petersburg and Spartak Moscow, are both pointless after two group games (despite Zenit spending €80 million on Hulk and Axel Witsel and Spartak playing Celtic at home), and now attention turns to the national team, World Cup hosts in 2018.” SI


HH2: The Other Herrera

October 3, 2012

“An autocratic manager of South American descent, a success in Spain but enjoying his peak years at the sharp end of catenaccio-fuelled 1960s Serie A. Articles about the well documented life and times of Signor Herrera are not exactly thin on the ground, but this time Helenio takes only an unfamiliar supporting role. This is actually the story of one of his main managerial contemporaries, the unrelated Paraguayan Heriberto Herrera, or HH2 as he was to be christened by the Italian press. He was a manager who is barely known today despite a career that reads like a diluted and histrionic free version of Helenio’s. He may not have amassed the prodigious trophy haul nor the media adulation of HH, but he did joust gamely with ‘il mago’ and bloody his nose on several occasions.” In Bed With Maradona


UEFA World Cup qualifying: Spain wins opener; England ties Ukraine

September 12, 2012

“World Cup champion Spain defeated Georgia 1-0 on an 86th-minute goal by Roberto Soldado on Tuesday, the first step by the Spaniards on their road to the 2014 World Cup. This was the 23rd consecutive victory in qualifying matches for Spain, which has three points in Group I and is tied with Georgia. Spain is attempting to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive major title after repeating as European champion this summer.” SI


Italy 3-2 Brazil, 1982: the day naivety, not football itself, died

July 26, 2012

“It’s 30 years ago this month that, according to Zico, football died. On 5 July 1982, in the Estadi de Sarrià in Barcelona, Tele Santana’s majestic Brazil lost to Italy and were eliminated from the World Cup. With them went the nostalgic form of Brazilian football, the fluid attacking style that had won them three World Cups between 1958 and 1970.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


The Best Football Shirts of Euro 2012

July 7, 2012

“Spain reigned supreme on the pitch, but which nation stole the sartorial show? Euro 2012 was a tame tourney for football kits when compared to some of the shock shirts of years past, but still had its fair share of gems which we will see again soon when World Cup 2014 qualifying begins this fall. And remember, all these shirts and more, including new Premier League releases for 2012-13, are available through epltalk.com.” EPL Talk


¡Tricampeones! Spain complete their cycle

July 5, 2012

“They are calling them el generation de fenómenos – ‘the generation of phenomenons.’ On the night of July 1, 2012, in Kiev, the most talented generation of footballers that Spain has ever produced – or, perhaps, will ever produce – fashioned their most lucid performance. With their destruction of Italy by four goals to nil, the largest margin of victory in a European or World cup final, Spain has become the only team to defend successfully the European Championship, and the first international side since the Uruguay teams of 1924, 1928, and 1930 to win a hat-trick – tres tantos – of consecutive major tournaments.” Soccer Politics


Devaluing the Euros

July 5, 2012

“After just over three weeks of football, the world’s second biggest football tournament has played out in front of our eyes in Poland and Ukraine. Sixteen of Europe’s best teams have competed in thirty nine games to determine who would win the Henri Delaunay and join the likes of France, Holland, Denmark, West Germany, Greece and Spain in being crowned the champions of European Football. A few weeks before the tournament the bookies suggested that you should look no further than 2008 champions Spain for the winner of the tournament and when Iker Casillas elbowed Platini out of the way to lift the trophy they proved that class and form were both well judged.” The Ball is Round


Internal strife forces Blanc, Van Marwijk to pay ultimate price

July 5, 2012

“The end of a major tournament often brings a rash of coaching changes. Euro 2012 has been no different. Some, like Franciszek Smuda (Poland), Dick Advocaat (Russia) and Slaven Bilic (Croatia) already were at the end of their contracts — but Laurent Blanc and Bert van Marwijk, who coached France and Holland, respectively, were two surprise coaching casualties following Euro 2012.” SI


ZM’s team of Euro 2012

July 5, 2012


Iker Casillas, Spain
“Iker Casillas, Spain. This wasn’t a tournament of particularly fine individual goalkeeping displays, but the best two goalkeepers of the tournament – and of the century – met as captains in the final. Until the, there was nothing to separate Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon, but after Casillas made a fine save from Di Natale and prompted Spain’s second goal with a good ball out to Alba, he must get the nod. …” Zonal Marking


The Reducer: Euro 2012 Final Retro Diary

July 2, 2012


“When it was over, when Fernando Torres was wearing a look on his face that said, ‘Holy shit! I won the Golden Boot!?’ I didn’t want them to leave. I didn’t want it to be over. It had been a month, but it felt like it was just beginning. Some countries wait generations to win a major football tournament. Spain, for instance, waited 44 years. Then the right generation came along. On Sunday, Spain defeated a valiant, gassed Italy, 4-0, in Kiev, to win Euro 2012. They have now won two consecutive European championships and are the World Cup holders. They are the first team to ever successfully defend their European Championship. Spain’s victory on Sunday marked the third time they won the Euros. The only other country to pull off that feat is West Germany. In terms of accomplishments, this Spanish side can only be compared to the Brazil team, led by a young Pele, that won the World Cup in 1958 and 1962, or the early ’70s West Germany team that won the Euros in 1972, the World Cup in ’74, and placed as runners-up to Czechoslovakia in Euro ’76.” Grantland (Video)

Spain sheds ‘boring’ charges in Euro 2012 final, with Italy’s help
“Everything in football is relative. How one team plays is necessarily conditioned by how the opponent plays. When Spain was accused of being boring, the response was always that it was very hard for it not to be when opponents packed men behind the ball. Italy didn’t, and Spain showed just how unboring it could be, its 4-0 win the largest margin of victory in a European Championship or World Cup final. Spain’s game plan, essentially, was a game of chicken — and it never blinked first. When opponents sat deep against it — and in the past two tournaments only Chile and Italy have not — Spain held the ball.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Euro 2012: Perfect Spain justify Vicente del Bosque’s beliefs
“Playing without a defined striker remains a relatively novel concept but Vicente del Bosque was actually returning to Plan A. After unsuccessful attempts to incorporate a proper No9 into his side Del Bosque reverted to his initial system of six midfielders and Spain became the first side to win the European Championship by using the same XI in their opening game and the final.” Guardian – Michael Cox

Friedrich Nietschze Reflects Upon the European Championships
“We are honored at Futfanatico to welcome Friedrich Nietschze as a visiting scholar, classical philologist, philosopher, and soccer analyst. The German intellectual heavyweight took a break from his grueling publish or perish schedule to answer pressing questions on the European Championships, the gay science, post-nihilist studies, and the final between Italy and Spain. His answers will probably confuse (but may amuse) you.” futfanatico

Spain earns the big prize, but here are my Euro 2012 tourney awards
“Spain ended two debates once and for all with its master-class performance in a sensational 4-0 Euro 2012 final victory against Italy: No, it is not boring to play with six midfielders and no clear center-forward; and yes, it deserves to be called one of the greatest teams of all time after becoming the first side to win three major international tournaments in succession.” SI


Mario Balotelli and European Racism: Euro Cup 2012

July 2, 2012

“I don’t watch much soccer, though I will watch it if I catch it on TV. So, I was not one of those people who anxiously awaited this year’s European Cup, which concluded last night (Spain won). People I follow on Twitter, though, are huge soccer fans. And it was through them that I first heard about Mario Balotelli, a player for the Italian team. Here is what Balotelli looks like…” scATX


Spain cements its place in history with unprecedented title run

July 2, 2012


“Three thoughts after Spain’s 4-0 win over Italy in the Euro 2012 final: • Let’s call Spain what it is: The most accomplished international soccer team of all time. What more could you ask for? On a glorious summer night in Ukraine, Spain played a spectacular game against the four-time world champions, carving up the Italian defense with speed and precision to leave no doubt that this Spanish team’s accomplishments deserve to be in the sport’s pantheon ahead of Brazil (1958-62, 1970), France (1998-2000) and West Germany (1972-74). In doing so, Spain becomes the first country ever to be a two-time reigning European champion and World Cup champion at the same time. Just as importantly, Spain turned on the style more than it had at any point in this tournament, giving us brilliant passing sequences that led to goals by David Silva, Jordi Alba, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata. The highlights of their goals — the motion, the imagination, the beauty — will live on in the history of sports, and for that we can all be thankful that we got the chance to witness it.” SI

Spain 4-0 Italy: Spain win Euro 2012
“Spain produced by far their best performance of Euro 2012, and won the final with ease. Both teams were as expected. Vicente del Bosque made a single change – Cesc Fabregas returned upfront in place of Alvaro Negredo. Cesare Prandelli also made one change, bringing back Ignazio Abate at right-back, with Federico Balzaretti dropping to the bench. Giorgio Chiellini continued at left-back, although didn’t last long before Balzaretti replaced him. Spain were the better side by a considerable distance. They didn’t settle for mere dominance of possession, and instead attacked with speed and determination to produce a wonderful display of football.” Zonal Marking

Spain 4 Italy 0: match report
“This was so much more than a stunning Euro 2012 scoreline conjured up by one of the most magical collection of footballers in history. This was a statement by Spain, a thrilling 90-minute advertisement to the world over how the game should be played, with skill, movement, bursts of unstoppable pace, with pass after pass after pass. This was simplicity and beauty, golden football leading to silverware. This was history in the making, Spain recording an unprecedented three trophies in a row. Vicente Del Bosque’s side of all the talents were good from back to front. Iker Casillas made some important aerial interceptions. Jordi Alba was all shimmering class at left-back, Xavi and Andres Iniesta controlled midfield as if they had been presented with the title deeds while Cesc Fabregas was immense in attack.” Telegraph – Henry Winter

Euro 2012: Reign of Spain goes on as Italy trail in their stardust
“In the end, Spain were the best team in Euro 2012 by a considerable distance. They turned the final into a procession and, when they reflect on becoming the first nation to win three major tournaments in succession, the sense of jubilation should be greatly enhanced by this being the night when they were rewarded for having absolute conviction in their principles. They never wavered in the face of great scrutiny and Vicente del Bosque’s formation, however unorthodox, was shown ultimately to be based on the strongest of foundations, to the extent it feels bizarre in the extreme that a team of this brilliance could ever be accused of not entertaining.” Guardian

Euro 2012: Spain v Italy – five talking points
“Spain are not boring. They are unstoppable … Vicente del Bosque’s side are history-makers, their hat-trick of major trophies secured here in such scintillating if characteristic style. They were also, quite clearly, the best team at these finals. Others have attempted to stifle them, some relatively successfully, but Spain cannot be out-passed or unpicked: the statistics suggest as much, but a glance at their fluid approach-play is more revealing. Rather, it is awe-inspiring.” Guardian

Spain makes history against Italy
“In a bravura display of creative, free-flowing, tactically nimble football, Spain made history with a 4-0 victory over Italy. With a performance fitting of champions, Vicente Del Bosque’s Spain became the first team to win three straight major tournaments and the first to repeat as Euro champions. After their campaign had been stigmatized by allegations their possession-hungry style of play had become “boring,” La Roja summoned an extra gear in this final to elevate their game and eviscerate their critics.” ESPN (Video)

Euro 2012: The Final – Spain 4-0 Italy
“Football writers the world over will be frantically thumbing through their thesaureses this evening, desperately searching for new superlatives for a performance from Spain that we may well one day look back upon as the definitive of our age. Over the last few days a frankly tedious circular debate has been raging on the subject of whether Spain are ‘boring’ or not. It’s an argument that was rendered suddenly and startlingly obsolete this evening by a complete football performance which rendered a previously impressive looking Italian side bloodied and broken. If this match had been a boxing match, it would have been stopped long ago. Had it been a horse race, they’d have shot both the horse and the jockey.” twohundredpercent


Stats Zone: How Italy can counter Spain – and why Del Bosque should drop Silva

June 30, 2012

“For the fourth time in the last seven European Championships, the final is being contested by two sides who met in the group stage. The 1-1 draw between Spain and Italy in Group C’s opening game feels like an age ago, but both Vicente del Bosque and Cesare Prandelli will have reviewed that tape ahead of the final, trying to find weaknesses in their opponent.” FourFourTwo


Euro 2012: Breaking the Andrea Pirlo Code

June 30, 2012

“At the turn of the century, Andrea Pirlo, the bright young hope of Italian football, led the Italian under-21 team to European glory. Playing behind the strikers as a ‘trequartista’, Pirlo was one of the best players of the tournament, contributing with a number of assists and goals. His exploits as captain, didn’t fail to go unnoticed as managers across Italy earmarked him as the next great no.10 to don the blue of Italy. Life was seemingly nice and sunny for young Andrea; he completed a dream move to Inter Milan but in three years at the club, he failed to make the breakthrough. Because ahead of him, competing in the same position, he found the celestial Roberto Baggio – one of the finest playmakers all time – and as a result, Pirlo was loaned back out to his first club, Brescia.” The Arsenal Column


Spain has chance to make history in Euro 2012 championship match Story Highlights Spain could be the first with a World Cup and two Euro titles at the same time

June 30, 2012

“What’s at stake when Spain meets Italy in the Euro 2012 final here on Sunday? For the Spanish, the final (ESPN/3/Deportes, 2:45 p.m. ET) provides the chance to take their place in soccer lore as one of the greatest national teams in the history of the sport. No country has ever held two European Championships and the World Cup trophy at the same time. And for all the talk of Spain winning without playing at its best, you just can’t argue with three major titles in a row.” SI


Honigstein: ‘Mr Nice Guy’ Low must be ruthless to save Germany’s golden generation

June 30, 2012

“A big part of the attraction of international tournaments is that they seemingly render a very complicated game into an ‘open source code’: millions of casual viewers feel that they can confidently talk about a team by conflating it with the country it represents (‘I like Denmark’) and/or attaching neat, stereotypical labels to them. The mainstream media reinforce this fake familiarity by trotting out the tired old cliches, in the mistaken and deeply patronising belief that their audience prefers catch-phrases to more serious analysis.” Raphael Honigstein


Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Bento, And The Optimal Penalty Shootout Order

June 30, 2012

“Cesc Fabregas breathed deep, took a long run-up, and slammed his penalty kick in off Rui Patricio’s right-hand post. Spain are through to the Euro 2012 final, and Portugal are out. Nine kicks were taken in the shootout; none were taken by Cristiano Ronaldo.” SD Nation (Video)


Italy-Spain Euro final promises to be clash of polar opposites

June 29, 2012


“The final was supposed to be a battle between the two schools of proactive soccer. On the one side Spain, the increasingly cautious protectors of the ball, a side that has used its mastery of possession to prevent the opposition from playing; on the other, Germany, having moved away from the reactivity of the last World Cup, playing in a more carefree way. It’s a battle, in a sense, between the bloodless purists and the more visceral entertainers.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Euro 2012: Now Spain have entered the pantheon of greatness
“It has been repeated over and over that no side has ever won three major tournaments in a row – which is true so long as you exclude the Olympic Games. That may be reasonable in recent times when it has been an Under-23 tournament with added overage players, or even in the years after the second world war when differing definitions of amateurism gave the Eastern Bloc sides a huge advantage. But in the years up to the second world war, the Olympic Games was at least as serious a tournament as the World Cup. If Spain win the Euro 2012 final on Sunday, they will set a new record for the modern era but their feat will only equal that of Uruguay, who won the Olympics in 1924 and 1928 and the World Cup in 1930, and of Italy, who won the World Cup in 1934 and 1938 and the Olympics in 1936.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Scoring the Goals That Sank Germany, Balotelli Says it Loud: He’s Black, Italian and Proud

June 29, 2012

“‘There are no black Italians!’ went the chant by some far-right supporters of Italy’s national football team a couple of years ago when young Mario Balotelli made his debut for the national side. Well, the bad news for the racists that still make their voices heard in some of Italy’s stadiums, is that if there are no black Italians, their Euro 2012 semifinal against Germany would have been a 0-1 defeat.” Keeping Score

Mario Balotelli brings Euro 2012 its sweetest, most profound moment
“The sweetest moment of Euro 2012 didn’t fit the script. In the celebration after Italy’s 2-1 semifinal win over favored Germany on Thursday, Azzurri striker Mario Balotelli made a pilgrimage to the stands of the National Stadium in Warsaw and embraced a small, aging Italian woman in the front row. So fearsome on the field, so ready to project anger and strength, the 21-year-old Balotelli melted in her arms like a gentle giant.” SI


Euro 2012: Joachim Loew says Germany will learn from Italy defeat

June 29, 2012

“Germany coach Joachim Loew says his players are distraught after their Euro 2012 semi-final loss to Italy, but says they will learn from the experience. Loew’s young team began as favourites in Warsaw but lost 2-1 to a Mario Balotelli-inspired Azzurri side.” BBC


Italy 2-1 Germany: Balotelli double

June 29, 2012


“Jogi Low tried to change his shape to compete in the centre of midfield, but Italy produced an excellent performance to qualify for the final. Cesare Prandelli kept his diamond system. Giorgio Chiellini returned at left-back, but Ignazio Abate was unfit, so Federico Balzaretti moved over to an unfamiliar right-back role. Jogi Low had decisions to make in his front four, with only Mesut Ozil sure of his place. Mario Gomez was chosen ahead of Miroslav Klose, and Lukas Podolski was selected rather than Andre Schurrle. But the real surprise was in the other role, as Toni Kroos came into the side. That was an attempt to deal with Italy’s midfield diamond, but Germany didn’t have the right structure in the centre of the pitch and were disappointing for long periods.” Zonal Marking

Germany 1 Italy 2: match report
“Short of climbing in a fountain or disappearing off on the back of a Vespa, Mario Balotelli could not have conjured up La Dolce Vita more for Italy on Thursday night. Balotelli lit up the National Stadium with two magical goals and a rare smile to send Italy through to Sunday’s final of Euro 2012, where they meet Spain. Always beware a man on a mission. Balotelli certainly was, ripping apart Germany’s defence, and then celebrating with his mother Silvia at the final whistle. And always beware a team with a cause. As in 2006 when they won the World Cup on German soil, the Italians seemed on a mission to restore the reputation of their great footballing nation in the wake of a fixing scandal. They played superbly on Thursday night, all through-balls and fine finishes in the first half and resolute defending and occasional breakaways in the second.” Telegraph – Henry Winter

Italy’s unexpected win over Germany
“Mario Balotelli can always be counted on to put on a show. The question has always been: Would it help or hurt the team? In Thursday’s Euro 2012 semifinal against Germany, it was definitely the former, as he scored two first-half goals to give the Azzurri a 2-1 victory, and with it a place in Sunday’s final against Spain. It was a victory that Italy fully deserved, yet one that was also unexpected, even when the quality of the Azzurri’s roster is taken into account. Germany entered the match as a considerable favorite, had two days more rest than the Italians and appeared to be operating at peak form.” ESPN (Video)

Balotelli’s electrifying performance lifts Italy past Germany, into final
“Three thoughts after Italy’s 2-1 victory against Germany in the Euro 2012 semifinals, which sets up an Italy-Spain final on Sunday: • Mario Balotelli: the man, the myth … After two straight 0-0 snoozefests at Euro 2012, the most interesting man in world soccer brought the tournament back to life, scoring two powerful goals, including a thunderous finish on the break that crushed the favored Germans. Balotelli is a polarizing figure who often seems on the edge of madness, or at least yellow and red cards — and sure enough, he got a yellow for taking his shirt off after his second goal — but you can’t ignore his surpassing talent.” SI

Euro 2012: Mario Balotelli double stuns Germany and sends Italy to Kiev
“It was the night Mario Balotelli announced himself as a serious, grown-up footballer capable of shaping the biggest occasions. There have been plenty of times he has threatened it before but never with so much efficiency and clinical, sometimes devastating, centre-forward play, or the unmistakable sense that he can be trusted when the heat of the battle is dangerously close to intolerable.” Guardian


Germany’s History of Failure Against Italy

June 26, 2012


“Germany is favored to win Thursday’s Euro 2012 semifinal against Italy. While Die Manschschaft has played the best and most consistent football in the tournament, the Azzurri have won just one game in regulation and reached the semifinal only after surviving a penalty shootout against England. History provides a counterpoint to soccernomics-style prognostications, however, because the Germans — or West Germans — have never defeated Italy in Euros or World Cup tournaments.” Football is Coming Home (Video), Germany’s History of Failure vs. Italy: Part 2 (Video)


The European Cup and the New Europe

June 26, 2012

“During international football competitions like the European Cup, eleven players briefly become their country, for a time, on the pitch. A nation is a difficult thing to grasp: unpalpable, mythic, flighty. Historians might labor away to define the precise contours of a country’s culture and institutions, and even sometimes attempt to delineate it’s soul, while political leaders try mightily (and persistently fail) to stand as representatives of it’s ideals. But in a way there is nothing quite so tactile, so real, as the way a team represents a nation: during their time on the pitch, they have in their hands a small sliver of the country’s destiny. And in those miraculous and memorable moments when individual trajectories intersect with a national sporting victory, sometimes biographies and histories seem briefly to meld. At such moments, the players who inhabit the crossroads of sporting and national history –Maradona in 1986, Zidane in 1998 — become icons, even saints.” Soccer Politics


Euro 2012 Semifinal Preview

June 26, 2012


“The four semifinalists of Euro 2012 are the four best teams in the tournament, the four that deserve to be here and the four that all played positive, attacking soccer against opponents that (in one way or another) all tried to park the bus in the quarterfinals. How often does that happen in a major tournament? Very rarely. So let’s hear it for Spain, Germany, Italy and Portugal, a final four that couldn’t be finer. And let’s hear it for the sport itself, which too often rewards teams that play anti-soccer in the tournaments that matter most.” SI


Breaking down Euro 2012 semifinals

June 26, 2012

“What a tournament so far, right? As Chris Ryan noted in his quarterfinal review on Grantland, we’ve been lucky in that the more limited, defensive sides in the final eight are heading home and now we’re left with arguably the best four teams from the 16-team field. No luck, no chance — just quality and skill.” ESPN (Video)


Gavin Hamilton Euro 2012 diary: June 26, Kiev

June 26, 2012

“England are out and the inquest begins. Though the initial angst over penalties was inevitable, the long-term discussion needs to go deeper. The question should not be why do England keep losing on penalties, but why do England keep ending up in so many penalty shoot-outs. The simple fact is that England were not good enough to beat Italy over 120 minutes. Indeed, they were a very poor second. For Italy, you can substitute Portugal in 2004, Argentina in 1998 and Germany in 1996.” World Soccer


Italy 0-0 England: Pirlo dictates the game

June 25, 2012


“Italy somehow failed to score despite dominating for 120 minutes, but won the resulting penalty shoot-out. Cesare Prandelli brought in Riccardo Montolivo to play at the top of the diamond, because of concerns over Thiago Motta’s fitness. Roy Hodgson made no changes from the XI that narrowly defeated Ukraine in the group stage. Italy were the better side all over the pitch here – only finishing let them down.” Zonal Marking

Euro 2012: England versus Italy, an abbreviated but charged rivalry
“England against Italy feels as though it should be one of football’s classic fixtures, a meeting between the motherland of the game and a country that has won the World Cup four times. Yet the sides have met only twice before in major tournaments, never on neutral soil, and only four times in qualifying games for major tournaments. England have won just one of those six competitive fixtures and Italy are one of only four teams (Brazil, Uruguay and Romania being the other three) to have the advantage over England in a head-to-head comparison. It was, though, a game against Italy in 1948 that brought perhaps England’s greatest ever victory.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Euro 2012: The Quarter-Finals – England 0-0 Italy (Italy Win 4-2 On Penalty Kicks
“So, then, to Kiev and to the quarter-finals of the European Championships. It’s the final match of the round this evening, featuring an Italian side that is something of a curates egg, excellent against Spain in matching them every inch of the way before being slightly underwhelming against Croatia and The Republic of Ireland, whilst England remain somewhat enigmatic, decent enough in fits and starts but also a little lucky in places and, for fifteen minutes against Sweden nine days ago, almost apocalyptically disorganised. The history books say Italy, who have a considerably better record against England than many realise due to the infrequency with which the two sides have played each other over the years, but England have showed considerable character over the last few weeks and this match felt, prior to kick-off, difficult to call.” twohundredpercent

England v Italy: match report
“This was a chronicle of a death foretold, of a failure to prepare properly. This deserved defeat on penalties, England’s sixth reverse in seven shoot-outs, highlighted technical deficiencies also painfully apparent during the two hours of football. Italy, and Andrea Pirlo in particular, were vastly superior. Italy deserved to progress to a Euro 2012 semi-final with Germany in Warsaw on Thursday. Some of Pirlo’s passing was sumptuous; he guided the ball around England’s half as if using satnav. He cherished the ball’s company whereas England, following a deceptively promising start, continued to surrender it cheaply.” Telegraph – Henry Winter

Euro 2012 paper review: ‘The world has been turned on its head’
“The devilishly handsome model in the Zegna menswear advert may be too smouldering and intense to express much in the way of emotion, but elsewhere in La Repubblica joy is unconfined. Underneath their masthead, the Italy goalkeeper Gigi Buffon can be seen celebrating Italy’s Euro 2012 quarter-final penalty shootout win over England with team-mates Antonio Cassano and Daniele Di Rossi, among others.” Guardian

Three thoughts: Italy nips England for well-deserved berth in semis
“Here are three thoughts on Italy’s 0-0 win over England in penalty kicks: 1. Justice was done in the end. From the second minute of the match, when Daniele de Rossi struck a swerving shot from 30 yards out that cannoned off the inside of Joe Hart’s post, Italy might have felt it was not going to be its night. Mario Balotelli had a hat-trick of chances in the first half, the last of which a close-range toe-poke that was deflected over the crossbar, led him to kicking the goalpost in frustration. It was not so different in the second period, most of which Italy dominated.” SI

Redemption for England and Italy
“The exact role of coaches is a hotly debated topic in soccer. Is the sport like jazz in which the players use their creativity to improvise genius, with the coach merely there to provide the cut-away reaction shots the television cameras need to enhance the drama? Or is it akin to a symphony in which the coach is the conductor, a Bill Parcell-ian puppet master orchestrating every move?” ESPN (Video)


Euro 2012: England versus Italy, an abbreviated but charged rivalry

June 22, 2012

“England against Italy feels as though it should be one of football’s classic fixtures, a meeting between the motherland of the game and a country that has won the World Cup four times. Yet the sides have met only twice before in major tournaments, never on neutral soil, and only four times in qualifying games for major tournaments. England have won just one of those six competitive fixtures and Italy are one of only four teams (Brazil, Uruguay and Romania being the other three) to have the advantage over England in a head-to-head comparison. It was, though, a game against Italy in 1948 that brought perhaps England’s greatest ever victory.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


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