Friday, 29 June 2012

Italy win, look for first EURO in 48 years

Extending its winless streak against Italy in major tournaments to eight matches, Germany had no answer to Balotelli's speed or Andrea Pirlo's swiftness and guile.

In the 20th minute, Balotelli had no trouble getting past Holger Badstuber to head in a pinpoint cross from Cassano. Then in the 36th, the 21-year-old striker received the ball behind the defense and blasted a long shot into the top right corner.

While he did score against Ireland, Balotelli was criticized for wasting numerous chances against Spain, Croatia and England.

Germany failed to trouble Italy for much of the match, but Mesut Oezil scored a consolation penalty in injury time after Federico Balzaretti was whistled for a handball.

Italy will face defending champion Spain in Sunday's final in Kiev, Ukraine a rematch of their 1-1 draw that opened Group C. 

While Italy has won four World Cups, it's only European Championship title came in 1968. Like when they won the 1982 and 2006 World Cups, the Azzurri have managed to maintain their focus despite a matchâ??fixing and betting scandal at home.

On a pleasant evening at the National Stadium Warsaw, Cassano set up the opening goal by befuddling Germany defenders Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng to lift the ball in Balotelli's direction.

The second goal began with a long vertical pass from Riccardo Montolivo, whose mother is German. Balotelli collected the pass with his back to the goal, controlled the ball with his chest and then sprinted forward and unleashed a blazing shot from the edge of the area as Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer again stood immobile.

Balotelli took off his jersey after his second goal, which drew an automatic yellow card, although he will not miss the final.

Even before scoring, Italy controlled the pace of the match, although Germany did have several chances from Hummels, Toni Kroos and Oezil.  

In the 35th, Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon preserved the Azzurri lead by swatting away a long shot from Sami Khedira and Balotelli doubled the lead a minute later.

To start the second half, Germany coach Joachim Loew brought on Miroslav Klose for Mario Gomez at center forward and replaced Lukas Podolski with Marco Reus on the wing.

With Germany appearing slightly more organized, captain Philipp Lahm had a great look at the goal in the 49th but shot way over the bar.

Buffon made another impressive save in the 62nd, leaping to push a free kick from Reus off the bar.

While Italy largely sat back and protected its lead in the second half, the Azzurri did produce some dangerous counterattacks. Claudio Marchisio shot just wide in the 67th and 75th and substitute Antonio Di Natale missed another chance in the 82nd.

Di Natale came on in the 70th after Balotelli went down with a cramp to his left leg.

Djordjevic becomes South Sudan's first coach

South Sudan who is now FIFA's 209th and the newest member signed Zoran Djordjevic on a one year deal to coach them. The 60-year-old Serbian has previously coached Yemen, Sudan, and Bangladesh.

He has also been in charge of the Philippines Under-23 side before , and will have his first major task in a friendly against Uganda ho are positioned 23rd in Africa and 94th overall on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, on July 10.

Djordjevic's son Mirko said "he looks forward to providing opportunities for talented South Sudanese players to play for clubs in Europe."

"This is a great opportunity for all the players just as I did for James Moga when I arranged his transfer to the I-League where he became one of the top three strikers in India."

Djordjevic led Churchill Brothers to their first Indian I-League title in 2008/09, and instigated Bangladesh's triumphant South Asian Games 2010 campaign on home soil. 

South Sudan nicknamed Bright Star, will be eligible to play in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations and the 2018 World Cup qualifying fixtures. 

Barcelona incarcerate Alba's Signature

Spanish club Barcelona added to their defensive line-up, signed Valencia's left back Jordi Alba for five years for 14 million Euro.

The Catalan club said "Barcelona Football Club has today reached an agreement with Valencia for the transfer of Jordi Alba, pending a medical which he will undergo in Barcelona next week."

"The cost of the transfer will be 14m Euro and the player will sign a contract for the next five seasons."

The club also stated "He is young, quick and skilful and stands out for his attacking spirit, and often poses a headache for rival right-backs."

"He has become one of the sensations of the tournament thanks to his displays of power and skill down the left wing."

Jordi Alba, 23, is a result of the Barcelona youth academy, but failed to break into the first team at Camp Nou and left the club in 2005. 

He will now come back to his boyhood outfit after spells with Cornella, Gimnastic and Valencia and will replace France international Eric Abidal, who is recovering from a liver transplant.

He has impressed in serving Spain to Sunday's final of Euro 2012 and has played each of Spain's five games in Poland and Ukraine and has been the key for them in defence as well as in attack with his runs down the left wing.

He was also an essential player for Valencia last season as he aided them to capture third place in La Liga and a Champions League spot.

Jordi Alba has become the first signing of new Barcelona boss Tito Vilanova, who has taken over from Pep Guardiola after he left the club at the end of last season. 

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Portugal, Ronaldo rue missed chances

Spain reached its third successive major tournament final after beating Portugal 4-2 on penalties following a goalless encounter in the first Euro 2012 semi-final.

The reigning European and World champions were far from their fluent best, especially for the 90 minutes of normal time where Portugal created the more chances.

After surprisingly taking off midfield leader Xavi just before 90 minutes, Spain took control of the game in extra time with Andres Iniesta's close-range effort forcing a superb stop from Rui Patricio - the nearest anyone came to scoring in the whole 120 minutes.

As with the England-Italy shoot-out on Monday morning (AEST), the eventual winners got off to a bad start missing first.

Rui Patricio saved Xabi Alonso's kick, before Iker Casillas did the same with Joao Moutinho's follow-up penalty. 

After four successful kicks each, including Sergio Ramos' effort reminiscent of Andrea Pirlo's chip kick against England, Bruno Alves saw his kick come back off the crossbar.

This gave Cesc Fabregas the chance to send Spain to the final and he did so with his kick deflecting in off the goalkeeper's right post.

"We are so happy to have reached another final. I don't know if that has ever been done in history," Fabregas told Spanish television channel Telecinco afterwards.

"They told me I was going to take the second kick, but I said: 'No, I want to take the fifth one.'"  

Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque admitted the game could have gone either way.

"We had loads of luck in the penalties," Del Bosque said. "But I want to express my congratulations to the Portuguese side because they played a great tournament, but we were luckier, we really had all the luck this time."

"It was tough. We took a while to get into our stride. The Portuguese were very well organised. Germany and Italy are equally strong."

Spain has now emulated the West German side from 1972-1976 and Brazilian team from 1997-99 in reaching successive continental finals sandwiched by a World Cup final appearance.

As for Portugal, there will be much discussion surrounding their penalty shoot-out tactics. 

Cristiano Ronaldo, who missed a kick for Manchester United in the 2008 Champions League final, did not take one of his team's first four kicks and Fabregas' goal meant he was not used in the shoot-out when both central defenders, Pepe and Bruno Alves, did take shots. 

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Germany vs. Italy: Second Semifinal Preview

The Euro is in its closing stages and so the excitement has reached its peak. After the dramatic end of the last two matches through penalty shootout, it is quite clear that the teams fighting in the final phases are of equal caliber.

The second semifinal of the championship will be played between the last year's runners up Germany and the unpredictable Italy.

Germany has been the favorite of the tournament right from the qualifying stages, and they have equally justified the predicament, as they are the only team in the tournament who has won all their matches till date.

The German coach, Joachim Low, is very confident of his team, as he has even commented that Germany "can beat any team in the world".

"We are now a team that don't have to react to our opponents - we play our own game," said the coach 
"This is something we've been trying to develop in the last couple of years. We're at a level where we don't need to hide from anyone." He added.

Italy on the other hand hasn't had much of a smooth tournament so far as they have managed only two wins of their four played. However after their last win against England, the confidence of the team is in seventh heaven.

The confidence of the team is quite highlighted by the statement of the Italian coach Cesare Prandelli, who said, "We've got one of the best midfields in European football – we have flair, technical ability and a physical presence,"

Further he added, "Germany will press high up the pitch and we're ready for this and need to keep the ball to counter it."

A fact that the Italian team surely needs to keep on mind is that Germany have not beaten Italy in seven previous competitive encounters.  

But on paper the German team definitely looks on top of the Italian side at this stage of the tournament. They have scored 9 goals so far with lesser number of attempts than their opponents, who have managed only 4.

Meanwhile, going by the last two matches, it is guaranteed that another exciting match is lined up tonight. Germans would definitely seek to make it to their second conjugative Euro final, while Italy would want to keep up to their reputation.

So, Narodowy stadium, Warszawa is the venue that is to be looked out for tonight.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

After Podolski, Arsenal signs Giroud

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has confirmed his second deal of the season as French striker Olivier Giroud is all set to join the team.

Giroud, who scored 21 goals to help Montpellier win France's Ligue 1 last season, becomes Arsenal's second summer signing following the arrival of Germany striker Lukas Podolski from FC Cologne.

'We are delighted to have secured the signing of Olivier Giroud." Said Wenger after the deal, which is reported to be of about 13 million Euros.

Further he added, "He has a very good physical presence and is exceptional in the air, with a great work ethic. We are excited about Olivier joining us and he will add an additional dimension to our attacking options next season."

Giroud on the other hand seems quite excited as well as confident with his signing as he said, 'I have the weapons to do well here. I will need some time to adapt of course, but I am not worried about that. I think I will adapt well." 

Further he said, "I am happy with my choice, and I think that he (Wenger) brings a lot to the French players that are in the team."

On being asked about the play in the team, the 25 year old French striker said, "'I am a player who likes to play, who likes to participate in the game. That is why I think the way Arsenal play will suit me. I like scoring goals and Arsenal create a lot of chances, so if I do well, then we will do well."

Giroud joins Arsenal from Montpellier, where he joined in 2010. He as 71 appearances for the team and has scored 33 times.

"I'm very proud to be a Gunner and I will give my best for all the Arsenal fans." Said the striker after the deal. 

Protugal vs Spain: Semi-Final Preview

A high voltage semi final encounter is lined up tonight, as the mighty Spain face off Cristiano Ronaldo led Portugal.

Ronaldo seems to be the common name for the think-tanks of both the teams; Spain consider him to be the biggest threat to their record second consecutive Euro triumph, whereas Portugal looks up to him as the carrier of their Euro dreams.

Spain come into the semifinals unbeaten, but a draw against Italy in their opener keeps them just behind Germany who has won all of their matches.

However, the team seems to be on a high after their last win against France 2-0, and with Xabi Alonso, Fabregas and Torres singing the same song with 2 goals each, the team definitely seems to be the favorite for the second title.

Portugal, on the other hand lost their first match against Germany, 1-0. But the real concern for the team was the form of their star captain Cristiano Ronaldo, who struggled to score in their match against Denmark, and was the victim of heavy criticism. 

But the relief for the Portuguese fans is that, Ronaldo has answered all of his critics strongly, as he played the captain's role in the team's 2-1 victory against Netherlands, with him scoring both the goals.

Ronaldo was not yet silent, as in their high pressure quarter final encounter against Czech Republic; he was on fire as he launched a spree of attacks, most of which narrowly missed the targets. He was the lone scorer of the match, confirming is claim of being one of the world's best.

As said, Spain is clear of its intention against the Portuguese captain as Spanish coach, Vicente del Bosque hopes his Spain players can "deactivate" explosive forward Cristiano Ronaldo.

"We have to take notice of Ronaldo" he said.

The coach of the other side, Paulo Bento said, "We know what we have to do. We have to put pressure on our opponents and our aim is not to defend all the time. We won't do that against the world and European champions. I think they know we can cause them problems."  

He further added that, "There can't be any more beautiful opportunity than the one we'll have tomorrow. We could reach the second final in our history and we're all conscious of that. We're aware of our responsibility to the Portuguese people to continue in this tournament."

Gerrard rules out retirement

England and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard ruled out the option of retiring from International football after losing to Italy in Euro 2012 quarter finals and revealed his aspiration to lead the team to World cup 2014.

In a press conference he said that "I have had a brief chat with the manager and told him I am available as long as I am wanted at this level," said Gerrard. "I have loved it [the captaincy]. I have loved the responsibility. I have enjoyed every minute of it. I have tried my best and gave it everything I have got."

He created three of his team's five goals in Euro this year and he acknowledges that there was still huge room for enhancement after being outplayed by Italy in a reprimanding defeat.

He said "We have given a good account of ourselves."

"We haven't blown people away but we stuck together, fought hard and gave every inch of effort. However, at times we have found it difficult to keep the ball." 

Further, he added, "The possession stats speak for themselves."

"It tells you that moving forward as a nation, we do need to try and improve with the ball."

He also admitted that losing out on penalties again, upsets and would not squander easily.

"The effort and pride will be missed because we have gone out in a quarter-final penalty shoot-out again."

He added disappointingly "We are all hurting and we are all disappointed."

"But if you look at the big picture, from where we met four or five weeks ago, everyone has given it their best shot."  

The England captain is obstinate that England's performances were an enormous progress on their ruinous campaign at the 2010 World Cup when they threadbare into the second round from a weak group and were in retreat 4-1 by Germany.

He further added "It is [better than two years ago]," he said. "We have performed to a higher level at this competition than the previous one for sure."

Barton fined, stripped of captaincy by QPR

Queens Park Rangers stripped Joey Barton of the captaincy and fined him six weeks' wages on Monday for his violent conduct against Manchester City players in the final round of the Premier League last season.

Last month, Barton was banned for 12 matches by the English Football Association and fined 75,000 pounds ($118,000) for elbowing Carlos Tevez, kicking Sergio Aguero and trying to head-butt Vincent Kompany before being escorted off the Eastlands pitch by his team-mates.

"The club has also reached agreement with Barton that if he seriously breaches the club's disciplinary procedures again, the club reserves the right to terminate his contract," QPR said in a statement.

At his first club, Manchester City, Barton punched a team-mate in the eye during training and pushed a lit cigar into a teenage team-mate's eye at a Christmas party. 

After that incident in December 2004, Barton had another row with a 15-year-old Everton fan in Bangkok and was fined eight weeks' wages by City. The following season, Barton dropped his shorts and exposed his backside to Everton fans and was fined for misconduct.

In 2007, Barton appeared to have straightened out his life and he even received a call-up to the England team, going on as a substitute in a 1-0 loss to Spain.

But the bad behaviour soon returned and he was arrested after a violent argument with a taxi driver. He was then suspended by City after punching team-mate Ousmane Dabo during training, which later led to a suspended jail sentence and the FA suspending him for six games.

Barton transferred to Newcastle in 2008 but he was arrested in Liverpool after a street brawl and eventually received a six-month jail sentence for assault and fighting.

Barton was allowed to leave Newcastle on a free transfer in August 2011 following his public criticism of the club. 

Monday, 25 June 2012

Italians break Hart(s)

Alessandro Diamanti scored the decisive penalty to give Italy a 4-2 shootout victory in Kiev last night after a 0-0 draw, setting up a semifinal match against three-time champion Germany on Thursday in Warsaw, Poland.

Mario Balotelli, Andrea Pirlo "with an audacious chip down the centre-right of the goal" and Antonio Nocerino also scored for Italy.

"Tonight, we played with heart and character, but also with ideas," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. "Our idea of playing was extraordinary in my opinion, against a side that was difficult to play."

Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who saved a penalty in the shootout, left the field blowing out his cheeks in a gesture of relief. The goalkeeper was in goal when Italy won the 2006 World Cup in a shootout, though he did not save any France spot kicks that night in Berlin.

Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney scored England's penalties, briefly giving their team a 2-1 lead in the shootout. But Ashley Young hit the crossbar with England's third, and Ashley Cole's attempt was then saved by Buffon diving to his left.

For England, it was yet another exit from a major tournament in the quarterfinals after a penalty shootout. England lost to Portugal in the same manner at Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup.

"We have done the country proud but again we go home with heartbreak and it's difficult to take," said Gerrard, who played in both those previous shootout losses.England coach Roy Hodgson said he had faith in those selected for the shootout, and recalled Cole's cool finish to help Chelsea win the Champions League on penalties last month against Bayern Munich.

"Penalties has become an obsession for us in English football and in training they have done extremely well," Hodgson said. "But you can't reproduce the tired legs. You can't reproduce the pressure. You can't reproduce the nervous tension.

"(The Italians) stood up to it better than we did. Pirlo's penalty was the perfect example."

England had briefly led the shootout after Riccardo Montolivo put Italy's second penalty wide of goalkeeper Joe Hart's right post and Rooney sent Buffon the wrong way. The momentum shifted after Pirlo's bold piece of skill leveled at 2-2.

"I just saw that the goalkeeper was moving a bit earlier so I decided to play it the other way," Pirlo said. "It just comes to you at that moment and it went well."

The first scoreless match at Euro 2012 was neither dull nor lacking good football as Italy often outclassed a determined England side and twice hit the post, but was also let down by poor composure in front of goal. Italy finished the match with 35 attempts on goal, compared to only nine for England.

Balotelli took center stage for much of the match, but failed to find his target. The Italy forward hesitated and allowed John Terry to block his chipped shot in the 25th, then forced Hart, his teammate at Manchester City, to save an acrobatic shot.

Balotelli kicked the goal post in frustration after he surged between England's central defenders but put a half-volley over the crossbar.

Italy continued to attack in the second half and De Rossi, taking a ball over his shoulder, scuffed his shot wide. De Rossi sank to his knees in obvious exasperation, but more Italian anguish quickly followed.

Three quick chances in the 52nd saw Hart beat away De Rossi's long-range shot, block Balotelli's follow-up and watch Montolivo lash the loose ball high.

Hodgson had to react to Italy's dominance, and sent on substitutes Andy Carroll and Theo Walcott, who both scored in a 3-2 win over Sweden. But England still failed to convince and Rooney made little impression after an early diving header. His overhead kick deep in injury time sailed high.

Baros bids adieu

Milan Baros announced his international retirement following the Czech Republic's quarter-final loss to Portugal at the ongoing Euro 2012.

The former Liverpool striker's future was being speculated for some time with the 30-year-old calling it quits after their 1-0 defeat to Portugal in Warsaw. Captain Tomas Rosicky hinted about the same in a statement released.

Baros, 30, won the Golden Boot at Euro 2004 and scored 41 goals in 93 appearances for the Czech Republic.

A statement on the Czech Republic football federation's official website said Baros received a 'long applause' from his team-mates but that the decision had been coming for a while.

"(Baros' retirement) had been speculated about for some time," it read.

"The 30-year-old has been the subject of sharp criticism, culminating in the first Euro 2012 match against Russia. When Baros was substituted, some fans booed him."

Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky has had an injury riddled tournament and missed Thursday's match prompting the 31-year-old to admit his international career was nearing its end.

"I would love to continue, but on the other hand I'm not the youngest anymore and have had problems with my fitness," Rosicky said.

"I will take time to think about it. As I say, I would love to continue but I'm not stupid - I know I'm getting older and have to think about what is good for me."

Rosicky has made 87 international appearances for the Czech Republic.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Seedorf set to leave AC Milan

Clarence Seedorf has finally confirmed his exit from AC Milan, after 10 years of service to the club.

"I leave [Milan] after 10 fantastic years, I came here at a crucial moment in my career and after thinking long and hard, I'll do the same thing again." the 36 year old Surinam-born Dutchman said at a press conference in Via Turati.

He joined AC Milan in 2002 from city rivals Inter and no sooner he became an important member of the squad, and went on to make 300 Serie A appearances for the side.

Seedorf won two Championship League crowns and two Serie A title in his tenure with the Rossoneri. He has 87 caps for his national team, Holland and has scored 11 times.

He also won the Champions League with Ajax and Real Madrid, adding two Dutch titles and one in Spain as well.

Indicating his future plans he said, "I won't disappear from the face of the earth. This is a goodbye rather than an adieu."

"I think I will play for two more years, but now it is pointless to think about the next steps of my life,"

"I'll have to evaluate my options now and look for a project that stands out. I am very happy with the way I lived my experience at Milan." He added further.

Speaking about his association with the club, he became nostalgic as he said, "I've been here 13 years and had two children born here. There will always be a special bond, especially with the city of Milan."

Later on being questioned about Zlatan Ibrahimovic's intentions of grabbing his number 10 jersey, he said, "I'm happy to give my jersey to Ibra, he has the talent to honour it."

As for the club, he is confident that AC Milan will enjoy more success in the coming years despite relinquishing their Serie A title to Juventus. 

Ronaldo leads Portugal in to Semis

The Czech Republic were hoping of a repeat of their 1996 win over Portugal but Cristiano Ronaldo had other ideas as he inspired Portugal to a convincing 1-0 quarterfinal victory at the 14th European Championship. 

Ronaldo's powerful header rewrote the duo's rivalry at the same stage of the tournament 16 years ago when a lesser unknown Czech side beat a star-studded Portuguese squad 1-0.

The Czechs started solid and dynamic in the first 20 minutes, highlighted by the left-wing attack from Vaclav Pilar and the linking contribution from the playmaker Vladimir Darida.

Ronaldo tested the keeper Petr Cech's nerves in the 33rd minute when a corner was not cleared far away by the defenders and the Protugal's skipper tried an brilliant overhead volley which just flied past the post.

Portugal nearly broke the deadlock just before halftime whistle when Ronaldo showed adapt footwork to control Raul Meireles' pass and struck low from the right area, only seeing the ball hit the post.

Ronaldo's effort was evaded by the post again five minutes into the second half when the forward's 23-metre free kick swerved over the wall and Cech but hit the outside of the right post, which was Portugal's sixth hit on the woodwork this tournament, creating a new Euro record!

With 11 minutes left, Ronaldo finally made the breakthrough. The Real Madrid winger made an in-time run onto Joao Moutinho's right-flank pass to head into the top corner away from a desperate Cech.

With the third victory in their fifth successive Euro quarterfinal, Portugal will take on either Spain or France in the semifinals in Donetsk on June 27.

Germany vs Greece: Match Preview

It would be Germany vs Greece in the second quarter final of Euro 2012 tonight, and it sure promises to be a cracker. 

Germany has made a smooth entry to the knock out phases, as they have won all of their three matches played. While Greece on the other hand, have managed to win only a single game.

Going by the tournament statistics, the Germans seem to be lot more attacking than their opposition. They have 36 attempts on goal compared to 19 of Greece, and have converted 5 of them into goals. Greece on the other hand have managed only 3.

Looking into current form and statistics, Germany certainly seems to have an edge over Greece, but the surprise victory of Greece over Russia is not to be forgotten as it might be an indication of major setback in the tournament. And their unexpected title triumph at Euro 2004 is another warning to others of how dangerous the Greeks can be.

"I would like to seize this opportunity to say what an inspiration for us the 2004 success is," said Fernando Santos, the Greek coach.

We showed great resolution and strength and we were written off before that tournament, but we still reached the final and won the cup. That should be a source of inspiration for us this time." He added further.

Germany, the only team that has won all the matches this Euro, is not taking Greece for granted, but German coach Joachim Loew seems quite confident of his team as he says, "Logically we are favourites, but we can deal with that."

For Germany, it's the back of Jerome Boateng, as he missed the last game against Denmark due to suspension and rest of the squad is expected to be the same.

Mario Gomez is the man who is to be looked upon particularly in the German side, though the team lineup is filled with stars like Schweinsteiger, Kolse and Podoloski. But Bayern Munich attacker has 3 goals to his name in as many appearances and seems to be in a great run.

Salpingidis, Karagounis and Gekas are the main players to look for in the Greece squad.

As a whole, Germany seems to have an advantage over the Greece, and if they decide to continue with their flow, a semi final berth is sure for them.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Shevchenko bids adieu to International football

Ukrain's captain Andriy Shevchenko has decided to give a final adieu to the international football, following the elimination of his team from the group stages of the Euro 2012. 

The 35 year old striker played his 111th match for his country on Tuesday against England, which resulted in a loss 1-0. 

He has been the key player for his country for quite some time, and has captained the team into the Quarter finals of the 2006 FIFA World Cup. 

The winner of the Ballon d'Or in 2004, Shevchenko has scored 48 goals for his national side, the first of which was scored against Turkey in the year 1996. 

Shevchenko rose to prominence after winning five league championships in as many years at Dynamo Kiev. He was also in the squad of AC Milan that won the Champions league title in the year 2003, and scored the winning penalty for the team in the shootout. 

Later he joined Chelsea in 2006, but returned back to Milan on loan, after two unsuccessful seasons at the Stamford Bridge. He joined Kiev again in the year 2009. 

His contract with the current side Dynamo Kiev expires next month and his intention of moving to Major League Soccer in the United States is rumored. 

"It was my last official game for Ukraine" said the striker after the match against England. However, he confirmed a last farewell match as he said, "I just want to play one more game to say goodbye, just for my family and friends and all the fans who have supported me for many, many years." 

On being asked about their last game against England, he said, "We deserved more today, we played well, created chances and of course scored a goal." 

"We were in control and had many chances to score." Shevchenko added further. "I'm glad for our young players who played well tonight. This team has a bright future." 

Drogba joins Shanghai Shenhua

Chelsea star Didier Drogba has decided to follow the likes of teammate Nicolas Anelka to leave Stamford Bridge and join Shanghai Shenhua, the Chinese Super league side. 

After getting the Champions league title for Chelsea, the Ivory Coast striker decided to go away from the Premier League and peruse a new challenge. 

It is reported that the two time African footballer of the year has signed a two year deal with the side, and he would be paid 20, 0000 pounds per week, which makes him the most expensive player in the league. 

A statement released through the representatives of the player confirmed the action saying, "I have considered all the offers I have received in the past few weeks, but feel that Shanghai Shenhua FC is the right move for me at this time" 

"I hope to help promote Chinese football around the world and further improve the links between China and Africa." He added further. 

Previously, in January, former France international Anelka joined the team, who even acted as the team coach for a brief period. 

The current coach of the team, Argentinean Sergio Batista is very happy and is looking forward to work with the Chelsea star. 

"Drogba is a very good soccer player, his outstanding skills and amazing experience will give us motivation to improve our games," he said. 

Shanghai is ranked 12th in league with only 3 wins this season, but owner of the team Zhu Jun is confident of a positive impact in the team's performance with the inclusion of the star player. 

"We have wanted to sign Didier for a while, and are very happy that it has finally happened," said Zhu. 

"He is an incredible player, who has won so many trophies in his career, we feel that his experience and ability will be a very valuable asset to our squad." The owner added. 

Czech Republic vs Portugal : Quarter Final Preview

The knock out phase of the Euro 2012 starts tonight as Portugal faces Czech Republic in the first quarter final.

The Czechs are determined of not repeating their mistakes, which resulted in their 4-1 loss to the hands of Russia in their opener, as they face a formidable Portuguese line up that would be playing to full fill Paulo Bento's wish of spreading joy back home. 

The performance of both the teams in the tournament so far has been incidentally similar as both qualified for the quarter finals winning two of their three games played while losing one. They share the same points in their respective groups, 6 each. The Portuguese, though have a slightly better goal difference.

The Czechs came into the quarters beating Greece and Poland. The Czechs have been quite attacking in their last matches as they netted two goals against Greece within the first six minute. Pilar and Jiracek have been the top scorers for the Polish side as they scored 2 goals each.

In fact Jiracek has the record of scoring the fastest goal of the tournament so far and the fourth fastest in the Euro history. But the question is, will he be able to repeat the same against Portuguese.

"We know Portugal have dangerous players in midfield and up front, such as Nani, Helder Postiga and [Cristiano] Ronaldo. We have that in mind, and we'll adjust our tactics to be more defensive," said the Polish coach Michal Bilek. The coach also seems aware of the Portuguese attack as he further added, "We can't play like we did against Russia. We gave them space and they punished us. Nani and Ronaldo will punish us if we do the same thing again, and we don't want to repeat the first match."

The Czechs would be expecting a return of midfielder Tomas Rosicky, who was nursing a tendon injury.

"During qualifying we put together a team. We don't have any great stars, except for Tomas Rosicky and Petr Cech. The team spirit is excellent, and if we defeat Portugal it will be thanks to this team." said Bilek.

The Paulo Bento side on the other hand is relieved to have their captain Cristiano Ronaldo back into scoring form, as he netted two goals in their match against Netherlands. Earlier Ronaldo was struggling with his form in the match against Denmark, where he lost couple of very easy chances.

However, as Ronaldo join the likes of Postiga and Nanai, who seems to have a great run. Portugal is sure to enter the field with much confidence.

"In adverse moments, we have to try to stay faithful to our playing style. We have to keep a cool head, stay focused and we'll see what our opponents present us with on the pitch," said Bento, who is most likely to field the same squad which he fielded for his last five matches.

Further he added, "I think a team that played against Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands like we did will not have any problems with their mental recovery. The physical recovery has been good too."

It must be kept in mind that, Portugal defeated Czechs 3-1 in their last group encounter in Euro 2008.

Looking into the form of both the teams in the tournament, the first quarter final seems to be an equally poised one, and promises to be entertaining. 

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Euro Quarter Final Analysis

The group encounters of the Euro 2012 came to an end yesterday, and the quarter final lineup is a clear picture now.

 There is no major surprise in the lineup as all the major teams from each group who were expected to qualify, find their name in the list. Netherlands seems to be the only big name that is absent in the list, as underdogs Portugal mark their presence in place of them.

The first quarter final to be played on Friday will be between Czech Republic and Portugal.

The Czechs had a disastrous start to their Euro Campaign as they lost 4-1 to Russia in their opener. But successively won their next two matches, against Greece and host Poland, which got them to the top of the group.

Portugal on the other side was not one of the favorites from Group B, as odds were pretty high on Netherlands to qualify. But the Paulo Bento side notched up the second place beating Netherlands and Denmark, while they lost their opener to Germany.

Czech's Vaclav Pilar is the man to look out for as he has scored 2 goals for his team in 3 appearances in this year edition of the Euro. After their initial heartbreak against Russia, the team looks quite confident after registering two back to back wins.

But the main concern of the team is the injury to captain Tomas Rosicky, who might sit out of the quarter final clash.

Cristiano Ronaldo seems to the main talk for Portugal after his disastrous show in the match against Denmark. However, the good news for the team is that, their captain is back to show after having scored the two goals against Netherlands.

Other than him, the Portuguese side has Nani, Postiga and Raul, who seems to be in a great run, and certainly seems to be a head ache for the Czechs.

At this point, it seems Portugal might have an edge over the Czechs, and with Ronaldo back into action, they will have a desperate attempt of making it through to the semi finals.

The second match of the knock out phase would be played between impressive Germany and Greece.

Germany certainly looked the best to qualify from its group and it did. They also seem to the favorite for this year's championship title, having won all of their group matches.

The team is full of star players which includes names like Schweinsteiger, Gomez and Podoloski, a combination that supposedly one of the best in the world.

But looking into the performance of the team in the Euro this year, Mario Gomez seems to be the man to watch out for. The Bayern Munich striker has 3 goals to his name in 3 appearances.

The 2004 Champions Greece haven't yet had a great run in the Euro this year, as they drew their first match against Poland, and lost the second to Czech Republic. But they stormed into the Quarter finals beating mighty Russia in their last group encounter. Salpingidis, Karagounis and Gekas are the main players to look for in the Greek squad.

Odds are definitely high on Germany to win in this encounter, but underdogs Greece might come up with shocks, just as they did against Russia.
The third quarter final draw is certainly very interesting as World and defending champions Spain will play against France.

The Spanish team came into the tournament in tremendous form, having beaten all of their opponents by huge margins. Expectations were very high on the team as they went on to play against Italy in their opener.

But much to the surprise, Italy managed to hold Spain to a 1-1 draw. Nonetheless, in the next match, Spain got into their old business as they thrashed Ireland 4-0. Spain had their last match against Croatia, which they won hard fought 1-0.

The Spanish team has some of the best players available in the world football today, namely Iniesta, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Fabregas and Torres.
And their opponents certainly know their style of play. Both Fabregas and Torres have 2 goals each to their name while Silva has one.

France on the other hand is struggling with its form as they have managed only one win in the tournament so far, and was humiliated in their last match against Sweden, as they lost 2-0.

In spite of their poor run, France has the power in their squad that can turn around the game. The defense of the team is headed by experienced Patrice Evra while the midfield is handled by Ribery and Nasri. The attack of the team is headed by Karim Benzema and supported by the likes of Giroud.

Spain vs Italy promises to be an exciting encounter as two equally poised teams. But somewhere Spain seems to have a better chance of pulling it away than France.

The final encounter of quarter final will be between England and Italy. Which also seems to be a cracker of a match.

England came into the Euro Cup with an injury rigged team and questions were being raised over Roy Hodgson's decision of including some inexperienced players. Also the team's chances of qualifying into knock out stages were further questioned as Rooney was unavailable for the first two games.

Nevertheless, luck seemed to be on Hodgson's side as everything went on quite like the way he wanted it to be. After settling for a draw in their first match against France, the English team went on to win their next two games against Sweden and Ukraine.

The return of Rooney in their last game against Ukraine, certainly seemed to have boosted the team's attack, and also the form of the striker seemed quite unaffected as he went on to score the winner for the team.

The team is being led by experienced Steven Gerrard, while the defense line of the team is comprises Ashley Cole, Martin Kelly and John Terry, which makes it one of the best in the world. There is Scott Parker and Ashely Young in the mid-field. Thus, the team looks quite strong on paper.

Italy came into the quarter finals by winning just one game against Ireland, while the rest two against Spain and Croatia ended in a draw. Di Natale and Balotelli are the main weapons of the Italian attack supported by Pirlo and they seem to be a quite good run, having scored 1 goal each.

The match last quarter final also promises equal entertainment as two teams who are equally poised, face each other. 

Sweden leaves in style as French failed to impress

Two second-half stunners from Ibrahimovic and Larsson stunned France as they step into the quarter finals with a 2-0 loss. With Ibrahimovic's 54th minute volley and Larsson's injury-time goal, Sweden bids adieu to Euro 2012 with a win and deserved their first victory over France since 1969.

And now France will play Spain in quarter finals after surrendering their top spot in Group D as Swedes frustrated the French throughout the match with Ola Toivonen's two excellent chances to take the lead in the first half.

Sweden ended Les Bleus' 23-match unbeaten run.

France coach Blanc said "Sweden played this match with its heart. Physically, they were better prepared and they had a player in the team who made the difference, which makes a hell of a difference.

"We are really disappointed by this result, but we were in trouble throughout the match. When you lose a match, it is because you have not got the right team out there. Therefore, if I were to start it all over, we would not start with the same team."

"I don't think the attack was the area where we really suffered the most."

"We really struggled in defence and midfield where the Swedes were really strong."

"Even if the Swedes produced a superb performance, it is they who are going home."

France looked misplaced as Newcastle forward Hatem Ben Arfa who replaced Jeremy Menez looked out of sync with Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery had an evening to forget.

They also had too many chances which they failed to turn into goals as Ribery drove an early shot at Sweden goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson from an angle while Yann M'Vila and substitutes Menez and Olivier Giroud went close as they chased the game late on. France had twenty four shots from which ten were on target.

It was an embarrassing night for a French team who emerged to consider that they only had to turn up to overcome a Swedish team who were already out of the competition after losing their first two games.

Sweden coach, Erik Hamren had mixed feelings after winning the game he said "Right now I have quite mixed feelings. We should be content after today's victory, we were up against a strong team, because they hadn't been beaten in 23 games."

"We created a small margin which we perhaps didn't in the matches before, and you need those in order to win matches." 

Ukraine went down fighting to unimpressive England

England had its share of luck in their final encounter against co-hosts Ukraine as they won 1-0. Ukrainians dominated maximum part of the game and showed brilliant field work, but was unlucky to miss out a number of close chances.

For England, it was the return of its star striker Rooney, who went on to score the winner in the 48th minute off the cross of Gerrand.

The co-hosts had an impressive first half as they went close to scoring on numerous occasions. It was only the 7th minute and Garmash missed out the target from a range of 30 meters putting the English team under pressure right from the beginning.

There was another genuine effort from the Ukrainian side in the 22nd minute as Gusev missed the target by inches putting Joe Hart into real worries.

However, just a few minutes later, Rooney missed a close chance, as Gerrand delivered an excellent free kick from the right, which only needed a fine head finish, which the Manchester United striker Rooney failed to provide.

Despite having a rough first half, England managed to take the lead in the 48th minute as unluckily Ukraine missed out marking Rooney and he went on to score of the bouncing ball from Gerrand.

But the highlight of the second half was the controversial denial of the Ukrainian goal in the 63rd minute as Devic hit one past Hart, but was miraculously cleared by Terry, which the co-hosts claimed to be a goal.

Again the 73rd minute Konoplyanka rocketed a powerful strike from the left, which was a real test for Hart as he made a full stretch save, and again unlikely for the co hosts was cleared off.

At the end it was England who was on top owing to the solitary goal by Rooney, but overall it was a Ukrainian game. The co-hosts went down fighting, and the dominance of their play could be made out from the fact that they had 58% of the total ball possession.

England with this win now tops the group and Roy Hodgson certainly seems to be happy by that fact, also he did praise the game of the hosts as he said, "We're very pleased to have won the group. I don't think it was an easy group to win because, as you saw tonight, the host nation, Ukraine, have a lot of good players and they did what they needed to do to put us under pressure."

Oleh Blokhin, the Ukraine coach on the other had was quite pleased with game of the team, but certainly unhappy with the luck as he said, "I want to thank my team as we played a very good game. Even the coach of England said they were luckier than us. I want to thank the whole of Ukraine and all our supporters. We couldn't do what we expected, but I don't feel ashamed of this team." 

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Rooney ready to shoot

Wayne Rooney will come back to the England team having fulfilled his two-match suspension. But his comeback has given a series of selection predicament for Roy Hodgson, given that both Andy Carroll and Danny Welbeck offered persuasive performances.

England needs a draw to go through but a big win could see them top Group D and circumvent Spain, who won Group C with a stressed 1-0 victory over Croatia. 

England coach wants Wayne Rooney to deliver an inspiring performance like legendary Pele.

He said in an interview "If you look back through the years, if you take Pele for example, he was capable of producing his very best football when it really mattered to help Brazil win World Cups. We do need that greatness... let's hope that Wayne Rooney can start to do that for us on Tuesday night. Then, if we win, who knows?

"If Wayne can produce his best then he can help us keep going even further."

Theo Walcott the hero of the last match; could start the match despite leaving training on Sunday with a slight hamstring complaint. He could replace James Milner is Hodgson adopts 4-2-3-1 formation.

Meanwhile, the co-hosts are sweating over their star Andriy Shevchenko who continues to struggle with a knee injury.

In search of a must win victory, if Shevchenko is not fit, the Ukraine could choose between Devic and Milevskiy up front, with the former more of an attacking threat than the physical Milevskiy.

Ukraine coach said "England are among the favorites, so the pressure's on them."

"Our approach to this game is more relaxed. If the result is not good for us but we fight on the pitch until the last minute, that's not bad for us. We're building a new team, a young team. I think England will be very nervous."

Ukraine would like to start fast and England have to survive heavy early pressure, but they have the edge in terms of class and should secure the draw that they need to advance into last eight. 

Unlucky Croats loses to unimposing Spain

With 64 percent ball possession, Spain certainly seemed to have flooded goals against the Croatian side, but with their play, the Croatians managed to keep them restricted to 1-0.

The Croatians managed to keep the Spanish guns on hold till the 88th minute, through their extensive defensive play, where at one point they had 7 of their players holding the fort.

It was all thanks to substitute Jesus Navas, who scored two minutes before the time, brilliantly assisted by Iniesta to ensure a victory for the Vicente Del Bosque's side.

After match Del Bosque insisted "The result was a good one for our team. When you don't have your greatest game but manage to win, it gives you confidence. "Croatia tightened up the spaces near their goal to prevent the Spaniards from netting the ball which really increased the frustration of the World Champions.

"We were lacking penetration, they closed up the spaces well and that caused us a lot of problems. We had some nervous moments" said Del Bosque. 

Spain stared their domination right from the first half as they desperately looked for an opening goal.

In the 12th minute Iniesta made an effort to send one home, after receiving the ball from David Silva. But could not succeed.

Similarly, Torres missed out in the 23rd minute and so did Silva in the 30th minute.

It was the Croatian keeper, Pletikosa who was good at his job, as he held fort with seven crucial saves.

The first half ended with the score line 0-0, and Spain had to stretch their goal thirst to the next half.

Croatia had to win the game anyway to make it to the next round, and even a draw was not sufficient for them.

But they were busier defending their post rather than attacking.

However, at certain instances they did manage to put themselves at scoring positions, but failed to execute it.

Slaven Bilic, Croatia coach said, "We were waiting for them at the back in the first half; we weren't keen to attack them at that stage. We waited for the last 30 minutes of the game to take risks. Spain had a hard time against us. We could have won tonight, we went close."

The match winning decision of Del Bosque came in the 67th minute, when he substituted Navas with Torres, who later went on to score the winner.
Croatia could see the end of their dreams after the goal. They were awarded with a free kick in injury time, where even their keeper rushed in forward to make a chance. But all in vain

The final whistle blew and it was the end of the Croatian run in the Euro Cup 2012. The Croatian coach, who was leaving the side to join FC Lokomotiv Moskv, looked quite disappointed as he said, "I will leave here and join my new team in the next few days, and I would like to say thank you to the Croatian Football Federation for taking a chance on me six years ago when I was a young coach without much experience."

He further added, "I may be leaving but I can assure you that you haven't seen the last of this Croatian side yet."  

Sweden ready to spoil the party

Sweden may be out of the competition, but they still remain as hurdle for France, whom they face in their final group encounter.

French drew their first match against England 1-1, while defeated Ukraine 2-0 in second. They now seem to be in a better position, as they require only a draw to sail through the next round. 

But Coach Laurent Blanc has asked his players not to take their "Eyes off the ball" as Sweden might give everything into the match as they have nothing to lose.

"There's always the danger that you may take your eyes off the ball," the France coach said. "So it is up to us to prepare seriously. We also need to be very aware of what we want to achieve."

"We were very happy following the Ukraine game, rightly so, but as I said to the players, we now need to prepare for the next game, as a game like this against Sweden demands it."

Blanc has also indicated about changes in the team, as Yohan Cabaye will have a fitness test after struggling with a thigh injury.

On being asked about the opposition Blanc said, "They are very physical - they have a playing style based on a lot of strength in the tackle. They've got some very big players so they will try to impose their game on us. They won't come to make up the numbers."

Sweden on the other hand has lost both of their matches, and so it is least expected for them to pull it off against France. But in their last match they are ready to spoil the party for France.

"We feel sad to be leaving Kyiv and Ukraine," Hamren, the Swedish coach said.

"We have had a fantastic time here - we could happily have stayed in our hotel a lot longer. When we lost against England, the squad was very down, and if we had been in a bad place they would have really felt that, but we had a great day on Sunday. We trained earlier so they could have a relaxed afternoon and evening. We're sad to be going." 

Italy sails into last eight thumping Ireland 2-0

A 35th minute strike by AC Milan forward Cassano, and late 90th minute strike by Balotelli ensured Italy a 2-0 victory against Ireland Republic and confirmed their place in the quarter finals alongside Spain.

Cesare Prandelli's men ruled the first half as they came close to scoring on numerous occasions. Azzurrian, Di Natale was unlucky as he missed out the net three times, with close attempts. 

It was just again and again throughout first half that Italy almost made a breakthrough, but it was only in the 35th minute, when they broke the dead lock with a header from Cassano off Andrea Pirlo's corner.

Prandelli said "We struggled in the first 20 minutes because they decided to try and press us and we couldn't actually squeeze the play in midfield. There was also tension in our play. Perhaps we weren't expecting them to press so much but once we got organized, we played some very good football" Italy almost doubled the score just 4 minutes after the start of the final half, as Balzaretti again showed impressive skill down the left, to cut a pass back into the danger area, but Cassano failed to finish it into the net.

Ireland substituted Shane Long in the 65th minute to increase their tempo of play and a succession of corners followed that left the Azzurri shaky for the first time.

Again in the 79th minute Damien Duff fired in an excellent free kick, beating the defenders, but it ended up straight into Buffon's safe pair hand.

However, it was again a substitute, Balotelli, who scored in the 90th minute with an awesome volley to seal the match for the Italy.

Meanwhile, Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni seemed quite optimistic as he said, "I think this evening we played much better than against Spain and Croatia. We played with more personality. Again the goals were soft, coming from two corners, but I am proud of our commitment. Italy beat us but we upheld our honor."

So, it is now Italy to join Spain as runners up of Group C to qualify to the next round and will face the winners of Group D. 

Monday, 18 June 2012

Ronaldo leads Portugal to EURO Quarter Finals

Portugal beat Holland 2-1 to set up a Euro 2012 quarter-final with the Czech Republic and denounce the Oranje to a first group-stage European Championship exit since 1980.

Needing to win by two or more goals to stand any hope of progressing, the Dutch took an early lead through Rafael van der Vaart but were undone by goals in each half from man of the match Cristiano Ronaldo. 
Runners-up at the World Cup two years ago and top scorers in qualifying, the Netherlands leave Ukraine with their tails between their legs after three consecutive defeats.

"I think we started quite well today and we scored after about 10 minutes," said Holland coach Bert van Marwijk.

"But you saw that when we concede a goal, the uncertainty remains. If we'd scored a second, we might have been more sure of ourselves, but we didn't take our chances."

Mindful of the pressing need for goals, Holland coach Bert van Marwijk handed starts to both Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and van der Vaart, who replaced captain Mark van Bommel and inherited the captain's armband from him.

Van der Vaart needed less than 11 minutes to vindicate his manager's decision, collecting a pass from Arjen Robben and shaping a delightful 25-yard shot inside the left-hand post to put Holland ahead.

Holland failed to heed the Portugese warnings though, and in the 28th minute Ronaldo levelled, powering onto Joao Pereira's incisive, stabbed pass and clipping the ball past Stekelenburg from close range.

So often criticised for his international displays, Ronaldo was a man transformed, and after working Stekelenburg with an audacious dipping shot from 35 yards, he crashed a header narrowly wide from a corner, he was not so forgiving when Nani returned the favour in the 74th minute, checking inside sharply to send van der Wiel sprawling and then calmly beating Stekelenburg at his near post.

Van der Vaart hit the post with a right-foot curler, but it was the only bright moment in what was a desperate second period for the Dutch, who saw Ronaldo quiver the post in the final minute.

Preview: Italy vs Ireland

It's now or never for Italy as they look for their first win of the ongoing European Championships.

Italy boss Cesare Prandelli will be keen to welcome back Andrea Barzagli into the mix after the Juventus defender missed the first two games of the tournament with a thigh injury. Prandelli will likely revert back to a four-man defence, should the centre-back pass a late fitness test. 

Mario Balotelli limped out of Saturday's training session with a knee problem and will undergo further tests to determine the extent of his injury. If the Manchester City man is not passed fit then Antonio Di Natale will likely be given the nod up front alongside Antonio Cassano. 
Meanwhile, Ireland have already been eliminated from the tournament following their error prone show in the 4-0 loss to Spain on Thursday and will have only pride to play for.

Goalkeeper Shay Given could make his final appearance for the Boys in Green on Monday after admitting that he is contemplating retirement from international football.

Preview: Spain vs Croatia

After brushing aside a listless Ireland side 4-0, defending champions Spain may find Croatia a tougher opposition when they meet in Gdansk on Monday in a game that will decide who tops Group C in the ongoing European Championship.

A 2-2 draw would put both sides into the quarter-finals even if third-placed Italy beat Ireland and a defeat would probably mean an early flight home.

Spain played sparkling football against Ireland when the recalled Fernando Torres scored twice but the world champions are wary of a dangerous Croatia side who are unlikely to stand around watching Iberian artistry.

In midfield playmaker Luka Modric, heavily linked with a move to Manchester United, and the tournament's joint top scorer with three goals Mario Mandzukic, Croatia have the quality in key areas to cause problems for Spain.

"We watched the two matches they played here and they fully deserve the four points they have," Spain defender Raul Albiol said on Saturday. "Croatia have always had talented players and they are going to make it very tough for us."

Only needing to avoid defeat to reach the last eight, Spain coach Vicente del Bosque will be toying with the decision about whether to retain Torres or revert to the strikerless line-up he put out in the 1-1 opening draw with Italy.