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England, France book last Euro 2012 spots

England and France are through to the quarterfinals of Euro 2012, having booked their tickets on Tuesday in the final round of group play.

France moves on to face Spain on Saturday despite seeing their 23-game unbeaten streak go up in smoke against Sweden.

“You have to be optimistic to think that we can beat Spain, but it’s hard right now to imagine that we can. We have to do better on Saturday,” manager Laurent Blanc told ESPN. “We wanted to finish top of the group but couldn’t manage it, so we have to deal with that.”

Meanwhile, England advances thanks to a goal from Wayne Rooney, seeing his first action of the tournament after serving a two-game suspension. Rooney headed in a cross from Steven Gerrard for the games only goal.

Of course, everyone will be talking about Marko Devic’s non-goal for Ukraine. Devic popped a shot over England goal keeper Joe Hart’s and as the ball was falling into the goal – clearly over the line – defender John Terry kicked the ball out.

It was certainly a goal but Devic was most likely offside, which the refs also missed, so these things even out.

England will take on Italy on Sunday.

With group play over, the quarter finals are set. On Thursday, the Czech Republic take on Portugal. Then, on Friday, Germany takes on Greece.

And we nailed seven of the eight teams to advance, missing only on the Netherlands.

(Photo by Reuters)

The Big Show, England and other random stuff

Browns team president Mike Holmgren spoke to the media on the eve of the Browns final team event before the start of training camp and surprisingly had a few things to day.

First, he’s going to try and get out in front of the press a bit more this year. As much as he tried to let general manager Tom Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur handle things, he’s decided to throw the Cleveland media a bone once in a while.

“Now, exactly how that is going to manifest itself, I couldn’t really give you the blueprint for that yet,” Holmgren said during the press conference. “But, I’ve talked to both Pat (Shurmur) and Tom (Heckert) about this idea and they have to know and your coach has to know that the president is on your side.

“It’s going to be a little bit of a change, but we all have to understand this, this is really important, that Pay Shurmur is the coach of this football team, he will make football decisions. Tom Heckert and Pat and I talk about every football decision, but the head coach has to have that responsibility otherwise it doesn’t work very well, in my opinion. That’s how it’s going to be set up.”

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Tribe starters find themselves in St. Louis

What a weekend for the Cleveland Indians starting rotation.

In helping the Indians take two-out-of-three against the Cardinals, the Tribe moved to a half-game behind the White Sox and, more importantly, may have rediscovered how to pitch.

Josh Tomlin, Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez all went seven innings in their starts, with Tomlin having the “worst” performance of the trio as he gave up two runs; Masterson and Jimenez each limited St. Louis to one run in their starts. The trio also only walked one batter during the series.

When you consider that the Cardinals are the highest-scoring team in the National League, and the second highest in all of baseball, that’s a solid weekend of work.

Sunday’s game was the first time Jimenez did not walk a batter all season and, in his last two starts, he has walked just one batter. That’s pretty impressive for a pitcher that has walked 43 on the season (third highest in the American League) and hit this road trip with an ERA of 9.00 in road starts.

“Jimenez was terrific,’’ manager Manny Acta told The Beacon Journal. “He was dominating. He threw 16-of-25 first-pitch strikes, and having no walks made a huge difference. He had a good split and slider. I’m happy to see him go back to back.’’

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Euro 2012 Preview – Group D

With Euro 2012 starting today in Poland and Ukraine, we finish our look at the 16 teams with Group D, which features France, Sweden, co-host Ukraine and England.

There are really only two teams worth discussing in this group – France and England – so we’ll get the other two out of the way quickly.
The Teams
Sweden (ranked No. 17 in the world) qualified for the finals as best runner-up, winning eight of its 10 games to finish three points behind Netherlands in its group.
As for Ukraine, they are ranked at No. 52 in the world and are only here because they are co-hosting the tournament (it’s there party so they have to be invited). It’s too bad the U.S. can’t work a deal with FIFA where, if the host country is ranked below No. 5, the Americans can take their place. Sure, we’re not part of Europe, but we are a former British colony and the experience would help the U.S. squad in the run up to the 2014 World Cup.
When last we saw France (ranked No. 14 in the world) the players were walking out on Les Bleus during a disastrous appearance in the 2010 World Cup. Former team member Patrick Vieira says that is all in the past for a team that enters Euro 2012 unbeaten in its last 21 matches.
“The problems which undermined France are all sorted now,” Vieira told The Daily Mail. “The French federation dealt with it decisively and now there is a new coach, a new philosophy, a new approach to the game – and Laurent Blanc is seeing the benefits of winning games, which breeds confidence and unity.”
Franck Ribéry – who has scored in his past three internationals – says the team shouldn’t look past the group stage, probably a good idea after the massive flameout at the 2010 World Cup.
“We all want to go as far as possible in the Euros, but the aim is to get past the group stage,” Ribéry told The Guardian. “First and foremost, we want to get to Ukraine and settle into our hotel, start training and preparing.”
Which brings us to England (ranked No. 6) who, despite only winning one major cup (the World Cup in 1966), carry unrealistic expectations into every tournament they qualify for (except maybe not this one). Think the Cleveland Browns but, instead of just having Northeast Ohio over-analyzing their every move, you had the entire nation scrutinizing them.
The Three Lions will not have goal-scorer Wayne Rooney for the first two games of group play because of a suspension, midfielder Gareth Barry is out with a torn muscle in his abdomen, midfielder Frank Lampard will miss the tournament with a thigh injury, as will Gary Cahill, who suffered a double fracture of his jaw.
In addition, Roy Hodgson has only been in charge of the team for little more than a month following the surprise resignation in February of Fabio Capello. Hodgson has international experience, having coached Switzerland, UAE and Finland, but you have to wonder if he has had enough time to figure out what works best with the current team.
That lack of time with the team may explain some of Hodgson’s more talked about choices as the former Liverpool manager six Reds on the squad: Martin Kelly, Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing, Glen Johnson and Gerrard. That’s all well and good except (and this one hits close to home) Liverpool finished the recent Premier League season in eighth place.
As David Hirshey points out at ESPN, there are more Liverpool players representing England than there are Borussia Dortmnund (Bundesliga champions) on the German team and Real Madrid (La Liga champions) on the Spain squad.
Hodgson did one thing right in naming Steven Gerrard as captain. While Gerrard has not had as much success with the national team as with Liverpool, he’s hinted that this could be his last turn with the national team so he should be motivated to bring his best to the pit
And after famously running wild through Germany at the 2006 World Cup, England doesn’t even have the best WAGs at Euro 2012. What, they couldn’t find a spot for Peter Crouch so Abby Clancy could come along?
Did You Know?
France’s Adil Rami was a mechanic before he became a footballer. He also posed nude for the Dieux du Stade calendar.
Game to Watch
The June 11 match between France and England.
Who Will Advance?
Even with all the troubles and questions surrounding the two teams, England and France should both advance. If one can walk out of that first match with three points, they should top the group with the other coming in second.
So that’s it. If you are a fan you know what you are in for over the next few weeks. If you’ve never watched a European tournament before, why not check it out? You just might be surprised at what you find.
For additional coverage, be sure to check out The Daily Mail, The Guardian, EPL Talk and ESPN.
(Photo by Getty Images)

A Major Howler

England thought they had seen the worst when Robert Green let an easy goal roll past him in the opening game vs. the U.S.

Well, the Three Lions saved their worst for last, losing 4-1 to Germany in their first game of the knockout stage. And it wasn’t even that close.

I enjoy watching the England team because I know the players from being a fan of the Premier League. So a day after the U.S. was dumped from the World Cup, it was disappointing to see England not only go down, but do so weakly. In addition, the team’s history of painful losses is familiar enough to Cleveland fans that they have a special place in my sporting heart.

Sunday’s game probably brings an end to the Golden Generation of English football, an era that was marked more by disappointment than joy. It’s very likely we’ve seen the last, or are nearing the end, of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, David Beckham, etc., that held so much promise nine years ago.

And the English are left to wonder, once again, why they can’t find a decent goalkeeper. It’s funny, the Americans are derided as being second-class citizens on the world stage, but they usually are backed by a top-notch goalkeeper.

England’s media is out in full force, with The Sun going with the headline “Franks for nothing – Fabio’s flops are battered in Bloemfontein.” The Mirror made a dig about Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal, with the headline “Three Lions Muller-ed by Germans … and the ref.” The Daily Mail went with the wordy “At least the sun’s still shining. Germany crush toothless England 4-1 (with a LOT of help from a short-sighted Uruguayan linesman).” Finally, The Times checks in with “Abject England crash out.”

Makes me wish the local papers were as clever with their coverage of the Indians, Browns & Cavs.

And while it may not have impacted the final outcome – but who knows, really? – Lampard’s disallowed goal, which was clearly over the line – as well as the missed offside on Argentina’s opening goal in the second game, leave FIFA with egg on its face and a lot of explaining to do. (Let’s not even get started on the refs in the USA games). Somebody needs to wake Sepp Blatter up and make him understand these kinds of mistakes are not entertaining to fans and don’t make for good sport.

“It is often the case that, even after slow-motion replay, 10 different experts will have 10 different opinions on what the decision should have been,” Blatter has said. “Fans love to debate any given incident in a game. It is part of the human nature of our sport.”

Sorry, Sepp, but that ain’t right.

You have to wonder how Jorge Larrionda was even on the field as an official, as this is not the first major error he’s made. He was suspended by his country’s Football Association for “irregularities in a match between Brazil and Columbia; in this year’s World Cup he failed to catch Tim Cahill’s handball for Australia which ended up keeping Serbia from advancing; and he has the highest red card per match ration in international matches.

In other words, this guy is no Jim Joyce.

Finally, if losing wasn’t bad enough, a French politician is blaming England for Les Blues’s exit in the group stage.

You gotta love the World Cup.

A Solid Start

The U.S. worked England for a 1-1 tie in the opening game of their group at the World Cup. All in all a solid effort from the Americans and an OK result for both teams.

After Stevie G’s goal just four minutes into the game, the Americans could have lost some energy and composure, thinking they were in for a repeat of their opening game of the 2006 World Cup. But they held it together and kept battling, until Clint Dempsey sent a shot in on England keeper Robert Green, who saw the ball bounce off his hands and roll easily into the goal.

The U.S. kept the pressure on, with Jozy Altidore missing a great shot that bounced off Green and the left post. The Americans received solid goalkeeping from Tim Howard, who settled the defense down after Gerrard’s early goal and was the man of the match, holding up especially in the second half when Wayne Rooney got going.

Even though both teams walked away with a point, and if they both keep up the intensity they showed today you can easily see them winning out in the group and each finishing with seven points, the Americans clearly will look at this as a win, while the English will have to face the following from back home:

Well, you get the picture.

For a country with such outstanding talent, for some reason England just can’t seem to find a quality goalkeeper. And for a team that already seemed to have a fragile psyche because of expectations from back home, you have to wonder what kind of carry over affect this game will have. They have until Friday to figure it out before they take on Algeria in their next game.

The U.S. takes on Slovenia that same day.

The fun has just begun.

Grap your vuvuzela. It’s Waka Waka time.

The World Cup is finally here. The tournament kicks off today with Mexico taking on South Africa and France vs. Uruguay.

I’m going to back Spain for the win. I think La Roja will continue its successful run that started with Euro 2008 and finally capture the sport’s biggest prize.

In the final, Spain will beat England, on penalty kicks, naturally, extending The Three Lions misery that has been an ongoing storyline since 1966 (hmm, that sounds strangely familiar as a Cleveland fan).

We’ll let Shakira take us out.

Enjoy the games everyone.

World Cup Preview – Group C

Depending on who you believe, “The hype surrounding this group could move mountains. That’s because it contains the Cup’s two most overrated teams, at least by their fans – England and the USA. But interestingly, Group C also has two of South Africa’s more underrated squads – Algeria and particularly Slovenia. Upsets are definitely possible in a group without a truly dominant squad.”

Or, “When the United States dramatically drew into England’s group, it looked as though Group C might be the proverbial ‘group of death.’ But then came two middling teams, Slovenia and Algeria, which softened the group and left no ambiguity about which teams will be expected to advance.”

Either way, this should be an entertaining group. With the USA/England game set for the opening match in this group, we should get a good early read on how the Americans will fare this time. According to ESPN’s analysis, even if the US can’t pick up a point in this game, they should still be in a solid position to advance, unlike 2006 when they never recovered from losing the first game.

England is the one team that should hold a special place in the hearts of Cleveland fans. Since winning the World Cup in 1966, the Three Lions have had heartbreaking losses to rival those of Cleveland. Since failing to qualify for Euro 2008, the English have played nearly impeccable soccer, compiling a pristine 9-0-1 record and plus-28 goal differential in UEFA qualifying. Their home league is arguably the best in the world – although the physical nature of the league leaves players worn out for the World Cup. They also drew into a relatively forgiving group and have the third-highest Soccer Power Index score behind only Brazil and Spain.

But injuries have already hit the team, as they lost captain Rio Ferdinand on Friday for the tournament. For a team with a possible fragile psyche, you never know what kind of impact that will have.

No matter what, though, England will always have their WAGs.

The USA should advance from this group as long as they don’t repeat their 2002 flop in Germany, where they lost twice and only pulled one point from the group stage. If that team shows up, they’re doomed.

Hopefully, we get the team from last year’s Confederations’ Cup that beat Spain – ending the European champions’ 35-match unbeaten streak. That was followed by a close loss to Brazil in the finals, giving the Americans a much-needed boost in confidence. Since then, the U.S. lost a much-anticipated qualifier in Mexico and has subsequently lost friendlies to Slovakia, Denmark and the Netherlands – matches where the States juggled injuries to Clint Dempsey, Oguchi Onyewu, and Charlie Davies. While results have not met the expectations set by the Spain win, the inability to get a healthy squad in place has given fans reason to hope last June’s results can be replicated, should the United States return to health.

Tim Howard in goal should be an additional plus in the game vs. England as Howard will be familiar with the England squad as he’s the No. 1 goalkeeper at Everton.

And the US will have at least one person of influence in South Africa rooting against them: South Africa’s police chief, General Bheki Sele: “Our famous prayer is that the Americans don’t make the second round,” he said, afraid that moving on in the tournament would bring President Barack Obama to South Africa to watch, creating a security nightmare.

According to ESPN, “The Slovenians played fine soccer in World Cup qualifying — including a playoff against Russia in which they advanced on the away-goals rule — but they did so out of a relatively weak group and after having performed terribly in their last major competition, Euro ’08, in which they failed to qualify and finished ahead of only Luxembourg in their group. Few of their players dot the rosters of the elite clubs in Europe. Slovenia has a fairly young roster and certainly seems to be on something of an upward trajectory — but if it were to advance from the group, it would mean that England or the United States failed to live up to expectations.”

And with their disciplined defense and propensity to score late in games (in contrast to the English and Americans), they could spring a surprise.

Algeria is one of the weakest teams (ranked 62nd in the world) to make the competition. Algeria qualified by upsetting Egypt in a playoff but was outmatched by the Egyptians when the teams played again in the African Nations Cup, with Algeria losing 4-0. More recently, it lost badly to Serbia in a 3-0 home friendly in March. Oof. The team is also upset that news leaked out that they will only get bonuses if they advance from the group, not just on a per-match basis. Not a good time in the week leading up to the start of the tournament.

Information for this preview was researched, and more team information is available, here, here, here, here and here.

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