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In Cleveland, hope dies last

Archive for the category “Spain”

Spain is unquestionably the best

Spain beat Italy on Sunday, 4-0, in the Euro 2012 final and lay claim to being one of the greatest international teams in history.

The win was the squad’s third consecutive international title, with championships in Euro 2008 and 2012 sandwiching a World Cup title in 2008 (the first time a European team has pulled that off), leaving little doubt that Spain is currently the best team in the world.

“We had a great level of play this evening and we were faithful to our style throughout,” Andrés Iniesta told The Guardian. “Of course, it would have been different had Italy not been playing with 10 by the end, because that made things easier for us. But we have to enjoy this victory. Everybody has their own point of view and we are not here saying our game is the most beautiful of them all. But this achievement is unique. It’s magical. Something that cannot be repeated. We still haven’t really realised how great this is. Spanish football is living great years. We are very complete as a football side and we have to be proud of that.”

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Spain to reign against Portugal

Today’s match between Spain and Portugal in the first semifinal of Euro 2012 should be one heck of a match.

Spain is looking to become the first team to win three consecutive major tournaments, while Portugal is hoping to ride the brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo to the finals.

After scoring only one goal in his last three international competitions, Ronaldo has found the net five times so far in this tournament, with game winners in the last two matches.

“He’s a demanding player to face, mentally and physically,” Spain’s Alvaro Arbeloa told The Guardian. “When you play against the best, people who are playing spectacularly well, it’s always tough. You know you have to be at your very best. I like to measure myself against the best players of the world and it’s a great challenge. Of course you can’t stop him for 90 minutes, but it’s a nice battle.”

If there is one team that should know how to slow Ronaldo – and which buttons to push to knock him off his game – it would have to be Spain, whose roster is filled with players from Ronaldo’s club team, Real Madrid, as well as Real’s biggest La Liga rival in Barcelona.

Plus Spain has yet to play its best game in the tournament, which they have been criticized for.

“Football is great because not everyone likes the same thing,” Andrés Iniesta told The Guardian. “Variety is nice; it’s good to have a diversity of opinions. We have a way of playing that has brought us success and for us there is no other way. Those opinions [attacking Spain] are perfectly respectable but it is true that when there is [only] one team that always wants to attack and has a rival that only wants to close off, drop deep, and avoid danger, of course the football is not as attractive as when both teams want to win and open up to attack each other.

“Let’s not forget that we changed Spanish football two years ago. And let’s not forget how we did it.”

As for Ronaldo, he says it’s all good.

“I am not feeling the pressure of playing Spain or any other team because it is part of my life,” he told The Daily Mail. “I will always have responsibility but pressure? Not much.”

We’ve been along for the ride with Spain since the start of the last World Cup and we see no need to hop off now.

Searching for answers in Browns Town

We come here today seeking answers to a seemingly simple question:

Why?

As in, why are some Browns fans so dysfunctional?

As in, why does it matter what Jim Brown thinks about the team?

As the Browns were wrapping up the last Organized Team Activity before training camp, team president Mike Holmgren gave a relatively benign press conference last week. Overall, Holmgren didn’t say much, but he did leave fans with two takeaways: one, he would try to be more accessible with the media as long they as didn’t cause shenanigans and, two, the Browns will actually wear their Brown jerseys next season.

Easy enough, thanks, and we’ll see everyone at the end of July. And then someone had to bring up the franchise’s strained relationship with Jim Brown.

“How the Browns view Jim Brown hasn’t changed and will never change,” Holmgren said. “I would love to see Jim Brown walk in right now or come to the Legends thing, be a part of this. … Because Jim’s role changed here, I could see where he got a little upset with me, perhaps. I would like Jim Brown to come and be a part of this and feel comfortable doing that and I would welcome him with open arms.”

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Euro 2012 Preview – Group C

With Euro 2012 starting on Friday in Poland and Ukraine, we continue our look at the 16 teams today focusing on Group C, which features Croatia, Ireland, Italy (four-time World Cup winners) and the world’s best team, Spain.

The Teams
Croatia (currently at No. 8 in the FIFA rankings) failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, so this is the squad’s first tournament since reaching the quarterfinals of Euro 2008.
The team is led by striker Luka Modric and Niko Kranjcar, Croatia’s top scorer in qualifying with four goals who is moving to Dynamo Kyiv after the tournament.
“(Luka) is a wonderful player,” Harry Redknapp, the pair’s manager at Tottenham Hotspur, told The Daily Mail. “He has that gift of creating space out of nothing. He is also a superb example to other players, never a moment’s trouble.”
Even with their high ranking, many seem down on Croatia, which could help motivate the team.
“I cannot remember a time when people were so negative about our chances,” captain Darijo Srna told ESPN. “Our belief is when the big games come, against the best opponents, these players move to a different level.”
Ireland (ranked No. 18) has to deal with expectation at home that the team can make it out of this group, which may be a bit unrealistic given the fact the team isn’t playing its best right now.
In addition, the players are complaining that manager Giovanni Trapattoni worked them too hard during their training camp in Tuscany, a charge the manager predictably disputes.
“It was a holiday in Montecatini,” Trapattoni told The Guardian. “It was beautiful. My first concert is never to push the players too hard.”
This is Ireland’s first major tournament since the 2002 World Cup and their first appearance in the Euros since 1988. It’s also one of the last chances for captain Robbie Keane to show his stuff on the international stage. Keane scored seven goals during qualifying.
“I think as a player, and as a nation, we know it’s not going to be easy,” Keane told ESPN. “But when you’re a professional athlete, you’ve got a winning mentality and you have to into every tournament, every game believing that you’re going to win it. Are we underdogs? Yes. Do people think we’re going to win it? Of course not. As players, we have to believe that we can. Anything can happen in football.”
Italy (ranked No. 12) is sort of the wildcard in the group. They were unbeaten in group play, giving up just two goals in 10 games, led by Antonio Cassano’s six goals.
Of course, Cassno underwent heart surgery in November (he returned to training in January), defender Andrea Barzagli is out of at least the group phase with a calf injury, strike Mario Balotelli left training early with a knee or thigh problem and striker Giuseppe Rossi is not with the squad.
Throw in the fact that the Azzurri haven’t won a tournament since 2006 and that Italian officials are dealing with match-fixing investigations that led police to raid the national team’s training camp it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where Italy crashes and burns in group play.
And the team never knows what they are going to get from Balotelli. Talented (13 goals in 23 Premier League games with Manchester City this year) and troubled, Balotelli is a powder keg always on the verge of exploding.
Spain (No. 1 in the world) ended a 44-year title drought by winning Euro 2008 and followed that up by winning the World Cup in 2010.
Can they become the first international squad to win three major tournaments in a row?
Spain cruised through qualification, winning all eight games with a goal-differential of +20. And even though injuries have knocked Carles Puyol and David Villa out of the tournament, the team is loaded.
From Andres Iniesta, who scored the winning goal in the World Cup final, to Iker Casillas, Xavi Hernandez, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas to David Silva, it’s easy to why Spain is the prohibitive favorite.
“We’re conscious of the fact that it was inevitable on paper we’d be favorites. The key to our success has been to always start from zero and respect our opponents,” Ramos told The Daily Mail. “Humility has been the base from which we have grown in these recent years.”
Another advantage for Spain is the fact that Real Madrid and Barcelona went out of the Champions League in the semifinals. As almost all of Spain’s starters come from those two club teams, the players should be more rested than usual.
Spain doesn’t have history on its side, however, as previous European champions have made a habit of going out in the group stage of the following tournament – Greece in 2008, Germany in 2000 and Denmark in 1996.
Did you Know?
Italy’s Mario Balotelli once accidentally set his mansion on fire after setting off fireworks in the bathroom?
Game to Watch
The June 14 match between Italy and Croatia could very well determine who makes it out of the group stage and who goes home early for the summer.
Who Will Advance?
Spain for sure; recent history aside they are just too talented not to make it out of the group stage. As for the second spot, Croatia seems to have the fewest question marks of the remaining three teams.
For additional coverage, be sure to check out The Daily Mail, The Guardian, EPL Talk and ESPN.

They’re not the world champs for nothing

“He doesn’t know it’s a damn show! He thinks it’s a damn fight!”

Apparently someone forgot to tell Spain this was supposed to be an exhibition.

The reigning World Cup champions dismantled the U.S. on Saturday, 4-0.

The friendly, before more than 64,000 at Gillette Stadium, was the first time the two teams have played since the U.S. shocked Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup.

Spain clearly did not forget.

Santi Cazorla scored twice, and Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Torres also scored for Spain.

As for the U.S., Landon Donovan (illness) and Carlos Bocanegra (coaches decision) did not play, while Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Steve Cherundolo only saw action as second-half substitutes.

The U.S. was clearly holding players back in advance of Tuesday’s Gold Cup opener against Canada.

While winning a tournament is more important than winning a friendly, we have to wonder what the thinking was in scheduling Spain just a few days before the Gold Cup.

The only way the U.S. team is going to get better is by taking on teams like Spain, but if the top players don’t see the field, where is the value? Presumably the experience was still there for the second-level players on the team who saw game action, so that’s a positive.

And it’s not like Donvan, Dempsey, Bradley, etc., are lacking in big-game experience.

We still would have liked the U.S. team to enter the Gold Cup on a bit more of a positive note, as this loss puts more pressure on the team to put on a good showing.

Because if they don’t at least make the finals of the Gold Cup, today’s loss against Spain could have a lasting impact that the team was not expecting.

Odds & Ends

The more we think, read and talk about LeBron James’ decision to leave Cleveland for Miami, the more we wonder if we’re trying to make this into something bigger than it is.

Maybe this really is as simple as a 25-year-old basketball player wanting to play with his friends and hang out on the beach. He wouldn’t be the first to leave Cleveland in his mid-20s to take a job elsewhere, heck I did it after college. Of course, I didn’t have the option of staying here for more money.

There are two points that have come out over the past few days that shed a lot of light on his decision:

  • LeBron views Akron and Cleveland as two separate entities. W think he did enjoy playing 45 minutes north of where he grew up, but to him Akron is home; Cleveland was just where he went to work. We think he would have felt the same if the Cavs were located in Columbus, Cincinnati or Toledo; we all wanted to link Northeast Ohio into one large entity, while it’s apparent that LeBron never did.
  • LeBron is a follower; he’s never been, or wanted to be, a leader. Terry Pluto pointed out in his Sunday PD column that LeBron followed Dru Joyce III to St. V, not the other way around. Pluto reiterated that point today on Sirius’ Mad Dog Radio, pointing out that Dwyane Wade is the NBA equivalent of Joyce, he’s the leader and LeBron the follower. It appears that leading the Cavs as the main guy was just not in his nature.

For some other really good perspectives, visit Cleveland Frowns as well as the guys at Waiting For Next Year. They’ve put together some solid takes on the entire situation.

And if you’re really, really still upset, you can always buy one of these.

***

As for what’s next for the Cavs, the team has an opportunity to rebuild the team in a different way if they so choose. Rather than taking on players that they think they need short-term – i.e., Shaq, Antawn Jamison – they can go after players they want and build a team that can achieve long-term success.

Hopefully they see this as the prudent course of action. As much fun as Dan Gilbert’s letter was, the team can’t operate out of emotion; they’re not fans. And if that means they have to take a step or two back, then so be it.

The Cavs have assets with expiring contracts, draft picks and the $14.5 million trade exemption they received as part of the sign-and-trade with Miami. The important thing to remember is they don’t have to make any moves this week, or this season for that matter. They have a year to use the exception and the season doesn’t start for more than three months. There’s no need to rush.

One name tossed around has been Minnesota’s Al Jefferson, who is still recovering from a severe knee injury and is owed $42 million over the next three seasons. He’s only 25, though, which would help the team in its quest to get younger.

But remember, just because Jefferson may be the best player available, doesn’t mean he’s the best player. It may make more sense for the Cavs to acquire two $7 million players who can combine to match or exceed Jefferson’s numbers, rather than take on another team’s bad contract.

The important thing for the team to remember is they don’t have to rush into anything.

***

Finally, congratulations to Spain for capturing its first World Cup title, just as we predicted.

OK, picking Spain wasn’t exactly going out on a limb, and while we did get the opponent wrong, we were only four minutes away from getting the prediction right about La Furia Roja winning on penalty kicks.

Despite the claims of some that “no one cares” about soccer in America, TV ratings were up 41 percent in the U.S. over the 2006 World Cup.

And not only did Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas take home the World Cup, he got the girl as well.

Well played.

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 H

How difficult this group rates depends on which perspective you’re coming from. For the favorite Spain, it’s a relatively average draw. It does get a tough and underrated Chilean team that, if it manages to wrestle the top qualifying position from the Spaniards, could force Spain into a round-of-16 matchup against the Group G winner — likely Brazil.

But neither Honduras nor Switzerland is as threatening, each one being tough enough to draw against Spain if the Spanish are in poor form, but probably not to beat them. While far from being a dream draw for Spain, it certainly would not want to trade positions with Brazil in Group G or perhaps even Germany in the overlooked Group D. But Spain, to state the obvious, does not have to play itself; the other three sides are stuck fighting for one qualifying position and will face one match that will be nearly impossible to win.

On paper, Spain is the favorite to win the whole tournament but Cup aficionados know that something always goes wrong for the Spanish and that subsequently they’ve never gone past the quarters. Historians tend to attribute the team’s lack of good fortune to its traditional lack of unity, which reflects the nation’s atomized regions. (Hence the European joke, “Three Spaniards, four opinions.”)

But Spain is a choke artist no more. It proved as much during Euro 2008, when it romped to the final. Yet this is a different story, a different tournament. One it’s never won before. Spain, in spite of some superb teams, has never cracked the semifinals in the modern era. Along with Brazil, there’s no bigger favorite to win this tournament than Spain. Remarkably, Spain has lost just once in its past 47 games — to the U.S. no less, in last summer’s Confederations Cup — and won all 10 of its World Cup qualifiers.

Yet for all that manpower, there are worries aplenty, all of them related to injury. Team engine Xavi has a torn calf muscle, and could be less than fully fit. Cesc Fabregas has a fractured shin and is racing to make it back in time. Marcos Senna, David Silva and Santi Cazorla have battled bumps and bruises all year, as has Jesus Navas. Striker Fernando Torres isn’t expected to recover from his knee surgery in time for Spain’s opening game.

What’s especially compelling about Spain is that it’s really a cohesive team, rather than a collection of individual talent, and its balance is self-evident, as it places second (behind Brazil in both cases) in both offensive and defensive rating.

Chile, South America’s surprise young team, loves to play offense but, as would be expected, is weaker on the defensive end. Whatever chance it has it owes to ace coach, the Argentine Marcelo “Madman” Bielsa, famous for such eccentric methods as touring zoos for coaching ideas.

The 2010 South American qualifying campaign was among Chile’s most triumphant soccer moments of all time. La Roja finished second to Brazil, scoring only one goal fewer than the five-time World Cup champions. Chile won 10 of 18 matches, while experiencing remarkable success away from home — suggesting this team might have the stuff to compete under difficult conditions.

Switzerland was drawn in a comfortable qualifying group and duly took advantage, topping Greece to earn a direct berth to the finals in South Africa. That top-of-the-table was no foregone conclusion, though: The squad didn’t start off well, blowing a 2-0 lead to tie its opener at Israel, then suffering an embarrassing 2-1 loss — at home — to minnow Luxembourg.

The Swiss, one of the youngest teams at the World Cup, will be hard-pressed to reach the round of 16 for the second straight tournament, since two of its group rivals are favorite Spain and Chile, which impressed in South American qualifying. Since the last World Cup, where it was eliminated by Ukraine on penalties, Switzerland has played 16 matches against other World Cup qualifiers — among the most by any team — and is 6-8-2 against that competition. That speaks to a team which is perhaps slightly too inconsistent to qualify out of a tough draw.

Honduras are hardly a historical power in North American football. The Central American nation of just under eight million people has only qualified for the World Cup once before in its history, in 1982. Their biggest success on the international stage was probably during the controversial Copa América 2001, where Argentina dropped out due to security concerns. An undermanned Honduras team who arrived just one day before the tournament began was able to advance out of their group and upset Brazil in the quarterfinals before finally losing to hosts Colombia. This Honduras side is not like those of the ‘80s and ‘90s, though; three of their players are first team regulars in the English Premier League. They truly are the third most talented team in a CONCACAF region that’s deeper than it was in those days, but they are surely not without shortcomings.

The Catrachos represent a nation thrilled to be participating in its second World Cup, and first since 1982. Honduras qualified on the last day of CONCACAF’s hexagonal, thanks to a win over El Salvador which lifted it past Costa Rica into third place.

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

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