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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)

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Simply put, U.S. needs better competition

Lots going on this week in non-Cleveland Browns style of football, starting with the U.S. Men’s National Team, which took on Ecuador Tuesday night in an international friendly.

The U.S. lost, 1-0, on a goal by Jaime Ayoví in the 79th minute. The Americans have now gone 23 games without scoring more than two goals, since beating Australia 3-1 in their last warmup before the 2010 World Cup.

“We created chances in the first half and really didn’t allow Ecuador anything,” coach Jurgen Klinsmann said in published reports. “They never really had a real threat until their goal.”

And the Titanic was a nice voyage until that whole iceberg thing.

Obviously that is a bit extreme, but the team is just 1-3-1 since Klinsmann took over for Bob Bradley. By comparison, Bradley was 10-0-1 to start his tenure with the team.

“Part of the attraction, obviously, is (Klinsmann’s) an innovative guy and wants to try things, not necessarily only things that have a 50-year track record of success, but some new things,” USSF president Sunil Gulati said in published reports. “So that always takes a little time for everyone — staff, coaching staff, players, leadership — and everyone’s adjusting.”

The good news is this is the time for the team to try some of these “innovative” things. The U.S. doesn’t play a match that matters until next summer when they resume qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. So things are not as dire as some would have you believe.

What the U.S. really needs is a higher level of competition. Not to bag too hard on CONCACAF, but Aruba, Turks and Caicos, and Belize don’t really offer the level of talent the U.S. needs to reach the next level internationally.

Certainly having Mexico be the only other viable team in the confederation makes it easier to qualify for the World Cup, but the soft schedule hurts once the World Cup starts.

What the United States needs is to play in a tournament like Euro 2012. Spain, Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands and England are among the teams that have already qualified for next summer’s tournament in Ukraine and Poland.

Qualifying is so tough, that Portugal, Euro 2004 runners-up, find themselves having to earn a spot via a playoff.

Unfortunately, unless the U.S. is ready to become a British colony again, or they get the governing bodies to agree to some creative geography, it ain’t going to happen.

Which means Klinsmann better have some creative tricks up his sleeve come 2014 in Brazil.

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Speaking of Euro 2012, The New York Times had a good article this week about the challenges England coach Fabio Capello faces in dealing with talented – and hot-headed – striker Wayne Rooney.

Rooney has been the talk of English soccer since age 9, eventually joining Everton’s academy. At age 16, he scored for Everton against Arsenal, which at the time was riding a 30-game unbeaten streak in league play.

Two years later, Manchester United paid Everton about $47 million to gain Rooney’s services, the highest transfer fee every for an 18-year-old.

And while Rooney is by far England’s best player, he can easily loose his cool on the field – he, along with David Beckham, are the only England players sent off twice during international play – and the fate of the Three Lions next summer rests on his stocky shoulders.

“I cannot enter the head of Wayne Rooney when he plays,” Capello said. “I can speak before, I can substitute him, I can find different solutions, but …

“Rooney is a really good player, a really important player. For a long time, he has been the best player of the national team. But the player is difficult to understand. He can do something fantastic, and he can make a silly mistake.”

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Just a few days shy of the one-year anniversary of their purchase of Liverpool, The Guardian has a two-part behind-the-scenes look at the John Henry and Fenway Sports Group, who also own the Boston Red Sox.

Henry is part of a group of Americans who are now owners of five of the English game’s most prestigious clubs: Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Aston Villa and Sunderland.

One of the more interesting parts of the article is Henry’s admission that he is worried about a backlash from fans at both clubs, who may accuse the owners of concentrating too much on the other (sound familiar, Browns fans?)

“There was a lot of criticism in Boston that we weren’t going to spend money on the Red Sox after we did the Liverpool transaction,” Henry said. “Then there was the fear we wouldn’t spend in Liverpool. Hopefully the fans of both clubs will eventually see what we see clearly – that there is nothing to fear from the existence of the other club.”

Hear that, Browns fans?

Part two runs on Thursday.

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Finally, from the always strong EPL Talk, comes a take on why Liverpool’s plan to sell their own overseas TV rights will never happen.

Jamison’s bad break good for Cavs

The Cavs announced on Monday that leading scorer Antawn Jamison will be out 5-7 weeks with a fractured left little finger that will require surgery on Tuesday.

Jamison hurt his finger during Sunday’s loss to the 76ers. The 5-7 week time frame basically means Jamison and his 18 points per game will join Anderson Varajeo on the sidelines until next season.

While this is bad news for Jamison, it’s actually good news for the Cavs’ long-term future. After losing an NBA-record 26 games in a row, the Cavs appeared to be a lock for the most balls in the draft lottery.

But after going 3-3 over their last six games, the Cavs have let Minnesota creep within 2.5 games of the worst record in the league; with Sacramento just four games back.

That’s no way to go about maximizing your chances of landing the top pick in the NBA Draft.

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For what it’s worth, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock expressed faith in Cleveland’s second-year quarterback Colt McCoy at a press conference Sunday at the NFL Scouting Combine.

“That kid did a heckuva job last year,” Mayock told The Beacon Journal. “The kid’s won at every level. What did I say earlier about quarterbacks? How much do they care about the game? Are they the first one in the building? That’s him. He’s a gym rat.

“So I’m betting on him and I think the Cleveland Browns are, too. His arm is above average. It’s not great and it’s not elite. But the league has been (filled) with those kind of kids forever.

“If you understand where and when to throw the football and get it out quickly, you’re going to be fine.”

***

We’re still not sure how Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney can get off with no punishment for elbowing Wigan’s James McCarthy in the head during Saturday’s FA Cup game, but Liverpool’s Ryan Babel was censured and fined £10,000 for Tweeting a mocked-up photo of ref Howard Webb wearing a Manchester United shirt.

If only we could identify the common thread that unites these two incidents, we might be able to make some sense of this.

Cavs break streak, lose identity?

The Cavs finally broke their historic losing streak with an overtime win over the Clippers on Friday night.

The Clippers should have known better as the Cavs are at their most dangerous in overtime – their last win prior to Friday game against the Knicks in OT on Dec. 18.

Now that the Cavs have finally won again and are no longer the team with the losing streak, they can go about their business like just another NBA team.

Of course, your average NBA team isn’t 9-45, but nobody ever said rebuilding was going to be easy or quick.

As Clay Davis explained it to Stringer Bell on The Wire: crawl, walk, then run.

***

Wayne Rooney’s goal Saturday against Manchester
City was sick.

The Real Reason Brady Quinn Failed

We love the English media. Seriously, they are the best.

After The Three Lions were knocked out of the World Cup by Germany, the diagnosis began and everyone had a reason why the team lost. But The Daily Mail may have finally come up with the answer: man grooming.

Turns out striker Wayne Rooney waxed his chest, which may be the reason why he played so poorly in the World Cup.

Really.

So that got us thinking and we realized that there may be a connection between waxing and the real reason why Brady Quinn couldn’t make it work in Cleveland.

Look at this picture. Does that look like someone who could drive the Browns down the field against Baltimore in the closing minutes of a game in 10 degree weather on the lakefront?

Of course not.

So it wasn’t Eric Mangini’s horrendous “quarterback competition” or Brian Daboll’s amateur play calling that doomed Quinn. It was vanity.

And now we know.

Play like a Champion

With Inter Milan and Barcelona advancing yesterday to the semifinals of the Champions League, today’s return legs will fill out the remaining two places in the tournament’s final four.

If you’re planning to follow the World Cup this summer – and why wouldn’t you? – today’s games (Manchester United v. Bayern Munich and Bordeaux v. Lyon) and the rest of the tournament provide a perfect opportunity to catch some of the players who will be in South Africa perform for their club teams.

Wayne Rooney (although injured), Rio Ferdinand, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Frank Ribery, Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi are just some of the players still involved in the tournament who should also take the field this summer for their national teams.

If you’ve never watched a Champions League match, give it a shot. And if you happen to be one of the five people in the country who receive Fox Soccer Channel in HD, more the better because this sport is built for HD on a large screen.

You never know, you may just like it.

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