Tag Archives: Gerard Pique

Revealed – Manchester United Have The Best Youth Academy In England

danny-tom

According to research by Sporting Intelligence, Manchester United have the best youth academy having produce more first-team players for club in Europe’s top 5 leagues than any other team in England.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side are ranked fifth in the world behind the likes of Barcelona, Olympique Lyonnais, Real Madrid and Stade Rennais. Twenty of the twenty-four players who have graduated from the Old Trafford academy have gone on to play in the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 or the Serie A.

Nine of the twenty-four players produced are still at United ( including Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Darren Fletcher, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck), and the remaining 15 playing elsewhere include the likes of Phil Neville (Everton), Kieran Richardson (Fulham), Phil Bardsley (Sunderland), Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover 96), Paul Pogba (Juventus) and Ryan Shawcross (Stoke City).

Elsewhere in the Premier League, Arsenal came second behind United with 20 players, Aston Villa third with 15, Tottenham and West Ham joint fourth with 13 primary products. Reigning Premier League champions Manchester City are in seventh with 12 home grown players, while Chelsea are eight with total 12 players and Liverpool are tenth with a total of 10 primary products.

Outside the Premier League, Barcelona are the undisputed kings of producing players – with a massive 38 players produced by the famous La Masia academy. And it’s not only the number of production that impresses, its the unbelievably high talent level too. The likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Pedro, Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol, Jordi Alba, Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique are all home-grown players.

Ligue 1 club Olympique Lyonnias lie second behind Barcelona with 29 primary products, while Real Madrid have 27 home grown players. Another French club, Stade Rennais, are above Manchester United with 21 primary prodcuts. Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich are sixth with a total of 23 players followed by Sochaux, Real Sociedad, Atalanta and Atletico Madrid.

Top 10 from the Premier League

Manchester United – 24 total academy products
Arsenal – 20 academy products
Aston Villa – 15 academy products
Tottenham Hotspur – 15 academy products
West Ham United – 13 academy products
Newcastle United – 13 academy products
Manchester City – 12 academy products
Southampton – 12 academy products
Chelsea – 12 academy products
Liverpool – 10 academy products

Complete list..

Top 10 from Europe

Barcelona (La Liga) – 38 academy products
Olympique Lyonnais (Ligue 1) – 31 academy products
Real Madrid (La Liga) – 29 academy products
Stade Rennais (Ligue 1) – 24 academy products
Manchester United (Premier League) – 24 academy products
Bayern Munich (Bundesliga) – 23 academy products
Sochaux (Ligue 1) – 22 academy products
Real Sociedad (La Liga) – 21 academy products
Atalanta (Serie A) – 21 academy products
Atletico Madrid (La Liga) – 21 academy products

Complete list..

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El Clasico – Barcelona v Real Madrid Preview

There are very few fixtures in world football that capture the imagination quite like the meeting between the two giants of Spanish football – Barcelona and Real Madrid, as the El Clasico returns tonight.

Two old adversaries will lock horns at Camp Nou in the latest installment of a derby dual which will perhaps decide the fate of the league at a point sooner than ever before. Barcelona are currently at the top of the table and hold an eight-point lead over their arch rivals. It’s no rocket science that anything apart from a win for Real Madrid will mean a huge task for them to overturn the deficit and defend their league title.

TEAM NEWS

Barcelona

Barcelona will assess Gerard Pique’s fitness ahead of Sunday’s Primera Division showdown with Real Madrid at Camp Nou. The Spain defender has not played for two weeks because of a foot injury but managed to train in the gym on Friday. Carles Puyol (elbow) and Thiago Alcantara (knee) are ruled out, meaning converted midfielders Alex Song and Javier Mascherano are likely to resume their partnership in central defence.

Real Madrid

Sami Khedira and Angel Di Maria are set to return to the starting line-up for Real Madrid, who have no injury concerns. The biggest selection dilemma for boss Jose Mourinho is likely to be over the playmaker role, with Mesut Ozil, Luka Modric, Kaka and Michael Essien all vying for a starting berth.

HEAD TO HEAD

Played – 221
Barcelona Wins – 87
Draw – 46
Real Madrid Wins – 88

HEAD TO HEAD FIXTURES (LAST FIVE)

29-Aug-12 – Super Cup – Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona
23-Aug-12 – Super Cup – Barcelona 3-2 Real Madrid
21-Apr-12 – La Liga – Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid
25-Jan-12 – Copa del Rey – Barcelona 2-2 Real Madrid
18-Jan-12 – Copa del Rey – Real Madrid 1-2 Barcelona

FORM GUIDE

Barcelona – WWWWW

02-Oct-12 – Champions League – Benfica 0-2 Barcelona
29-Sep-12 – La Liga – Sevilla 2-3 Barcelona
22-Sep-12 – La Liga – Barcelona 2-0 Granada
19-Sep-12 – Champions League – Barcelona 3-2 Spartak Moscow
15-Sep-12 – La Liga – Getafe 1-4 Barcelona

Real Madrid – WWWWL

03-Oct-12 – Champions League – Ajax 1-4 Real Madrid
30-Sep-12 – La Liga – Real Madrid 5-1 Deportivo
24-Sep-12 – La Liga – Rayo Vallecano 0-2 Real Madrid
18-Sep-12 – Champions League – Real Madrid 3-2 Manchester City
15-Sep-12 – La Liga – Sevilla 1-0 Real Madrid

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
The Argentine magician was an ever-present threat in the Champions League on Tuesday, setting up goals for Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas in the 2-0 win at Benfica. Barcelona will need Messi to be at his best again and keep the action firmly in the Real Madrid half to prevent the understrength defence from being troubled by the visitors.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
Madrid’s star striker comes into this clash in the fine form and on the back of two consecutive hat-tricks against Deportivo and Ajax respectively. The torment of Barcelona in April when he scored the winning goal in this fixture last season which won Real the title, the Portuguese will again look to take command of this fixture.

PROBABLE LINEUPS

Barcelona (4-3-3): Victor Valdes; Dani Alves, Alex Song, Javier Mascherano, Jordi Alba; Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta; Alexis Sanchez, Lionel Messi, David Villa.

Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Iker Casillas; Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo; Sami Khedira, Xabi Alonso; Angel Di Maria, Mesut Ozil, Cristiano Ronaldo; Karim Benzema.

MATCH ODDS

Barcelona 17/20, Draw 11/4, Real Madrid 3/1

PREDICTION

With Barcelona having to deal with many injuries in the heart of the defence and Real Madrid having their best players in top form, its Real Madrid’s game to lose. As all games between these two sides, this one is also expected to be an open, end-to-end game of football with both sides going for the win. A win for the Catalan giants and they go eleven points ahead of their fierce rivals, but a win for the reigning champions and they are back in the race. An exciting match is expected followed by a win for the defending champions.

Predicted Score: Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid

UEFA EURO 2012 Final Preview – Spain v Italy

European glory is up for grabs on Sunday night at Kiev’s Olympic Stadium when the defending champions Spain go head-to-head against the 2006 World Cup winners Italy.

Neither side have lost a match in the tournament so far but it will be the Italians who enter the showpiece in better form. Cesare Prandelli’s side were excellent in their quarter-final win over England – which was only decided on penalties because of their poor finishing – and they backed it up with a superb 2-1 victory against an in-form Germany. And although Spain will enter the final as favourites, Prandelli is confident his side can cause problems for their opponents. “We only have one day to prepare for this game but we will try to find Spain’s weaknesses,” Prandelli said. “They are the world and European champions and they are an example to everyone. But we have grown and we should not fear them. We have to have the strength to face them with ideas and quality.”

Reigning European champions Spain had the opportunity to eliminate Italy during the group stage, with both sides slugging it out in Group C. A 2-2 draw against Croatia in their final group game would have been enough to see Spain and the Croats progress at Italy’s expense. Del Bosque’s side play to win, though, and a late effort from Jesus Navas, coupled with a 2-0 victory for the Azzurri over the Republic of Ireland, kept things fair. Del Bosque has no regrets at having passed up the chance to send a rival packing and is looking forward to renewing acquaintances with a side that posed Spain plenty of problems during a 1-1 draw in the opening round of fixtures.  “Never have we regretted not drawing with Croatia to eliminate Italy. This wasn’t good for sport,” Del Bosque said. “Italy and ourselves have lived parallel lives and now we have to be at the level that a final demands. In the game in the group stages they were possibly superior in the first half. They were the team that gave us most problems.”

TEAM NEWS

Spain

Spain boss Vicente del Bosque is expected to have a fully-fit squad for the Euro 2012 final showdown with Italy. The 61-year-old’s biggest selection dilemma is likely to be over whether to field a recognised striker after Alvaro Negredo’s anonymous performance in the semi-final win over Portugal. With Fernando Torres seemingly out of favour, and with Fernando Llorente yet to make an appearance at the tournament, Cesc Fabregas could be restored to a ‘false nine’ role up front alongside Andres Iniesta and David Silva.

Italy

Italy defender Ignazio Abate, who missed the semi-final win over Germany with a muscle injury, is likely to return to fitness in time for the final, while fellow full-back Christian Maggio is also available after serving a one-match ban. Coach Cesare Prandelli may persist with the same formation that served him well against the Germans rather than revert to the unorthodox 3-5-2 line-up used in the opening match against Spain. AC Milan-bound Riccardo Montolivo is likely to keep his place in the team ahead of Thiago Motta after an assured performance in the semi-final.

ROAD TO THE FINAL

Spain

10 Jun – Group C – Spain 1-1 Italy (Fabregas)
14 Jun – Group C – Spain 4-0 Ireland (Torres(2), David Silva, Fabregas)
18 Jun – Group C – Croatia 0-1 Spain (Jesus Navas)
23 Jun – Quarter-Finals – Spain 2-0 France (Xabi Alonso(2))
27 Jun – Semi-Finals – Portugal 0-0 (2-4P) Spain

Italy

10 Jun – Group C – Spain 1-1 Italy (Fabregas)
14 Jun – Group C – Italy 1-1 Croatia (Pirlo)
18 Jun – Group C – Italy 2-0 Ireland (Cassano, Balotelli)
24 Jun – Quarter-Finals – England 0-0 (2-4P) Italy
28 Jun – Semi-Finals – Germany 1-2 Italy (Balotelli(2))

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Played – 30
Spain Wins – 8
Draws – 12
Italy Wins – 10

FORM GUIDE

Spain – DWWWD
27-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Portugal 0-0 Spain
23-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 2-0 France
18-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Croatia 0-1 Spain
14-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 4-0 Ireland
10-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 1-1 Italy

Italy – WDWDD
28-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Germany 1-2 Italy
22-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – England 0-0 Italy
18-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Italy 2-0 Ireland
14-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Italy 1-1 Crotia
10-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 1-1 Italy

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Iker Casillas (Spain)
The Real Madrid and Spain captain is often unsung, but he steers the game out of the back, organizes the defense and restarts the attack. In Spain’s best games, he often has little to do which makes his concentration all the more remarkable: he is the rare keeper who can make the important save after sitting idle for 89 minutes. That’s a more valuable asset than most fans realize.

Andres Iniesta (Spain)
Against Portugal, the Barcelona playmaker was shackled and kept quiet. It showed in Spain’s insipid play. Iniesta has to have the ball and he has to have room to create. When he has both, Spain are the most vicious team on the planet, slicing apart defenses with abandon. But when he is off – and he rarely is – they are reduced to a passing team that must play keep-away and is very boring to watch.

Cesc Fabregas (Spain)
Del Bosque’s insistence on packing his side with as many playmakers as possible has rendered Spain slow and predictable in possession, with not enough width to stretch the opposition. The 61-year-old could compensate for this by ordering Fabregas to make runs behind the Italian backline as often as possible to drag defenders out of position, thus creating space for Iniesta and Silva to run into.

Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)
Pirlo may control the game, but Buffon is the man who saves it. He was brilliant against Germany, swatting away shot after shot and showing control of his area that most keepers can only dream of. A consummate competitor, he also stalked off the field after their win, clearly unhappy. Why? Italy had wasted too many chances at the other end. That kind of fire drives teams, and Italy’s captain has fire in spades.

Andrea Pirlo (Italy)
Even though Balotelli was praised by the football fraternity for his two goals against Germany, it was Pirlo’s brilliance on the field that won him his third Man of the Match award for the tournament. Pirlo has been able to topple all the opponents with his accurate passes and wise decisions creating opportunities for his team-mates to score goals every now and then. Along with Balotelli, Italy will need Pirlo to use his experience for a formidable show.

Mario Balotelli (Italy)
Even though many disagree on the striker’s maturity level, none would doubt Mario Ballotelli’s ability on the pitch as a footballer. He proved his worth against Germany in the last four as he was key to Italy’s place in the final. After being inconsistent throughout the tournament, Balotelli was the catalyst against Germany which rung the bells for the defending champions. The fans would expect an encore from Balotelli and with a formidable show; he can also bag the much coveted golden boot.

PROBABLE LINEUPS

Spain (4-3-3): Iker Casillas (C); Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba; Sergi Busquets, Xavi, Xabi Alonso; David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta.

The Spaniards are expected to field the same side that featured against the Italians in the first game in Group C. Cesc Fabregas, who scored the winning penalty against Portugal, will come in place for Alvaro Negredo, who was quite annonymous during the semi-finals. The rest of the starting XI will be the same. But at the same time, Del Bosque is not shy of throwing in some surprises and might actually play Pedro or Jesus Navas or Fernando Torres in place of David Silva or in the central striker role. Pedro and Jesus Navas were very impressive against the Portuguese after coming on as substitutes and caused Cristiano Ronaldo and co some problems.

Italy (4-3-1-2): Gianluigi Buffon (C); Ignazio Abate, Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini, Federico Balzaretti; Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi; Ricardo Montolivo; Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano.

It hardly seems that boss Cesare Prandelli will change his winning team that defeated Germany in the semi-finals. However, a solitary change is a possibility with the AC Milan right back Ignazio Abate coming back in the side for Leanardo Bonucci with Federico Balzaretti going back to his normal left back position. Rest of the side will remain the same with Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marschiso and Daniele De Rossi playing in center midfield just behind Ricardo Montolivo. Up front, the attacking duo of Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano are set to start yet again after an very impressive display against the Germans.

KEY BATTLES

Sergio Ramos v Mario Balotelli
With Carles Puyol ruled out for the entire tournament by injury, Sergio Ramos has cemented his place as Gerard Pique’s partner at the heart of Spain’s defence. His replica of Andre Pirlo’s penalty in the semi-final penalty shoot-out win over Portugal demonstrated his confidence. Mario Balotelli appears to be maturing before our very eyes at UEFA EURO 2012. His form and attitude were questioned in Italy’s first two games but he has been almost unplayable since scoring the stunning goal as a substitute against Ireland.

Xavi v Andrea Pirlo
A mouthwatering showdown between two of the best passers ever to grace the game. Xavi’s status as an all-time great has already been assured but he has yet to hit the heights in Poland/Ukraine and will be desperate to do so on Sunday. Andrea Pirlo has been peerless for Italy and almost has the Player of the Tournament award wrapped up ahead of the final.

Andres Iniesta v Ignazio Abate/Federico Balzaretti 
If Spain decide not to play a striker, their midfield will have to fill the void and no-one is more capable of doing so than Andres Iniesta, whose goal settled the 2010 World Cup. The 28-year-old also likes to drift out wide, where he will doubtless come up against Ignazio Abate or Federico Balzaretti. The AC Milan right-back and the Juventus defender both have been very impressive going forward during the tournament.

THE STADIUM

Name: Olympic Stadium, Kiev
UEFA Capacity: 
64,640
Record attendance: 
102,000 (2-0 FC Dynamo Kyiv v FC Bayern München on 16/03/1977)
Tenants: 
Ukrainian national team
Opened: 
1923 (reopened October 2011)

• Located at the foot of city’s central Cherepanov Hill in Pechersk, the venue started life as the Red Stadium of Lev Trotsky and has enjoyed numerous face-lifts (minor and major) since.

• The latest stadium reconstruction, from December 2008 to October 2011, saw the demolition and rebuilding of the lower tier, a new West Stand with a two-level press box or VIP seats between the two tiers and the addition of a new transparent roof.

• Andriy Yarmolenko scored the first goal at the renovated Olympic Stadium on 11 November 2011, a crowd of 70,000 in attendance as Ukraine led 2-0 and 3-1 before drawing 3-3 with Germany.

• It has had several monikers, too. It became simply the Red Stadium before being renamed the Republican Stadium in 1936 and, barring a 17-year stint as the Central Stadium (1962 to 1979), kept the title until 1996. Then it adopted its current Olympic name, a nod to the 1980 Moscow Olympics when it hosted seven games.

• The stadium is the traditional stage for Dynamo Kiev’s European games, replacing the 16,973-capacity Valeriy Lobanovskiy Stadium.

• Because there were no seats the venue often exceeded its official 100,062 capacity. Newspapers used to just report attendance as being ‘chock-full’.

(source: uefa.com)

THE MATCH BALL

The adidas Tango 12 Finale features a modern interpretation of classic Tango design, used during FIFA World Cups and UEFA European Championships during the early 1980s, including bespoke graphics designed to represent the two host countries and the key characteristics of football – unity, rivalry and passion.

Developed over a two-year period, it has been constructed in the same way as the ball which will be used during the rest of the tournament. That ball was presented in December 2011 at the EURO draw and distributed to the participating teams.

The final ball underwent two rigorous types of testing – qualitative player testing, which was conducted across eight different countries, using players, federations and clubs from both elite and grassroots football, and quantitative lab testing, which concluded that the adidas Tango 12 Finale meets and exceeds all FIFA standards for an official match ball, making it the most tested ball adidas has ever produced.

(source: uefa.com)

THE TROPHY

Spain’s Iker Casillas had the pleasure of becoming the first captain to lift the updated version of the Henri Delaunay Cup in June 2008, with the new trophy a fitting replacement for the prize that has been synonymous with the UEFA European Championship.

The second version of the trophy is based on the original designed by Arthus-Bertrand in 1960 and named after Henri Delaunay, the former president of the French Football Federation and UEFA’s first general secretary, from the body’s founding on 15 June 1954 to 9 November 1955.

It is 18cm higher and 2kg heavier than the original, made of sterling silver, and has retained its historical name. The trophy was reincarnated to reflect the scale and size of Europe’s most prestigious international tournament.

The responsibility for creating the original went to Pierre Delaunay, son of Henri, the visionary behind the competition. Henri Delaunay died in 1955 before seeing his idea come to fruition, but the updated prize is testament to his enduring legacy, maintaining its classic style.

Minor differences between the original and updated version include the silver base being enlarged to make it stable. In addition, the names of the winning countries that had appeared on the plinth have been engraved on the back of the trophy, which weighs 8kg and is 60cm tall.

Unlike the original, which was the work of the Chobillon goldsmith and was later bought by Arthus-Bertrand in Paris, the making of the modern equivalent was entrusted to Asprey London.

Asprey, renowned silversmiths, jewellers and goldsmiths, have a long history of trophy-making stretching back to the America’s Cup, which their sister company Garrard produced in 1848. UEFA wanted to improve on the quality but also the scale of the trophy, and have a focal point for the event – it was felt that the original trophy was too small to do this.

(source: uefa.com)

THE REFEREE

Pedro Proenca of Portugal has been selected to referee the UEFA EURO 2012 final between Italy and Spain at the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv on Sunday. The appointment completes a memorable end to the season for the financial director from Pinhal Novo, who oversaw last month’s UEFA Champions League showpiece in Munich, where Chelsea defeated Bayern Munich on penalties.

Sunday’s fixture will be the 41-year-old’s fourth of the tournament, having taken charge of two group stage matches – Spain’s 4-0 victory against the Republic of Ireland on 14 June and Sweden’s 2-0 defeat of France five days later – as well as the England-Italy quarter-final in the Ukrainian capital.

Proenca will be assisted by countrymen Bertino Cunha Miranda and Ricardo Jorge Ferreira Santos, with Manuel Jorge Neves Moreira De Sousa and Duarte Nuno Pereira Gomes acting as additional assistant referees. The fourth official will be Cüneyt Cakır and the reserve assistant referee Bahattin Duran, both from Turkey.

Proenca has been on the rise in European refereeing circles since handling the UEFA European Under-19 Championship final in 2004. Promoted to UEFA’s Elite category at the start of 2009/10, he was in the middle for four games in that season’s UEFA Champions League, five in the 2010/11 edition and six this term, culminating in the Fußball Arena Munchen decider on 19 May.

(source: uefa.com)

THE  CLOSING CEREMONY

Kiev’s Olympic Stadium will host the UEFA EURO 2012 closing ceremony on Sunday, an unforgettable curtain-raiser to the final between Spain and Italy.

Inspired by football, the 16 participating teams and the tournament’s values, the 12-minute show will be presented shortly before kick-off, and will feature more than 600 volunteer performers. The concept has been created to celebrate the end of a historical event – the first UEFA European Championship staged in central and eastern Europe. It will also promote the participating nations together with key competition values: unity, rivalry and passion.

Both the opening and closing ceremonies were devised by Marco Balich, the president of Filmmaster Events, along with artistic director Lida Castelli and show director Bryn Walters. Balich has designed many international events, including the 2002 Olympic flag handover in Salt Lake City, the 2006 Olympic ceremonies in Turin and the Carnival of Venice.

The official tournament song, Endless Summer, will be performed live by German singer Oceana. The UEFA EURO 2012 hit is the first single from Oceana’s outstanding new studio album, recorded in London, New York and Berlin with producers including Rob Davis (Kylie Minogue) and Blair McKichan (Lily Allen). The national anthems of both finalists will be presented by Tamara Khodakova and Mykhailo Humenniy – soloists from the Kyiv Municipal Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, under the leadership of Anzhela Maslennikova.

A total of 150 million viewers are expected to watch the UEFA EURO 2012 final live.

(source: uefa.com)

BETTING ODDS

Match Result
Spain – 6/5
Draw – 11/5
Italy – 5/2

To Lift The Trophy
Spain – 8/15
Italy – 6/4

Method Of Victory
Spain in extra time – 10/1
Italy in extra time – 14/1
Spain on penalties – 9/1
Italy on penalties – 9/1

Correct Score
Spain 1-0 – 5/1
Draw 0-0 – 11/2
Italy 1-0 – 15/2
Spain 2-0 – 17/2
Draw 1-1 – 11/2
Italy 2-0 – 18/1
Spain 2-1 – 9/1
Draw 2-2 – 22/1
Italy 2-1 – 14/1
Spain 3-0 – 25/1
Draw 3-3 – 125/1
Italy 3-0 – 66/1
Spain 3-1 – 22/1
Draw 4-4 – 250/1
Italy 3-1 – 50/1

Half-Time/Full-Time
Spain / Spain – 11/4
Draw / Spain – 4/1
Italy / Spain – 28/1
Spain / Draw – 16/1
Draw / Draw – 7/2
Italy / Draw – 16/1
Spain / Italy – 33/1
Draw / Italy – 15/2
Italy / Italy – 13/2

Under/Over 2.5 Goals
Under 2.5 Goals – 4/9
Over 2.5 Goals – 13/8

Both Teams to Score
Yes – 5/4
No – 4/7

Goalscorer
No Italy Goalscorer – 6/5
No Spain Goalscorer – 15/8
Mario Balotelli – 12/5
Fernando Torres – 5/2
Cesc Fabregas – 5/2
Antonio Di Natale – 7/2
Pedro – 7/2
Antonio Cassano – 7/2
David Silva – 7/2
Fernando Llorente – 11/4
Alvaro Negredo – 11/4
Fabio Borini – 11/4
Sebastian Giovinco – 11/2
Alessandro Diamanti – 11/2
Andres Iniesta – 4/1
Andrea Pirlo – 6/1

Winning Margin
Spain by Exactly 1 Goal – 5/2
Italy by Exactly 1 Goal – 7/2
Spain by Exactly 2 Goals – 6/1
Italy by Exactly 2 Goals – 12/1
Spain by 3 or more Goals – 14/1
Italy by 3 or more Goals – 33/1

(source: skybet.com)

PREDICTION

Spain are the favourites to go and defend their European crown, but no team in the history has ever done that and so it would be a huge achievement. Spain came to Poland/Ukraine as the pre-tournament favourites, but they have not looked any where near their best. This is the best possible time to play Spain as they have grinded out results in almost all their games – except the ones against Ireland and France – and looked too tired against Portugal in the semi-finals. On the other hand, Italy have defined the odds to come so far and have beaten the likes of England and Germany on the way. The Azzurri are finding the right form at the right time in the tournament and they have all the weapons they need to hurt their opponents on the counter.

Predicted Score – Spain 0-1 Italy

Portugal v Spain Preview

Defending champions Spain battle with their Iberian neighbours Portugal for a spot in the UEFA EURO 2012 final when they meet in the semi-finals at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk tonight.

Both teams enter the last-four clash on the back of three consecutive wins at the tournament, with Sunday’s final clearly in sight. Vicente del Bosque’s Spain produced an effective quarter-final victory against France, while their neighbours downed Czech Republic to advance.

Paulo Bento believes patience is key if his Portugal side are going to find a way past the holders and world champions in Donetsk. “Of course there are going to be moments in the game when we can link up and go forward,” he said in Tuesday’s pre-game press conference. We want possession of the ball but we are playing against a team that has played better than all the other teams. It’s going to be about patience. We know what we have to do. We have to put pressure on our opponents in the right areas of the pitch. Our aim is not to defend all the time. You can’t do that against the world and European champions. We are aware that it’s going to be difficult but they also know that we can cause them problems. It was very easy to get motivated because we’re in the semi-finals. There can’t be a more beautiful opportunity than the one we have tomorrow.”

“We’ll intend to throw him (Cristiano Ronaldo) off his game, the best example of that is the second round win at the World Cup, where we managed the better result,” said Vicente Del Bosque of a 1-0 win over Portugal in Johannesburg. “The idea will be the same.” Spain has won its last six knockout round games at major tournaments by a combined score of 7-0. Although the team is not providing eye-catching scorelines, it has shown patience and maturity to break down opponents who nearly always ‘park the bus’, or take a completely defensive approach. “I would prefer if they play back in their own half, it’s a satisfaction for us to keep possession,” Del Bosque said of the Portuguese. “They have enough players that can provide alternatives to their attack, but I would like it if they played in a defensive way because we have solutions to combat that.”

TEAM NEWS

Portugal

Real Zaragoza frontman Postiga has been ruled out with a thigh injury, meaning coach Bento will be unable to field the same starting line-up which he has used in the last six competitive matches. Besiktas forward Hugo Almeida is expected to get the nod in Donetsk, with 20-year-old Nelson Oliveira, who has come on as a substitute three times in the tournament, likely to be on the bench again. Almeida will be flanked in the Portuguese attack by Cristiano Ronaldo, whose glittering displays against the Netherlands and the Czechs played a decisive part in sending Portugal into the last four.

Spain

Del Bosque reported no new injury problems following the quarter-final victory against Les Bleus. However, he must decide whether to start the game again without a recognised striker and allow Cesc Fabregas to fill the role. If Del Bosque decides against the quarter-final line-up, Fernando Torres could lead the line, while Pedro could also get a start in the Spain midfield.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Played – 34
Portugal Wins – 6
Draws – 12
Spain Wins – 16

FORM GUIDE

Portugal – WWWLL
21-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Czech Republic 0-1 Portugal
17-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Portugal 2-1 Netherlands
13-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Denmark 2-3 Portugal
09-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Germany 1-0 Portugal
02-Jun-12 – Friendly – Portugal 1-3 Turkey

Spain – WWWDW
23-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 2-0 France
18-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Croatia 0-1 Spain
14-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 4-0 Ireland
10-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 1-1 Italy
03-Jun-12 – Friendly – Spain 1-0 China

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Pepe (Portugal)
The Real Madrid defender has been as solid as a rock in the heart of the Portuguese defence. The hard tacking defender has had an excellent tournament so far, and has been one of the reason why Portugal are in the semi-finals. He was solid against the Czechs on Thursday. Another performance like that against the Spaniards today and Portugal could be through to the finals.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
He would undoubtedly be the key man for his side, as he is the only player who looks capable of breaching the solid Spanish defence and getting past his Real Madrid teammate Iker Casillas. He has been in tremendous form in the last two matches, scoring three goals and hitting the post four times and is sure to be the biggest test yet for his opposing Captain Casillas.

Iker Casillas (Spain)
The Spanish captain hasn’t been troubled a lot so far in this tournament and this will be arguably his toughest test in Poland/Ukraine.  He has been in good form throughout the year for both Real Madrid and Spain and today he will face his club teammate Cristiano Ronaldo. If Casillas is able to keep Ronaldo quite and not let him score any goals today then La Roja have a huge chance of progressing to final.

Andres Iniesta (Spain)
The Barcelona star has undoubtedly been one of the best players in attack for Spain and has hardly let anyone feel David Villa’s absence. Although kept quiet for most of the last game, he did deliver the beautifully weighted pass that let in Jordi Alba to cross for the first goal. He would be raring to go and make an impact against arch-rivals Portugal today and help his team progress to the final.

PROBABLE LINEUPS

Portugal (4-3-3): Rui Patricio; Joao Perreira, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Fabio Coentrao; Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles, Joao Moutinho; Nani, Hugo Almeida, Cristiano Ronaldo (C).

The Portuguese would match Spain’s 4-3-3 formation. However, with Helder Postiga set to miss the clash due to the injury sustained in the quarter-finals, Hugo Almeida is expected to start as the centre man in the front three. He would be the target man and long balls would be hit straight at him, which he would be expected to hold up and then bring the dangerous wingers Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani into play. The rest of the team would be the same which has taken field in all four matches.

Spain (4-3-3): Iker Casillas (C); Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba; Sergi Busquets, Xavi, Xabi Alonso; David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta.

The defending champions are expected to line-up in the same 4-3-3 formation that started against the French and completely dominated the game. Fabregas was not too impressive, but would still be expected to start ahead of Fernando Torres as he fits better in the team whose emphasis is on passing football and keeping possession. Plus he has better understanding with the other Barcelona players in the squad. Del Bosque would keep the same team players that have delivered the results.

MATCH ODDS

Portugal 10/3 Draw 23/10 Spain 10/11

PREDICTION

The rivalry will be there for everyone to see and it is set to be a tough battle. Portugal have played to their potential in the UEFA EURO 2012 and arguably the same cannot be said for Spain. Spain will play as expected and dominate the possession, while the Portuguese will b looking to catch them on the counter with their pacey wingers. It’s very hard to see Spain losing today as they have the experience and the extra bid of quality in their midfield which could be the difference between the two sides in Donetsk.

Predicted Score – Portugal 1-2 Spain

Spain v France Preview

World champions Spain continue the defence of their UEFA EURO 2012 crown tonight when they take on France in a mouth-watering quarter-final clash at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk.

Vicente del Bosque’s La Roja have not been defeated in a competitive match since being shocked by Switzerland in the group stages on their way to winning the 2010 World Cup. Meanwhile, Laurent Blanc’s Les Bleus have lost just once, against Sweden in their last match of Euro 2012’s group stages, in 24 games. It therefore promises to be a closely-fought encounter in Donetsk and the winner will go through to face Portugal in the semi-finals.

Both France, 1998 world champions and 2000 kings of Europe, and Spain are two of the highest praised nations over the past 14 years of international football. But there is also an old score to settle, with Spain still stinging from being mugged by a Zinedine Zidane-inspired France in the last 16 of the 2006 World Cup.

TEAM NEWS

Spain

Spain, who lost Carles Puyol and David Villa before Euro 2012 to injury, have no major new fitness concerns. Alvaro Arbeloa, Jordi Alba, Torres, Xabi Alonso – who will win his 100th cap if he plays – and Javi Martinez are all a booking away from a suspension.

France

France pair Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery sat out Wednesday’s training session due to “minor problems”. It remains to be seen whether Yohan Cabaye will return after the Newcastle United star missed the Sweden defeat with a thigh problem.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Played – 30
Spain Wins – 13
Draws – 6
France Wins – 11

FORM GUIDE

Spain – WWDWW
18-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Croatia 0-1 Spain
14-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 4-0 Ireland
10-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 1-1 Italy
03-Jun-12 – Friendly – Spain 1-0 China
30-May-12 – Friendly – Spain 4-1 South Korea

France – LWDWW
19-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Sweden 2-0 France
15-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Ukraine 0-2 France
11-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – France 1-1 England
05-Jun-12 – Friendly – France 4-0 Estonia
31-May-12 – Friendly – France 2-0 Serbia

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Xavi (Spain)
The pass master of the Spanish side, the Barcelona playmaker has yet to truly come alive at the UEFA EURO 2012 after being largely stiffled by defensive opponents. But against a France side that likes to play football, Xavi could be the key and finally be able to weave his magic and bring his team back to form.

Andres Iniesta (Spain)
The Barcelona playmaker has been in fine form in the competition, and has been the main driving force behind a Spanish side without David Villa. Deployed on the left side of a 3-man attack, the 28-year-old frequently beats defenders and provides cutting passes, making him a fearful threat for defenders. Mathieu Debuchy, who is still learning his trade at the international level, could well be troubled by Iniesta.

Hugo Lloris (France)
The French skipper has had very little to do in terms of saves made in the tournament so far but thats going to change against Spain today. The Spanish will come and keep the ball and test the keeper at numerous occasions. The Lyon stopper will have to be at his very best to deny the defending champions from scoring an early goal.

Franck Ribery (France)
With Karim Benzema not able to find the back of the net with his national side, it could be down to the Bayern Munich winger to help the French beat Spain and claim a semi-final spot against Portugal, having claimed 10 goals during his international career and 16 this season for the German giants in all competitions last season.

PROBABLE LINEUPS

Spain (4-3-3): Iker Casillas (C); Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba; Sergi Busquets, Xavi, Xabi Alonso; David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta.

The world and European champions are expected to lineup in the same 4-3-3 formation that helped them top their group. There won’t be much changes to side that defeated Croatia in the final game, maybe just one with Fabregas coming in for Fernando Torres. The Chelsea striker was disappointing against a tough Croatia side, while Fabregas on the other hand, provided the chipped ball that lead to Jesus Navas’ winner. The 6-man midfield worked well against Italy in the opening group game and will hopefully work well again today.

France (4-2-3-1): Hugo Lloris (C); Mathieu Debuchy, Laurent Koscielny, Adil Rami, Gael Clichy; Yohan Cabaye, Yann M’Vila; Jeremy Menez, Samir Nasri, Franck Ribery; Karim Benzema.

Laurent Blanc’s men are expected to play with the 4-2-3-1 formation that has served them very well in past, but with a few changes. Arsenal’s Koscielny is expected to get his first start of the tournament in the heart of the defence alongside Adil Rami, in place of the suspended Philippe Mexes. Yohan Cabaye will also come in the side for Alou Diarra after sitting out of the Sweden defeat. Jeremy Menez is also expected to come in for the ineffective Hatem Ben Arfa, with the later seemed to be happy blasting shot over goal rather than passing to his teammates and creating chances.

MATCH ODDS

Spain 8/11 Draw 5/2 France 4/1

PREDICTION

Spain are the bookies favourites to win this game but it’s not going to be an easy on for the defending champions. Spain have a lot of individual talent in their squad but they haven’t performed their best as a team in the tournament so far and this could be the right time to do so against a not so strong French side, who were easily beaten by Sweden the other day. Spain will play their possession football and mostly in the opposition’s half, while France on the other hand, will look to park the bus in front of the goal and hit the Spaniards on the counter. Defending the whole game looks tough against a Spain side who have a good habit of winning tight games even when they aren’t playing their best.

Predicted Score – Spain 1-0 France

UEFA EURO 2012 Team Preview – Spain

Population 47.2 million Area 504,030km2 Capital Madrid Currency Euro Official Language Spanish

FOOTBALL FACTFILE

Football Asocciation Real Federación Española de Fútbol (RFEF) Official Site http://www.rfef.es Year of formation 1909 Euro Ranking 1 World Ranking 1 National Stadium N/A Well-known club sides Real Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid Leading goalscorers David Villa (51+), Raúl (44), Fernando Hierro (29) Most capped players Iker Casillas (127+), Andoni Zubiezareyya (126), Xavi Hernández (107) European Championship finals attended 1964, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 Best European Championship performance Winners 1964, 2008 Playing Record in European Championship P137 W85 D25 L27 Odds of winning UEFA EURO 2012 5/2

JOURNEY TO POLAND/UKRAINE

Undisputedly the hottest property in world football at the moment, it remains historical fact that no country has retained the European crown and no country, no matter on which continent, has won three major football tournaments in a row. Spain’s record since lifting the Henri Delaunay trophy in 2008 is something to behold, though.

Under the controversial Luis Aragones, Spain beat Russia, Sweden, Greece, Italy, Russia (again) and Germany to lift their first trophy since their European Championship victory at home soil in 1964. They managed 10 straight victories in qualification for the 2010 FIFA world Cup and, after a poor start, went on beat Holland 1-0 after extra-time in the final. They also have a perfect qualifying record going into Poland/Ukraine, taking apart a tricky group with a potency and fluency that suggests they have no intention of giving up their European crown.

David Villa broke Raúl’s long-standing record as Spain’s leading marksman during qualifying and Iker Casillas overtook Andoni Zubizaretta’s goalkeeper appearance record – with the former injured, the later will be pivotal to Spain success this summer.

What’s more in Xabi Alsono, Cesc Fàbregas, David Silva, Andrés Iniesta, and Xavi Hernández they have by far the strongest midfield spine of any team in the tournament. If they don’t make the semi-finals at least, it will be a huge shock.

HOW THEY GOT THERE

03/09/2010 – Group I – Liechtenstein 0-4 Spain
08/10/2010 – Group I – Spain 3-1 Lithuania
12/10/2010 – Group I – Scotland 2-3 Spain
25/03/2011 – Group I – Spain 2-1 Czech Republic
29/03/2011 – Group I – Lithuania 1-3 Spain
06/09/2011 – Group I – Spain 6-0 Liechtenstein
07/10/2011 – Group I – Czech Republic 0-2 Spain
11/10/2011 – Group I – Spain 3-1 Scotland

HOME AND AWAY KITS

GROUP FIXTURES – GROUP C

Sunday, 10/06 – Spain v Italy (Gdansk, 17:00)
Thursday, 14/06 – Spain v Republic of Ireland (Gdansk, 19:45)
Monday, 18/06 – Croatia v Spain (Gdansk, 19:45)

FINAL SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid CF), Víctor Valdés (FC Barcelona), Pepe Reina (Liverpool FC).

Defenders: Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid CF), Gerard Piqué (FC Barcelona), Jordi Alba (Valencia CF), Álvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid CF), Raúl Albiol (Real Madrid CF), Juanfran (Club Atlético de Madrid), Javi Martínez (Athletic Club).

Midfielders: Xavi Hernández (FC Barcelona), Sergio Busquets (FC Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid CF), David Silva (Manchester City FC), Santi Cazorla (Málaga CF), Jesús Navas (Sevilla FC), Cesc Fàbregas (FC Barcelona), Andrés Iniesta (FC Barcelona).

Forwards: Fernando Llorente (Athletic Club), Juan Mata (Chelsea FC), Fernando Torres (Chelsea FC), Pedro Rodríguez (FC Barcelona), Álvaro Negredo (Sevilla FC).

THE CAPTAIN & THE KEEPER – IKER CASILLAS

The most-capped, most-decorated goalkeeper, player and captain his country’s footballing history, Iker Casillas led Spain to glory in 2008 and 2010, and has twice been nominated for the European Footballer of the Year award, An excellent reaction-stopper who commands his area and his defenders, there is no more experienced keeper in world football.

THE DEFENSIVE ROCK – GERARD PIQUE

In Puyol’s absence, his Barcelona teammate Gerard Piqué will have a huge role to play in the center of La Roja’s defence. He is the most notable addition to Spain’s ranks since their UEFA EURO 2008 victory and the centre-back was on the field for every minute of his country’s 2010 FIFA World Cup success in South Africa. Tall, tough and commanding, he was a major figure in Barça’s relentless trophy assault under Pep Guardiola and will hope to make his presence fell in Poland/Ukraine.

STAR MAN – XAVI HERNANDEZ

Where once the talents of Xavi Hernández could, to a large extent, be described as ‘unsung’, now the whole world is in awe of his ability. Considered by many as the best midfield player in the business, he has extraordinary vision and control, swapping deft passes with speed and precision, and picking out the kind of balls others simply cannot see with beguiling consistency. In a team comprising enviable quality, his unique vision lifts him above the rest, and then some. Xavi, now 32, will make he’s fully focused come kick-off in five days time.

THE MANAGER – VICENTE DEL BOSQUE

Vicente del Bosque is lucky to be in charge of some of the brightest talent in world football at the moment, but has done a fantastic job of keeping his players grounded and hungry, especially during important matches. He set a new global record by winning his first 13 matches in charge, but has suffered two ignominious friendly defeats at the hands of Portugal (0-4) and Argentina (1-4). That said, a rusty carburettor could drive this team to the semi-finals and Del Bosque should achieve that at the very least.

TOURNAMENT PREDICTION

Winners – Germany and Netherlands have surely closed the gap on La Furia Roja, but with largely the same players that won the UEFA EURO 2008 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the Spaniard hold the psychological advantage over their two closest rivals.

The Red Fury are drawn in a group consisting of Italy, Republic of Ireland and Croatia which is certainly not an easy one, and Spain will want to avoid a repeat of their opening match at the 2010 FIFA World Cup when they were beaten 1-0 by Switzerland. A win against Italy in their opening group game which is – on paper – their most difficult game in the group stages, will put them a long way towards qualifying for the quarter-finals.

New Nike “My Time Is Now” Ad

Nike have launched a new marketing campaign entitled ‘My Time is Now’ ahead of the European Championships, featuring a constellation of star names including Cristiano Ronaldo, Franck Ribery, Wesley Sneijder and more.

The new ad has been released for the first time today and will be screened during the Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Chelsea on Saturday. Other players you should be able to spot include Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Mario Götze, Mesut Özil, Yann M’Vila, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck while there are also special guest appearances from Pep Guardiola, Lauren Blanc and basketball superstar LeBron James.

Check it out here…