Rematch: The USA faces off against Slovenia, the team they drew 2-2 with in South Africa (and should have beaten 3-2). It’s folly to read too much into international friendlies, especially those occurring midseason, but here is where you’d expect to see the attacking verve Klinsmann promised after taking over as USMNT coach. Against France, the USMNT would never have seen the ball, but against a more-disciplined, defensive Slovenia they will need to break them down in open play. A goal or two would alleviate some of the tension about the team’s recent form.
[Update: U.S. is going with a 4-4-2. It looks like Bob Bradley sent a lineup via text message. Altidore and Buddle up front. Johnson, Beckerman, Bradley and Dempsey in mifdfield. Chandler, Bocanegra, Goodson and Cherundolo in defense. Howard in net.]
Across the pond, it’s the final leg of Euro 2012 qualifying. Hosts Poland and Ukraine as well as Germany, Russia, Italy, France, Holland, Greece, England, Denmark, Spain and Sweden have already qualified. Eight runners up will play off for the final four places.
Bosnia 0-0 Portugal: The Portuguese are in disarray. As in South Africa, they look like a powerful engine, grinding futilely in first gear. Coach Paulo Bento has poisoned the well, alienating veteran defenders Ricardo Carvalho and Jose Bosingwa. Depth and overall quality issues leave Cristiano Ronaldo largely fending for himself and trying to win games himself. You’d fancy the Portuguese based on talent (and playing on a legitimate field this leg), but this should be nervy.
Croatia 3-0 Turkey: The two teams met in the quarterfinals in Euro 2008, but Croatia looks dead certain to be the only one returning, after beating down the Turks 3-0 in Istanbul. This isn’t quite the return the Turkish federation expected, after its two-year $10.8 million investment in Guus Hiddink. The loss exacerbates tension in Turkish soccer, already rife from last summer’s explosive match-fixing scandal.
Czech Republic 2-0 Montenegro: Though they are the progeny of a rich Yugoslav tradition, the Montenegrins have yet to qualify for a major tournament. Their situation, after a late Czech goal, looks tough, but not impossible. The Czechs are seasoned, but also doddering and not excessively talented. Montenegro has some attacking thrust with Mirko Vucinic and 22-year-old Brian May doppelganger Stevan Jovetic. This one could certainly get interesting.
Ireland 4-0 Estonia: Results trump artistry and often brutal on the eyes Ireland under Trappatoni return home with a commanding 4-0 lead and almost undoubtedly will reach their first major tournament since 2002. Thierry Henry’s handball in the buildup cost them a chance to appear at the World Cup in 2010. Never one to eschew putting a cherry on top, LA Galaxy’s Robbie Keane has declined a request to return to the States ahead of Sunday’s MLS Cup Final to lead his country out in Dublin.
[Photo via Getty]
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