Monday Kickoff: Balotelli leads Italy over Mexico; Spain outclasses Uruguay; and more

MarioBalotelliItalyMazaRodriguezMexico1 (Getty)

By DAN KARELL

Though his status was in doubt before the match, Italy forward Mario Balotelli made sure his presence was felt on the field and from those watching around the globe.

Balotelli raced onto a flicked ball in the box in the 78th minute, using his strength to muscle past Javier “Maza” Rodriguez and then lightning-quick speed to pounce on the ball to score the game-winner. Balotelli’s heroics earned Italy a 2-1 victory over Mexico in the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

Italian maestro Andrea Pirlo put the European Cup runners-up on the board first in the 27th minute with a brilliant curling free kick that gave Mexico goalkeeper Jose de Jesus Corona no chance to save. It was only seven minutes later though that Mexico would equalize, as Javier Hernandez converted a penalty kick after teammate Giovani Dos Santos was taken down.

Mexico seemed on the brink of getting yet another draw, but there was nothing they could do to stop Balotelli when he had his final chance of the match, being substituted just minutes later to a rousing ovation. Next up, Mexico take on Brazil and Italy face Japan on June 19.

Here are some more stories to get your Monday kicked off:

CLASSY SPAIN TAKE DOWN URUGUAY

Spain answered nearly every question critics had posed in the recent months.

In beautiful style, Spain took down Uruguay, 2-1, in Recife at the Confederations Cup, showing off the classy possession soccer that has come to identify Barcelona FC and the Spanish National Team.

Spain scored both of their goals in the first half and made Uruguay look like a U-16 team against a group of internationals. Spain midfielder Xavi completed 68 first-half passes, equal to the amount of completed passes by the entire Uruguayan team in the opening stanza. In addition, Spain held the ball 78 percent of the time and completed 449 passes to Uruguay’s 68.

Cesc Fabregas nearly opened the scoring for Spain, though his 10th minute strike careened off the post. Spain wouldn’t be denied in the 20th minute, as a long range shot from Pedro took a deflection and whistled in for a goal. Soldado added Spain’s second of the match from just inside the box on a terrific feed from Fabregas in the 32nd minute.

Uruguay saved face in the 88th minute when Luis Suarez scored on a 30-yard free kick, but it was too little too late for the South American nation who were taken apart over the course of the 90 minutes. Up next, Spain face Tahiti and Nigeria take on Uruguay on June 20.

ARSENAL MAKE RECORD BID FOR HIGUAIN

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has identified a need for more forwards next season, and is willing to pay a larger than normal price to ensure bringing in a quality player.

In order to win Real Madrid’s favor, Wenger has reportedly put in a bid of more than $31 million for forward Gonzalo Higuain, who is also rumored to be headed to Juventus in Serie A. Higuain is Wenger’s top target, and it looks likely that Arsenal will break their transfer record to bring the Argentine international in for next season.

Last season at Madrid, Higuain was rotated with Karim Benzema, starting just 19 times in La Liga, though he put in 16 goals in 28 total appearances. Maybe worrying for Arsenal, Higuain scored just once in nine appearances in the Champions League.

LEWANDOWSKI STAYING AT BORUSSIA, SAYS CLUB GM

It might not be what Robert Lewandowski wanted this summer, but if the news out of Germany is any indication, he’ll be playing another season in Signal Iduna Park.

Borussia Dortmund general manager Hans-Joachim Watzke was quoted on Sunday saying that Lewandowski would not be moving this summer, and that Borussia Dortmund are willing to let him go on a free transfer next summer, according to reports out of Germany. Watzke was quoted a few weeks back ending any chance of the Polish international moving to Bayern Munich, though it was thought that foreign teams like Manchester United and Real Madrid would have the chance to place bids for the sought-after striker.

Instead though, Lewandowski will continue to reside in Dortmund for at least another 12 months. The 24-year-old has been at his best in his last two seasons with Borussia, scoring a total of 66 goals in all competitions during the last 24 months at the club.

QUICK KICKS

FIFA has begun an investigation into the Ethiopian, Togolese, and Tunisian National Teams for fielding ineligible players. (REPORT)

Liverpool are edging closer to signing $31.4 million valued midfielder Henrik Mkhitaryan from Shakhtar Donetsk. (REPORT)

Ivory Coast have qualified for the final round of CAF World Cup qualifying along with Egypt, Ethiopia, and Tunisia. (REPORT)

A stretch of road in Sydney, Australia has been renamed the “Tim Cahill Expressway” for 48 hours in honor of Socceroo Tim Cahill. (REPORT)

Spain U21 star Alvaro Morata is being linked with a move to Napoli, where he’d be coached by Rafa Benitez. (REPORT)

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What do you make of these reports? Do you see Mexico turning things around against Brazil? Do you believe Spain can win the Confederations Cup? Do you see Arsenal acquiring Higuain?

Share your thoughts below.

This entry was posted in Confederations Cup, European Soccer, Featured, International Soccer, South American Soccer. Bookmark the permalink.

48 Responses to Monday Kickoff: Balotelli leads Italy over Mexico; Spain outclasses Uruguay; and more

  1. Old School says:

    In regards to the Confed Cup, that Balotelli goal was pure effort matched with class. He is scary good when he’s focused.

    Good thing this match was in Brazil or I’m sure the Italian players and their fans would have been pelted with random bags/cups of liquid. Always a bonus to see Mexico lose.

    • Eurosnob says:

      I also enjoyed the manner in which Mexico lost. Italy’s midfield completely outclassed Mexico’s midfield throughout the game creating numerous goal scoring chances. Italy had at least 60% of possession and made Mexico look toothless or devoid of creativity. Mexico’s goal came against the run of play and gave them hope, but they lost it when Balotelli went straight down the middle through both of their centerbacks and put the game away. And now Mexico has to play against Brazil.

    • biff says:

      Agreed. The Balotelli goal was absolutely positively fantastic. Not many strikers in the world, if any, who in the exact same situation would have even reached the ball let alone be able to jab it in the net.

      • Brad C says:

        It helps when El Tri defenders are totally out of position and make a weak attempt at getting between Balotelli and the goal…

  2. SanFran415 says:

    Man Spain did bad things to Uruguay. They rendered world cl@ss players into spectators. What was that stat in the first half? Spain had 100+ completed passes in their final third and Uruguay had 9 in theirs.

  3. Gnarls says:

    Balotelli & Pirlo were brilliant as ever yesterday. So much fun to watch them play together. It was equally fun to watch Mexico lose.

  4. Hogatroge says:

    I realize Brits have an alternate meaning for “class” differently, but Spain’s shameless diving and embellishment question my use of the word.

  5. Peaton says:

    I think Mexico are having a crisis of confidence. Maybe they lack a great central midfielder, but I want to see them pick it up. I would like to see them show well for CONCACAF, and it would be a disaster for them not to go in 2014 if the slump remains post Confederations.

    • PD says:

      I feel ya, Peaton. It’s not in me to root for mexico, but I know what it feels like to see a good team underperform. I don’t now how many other CONCACAF teams look like world beaters on paper right now. But I do know that if mexico doesn’t snap out of it, even if they do qualify, they will go out like a lamb in Brasil.

      If it makes you feel any better, the US team that went to SA looked pretty uninspired for stretches of qualifying, and the Confed Cup was set to be a disaster until that miracle turnaround against Egypt.

      This Mexican side has a lot of expectation on their shoulders, I have no doubt that is as big a part of their slump as anything else.

    • biff says:

      I got the feeling from that game that Mexico is seriously lacking team spirit and camaraderie, playing more every man for himself. The coach is not doing his job and time to get rid of him. There was one counter attack play in the first half when Hernandez had the ball on the left with Guardado all alone top of the box begging for the ball and would have been an easy shot and Hernandez decides to shoot himself and nothing. And then in the second half Guardado had the ball in a similar situation but on the right and failed to pass to the open man, think got the ball swiped. Dos Santos was mostly excellent, played tough against the Italians.

      • Neruda says:

        This is not a slump for El Tri but just the way this team is with current player selection and coach. Having a tough time against Jamaica and other CONCOCAF teams 5-6 games in a row (half of which are at Azteca) is a pattern and means this is an average side.

        In the past Mexico used to have skill and heart and now they lack heart. After SuperMario scored the second half goal the mexicans looked super deflated. Like biff says they lack team spirit and fighting spirit.

      • KIldman says:

        It’s not team spirit; they just suck

  6. JJ says:

    Spain’s passing is beautiful … for about 10 minutes. They become so boring so quickly.

  7. PD says:

    Serious question for you tacticians out there.

    The pack usually catches up, right? We see this in all sports. One team or athlete sets themselves apart and the pack studies this and makes adjustments, thereby catching up. We saw Bayern Munich do this with Barcalona this Spring, and we have seen teams (even humbler sides like Switzerland and the USA) find ways to neutralize Spain for matches, but one can argue that these have been one-offs rather than a sign of things to come. No one has figured out the Achillies Heel.

    So my question is this: what will it take for the pack to catch up with or neutralize Spain? Is there a strategy that they are vulnerable to? Or is this just Spain’s golden generation and everyone else should enjoy the ride or hope they play them when they’re having an off day?

    • Old School says:

      I’m no historian but when Spain is on, the only team that can be Spain…is Spain.

      From my understanding in listening to people that have watched far more soccer than I over the span of their lifetime, this Spain side is simply a once in a generation team.

      I think Bayern Munich showed that superior athletes with similar ability can give the Barcelona/Spain style a run for it’s money when they aren’t fully fit or in form but the only thing that’ll defeat this Spain team when they’re locked in, is Father Time.

      Once Xavi retires from international soccer, I think we’ll see the decline of Spain back to the pack and it appears Germany are in line to take over the mantle of “best nation” in the world for the next cycle.

      • Neruda says:

        Barcelona and Spain play in the same fashion because of Xavi, fabregas and Iniesta primarily (pedro, and other Barca players secondarily) but remember the selection also has a lot of Real Madrid players as well as a few others. Let’s not forget Soldado (Valencia) who is a tough nosed and a skilled.

        Since the Spanish NT is more diverse than just Barca I think they’re more difficult to breakdown than Barca was this last year.

        Now Barca is getting Neymar to add a new dimension and stay ahead of the curve. It will be tiki-taka with Neymar and Messi’s attacking flair to switch the style of play on opponents.

    • Lost in Space says:

      PD – While I don’t think Spain is unbeatible. I do believe that they are presently in the midst of a Golden Generation of players. The level of skill, coupled with the players understanding of one another makes them a very difficult team to beat. The fact that a good portion of Spain’s National Team play together on the same club(s) (Barca & RM) gives them greater familiarity with each others tendencies and makes the communication effortless.
      There are 2 primary methods of defeating Spain…
      1) The method used by the US and Switerland: Pack in 11 players behind the ball. Absorb the pressure and break on a quick counter. This relies on top shelf defense and Goal Keeping with speedy striker(s). US played it to perfection and won…Another factor was that Spain took the game for granted…and was already thinking they’d meet Brazil in the final. I think Spain learned from that…and will prepair (mentally & stratigically) to limit this from happening again.
      2) The method Germany, Italy, and possibly the Netherlands use…High pressure paired with man marking. Try and force mistakes from Spain and have the players to match up 1 Vs. 1. This ultimately comes down to who plays the most complete 90 minutes. Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands have the players to compete across the board 11 V 11, but not many other countries could…especially after the starting 11.

      • Charles says:

        Here ya, but….

        1) Man they looked good defending the counter yesterday.

        (IF only we had a really great counter midfielder with speed. Maybe one with a lot of experience……;-) )

        2) You have to be pretty good to try this and not get destroyed. Uruguay was getting praise for pressing them by the ESPN announcers. Two minutes later they are eating those words…..

    • Adam M. says:

      Brazil will be the real test (if they play). The key to upsetting what Spain does is expose their high back line and lack of defensive central holding mids — classic use their strengh higher up the pitch against them. Brazil can do that by playing out on the wings though Alves and Marcelo. It can also do that through the speed of Neymar (who has to play more centrally) and Lucas, and the hold up play of Fred. Brazil is fast enough and skilled enough on the ball to avoid losing possession right away in their half when Spain swarm. They also emply two strong central defensive mids who can win balls and foul to break up Spain’s flow (three if you count David Luiz) You also need a huge performance from your central defenders and goaltender. The US win is actually instructive because the formation is similar to Brazil (the talent is not, of course).

    • Bean says:

      To beat Spain, you’ll have to pressure the ball during the first half, and disrupt their possession game. You’d have to score early before your midfield ran out of energy, and then play the bunker. Or you could copy Spain’s possession game, and beat them at it. Their possession is brilliant. The opposing team cannot create chances if they cannot have the ball.

    • SanFran415 says:

      Seems to be that you should hope they have an off-game.

      There’s really no tactic that is going to guarantee anything. They are too good on the ball and too confident and calm to be flustered. When their starting midfielders only have 10-20 incomplete passes between them for the entire game–what exactly can you do about that?

      They are literally just that much better than everyone else.

  8. Travis says:

    Would be stunned if Arsenal actually offered that for a player right out of the gates, although I’d rather spend that money on someone like Higuain as opposed to Jovetic so I think it is a decent bid

    • Old School says:

      I thought the same thing.

      Although, maybe that means Higuian’s move to Juventus is a lot closer than we know and Arsenal are trying to throw down a gauntlet before it’s too late.

    • bryan says:

      well Perez said they will keep Higuain if they don’t get the MINIMUM 30 million.

      • Travis says:

        30 million pounds, euros or dollars? I would guess it was Euros since that is the currency in Spain but I dont know. Regardless it is early in the transfer season, prices will change. I doubt Higuain is there next year, they are just bargaining now.

        • bryan says:

          well, it’s funny you ask because I’m sure Perez said Euros, which is why I did not put a currency sign.

          and i agree, but i’m saying i’m not surprised that is where the bidding is starting because 1. Perez said they value him at 30M Euros and 2. Juve have already offered 25M Euros. Arsenal value him at 18M Pounds according to stuff I’ve read.

          and yes, he will leave. he has publicly stated he wants to leave. and Madrid would be making a bad decision to keep him if he doesn’t want to be there.

  9. run says:

    Spain vs Tahiti… Is giggling the appropriate response?

  10. Mi says:

    Maybe I’m in a minority but I would bet on Germany to win the World Cup. I think top to bottom they are the best in the world.

    • SanFran415 says:

      You think Germany has better players than Spain? o.O

      • bryan says:

        did you see what happened in the CL?

        personally, i think the two teams are dead even.

        • Eurosnob says:

          CL is not a very good indicator on the national team performance, because clubs have players with different nationalities. For example, Ozil and Khedira played for Real Madrid, while Javi Martinez played for Bayern. German clubs did well in CL, but Germany will not be deploying Robben and Ribery on the wings, Mandzukic and Lewandoski at striker, Martinez as their holding midfielder, or Dante, Subotic, Piszczek and Alaba on its back line. Spain will not be fielding Messi, Ronaldo, Ozil, Alves, Di Maria, Khedira, Varane, etc.

          • bryan says:

            thank you for the obvious roster break down that i’m very aware of as a Real Madrid, Germany, and Spain fan.

            no, Spain won’t be playing Ozil or Khedira, but guess who will?

            Neuer, Schmelzer, Lahm, Boateng, Hummels, Badstuber, Müller, Götze, Reus, Schweinsteiger, Kroos, and Gomez all play for Germany and either Bayern or Dortmund.

            Casillas, Valdes, Piqué, Albiol, Ramos, Arbeloa, Alba, Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc, Busquets, Villa, and Pedro all play for Spain and either Barca or Madrid.

            so yes, the CL, this year, absolutely was an indicator given the number of Barca/Bayern, Madrid/Dortmund players.

            i think the two teams are dead even.

        • SanFran415 says:

          I didn’t know that Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery and Javi Martinez were German.

          You might be one of the only people in the world outside of Germany to think Germany has better players than Spain.

          Spain has 2 of the greatest midfielders in the history of soccer in Xavi and Iniesta. They are beyond world class. They inspired an entirely new genre of footballing tactics. You’re talking about players who are so good that there is literally no tactical formation to counter them. You have to hope they miss.

          Would love to have players half as good as them in the USMNT.

          Germany who was expected to be the best team at Euro 2012 lost to Italy who then suffered the worst Euro finals loss in history to Spain.

          Not to mention that Spain gets to take the Barcelona midfield and then add in the Real Madrid defense.

          Manchester United lost to Atletic Bilbao. That doesn’t mean Bilbao is a better team or certainly that they have better players.

          • bryan says:

            you know, you have terrible reading comprehension. at what point did I say they have better players? Mi did. let me quote myself, copied and pasted from the comment you responded to (in regards to the talent they have available):

            “personally, i think the two teams are dead even.”

            the CL example was to illustrate a point, which was Germany has just as good of players as Spain when you take everything into consideration.

            you should read above though…i just listed 12 German players who play for Bayern or Dortmund. i also listed 13 Spanish players who play for Barca and Madrid. those four teams made up the final four CL teams.

            in other words, 12 Germans vs. 13 Spaniards, yet Ze Germans got the better of the Spaniards. like i said, i certainly don’t think this means Germany is better than Spain. but i think it shows both countries have ridiculous talent and depth.

            Germany needs to win a WC and Euro with this talent though, like Spain has. like i said, i think the two teams are dead even in talent, but Spain is the better overall team at the moment. but i think Germany absolutely has the talent to match Spain and go on to do something at the World Cup. and i don’t see how this is even surprising.

      • Travis says:

        Think Spain may be facing fatigue issues, a lot of that teams hasnt had a decent summer off in 5+ years. Also some of their best players like Xavi were clearly showing signs of wear and tear this year.

      • KIldman says:

        Yes San Fran; you are a dope!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Germany is better. The US kicked theirs 2-0. Don’t give me none of this, “They were not serious about the game.” You are such a DOPE!!!!!!! Go shut it!!!!!!!

    • Ben says:

      I think the smart money is on Brazil. I know they haven’t looked amazing the last year and half but at the end of the day home field advantage is to big an advantage for a team as good as brazil not to capitalize on. I agree that player for player Spain and Germany are the two best teams but the psychological effect of having a whole country going crazy and pulling for/against you for a complete month should not be under estimated.

      • Charles says:

        No Euro team has ever won the WCup in this hemisphere. Home field is huge. Home team always advances out of group stage, even if it is South Africa. Look what South Korea and Japan did too. How about the ’94 US team ? England in ’66…..

        I could go on and on.

  11. Matt C in Tampa says:

    Loved watching Mexico get beat. However, take nothing from Pirlo’s free kick but it sure looked like the Mexican net-minder pulled his hand away…or chickened out.

    i know if that was our keeper, we’d be beating him up pretty bad right now.

  12. KIldman says:

    Mexico got dominated because they simply sck the big burrito.