LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 02: (L-R) Jermain Defoe, Wayne Rooney and Joleon Lescott of England walk off the pitch after the international friendly match between England and Belgium at Wembley Stadium on June 2, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

International Friendlies: England Wins On Saturday

England won their final Euro 2012 tune-up match, 1-0 over Belgium.

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England Vs. Belgium: Danny Welbeck Gives England 1-0 Win

In a word, unimpressive. England and Belgium partook in a rather-less-friendly-than-you-might-expect at Wembley Stadium as Roy Hodgson and company looked to prepare for the European Championship Finals, and the hosts put in a stodgy, but ultimately effective performance to see off their guests 1-0.

It was not an exciting game. Before Danny Welbeck opened the scoring after a deft 1-2 with Ashley Young and a neat chip over Simon Mignolet, the most exciting moment came when Dries Mertens pushed Gary Cahill into Joe Hart and then slotted into the open goal. His strike, of course, was called off for the blatant foul, and Cahill ended up heading out with an injury.

Belgium were playing an incredibly odd system without anything approaching a true striker and were therefore having trouble getting anything in the way of penetration. For much of the match, Everton midfielder Marouane Fellaini was the furthest black shirt forward, and, unsurprisingly, that meant that the visitors were able to do very little with their possession.

They also had a hilarious back line of Jan Vertonghen, Thomas Vermaelen, Timmy Simons and Guillaume Gillet, so it was a little bit surprising that England didn't push them a little bit harder. But Welbeck's goal was enough, and despite Belgium switching to a 4-4-2 by bringing on Romelu Lukaku in the late stages of the first half, England held out well enough.

Jermaine Defoe could have wrapped things up as the game marched toward injury time, but his shot clattered off the woodwork with 82 minutes on the clock. Gillet had previously clipped Hart's post with a wonderful try from outside the box.

All in all, a good enough performance to beat Belgium. Is that going to be enough at the Euros? Probably not.


England Vs. Belgium, 2012 International Friendly: Game Time, TV Schedule, Live Updates And More

England has one friendly to solve their midfield and striking dilemmas before Euro 2012.


Italy Vs. Russia: Defensive Blunders Galore In Azzurri Defeat

Italy. Home of Catenaccio, of defensive football, of a system so boring you fall asleep waiting for the ball to advance down the field. This is the narrative, my friends -- it is only your own eyes that deceive you. The real azzurri are defensively perfect. And this will be what commentators, at least those speaking English, will repeat again and again as Euro 2012 plays out.

So the 3-0 loss to Russia on Friday night must be an aberration. A slip, caused by the fact that Gianluigi Buffon came off at halftime, a precautionary measure to rest his shoulder. If it hadn't been Morgan De Sanctis in goal, everything would have been just fine. But, despite a certain error from De Sanctis, the blame for Italy's loss cannot be pinned on the keeper.

The problem is, defensive football requires, well, a defence. And that's what Italy were lacking in Switzerland. The side were fine in attack, even beautiful at times. Andrea Pirlo was flawless, Mario Balotelli lively. But Russia, quick on the counter, were easily able to get through the attack-minded midfield to weave their way through gaping holes in the defence. Had Buffon not come through with a few terrific sides, Russia would have been leading at the break.

And then the inevitable goal. Alan Dzagoev sent the ball in from the right side. Roman Shirokov touched it on to Aleksander Kerzhakov, who turned to see the complete absence of azzurri defenders standing in his way. While Italia supporters might say that Saint Gigi would have managed to stop the ball, there was nothing De Sanctis could do as the shot nestled into the far corner.

Alas, the second goal can be blamed on the Napoli keeper. De Sanctis, coming out to challenge for the ball, failed miserably. Instead Andrei Arshavin slotted over to Shirokov, who neatly blasted it into the open net. Tsk, tsk, Morgan, but where was your clubmate, Christian Maggio, who should've never allowed that ball in in the first place?

Maggio, so splendid in attack, can bear a bit of the blame (ok, maybe more than a bit) for the third goal as well. Substitute Alexander Kokorin sent in a shot that Maggio failed to clear, with the ball looping down to allow Shirokov to tap in his second. Perhaps we should face the facts, and realise that Maggio is now a much better wingback than he is a fullback?

So an easy day on the pitch for Russia, but they've likely never been too worried about emerging from Group A. It's Italy that draws the focus in this one, because it's Italy that should be looking much better. Instead, they're unraveling at the seams, and if Prandelli doesn't find a way to pull the strings over the next week, they might be facing an embarrassment on par with the 2010 World Cup.


France Vs. Serbia: Yann M'Vila Injured In France Win

France swatted Serbia aside 2-0 during Thursday's international friendly, but their triumph was marred by a serious-looking injury to holding midfielder Yann M'Vila sustained in the fourth minute.

The Rennes midfielder, whom a number of clubs are eyeing this summer, went down after a kick from Dušan Tadić and limped off the pitch, and although he returned to the bench, Laurent Blanc and company will be sweating on the results of a scan. Without M'Vila present, France could be in real trouble against their more adventurous opposition in Euro 2012.

Although M'Vila's injury put a black cloud over proceedings, Franck Ribery did his best to lift the mood, blasting home off Slobodan Rajković's knee following a poor clearance from goalkeeper Zeljko Brkic. Florent Malouda soon doubled the score with a sweet long-range effort, and the hosts essentially cruised through the rest of the game, although they did have some decent opportunities to make it three.

Branislav Ivanovic and Tadić both tested Hugo Lloris in the second half, although neither shot came particularly close to handing Serbia the lifeline they needed to get back into the match, and the final minutes of the match were a bit of a damp squib, with players on both sides simply going through the motions for the final half-hour or so.


Germany Vs. Israel: Germany Coast Over Israel, 2-0

As a warm-up for Euro 2012, Germany played Israel in a friendly on Thursday. There was probably some significance behind this match that goes behind the narrow constraints of football and preparation for Euro 2012, but that does not change the fact that this match did very little to help Germany prepare for the tournament. Israel did not do much attacking at all, and Germany comfortably coasted to a 2-0 win.

The Germans weren't great with their finishing and Ariel Harush had a solid game in goal for Israel. They spent enough time in the general vicinity of the Israel penalty area to score a dozen times over, but didn't look terribly interested in doing so for a lot of the game.

Mario Gomez netted the opener after 40 minutes of play, finishing off a very well-worked move. Sami Khedira started off the attack with a through ball into the box for Thomas Müller, who played an impressive one-touch flick into the path of Gomez. The striker's first touch wasn't the best, but he set himself up beautifully with a very good second touch and hit his finish into the roof of the net.

André Schürrle replaced Lukas Podolski in the 66th minute, and from then until the end of the match, he was the best player on the pitch by some distance. He had one laser beam of a shot skillfully saved by Harush shortly after he came on, but he would eventually get the better of the Israeli keeper. In the 82nd minute, he curled a fantastic right-footed shot around Harush's hand from 20 yards out, ensuring Germany's victory.

The only real worry for Germany heading into the Euros is their situation in the center of midfield. Bastian Schweinsteiger was rested Thursday and his fitness is a bit in doubt at the moment. Toni Kroos started the match, but won't cut it in a double pivot against top teams. Lars Bender got a two-minute runout, while Ilkay Gündogan did not play. Schweinsteiger will probably open the Euros in the center next to Sami Khedira, but there's no telling whether or not he'll be the best version of himself.


Spain Vs. South Korea: La Furia Roja Score Four, But Kim Do-Heon Steals The Show

Even without any players from Barcelona or Athletic Bilbao to pick from for the second straight friendly, Spain looked like they're ready for Euro 2012 on Wednesday. They faced off against a very solid South Korea team in a neutral site match in Switzerland and went off in the second half, scoring three times to turn a 1-1 halftime draw into a 4-1 win.

Fernando Torres scored the opening goal with an absolutely brilliant header just 11 minutes in, nodding a lobbed diagonal from Beñat into the top right corner, past Kim Jin-Hyeon. Spain continued to dominate play throughout the first half, but couldn't add to their lead. A bit against the run of play, they gave up an equalizer in the 43rd minute.

Generally, whenever a balanced or defensive team scores a goal against a very attacking team, there is a large contingent of people that likes to call the goal undeserved. Absolutely no one will be saying that about Kim Do-Heon's goal, even though it came very much against the run of play. He scored with an absolute thunderbolt of a shot into the top corner at the near post from 25 yards out, giving Pepe Reina absolutely no chance to make a save.

Spain were much better in the second half, but South Korea did them quite a few favors. La Furia Roja scored twice in five minutes from dead balls, and both goals were set up by handballs. The first was in the box in the 53rd minute, and Xabi Alonso converted the penalty. Five minutes later, another handball occurred just outside the South Korea penalty area and Santi Cazorla netted Spain's third with a cheeky free kick under the jumping wall.

Sevilla striker Alvaro Negredo came on for Fernando Torres in the 57th minute and capped off the game with an 82nd minute goal, assisted by Roberto Soldado. Spain will probably look a bit different once they have Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Fernando Llorente available, but there's no reason to believe they won't slot into this team without a problem. Spain are looking great, and the lineup changes shouldn't alter them too much.


Netherlands Vs. Slovakia: A Win For Holland, But The Dutch Fail To Impress

On Saturday, the Netherlands lost their friendly to Bulgaria 2-1, courtesy of a penalty and a last minute goal. This time around, Holland managed to beat Slovakia, but once again, the weaknesses in the Dutch side were exposed. Considering the repre haven't won a competitive match since last June, against Andorra, and Holland lost just once in Euro qualifying, Oranje supporters likely thought the friendly match in Rotterdam on Wednesday night would be an easy affair. But the 2-0 scoreline is deceptive: the first goal was an own goal by Kornel Salata, and it took until the 75th minute for Rafael Van Der Vaart to score the second.

The match started off well for the Slovaks, with captain Marek Hamsik sending a header off the bar in the early minutes. But shortly after, their defence disintegrated. Ibrahim Afellay got in behind Peter Pekarik, who failed to get the ball to safety. Salata attempted a clearance but instead knocked the ball past his own goalkeeper, Jan Mucha.

Slovakia didn't do themselves any favors later in the half, particularly when a sloppy backpass allowed the visitors a free kick just seven yards out from goal. Hamsik sent it short to Miroslav Stoch, who blasted what should have been an easy goal right into the side netting. But a stronger, or perhaps less experimental, side could have done some damage to the Dutch. Holland's defensive play left much to be desired, with both Gregory Van Der Wiel and John Heitinga making sloppy mistakes.

It was only in the last twenty minutes or so that Holland started to show their strength -- and the greater their attack, the less their defensive errors seemed to matter. The goal from Van Der Vaart showed the oranje at their best, as the attackers weaved through the Slovakia defence. With two defenders doing their best to stop Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Van Der Vaart was able to slip through, grab the ball, and drive it into the far corner of the net.

And so a win for Holland, this time, but not one that gives a lot of confidence to Netherlands supporters. They're very aware that not only does the group contain both Portugal, who could surprise, and Denmark, whom many feel will surprise, but their most mortal football enemies, Germany. Barring a much better performance against Northern Ireland at the weekend, June 9th will likely have many in Holland biting their orange-painted nails.


Lithuania Vs. Russia: A Day In The Park In Which Nothing Much Happened

If you were looking for excitement, you came to entirely the wrong place. Although the woodwork was rattled three times during Russia's visit to Lithuania, the match ended 0-0 with the play about as exciting as the scoreline suggests.

We did nearly get one of the all-time great own goals in the first half, when Lithuanian centre back Arunas Klimavicius pulled off a looping volley that goalkeeper Ernestas Setkus was forced to tip onto the bar. But aside from that and a neat volley from the edge of the box from Lithuania's Valdemar Borovskij that beat Russian keeper Igor Akinfeev but not his crossbar, there was precious little going on.

It was basically a day in the park for the two sides, who played on what looked looked like a training ground with no actual seats around it, and there was a fairly relaxed atmosphere. Both teams were content to play some football and not really press the issue too hard, and the game reflected that. I don't see how this was particularly helpful for Russia in terms of preparing for Euro 2012, but oh well.


France Vs. Iceland: France Forced To Dig Deep In Comeback Win

France left it very late but emerged with a 3-2 win at home against Iceland. Despite the victory, it was hardly a pleasant experience for Laurent Blanc and company, who saw a very strong team struggle mightily against a team they were supposed to steamroll. Things started well for the hosts, who went on the attack immediately and saw a well-taken Karim Benzema goal pulled back for offside, but the Icelandic defence was stouter than anticipated and the French line was something of a mess.

Iceland took advantage of France's poor defending in the 27th minute, when Kolbeinn Sigthorsson looped a header into the penalty area for midfielder Birkir Bjarnason to smash first time past Steve Mandanda. The home fans were stunned, but worse was yet to come when Sigthorsson sidefooted home a cross to make it 2-0 seven minutes later. The boos began to rain down at the Stade du Hainaut, and France kicked it up a notch.

They pulled one back just after the break when Mathieu Debouchy netted a loose ball from an acute angle, but it took until the 85th minute for France to draw level - Iceland were defending very well and posing a threat on the counterattack too. But they couldn't deal with Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery, who played a lovely one-two with Olivier Giroud before completing the move with a very tidy lob over Hannes Thor Halldorsson to level the score.

Adil Rami completed the comeback two minutes thereafter when he took advantage of a scramble in the box to blast home from the edge of the area, sealing a 3-2 France win that raises more questions than answers ahead of the Euros this summer.


Spain Vs. Serbia: Experimental Lineup Cruises Past Serbia

A depleted Spain playing in a novel (for them) 4-4-2 made light work of Serbia, beating them 2-0 at the AFG Arena in Switzerland. The defending European and World champions were missing their Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao players (those sides having played in the Copa del Rey final on Friday) , and so Vicente del Bosque opted for an experimental shape and lineup.

It didn't work particularly well. Serbia defended very deep against the two strikers of Alvaro Negredo and Roberto Soldado, so basically nothing happened in the first half save for a 60-yard effort from Xabi Alonso and a Serbia goal that was rightly disallowed for offside. Spain reverted to a single striker shape after the break, but they were still failing to get much penetration. Still, a goal eventually came through debutante Adrian, who took advantage of a fast break forward to finish Jesus Navas' sublime cross, nicking between Branislav Ivanovic and Neven Subotic to head off the ground and in. Not classic Spain, but they'll take goals any way they can get them at this point, I'd suspect.

A few minutes later a lovely through ball from Santi Carzola picked out Adrian and the forward took a very suspicious looking tumble in the box under close attention from Ivanovic. The referee bought the dive, however, and Carzola blasted the resultant spot kick down the middle to make it 2-0, Damir Kahriman diving to his right. Some flares greeted that second goal, which wasn't very friendly, but any unrest soon died down. As did the game.

It's impossible to take anything out of this match. Barcelona are the core of this Spain team and Athletic will contribute several players as well. Today was about blooding new players and trying new things, not seeing how the team will actually perform in this summer's Euros. Serbia played creditably enough, I suppose, but never really threatened Iker Casillas' goal.

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