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France, Soldado and Ronaldo make the cut

Published: Friday 2 March 2012, 9.50CET
A Roberto Soldado hat-trick for Spain, a superb away win for France and an inconclusive family reunion feature as digests the last seven days in European football.
by Josh Hershman

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Published: Friday 2 March 2012, 9.50CET

France, Soldado and Ronaldo make the cut

A Roberto Soldado hat-trick for Spain, a superb away win for France and an inconclusive family reunion feature as digests the last seven days in European football.

Player: Roberto Saldado (Spain)
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque rewarded Valencia CF forward Soldado's impressive club form with a first senior international call-up since 2007 for the 5-0 friendly victory against Venezuela. The 26-year-old came off the bench at half-time and scored his first three international goals, despite missing a penalty. "That was one of the happiest nights I've had as a footballer and now I just have to hope that I can manage to produce many more," he said. "It was a dream to return to the international set-up in this way but I should have scored that penalty."

Team: France
With Germany boasting a perfect record on their way to qualifying for UEFA EURO 2012 as Group A winners, and unbeaten in friendly matches since March 2011, Wednesday's game in Bremen seemed a daunting task for Laurent Blanc's France. However, Les Bleus did not shrink under the spotlight and were good value for their lead when Olivier Giroud found the net on his full international debut midway through the first half.

Florent Malouda doubled the advantage 21 minutes from time and although the three-time European champions responded with Cacau's strike, France held on to extend their unbeaten run to 18 games. "We turned in a great performance against a big footballing nation," said Alou Diarra. "It proves we are capable of performing in the big games."

Goal: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid CF)
The prolific Real Madrid forward has scored some important and spectacular goals in his career but perhaps none as innovative and impulsive as his winner against Rayo Vallecano de Madrid. With the home defence proving a tough nut to crack, Ronaldo produced a moment of brilliance by back-heeling the ball through a crowded penalty area into the bottom left-hand corner. That strike helped José Mourinho's side to earn maximum points and ensured they maintained their ten-point lead over rivals FC Barcelona at the top of the Spanish Liga. "It was a great goal, but not the best of my career so far," he said.

Number: 100
Wednesday marked 100 days to go until co-hosts Poland and 2004 winners Greece kick-off UEFA EURO 2012 in Warsaw. The last venue to be completed, the National Stadium Warsaw, hosted its first match in midweek with Poland and Portugal playing out a goalless draw in front of 55,000 fans. Another landmark was reached when Denmark goalkeeper Thomas Sørensen claimed his 100th cap in the 2-0 defeat at home to Russia. "Somebody told me there's 100 days to go before the tournament starts," he said. "We have a long time to prepare, so it will be completely different at the EURO."

"The stadium here is, of course, very nice to play in. They should start a club here, FC Wembley..."
Dutch forward Arjen Robben enjoys scoring twice in a 3-2 win in England.

Happy birthday: Dino Zoff
Zoff celebrated his 70th birthday on Tuesday, three decades since lifting the FIFA World Cup and 44 years after helping Italy win the 1968 UEFA European Championship. The former goalkeeper and coach was capped 112 times and is one of the most respected football figures in Italy – known as 'Il Monumento del Calcio Italiano' (roughly, the greatest figure in Italian football). "I have always preferred deeds to words," said Zoff, whose grandmother once made him eat eight raw eggs a day to boost his growth.

Theatre of dreams: AS Saint-Étienne
Football and the arts rarely go hand in hand but for the second year in a row Ligue 1 side St-Étienne are offering fans a seat at the Opéra-Théâtre de Saint-Étienne. In exchange for buying a ticket to see the football, fans can choose between five shows at the 1200-seat hall including Igor Stravinsky's Rake's Progress, Beethoven's Heroic Symphony and Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice. Opéra-théâtre director David Camus said: "It's a call to come and discover what theatre is."

Family affair: Zlatan Ibrahimović
Ibrahimović’s visit to Zagreb for Sweden's friendly against Croatia was big news; tellingly, the biggest cheer of the match, which the visitors won 3-1, came when the AC Milan striker was substituted four minutes from the end. NK Dinamo Zagreb goalkeeping coach Miralem Ibrahimović was particularly excited about 'Ibra''s arrival, hanging around the Maksimir Stadium so he could ask the 30-year-old whether they were related.

"I remember as a kid I went to see some relatives in Zlatan's father's home city, Bijeljina," he explained. "I think Zlatan could be my cousin." Sadly, there was no quick solution to this family saga. "I asked him but he told me he didn't know," said the 49-year-old. "He said his father Šefik might know more."

Last updated: 05/12/13 19.00CET

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