Alvaro Morata may not have been prolific in terms of goals at Euro 2020 but his selfless work for the team is vital for Spain, according to Gaizka Mendieta.

Striker Morata has scored twice to help Luis Enrique's side reach the semi-finals of the tournament, though his failure to capitalise on the opportunities that have come his way has led to criticism.

Indeed, the 28-year-old has been booed by his own fans both before and during the European Championship, while his family have been targeted for abuse too.

Yet former Spain international Mendieta feels Morata's team-mates appreciate all he does for the cause, even if his finishing has let him down at times. From 15 attempts, he has a shot conversion rate of 13.33 per cent.

An expected goals total of 3.95 highlights a shortcoming for the former Chelsea and Real Madrid player in front of goal, yet he has started every game ahead of the last-four clash with Italy at Wembley on Tuesday.

Gerard Moreno – an alternative option to lead the line in place of Morata – has yet to score at the European Championship from 15 shots, while Dani Olmo has been unsuccessful with all of his 16 attempts. The problem for La Roja in general has been taking chances, rather than creating them.

"I think people are being very critical," Mendieta told Stats Perform. "I believe Morata is a player who gives a lot to the team in terms of work, mobility, keeping the ball and creating spaces for midfielders and wingers like Olmo, [Ferran] Torres or even Moreno.

"I think he is doing a great job and that's one of the main reasons he is in the team. Of course, he is a striker and you expect goals from him and unfortunately it is where he has been unlucky.

"He hasn't finished the chances he had and that's what has made noise.

"Beyond this, I think the team is grateful for his work. He is the first one realising he should improve scoring and creating chances and I am sure he is working on it.

"Those critics are understandable, but his efforts are respected."

 

Luis Enrique has been unequivocal in his support of Morata, describing the abuse directed at the player and his family as a "serious crime" as he called for the authorities to take action.

The Spain boss has steered the team through choppy waters at Euro 2020. Having opened the campaign with two dour draws, the 2012 winners found their scoring touch in a 5-0 thrashing of Slovakia to qualify behind Sweden from Group E.

A wild last-16 clash with Croatia eventually went Spain's way after extra time, while a penalty shoot-out was required to see off Switzerland in the quarter-finals.

Mendieta, however, feels Luis Enrique has created an environment where his players are able to respond to any match situation, good or bad.

"He gives value to the player in order to make him part of the plan," he said of the former Barcelona head coach.

"I think that is reflected on the pitch; a common idea but at the same time it is the player who needs to find solutions. The coach cannot do that for them on the pitch.

"That's why I think the Spain team had a great reaction in tough times in some games. Especially in the group stage, in the last game. They are a team with a great character, just like Luis Enrique himself."

Maurizio Sarri says he found Cristiano Ronaldo difficult to manage and winning Serie A was "taken for granted" when he guided Juventus to the title.

Ronaldo vented his fury at Sarri when he was substituted during a game against Milan in November 2019.

Sarri stated that the Portugal captain had lacked sharpness during his tenure in Turin, but denied talk of a rift between the pair.

The new Lazio head coach, who was sacked by Juve last August after only one season in charge, revealed managing the five-time Ballon d'Or winner was a challenge despite his tally of 31 goals in 33 Serie A games.

He told Sportitalia: "The management of Ronaldo is not easy, he is a multinational that has personal interests to match those of the team. It is certainly a difficult situation to manage.

"Honestly, I think I am better at being a coach and not a manager, which I don't like, it bores me and I enjoy it more on the pitch.

"It's a difficult management, there are many positive aspects because at the end of the year Ronaldo brings important results.

"It is clear that he represents something that can go beyond the club and the team, with so many followers it is clear that it goes beyond normality.

"It is the product of our club, in recent years I hear a lot about individuals and little about teams, which are the ones that go on the pitch. And the value of the team is not the sum of the value of individuals."

 

Sarri masterminded Juve's ninth successive Serie A triumph in the 2019-20 campaign, but the Bianconeri's dominance was ended when they finished fourth as Inter won the title last season.

Former Napoli and Chelsea boss Sarri feels he may have been in charge at the wrong time given expectations appeared to have changed.

"It was taken for granted. On the outside, but I have to say also on the inside. We won a Scudetto without celebrating it, everyone dined on their own," he added.

"Probably the right year would have been this, after a fourth place and I saw that they celebrated, the ideal conditions are probably there."

The Milwaukee Bucks have had better regular seasons recently.

This season's .639 winning percentage (46-26) pales in comparison to last year's .767 (56-17) or even the .732 (60-22) from 2018-19.

Yet it is this vintage of the Bucks that will be playing in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974. While some will dismiss this year's champions as a beneficiary of a strange season and a postseason full of devastating injuries, the Bucks and Phoenix Suns will not be apologising for having beaten every team in front them so far.

It is also quite possible that, despite having a less accomplished regular season, this Bucks squad is better equipped to win in the playoffs, using the first 72 games on the schedule to learn how to best focus its strengths.

Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer has developed a reputation as a stubborn tactician, clinging to his preferred strategy regardless of the opponent, especially on the defensive end.

Budenholzer has traditionally asked his players to guard their position and to fight through screens without switching assignments. This structure has allowed Milwaukee to utilise its size and has been formidable in the regular season with the Bucks allowing 101.9 points per 100 possessions across the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, best in the NBA.

But Milwaukee's defense faltered in decisive playoff series in each of the previous two seasons, with a defensive rating that rose to 106.9 in 2019 against the Toronto Raptors and ballooned to 112.1 last year against the Miami Heat.

Budenholzer responded by using the 2020-21 regular season to experiment with a more varied defensive approach. The results were not always the best, allowing opponents to score 109.1 points per 100 possessions.

That experience, however, has given Milwaukee the tools to employ a more diverse defense in the playoffs, with the Bucks boasting a 103.5 defensive rating this postseason.

Milwaukee still holds on to its big lineups and objects to switching all five defenders like some teams do while playing trendy small ball, but the growing pains have added another tool to the toolbox. Even if the switching itself proves not to be a strategic advantage, the Bucks are at least better prepared to throw different looks at Chris Paul, Devin Booker and the rest of the Suns.

Of course, scheme alone can only take a team so far, but this year's Bucks team appears to have improved personnel, as well.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is a two-way monster who obviously takes top billing, but perhaps this postseason has shown that the Bucks are at their best when the two-time MVP takes a slightly reduced role on offense.

Antetokounmpo is averaging a playoff career-high 28.2 points this postseason, but the Bucks have lost three of his five highest-scoring games. When he has five or more assists, however, Milwaukee are 6-1.

His team has also fared much better when Antetokounmpo aggressively attacks the basket, going 6-0 this postseason when he attempts nine or more free throws, even though he is shooting just 53.7 percent from the line.

Perhaps the biggest question facing Antetokounmpo, however, is his health. After leaving Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals with a hyper-extended left knee, he was held out of the next two games of the series, both Milwaukee victories.

Although imaging has revealed no significant structural damage to his knee, Antetokounmpo is listed as doubtful to play in Tuesday’s NBA Finals opener. And while the Bucks were able to close out an Atlanta Hawks team that was missing Trae Young, they will likely need an impactful contribution from Antetokounmpo to beat a healthy and confident Suns team.

The Bucks and their supporters can take heart, however, in the supporting cast appearing to be much better than in previous playoff runs.

Last offseason, Milwaukee paid a heavy price to replace Eric Bledsoe with Jrue Holiday, trading away three first-round draft picks in a blockbuster four-team deal. And while the upgrade could appear trivial on paper – going from Bledsoe’s 14.9 points per game last season to Holiday's 17.7 this season – this postseason has revealed why Holiday was such a coveted piece on the trade market.

In the 2019 and 2020 playoffs, Bledsoe averaged 12.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.9 assists for the Bucks while shooting 40.3 percent from the field and 24.0 percent from 3-point range.

During Milwaukee's run to the Finals, Holiday has averaged 17.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 8.4 assists, all while playing two of his best career playoff games to close out the Hawks while Antetokounmpo was sidelined.

Holiday leads the Bucks this postseason in plus-minus per game at +7.2, and the team is 4-1 when he attempts at least 20 shots.

Perhaps the key to the 2021 Finals is the performance of unsung star Khris Middleton, who will be the crunch-time focal point for the Bucks.

With Antetokounmpo's struggles from the free throw line, Milwaukee is forced to look elsewhere to create offense in the waning minutes of close games. Middleton has attempted a team-high 14 shots in the last three minutes of the fourth quarter during this playoff run and is 10 for 10 from the free throw line in clutch situations. Antetokounmpo is just 7 for 15.

Middleton has also shown the ability to carry the team when Antetokounmpo is off the floor, a valuable stopgap if the Bucks are forced to play a game or more without Antetokounmpo.

He has averaged 29.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists in the final two games of the East finals, all while shooting above his playoff career average from the floor.

Middleton has done some of his best work this postseason while Antetokounmpo has been on the bench, either due to injury or routine substitution. Not only has Middleton scored more when Milwaukee’s Greek superstar is off the floor – 37.9 points per 100 possessions compared to 25.1 with Antetokounmpo on the floor – his efficiency also improves when he is the primary option.

With Middleton shooting 47.8 percent from the field and 35.0 percent from 3-point range when Antetokounmpo is off the court this postseason, that compares to 41.1 percent overall and 33.3 percent from deep when he plays alongside the two-time MVP.

The Suns will undoubtedly present an enormous challenge for the Bucks in an NBA Finals between two teams desperate for a championship parade. And the Bucks, just like the Suns, have benefitted from some measure of good luck this postseason, facing an injury-riddled Brooklyn squad and avoiding East top seed Philadelphia.

But this Milwaukee team is also better equipped to lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy than in the previous two seasons, despite a less impressive regular season.

With some added schematic versatility and a better supporting cast, the Bucks might only need a bit of healing in Antetokounmpo's left knee to be crowned NBA champions for the first time since 1971.

Euro 2020 is disappearing before our eyes, with the delayed tournament somehow already at the business end as we head into the final three matches.

It's been a thrill ride since the very beginning. From Italy making a sparkling start and Denmark rallying after Christian Eriksen's medical emergency, to France falling at the last 16 and England reaching the semi-finals of a second successive major tournament.

Italy, England, Spain and Denmark are all that's left as Euro 2020 enters its final week, and at this point it seems particularly tricky to call, particularly between first three.

But, given how integral statistics are to football these days, data can potentially give you edge when attempting to predict certain outcomes, and this is where Stats Perform's Artificial Intelligence team comes in as they've used Opta's extensive data reserves to quantify each semi-finalist's chances of winning tournament.

Every match has been run through the Stats Perform Euros Prediction model to calculate the estimated probability of the outcome (win, draw or loss). This uses odds from betting markets and Stats Perform team rankings, which are based on historical and recent performances and also takes into consideration the strength of each side's opponents.

The games are then simulated 40,000 times and analysed, providing the AI team with a percentage for each nation, showing the probability of them ultimately lifting the trophy at Wembley on July 11.

Without any further ado, let's take a look at the results…

Denmark (8.8 per cent chance of winning Euro 2020)

The fact Denmark even got out of their group was an achievement in itself as they became the first team to ever reach the knockout phase having lost their opening two matches. Yet, here we are.

The Danes are into the last four for the first time since winning the competition in 1992 and have really hit their stride since their two early defeats, with only Spain (12) outscoring Kasper Hjulmands' men until this point (11) – that haul is the most they've ever managed at a major tournament.

 

Denmark have projected a real sense of unity since Eriksen collapsed against Finland, and it's hard to believe they will fear anyone at this point.

Nevertheless, England should represent trickier opposition than the likes of Wales and the Czech Republic, which is perhaps reflected by the fact their 8.8 per cent chance of winning the title is the lowest of the four remaining teams.

But if standout performers such as Joakim Maehle, Simon Kjaer and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg continue to deliver the goods, who's to say they cannot emulate the 1992 vintage?

 

Spain (23.1 per cent)

Luis Enrique's Spain have been a fascinating watch at Euro 2020, partly because they somehow manage to flitter between exceptional and unrefined. Their erratic nature has become one of the sideshows of the tournament.

For example, only the Netherlands (53) have forced more high turnovers than Spain, while La Roja are the sole side to break the 100 barrier in terms of sequences of 10 or more passes (147). They only allow their opponents 8.3 passes on average in the defensive third before they initiate a defensive action, indicating they are the most intense pressers at the tournament, and their haul of 12 goals is more than anyone else.

 

Yet, their xGA (expected goals against) of 6.8 is comfortably the worst of the four teams left, and their xG underperformance of 3.6 is the biggest of all 24 teams. In short, these points suggest that not only have Spain been lucky to only concede five times, they are also the most wasteful team at Euro 2020.

 

That's obviously not helped by the fact Gerard Moreno (no goals from 3.3 xG) and Alvaro Morata (two goals from 3.95 xG) are among the three players with the worst xG underperformance records in the competition.

However, they've got this far and have still crafted plenty of goal-scoring opportunities, with their record of 25 big chances a tournament-high. If the penny drops with Spain's forwards and they start to convert in line with their xG, they could have real joy.

 

England (29.1 per cent)

It would be fair to say England's performances in the group stage, although not alarming, certainly didn't inspire a huge amount of confidence as they scored just two goals. But in the two games since, they have netted six times and attracted significant acclaim.

The fact they don't necessarily stand out in many specific team metrics (perhaps bar 10+ passing sequences – 98, second to Spain) is arguably partly down to how flexible Gareth Southgate's team have been in their approach to specific games. For example, their passes per defensive action (PPDA) dropped from 13.7 against Scotland to 25.9 against Germany, suggesting they were concerned about the German midfield playing through their press and instead sat back more in order to cut off passing routes.

Of course, adapting to your opponents is hardly revolutionary, most teams do it to a certain extent, but in a tournament where Spain and Italy have almost religiously stuck to principals and formations that govern their setups, England have chopped and changed.

 

It's clearly worked as well given the fact the Three Lions have equalled a major-tournament record of five successive clean sheets, while their 2.95 xGA (with no goals conceded) leads the way at Euro 2020.

With their defence seemingly watertight and Harry Kane finding some confidence with three goals in two games, England look in great shape. If our prediction model took into consideration that all of the remaining games are to be at Wembley, they'd likely be a bit closer to top spot.

 

Italy (38.9 per cent)

It seems like a long time ago now that Italy came into Euro 2020 as – some claimed at the time – unknown quantities. The common conception was that their 27-match unbeaten run coming into the tournament was misleading because most of the games were said to have been against sub-optimal opposition.

Well, they are now at 32 games unbeaten having won or drawn all of their five matches to this point at Euro 2020, setting a new national record in the process.

But, more than that, they've been utterly joyful to watch. They are relentless in attack, as highlighted by their tournament-leading shot (11) and goal-ending high turnovers (three), but also impressive at the back having only conceded one non-penalty goal.

 

Built around a solid core of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella that expertly blends craft and guile arguably unlike any team at Euro 2020, Roberto Mancini's turned Italy into a side that's not only been generally fun to watch, but also effective.

Spain represent a completely different challenge to any other side Italy have faced thus far, yet Luis Enrique's men have afforded their opponents plenty of chances. The Azzurri have been consistent throughout in attack, as demonstrated by their 11 goals from 10.3 xG. Without the one own goal in their favour, it would be 10 from 10.3 xG.

 

Italy have shown no major weaknesses en route to the semi-finals, and as such our model suggests it is they who have the greatest chance of success this week.

The Montreal Canadiens are still believing after Josh Anderson's overtime goal helped them stave off a rare Stanley Cup Final series sweep with a 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday.

The Canadiens killed off a four-minute penalty to captain Shea Weber in overtime before Anderson's goal forced a Game 5 in Tampa, with the series at 3-1 in favour of the reigning NHL champions.

Montreal would have become the first side to suffer a clean sweep defeat in the Final series since 1998, when the Detroit Red Wings won 4-0 over the Washington Capitals.

Instead, the Canadiens are the first team to score in overtime to avoid a sweep in the Stanley Cup Final since the Bruins did it in 1946 against the Canadiens.

"We didn't want to end it tonight in front of our fans," Anderson said at the post-game news conference. "We expected to go to Tampa.

"I think everybody in that locker room packed their bags this afternoon. We just had that feeling that we were going to win tonight and give ourselves a chance to go there, take care of business, and come home in front of our fans. We're in a good position now."

If Montreal can win Game 5 in Tampa, they will have home rink advantage for Game 6 at the Bell Centre. Montreal are 4-0 when facing elimination this postseason.

Anderson said the Canadiens' grit to hang on during Weber's four-minute penalty showed they could overcome adversity.

"Our penalty kill has been outstanding all playoffs, so we came back to the room and we just believed in each other," Anderson said.

"We weren't down. It was all positive things in the room. We just had to execute. I thought we did a phenomenal job.

"Carey [Price] was a wall tonight. He gave us that chance to finish it in overtime. Everyone stuck together and did their jobs."

Interim Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme added: "We're proud of what we accomplished tonight, but we don't want to just avoid seeing the Lightning players holding the Stanley Cup.

"We have no intention of stopping now. We want to go to Tampa and come back to play another game here."

Game 5 is at Tampa's Amalie Arena on Wednesday.

The Tampa Bay Rays hit two runs in the ninth inning with Yandy Diaz securing a 9-8 walk-off victory in a thrilling clash against the Cleveland Indians in MLB on Monday.

Diaz hit a chopper down to right, with second baseman Cesar Hernandez sending a wild throw well wide of home plate, as Randy Arozarena crossed.

Earlier, Brandon Lowe launched a big grand slam deep to right-field off Logan Allen as the Rays raced to a 4-0 lead in the second inning.

Indians right-fielder Harold Ramirez pulled off two outstanding catches to end the fourth inning, before Cleveland reeled the Rays in with four runs in the fifth inning.

At the bottom of the ninth, wonderkid Wander Franco drove Brett Phillips home, before Diaz's chopper helped Arozarena finish it off.

The win sees the stuttering Rays – who had lost five of their past six games coming in – move to 49-36, while the Indians are 42-40.

 

Gausman denied, Tatis homers up

The St Louis Cardinals scored five runs in the final three innings to record a 5-3 win over the San Francisco Giants. San Francisco pitcher Kevin Gausman did not allow a hit through his first six innings before Nolan Arenado sparked a two-run rally for St Louis, with a two-run triple from Matt Carpenter, before Alex Reyes closed it out for the Cardinals.

Fernando Tatis Jr. became the fastest player aged 22 or younger to reach 27 home runs in a season (68 games) in the San Diego Padres' 7-5 loss to the Washington Nationals. Tatis also pulled off a miraculous catch at shortstop in the eighth inning from Ryan Zimmerman.

MLB's home run leader Shohei Ohtani had the chance to be the hero at-bat on his 27th birthday in the ninth inning but the Boston Red Sox held their nerve to win 5-4 over the Los Angeles Angels. Raphael Devers starred for the Red Sox with three RBIs.

Ben Gamel had two home runs with six RBIs as the Pittsburgh Pirates brought Atlanta Braves pitcher Max Fried back down to earth after Sunday's walk off following an 11-1 rout.

 

Cubs' losing run extends to 10

June 24 feels like a long time ago when the Chicago Cubs threw a no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers, with their 13-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies marking 10 straight defeats. Cubs manager David Ross blew up in frustration and was ejected.

 

Elite company for Pujols

Albert Pujols reached his 6,000th career base, becoming the fourth player to achieve the feat in MLB history as World Series champions the Dodgers lost 5-4 to the Miami Marlins. The other players to reach the mark are Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, and Willie Mays.

Jorge Alfaro's home run in the eighth inning won it for the Marlins, ending the Dodgers' nine-game win streak.

 

Monday's results

St Louis Cardinals 5-3 San Francisco Giants
Miami Marlins 5-4 Los Angeles Dodgers
Pittsburgh Pirates 11-1 Atlanta Braves
New York Mets 4-2 Milwaukee Brewers
Tampa Bay Rays 9-8 Cleveland Indians
Minnesota Twins 8-5 Chicago White Sox
Philadelphia Phillies 13-3 Chicago Cubs
Detroit Tigers 7-3 Texas Rangers
Cincinnati Reds 6-2 Kansas City Royals
Boston Red Sox 5-4 Los Angeles Angels
Washington Nationals 7-5 San Diego Padres

 

Brewers at Mets

The leaders in the National League (NL) East, the Mets (44-37), go again against the NL Central-leading Brewers (51-35).

Fans of Formula One and MotoGP will not be able to witness the Australian Grand Prix after both 2021 events were cancelled amid the coronavirus pandemic.

F1's Australian GP was scheduled to take place at Albert Park from November 18-21 in Melbourne after the 2020 race was called off due to COVID-19, while the MotoGP meet at Phillip Island was set for October 24.

However, both races have been scrapped for the second successive year because of restrictions and logistical challenges relating to the ongoing pandemic.

With the Australian GP removed from MotoGP's calendar, the Grande Premio do Algarve has been added for November 5-7, with the Malaysia GP brought forward a week to October 22-24.

"We're deeply disappointed that for a second consecutive year, both MotoGP and Formula 1 fans won’t be able to see the world’s best riders and drivers compete at the wonderful Phillip Island and Albert Park Grand Prix Circuits," said Australian Grand Prix Corporation Chairman Paul Little on Tuesday.

"We appreciate the challenge Australia faces with current international travel restrictions and the importance of vaccinations.

"I would like to reassure our motivated and professional staff, suppliers and partners, as well as the Victorian tourism and major events community that we will work tirelessly to deliver these iconic events in 2022."

F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali said: "While it is disappointing we won't be racing in Australia this season, we are confident we can deliver a 23-race season in 2021 and we have a number of options to take forward to replace the place left vacant by the Australian Grand Prix.

"We will be working through the details of those options in the coming weeks and will provide further updates once those discussions are concluded."

"The FIM, IRTA and Dorna Sports regret to announce the cancellation of the Red Bull Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix," MotoGP said a statement. "The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and resulting travel complications and logistical restrictions mean it has not been possible to confirm the viability of the event at this time, and it will therefore not feature on the 2021 calendar.

"The FIM MotoGP World Championship looks forward to returning to race in front of the Australian fans at the spectacular Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit in 2022."

Two years ago, the Phoenix Suns compiled the second-worst record in franchise history behind only the 1968-69 expansion team.

A year later, they were the darling of the NBA's restart – going a perfect 8-0 at the Walt Disney Complex in Florida amid the coronavirus pandemic, yet still missing out on the playoffs.

And now, a mere 11 months later, they are just four wins away from capturing the franchise's first NBA title.

Led by a future Hall of Famer running the point, a dynamic scorer and one of the most explosive young bigs in the league, Phoenix have the chance to join the 2007-08 Boston Celtics and last season's Los Angeles Lakers as the only teams in the last 40 years to win the NBA title after missing the playoffs in the previous season.

The last stage of their incredible turnaround begins at home to the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday.

The Suns reached their first NBA Finals since losing to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in 1993 after dispatching defending champions the Lakers in five games in the first round, sweeping the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals and ousting the Los Angeles Clippers in six in the Conference Finals.

All of those teams were a bit banged-up – the Lakers without Anthony Davis, the Nuggets minus Jamal Murray and a Kawhi Leonard-less Clippers squad – but the Suns themselves had to overcome their own setbacks. Chris Paul injured his shoulder against the Lakers and then missed two games following a positive COVID-19 test, Devin Booker played through a broken nose and Cameron Johnson was sidelined with an illness.

Despite their issues, Phoenix have taken care of business against the league's best just like it did all season – their .711 winning percentage (27-11) against teams .500 or better in the regular season ranked first in the NBA – with an offense running through Paul and Booker.

In the Finals for the first time in his 16-year-career, the 36-year-old Paul is one of the most captivating storylines of this series and with good reason – he is playing with a rejuvenated fervour and is the engine that runs Phoenix's high-powered offense.

Paul has tallied at least 15 points and five assists in each of his last eight games – the longest streak by any player 36 years or older in postseason history – and he punctuated the Suns' Finals berth with a playoff career-high-tying 41 points on seven-of-eight shooting on three-pointers and eight assists in last Wednesday's 130-103 Game 6 win over the Clippers. It marked just the fourth time in playoff history a player had 40 or more points with at least seven three-pointers while shooting 80 per cent or better from three-point range. (Booker had one in Phoenix's ouster against the Lakers on June 3 and Paul had another one for the Houston Rockets in 2018.)

Although he got hot from three-point range the last time the Suns took the court, inside the perimeter has been Paul, as well as Booker's, calling card this season.

Paul and Booker were first and second in mid-range field goals made in the regular season with 211 and 188, respectively, as Phoenix shot a league-leading 47.2 per cent from mid-range.

Including the postseason, Paul is shooting 50.4 per cent on baseline jumpers (60 of 119) and 52.2 per cent on shots from the elbow (194 of 372), while Booker is shooting 47.6 per cent (81 of 170) and 47.5 per cent (154 of 324) on such shots. Paul's 163 made hoops from the elbow in the regular season were the most in the NBA, while Booker ranked third with 119.

The mid-range game has somewhat fallen by the wayside as teams focus more on the increased weight of the three-pointer, and although Phoenix is finding success from mid-range, they have not forgotten about the importance of the three.

While 19.1 per cent of the Suns' shots in the regular season were from mid-range compared to the league average of 13.6 per cent, Phoenix's 39.2 per cent of shots from three-point range was the exact league average. The Suns attempted fewer shots in the paint – 41.7 per cent compared to the NBA average of 47.2 per cent – but when they do feed the ball down low, they are converting baskets at a higher rate than anyone.

Including the postseason, Phoenix are shooting 60.3 per cent in the paint and 65.9 per cent in the restricted area – both ranking first in the league.

Deandre Ayton has been the driving force behind the Suns' proficiency in the paint and has upped his game in the playoffs.

After shooting 75.2 per cent from the restricted area in the regular season to rank sixth in the league (min. 150 FGA) and 68.3 per cent in the paint to rank ninth (200 FGA), the 22-year-old is shooting 79.4 per cent in the restricted area (85 of 107) and 74.7 per cent in the paint (112 of 150) in the playoffs.

The top pick of the 2018 draft put together a phenomenal series against the Clippers, highlighted by an alley-oop dunk at the buzzer in an exhilarating 114-113 win in Game 2. Ayton averaged 17.8 points and 13.7 rebounds while shooting 69.3 per cent to become just the fourth player since 1983-84 to average at least 17 points and 13 rebounds while shooting 65 per cent or better in a single postseason series.

Johnson was also instrumental to Phoenix's success against the Clippers and is fit to play in the Finals after missing Wednesday's closeout win with a non-COVID illness.

After averaging 6.7 points on 37.8 per cent shooting and 41.2 per cent from beyond the arc (14 of 34) in the first two rounds, Johnson averaged 10.8 points on 70.0 per cent shooting and 52.9 per cent on three-pointers (9 of 17) in the Clippers series.

While Johnson finally found his shooting touch in the last round to help the Suns advance, much of their success this postseason hinges on shoulders of veteran three-point specialist Jae Crowder.

Phoenix are 7-0 in the playoffs when Crowder scores at least 10 points and 5-4 when he fails to reach double figures. His scoring success boils down to how well he is shooting from deep, as he is knocking down 51.9 per cent of his three-pointers (27 of 52) in those seven double-digit scoring games compared to just 21.6 per cent (11 of 51) in those other nine contests.

He has been a bit more effective from the corner in the playoffs, shooting 48.1 per cent from there (13 of 27) after making 38.8 per cent of his corner threes in the regular season (40 of 103). Booker, meanwhile, has been steady from the corner all season, connecting on 51.2 per cent of his 41 attempts from there.

Cameron Payne was one of the league's most effective shooters on wing three-pointers during the regular season, connecting on 46.2 per cent of his 119 shots – the third-highest field goal percentage in the NBA among those with at least 100 attempts. He has not been quite as deadly in the postseason, shooting 38.1 per cent on his 42 shots from the wing, but Paul has been more accurate from there since the playoffs began, shooting 51.9 per cent (14 of 27) after shooting 37.4 per cent from the wing in the regular season (58 of 155).

Although Phoenix's strength all season has been their high-powered offense – their 114.9 offensive rating in the regular season was tied with the Portland Trail Blazers for fourth – the Suns are proving they are able to grind out wins in the playoffs even when their offense is not firing on all cylinders. Phoenix are averaging 108.9 points in the playoffs – down 6.4 points from their regular-season average – but are 4-4 when scoring 105 or fewer after going 3-9 in such games in the regular season.

Behind Paul, Booker and company, the Suns have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time, joining the 2007-08 Celtics as the only teams in the last 40 seasons to go from having one of the NBA's two worst records to one of its two best in a two-year span. In fact, over the past five seasons from 2015-16 to 2019-20, Phoenix's .302 winning percentage was the worst in the NBA.

Their run to the playoffs was unprecedented – their 51-21 regular-season record was the best in NBA history among teams that entered a season with a postseason drought of at least 10 seasons – and after all the years of disappointment in the desert, a championship is now within reach.

Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci leapt to the defence of Juventus team-mate and embattled Spain forward Alvaro Morata ahead of their Euro 2020 semi-final showdown.

Spain's Morata has been on the wrong end of criticism for his performances at Euro 2020, while he reportedly received death threats amid online abuse directed at his family.

Team-mates at club level for Juve in Serie A, Bonucci and Morata will face-off when Italy play Spain in Tuesday's Euro 2020 semi-final at Wembley and the former heaped praise on the 28-year-old Spaniard.

"I was really struck by what happened to him and what we all have to go through," Bonucci said of the death threats directed at Morata. "I've also had to go through what he has gone through, and I know what it's like to read certain things and feel certain things as well.

"I've always been right behind him, he's always had my support. Alvaro is a wonderful person, he is a great guy, a wonderful father, and a terrific footballer.

"He's a complete striker, because he can run into space high up the pitch, makes late runs, holds the ball up well. He's one of the best strikers in world football, thankfully at club football he is a team-mate of mine over the course of the season.

"We need to make sure we are switched on tomorrow [Tuesday], not only to keep an eye on Morata but the team as a whole."

Spain are the highest scoring team at Euro 2020, with 12 goals from five games, including two strikes via Morata.

Bonucci was pressed on comparisons between Morata and Inter star Romelu Lukaku, whom Italy faced in the quarter-finals with Belgium.

"They are two top strikers," the 34-year-old Bonucci said. "When you get to this level, this stage of the competition, all the countries you come up against and all of the strikers you face are terrific.

"Alvaro has some very specific qualities that are different attributes to what Lukaku is all about. We need to be very switched on in terms of fine margins and small details, to make sure we really can come away with a big result."

Italy – riding a national record 32-game unbeaten streak – have only beaten Spain twice in their past 14 meetings in all competitions (D7 L5), a 2-1 friendly win in 2011 and, most recently, a 2-0 victory at Euro 2016 in the last 16, with goals from Giorgio Chiellini and Graziano Pelle.

The Azzurri are featuring in their 12th semi-final at a major tournament (Euros and World Cup), with only Germany (20) appearing at the final-four stage more often among all European sides.

Italy have progressed from nine of the previous 11 semi-final ties, including each of the past four – most recently in this competition in 2012 when they eventually lost in the final to Spain (4-0).

Roberto Mancini's Italy have won all five of their matches at Euro 2020, the only side of the remaining final four with a 100 per cent record to date. Only at the World Cup (1990) have they won more games at a single major tournament (six), while the only European team to win each of their first six games at a major tournament was the Netherlands at the 2010 World Cup, when they suffered defeat to Spain in the final in South Africa.

But Bonucci played down the favourites tag, telling reporters: "I think when its Italy against Spain in a European Championship semi-final, there's no such thing as a favourite. Yes, we have had a flawless run so far, but even though Spain have faced some issues, that doesn't matter, we need to put it to one side.

"We really need to focus on what we need to do, where we can improve. We simply need to be motivated by the fact we're coming up against such a great, prestigious side in a wonderful arena such as Wembley, in the knowledge we can make it to the final in a few days' time."

Brazil superstar Neymar said he wants to face Lionel Messi's Argentina in the Copa America final after the defending champions edged Peru.

Neymar provided the assist for Lucas Paqueta's 35th-minute winner as Brazil saw off 2019 runners-up Peru 1-0 in Monday's semi-final.

Brazil will meet the winner of the Argentina-Colombia semi in Saturday's decider at the iconic Maracana and Neymar is eyeing a blockbuster showdown with La Albiceleste.

South American rivals Brazil and Argentina have not met in a Copa final since 2007, when the Selecao won 3-0.

"I want Argentina, I'm rooting for Argentina," Neymar – a former Barcelona team-mate of Messi – said post-match in Rio de Janeiro.

"I have friends there, then in the final it will be Brazil [laughs]."

 

Neymar was impressive throughout at Estadio Nilton Santos, attempting a team-high four shots to go with two key passes and the decisive assist.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward was also fouled three times. No player has been fouled more often than Neymar (25) during this year's CONMEBOL tournament.

Meanwhile, head coach Tite made history by equalling Mario Zagallo as the Brazil head coach with the longest unbeaten run in Copa America history (12), winning nine games and drawing three fixtures.

The 60-year-old has the fifth-best winning percentage among coaches with at least 10 games in Copa America history – 75 per cent.

Since his appointment in 2016, Brazil have kept 42 clean sheets in 60 games under head coach Tite across all competitions (70 per cent).

After the game, however, Neymar took aim at Chilean referee Roberto Tobar, saying: "The referee cannot do what he did. It's a lack of respect for all the players, the way he talks, the way he looks, what he says on the field to the players. 

"From the very first minute I went to talk to him, and he was very arrogant. Everyone is saying that, I think it's not normal for both teams to complain. 

"Not the way he whistled the match. He can make mistakes, that's part of it, but the arrogance he had in that match... For me, he can't be a referee in a Copa America semi-final."

Just like the quarter-final, Paqueta scored the winning goal for Brazil – who are now eyeing their 10th Copa crown.

Paqueta has scored in back-to-back appearances for Brazil in all competitions for the first time in his career.

"Paqueta is a great player," Neymar said. "Has been growing with each game, with each game he plays for the national team. He had a great season for his club and has shown that he can be a very important player for us in the national team.  I'm happy with his participation, with the game he played. It's always good to meet great players in the national team."

Atletico Madrid defender Kieran Trippier refused to discuss speculation linking him with Manchester United, insisting his full focus is on England's Euro 2020 campaign.

Trippier has been linked with a move from LaLiga champions Atletico to Premier League giants United this off-season.

The 30-year-old has spent the past two seasons in Spain and is reportedly open to a switch to United but declined to discuss any possible move ahead of Wednesday's Euro 2020 semi-final against Denmark at Wembley.

"I've just enjoyed the season [at Atletico] and we've won the title," Trippier told reporters.

"I'm away with England, we're playing Denmark and I'm not focusing on my club or what is going on.

"I'm just focused on England and doing as best as I can if I play. If I don't play, I still give 100 per cent."

Trippier, who has one more year remaining on his current Atletico contract, is riding a wave of confidence after lifting the LaLiga title, which is oozing into his England performances having started against Germany and Croatia.

"It's been an unbelievable season and it motivates me to win more, even at my age," Trippier said.

"Coming away with England, it gives me real confidence and maybe I can share that experience with others who have not won things.

"Then again, we have players who are winning trophies with their clubs now and they all have that winning mentality."

United have not won the Premier League title since 2012-13, nor any trophy whatsoever since 2017 after losing the 2020-21 Europa League final to Villarreal.

England have won just one of their last six competitive meetings with Denmark (D3 L2), with that victory coming at the 2002 World Cup (3-0).

Gareth Southgate's England are playing in their third European Championship semi-final, losing to Yugoslavia in 1968 and going out on penalties to Germany in 1996. As it stands, the Three Lions have played more games at the Euros without ever reaching the final than any other nation (36).

England’s 4-0 rout of Ukraine in the quarter-final was their biggest ever European Championship win, and their biggest victory in the knockout stages of any major tournament. Indeed, they netted as many goals against Ukraine as they had in their previous four Euro 2020 matches combined.

Meanwhile, England have kept a clean sheet in all five of their games at Euro 2020 so far – no team has ever kept six clean sheets in a single edition of the European Championship or World Cup before.

It is hard to think that before the start of this year's Copa America, some were calling for Tite's sacking.

Those calls stemmed on the uncertainty of the Selecao's participation after CONMEBOL controversially relocated the event from Argentina to Brazil.

The Brazil squad were united against hosting the Copa on home soil amid the coronavirus pandemic. The defending champions eventually committed to representing their country and now they stand on the cusp of another title with Tite at the helm.

On an historic night for Tite, Brazil moved through to a second consecutive Copa final at the expense of 2019 runners-up Peru 1-0 on Monday.

Tite made history by equalling Mario Zagallo as the Brazil head coach with the longest unbeaten run in Copa America history (12), winning nine games and drawing three fixtures.

 

The 60-year-old has the fifth-best winning percentage among coaches with at least 10 games in Copa America history – 75 per cent.

Only Flavio Costa (79 per cent, 19 games), Zagallo (83 per cent, 12 games), Guillermo Stabile (84 per cent, 44 games) and Pedro Cea (90 per cent, 10 games) have a better percentage.

Lucas Paqueta scored the decisive goal 10 minutes before half-time as Brazil extended their undefeated streak to 13 matches across all competitions, a run including 10 clean sheets and dating back to November 2019.

Since his appointment in 2016, Brazil have kept 42 clean sheets in 60 games under head coach Tite across all competitions (70 per cent).

During his tenure, Brazil have 45 wins, 11 draws and just four defeats.

This Brazil team have style and substance – trademark flair and free-flowing football but with defensive stability and the ability to close out games.

As Brazil – who have won the last five Copa finals they have played, 1997, 1999, 2004, 2007 and 2019 - await rivals Argentina or Colombia in Saturday's decider, Tite continues to reach new heights.

Spain head coach Luis Enrique hailed the impact of newcomer Aymeric Laporte after his controversial allegiance switch ahead of Euro 2020.

Laporte is the only Spain defender to play every game at Euro 2020 and looms as a key figure in Tuesday's semi-final against Italy in London.

The France-born Manchester City centre-back only made his international debut last month after being granted Spanish nationality in May.

Laporte, who moved to Spain as a 16-year-old and came through the Athletic Bilbao system, had been capped at every under-age level by France and called up twice for the senior team in 2019 but never debuted for Les Bleus.

Luis Enrique and the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) pursued Laporte over the past three years, despite the player claiming it was "out of the question", eventually winning him over ahead of Euro 2020.

"As soon as he was able to play with us he began to do a huge amount for us," Luis Enrique said during Monday's news conference. "He's a top defender, both in the attacking and defensive phases.

"We obviously need our defenders to have composure in order to bring the ball out and pick out that free man in midfield.

"He is strong in the air, he can play with both feet, he is physically strong, he's quick, he's strong, as I've said, he is good at playing on the front foot, he is good with how he covers.

"He's a top defender and we are delighted that Aymeric has decided to play for Spain."

Laporte's inclusion in Spain's European Championship squad has arguably vindicated Luis Enrique's decision to exclude veteran captain Sergio Ramos.

Luis Enrique has a selection headache with Pablo Sarabia unlikely to be fit to face Italy due to a muscle injury, having started in the quarter-final penalty shoot-out win over Switzerland.

RB Leipzig's Dani Olmo replaced Sarabia at half-time against Switzerland and is a likely preferred option.

"They are all fit except Sarabia," Luis Enrique said. "Physically they are well and tiredness ends 45 minutes after finishing the quarter final game."

Luis Enrique's Spain bossed possession (73 per cent) against Switzerland but relied on penalties to advance to the last four, despite having 28 shots to eight.

Spain have reached the semi-finals of the European Championship for the third time in the past four editions of the competition (failing to do so in 2016). They have gone on to win the Euros on each of the past two occasions they have reached the final four – in 2008 and 2012.

After losing each of their first four matches at Wembley between 1955 and 1968, Spain have only suffered one defeat in their past five games there (W2 D2). However, they were knocked out of the Euros in 1996 at Wembley, losing to hosts England on penalties.

Luis Enrique was wary of Italy's desire for possession too, in a looming clash of styles.

"I think that's one of the main questions really," he said. "We are leaders in terms of possession stats but they are also a side that can use the ball and enjoy their football with the ball.

"I guess that's the first battle to win. I think that they are very good without the ball as well. They've shown that at times during the championship, but they are far more comfortable with the ball.

"Our objectives are clear. We need the ball, we want to have it. If we have to play a different game we'll adapt but of course we'd prefer to have possession."

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