Lucas Hernandez is determined to prove his worth for both club and country as the Bayern Munich defender aims to hold off competition, including potentially from his own brother, to remain a regular for France.  

Hernandez suffered knee and ankle injuries in his first year at Bayern, though he has by no means been a regular this season when available for head coach Hansi Flick.  

The 25-year-old has made 17 Bundesliga appearances – 12 of which have been starts – and also eight outings in the Champions League, helping the German club reach the quarter-final stage in Europe.  

He started at left-back for Les Bleus on Wednesday, the reigning world champions opening their qualifying campaign for Qatar 2022 with a 1-1 home draw against Ukraine.  

"Yes, of course. I'm someone who always wants to play," Hernandez - who joined Bayern from Atletico Madrid in June 2019 - told the media on Thursday.  

"I was injured a lot last year but this year the injuries have left me alone. I played, I wanted to restore confidence to the club that bought me two years ago. There were times when I was frustrated, angry when I was on the bench.   

"At Bayern, the competition is very strong. I had times when I played less, but I still have confidence in myself, I have always worked in training.  

"There is also a lot of competition in the France team too, we are always in danger. It's up to me to hang on."

Hernandez was a reliable option for France boss Didier Deschamps in the successful World Cup campaign in Russia in 2018, though appreciates he cannot just take his place for granted.  

Younger sibling Theo is one of those hoping to force his way in. The 23-year-old has yet to make his debut for the senior team but is excelling at Milan, contributing five goals and six assists this season.  

He has created 45 chances in total in the 2020-21 campaign, putting him behind only Hakan Calhanoglu for Stefano Pioli's squad. His tackle success rate, meanwhile, sits at 64.1 per cent.  

"At the moment offensively, he is very strong," Lucas said of Theo. "He has this confidence to take the ball and break through the lines easily. He is having a very good season.   

"It was already the case last year; I hope that one day he can be here [with the France squad]. It is not for me to choose that. It is not my choice.   

"In previous years, when he was at Real Madrid or Real Sociedad, he had a little more trouble. But since he has been in Milan, he is confident – and it shows in the stats, with assists and goals. He's very offensive. 

"He's my brother, I have that family feeling. He's a very good player, I like him a lot. I hope he can be here one day."

A Germany player has tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of their World Cup qualifying clash with Iceland on Thursday. 

The individual - whose identity has not been revealed - did not have any symptoms and was immediately sent into isolation, the German Football Association (DFB) confirmed. 

Germany's bid to reach the 2022 World Cup kicks off against Iceland in Duisburg, followed by clashes with Romania and North Macedonia on Sunday and Wednesday respectively.  

A statement from the DFB read: "The strict hygiene concept of the DFB is aimed at avoiding category 1 contacts. The measures that are being implemented include the permanent wearing of FFP2 masks, except when eating at the table.  

"[Also] Staying in closed rooms in fixed, narrow time windows, keeping a distance in all functional rooms in the hotel, using two team buses and several vans for trips to the training ground, as well as close-knit testing.

"Since the meeting of the national team on Monday, two PCR and one antigen rapid tests have taken place in the team hotel." 

National team director Oliver Bierhoff added: "Of course, this news is bitter so shortly before the game – for the coach and the entire team. 

"But we are confident that this will remain the case, as we have taken all hygiene measures so far and have been very disciplined. Of course, we will implement all the requirements of the authorities."

 

Gareth Southgate is set to bring up 50 games in charge when England start their qualifying campaign for the 2022 World Cup.

San Marino are the visitors to Wembley Stadium for the milestone match, with Southgate the seventh to make it to a half-century at the helm for England.

His record so far is impressive: 29 wins, 10 draws and 10 defeats. He has also introduced some notable names to international football, many of which will form the backbone for the Three Lions in this year's delayed Euro 2020 tournament. 

In total, 42 players have made their senior debuts under the current boss. Plenty have made an impact, though some have fallen by the wayside since getting a taste of the senior team. 

HITS 

Jesse Lingard 

Lingard is the only member of the current England squad to have made his debut in Southgate's first match in charge, a 2-0 win over Malta in October 2016. The 28-year-old was a key member of the 2018 World Cup squad but has not featured for his country since the Nations League Finals nearly two years ago, having struggled for minutes at Manchester United. 

However, a January loan move to West Ham has paid off. No player has been involved in more goals – Lingard has scored five while also providing two assists – since his debut for the Hammers in February. Southgate – who advised the player to remain in the Premier League – has duly taken note, handing him a recall. 

Harry Maguire 

Maguire made his first England appearance against Lithuania in October 2017, when he was playing for Leicester City. The centre-back quickly established himself in Southgate's side for the World Cup semi-final run, while he has continued to be a mainstay since for the national side.  

Indeed, the Manchester United defender has missed just 14 possible outings for club and country since that maiden outing, starting 28 out of England's 30 matches. 

Kieran Trippier 

Paris was the setting for Trippier's bow, the full-back handed a chance in a 3-2 friendly defeat against France that saw him start alongside then-Tottenham team-mates Eric Dier, Dele Alli and Harry Kane. 

Now playing his club football in Spain with Atletico Madrid, the 30-year-old continues to be a key attacking outlet for Southgate's teams. His total of 55 chances created since June 2017 is comfortably the highest for England, with striker Kane second on the list with 37. 

Jordan Pickford 

No player has both played and started more games for England under Southgate than Pickford, whose debut came in November 2017.  With 30 appearances, he sits one ahead of Maguire.

The Everton goalkeeper will not be involved as his manager celebrates his 50th match at the helm, though, as an abdominal muscle injury sees him missing for March's World Cup qualifiers. His absence also offers some of his rivals for the starting job an opportunity to stake their claim to be considered number one, with Pickford's form having been somewhat unconvincing for a while.

Declan Rice 

Rice's introduction to action for England came via a substitute appearance during a 5-0 win over the Czech Republic two years ago, replacing Alli just after the hour mark. 

The midfielder started all six of the Nations League qualifiers in 2020-21, including scoring his first international goal in a 4-0 triumph over Iceland. As for his club career, only Rio Ferdinand and Joe Cole played more minutes in the Premier League for West Ham than Rice before the age of 22.


MISSES 

Nathaniel Chalobah 

Having represented England through the youth levels from under-16s upwards, Chalobah has so far played one solitary minute for the senior team, with his late, late opportunity coming against Spain in October 2018.  

Since then, the former Chelsea midfielder has started just 42 league games for Watford. This season he is plying his trade in the Championship, contributing three goals and an assist as the Hornets aim for an immediate return to the top flight. 

Dominic Solanke 

Solanke was part of the England squad that won the 2014 European Under-17 Championship, including scoring in a final against the Netherlands that was eventually settled by a penalty shoot-out. 

His senior debut came against Brazil in November 2017, but he has not been involved since. The striker signed for Bournemouth in January 2019 but failed to score in his first 38 Premier League appearances for the club, a barren run finally ended with a brace against Leicester in July 2020. He has been far more prolific in the Championship, getting 11 goals.

Lewis Cook 

Cook had success with England at youth level, captaining the squad that went all the way at the Under-20 World Cup. Solanke was also involved in that tournament, along with full internationals Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Dean Henderson - who was not first choice in goal - and Fikayo Tomori. 

The midfielder's maiden appearance for the senior side earned his grandfather a tidy windfall through a winning bet, but that outing as a substitute against Italy at Wembley remains his only cap. Since then, he has started 58 games for Bournemouth, scoring once. 

Jack Cork 

Another to be handed a late cameo by Southgate, Cork featured for all of four minutes in a friendly with Germany in November 2017. A young line-up that included new faces Pickford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek managed a 0-0 draw at Wembley. 

The midfielder – who was part of the Great Britain squad coached by Stuart Pearce at the 2012 Olympic Games in London – was a regular at Burnley before injuries hampered him in the current season, restricting him to just nine league outings for Sean Dyche's team in the 2020-21 campaign. 

Lewis Dunk 

Dunk has helped Brighton and Hove Albion rise from League One to the Premier League, with his performances earning him an England opportunity against the United States in November 2018. He started in a 3-0 win that saw Wayne Rooney make his 120th and final appearance for the Three Lions. 

The centre-back has not featured since, however, despite remaining a mainstay for his club. Since August 2018, Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk (10) is the only defender to have scored more Premier League goals than Dunk's impressive total of nine.  

Mason Mount is relishing the battle for places in the England team, particularly with Jack Grealish and Phil Foden in the long term. 

England manager Gareth Southgate has something of an embarrassment of riches in the attacking positions at the moment, with a host of players thriving at club level. 

Mount has been a key man for Chelsea this term, playing more minutes (2,231) than any of his team-mates, while his 69 chances created is 41 more than anyone else. 

He has been a creative pillar for the Blues, as further evidenced by his 168 passes into the box being by far the most among Chelsea players, while the fact he quickly won his place back after being left out for Thomas Tuchel's first game in charge speaks to his impressive mentality. 

That attitude will surely stand him in good stead not only at club level but also for England, whose creative options seem to be improving with each international window.

 

The advantage that Mount believes he has, however, is his versatility. 

"I am always trying to improve," he told reporters ahead of England's opening 2022 World Cup qualifier against San Marino on Thursday. "I feel like I am versatile and can play in a deeper role and obviously in a more forward role. I'm always learning. I'm still young and I'm still learning. 

"In terms of the formation, we are versatile as a team. In the modern game, you have to be ready to change if the other team are tactically different to what you have prepared for. 

"We are ready for that, definitely. I feel like I can play in any position and I just want to understand, more and more, different positions." 

Elaborating on England's strength in depth, Mount added: "There are so many good players in this team. 

"I've seen Jack and Phil do brilliant things. It motivates me to want to do the same. We all have ambitions to win major trophies, at England and at club level we're all competing to want to do that." 

Of course, Mount's comments help pose the question: can he line up alongside Grealish and Foden in the same team? 

Well, they have done once already – against Iceland in November 2020, as all three started and England won 4-0. 

Mount, occupying a deeper role, did catch the eye as he got the Three Lions' second goal, though Foden and Grealish were arguably more impressive. 

 

Playing from the left, Grealish – whose 75 key passes in the Premier League this season is bettered by only Bruno Fernandes – was lively and created three chances, while also winning 81.8 per cent of his 11 duels. 

Of those involved in three duels or more, only Harry Maguire (15, 86.7 per cent) produced a stronger display, highlighting Grealish's competitive streak in the final third. 

Foden's performance had a similar relentlessness to it, his record in duels identical to the numbers for Grealish, though he was more decisive in attack when on the ball. 

The Manchester City talent scored twice, got an assist and laid on three chances, behind only Harry Kane on four. 

As such, Mount's display could be considered a little less impactful for England going forward. Sure, his 87.8 per cent pass completion rate in the opposing half was good, but none were considered key passes. 

It suggests that, while certainly possible to get all three into the line-up, if Southgate is to persist with his 3-4-3 formation, Mount will be the one shoe-horned into the team. 

With that in mind, it seems likely Mount's greatest strength – his creativity – could become stifled. 

However, with Grealish absent through injury, Mount has another opportunity to stake his claim as a key player in this team – succeeding in that respect will surely be reflected by an elevated status, with England's central midfield often crying out for more creativity in recent years. 

Kyle Lowry admitted it was "weird" to walk off the court for potentially the last time as a Toronto Raptor as the point guard waits to see if he will be on the move before the trade deadline.

Lowry scored only eight points but had nine assists and five rebounds in his 33 minutes on court, helping Toronto snap a nine-game losing streak by beating the Denver Nuggets 135-111 in Tampa.

Viewed by many as the greatest player in the Canadian franchise's history, the six-time All-Star is on an expiring contract, making him a leading candidate to be on the move on Thursday - which just so happens to be his 35th birthday.

Toronto has an 18-26 record in a season that has seen them forced to relocate away from their home due to travel restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a post-game media conference that was briefly interrupted by a call from rapper Drake, a global ambassador for the team who offered his services to work as a translator, Lowry admitted there was a different feeling at the end of the game, potentially knowing it was his last for the Raptors.

"It was kind of weird tonight, not knowing what the next step will be, understanding that there are things that could be possibly be done, with me and other guys on the team," he said prior to Drake's cameo appearance.

"It was great to get a win, it felt good to be out there. It would have been crazier if it was in Toronto, I think, but it was different tonight, for sure.

"Who knows what's going to happen? No one knows, but it was definitely different." 

Lowry arrived at Toronto in July 2012 and is the franchise leader for assists, three-pointers made and steals. He also sits second on the list for games played and was a key part of the roster that won the NBA title in 2019.

"Whenever the time comes, I'll think about that stuff," Lowry replied when asked about his legacy with the team. "The story is not complete, put it that way. My career isn't complete and my time in Toronto isn't essentially over.

"No decisions have been made, nothing has been done. With that being said, I don't know. I've given a lot and I'll continue to give it all, no matter what."

Raptors coach Nick Nurse was full of praise for Lowry, who helped build a 24-point half-time lead as they emphatically put an end to the Nuggets' six-game winning run on the road.

"He plays harder than anybody I've ever seen, and I can't give him a higher compliment than that," Nurse said. 

"He'll go down as maybe the greatest Raptor ever to date."

Norman Powell – another member of Toronto's team who could be on the move before the 15:00 ET (19:00 GMT) deadline – had 22 points.

Donovan Mitchell was left a little disappointed at not being able to go up against the Brooklyn Nets' absent 'big three' but praised his Utah Jazz team-mates for not getting complacent in a 118-88 victory. 

Ordinarily Wednesday's contest in Salt Lake City would have captured the imagination of neutrals, given it pitted Eastern and Western Conference contenders against each other. 

But the game lost a lot of the attraction due to James Harden (neck), Kevin Durant (hamstring) and Kyrie Irving (personal reasons) all being absent. 

Such a situation might have led to some teams taking a more relaxed approach, but not the Jazz, and it was this professionalism that impressed Mitchell, who top-scored with 27 points. 

"We want to play against guys like KD, Kyrie, James Harden - that's what competitiveness is," he said in his post-game interview. 

"But we're not going to change how we play or our mindset because those guys aren't in the game. 

"The biggest thing was trying to be aggressive, get downhill, make plays, get on the rim and finish. That was just my mindset from the jump.

"We've had instances in my time here where we've played differently because guys have been out; tonight really showed the mental fortitude we had throughout the entire game to continue to keep our foot on the pedal." 

The Nets' half-time tally of 38 points was the fewest they have recorded all season, not one of their players reaching the halfway mark with double figures. 

The Jazz were a whopping 21 points clear at the start of the second quarter, with the Nets never looking capable of ensuring it was a competitive game. 

But Nets coach Steve Nash was realistic about the situation and even felt a hint of pride. 

"That's the team [the Jazz] with the best record in the league, we went out there severely undermanned and most importantly they stuck together, played hard, defensively were pretty good; maybe gave up too many threes, but otherwise did a lot of good things defensively," he said. 

"I just told them I was proud of them, and it was great to see some of those guys get some minutes, get some opportunity to make some buckets get some rebounds and stops and just kind of develop. 

"So, lots to be thankful for and we move on to Detroit." 

One of those who took full advantage of a rare opportunity was Alize Johnson, only signed to a 10-day contract earlier this week. He met Nash for the first time on Wednesday. 

Johnson most recently played for Raptors 905 in the NBA G-League, but he certainly made his mark with a career-best 23 points – bettered by only Mitchell in the game – and 15 rebounds. 

"[I wanted to] just prove to everybody that I belong here in the NBA. I've put in a lot of hard work," Johnson said. 

"I got here last night and they got me in here early before the game started and go over a couple things and they did a really good job with that. 

"It was pretty simple and I knew kind of the stuff they were running just from being in the league for a couple years and it just kind of showed that I have a feel for the game - I just applaud those guys for getting me ready for the game." 

England's best hopes for a trophy in 2021 might just be their Under-21 squad.

Aidy Boothroyd's youngsters head into the group stage of the Euro Under-21 finals as legitimate contenders for the trophy, despite being placed in a seriously tough group with Croatia, Portugal and Switzerland.

History is against England, too. They have reached the finals for eight consecutive tournaments but have only progressed from the group stages three times in that sequence. Since winning the trophy in 1984, they have reached the final only once, in 2009, where they lost to Germany.

Still, Boothroyd is undoubtedly blessed with a rich pool of talent, despite leaving out stars such as Phil Foden, Reece James and Jude Bellingham, who will all be involved in the senior side's World Cup qualifiers this month. There is a strength in depth to the Young Lions that should give them real hope of going all the way.

Perhaps the current crop can also buck the trend when it comes to breaking into the senior fold. Only 17 of the 48 players from the previous two Euro Under-21 squads have gone on to play for the full England side, and only Jordan Pickford could consider himself a regular there.

In short, this undoubtedly talented group has plenty to play for…

 

Max-imum opportunity

In front of keeper Aaron Ramsdale, who was in goal for all but one of their qualifiers, sits an encouraging defence.

Norwich City full-back Max Aarons has not only kept 15 clean sheets with the Championship leaders, but his attacking threat has been marked this season. Aarons has created 51 chances from open play and completed 52 dribbles, both the second-best figures among defenders in the competition. At the same time, Aarons has only been beaten by an opponent's dribble 13 times, the lowest number among the top nine of that particular group of attack-minded defenders. Little wonder he is a reported target for Bayern Munich and Everton, among others.

Japhet Tanganga of Tottenham is untested at this level but Jose Mourinho's young protege will not have far to look for a (relatively) experienced guide. Spurs' Ryan Sessegnon, one of just two England players who also played at the 2019 finals, has enjoyed an impressive loan spell at Hoffenheim this season, winning more tackles per 90 minutes (1.7) than anyone else for the Bundesliga side. He has also contributed two goals and two assists – only five Bundesliga defenders have had more direct goal involvements.

There's Rowe stopping him

Arguably England's most in-form young midfielder outside the senior squad has amazingly never played before for the Under-21s.

Emile Smith Rowe has been the big success story of Mikel Arteta's time in charge of Arsenal. Since the start of last season, as well as scoring twice and registering six assists, he has created 1.5 chances from open play per 90 minutes in all competitions, the best number among Gunners midfielders to start at least 10 matches in that time.

 

In 2020-21, Smith Rowe (nine) is second only to Mason Mount (14) for players 23 and under in the Premier League when it comes to multi-chance involvements – the number of unique shot-ending sequences in open play where a player both creates the chance and is involved in the build-up.

Exactly how Boothroyd deploys Smith Rowe remains to be seen, but he could offer a potent combination with rising Liverpool star Curtis Jones, a major plus in an otherwise troubled Premier League title defence for Jurgen Klopp.

Jones, the youngest Liverpool player to score in the Premier League away from Anfield in seven years, averages the most successful final-third passes (22.5) this season of any Reds player to feature in at least half of their league games.

Among Premier League midfielders in this age group this season, only Mount (nine) has been involved in more sequences that ended in them taking a shot at goal than Jones (seven) – and the Liverpool man has played fewer than half the minutes of the Chelsea star.

On the wings, Callum Hudson-Odoi might have experience of playing for England at the highest level, but a strong performance at these championships could be just what he needs as he begins to build up the trust of Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel. Since the German took charge on January 26, no Blues player has played more games (13) than Hudson-Odoi and only two have created more chances per 90 minutes (1.71). His directness down the wing could be a major asset: among players 23 or under in the Premier League, only Ferran Torres (0.59) has a better rating than Hudson-Odoi (0.55) when it comes to Expected Assists from a take-on.

Madueke's chance to shine

With Mason Greenwood having withdrawn due to injury, much of the goalscoring burden may fall on the Under-21s' all-time top marksman, Eddie Nketiah.

 

Arsenal's young striker has one goal in three league starts this season and three in six in the Europa League, but the international stage is where he really shines: 13 goals in nine qualifying games helped him become the Young Lions' record goalscorer, surpassing Alan Shearer.

If Nketiah should struggle for form, Boothroyd can turn to Noni Madueke. An unknown at this level on the international scene, Ruud van Nistelrooy's PSV pupil has 11 direct goal involvements in the Eredivisie this season – no teenager has more – with his seven goals coming in just six starts in the Dutch top flight, at an average of just over one for every four non-penalty shots.

Donovan Mitchell led the way with 27 points, six rebounds and seven assists as the Utah Jazz brushed aside the undermanned Brooklyn Nets 118-88 on Wednesday.

The Nets went into the match without star James Harden due to neck soreness, along with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and new recruit Blake Griffin among others, and their absence told.

The Jazz led by 25 points at half-time in a fizzer of a contest, as the Nets suffered their biggest defeat of the season, while Utah recorded their 17th straight home win.

Utah improved to a 32-11 record while the Nets slipped to 30-15, with the Milwaukee Bucks moving ahead of them in the Eastern Conference after a thrilling win over the Boston Celtics.

Celtics center Daniel Theis could have snatched victory when he had a wide open look for a three-pointer on the buzzer but his shot missed as Milwaukee won 121-119.

Giannis Antetokounmpo's output was below his normal standards with only 13 points, although he had seven assists and eight rebounds.

Khris Middleton starred for the Bucks with 27 points, 13 rebounds and four assists, while Bobby Portis came off the bench to add 21 points for the Bucks.

The Sacramento Kings also edged a last-shot thriller over the in-form Atlanta Hawks, winning 110-108.

Danilo Gallinari could have sent the match to overtime but his effort rimmed out, handing the Kings victory aided by De'Aaron Fox's 37 points, including 24 in the first half.

Kawhi torments former franchise in Texas

Two-time NBA champion Kawhi Leonard returned to his former home as the Los Angeles Clippers easily accounted for the San Antonio Spurs 134-101.

Leonard has an imposing record against his former franchise and added to that with 25 points, seven rebounds and three assists.

Lou Williams (16 points) reached a career milestone of 15,000 NBA points, including 12,813 off the bench, making him arguably the best sixth man in competition history.

Amid reports of a trade before the NBA deadline, Kyle Lowry may have played his final game for the Toronto Raptors in a 135-111 win over the Denver Nuggets.

Lowry had eight points and nine assists, while Pascal Siakam top scored with 27 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

The Phoenix Suns, second in the West, went down 112-111 to the Orlando Magic as Devin Booker missed a late shot to win the match.

 

Blockbuster-turn-fizzer

Billed as a blockbuster between two of the title favourites, the Jazz-Nets clash ended up as a fizzer given Brooklyn's absentees, particularly after the pre-match withdrawal of Harden due to neck soreness. Seeing him watch from the sidelines was a low.

Clutch three from the logo

Trae Young kept the Hawks in the game late against the Kings, including a spectacular three-pointer from the logo to tie scores at 108-108. He finished with 29 points and nine assists.

 

Wednesday's results

Indiana Pacers 116-111 Detroit Pistons
Milwaukee Bucks 121-119 Boston Celtics
Toronto Raptors 135-111 Denver Nuggets
Orlando Magic 112-111 Phoenix Suns 
Cleveland Cavaliers 103-94 Chicago Bulls
Memphis Grizzlies 116-107 Oklahoma City Thunder
Dallas Mavericks 128-108 Minnesota Timberwolves
Charlotte Hornets 122-97 Houston Rockets
Los Angeles Clippers 134-101 San Antonio Spurs
Sacramento Kings 110-108 Atlanta Hawks
Utah Jazz 118-88 Brooklyn Nets

 

76ers at Lakers

The reigning champions Los Angeles Lakers (28-16), without LeBron James, take on the Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia 76ers (31-13).

Vasek Pospisil launched a stunning tirade during his three-set defeat to American qualifier Mackenzie McDonald in the first round of the Miami Open on Wednesday.

The Canadian former world number 25 was docked a point for verbal abuse, subsequently conceding the first set, before a meltdown during the change of ends.

Pospisil used a profanity in reference to ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi when speaking to chair umpire Arnaud Gabas.

“[Gaudenzi was] screaming at me in a player meeting for trying to unite the players — for an hour and a half," Pospisil said to Gabas. "If you want to default me, I’ll gladly sue this whole organisation.”

He did fight back to win the second set but ultimately lost to McDonald 6-3 4-6 6-3.

Pospisil, who is nowadays ranked 67th, was joined among the first-round exits by last week's Mexican Open semi-finalist Dominik Koepfer, who went down 6-1 6-4 to wildcard Hugo Gaston as he claimed his first career Masters 1000 win.

Sam Querrey, ranked 63rd, also bowed out 6-3 6-4 to Lu Yen-hsun, who will meet world number two Daniil Medvedev in the second round.

YOUNGSTER BEATS VETERAN

Australian youngster Alexei Popyrin secured his maiden win at the Miami Open, knocking out the oldest player in the draw Feliciano Lopez 6-4 7-6 (7-4).

Popyrin, 21, claimed his first ATP Tour title last month in Singapore and backed that up with a strong display against the 39-year-old former top 20 Spaniard.

Recent Open 13 Marseille runner-up Pierre-Hugues Herbert got past Portugal's Pedro Sousa 6-1 6-3, while South Africa's Lloyd Harris defeated Emilio Nava 6-4 7-6 (9-7).

Frances Tiafoe won in the final match of Wednesday, coming from behind to beat Stefano Travaglia 5-7 6-4 6-2.

 

COMEBACK CAM

Brit Cameron Norrie produced a heroic final-set fightback to claim his spot in the second round, where he will face Grigor Dimitrov.

Norrie trailed 5-1 in the third set against Yoshihito Nishioka, before winning 6-1 3-6 7-5, winning the last six games to clinch victory.

The 56th-ranked Brit sent down eight aces in the victory, although he got the edge on return and converted seven of his 10 break points.

SECOND ROUND

Top seed Medvedev will face Lu on Thursday, while third seed Alexander Zverev will take on Finland's Emil Ruusuvuori.

Norrie will meet Dimitrov, while 11th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime faces Herbert and eighth seed David Goffin will take on James Duckworth.

Harris has a match-up against seventh seed Roberto Bautista Agut.

Roberto Martinez praised the "incredible personality" of his Belgium players after a 3-1 win over Wales on Wednesday.

Belgium fell behind in the World Cup qualifier in Leuven after Harry Wilson's 10th-minute opener in Group E.

But they responded and were ahead at the break thanks to Kevin De Bruyne and Thorgan Hazard, before Romelu Lukaku's 73rd-minute penalty.

Belgium coach Martinez was pleased with the character his side showed after falling behind as the nation picked up their first victory against Wales since September 2012.

"We knew that it was going to be a tough game. That's nothing different, but I think it became even harder than we expected," he told a news conference.

"The moment that we conceded the first goal I thought Wales adapted to the game better than us. It was made for the perfect away team performance.

"The conditions, the lack of fans and in the first action that Wales had they showed a great move where it shows the quality that they have in individuals. We then had two choices, either accept it and then allow the performance to go away from you and it becomes an away game. Or you show personality and bravery and that's what the team did. They never accepted that the game would go away from us.

"We scored two very good goals from open play in the first half and then in the second half even though we didn't create many opportunities, every time we were in front of goal it looked like we had a chance to score. So very pleased by the incredible personality that the players showed today."

Belgium continue their qualifying campaign away to the Czech Republic on Saturday.

Sloane Stephens ended her losing run to start the year with a hard-fought three-set win over France's Oceane Dodin in the first round of the Miami Open on Wednesday.

Former US Open champion Stephens, ranked 49th in the world, defeated Dodin 6-7 (6-8) 6-4 6-2.

Stephens progresses to the second round where the top seeds, including top three Ash Barty, Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep, will be introduced and she will face 28th seed Amanda Anisimova.

Danielle Collins, Wang Qiang, Alize Cornet and Caroline Garcia were among the other winners on Wednesday, while Svetlana Kuznetsova bowed out.

 

SLOANE FIGHTBACK

Stephens had endured a dismal start to 2021, enduring an 0-4 win-loss record to begin the year.

The 28-year-old American was made to do it the hard way against Dodin on Wednesday, dropping the first set in a tie-break.

Stephens improved on her return in the second set, winning 73 per cent of points off Dodin's second serve before running away with the match in the last.

"It's been a rough one for me lately, so I'm really pleased to get through that, fight my way through it and make it happen somehow," Stephens said post-match.

FORMER MAJOR WINNER GONE

Two-time grand slam winner Kuznetsova was the major first-round casualty, going down 2-6 6-2 6-1 to France's Alize Cornet.

Kuznetsova, who is now ranked 35th in the world, bows out with Cornet to face ninth seed Petra Kvitova.

Collins got past France's Kristina Mladenovic 6-3 6-3 with the 40th-ranked American setting up a second-round clash with 32nd seed Veronika Kudermetova.

Wang, ranked 38th in the world, also progressed despite dropping a set in a 6-1 3-6 6-3 win over Spanish qualifier Aliona Bolsova.

SECOND-ROUND MATCH-UPS

The round of 64 will commence on Thursday, with third seed Halep to face Garcia who got past another Romanian, Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-1 6-2.

Top seed Barty will be in action against Slovakia's Kristina Kucova, while fourth seed Sofia Kenin will take on former top-10 player Andrea Petkovic.

Second seed Osaka has an assignment against 77th-ranked Australian Ajla Tomljanovic, while 14th seed Victoria Azarenka is already into the third round with opponent Laura Siegemund withdrawing after her win on Tuesday.

James Harden has been ruled out of the Brooklyn Nets' blockbuster match with the ladder leading Utah Jazz on Wednesday due to neck soreness.

Harden joins Blake Griffin (knee), Kyrie Irving (personal), Kevin Durant (hamstring), Landry Shamet (ankle) and Spencer Dinwiddie (ACL) on the sidelines for the match-up.

The Jazz heads into the match on top of the Western Conference with a 31-11 record, although they've only won five of their past 10 matches.

The Nets have surged into contention over the past two months aided by Harden's addition from the Houston Rockets, sitting second in the Eastern Conference with a 30-14 record. Brooklyn are 23-8 since Harden's arrival.

Harden admitted he almost sat out Tuesday's 116-112 win over the Portland Trail Blazers due to the complaint.

The former MVP appeared to hurt his neck during a collision with Garrison Mathews in Sunday's 113-106 win over the Washington Wizards.

France coach Didier Deschamps lamented his side's lack of energy in the second half of Wednesday's 1-1 draw with Ukraine but says they should have put the game to bed in the first half.

The reigning world champions started their road to Qatar 2022 in unconvincing fashion in Paris, although they seemed on track for three points in the first half.

Antoine Griezmann fired in a 19th-minute opener before multiple chances were spurned including Olivier Giroud's close-range header which sailed over.

Ukraine found a fortunate way back into the match via Presnel Kimpembe's 57th-minute own goal from Serhiy Sydorchuk tame shot.

"We should have secured the win in the first half, we had the opportunities, it was more difficult in the second half," Deschamps told TF1 post-game.

"There was certainly less juice, the goal that we conceded was avoidable, we pushed to the end.

"I had decided to have a team focused on the offensive but this was not the case. It was not necessarily a match where we got the most chances. We needed more precision and movement.

"We are obviously disappointed, the ideal result would have been to win. It proves that Ukraine is a good nation."

Les Bleus captain Hugo Lloris agreed they should have been more than one goal up at the break.

"We missed this second goal. We should have done a lot more to get it; we came back with a lack of intensity," the Tottenham goalkeeper told TF1.

"We were faced with a lower block and we struggled. We had good intentions but, at half-time, we should have been 2-0 and secured the win. It is insufficient for this first match."

France return to action on Sunday away to Kazakhstan before another trip on Wednesday to face Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"We have two other matches which will not be easy," Deschamps said. "We lacked energy in the second half. We can do better."

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