Tyson Fury's WBC heavyweight title defence against Dillian Whyte will finally take place after Frank Warren's Queensbury Promotions won the purse bid to stage the fight.

Warren's record bid of £31million gazumped the £24m being offered by Whyte's Matchroom promoters, giving Fury's team control of the all-British showdown in a fight that must take place by April 24.

Fury will now pocket £24m to Whyte's £6m, though the latter may earn a larger share should his appeal to the WBC for a larger proportion be successful.

A tweet from WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman read: "This is the coin flipped to determine the opening of the bids $32,222,222 by @MatchroomBoxing $41,025,000 by Queensberry Promotions. This is the biggest purse bid in the history of boxing. Congratulations #FuryWhyte @WBCBoxing Heavyweight championship @Tyson_Fury @DillianWhyte."

Warren added via a statement: "Queensberry and Top Rank are delighted that WBC and lineal world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury will defend his titles against Dillian Whyte following today's purse bids.

"A venue and date for the fight will be announced in due course."

Whyte has long since been the WBC's top-ranked contender but has had to remain patient for his first crack at a world title.

Fury's camp had been negotiating with Anthony Joshua to take a step-aside payment for his planned rematch with unified world champion Oleksandr Usyk in order to fight the Ukrainian in an undisputed heavyweight championship fight.

However, those talks broke down this week meaning Fury will instead focus on mandatory challenger Whyte, while Joshua is now expected to get his shot at winning back the WBA Super, IBF and WBO straps from Usyk. 

Each of Fury's past five fights have taken place in the United States, with three of those coming against Deontay Wilder who he displaced as WBC champion.

Cardiff's Principality Stadium and the Manchester Arena are among the venues tipped to host the fight, with Fury writing on Twitter: "BIG GK IS COMING HOME! UK BABY!"

Egan Bernal says he almost died as a result of the injuries he suffered following a horror crash in training this week.

The INEOS Grenadiers rider was involved in a crash while training close to his hometown of Bogota in Colombia on Monday.

Bernal, the 2019 Tour de France champion and victor of the 2021 Giro d'Italia, struck a parked bus at high speed while riding his time trial bike.

Posting on Instagram, Bernal wrote: "Having had a 95 per cent chance of becoming a paraplegic and nearly losing my life doing what I love to do most, today I want to thank God, the Clinica Universidad de La Sabana, all the specialists for doing the impossible, my family, friends and all of you for your wishes. 

"I'm still in the ICU waiting for more surgeries but trusting in God everything will be fine."

Bernal underwent two operations following the incident, with the hospital confirming the surgeries were a success.

An INEOS statement later clarified the extent of the Colombian's injuries.

"Egan suffered a fractured vertebrae, a fractured right femur, a fractured right patella, chest trauma, a punctured lung and several fractured ribs in the crash. Doctors were able to medically pin his right leg and stabilise the vertebrae fracture in two separate surgeries," the statement read.

A hospital statement, reported by BBC Sport, read: "Egan Bernal Gomez has continued with the expected recovery and with a favourable trend.

"Egan continues with his rehabilitation plan, he has not shown signs of infection, he is also in good spirits.

"Tomorrow he will have two surgeries, which are secondary procedures that are not life-threatening."

West Indies Under-19s will now compete in the 11th place playoff at the ICC Men’s Under-19 Cricket World Cup after an embarrassing 83 run loss to UAE Under-19s in their Plate semi-final in Port of Spain today.

UAE won the toss and elected to bat first, reaching 224-9 off their 50 overs thanks to half-centuries from Aayan Khan (93) and Shival Bawa (51).

Shiva Sankar led the way for the Windies bowlers with 3-31 off nine overs while Nathan Edward and Matthew Nandu took two wickets each.

Jash Giyanani and Dhruv Parashar then combined to take seven wickets between them to restrict the West Indians to a modest 142 all out in reply.

Nathan Edward (51), Kevin Wickham (22), and Isai Thorne (17) were the only batsmen to score double figures against Giyanani’s 3-21 off 10 overs and Parashar’s 4-30 off nine.

The West Indies will now play the loser of the Plate semi-final between Ireland and Zimbabwe in the 11th place playoff while UAE will play the winner in the ninth-place playoff.

 

It wasn't so long ago that the notion of Juventus hoovering up talent from Serie A rivals would have been seen in a negative light by most Italian football fans.

But while their domination of Italy's top division only really ended last season when Inter brought the Bianconeri's nine-year subjugation of Serie A to a halt, their current situation would make you think it was far longer since they were a challenger.

When the season resumes after this international break, Juve will go into their next fixture at least 11 points off the top, down in fifth. For years their recruitment has been muddled and misguided, with Aaron Ramsey's fringe squad status the perfect embodiment of that.

But Dusan Vlahovic's arrival shows there is life in the Old Lady yet, and given the striker's rise to prominence, this move is also potentially massive for Serie A in general.

Fiorentina hadn't been shy about their desire to cash in on the Serbian, who turned 22 on Friday. They have been very public about how they simply could not afford to lose out on a transfer fee, a situation that was quickly threatening to become a real issue given his contract was due to expire in 2023.

Pretty much all of Europe's biggest clubs were linked with Vlahovic at some point over the past 12 months, and for a while most people's money would have been on him moving to England.

"Oh, another emerging talent scurrying off to chase the big bucks of the Premier League, how predictable," many 'calcio' fans were presumably muttering to themselves as… *checks notes*… Arsenal and Tottenham circled.

As the story reportedly went, Vlahovic's agent didn't seriously consider those two in the end. Whether it might have been a different story for Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United or even Chelsea is unclear, but a coup it remains for Juve.

Vlahovic's impact on Italian football, particularly over the past 18 months, has been significant. Some have suggested he's Serie A's answer to Erling Haaland – perhaps a slight exaggeration, but there's a reason Juve are investing in a guy who in 2021, let's not forget, became only the second player in the past 60 years to net 33 Serie A goals over a single calendar year.

Juve's attraction to him makes absolute sense when you consider a metric as reductive – yet, crucial – as goals. Following Cristiano Ronaldo's exit last year, the Bianconeri were left with a gaping maw in terms of finishing ability. The faith placed in Alvaro Morata to pick up the slack was as optimistic as it was naive, as the Spaniard has five in 22 Serie A games.

Vlahovic should, in theory, provide them with a number nine who is dedicated to goals. As Fiorentina's focal point this term, he has recorded 87 shots (second-most among Serie A players) and scored 15 non-penalty goals across all competitions.

Some might point to the fact those 15 strikes are a considerable increase on his non-penalty xG (expected goals) of 10.2, and there's obviously a chance he won't prove to be quite so clinical for Juve, but it clearly shows they are buying a player brimming with belief.

Similarly, being surrounded by better players in Turin may mean Vlahovic doesn't have to try as many low-xG shots. A quick look at his shot map in Serie A this season shows a significant variation in goal distances, which obviously has an impact on his xG per shot, which is 0.11 (excluding penalties).

That may not mean anything in isolation, but when you compare that to Tammy Abraham's 0.18, there's quite a gulf. The England striker seems to be better at getting into clear-cut goalscoring situations, but if Vlahovic is already proving this deadly from worse positions, imagine what he could do if he improves.

It's worth noting that by no means does Vlahovic only have eyes for goal. In fact, among 'conventional' strikers in Serie A this season, only four – and Paulo Dybala, nominally a creator anyway – have had more involvements in shot-ending sequences without taking the shot (45).

That speaks to Vlahovic's link-up play and his effectiveness at knitting attacks together in the final third, a skill that is not to every striker's liking. Yet he manages to fulfil this function without it being to the detriment of his goals output.

At Juve, assuming he links up in attack with Dybala, there may be less need for him to get as involved and that could potentially be how he improves his record of getting into higher xG situations.

It's fair to assume Juve would see that pay dividends on the goals front, given he already only averages 2.2 touches per shot inside the box – that's only fractionally more than Robert Lewandowski, Cristiano Ronaldo and Haaland (all 2.0), showing how he's more of an instinctive finisher than the likes of Mohamed Salah (3.1) and Kylian Mbappe (3.3), who are more about dribbling and beating defenders.

The fact is, Vlahovic still has elements to his game that could still improve, yet he's already performing at a high level. He may be young, but Juve have signed a player who can go straight into the team, which will presumably start being built around him.

Whether Massimiliano Allegri is the right coach for this new Juventus is another debate, but the acquisition of Vlahovic could be a game-changer.

At the very least, it's a genuine boost for Serie A to keep arguably its finest young player in the league despite the Premier League waving its vast sums in his direction.

With Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku gone, Vlahovic is surely primed to be Serie A's new poster boy.

Canada have reported five COVID-19 cases among their Winter Olympics delegation in Beijing.

The names of those infected have not been released, nor has it been specified whether those affected are athletes or support staff, or a combination of those.

The Beijing 2022 opening ceremony takes place on Friday, February 4, although curling begins two days earlier and freestyle skiing and ice hockey start on the eve of the Games.

The Canadian Olympic Committee said in a statement: "Currently five out of the 246 members of the Team Canada delegation in Beijing are in COVID-19 protocols.

"We are following the Beijing 2022 playbook rules. Part of our strategy was to arrive early to allow time for confirmation testing and, if necessary, the medical expert panel process to unfold.

"Because there will likely be persistent shedders among the delegation, we will not be sharing names at this time. Members of Team Canada's delegation include athletes, coaches and mission team."

Persistent shedders are those who have recovered from having the coronavirus and may no longer be contagious, but who still have remnants of the virus in their system.

The Beijing Games playbook for athletes is their guide to the Games, and it outlines COVID-19 rules, with those that test positive to be taken to a designated hospital if symptomatic, or to an isolation facility if showing no outward signs of the virus.

Canada has a rich tradition of success at the Winter Olympics, finishing third on the medal table at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The news comes a day after Norway's reigning Winter Olympics skiathlon champion Simen Hegstad Kruger was revealed to have tested positive.

Every league seems to have those teams that just produce talent on an apparently non-stop basis, before those players inevitably get picked off by the bigger boys.

In Germany, you can't move for former Schalke or Stuttgart players. There's Lyon and Monaco in France, Athletic Bilbao and Valencia in Spain, Southampton and Aston Villa in England.

In Italy, that team is probably Fiorentina, who are in the same position once again after La Viola sold star striker Dusan Vlahovic to Juventus in a €70million deal.

Stats Perform takes a look at some of the biggest names in Italian football who made a name for themselves with the team from Tuscany, and what they went on to achieve in the game.

 

Roberto Baggio

Having begun his career at Vicenza, The Divine Ponytail's move to Fiorentina saw his star rise as he spent five impressive years in the purple shirt.

However, after he helped Fiorentina to the 1990 UEFA Cup final, only to be defeated over two ill-tempered legs by their great rivals Juventus, salt was very much rubbed into the fans' wounds as the Bianconeri paid a then world-record fee to take Baggio.

Reports claimed that fans hurled bricks, chains and Molotov cocktails at Fiorentina's headquarters, and for the two days after the transfer was announced, club president Flavio Pontello took shelter in the stadium, with 50 injuries and nine arrests recorded.

Baggio would only improve his reputation further at Juve, winning the UEFA Cup in 1993, before securing a league and cup double two years later, scoring 115 goals in 200 games across five seasons before moving to Milan, where he won another Scudetto in his first year.

After being dismissed by Fabio Capello at San Siro in 1997, Baggio had an impressive season at Bologna where he scored a personal best 22 league goals, before moving back to the city of Milan with Inter.

Things did not work out at the Nerazzurri but he still went on to enjoy four final seasons in Serie A with Brescia, where he reached double figures in each campaign before retiring in 2004.

Gabriel Batistuta

There is arguably no more iconic player in Fiorentina history. A striker who football fans of a certain vintage remember banging in goals on Sunday afternoons during the nineties.

Unlike most of the players on this list, Batistuta actually spent the majority of his career at Fiorentina, staying for nine years before his big-money move to Roma.

The man affectionately known as 'Batigol' remains the club's record goalscorer with 159 goals in 198 games, though it does help his record that people like Vlahovic are usually sold before they can get anywhere near that total.

Though he had won a Coppa Italia, Batistuta wanted a Scudetto and moved to Roma in 2000 in order to get it. It was the highest fee ever paid for a player over the age of 30, a record which stood until Leonardo Bonucci moved to Milan from Juventus in 2017.

It seemed like a justified move when Batistuta scored 20 goals, including netting against his former club, on the way to winning the title in his first season in the Italian capital, but was unable to reach those heights again, scoring just 11 over the following season and a half before a loan move to Inter.

Rui Costa

The Portuguese maestro had made a name for himself at Benfica before moving to Italy in 1994 and making 230 appearances in seven years with La Viola, winning two Coppa Italia titles.

However, like Batistuta, Rui Costa was moved on for big money to try and help the club's finances, ending up at Milan for a then club-record fee of around £35m.

Rui Costa spent five years at San Siro where he won six trophies, including the Champions League in 2003 and Scudetto a year later. He moved back to Benfica in 2006 after the emergence of Kaka saw his minutes reduced.

Federico Bernardeschi

Bernardeschi came through the youth ranks at Fiorentina, with big things expected of him as he burst onto the scene after an impressive loan at Crotone in Serie B in the 2013-14 season.

During three years in the first team, Bernardeschi scored 23 goals in 93 games and registered 11 assists, which unfortunately for Viola fans saw old enemies Juve come swooping in again.

He has claimed three Serie A titles and two Coppa Italia trophies in Turin, as well as being a part of the Italy squad that won the rescheduled Euro 2020 last year.

Bernardeschi, who has scored just 11 times in 170 games for Juve, largely remains a squad player under Massimiliano Allegri, in part because of this next man...

Federico Chiesa

Another Fiorentina youth product, Chiesa had all eyes on him as soon as he broke through due to being the son of former Viola and Italy striker Enrico Chiesa.

Chiesa Jr made his first-team debut, somewhat ironically, against Juve at the age of 18, and over the next couple of years began to establish himself as the potential future of the club.

More suited to playing out wide than his father, who was a traditional central striker, Chiesa's managed 34 goals and 19 assists in 153 games at Fiorentina but it his tenacity, pace and skill that sets him apart.

That was enough to tempt – yes, you guessed it – Juve to come along and take him on a two-year loan, with an obligation to make it permanent at the end of the current campaign.

Chiesa had an impressive first season at Juve, including scoring the winning goal in the Coppa Italia final against Atalanta, before starring for Italy in their successful Euro 2020 campaign, scoring twice in seven appearances and making the team of the tournament.

He started 2021-22 in sharp form, only for a serious knee injury to end his season early.

 

There also must be honourable mentions for the likes of Luca Toni, whose emergence at Fiorentina earned him a lucrative move to Bayern Munich, and Francesco Toldo - he was sold to Inter at the same time that Costa was packed off to Milan to ease club debts.

Juan Cuadrado (now at Juventus) and Marcos Alonso were both sold to Chelsea for decent money two years apart, while Felipe Melo (Juventus), Stevan Jovetic (Manchester City) and Matias Vecino (Inter) continued Fiorentina's philosophy of buying low and selling high.

The path well-trodden out of the Stadio Artemio Franchi has often led to bigger and better things, and that bodes well for Vlahovic now that it appears he will be the next in line.

He seems to have all the tools to be the star striker this current, rather dour, edition of the Bianconeri require. Indeed, Vlahovic's 33 goals in Serie A last season matched the record set by Cristiano Ronaldo at Juve in 2020.

It might be tough to take (again) for Viola fans, but if history is anything to go by, their next hero won't be far away.

Of course, he'll probably also sign for Juve eventually, but that will just be a case of crossing the Ponte Vecchio when they come to it.

Juventus have completed the signing of highly rated Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina for a fee of €70million.

The striker, who turned 22 on Friday, agreed to a four-and-a-half-year deal with the Bianconeri and passed a medical.

Juve will pay the €70m fee over three financial years, plus additional costs of €11.6m. A further €10m will be due to Fiorentina should Vlahovic meet certain sporting objectives.

Vlahovic is the joint-top scorer in Serie A this season with 17 goals from 21 appearances – a tally only matched by Lazio's Ciro Immobile.

He has been linked with a host of top clubs across Europe after his impressive form over the past two seasons.

Vlahovic joins Massimiliano Allegri's Juve team, who have often struggled to turn possession into goals this season, having scored just 34 times across 23 Serie A games.

That means their attack is the 11th-best in the league, way behind leading scorers Inter (53), while Fiorentina have scored 41 times so far with Vlahovic on board.

Serbia international Vlahovic, who joined La Viola from Partizan in 2018, has converted 28 big chances since the start of last season, more than any other player in Serie A.

 

His tally of 21 goals during 2020-21 was the highest recorded by a Fiorentina player in a single campaign since Alberto Gilardino in 2008-09 (25).

Vlahovic also netted 33 league goals in 2021; matching Cristiano Ronaldo’s record for the most scored in the Italian top-flight during a calendar year. 

Last week, Fiorentina chief executive Joe Barone confirmed the club were open to selling Vlahovic, who subsequently missed Sunday's draw with Cagliari due to a positive COVID-19 test.

Vlahovic's arrival in Turin may pave the way for Alvaro Morata to leave Juve, with Barcelona reportedly keen on signing the Spain international, who is on loan from Atletico Madrid.

Two Plate competition matches at the ICC Under 19 Men’s Cricket World Cup have been cancelled after nine Canada players tested positive for COVID-19, organizers revealed today. The players will now undertake a period of isolation where their welfare will be monitored by the event medical team.

As a consequence, the Canadian team has insufficient available players to be able to take any further part in the event. Canada’s plate play-off semi-final with Scotland on 29 January is cancelled and in accordance with the playing conditions, Scotland will progress to the 13th/14th play-off as a result of having a better net run rate than Canada from all matches played in the event.

The 15th/16th play-off that would have featured Canada against either Uganda or PNG will also not take place.

“We are incredibly disappointed to have to cancel two ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup games due to COVID-19 at this stage of the event,” said ICC Head of Events, Chris Tetley.

“We were expecting to see some positive cases throughout the event and to date, these have been managed in accordance with our bio-safety plan without impacting on fixtures. However, with so many players from the Canadian team testing positive it will not be possible to stage these games.

“The players are now self-isolating and will receive full support from the event medical team under the guidance of the Bio-Safety Advisory Group.”

The cancelled matches are as follows:

29 January - Canada v Scotland, Brian Lara Cricket Academy, Trinidad and Tobago

30 January - 15th/16 Play-Off, Brian Lara Cricket Academy, Trinidad and Tobago

The Africa Cup of Nations has reached the quarter-final stage and Saturday's matches promise the chance of history.

Host nation Cameroon will meet Gambia in the competition for the first time, their second successive game against tournament debutants, something they last experienced way back in 1972.

Tunisia meet Burkina Faso in the later match looking to end a fairly rotten recent record at this stage of the AFCON, although history favours their opponents.

Two of Egypt, Morocco, Senegal and Equatorial Guinea will lie in wait for winners...

 

Gambia v Cameroon (16:00 GMT)

Cameroon have enjoyed facing AFCON debutants of late: including their 2-1 win over Comoros in the last round, they have won three consecutive matches against such opposition, which is more than they managed in their first six such games.

Gambia, who surprised Guinea in the last 16, are bidding to become the first team to reach the semi-finals in their first Africa Cup of Nations since eventual winners South Africa did so back in 1996.

Unbeaten in their past eight matches in all competitions, Cameroon have progressed from two of their most recent three AFCON quarter-finals, having gone through on penalties against Senegal most recently in 2017. Defeat to Gambia, the smallest nation on the African mainland and one who had never before reached a major tournament, would go down as one of the competition's greatest upsets.

Yet for Musa Barrow, whose goal sent them into the last eight, there is little pressure.

"Everyone is happy back home," he told AFP. "It is a small nation. We love football. People learn football from the street so coming to this AFCON, reaching this stage is a big improvement, and it is going to take the Gambian name to higher heights.

"We have nothing to lose, but they are the host nation. If they lose it is going to be a big disaster for them."

One to watch: Vincent Aboubakar (Cameroon)

Gambia will need little incentive to keep an eye on Cameroon's captain and most dangerous striker, but Aboubakar is chasing not just a place in the semi-finals here.

Not only has he scored in each of his past six games in the competition, but he could also become the first player in AFCON history to net in a team's first five matches at a single edition of the tournament.

 

Burkina Faso v Tunisia (19:00 GMT)

Tunisia might be favourites - they are ranked 30 places higher in the world than Burkina Faso - but, in the previous two meetings at the AFCON in 1998 and 2017, it was the Stallions who progressed at the quarter-final stage.

In fact, Burkina Faso have gone through from each of their three last-eight matches in this competition, a record only Mali can better (they have won each of their five previous quarter-finals).

No team has made it to this stage more often since its introduction in 1992 than Tunisia, who are 11-time quarter-finalists now, but this has not been a happy round for Mondher Kebaier's side: they have been eliminated from five of their past six such matches.

Still, after knocking out Nigeria in the last 16 despite COVID-19 cases badly depleting their squad, perhaps this will be their year.

One to watch: Youssef Msakni (Tunisia)

Msakni's winner against Nigeria saw him become the first Tunisia player to score in five different editions of the AFCON. There are only four players to score in six: Cameroon great Samuel Eto'o, Zambia's Kalusha Bwalya, and Ghana forwards Asamoah Gyan and Andre Ayew.

 

Sherfane Rutherford’s Peshawar Zalmi secured a five-wicket win over the Quetta Gladiators in their first game of the 2022 Pakistan Super League (PSL) in Karachi today.

Zalmi won the toss and elected to field first but were left to regret that decision when Quetta openers Ahsan Ali and Will Smeed put on a massive 155-run partnership for the first wicket before Ali was dismissed for 73 in the 16th over.

Smeed, a 20-year-old Englishman, was eventually dismissed for 97, in the final over, to see the Gladiators finish with a formidable 190-4 off their 20 overs.

Smeed’s 97 came off 62 balls with 11 fours and four sixes.

Pakistani Usman Qadir was the best bowler for Zalmi with 2-20 off his four overs.

Openers Tom Kohler-Cadmore and Yasir Khan put on 43 for the first wicket before Khan was dismissed in the fourth over for 30 off 12 balls.

Kohler-Cadmore was next to go for 22 to leave the Zalmi 62-2.

Jamaica Tallawahs batsman Haider Ali also contributed 19 before the chase was spearheaded by Hussain Talat and captain Shoaib Malik with scores of 52 off 29 balls and 48 not out off 32 balls, respectively.

Rutherford also contributed 10 runs off nine balls to put them on the brink of victory, being dismissed in the final over with three runs to win.

Malik then hit the winning runs to close the innings on 191-5.

Mohammed Nawaz took 3-44 from four overs for the Gladiators.

The 2022 PSL started yesterday with the Multan Sultans beating the Karachi Kings by seven wickets.

 

 

 

Joe Burrow is well placed to cope with one of the NFL's loudest venues as the Cincinnati Bengals look to spring a huge upset and keep their Super Bowl dream alive.

That is the view of Bengals wider receiver Tyler Boyd as the Bengals prepare to face the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.

The Chiefs are playing in their fourth straight AFC Championship Game and seeking to reach a third consecutive Super Bowl.

Cincinnati have impressed in beating the Las Vegas Raiders and number one seed Tennessee Titans in the postseason so far.

But they must now find another level to beat a Chiefs squad led by star quarterback Patrick Mahomes on the road, at a venue that is known for its vociferous home support. 

"It's really tough," Boyd said about the challenge facing the Bengals at Arrowhead.

"I think a lot of the guys and specifically Joe are kind of ready for that.

"Because guys like him and [Ja'Marr] Chase and guys who played in the SEC [Southeastern Conference], they played against opponents where there were hundreds of thousands of fans in the stadium.

"We're just going to have to be perfect on our hand signals and with the communication.

"We've got to stay locked in and keep eyes on the quarterback and he'll just get us in the right calls and we'll know what we will be doing."

The formidable Mahomes has reached the conference championship in all four of his seasons as a regular NFL starter.

At 26 years old, he will become the youngest QB to start in four different conference championship games, beating the record of Donovan McNabb, who was 28 at the time of his fourth such game in 2004.

But the Bengals and Burrow have hit form at the perfect time, a fine run that included winning in Week 17 against the Chiefs in a 34-31 thriller when they had home advantage.

Burrow has been in electric form and threw for 446 yards and four touchdowns in that statement victory, while Chase dominated the Chiefs with 11 catches for 266 yards and three scores.

That performance meant QB Burrow became the first player in NFL history with 400+ pass yards, 4+ pass TDs and zero INTs in consecutive games, having also done so in Week 16 against the Baltimore Ravens.

Chase, meanwhile, broke the single-game rookie receiving yards record.

The rookie caught 81 passes for 1,455 yards with 13 TDs in an incredible season, forming part of an impressive receiving corps with Tee Higgins (74 catches for 1,091 yards) and Boyd (67 and 828).

Boyd agreed with recent assessments from coach Zac Taylor and Burrow that the unselfishness of the trio has been key to their success.

"It's because we all know how good we are as a group," Boyd said of the receivers. "We all have great friendships and we all care for each other. We all know our value in the league and on this team.

"So some games every guy can't get their rocks off when they want. Even when there are times where they probably have been open a few times and the ball is not coming their way.

"But at the end of the day, we all trust Joe to throw it to the guy that's open or he feels like he has the best chance on that specific play."

Now in his sixth season, Boyd is one of the longer-serving players in the Bengals roster having played 89 games, with this being his first postseason experience.

He said: "I'm all about winning now. I didn't have a 1,000-yard receiving season. I did everything I could do early in my career. But now at this point, I just want to win.

"I'm trying to get to and achieve the milestones that I've been wanting to reach early in my career.

"Guys are coming in now like Ja'Marr Chase and all the other guys that are stepping foot into this organisation.

"Joe Mixon and I and the other guys that have been here are replaying that voice in people's heads of what we want to be as a team. As a team perspective and not just single individual goals."

Despite being underdogs, the Bengals are dreaming of a Super Bowl berth against the Los Angeles Rams or San Francisco 49ers.

Boyd said: "It feels great now to say that we are collectively a great unit all around and knowing that we have a superior team now. We can go out there and beat any team.

"I think in my lifetime [the Super Bowl] would probably be the biggest milestone for me, the best achievement in my whole sports career.

"That's the reason why I've been playing. I have been through a heck of a roller coaster ride, ups and downs and injuries and things like that.

"It's just like a dream come true. You wake up, then you're playing in the Super Bowl and you win and you talk Disney World and you have your kids and your family on the field.

"It's kind of a surreal feeling that I would love and want to go through. To even be a part of playing in some historic game, it would mean everything."

Wayne Rooney turned down an interview for the manager job at Everton in order to commit to Derby County's bid for Championship survival.

The former Manchester United and England captain said there was an approach from his boyhood club to his agent asking if he would discuss the prospect of taking over at Goodison Park.

The Toffees, who sacked Rafael Benitez after just over six months in charge two weeks ago, have yet to appoint a permanent successor.

Although Rooney is convinced he will manage in the Premier League in future, he took the "difficult decision" to decline talks with Everton as he wants to see through Derby's attempt to avoid relegation to the third tier.

"Everton approached my agent and asked me to interview for the vacant job, which I turned down," he said on Friday.

"They got in touch with my agent, my agent let the administrators know as well, and yes of course it was a difficult decision for me [to turn it down].

"I believe I will be a Premier League manager. I believe I'm ready for that, 100 per cent. And if that is with Everton one day in the future, that would be absolutely great. But I've got a job here that I'm doing at Derby County, which is an important job to me."

Rooney, who progressed through Everton's academy and rejoined the club in 2017 after 15 years at United, initially took on a player-coach role at Derby after Phillip Cocu was sacked in November 2020, with the club bottom of the Championship. He retired from playing to take on the permanent manager job in January last year and steered them to survival on the final day of the season.

Derby were hit with a 21-point deduction for 2021-22 after going into administration and admitting a breach of English Football League accounting rules, but while the future of the club remains uncertain, Rooney has overseen an almost miraculous battle against relegation, with eight wins and 11 draws from 27 matches leaving them a relatively modest eight points from safety.

Everton dismissed Benitez following a defeat to Norwich City left them six points above the Premier League drop zone. According to reports, their final three candidates are caretaker manager Duncan Ferguson, former Chelsea head coach Frank Lampard and ex-Porto and Fenerbahce boss Vitor Pereira.

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford insists his teammates do not have a mental block when it comes to beating the San Francisco 49ers.

The two teams will do battle on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game, with the winners to face either the Kansas City Chiefs or Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl.

Stafford, who had never previously won a playoff game in the NFL, has led the Rams to victories over the Arizona Cardinals and defending champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to reach this stage.

The Rams finished ahead of the Cardinals and the 49ers to win the NFC West this season and go into the game at SoFi Stadium – which will also host the Super Bowl - as narrow favourites.

But that status comes despite the Rams having struggled against their divisional rivals in recent seasons. The Niners have won the last six meetings, including both of the regular season clashes in 2021.

In Week 18, the Rams led 17-0 before the Niners stormed back to win 27-24 in overtime and book their place in the playoffs as a wildcard team.

Stafford has only played in the two most recent games in the six-game streak but was asked if his teammates had a mental block against San Francisco.

"No, we just have got to go out there and play good football," he said.

"We had our chances last time we played them to win the game, whether it was a four-minute situation for us on offense, a two-minute situation on defense and we still had a shot in overtime as well. 

"It's a really good football team. It's two really good football teams going after each other, seen each other twice this year, we’re going to see each other for a third time. 

"Not a bunch of secrets. Just who can step up to the plate and make the plays when we need to make them."

Stafford has found the build-up to the NFC Championship Game more normal than for the Rams' previous two postseason clashes.

"Obviously excited about the opportunity, but going about it kind of as a normal week - it’s the first normal week we've had in a little bit," said the former Detroit Lions QB.

"We played the first playoff game on a Monday and the second one on a short week, so this one just feels like a normal week during the season.

"Obviously a lot at stake. We know that we’re playing a really good opponent that's playing as good a football as anybody in the NFL right now. So it'll be a big challenge for us."

Rams head coach Sean McVay was this week forced to deny Niners boss Kyle Shanahan – who worked with him in Washington - was in his head.

"No," insisted McVay. "What I do have is respect for these guys. They've done a great job. 

"You look at it, you got to play well in that three-and-a-half-hour window that we're allotted. You look at the last time that we played them, we didn't finish the game. 

"This is a really good football team. We have a lot of respect for them. We're competing and preparing to the best of our ability to go out and see if we can advance. 

"But this is a really good team. Kyle is an excellent coach. They have great players, great coaches, good schemes. It's why they're in the NFC Championship."

Shanahan, meanwhile, felt McVay should not have been asked the question.

Asked if he enjoyed the narrative, the Niners coach replied: "Not really. I think that's kind of silly. A question like that is giving Sean and myself way too much credit.

"We're coaches. Watch what's going on out on that field and some of the players out there and the people that are competing.

"To think that it's about Sean and I... I know that he doesn't feel that way and he knows that I don't feel that way.

"The entertainment of this business is cool and stuff, because it brings a lot of fans and makes a lot of money for everybody, but I think that's pretty ridiculous. I don't give coaches that much credit."

Getting wide receiver Cooper Kupp involved is likely to be key for the Rams after he became the first player to win the NFL receiving triple crown since 2005 this season. 

He followed that achievement by putting up 183 receiving yards against Tampa Bay, which was second-most in a playoff game in Rams history behind Tom Fears in the 1950 Divisional Round (198). 

Per Stats Perform data, the Rams have never lost a game, regular or postseason, when Kupp has at least 125 receiving yards (9-0).

Kyle Walker has been hit with a three-match ban by UEFA following his red card in Manchester City's loss to RB Leipzig last month.

The England full-back was dismissed for a crude hack on Andre Silva late in a game that City went on to lose 2-1.

Pep Guardiola's side had already qualified for the round of 16, but will now be without Walker for both legs against Sporting CP.

UEFA confirmed the sanction in a statement on Friday, with Walker's actions described as an "assault".

The 31-year-old will also miss the first leg of the quarter-finals, should City progress to that stage.

Walker became the second-oldest Englishman to be sent off in a Champions League game, after Paul Scholes for Manchester United against Roma in April 2007 (32 years, 139 days).


 

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