England's Rice 'relishing' opportunity to test himself against German duo Kroos and Muller

By Sports Desk June 25, 2021

England midfielder Declan Rice is "relishing" the opportunity to face Germany duo Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller in a mouth-watering Euro 2020 last-16 clash on Tuesday. 

Gareth Southgate's side came top of their group, taking seven points from games against Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic without conceding a goal, ensuring they will begin the knockout rounds at Wembley Stadium.

There, they will face Germany for the third time at a European Championship and the first in a knockout match since the Three Lions lost on penalties in the semi-finals of Euro 96.

West Ham midfielder Rice has started all three of England’s games so far and is likely to be in from the start against two players who he has expressed admiration for in the past. 

After Bayern Munich's 2020 Champions League final triumph over Paris Saint-Germain last year, Rice tweeted: "Muller has to be up there as one of the most underrated players of all time! Serious footballer."

He followed this up in April with a tweet about Kroos after Real Madrid's 3-1 Champions League victory over Liverpool, saying: "Watching Toni Kroos is very special." Los Blancos midfielder Kroos replied: "Thanks mate."

Kroos has been exemplary for the 2014 world champions so far in this tournament. No player has completed more passes at the finals than the 31-year-old (280), with 217 of those occurring in the opposition half – by far the best return at the tournament.

Speaking at a media conference on Friday, Rice described Kroos as "world class" and said he cannot wait to go toe-to-toe with him.

 

"I can't remember what my tweet actually was but I woke up to him saying 'thanks mate'," he told a media conference. "It was a good moment to be fair and the lads at West Ham were giving me a bit [of stick] for it.

"If you go back to the tweets, I have always said I am a fan.

"When there are big games on and you are watching, you appreciate top footballers. Obviously that night I felt the need to say [what I did] about Muller and Kroos.

"I am relishing to go out there and put myself up against the best. It is England v Germany, round of 16, at Wembley, it is going to be proper, so I need to go out there and give a solid performance myself and as a team.

"Kroos is world class, other midfielders like me want to test ourselves. But we need to impose ourselves on the game and be physical and stop him spraying it around the pitch."

Tuesday's game will be the third meeting between England and Germany at the European Championship. Germany won 6-5 on penalties following a 1-1 draw in the 1996 semi-final, before England won 1-0 in the group stages at Euro 2000.

England will be hoping to improve on a poor record in the knockout games in this competition, having never won one in 90 minutes (D4 L2). Four games have gone to penalties, with England only progressing once via this method, against Spain at Wembley in 1996.

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    Madrid ran out 2-0 winners over Eintracht Frankfurt in the Super Cup on Wednesday, thanks to goals from David Alaba and Karim Benzema.

    Carlo Ancelotti stuck with the same line-up that had started against Liverpool in May's Champions League final, and midfield trio Casemiro, Kroos and Modric turned in a supreme display.

    Modric, the 2018 Ballon d'Or winner, completed 53 of 57 passes (93 per cent) and laid on two chances for team-mates in Helsinki, while Kroos enjoyed 120 touches, completed 97 passes and gained possession nine times.

    Only UEFA's man of the match Casemiro (10) bettered that latter figure, and the Brazil international also went close to a spectacular goal when he rattled the crossbar from long range on his weaker left foot – that shot was teed up by Modric.

    The trio's performances led Carlo Ancelotti to highlight Madrid's experience as a crucial factor in their victory after full-time, and Casemiro knows he is playing with two of the best in the business.

    "We know each other just by looking at one another," he told a post-match news conference.

    "I've got an easy job, we're talking about Kroos and Modric who are possibly the best two midfielders in the world. 

    "There are things in football that cannot be explained, some things just happen in football. I hope we'll continue to be together for a long time to come."

     

    While Madrid's thrilling 2021-22 Champions League triumph saw several energetic cameos by young midfielder Eduardo Camavinga, the 14-time European champions have further bolstered that area of the pitch with the recent acquisition of Aurelien Tchouameni from Monaco.

    Casemiro welcomes the competition provided by the 22-year-old's arrival and has high hopes for the France international.

    "It hasn't annoyed me, everyone knows about my character and loyalty for this club, I'll be working in the same way," Casemiro said.

    "You only see the 90 minutes but I'll keep making sacrifices, including on the pitch and in training.

    "I think Tchouameni is a top player, this club speaks for itself – everybody gives their all. All I can say to him is keep doing what he's doing, keep showing in training and do it out on the pitch."

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    "I think [he is the best], yes," Ancelotti said. "He is our most important player right now, the most efficient player in the world at this moment.

    "Karim was the most important in the Champions League, even though he did not score in the final, because of his [all-round] game and his goals got us to the final, against Manchester City and Chelsea, against Paris Saint-Germain.

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    Los Blancos followed up last season's Champions League triumph by beating Europa League winners Eintracht Frankfurt 2-0 in the Super Cup on Wednesday.

    David Alaba put Madrid ahead before Karim Benzema moved to outright second in the club's all-time goalscoring charts with a second-half finish past Kevin Trapp.

    Benzema's effort took him to 324 goals in all competitions for Madrid, putting him one ahead of legendary Spain forward Raul and trailing only Cristiano Ronaldo (450).

    The triumph in Helsinki makes Ancelotti the first coach to win the Super Cup four times, and Casemiro does not think the Italian is planning to stop collecting the silverware anytime soon.

    "I've spoken many times about Carlo Ancelotti, he's a footballing legend," Casemiro, who was named man of the match after a dominant midfield display, told a media conference.

    "I speak with my heart when I say how much I admire him. I think he's 63 now, but he still wants to win.

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    Madrid will have more players than most involved in the mid-season World Cup in Qatar, yet Casemiro does not think it will have a negative impact on the club's season.

    "We don't need to make many changes; we're professional and want to win," the Brazil international said.  

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    "I don't think it will change a player's mentality. In terms of staying fit I don't think it changes much."

    While Ancelotti also has no concerns about the build-up to the tournament, he does worry about the impact of his players not having a proper break before resuming domestic football.

    "Until the start of the World Cup we are not going to have any problems," he told reporters.

    "They will be focused and fit for the World Cup, but when the players are back that's when we have the doubts.

    "Before we don't have a lot of problems. After we have to check, they could be tired. Most of them usually after a World Cup can go on holiday, but after this World Cup they will be going into the tough moment of the season."

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