Djokovic joins tributes to Mihajlovic: 'Your mark is indelible'

By Sports Desk December 17, 2022

Novak Djokovic has thanked Sinisa Mihajlovic for his impact on Serbian sport following the 53-year-old's death.

Mihajlovic passed away this week following a battle with leukaemia.

He was diagnosed with the illness in 2019, but kept on coaching in Serie A until as recently as September, when he was dismissed by Bologna.

Mihajlovic also coached Milan and the Serbia national team across a long career, while he also played for Roma, Sampdoria, Inter and Lazio among other clubs.

Tributes poured in from across the world of football on Friday and on Saturday, with tennis great Djokovic hailing his late compatriot.

"Rest in peace, dear Sinisa," Djokovic wrote on Instagram.

"Condolences to the Mihajlovic family. Thank you for everything you did for our sport, as well as in Italy. Your mark is indelible."

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    Cody Gakpo and Ronald Koeman were in agreement that the Netherlands must be more clinical in their remaining group fixtures if they are to progress to the knockout stages of Euro 2024 following their victory over Poland. 

    The Liverpool forward was on target for the Oranje in the first half to cancel out Adam Buksa's opener, with Wout Weghorst then emerging from the bench to net a late winner and give Koeman's side a winning start to their campaign. 

    During the encounter in Hamburg, the Dutch registered 21 shots, their most in a game at a major tournament since 2012, but only four of those were on target, while their opponents managed seven from their 12 efforts, with both ending the contest with 1.26 expected goals (xG).

    Gakpo was quick to highlight his side's wastefulness in the final third, explaining the players will analyse their performance and look to improve against France in Leipzig next Friday.

    "It was a tough game against a tough opponent," Gakpo said. "Obviously, they scored first, so it was more difficult, but I think we created a lot of opportunities and some good chances, but we had to be more clinical.

    "We have to analyse the game and see where we could hurt them more, then we have to take that into the next one."

    Koeman echoed the thoughts of the Netherlands' number 11, saying: "I felt we should have been three or 4-1 up by then but if you want to win you must score goals, so we knew we needed to change something up front."

    Weghorst's late contribution saw him score the fastest goal by a Netherlands substitute at the European Championships, netting the winning goal of the game just two minutes and 18 seconds after coming off the bench.

    The Burnley striker, who spent the 2023-24 season on loan with Hoffenheim, highlighted the importance of the triumph, insisting all eyes are now firmly fixed on claiming a second Euros crown. 

    "It is so important to get the early win and for me personally, it's a dream scenario," the 31-year-old said. "I saw it coming and I felt the goal coming. Our aim now is to leave with the trophy."

    Poland's winless run against the Netherlands continued, last beating the Dutch in 1980, but they started the encounter brightly when Buska headed home early on, becoming the fourth Poland player to score on his debut at the European Championships after Robert Lewandowski (2012), Arkadiusz Milik (2016) and Karol Linetty (2021).

    The 27-year-old believes his side could have taken at least a point from the game, saying: "Of course the Netherlands were driving this match. However, we had a good few situations even after conceding the second goal, it's too bad that we are finishing this game with zero points.

    "I have mixed feelings. First there was euphoria but now I'm just sad that we lost that match. We definitely played a good match against a really good team... No points in this case. However, we are not putting our guns down."

  • Portugal v Czechia: Ronaldo prepared to give everything, says Martinez Portugal v Czechia: Ronaldo prepared to give everything, says Martinez

    Cristiano Ronaldo is prepared to give everything in what could be his final major tournament as Portugal prepare for their Euro 2024 opener against Czechia, says Roberto Martinez. 

    The 39-year-old continues to prove that age is just a number, scoring 35 goals in 31 appearances for Al-Nassr in the Saudi Pro League in 2023-24, and he will be a key cog for the Selecao in their quest to replicate their 2016 success.

    Portugal cruised through qualifying and were the only team to win all of their group fixtures, and arrive in Germany among the frontrunners to lift the trophy on July 14, despite falling short at their last three major tournaments. 

    Ronaldo's influence on the side remains despite his decision to leave Europe, and Martinez believes his presence is an advantage both on and off the pitch. 

    "We have 23 players. We create competitiveness and the game makes decisions," he said.

    "But Cristiano is prepared to help the team and give everything he can give. And there is no other player in the world of soccer who can bring what Cristiano can to the dressing room."

    When asked about Ronaldo's international career, Martinez continued: "There are not many players who have achieved what he's achieved.

    "He is an example in many ways. To be the only player to reach more than 200 games for your country – that's something that is not going to be achieved easily.

    "What surprised me about Cristiano is that he always defies his age.

    "After every session, the technical staff and I will be amazed that a player who's achieved everything, who could have the choice of what effort he puts in training, is driven by winning, is obsessed by being the best, is obsessed about that perfection that he wants to achieve in his career. That's contagious."

    Czechia are taking part in their 11th European Championship and will be hopeful of emulating their run to the quarter-finals of the competition in 2020 as Ivan Hasek takes charge for his first tournament. 

    The 60-year-old understands the enormity of the task ahead of his side, believing Tuesday's encounter will be a valuable experience for his players when they come up against the five-time Ballon d'Or winner.

    "It's not just Ronaldo. If you take a look at the team, it's clear to see that many of their players play for some of the best clubs in the world," said Hasek.

    "They are dangerous. We need to prepare thoroughly. It's also important to know and understand their strengths and weaknesses, which I will keep to myself.

    "Although I believe we can play against any team, Portugal do have dominant strengths. It would be quite an experience for any coach [to play against Ronaldo] because he is one of the best players in history.

    "It's a valuable experience for anyone to play against him and I am not the only one looking forward to it."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Portugal – Cristiano Ronaldo

    Since 1972, Ronaldo has scored or assisted twice as many goals as any other player at the Euros, with 20 in total (14 goals, 6 assists), 10 more than Michel Platini who is in second. 

    The veteran forward holds the records for most games (25), most goals (14), joint-most assists on record (six – since 1972) and most editions with at least one goal (five) at the European Championships. Ronaldo is also the European player with the most appearances at major tournaments, with 47. 

    Czechia – Patrik Schick

    Patrik Schick scored five of Czechia’s six goals at Euro 2020, becoming only the second Czech player to be the sole or joint-top scorer at a Euro tournament, after Milan Baros at the 2004 edition. 

    The 28-year-old scored seven goals in 20 appearances for Bayer Leverkusen as they secured a maiden Bundesliga title last term, just outperforming his xG by 0.96. 

    MATCH PREDICTION – PORTUGAL WIN

    Portugal arrive in Germany as one of the favourites to secure a second Euros title following their maiden success in 2016, and their qualifying campaign suggests they have what it takes. 

    Martinez's side were the only team to win all of their games to make their ninth appearance at the tournament, scoring more goals than any other team (36) while attaining the best defensive record (two goals conceded in 10 games).

    Portugal are also the only team to reach the knockout stages of the Euros at each of the last seven editions, a run stretching back to the 1996 tournament, and have always emerged from the group stages when appearing at the competition. 

    Czechia are hoping to secure their first victory over their opponents since their maiden meeting at Euro 1996, with Karel Poborsky's goal sealing their place in the semi-finals. 

    Only two of the Czechs' last 24 matches at the Euros have ended in a draw (10 wins, 12 defeats), with both coming against Croatia during the group stages of the 2016 and 2020 editions of the tournament. 

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Portugal – 66.2%

    Czechia – 17.9%

    Draw – 15.9%

  • Rebrov: Ukraine showing the 'spirit of Ukraine' at Euro 2024 Rebrov: Ukraine showing the 'spirit of Ukraine' at Euro 2024

    Serhiy Rebrov believes will nation is display "the spirit of Ukraine" in their Euro 2024 opener against Romania on Monday.

    Ukraine qualified for the tournament in Germany despite being invaded by Russia, beating Iceland in a play-off to secure their spot in Germany.

    Ukraine reached the quarter finals of Euro 2024 and are looking to do better this some around.

    Rebrov believes his time will take spirit into the competition, telling reporters: ""All the players, me personally, are getting lots of messages from our fighters, from our soldiers, from our friends who are now fighting for the freedom of Ukraine.

    "I am sure they are very proud of us, we are very proud of them. They are telling [us], when you are here 'show the spirit of Ukraine. This tournament is really about the spirit of our country."

    Ukraine have now qualified for four European Championships in a row, and Rebrov hold hopes his team can improve on their quarter-final exit at Euro 2020.

    "It is very good and very important for Ukraine to be in this forum," Rebrov said.

    "Because all Ukrainians want to be a European nation. Of course now in our country, football is not in first place. There are lots of people dead, lots of kids dead. Now is a very difficult time for Ukraine."

    Defender Iliya Zabarni is proud to represent his nation on the international stage,

    "For me it is a great honour to represent Ukraine," Zabarni said. "You know what times we are going through now. I feel incredible responsibility for my actions but I'm not worried about my game.

    "We understand where we are and what we need to do. It is football and we need to play with a cold head."

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