Such was the scale of Japan's Rugby World Cup victory over South Africa four years ago, they made a movie - 'The Brighton Miracle' - to commemorate one of the great sporting upsets.

There will surely be a sequel on the way after this year's Brave Blossoms reached the quarter-finals for the first time by beating Scotland, and box-office sales could soar through the roof if history repeats itself on Sunday when they face the Springboks again.

South Africa will start the last-eight contest as overwhelming favourites to gain revenge, with their star-studded cast including Cheslin Kolbe, Faf de Klerk and Pieter-Steph du Toit.

Japan also have no shortage of talent to play leading roles and will be backed by a raucous crowd when they attempt to break new ground once again on home soil.

As the Boks plot to spoil the party for their hosts, we reflect on how Japan pulled off a monumental shock at the last World Cup in England, as well as looking at the prospects of lightning striking twice.

 

Hesketh and Goromaru rock Boks

Japan were not given a prayer in the opening Pool B match given Zimbabwe were the only team they had previously beaten in a World Cup match – and that win was way back in 1991.

Yet Eddie Jones' side humiliated a vastly experienced Springboks team with their exciting brand of rugby, coming from behind to secure the most dramatic and unlikely of victories.

Karne Hesketh crossed right at the death and Ayumu Goromaru claimed a 24-point haul to leave the two-time champions not knowing what had hit them following a 34-32 loss.

 

Meyer fronts up to 'Boklash'

Heyneke Meyer came under fire after his side lost the plot and rampant Japan made them pay.

The then-head South Africa coach said: "I have to apologise to the nation. It was just not good enough. It was unacceptable and I take full responsibility.

"Every game is going to be tough but there are no excuses."

 

Jones: I had to look at the scoreboard

Jones, who landed the England job after his success with Japan in 2015, was pinching himself after the underdogs snatched victory with their last throw of the dice. 

The Australian said: "Japan beating South Africa? I had to look at the scoreboard at the end just to see if it was true or not. We kept hanging in there. It looked at one stage when they got seven points ahead that they would run away with it.

"That would have been the normal scenario, like the horror story where the woman goes for a shower after midnight and you know what's going to happen. Normally they would score three or four, it ends up 50-20 and everyone says, 'Well done Japan, you tried hard, you were brave'. But we were more than brave."

 

What happened next?

Jones said the objective for Japan was to go on and reach the quarter-finals after downing the two-time champions, but they fell agonisingly short.

A heavy defeat to Scotland turned out to be crucial as Japan finished third in Pool B after failing to pick up any bonus points.

South Africa, Scotland and the Brave Blossoms all won three and lost one of their four games, but it was Japan who missed out.

 

Hope springs eternal for revenge-seeking Boks

Although Japan are riding on the crest of a wave as they prepare for their first World Cup knockout match, South Africa have looked formidable despite making a losing start against New Zealand.

Potent in attack and solid in defence, the Springboks have turned their fortunes around under Rassie Erasmus and dethroned the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship.

They also hammered Japan 41-7 in a pre-tournament warm-up match and is it hard to envisage them suffering another upset at the hands of their next opponents.

The MLS playoffs are here once more.

Los Angeles FC cruised to the Supporters' Shield title, but the path to MLS Cup glory is far from straightforward even for the league's outstanding team.

Since 2011, only Toronto FC have successfully followed up a regular season championship by conquering the postseason.

Will LAFC join them, or can Bob Bradley's men be stopped? We take a look at the key issues surrounding the leading contenders heading into the playoffs.
 

ARE LAFC AND CARLOS VELA THE BEST EVER?

The above statistic may make for uncomfortable reading for Shield winners LAFC, but no past regular-season champions have been able to match the standards set by Bradley's side.

Toronto broke a points record that had stood for 19 years when they earned 69 in 2017, yet the New York Red Bulls bettered that last year and the new benchmark of 71 was topped once more by LAFC, a late-season slump merely limiting the runaway leaders to 72 points.

Carlos Vela was key to the team's achievements this year and any side hoping to stop LAFC must somehow master the Mexican. He scored a record 34 goals, including a final-day hat-trick, and will aim to echo Josef Martinez, the previous record-holder in 2018, by making his mark in the coming weeks.
 

CAN ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC AND THE GALAXY STOP THEIR RIVALS?

Having missed out on the postseason last year, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was rather bold - perhaps unsurprisingly - as he slammed the playoff structure in MLS earlier this term, believing it provides excuses for players not to deliver all year round.

The Swedish superstar has at least followed up those words by guiding LA Galaxy to the playoffs this time, while seemingly on a personal crusade to prove he is the greatest player in league history - sparking a rivalry with Vela.

Galaxy's style of play has not been particularly pretty since trading a potentially smart newly built side for long-ball-to-Zlatan early last year, but it has proved effective on occasion. Notably, LAFC still have not beaten their neighbours in five attempts and might fear another meeting.
 

HAVE NYCFC GOT WHAT IT TAKES WITHOUT BIG NAMES?

New York City made a big bang when they arrived in MLS, signing David Villa, Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard, but their star power counted for little in a desperate first season.

Club icon Villa then led NYCFC to the Eastern Conference semi-finals in three straight seasons, before departing at the end of 2018 with the team struggling to recreate the high level of performances under Patrick Vieira with new coach Domenec Torrent.

However, Torrent has got the Bronx outfit playing some of the best football in MLS this season, all without a standout star. The supposedly more modest talents of Anton Tinnerholm, Maxi Moralez, Alexandru Mitrita and Heber, among others, have fired City to the top of the conference, but the playoffs are a different beast.
 

IS THERE LIFE LEFT IN DEFENDING CHAMPS ATLANTA YET?

Despite failing to win the Shield, Atlanta United's class of 2018 might still have a case for being the best team in league history for the timebeing, but they then lost inspirational coach Tata Martino and star playmaker Miguel Almiron after MLS Cup.

Frank de Boer arrived and his infamously unconvincing record outside of Ajax looked set to continue early on, until a string of clean sheets steadied the ship. Even then, it took Martinez's sensational 15-game scoring streak to secure a comfortable playoff spot.

Pity Martinez has not really convinced and a late-season injury for Josef means Atlanta's preparation for their postseason title defence has not entirely gone to plan.
 

THE BEST OF THE REST...

Minnesota United have been a surprise package this year, having added experience last offseason, but a title push is surely beyond them. Rivals Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers both have experience of success at this time of year, however.

In the East, Wayne Rooney will hope to leave DC United on a high but the signs have not been promising late in the campaign. Philadelphia Union have impressed, while Toronto still have a very strong side on paper.

When Manchester United forked out a reported £80million to sign Harry Maguire, the comparisons to Liverpool centre-back Virgil van Dijk started almost immediately.

Van Dijk has been credited as one of the best signings of Jurgen Klopp's tenure, with the Reds becoming Champions League winners and genuine Premier League title contenders with the towering centre-back at the heart of their defence.

The arrival of Maguire, whose breakout performances for Leicester City in the 2017-18 campaign coincided with Van Dijk's switch to Anfield, was supposed to have a similar effect on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Red Devils.

United have struggled badly for form this season, though, and the pressure is on the team and Solskjaer to deliver a performance against the table-topping Reds, who have won eight from eight in the Premier League this term.

Ahead of Sunday's clash at Old Trafford, Omnisport has crunched the Opta numbers behind Van Dijk and Maguire's statistics dating back to the former's move to Liverpool in January 2018.


VIRGIL'S A WINNING MACHINE

Prior to Van Dijk's arrival, pundits and fans alike were calling for Klopp to sign a commanding centre-back. Many baulked at the reported £75m Liverpool paid Southampton for his signature, but that fee looks a snip when you look at the impact Van Dijk's arrival has had. He has played in 60 Premier League games since signing, winning 45 of those and losing just four – giving him an astounding win percentage of 75. In the same time period, Maguire has played fewer matches – 56 – winning 19 and losing 25, with a win percentage of 34.


NONE SHALL PASS!

Earlier in the season, much was made of Van Dijk's astonishing run of Premier League games without being dribbled past. Arsenal's Nicolas Pepe eventually ended a stretch of 50 dating back to March 2018 and incredibly it has happened just three times to Van Dijk since January of the same year. Maguire has been caught on his heels nine times in the same period, but both players are remarkably consistent when it comes to errors leading to goals – each committing just one gaffe that resulted in the ball rattling the back of the net.


CLEAN SHEETS AND A CLEANER DISCLIPINARY RECORD FOR VAN DIJK

One statistic that really does leap out is Van Dijk's exemplary record when it comes to receiving yellow cards. Incredibly for a centre-back, he has been cautioned just twice since January 2018 and is yet to see red in the Premier League for Liverpool. Conversely, Maguire has 10 yellows and one red in the same period. Van Dijk is just shy of clean sheets in half of his games, keeping shut outs in 29 of 60 matches – with Maguire having 13 in 56. Teams Maguire has played in have also conceded double the amount those including Van Dijk have, 76 to 38. At the other end, each player has contributed but Van Dijk also holds the advantage in that regard with five goals and two assists to Maguire's respective three and zero.


HOW'S THIS SEASON SHAPING UP?

As you would expect, Van Dijk's numbers in the early stages of the Premier League campaign are pretty impressive. He has a flawless win percentage through eight games, although he has conceded in six of those. Encouragingly for Maguire and United, while the team are struggling his statistics compare pretty well to Van Dijk's with as many clean sheets and just two more goals conceded. Maguire has also only been dribbled past once compared to Van Dijk's two, while neither player has yet committed an error leading to a goal or even a shot.

Manchester United welcome Liverpool to Old Trafford on Sunday, with the great rivals separated by a mammoth gap after hugely contrasting starts to the season.

Unbeaten Liverpool have pulled away from United in recent times and are 15 points ahead of the Red Devils after the opening eight games.

Back in 2014, Liverpool finished the season with a 20-point advantage over United as they came second behind Manchester City in an engrossing title race.

Liverpool's superiority has been even more keenly felt this year and in the 2018-19 season they ended 31 points clear of United, with their squad set up to contend domestically and in the Champions League in the current campaign.

United, meanwhile, appear desperately short on the quality needed to challenge on any front.

How did the chasm between these two giants of English football become so vast? We look back at the ins and outs over the past five years for an insight into how United and Liverpool ended up so far apart.

2014-15

Manchester United

In: Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Angel Di Maria, Daley Blind, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Radamel Falcao (loan)

Out: Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Shinji Kagawa, Danny Welbeck

Liverpool

In: Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Emre Can, Lazar Markovic, Dejan Lovren, Divock Origi, Alberto Moreno, Mario Balotelli, Javier Manquillo (loan)

Out: Luis Suarez, Pepe Reina, Daniel Agger, Suso

League finish: United (4th), Liverpool (6th) - After going agonisingly close to ending a tortuous wait for a first league title since 1990, Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool went backwards after a transfer window filled with missteps. Lallana, Lovren and Origi remain at the club, with the latter scoring in last season's Champions League final win, but their first season saw a Liverpool side shorn of Suarez overtaken by a United team that finished in the top four despite Louis van Gaal failing to get the best out of Di Maria and Falcao.

2015-16

Manchester United

In: Memphis Depay, Matteo Darmian, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin, Sergio Romero, Anthony Martial

Out: Tom Cleverley, Nani, Robin van Persie, Rafael, Angel Di Maria, Jonny Evans, Javier Hernandez

Liverpool

In: Joe Gomez, James Milner, Danny Ings, Roberto Firmino, Nathaniel Clyne, Christian Benteke, Marko Grujic (January)

Out: Glen Johnson, Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling, Rickie Lambert, Fabio Borini, Sebastian Coates, Iago Aspas

League finish: United (5th), Liverpool (8th) - Rodgers only lasted until October as Liverpool's new recruits struggled to make an immediate impact, with the void left by Sterling proving telling before Klopp came in to steady the ship. He led Liverpool to the final of the League Cup and the Europa League while Van Gaal finished his tenure with an FA Cup triumph, the only success of a stint in which his style of football was continually maligned despite the arrival of more big names at Old Trafford. The struggles of both clubs were overshadowed by Leicester City's remarkable season that ended with the Foxes winning the league.

2016-17

Manchester United

In: Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba

Out: Victor Valdes, Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay (both January), Bastian Schweinsteiger (March)

Liverpool

In: Joel Matip, Loris Karius, Sadio Mane, Ragnar Klavan, Georginio Wijnaldum

Out: Jose Enrique, Martin Skrtel, Jordon Ibe, Joe Allen, Christian Benteke, Mario Balotelli

League finish: United (6th), Liverpool (4th) - Klopp recently hailed the signing of Matip as one of the best pieces of business Liverpool have done in recent years and, along with Mane at the other end, was instrumental in securing a top-four finish for Klopp's side. The return of Pogba, for whom United paid a then world-record fee of €105million (£89.3m), and the appointment of Jose Mourinho did not inspire the Red Devils in the league but their success in the Europa League made sure of a place in the Champions League.

2017-18

Manchester United

In: Victor Lindelof, Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic, Alexis Sanchez (January)

Out: Wayne Rooney, Adnan Januzaj, Henrikh Mkhitaryan (January)

Liverpool

In: Mohamed Salah, Dominic Solanke, Andy Robertson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Virgil van Dijk (January)

Out: Lucas Leiva, Mamadou Sakho, Philippe Coutinho (January)

League finish: United (2nd), Liverpool (4th) - Mourinho described his second-placed finish with United's 2017-18 vintage as "one of the best jobs of his career", so low was the Portuguese's opinion of his squad. Given the divergent paths of the two teams since, there appears to be significant credence to his argument. Salah, having failed to make the grade at Chelsea, fired in 44 goals in all competitions for Liverpool, whose astute signings of Robertson and later Van Dijk helped turn their defence into one of the best in Europe. They progressed to the Champions League final despite the loss of Coutinho to Barcelona but were beaten 3-1 by Real Madrid in a controversial clash defined by goalkeeping errors that forced Liverpool's hand in the subsequent transfer window.

2018-19

Manchester United

In : Diogo Dalot, Fred, Lee Grant

Out : Michael Carrick, Daley Blind, Marouane Fellaini (February)

Liverpool

In: Naby Keita, Fabinho, Xherdan Shaqiri, Alisson

Out: Emre Can, Ragnar Klavan, Dominic Solanke, Lazar Markovic

League finish : United (6th), Liverpool (2nd) - Mourinho continually expressed his discontent at United's business in the window prior to the 2018-19 season, in which he only lasted until December as they endured a dreadful first half of the season. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer inspired an upturn in fortunes, but they still finished well adrift of the top two as, five years on from Rodgers' near-miss, City again held off Liverpool. Keita, Fabinho and Shaqiri, who scored twice in the 3-0 win over United that ended Mourinho's tenure, proved superb additions to the midfield, while the signing of Alisson helped Liverpool keep 21 clean sheets in the league as Mane and Salah ran riot at the other end. That they missed out on the title with 97 points will continue to astonish, but they made no mistake in the Champions League final, winning a sixth European crown by defeating Tottenham.

2019-20

Manchester United

In: Daniel James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire

Out: Ander Herrera, Antonio Valencia, Romelu Lukaku, Matteo Darmian

Liverpool

In: Harvey Elliott, Adrian, Andy Lonergan

Out: Daniel Sturridge, Alberto Moreno, Danny Ings, Simon Mignolet

League position: United (12th), Liverpool (1st) - Liverpool added little to last season's squad but they have picked up where they left off, winning all of their eight league games to take an eight-point lead over City into this weekend's clash. The contrast to United is substantial. Solskjaer's men, despite adding a trio of bright talents, have endured their worst start to a Premier League season, with the 1-0 defeat to Newcastle United last time out ratcheting up the scrutiny on the Norwegian.

The Rugby World Cup enters the knockout phase this weekend, with Ireland looking to finally reach a semi-final and Japan bidding to cause another upset.

Joe Schmidt's team may have beaten two-time reigning champions New Zealand in two of their previous three meetings, but Ireland have a rotten record in World Cup quarter-finals.

Hosts Japan face South Africa – the team they stunned in the pool stage four years ago – in their first World Cup quarter-final, while Wales meet France and England take on an Australia side they have an excellent recent record against.

Here, we take a look at the Opta data for the four quarter-final clashes.

 

England v Australia

6 - England have dominated the Wallabies of late, winning each of their previous half a dozen meetings since Australian Eddie Jones was hired as head coach in 2015.

7 - No player won more turnovers than Maro Itoje's seven in the pool stage and the England forward only featured in two of his team's three matches.

29 - Jones' side averaged 29 kicks in play per game during the pool stage – the most of any team – while Australia, with 13, averaged the fewest.

New Zealand v Ireland

7 - Ireland are in their seventh World Cup quarter-final and have lost all of their previous six matches at this stage – the joint most last-eight losses, along with Scotland.

17 - The All Blacks have won a record 17 consecutive World Cup games coming into this encounter – a run that dates back to a quarter-final defeat to France in 2007.

29 - New Zealand have scored a try in each of their last 29 World Cup matches, last failing to do so in 2003.

Wales v France

8 - In the eight meetings between these two nations since Les Bleus beat Wales in the 2011 World Cup semi-finals, Warren Gatland's team have won seven times. Only the All Blacks have beaten France more often in that span (10 times).

4 - Wales won all four of their pool-stage matches for the first time since 1987. They have never won five World Cup games in a row.

6 - Since the start of 2018, France have lost six Tests in which they have been leading at half-time – the most such defeats of any side in that time. One of those came against Wales when they were 16 points ahead at the interval.

Japan v South Africa

3 - Japan's 34-32 victory over South Africa at the 2015 World Cup was their first over a Tier One nation. Since then they have won two of their three games against such opponents, beating Ireland and Scotland in this tournament.

5 - Kotaro Matsushima is one of the leading try-scorers at this World Cup, along with Wales wing Josh Adams, having crossed five times.

47 - The Springboks won 47 out of 47 lineouts on their own throw in the pool stage, the only side in the tournament to maintain a 100 per cent success rate.

Liverpool could equal an English top-flight record in grand fashion when their title assault takes them to a wounded Manchester United on Sunday.

The Premier League leaders are sure to target three points knowing victory against their bitter rivals would be the perfect way to level Manchester City's benchmark of 18 consecutive wins at this level.

Recent trips to Old Trafford have not been particularly profitable but the Red Devils, beaten 1-0 by Newcastle United last time out, look to be little more than a mid-table outfit at present.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men will not have won a match inside 90 minutes for a month in all competitions by the time the game kicks off, and the expected absence of David de Gea presents a further hurdle.

 

POTENTIAL BREAKTHROUGHS FOR KLOPP AND SALAH

Liverpool have won five Premier League matches at Old Trafford but none under Jurgen Klopp.

The German's three draws and single defeat in four attempts add up to his longest winless streak in away games against a Premier League opponent.

He might never have a better opportunity to halt the trend.

United are lurching from one bitter blow to another and have laboured in home games against Crystal Palace, Astana, Rochdale and Arsenal this season, losing to the Eagles.

Those subpar showings, coupled with Liverpool's own outstanding form, will have Klopp's men supremely confident of delivering victory for their manager.

But with the missed chance of last season's 0-0 draw still fresh in the memory, there will be pressure on the visitors to take the initiative in attack.

Mohamed Salah, who is recovering from an ankle injury, will hope to be fit as he, like Klopp, has something to prove in this fixture.

Though prolific since his arrival on Merseyside, the Egyptian has failed to either score or assist a single goal in each of his four Premier League appearances against United.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: SCOTT MCTOMINAY V FABINHO

Scott McTominay this week shared insights into his warm relationship with Jose Mourinho, and the Scotland international will hope to make his former manager proud in a key battle.

His opposite number, Fabinho, provides just the kind of shield United's defence will need if Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino are to be kept quiet.

Liverpool's midfield anchor has won 12 tackles this term, five more than McTominay, at a success rate of 60 per cent.

McTominay's tackle success rate, at 44 per cent, is less impressive and, while the 22-year-old has certainly been one of United's best performers this season, his numbers lag behind Fabinho's in several departments.

The Brazilian has created three more scoring chances in 61 fewer minutes on the pitch and his passing accuracy of 87 per cent is comfortably superior to McTominay's 81 per cent.

FORM GUIDE

Liverpool's long Premier League winning streak dates back to March and includes away wins over Southampton, Burnley, Chelsea and Sheffield United this season.

James Milner's last-gasp penalty kept the run alive in a hard-earned 2-1 triumph over Leicester City at Anfield before the international break.

United, meanwhile, are searching for answers following a string of lacklustre performances since outmuscling Chelsea on the opening weekend.

The four goals scored that day hinted at a bright future but United have failed to net more than once in any of their subsequent 10 matches in all competitions.

HISTORY SAYS…

Victory will not come easily for Liverpool, who have not travelled to Old Trafford while top of the table since October 1996.

On that occasion, a David Beckham goal gave United a 1-0 win.

Results more recently have been similarly close, with four of the past six Premier League meetings ending level.

Liverpool, the heavy favourites, must snap a five-match winless streak in away games against United in order to preserve their perfect start in the league.

On October 16, 2004, Lionel Messi got his first taste of competitive senior football for Barcelona, coming on as a substitute for Deco against city rivals Espanyol.

Few watching at the time could have imagined quite what was to come from the Argentinian maestro, who has gone on to become arguably the greatest player of all time.

Messi's influence at Barca has become unrivalled, scoring 604 times to become their all-time leading scorer.

Fittingly, the 15th anniversary of his Barca debut comes on the same day he was presented with the European Golden Shoe for last season, and we have looked back at 10 of his very best goals in action for Barcelona.

Albacete (H): May 1, 2005

Even at 17, Messi had the confidence of a veteran. Having already had one goal wrongly ruled out for offside - an audacious chip from the edge of the box - Messi's focus was far from knocked and just a minute later he latched onto Ronaldinho's scooped pass before lobbing the ball over Albacete stopper Raul Valbuena from 16 yards. Some way to open your account for one of Europe's great clubs.

Getafe (H): April 18, 2007

In the 14 years since Messi first got on the scoresheet, one strike stands out as the best: his Diego Maradona-esque solo goal against Getafe. Messi picked up the ball in his own half and danced around two players before turning on the pace, beating two more defenders and going around the goalkeeper, capping it with a right-footed finish.

Real Zaragoza (A): March 21, 2010

Described by some as 'a defining goal' in his career, Messi's strike against Real Zaragoza seemed to take him from 'very good' into another class entirely. Messi displayed all he had to offer in this goal, which began when he won the ball from a tackle on halfway. From there, he shrugged off one challenge, raced towards the box and turned a defender inside out before drilling the ball into the far corner, leaving coach Pep Guardiola speechless.

Athletic Bilbao (A): April 27, 2013

Barca were in the midst of a Champions League semi-final shellacking from Bayern Munich when they arrived at San Mames. A goal down in a match that would eventually finish 2-2, Messi received possession from Thiago Alcantara, twisted past Mikel San Jose, Carlos Gurpegui and Ander Herrera with minimal space in which to operate before nonchalantly sidefooting home from just inside the penalty area.

Cordoba (H): December 20, 2014

Messi rounded off a 5-0 procession at Camp Nou with a frankly absurd piece of technique. Cordoba defender Jose Angel Crespo made glancing headed contact with Jordi Alba's searching cross from the left that might ordinarily have averted danger. But Barca's star man pulled the ball down with his left foot, swivelled 180 degrees and crashed right footed past Juan Carlos at the goalkeeper's near post.

Bayern Munich (H): May 6, 2015

Having already opened the scoring three minutes earlier to give Barca a 1-0 advantage over Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final, Messi doubled his tally with a sumptuous effort. Ivan Rakitic's pass sent Messi on his way, before the little maestro's trickery put Jerome Boateng on his backside and allowed the Argentine to casually lift the ball over the onrushing Manuel Neuer.

Athletic Bilbao (N): May 30, 2015

The second part of a treble-winning season for Barca came in the form of the Copa del Rey against Athletic Bilbao. With 20 minutes gone and the score deadlocked, Messi set off on a marauding run down the right wing and soon found himself trapped among three defenders. Naturally, Messi was able to float past the trio as if they were not there, before cutting into the box and beating Iago Herrerin at his near post.

Real Madrid (A): April 23, 2017

El Clasico rarely disappoints for football fans around the globe, and this edition was no different. Anything but a win would essentially hand Real Madrid the title and it looked to be headed for a 2-2 draw until Sergi Roberto's swashbuckling run in the 92nd minute gave Jordi Alba the chance to square it to Messi, who finished with aplomb from the edge of the area for his 500th Barcelona goal.

Real Sociedad (A): January 18, 2018

Over the past few years, Messi has really mastered the art of free-kick taking, with the skill being one of few to elude him in his younger days. This strike in a 4-2 LaLiga triumph at La Real last January showed just how far he has come, as he lined up a set-piece about 35 yards from goal and coolly curled it into the top-left corner, wrapping up victory for Barca, who had fallen 2-0 behind. 

Real Betis – March 17, 2019

We have become so accustomed to Messi's brilliance that he makes the extraordinary seem normal, but his hat-trick clincher in March's 4-1 win at Real Betis was pure genius. After receiving a cut-back from Ivan Rakitic, he caressed a first-time chipped effort over Pau Lopez and in off the crossbar from about 18 yards when shooting through a crowded penalty area looked an impossibility.

Manchester City's title defence has not started according to plan, with the champions already trailing Liverpool by eight points.

Jurgen Klopp's side have won eight from eight in the Premier League, while City headed into the international break on the back of a surprise home defeat to Wolves.

For Pep Guardiola, City's defence has to be a huge concern, even though the former Barcelona boss has insisted the club will not be looking to replace the injured Aymeric Laporte in January.

Laporte is set to miss the majority of the season after sustaining an Anterior Cruciate Ligament injury in August, while Vincent Kompany has left a sizeable void in City's defence.

Nicolas Otamendi has been largely unconvincing, while John Stones has his own injury problems and Fernandinho – arguably the Premier League's best defensive midfielder – has had to fill in at the back.

Ahead of Saturday's trip to Selhurst Park to face Crystal Palace, we use Opta data to assess how Guardiola can patch up City's struggling defence.

 

RELIANCE ON OTAMENDI A CAUSE FOR CONCERN

Guardiola has not been helped by a spate of bad luck with injuries, especially with Laporte, who has been mightily impressive since his arrival from Athletic Bilbao in January 2018.

Stones, meanwhile, has been in and out of the side due to both injuries and form, with Kompany preferred for the run-in last season. Otamendi looked set to join Kompany in leaving the club in the off season, though has been a mainstay of City's back line, making seven league appearances and two more in the Champions League. 

The Argentine does boast a passing accuracy of 92.52 per cent, which is higher than Fernandinho or Laporte, while he has also lost possession 148 times fewer than the Frenchman.

While Otamendi has only featured in 25 Premier League matches since the start of last season, he does have a higher tackle, duel and aerial duel success rate than Laporte and only conceded 16 fouls.

However, the former Valencia man showed clear weaknesses in the defeat to Wolves, recklessly lunging in on Raul Jimenez in the build-up to the opener, while it was his mistake at Carrow Road which led to Norwich City's third goal in a 3-2 win for the Canaries.

Of the players who have played at the back for City since the start of 2018-19, only Otamendi (2) has made errors which directly resulted in a goal.

KOMPANY'S IMPACT UNDERESTIMATED?

City reportedly moved for Harry Maguire in the off season, only to baulk at Leicester City's asking price, which was eventually paid by cross-city rivals Manchester United.

However, the decision not to replace inspirational former captain Kompany, who scored a stunning goal against Leicester as he led City to the title last term, seemed a risky one.

City did not lose a single game in all competitions last season in which Kompany started, with the Belgian having been named in 13 Premier League line ups.

Kompany played 1,223 minutes in the top flight last term, making no errors resulting in a shot at goal, while managing an impressive pass accuracy of 93.07% behind only Stones in terms of City's defenders.

The 33-year-old lost possession 93 times, though, perhaps due to a lack of pace, did concede 17 fouls – more than Otamendi or Stones despite playing fewer games.

He was dribbled past by an opponent on only one occasion and, from the 18 matches he started in all competitions last season, City claimed 17 wins, conceding just 12 goals.

SETTLE ON STONES UNTIL JANUARY

The simple answer to City's problems is likely to get Laporte back fit and firing as soon as possible, given they have an 82 per cent win percentage with the 25-year-old starting in the Premier League since the start of last season, compared to 75% without.

However, for now Guardiola must find a defensive pairing he can stick with until January. Fernandinho and Otamendi have featured in the last three league matches, but against Wolves their lack of pace was exposed.

Stones should soon return to action and, though the England international's form has been criticised, his statistics make for promising reading.

The former Everton man has a tackle success rate of 75%, higher than any of City's other centre-backs, and has conceded just six fouls since the start of 2018-19.

If Stones can stay fit, he should be City's first-choice centre-back until the new year, with Otamendi and Fernandinho vying for the other spot.

If Ukraine goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov needs any consolation, it had happened 699 times before.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 700th goal of a phenomenal career as Portugal suffered a setback in Euro 2020 qualifying on Tuesday.

Ronaldo reached his latest milestone when he converted a second-half penalty in Kiev, awarded after Taras Stepanenko handled the ball inside the box.

A hero at Manchester United, Real Madrid and now Juventus, a fair few of Ronaldo's incredible haul have been stone-cold classics. Here, we look back at 10 of his best goals.

 

Manchester United v Portsmouth: January 30, 2008

Perhaps the finest free-kick Ronaldo struck in his career.

The Portuguese developed his reputation as a set-piece master at United and he lashed a phenomenal 25-yard effort past David James as part of a double to send Alex Ferguson's side to the top of the Premier League.

His knuckleball technique sent the ball swirling into the top-right corner for one of his defining Old Trafford moments.

 

Porto v Manchester United: April 15, 2009

He had absolutely no right to score this one.

Back in his homeland for a Champions League quarter-final against Porto, Ronaldo picked up the ball in the middle of the opposition half, got it out of his feet and sent a searing strike flying past Helton to seal a 1-0 win at the Estadio do Dragao and a 3-2 aggregate triumph.

 

Almeria v Real Madrid: April 15, 2010

Ronaldo has developed into more of a penalty-box poacher in recent seasons, but this effort against Almeria was a reminder of how devastating he could be when starting with the ball outside the area.

Rafael van der Vaart won back possession in the Almeria half and the ball was worked to Ronaldo, who accelerated past two challenges, left a third defender for dead with a stepover, and drilled home with his left foot. The visitors would go on to win 2-1.

 

Sevilla v Real Madrid: December 17, 2011

Sevilla have grown sick of the sight of Ronaldo – he has scored 25 times against them, after all – but this strike in a 6-2 thrashing is perhaps the best of them all.

Collecting Karim Benzema's pass 30 yards out, Ronaldo took advantage of the time and space given to him by the defence to blast a shot into the top-right corner, the swerve on the ball making it totally unstoppable. It was one of three he scored that day at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.

 

Real Madrid v Valencia: May 4, 2014

It was not enough to keep Madrid's title chase alive but this was another goal that showcased Ronaldo's killer instinct and dexterity.

In second-half injury time, with Valencia 2-1 ahead, Angel Di Maria volleyed over a cross from the left and Ronaldo swivelled to score a backheel volley and snatch a point.

 

Real Madrid v Espanyol: January 31, 2016

Although his game had become more refined from those buccaneering early days, Ronaldo showed here he was not quite done when it came to solo runs and spectacular finishes.

With Madrid already 3-0 up in what would prove to be a 6-0 thrashing, James Rodriguez's pass was deflected into Ronaldo's path and he did the rest, showing brilliant footwork to skip beyond three challenges before rifling home from the edge of the area with his left foot.

 

Hungary v Portugal: June 22, 2016

Portugal thrice fell behind to Hungary in Lyon during Euro 2016, and Ronaldo brought them level on the second occasion with a display of fine skill.

The captain added a deft flick with his trailing leg to Joao Mario's right-wing cross to make it 2-2, and he cancelled out Balazs Dzsudzsak's second with a double of his own. It was enough to send Portugal into the knockout stages and from there they claimed a maiden international title.

 

Juventus v Real Madrid: April 3, 2018

Arguably the finest goal Ronaldo has produced.

Moving away from goal as Dani Carvajal dug a cross towards the penalty spot from the right, the Portuguese lept into the air and connected with a marvellous overhead kick. His leg was at a right angle to his body as he struck with the sweetest of volleys that flew past an idle Gianluigi Buffon.

 

Portugal v Spain: June 15, 2018

Having twice given his side the lead, Ronaldo found Portugal 3-2 down to their Iberian neighbours in their thrilling opener at the 2018 World Cup.

The was a sense of inevitability when he stood over an 88th minute free-kick, but the execution was sheer perfection – power and dip combined to leave David de Gea with no chance.

 

Juventus v Manchester United: November 8, 2018

Another decorated Portuguese was celebrating at full-time when Jose Mourinho watched his Manchester United team complete a 2-1 comeback win.

But Ronaldo struck first with a sumptuous and technically brilliant strike, watching Leonardo Bonucci's raking ball over his shoulder to volley home.  

It was only a matter of time before Mercedes broke Ferrari's record by sealing a sixth consecutive Formula One constructors' titles.

The Silver Arrows were celebrating yet again after achieving that feat at the Japanese Grand Prix, where Valtteri Bottas took the chequered flag ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton finished third.

Mercedes have held the title since dethroning Red Bull in 2014, dominating the sport with Hamilton winning four titles during that time and standing on the brink of another this season.

We look back on the level of dominance the Brackley-based team have enjoyed.

 

2014 - A sign of things to come

Red Bull had taken the title for four years in a row before Mercedes ended that sequence in 2014.

Hamilton claimed his second world title - and his first for the team - ahead of colleague Nico Rosberg and the Silver Arrows duo amassed 701 points to win by a margin of 296.

They won 16 races and secured 31 podium finishes in a dominant season which was the sign of things to come.

 

2015 - More of the same with a marginal gain

Mercedes bettered their tally for the season by two points as Hamilton retained his title, Rosberg once again runner-up.

They matched the number of victories secured in 2014, as well as the incredible total of 18 poles for the campaign.

There was an additional podium finish for the back-to-back constructors' champions by 275 points ahead of Ferrari as rivals were left trailing in their wake.

 

2016 - Rosberg reigns as Mercedes move to another level

The Silver arrows took their dominance to another level in 2016, winning 19 of 21 races. 

While Mercedes were never in danger of losing their constructors' title, finishing 297 points better off than Red Bull, Hamilton and Rosberg fought it out in an enthralling battle for the drivers' crown.

It was Rosberg who came out on top on this occasion by just five points and the German retired after a season that saw Mercedes fail to secure pole only once and amass 33 podiums.

 

2017 - New line-up, no let-up

A new driver line-up did not stop Mercedes from adding another constructors' title to their haul two years ago.

Normal service was resumed as Hamilton regained the title, denying Vettel by 46 points with Bottas third in the standings after taking Rosberg's seat.

There were 12 wins, 15 poles and 26 podium finishes for Mercedes in 2017 as Ferrari were more competitive, although the Scuderia were still as many as 146 points adrift of the constructors' champions.

 

2018 - Ferrari close the gap, but Mercedes clean up again

A promising start for Vettel and Ferrari last season proved to be a false down as Hamilton claimed his fifth world title.

Ferrari finished with 84 points fewer than Mercedes as Hamilton and Bottas took the chequered flag 11 times between them.

Mercedes were not quite as prolific in qualifying, taking pole 13 times as their points tally was down at 655 from 668 12 months earlier.

 

2019 - Six of the best

With four races remaining Mercedes already have one title in the bag, with Hamilton closing in on another.

A win for Bottas in Suzuka and Hamilton's third place has the champions on 612 to Ferrari's 433.

Mercedes have only failed to win five of 17 races, which makes for grim reading for their rivals.

Liverpool's trip to Old Trafford on Sunday highlights the growing gap between the Premier League leaders and rivals Manchester United.

Alex Ferguson famously declared he would knock the Reds "off their perch", a goal he achieved in some style by leading United to a lengthy period of domestic dominance, but there is no doubt who is on top now.

Liverpool are yet to drop a point this season with their winning run in the Premier League standing at 17 games, building an eight-point cushion over defending champions Manchester City.

United, meanwhile, sit two points above the relegation zone in 12th after losing 1-0 away to Newcastle United last time out, a result that increased the pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Sunday's Manchester meeting offers Liverpool a chance to secure more bragging rights and their players dominate the Omnisport combined XI ahead of the game.


Goalkeeper: ALISSON

Injury has kept Alisson on the sidelines for most of the season so far, but he could return from a calf problem at Old Trafford. David de Gea has looked vulnerable at times this season and he probably should have saved Patrick van Aanholt's late winner for Crystal Palace in August. Alisson was named The Best FIFA Men's Goalkeeper in September and it is hard to argue with that assessment given the transformative impact his arrival from Roma has had on the Reds.


Right-back: TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD

Aaron Wan-Bissaka has made a promising start to life at United but, while he is extremely strong in the tackle, Trent Alexander-Arnold offers much more in attack. The Liverpool right-back created the decisive goal in last season's Champions League comeback for the ages against Barcelona, his quick corner enabling Divock Origi to strike the final blow. Few players, let alone those just 21 years old, would have seen the opportunity or had the quality to pull it off.


Centre-back: JOEL MATIP

There is perhaps a case to be made for Harry Maguire, one of the few bright spots in United's campaign, but Joel Matip has taken his game to a new level this season. He is a key part of the tightest defence in the league this season, with Liverpool having only conceded six goals. And when Matip sat out the Champions League group game against Salzburg, Alisson's deputy Adrian was beaten three times.


Centre-back: VIRGIL VAN DIJK

There can be no arguments here, with Virgil van Dijk one of the first names on a combined XI team sheet. The Netherlands international cost a world-record fee for a defender when he eventually made the move from Southampton, but that £75million now looks like money well spent. Van Dijk has led Liverpool's defence to the Champions League title and a long-awaited Premier League crown could well follow this season.


Left-back: ANDY ROBERTSON

Similarly, Andy Robertson is a no-brainer at left-back despite Luke Shaw's improvement over the past year or so. The Scotland captain is arguably the finest player in Europe for his position now and was a superb bargain buy at just £8m from Hull City in 2017. His clash with Lionel Messi in the early stages of the Champions League semi-final at Anfield set the tone for the Reds' comeback.


Central midfield: FABINHO

It took time for Fabinho to settle after joining from Monaco, but the former right-back is now a key cog in Liverpool's relentless winning machine. It is impossible to leave him out of the combined XI given United's offerings as midfield protectors include mediocre options such as Fred and Scott McTominay.


Central midfield: PAUL POGBA

There is a spot for Paul Pogba, though, despite the World Cup winner remaining something of an enigma. Pogba was United's top scorer in the Premier League last season, also providing a team-high nine assists. He may not always hit top form, but at his best the ex-Juventus star remains an elite performer. Pogba could add an extra gear and more quality to Liverpool's occasionally one-paced midfield.


Central midfield: JORDAN HENDERSON

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson completes the midfield, providing experience and leadership. The England international is still underrated by some, but Henderson showed his importance to the Reds at the end of last season when he was utilised in a more advanced role by Jurgen Klopp. He displayed a fresh dimension to his game with creativity and incision in the final third.


Right wing: MOHAMED SALAH

Yet to hit top form this season, Mohamed Salah is another mandatory pick for Liverpool after his stunning goalscoring exploits since joining from Roma. The Egypt star has hit 77 goals in 116 appearances for the Reds, making Chelsea's decision to allow him to leave Stamford Bridge in 2016 look rather foolish. Salah's selfish streak may sometimes appear to annoy team-mates, but his individual brilliance can carry Liverpool through tight games.


Striker: ROBERTO FIRMINO

Leading the line is Roberto Firmino, with the Brazil forward's incredible energy, work rate and ability to operate between the lines giving Liverpool a platform to thrive. With Marcus Rashford having only scored once since the opening weekend it is impossible to argue for the United striker here, with the England international's confidence having looked very low of late.


Left wing: SADIO MANE

With eight goals in all competitions this term, Sadio Mane is Liverpool's top scorer in 2019-20 and he is another Red it is impossible to leave out of a combined XI. Senegal star Mane is one of the many ex-Southampton players to have flourished at Anfield and though Anthony Martial has sporadically impressed for United, he is not quite in the same league.


Substitutes

On the bench there is more room for United talent as De Gea and Maguire would be included. James Milner's versatility makes him a must, while the midfield drive offered by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Georginio Wijnaldum would see them be useful subs. If fit, Martial would join Champions League final hero Origi as forward options.

The Rugby World Cup is headed for the knockout rounds after a dramatic pool stage in which Scotland were the biggest casualties.

Eight teams remain from 20, with hosts Japan – who have four wins from four – progressing as winners of Pool A after defeating Gregor Townsend's men on Sunday.

Japan also stunned Ireland in the same group, but Joe Schmidt's side progressed into the quarters in second.

In Pool B, two-time defending champions New Zealand finished top, with an impressive South Africa side behind them. Italy were frustrated as the impact of Typhoon Hagibis ended their slim chances of progression.

Meanwhile, England topped Pool C with France in second place, with Wales and Australia completing the last-eight line-up.

Using Opta data, we look back at an enthralling tournament so far.

Pool A – Japan, Ireland, Scotland, Tonga, Russia

1 – Japan are into the knockout stage of a World Cup for the first time in their history, becoming the first non-tier one side to do so since Fiji in 2007.

5 – Kirill Golosnitskiy's scored in the fifth minute of the opening match as Russia took the lead against Japan. It is the quickest ever try in a World Cup opener.

2 – Scotland have failed to make it out of the pool stages of the Rugby World Cup for just the second time, after also doing so in 2011.

90 – Rob Kearney crossed for a try after just 90 seconds against Russia, Ireland's fastest World Cup try and the fastest of the tournament so far.

48 – Japan's Yu Tamura has scored 48 points so far, more than any other player. All of his points have come with the boot – 10 penalties and nine conversions.

Pool B – New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, Namibia, Canada

4 – Canada had Josh Larsen sent off versus South Africa and have had four players dismissed in the history of the World Cup, more than any other side. There have been seven dismissals so far this tournament – four was the previous highest total in both 1995 and 1999.

17 – New Zealand have won their last 17 World Cup matches, the longest run by any side in the tournament's history.

21 – Against Canada, South Africa's Cobus Reinach scored the earliest hat-trick in a World Cup match, crossing for his third try in the 21st minute.

142 – After featuring against South Africa, Italy captain Sergio Parisse surpassed Brian O'Driscoll (141) to become the outright second-most capped player in Test rugby history behind Richie McCaw, who played 148 times.

Pool C – England, France, Argentina, Tonga, USA

20 – Against Argentina, Romain Ntamack, aged 20 years and 143 days, became the youngest player to feature for France in a World Cup match.

88 – Agustin Creevy won his 88th cap for Argentina when he played against England, overtaking Felipe Contepomi as Los Puma's most capped player.

6 – George Ford has been involved in six tries for England, more than any other player, scoring two and providing a tournament-high four assists.

Pool D – Wales, Australia, Fiji, Georgia, Uruguay

62 – Fiji's Semi Radradra topped the charts for carries (62), metres (400) and defenders beaten (29) in the pool stage.

94 – James Slipper scored his first try for Australia in his 94th Test when the Wallabies faced Uruguay. No player from any nation has played more matches before scoring their first try.

130 – By playing in Wales' win over Australia, Alun Wyn Jones overtook Gethin Jenkins (129) as the most capped Welshman, going on to make his 131st appearance against Fiji.

35 – At the age of 35 years and 186 days, Adam Ashley-Cooper is the oldest Australia player to make a World Cup appearance. He subsequently became their oldest try scorer in World Cup history, and their oldest in any match since 1966.

100 – Warren Gatland's side have won 100 per cent of their matches so far. It is the first time Wales have won all of their pool games since 1987.

Prior to the 2019 NFL season, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston appeared in contrasting situations with their respective teams. 

The unquestionable starter in Carolina, Newton and the Panthers had lofty expectations. In Tampa Bay, meanwhile, the Buccaneers had placed Winston on notice. By taking up his fifth-year option rather than signing him to a long-term deal, the message was clear - prove you deserve to get paid. 

Both quarterbacks were selected with the first overall pick in their respective drafts by teams hoping they would be able to fulfil their obvious potential and blossom after college careers that included winning the Heisman Trophy. 

But, as William Shakespeare once wrote, the course of true love never did run smooth.

Heading into a Week 6 meeting between the teams in London, the Bucs and Winston were still trying to work things out in their off-again, on-again relationship. 

As for Newton, he had not even made the plane trip over, his seemingly rock-solid alliance with the Panthers suddenly becoming complicated by a foot injury. Carolina had appeared tied to the 30-year-old for the long run, having fallen head over heels from their early days together. If there were any doubters after his selection in 2011, they were silenced when he set record for passing yards for a rookie on his NFL debut – then surpassed that number a week later.

Yet familiarity breeds contempt and, with the face of the franchise in the background, the Panthers have had their heads turned by the new guy, Kyle Allen.

Newton was given a new five-year deal in June 2015, just before an MVP season that climaxed with a trip to Super Bowl 50. He threw a career-high 35 touchdowns and ran for 10 more as he led his team to a 15-1 record, though they came up short against the Denver Broncos.

Four years after Newton entered the league, the Bucs selected Winston hoping he would end their merry-go-round at a key position.  

Their pact did not quite have the same initial spark from the outset, the former Florida State star throwing 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions as a rookie – numbers that hinted at obvious promise as a passer, yet also highlighted a turnover issue that has been his Achilles heal in the pros.

He provided a microcosm of his career at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday, starting both halves by tossing an interception, while there was a crucial fumble to kill an opportunity to add further points before the end of the second quarter when he held onto the ball for too long. There were also occasional flashes of his quality, including a deep bomb to Mike Evans that the receiver just failed to reel in.

The unpredictable Winston is still likely to get paid when he signs his next deal - it just may not be forthcoming from his current employers.

If a divorce between the Bucs and Winston happens, they can cite irreconcilable differences. He is by no means the only issue for this Tampa Bay team, but it may well be best for all parties to go in different directions and start afresh. 

"I'm not looking to the future. I'm not looking to the past," Winston said after committing six turnovers in a 37-26 defeat, before adding: "Today was not a good day, but there will be better days."

These bad days happen too often, though. Bruce Arians - Winston's third head coach in the NFL - told the media he never thought of benching his starter despite his struggles against Carolina, though admitted the 25-year-old "has a habit of trying to be Superman".

When the final whistle was blown on an emotional night in Yokohama, it was evident from the joy on the players' faces that magnificent Japan's history-making triumph over Scotland was about more than rugby.

Typhoon Hagibis left a trail of death and mass destruction with ferocious winds and record-breaking rainfall after hitting landfall south of Tokyo on Saturday.

There was uncertainty over whether the decisive Pool A showdown between the host nation and Scotland would go ahead on Sunday, but the green light was given following a safety inspection on the morning of the game at Yokohama International Stadium.

What followed was 80 minutes of thrilling action as Japan reached the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals for the first time.

Scottish Rugby had talked of taking legal action if the blockbuster contest was cancelled, given they needed a victory to have any chance of being consigned to an early exit.

Instead they may be launching an internal inquest after Gregor Townsend's side went down 28-21 in a pulsating battle.

The stadium was not damaged by the biggest typhoon to hit the Asian nation for decades and a raucous sold-out crowd cheered their team to glorious new ground.

Jamie Joseph's side played with incredible intensity from start to finish, defended stoically and showed their class with ball in hand to set up a meeting with South Africa in Tokyo next Sunday.

The Brave Blossoms waded through knee-high waters to train on the eve of a match that they were not sure would go ahead and although Scotland fought back in the second half, they could not prevent the hosts from advancing.

Japan were relentless after Finn Russell's early try, Kotaro Matsushima whipping their exuberant supporters into frenzy with his fifth try of the tournament.

Keita Inagaki raised the decibels even higher by putting them in front and Scotland looked to be out on their feet after the lethal Kenki Fukuoka - scorer of the only try against Ireland - touched down either side of half-time.

Scotland were struggling to cope with their opponents' expansive style of play; the power, speed and skill of Japan leaving their hopes of qualifying hanging by a thread.

Yet two tries in the space of five minutes from WP Nel and Zander Ferguson threatened to spoil the party, Russell pulling the strings as the tension mounted.

The hosts laid it all on the line as Scotland threw everything at them in an attempt to tear up the script and break Japan hearts.

Joseph's men were not to be denied, though, holding on to make it four wins out of four and secure top spot on a weekend that will be remembered for such contrasting reasons.

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