After five arduous weeks, the Cricket World Cup group stage has reached its climax and four teams are left standing.

Hosts and pre-tournament favourites England briefly flirted with a disappointing early exit before rallying to beat India and New Zealand and reach the last four.

Lying in wait are old rivals Australia at Edgbaston on Thursday, while India and New Zealand will do battle first in Manchester in two days' time.

But before we sit back and take in the final acts of a hugely enjoyable tournament, let's review the thrills and spills (and a couple of comedy moments) of an enthralling group stage.

 

Rihanna delights in Durham

Over a decade ago, Rihanna's smash hit 'Umbrella' enjoyed an extended stay at the top of the UK album charts but there was no need for the brollies at Durham as West Indies faced off with Sri Lanka.

Unfortunately, the Barbados-born popstar saw the Windies beaten by 23 runs, but there was a tearful reunion with assistant coach Roddy Eastwick – a former school teacher of Rihanna's. 


Bees create buzz at The Riverside

An unbroken 175-run stand between Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis stung Sri Lanka at The Riverside.

But it was a swarm of bees that created quite the buzz on social media. The honey-loving insects caused a sudden delay, with players having to hit the deck to take evasive action.


Roy clatters Wilson

We are very, very, very sorry Joel Wilson…but this was undoubtedly hilarious.

Jason Roy brought up a century in England's beating of Bangladesh but, while tracking the progress of the ball, did not see the poor, unaware umpire who was completely clattered by the opener in comical scenes.

Once back to his feet, a slightly sheepish Wilson saw the funny side.


Bairstow answers critics head on

England's defeats to Sri Lanka and Australia drew plenty of criticism at home, not least from Michael Vaughan, which led to an unsavoury back-and-forth with Jonny Bairstow.

But Bairstow responded in impressive fashion, making centuries against India and New Zealand to help England progress to the last four.

Celebrating that latter century, Bairstow rubbed his hair in a seemingly light-hearted jibe at Vaughan's previous treatment to bolster his hairline.


Stokes or Woakes?

Two stunning catches, but who did it better – Ben Stokes or Chris Woakes?

All-rounder Stokes plucked a stunning one-hander in the deep off Andile Phehlukwayo in the tournament's opening match between England and South Africa at The Oval.

Not to be outdone, Woakes took a brilliant full-length dive on the boundary to send Rishabh Pant packing in England's much-needed win over India. Superman, eat your heart out.


Hat-trick heroes

Afghanistan had the chance for a famous upset against India at the Rose Bowl. Twelve runs were needed off four deliveries…enter Mohammed Shami.

The paceman took the vital wicket of dangerman Mohammad Nabi and followed up with the scalps of Aftab Alam and Mujeeb Ur Rahman to end Afghanistan's hopes. Three wickets in three balls.

New Zealand lost out to trans-Tasman rivals Australia at Lord's, but Trent Boult had individual reason to celebrate with a hat-trick of his own.

A stunning finish in the final over of Australia's innings saw Usman Khawaja, Mitchell Starc and Jason Behrendorff fall to full, in-swinging deliveries.

Boult, who has donated the ball to the MCC Museum, had to endure a nervy wait after a Behrendorff review.


Starc brilliance takes down Stokes

England made a dismal start in their pursuit of 286 against Australia at Lord's, slumping to 53-4.

Ben Stokes' courageous 89 threatened a fightback at the Home of Cricket. That was until Mitchell Starc's unplayable yorker swung in late to rattle the base of the stumps to end Stokes' resilience and England's chances of victory.


Pakistan deny Afghanistan

Afghanistan finished without a point after the group games but will rue a couple of missed opportunities – not least versus Pakistan, who slumped to 156-6 chasing 228 at Headingley. 

But captain Gulbadin Naib gave up 18 costly runs in the 46th over and Pakistan edged home with a couple of balls to spare against the underdogs in a dramatic finale.


Farewell Chris

Chris Gayle's final World Cup did not exactly go to plan. The explosive batsman made 242 runs from nine innings as West Indies – fancied by many to challenge – crashed out.

His final knock against Afghanistan yielded just seven runs, but there was time for some typical flamboyance when the charismatic Gayle celebrated a low catch with some press-ups.

A tidy turn with his occasional off-spin also yielded 1-28 and the 39-year-old lapped up the acclaim at stumps.

Paolo Guerrero was born in 1983 - eight years after Peru's last Copa America triumph.

He had only seen them make the semi-finals once before he became a senior international, but with the striker in their ranks they have reached the last-four stage three times.

An unlikely final against Brazil will take place on Sunday, and when you add in a first World Cup appearance since 1982 in Russia last year and the fact Guerrero is La Blanquirroja's all-time leading goalscorer it easy to understand how important he is to Peru.

Guerrero was plucked away from Alianza Lima by Bayern Munich in 2002 and won back-to-back Bundesliga and DFB-Pokals before heading to Hamburg in search of increased game time in 2006.

He struggled for goals in a less gifted team, though he got four during a run to the 2008-09 UEFA Cup semi-finals where HSV were denied a place in the showpiece by Werder Bremen.

Still, Guerrero's next move came as a surprise. At 28 and supposedly at the peak of his powers he swapped Hamburg for Corinthians in 2012, at the time coached by Brazil boss Tite. Within six months he was a Club World Cup champion, heading in the winner for an unexpected 1-0 triumph over Chelsea.

Guerrero had spearheaded Peru's run to the Copa America semi-finals a year prior and he did so again in 2015 - leading the scoring charts on both occasions - but his greatest achievement came in helping his country finish fifth in the mammoth CONMEBOL section of 2018 World Cup qualifying.

The delight of booking a play-off with New Zealand was short-lived, though, as Guerrero was ruled out of the matches due to a 30-day provisional suspension for failing a drugs test on October 5, 2017. He had tested positive for the cocaine metabolite benzoylecgonine, which he argued might have been accidentally ingested via a coca leaf in a traditional tea drink.

Without their talisman, Peru still claimed a 2-0 win on aggregate to earn a place in Russia, but regularly changing circumstances made it unclear whether Guerrero would be with the team.

An initial 12-month ban from FIFA was cut in half by its appeal committee to give him hope of playing, but the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) asked the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to look at that decision. Less than two weeks after the suspension ended, CAS extended it to 14 months to rule him out of playing in Russia.

However, an appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal (BGER) led to Guerrero's sanction being temporarily lifted while it considered the case, clearing him to lead his country at the World Cup.

The situation ended up resulting in him departing Flamengo for Internacional, who were dealt a blow when the BGER confirmed he would have to serve the remainder of his suspension.

Guerrero marked his long-awaited return to action on April 6 with a goal on his debut, heading home a corner in a 2-0 victory over Caxias in the Campeonato Gaucho.

The emotional 35-year-old said after the match: "I was very anxious. I was always apprehensive, uneasy. It was a difficult situation to accept what I have gone through, because of this unfair ban that I had.

"There were days that I was depressed, but I don't want to talk about it anymore. I just wanted to come back to training sessions, to my routine.

"To arrive early, play with my team-mates before and after sessions, to be together with my team-mates and experience the adrenaline of a game, all of this. I missed this very much and now I am here again."

Guerrero now has the opportunity to lead his nation to just a third Copa America title against hosts Brazil at the Maracana on Sunday.

He and Peru fought hard to get there and victory would be the crowning moment in the career of every player in Ricardo Gareca's squad.

Neymar missing the Copa America due to injury was widely expected to be a major blow to Brazil's chances of winning the tournament on home soil.

But instead, Tite's side have reached their first final since 2007 and looked the strongest, most consistent team in the competition.

There have been wobbles - Brazil needed penalties to see off Paraguay in the quarter-finals and were similarly held to a 0-0 draw by Venezuela in the group stage.

The Selecao are overwhelming favourites to beat Peru in Sunday's final, however, especially as they hammered the same opposition 5-0 in their final round-robin match.

Tite has been able to address the loss of the Paris Saint-Germain star seemingly without any great difficulty, which poses an obvious question: Are Brazil better without Neymar?

 

NO GOALS CONCEDED

Neymar plays in attack, but his presence still has an impact on teams defensively. It is hardly controversial to say the 27-year-old is no fan of tracking back to help out his team-mates.

PSG's controlled 2-0 win away to Manchester United in the Champions League was notable for the way their coach Thomas Tuchel was able to get wide forwards Dani Alves and Angel Di Maria to work hard at both ends of the pitch.

Something similar has been evident at this year's Copa America, with Neymar's direct replacement, the effervescent Everton - linked with a lucrative move away from Gremio - shining in a free role off the left wing.

Gabriel Jesus has got through a huge amount of work on the right, even though he was without a goal before finding the net in Brazil's clinical 2-0 semi-final defeat of Lionel Messi's Argentina, a game in which the Manchester City striker was superb.

However, Opta data suggests Brazil's defensive resilience at the Copa is not necessarily linked to Neymar's injury-enforced absence.

Since the 2014 World Cup, Brazil have conceded an average of 0.8 goals per game when Neymar has not played, compared to 0.4 per game when he features.

 

DRAWING A BLANK

Brazil are in the final even though Tite's men have failed to score in two of their past four games at the Copa America, with Jesus and Roberto Firmino netting three times between them during the tournament.

Goals have been shared throughout the team with Neymar missing and five different players were on the scoresheet in the rout of Peru.

Perhaps, then, Neymar's absence could mean others are stepping up to take responsibility, with Philippe Coutinho among them despite coming off the back of a poor individual season at Barcelona.

But again, Opta data seems to show Brazil remain a slightly more compelling attacking force when Neymar is available, compared to when he is not.

They have scored 100 goals in 48 games played with Neymar since the 2014 World Cup, while without him they have found the net 52 times in 26 games.

Arguably the most telling statistic is Brazil's win ratio with and without their talisman.

When Neymar has played for his country in the past five years, they have won 79 per cent of their matches for a points-per-game record of 2.5. Without him, those figures drop to a 58 per cent win ratio and two points per game.

Brazil may have made it to the final of the Copa America without Neymar, but they will still hope the forward is back at peak fitness for next year's tournament, which is being co-hosted by Argentina and Colombia.

Neymar remains the Selecao's star.

The balance of power continues to shift in the NBA, as Kawhi Leonard's decision to join the Los Angeles Clippers makes the league a lot more interesting.

At the beginning of 2018-19, many seemed to believe the road to the NBA Finals ran through the Boston Celtics. Then the Milwaukee Bucks posted the best record in the league just a year removed from finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference. 

But it was the Toronto Raptors who dethroned the
Golden State Warriors in the end, and now they will have a new look without their superstar. Plenty of other teams are hungry for glory and now is the perfect time to strike.

Here are three teams that could now take over the Eastern Conference:

 

Milwaukee Bucks

The Eastern Conference is now wide open, but the Bucks are ahead of the pack. After all, they retained two All-Stars — one being reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Milwaukee underwent a serious transformation under Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer last season. Antetokounmpo has put up historically strong numbers in the paint, but the Bucks were also among the league leaders in three-point attempts.

Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez will likely be constants, but it remains to be seen how the chemistry will be after losing Malcolm Brogdon.

Milwaukee simply have the centrepiece every other team wish they had in Antetokounmpo, so there is no reason to count them out just yet.

Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers may have lost an All-Star-calibre player in Jimmy Butler this offseason, but they will be just fine.

Philadelphia were one circus buzzer-beater away from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals last season and are bringing back plenty of talent in 2019-20. The 76ers flipped Butler to the Miami Heat in exchange for Josh Richardson and lured Al Horford away from the Celtics, giving them what might be the best defensive line-up in basketball.

Small Ball? Philadelphia have never heard of it, as the shortest wingspan on their current roster is 6-10. 

The 76ers' starting group will likely feature Richardson, Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons, Al Horford and Joel Embiid. And then there is second-year guard Zhaire Smith, who was voted the most athletic player in the 2018 NBA Draft by his peers but missed most of last season due to an unfortunate allergic reaction.

Philadelphia have size, playmaking, strong defense and four players that could get legitimate All-Star consideration in the coming season. Embiid's questionable health could be a facto but getting a versatile big like Horford that can fill in if he goes down will definitely keep the 76ers in contender conversations.

Brooklyn Nets

Even if Kevin Durant cannot play until 2020, the Nets should be better this season. They lost D'Angelo Russell to the Warriors, but Kyrie Irving can be a considerable upgrade if the pieces come together just right.

Both Russell and Irving are high-usage guards, but Irving is more efficient and poses the kind of threat that makes every player on the opposing team watch him when the ball is in his hands. 

Brooklyn added veterans in DeAndre Jordan and Garrett Temple that should pair nicely with returning pieces like Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris, who was one of the most prolific three-point shooters in 2018-19 — converting 47.4 per cent from beyond the arc.

But the wild card is Caris LeVert, who arguably was the Nets' best player before a leg injury sidelined him last November. The 24-year-old guard was establishing himself as Brooklyn's go-to guy and now he has had a whole offseason to recover after showing flashes of his potential in the 2018-19 playoffs.

Adding Durant to a group like this could prove to be lethal and would certainly make the Nets a force to be reckoned with.

As the sun set on South Africa's Cricket World Cup campaign, the Proteas landed a parting blow on old foes Australia on a glorious evening at Old Trafford.  

Faf du Plessis called for a show of pride from his side in their last game of what has been a miserable tournament and he got it on Saturday.

Du Plessis led by example with South Africa's first century of the World Cup, scoring exactly 100 with great support from Rassie van der Dussen (95).

Australia fell short on 315 in reply to 325-6 in a pulsating final group match, so the holders must pack their bags and head to Birmingham to face England in a semi-final at Edgbaston next Thursday rather than stay in Manchester to take on New Zealand.

South Africa have long since been out of contention for a place in the last four, but they left their mark despite another brilliant hundred from David Warner (122) and Alex Carey's brutal 85.

You would have thought it was Du Plessis' men bound for the semi-finals rather than Australia given the way they celebrated what was an eighth win in the last nine ODIs between the two fierce rivals.

As Imran Tahir and JP Duminy marched off the field after ending their ODI careers on a high note, the defending champions looked like a team that had let an opportunity slip through their fingers.

Usman Khawaja is highly unlikely to face England after suffering another hamstring injury, while Marcus Stoinis is a doubt with a side problem.

Shaun Marsh suffered a fractured forearm in a damaging week when he was struck by a ball from Pat Cummins in the nets, so Peter Hanscomb may be thrown straight into the heat of a showdown with the hosts.

Australia will at least have an extra two days to prepare for a blockbuster last-four clash with Eoin Morgan's men and in Warner they have a player at his brilliant best.

The opener should have been run out in the first over when Kagiso Rabada threw to the wrong end capitalised on that let-off by crafting a third hundred of the tournament.

A busy Warner batted with power, skill and great application in his first match against South Africa since a ball-tampering fiasco at Newlands which resulted in him being banned for a year.

There were more boos and jeers for Steve Smith and Warner in Manchester, where South Africa fans must have been left with mixed feelings, wondering why the Proteas left it so late to show what they can do.

Australia must regroup and Warner could have a major say in whether they shatter England's hopes of being crowned champions for the first time on home soil. 

Kawhi Leonard shook up the NBA with his decision to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers in free agency just a few weeks after leading the Toronto Raptors to their first title.

While the Raptors remained confident Leonard would re-sign with them and continue to build a legacy, the star ultimately chose to return to his hometown of Los Angeles and pair up with Paul George. 

Leonard's decision made a huge impact on the league as a whole, but how will it affect the Raptors, the city of Toronto and the East?

 

No outrage for Toronto, just disappointment 

After waiting until late on Friday night - or the early hours of Saturday for the East Coast - Leonard finally made his free agency decision. Much to Toronto's disappointment, he decided to move on after just one season with the Raptors. 

Some may question whether this taints his legacy in a city where he made such a significant impact in such a short time, becoming an icon throughout Canada, but the overall consensus and initial reaction in Toronto is that it will not.

Yes, the Raptors would have loved to have Leonard back. But no, there will not be outrage. 

It will be a hard goodbye, but there should not be hard feelings.

 

Raptors likely will stay the course and develop

The Raptors had a couple options entering free agency: stay the course with their young talent or to make drastic changes in preparation of losing Leonard. So what are they going to do without the NBA Finals MVP?

It is likely they go for the first option and keep building around their young core. Toronto might try to add two or three mid-level players to fill the void because there are no clear stars left.

The Raptors have done a good job drafting in recent years so it makes sense to keep investing in the talent they already have. A player like Pascal Siakam could have to step up and be a consistent playmaker, and let us not forget about OG Anunoby, who was sidelined for much of the playoffs. 

There is no way to replace a player like Leonard, but the Raptors will stay in the mix if Siakam and Anunoby step up.

 

The East is wide open again

The story in 2018 was about how wide open the East would be without LeBron James, who left the Cleveland Cavaliers to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency. It is the same story this year. 

The Raptors surprised everyone by beating the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals and they would likely have been among the favourites to win the championship again with Leonard still on board.

Now, it is anyone's title to win as the West continues to build. 

The NBA is going to look quite different in 2019-20.

After leading the Toronto Raptors to their first title, Kawhi Leonard will reportedly team up with Paul George at the Los Angeles Clippers next season.

It is a move that will reignite the rivalry with a much-changed Los Angeles Lakers, while the Golden State Warriors have seen Kevin Durant jump ship and move to the Eastern Conference.

We look at the teams with a 'big two' following a series of movements in an incredible offseason.

 

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

It was a big surprise when the Clippers took defending champions the Warriors to Game 6 in the playoffs, but they will undoubtedly be a better team next season.

The additions of Leonard and six-time All-Star George – although the latter came at a high price that included sending Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and five first-round draft picks, four of which are unprotected, and two pick swaps to the Oklahoma City Thunder – have created a new force in the Western Conference that will be looking to contend straight away.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS

Despite finally pulling off the acquisition of Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans, the Lakers freed up enough cap space for a run at Leonard.

However, they were unable to seal a deal with the NBA Finals MVP and will instead look to improve on LeBron James' disappointing first season by forming a truly formidable duo with Davis.

BROOKLYN NETS

Durant ruptured his Achilles in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, but it did not lead to a reduction in interest in the Warriors star.

The 2014 MVP decided to end his time at Golden State and team up with Kyrie Irving at the Brooklyn Nets, who consequently captured two of the three biggest free agents on the market to step up their rebuild several notches.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

It looked as though the Warriors would dominate again when they signed DeMarcus Cousins to a one-year deal in the last offseason, despite the center being sidelined by an Achilles injury.

Cousins has not returned and with Durant out the door, Golden State will be relying on the backcourt tandem of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson – reportedly on a five-year max contract – though trading for D'Angelo Russell could lighten the load.

HOUSTON ROCKETS

Having lost out to the Miami Heat in their reported pursuit of Jimmy Butler, the Rockets will go again with James Harden and Chris Paul leading the charge.

General manager Daryl Morey rejected reports of a rift between Harden and Paul, though he will be keen for the team to start winning as early as possible following a sluggish start in 2018-19.

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

The Blazers made a stunning run to the Western Conference Finals before being swept by the Warriors.

They will hope to go one better after tying Damian Lillard down to a four-year contract extension in the offseason, ensuring his partnership with fellow sharpshooter CJ McCollum will continue.

Los Angeles is set for a blockbuster NBA rivalry next season after Kawhi Leonard reportedly agree to sign on for the Clippers.

With Paul George also said to be joining from the Oklahoma City Thunder, an exciting Clippers team is set to go head-to-head against a Los Angeles Lakers franchise fronted by NBA icon LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Leonard, who spearheaded the Toronto Raptors to a maiden championship last season, is a signing who can make the Clippers – who finished eighth in the Western Conference in 2018-19 – a real force to be reckoned with.

In July 2018, it was the Lakers making waves when they drafted in superstar James from the Cleveland Cavaliers.

There is now some real star power across both Los Angeles teams, and inspired by this, we have taken a look at times when cross-city rivalries sent the sporting world into a frenzy.

 

Manchester City v Manchester United

For a long time, Manchester City lived in Manchester United's shadow, suffering multiple relegations while their rivals won a treble and dominated the domestic game under Alex Ferguson's tutelage. Things changed in 2008, however, when City were bought by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, owner of the Abu Dhabi United Group, and they have since gone on to become much more than the "noisy neighbours" that Ferguson dubbed them in 2009.

The pendulum did not swing fully in City's favour until the last day of the 2011-12, when they clinched their first Premier League title in the most dramatic of circumstances. Sergio Aguero's last-gasp goal in a 3-2 win against QPR is the thing of folklore, the Argentina striker scoring after Edin Dzeko had already levelled the scores in stoppage time. It denied Ferguson's United, who thought they had the job done having won at Sunderland until news of City's sensational finale filtered through.

United got their revenge the following season, but since Ferguson left, the Red Devils have hardly come close to keeping pace with City.

Rabbitohs v Roosters

The oldest and fiercest rivalry in the NRL is between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Sydney Roosters.

Their rivalry escalated in the 1990s when the increased financial standing of the Roosters came in stark contrast to the lack of funds available to the Rabbitohs, who broke a 10-year, 13-game losing streak against their nemesis in 2005.

In the last regular-season rounds of 2013 and 2014, the Roosters came out on top against their rivals to claim the Minor Premiership, though the Rabbitohs won in the preliminary final in the latter campaign to reach their first grand final in 43 years. Four years later, the Roosters defeated Souths 12-4 in the preliminary final at Allianz Stadium, in front of a record crowd.

Mets v Yankees 

In 2000, the New York Mets and New York Yankees met in the Major League Baseball World Series - the first time two teams from the Big Apple had met in the showpiece since 1956.

Referred to as the "Subway Series", it was the Yankees who came out on top with a dominant 4-1 series win, despite having lost 15 of their last 18 regular season games.

It was a third successive World Series triumph for the Yankees, who also made it to the same stage in 2001, but lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The rivals have not met in a World Series since, and it took the Mets another 15 years to make it back to the big stage.

UCLA v USC

One of the biggest college football rivalries comes in the form of the UCLA Bruins and USC Trojans.

The most famous encounter between the two universities came in 1967, in a match known as "the game of the century." It matched USC - with OJ Simpson - against a UCLA side including Gary Beban, with the Conference Championship on the line, while Simpson and Beban were competing for the Heisman Trophy.

It was USC who ran out victorious in a 21-20 victory and they went on to defeat Indiana in the Rose Bowl and win the National Championship. Beban claimed the Heisman Trophy, despite Simpson's notable performance in the encounter and 1,543 rushing yards over the season.

Boca Juniors v River Plate

One of the most famous and fierce local rivalries in football, or indeed any sport, the Superclasico is an incredible Buenos Aires derby between Argentina's two biggest clubs - Boca Juniors and River Plate.

In 2018, both sides progressed to the final of the Copa Libertadores, making it the first Superclasico final of an international competition. It was a two-legged encounter with one match to be played at each ground.

Tensions were high, and after a 2-2 draw in the first leg at Boca's home Estadio Alberto J. Armando, they boiled over in dramatic and violent fashion prior to the second leg at El Monumental, with the match eventually called off after the Boca coach was attacked en route to the stadium.

After much controversy, the second leg finally took place at Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid, with River winning 3-1 to secure a 5-2 aggregate victory and their fourth Copa Libertadores title.

Anson Dorrance led the United States to their first Women's World Cup triumph in 1991, but one of his former players is out to end the American dominance this Sunday.

Netherlands coach Sarina Wiegman spent one year with Dorrance's hugely successful North Carolina team in 1989 and called playing alongside United States greats like Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Shannon Higgins "a football paradise".

Wiegman recently said "my dream from that moment was to see the same situation back home", a wish that can be fulfilled this weekend if the Oranje defeat defending champions USA in Lyon.

Split loyalties would leave some conflicted, but Dorrance, who also coached current USA stars Crystal Dunn and Tobin Heath, cannot wait for the contest.

"Having Sarina in the final against my own country it's, 'God, take me now, it's never going to get better than this'," long-time North Carolina coach Dorrance told Omnisport.

"I'm getting these text messages from everyone saying, 'It doesn't matter what happens, you're going to be celebrating something'. And to some extent that's true.

"I do really admire what Sarina has done. For me, this is a wonderful World Cup final."

Wiegman had been at a FIFA invitational international tournament in 1988 when Dorrance approached her over the possibility of coming to America.

The state of the game in her country meant she thought playing "at a good level was literally impossible", but the midfielder went on to become the first Netherlands international – male or female – to win 100 caps.

"She was playing with American national team royalty in Kristine Lilly and Mia Hamm," Dorrance recalled.

"She had all the qualities of someone who was brought up in a wonderful soccer culture.

"Everyone really liked her. I felt privileged to coach her."

That positive impression was backed up by Higgins – now Higgins-Cirovski – who would feature when Dorrance's USA team beat Norway in the first ever World Cup final in 1991.

"She was a really good player, very smart, very technical - a student of the game - just intelligent," Higgins-Cirovski said of Wiegman.

"She was an absolute sweetheart. She was highly competitive - we all were, but she had a really good way about her."

Wiegman began a career in teaching upon returning home, but took a coaching post for the newly formed domestic league in 2007 and never looked back – permanently taking the Netherlands job a decade later and guiding them to European Championship success on home soil later that year.

Now she stands on the brink of leading her country to back-to-back major tournament titles as she aims to dethrone the nation where Dorrance gave her such a fine football education.

"It's not a strange feeling at all – it's a joyous one. It's like you've got two kids playing on opposite teams in a World Cup final, you root for both of them," Dorrance added of Sunday's final.

"The fact I've got Sarina coaching the Dutch... if the Dutch do happen to win, the pain of seeing my country losing will be a lot less, I promise you."

Chris Froome may not be competing in this year's Tour de France, but it is notable that Team INEOS have still opted to begin the race with two leaders rather than one.

In Froome's injury-enforced absence, many people may have expected Geraint Thomas to be named as INEOS' clear number-one rider. After all, the Welshman is the defending champion after producing a superb performance to beat team-mate Froome in 2018.

However, Thomas will share top billing with Egan Bernal, a highly rated Colombian more than 10 years his junior and competing in the Tour for only the second time.

If that seems a little strange, it is easily explained by the calibre of Bernal. Still only 22, he is widely regarded as the future of Team INEOS and may already be capable of stepping up to be the team's premier Grand Tour star.

While Thomas, 33, will take his place on the start line in Brussels on Saturday with questions surrounding his form and fitness after a crash forced him to abandon last month's Tour de Suisse, Bernal looks to be in superb condition.

He won the Tour de Suisse following Thomas' abandonment and also triumphed in the Paris-Nice this year to record the biggest success of his career to date.

Watchers of last year's Tour will also have been hugely impressed by Bernal's efforts as a domestique in his debut campaign. A 15th-placed finish for the youngster was admirable enough given his lack of experience, but it appeared he could easily have finished higher up the standings had he not been tasked with doing so much work in support of Froome and Thomas on the mountain stages.

When Bernal and Thomas were announced as joint leaders for this year's Tour, the latter said: "It’s no secret my build-up has been affected by the crash at Tour de Suisse, but I’ve had a good block of training since and I feel ready.

"Discussing with the team, we believe it makes sense to go into the race with joint leaders as it gives us more options. Egan and I will work hard for each other and the team over the three weeks of the race."

Thomas subsequently made it clear he views himself as 'Plan A' for INEOS, but he also acknowledged he began last year's race in a secondary role to fellow leader Froome and nevertheless prevailed.

“Last year, Froome was the leader but I was still protected and rode off the team as I would anyway," Thomas was quoted as saying by the Telegraph this week.

"I'm not going to ride any different. I don't think it [being the leader] makes too much difference."

Given Team INEOS' dominance of recent Tours, in their previous guise as Team Sky, it seems highly likely that their leading rider will be wearing yellow in Paris on July 28.

Former Sky rider Richie Porte believes Thomas is "the clear favourite" for glory, but the bookmakers appear to feel Bernal has just as much of a chance judging by pre-race odds.

The younger man could well be about to show he is INEOS' best bet for the present day as well as their future.

Jakob Fuglsang has never finished higher than seventh at the Tour de France but it would be a surprise if that is still the case come the end of this year's race.

In fact, a combination of factors mean Fuglsang is considered a genuine contender to claim the yellow jersey for Astana.

Now 34, the Dane is certainly in the best form of his career as he prepares to take on Team INEOS' leading lights, Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas.

Victory at last month's Criterium du Dauphine, where Chris Froome suffered the serious injuries that ruled him out of competing for a fifth Tour crown, represented the continuation of a fine season for Fuglsang.

Prior to that success, he had performed superbly in the Ardennes Classics in April, following up podium finishes in the Amstel Gold Race and La Fleche Wallonne with a superb win in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

That triumph marked a first for Fuglsang in one of cycling's Classics. 

With Froome absent from the Tour and uncertainty over the form and fitness of defending champion Thomas, Fuglsang will now hope to mount a strong challenge for his sport's biggest prize.

He could only muster a 12th-placed finish at the Tour when leading Astana in 2018. However, Fuglsang told Cyclingnews: "If I compare now to last year, I think I'm more relaxed this year."

In an interview with Eurosport, he added: "I had such a good season until now that, for me, if the Tour goes all pear-shaped, then anyway I had my best season so far, the best season in my career."

Asked if he believes he can reach Paris wearing the yellow jersey in three weeks' time, Fuglsang offered a cautious reply befitting a veteran rider who knows just how tough the Tour is.

"For now, I don't think I have to really believe yet," he explained. "I believe that I can finish on the podium, but I think we have to finish some mountain stages before the real belief can be there.

"We will see, it's a long race. I think the pressure can come on once you get closer to Paris, but that's a long way [away]."

Given his performances in recent months, it would be no shock if Fuglsang is in contention right up until the end.

The Tour de France gets underway on Saturday, with Geraint Thomas aiming to defend his crown.

Ahead of cycling's greatest race, we provide you with all the key details you need to know.

 

WHERE IS THE TOUR STARTING?

This year's Tour begins in Brussels, with Belgian cycling great Eddy Merckx - a five-time winner of the race - having been honoured during the team presentation.

 

HOW LONG IS THE RACE?

A mere 3,480 kilometres, spread across 21 stages in the space of 23 days. The riders get two rest days, after stages 10 and 15, amid a gruelling challenge that features seven mountain stages and five mountain-top finishes. As ever, the winner will effectively be decided on the penultimate stage before the peloton enjoys a largely ceremonial ride into Paris on July 28.

 

HOW MANY TEAMS AND RIDERS ARE TAKING PART?

This year's race will feature 22 teams, each comprising eight riders to make up a total field of 176.

 

WHO ARE THE FAVOURITES?

Thomas' somewhat surprising triumph in 2018 represented a fourth successive win for Team Sky and their sixth in seven years. The heavyweight outfit are now known as Team INEOS following a change in sponsor but will again be favoured to take glory, with Thomas and highly rated Colombian Egan Bernal named as their joint team leaders. Away from Team INEOS, in-form Astana rider Jakob Fuglsang is expected to mount a strong challenge after winning the Criterium du Dauphine. Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) is another contender while hopes of a home victory will again be largely carried by Romain Bardet of AG2R La Mondiale and Groupama-FDJ's Thibaut Pinot.

 

TELL ME MORE ABOUT BERNAL

Team INEOS supremo Dave Brailsford has the highest of hopes for Bernal, a 22-year-old who has already won the Paris-Nice and Tour de Suisse in 2019. At last year's Tour, Brailsford was quoted by the Guardian as saying: "I've searched and searched for the rider that might be the next Chris Froome, who would be our next big leader for Grand Tours. My choice was Bernal, whom we absolutely had to have in the team. He's our future." Do not be surprised if the youngster gets the better of defending champion Thomas.

 

WHAT ABOUT CHRIS FROOME?

Froome, the champion in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, was ruled out of the Tour following a shocking crash at the Criterium du Dauphine, which left the Briton in intensive care with a series of severe injuries including multiple fractures. The 34-year-old would undoubtedly have been among the favourites but he now faces a significant challenge just to compete at the highest level again.

Sports did not matter in the United States this week.

While there are always things more important than games going on where we watch to see grown men throw a ball or catch it, this week that truly hit home.

The NFL and MLB were hit with serious news off the field that made their games take a back seat.

 

1. NFL, MLB struck by tragedy

The first week of July in 2019 will always be remembered in football and baseball circles. That is because both leagues were hit by harsh tragedy and lives taken far too early.

Former New York Giants quarterback Jared Lorenzen and Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs died this week and games became secondary.

Lorenzen was admitted to hospital last week and looked to be getting better as time went along, but his family announced his sudden passing on Wednesday at the young age of 38.

Skaggs' death was far more shocking as he had just pitched last week and was found dead in his hotel room on Monday. He was 27.

Tributes poured for each man and Los Angeles cancelled their game against the Texas Rangers on Monday. This was simply a week which will always be known for lives taken too soon.

2. Free agent frenzy

While the untimely deaths of two professional athletes reverberated across USA, games were still played and free agents still signed in both the NHL and NBA.

The balance of power has shifted in both leagues as two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky signed with the Florida Panthers and one of the best wingers in the game in Artemi Panarin signed with the New York Rangers.

Those moves changed things in the NHL, but the NBA might have seen even more of a shift as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving both signed with the Brooklyn Nets, Jimmy Butler was reportedly traded to the Miami Heat and D'Angelo Russell moved to the Warriors. Golden State also signed Willie Cauley-Stein days after losing Durant.

Things are going to be different next year and the biggest domino in free agency has not even fallen yet. Kawhi Leonard remains unsigned.

3. Phil Kessel traded to Coyotes

While the Rangers getting Panarin is an absolutely huge move of a dynamic player, the move of Phil Kessel might be just as big.

The former Penguins winger was rumoured to be on the move all offseason and finally was sent off officially on Saturday as Pittsburgh traded him to the Arizona Coyotes.

Now, two teams that did not make the playoffs last year all of a sudden have an injection of talent which at least makes their divisions much more difficult.

It also makes the NHL even more interesting.

4. Ezekiel Elliott avoids suspension

It seems like every offseason, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is being discussed as getting a possible suspension, but he has at least avoided one this year as it was announced he would not be disciplined for an incident in Las Vegas in which he allegedly shoved a security guard and was handcuffed.

He met with the NFL to talk about the incident and came away without a suspension.

Elliott had shared a statement on Twitter, confirming the meeting and promising to work hard to ensure he stays out of trouble in the future.

"I need to work harder on myself to ensure I do not put myself in compromised situations in the future," Elliott wrote, in part. "I am rededicating myself to use all of the resources that the league has made available. But in the end, it is up to me and I am determined not to be in this position again."

Gianluigi Buffon is back at Juventus following a year away with Paris Saint-Germain, returning to the club where he established himself as a modern great.

He previously spent 17 years with the Old Lady before his brief spell at PSG, winning a host of titles and enjoying sustained excellence.

Such has been the 41-year-old's longevity, the former Parma prodigy has rubbed shoulders with the very best in world football throughout his time, forming part of World Cup, Ligue 1 and Serie A-winning sides.

With Buffon securing another big move, we have compiled a star-studded group of former team-mates for a dream XI.

GOALKEEPER: GIANLUIGI BUFFON

Who else has the pedigree to don the gloves in such a side?

A five-time member of the UEFA Team of the Year, he boasts more Serie A clean sheets than any other player and, as captain of his country from 2010 until November 2017, would have no trouble bringing this team together.

 

RIGHT-BACK: LILIAN THURAM

Having been joined by Buffon at Parma after his switch from Monaco in 1996, Thuram followed his team-mate in making the move to Turin ahead of the 2001-02 campaign.

The 142-time France international, part of the side that tasted glory at the 1998 World Cup on home soil and won Euro 2000, spent five seasons at Juve before rounding out his career with a spell at Barcelona.

 

CENTRE-BACK: FABIO CANNAVARO

Buffon's inheritance of the Italy armband from Cannavaro in 2010 completed the striking symmetry of their careers.

They both made their Parma debuts in 1995, did the same for Italy in 1997 and were reunited at club level when Cannavaro, one of few defenders to win the Ballon d'Or, joined Juve in 2004. They also lifted the Jules Rimet trophy together in 2006.

 

CENTRE-BACK: ALESSANDRO NESTA

A long-time rival at club level, Nesta was part of the famous Milan defence that beat Juve in the 2002-03 Champions League final – he scored his penalty against Buffon in a 3-2 shoot-out victory – and triumphed again four seasons later.

He was named in the Team of the Tournament at Euro 2000, which Buffon missed through injury, but the 2006 World Cup success will undoubtedly be the highlight of his career.

 

LEFT-BACK: PAOLO MALDINI

With admirable longevity, loyalty and leadership, classy defender Maldini set the path that Buffon has so impressively followed.

The long-time Rossoneri skipper, a seven-time Scudetto winner who also lifted the European Cup on five occasions, is the only player to have managed more Serie A appearances than the veteran Juve goalkeeper – though Buffon will likely surpass Maldini's 647 record next term as he is just seven matches behind.

CENTRAL MIDFIELD: ANDREA PIRLO

Has there been a more iconic duo of the modern era?

Pirlo was already at the top by the time he swapped Milan for Juve, but he saved plenty of his play-making brilliance for Buffon and friends as the Bianconeri re-asserted themselves as Italy's top club with a run of successive Scudetti. 

 

CENTRAL MIDFIELD: PAVEL NEDVED

Nedved's blend of athleticism, tenacity and well-rounded technical ability made him close to the complete midfielder.

He helped Czech Republic to the final of Euro 1996 and his value to Juve was summed up by a Ballon d'Or victory in 2003.

 

ATTACKING MIDFIELD: FRANCESCO TOTTI

Buffon said it would have been "ruining a masterpiece" to have kept out some of the goals the talismanic Totti scored against him for Roma.

They were certainly on the same page in the international arena, helping their country conquer the world in 2006.

 

ATTACKING MIDFIELD: ROBERTO BAGGIO

Less than two years after a 17-year-old Buffon held Baggio and Milan scoreless, the pair were sharing the same shirt for Italy.

Two of the Azzurri's greatest were in the same squad at the 1998 World Cup, remaining team-mates until Baggio retired in 2004.

ATTACKING MIDFIELD: ALESSANDRO DEL PIERO

He stands as an equal to Buffon in the pantheon of Juve luminaries.

Buffon and the artistic Del Piero combined to help the Bianconeri finish top of Serie A on five occasions, while they lined up for Italy together for over a decade and experienced the top prize of winning the World Cup together.

 

STRIKER: KYLIAN MBAPPE

Although David Trezeguet enjoyed 10 prolific seasons at the opposite end of the Juve team to Buffon, Mbappe gets the nod in attack for the remarkable nature of his 2018-19 campaign.

The France international scored an astonishing 33 Ligue 1 goals from 29 appearances and took the lead role after Neymar's injury, becoming the face of the team and a leader despite his tender age of 20. While Trezeguet was a fine player, Mbappe is on the trajectory to becoming an all-time great.

Gianluigi Buffon is extending his remarkable a career for at least another season after completing a stunning return to Juventus on a one-year contract.

Just as he did upon joining Paris Saint-Germain 12 months ago, the Italy legend has shelved thoughts of retirement and will once again intend on challenging for the number one shirt at a dominant domestic force.

It will be the Parma product's 25th season as a professional but, even with his World Cup and nine Serie A titles, the 41-year-old is not alone in at least one respect.

Here are seven  other football legends who, like Buffon, carried on playing into their fifth decade.


RYAN GIGGS

Wales manager Ryan Giggs was an ultimate one-club man, staying at Manchester United for the entirety of his glittering career. Giggs managed to slowly transform himself from a rapid, tricky winger into a cultured central midfielder in the latter years of his playing days, helping to extend his time on the pitch beyond 40. Giggs won an extraordinary haul of medals at Old Trafford, including 13 Premier League titles, four FA Cups and a pair of Champions League crowns. Giggs played in 632 Premier League games, scoring 109 goals, with only Gareth Barry topping his appearance tally. Giggs worked as Louis van Gaal's assistant at United, having taken charge on an interim basis following the sacking of David Moyes, and he will go down in history as both a club and football legend.

PAOLO MALDINI

Paolo Maldini was still going strong for AC Milan beyond his 40th birthday and, like Giggs, he only ever played for one club. Seven league titles and an incredible five European Cup/Champions League wins headline a litany of honours that Maldini helped marshal at San Siro, playing across their near impenetrable back four for almost 25 years. Maldini, son of another Milan legend, Cesare, is one of a select group of players who made over 1,000 appearances in all competitions during their career. To complete the journey, the former Italy man returned to the Rossoneri as technical director in June.

KAZUYOSHI MIURA

Kazuyoshi Miura is the only other man on this list, alongside Buffon, who is still playing. That the Japanese striker made his debut almost 10 years beforehand begins to tell part of his incredible tale. Known as King Kazu, Miura plays for Yokohama FC in Japan's second tier and signed a fresh deal in January to extend his career. The oldest player and goalscorer in the history of global professional football, Miura is regarded as one of the finest Asian players never to have featured at a World Cup, although he made 89 appearances for his country.

 

STANLEY MATTHEWS

Before Miura snatched them off him, Stanley Matthews held the record for both the oldest professional footballer and the oldest goalscorer in the game. Matthews - the Wizard of Dribble - made nearly 700 league appearances for Stoke City and Blackpool in a career that spanned three decades. The 1953 FA Cup final is regarded as the Matthews Final, even though Blackpool's Stan Mortensen scored a hat-trick. Matthews won the first-ever European Footballer of the Year award, while he was capped for England 84 times.

DINO ZOFF

Goalkeepers often play deep into their thirties, but not many captain their country to World Cup glory at the age of 40. But that is exactly what Dino Zoff did at the World Cup in 1982. He made 40 appearances in World Cup finals and qualifiers in total, while as a coach he led Italy to the final of Euro 2000. It must be something about Juventus, as Buffon's club is also where Zoff spent the best years of his career, winning six Serie A titles.

RIVALDO

Best known for his spell at Barcelona in club football, Brazil icon Rivaldo was still playing beyond his 40th birthday, albeit only briefly. Rivaldo came out of retirement to sign for Mogi Mirim, the club where his son Rivaldinho was also on the books. Rivaldo picked up two LaLiga titles at Barcelona before continuing his European adventure with AC Milan, winning the 2002–03 Champions League with the Rossoneri. But it is as a Brazil international that Rivaldo is best remembered, having been a key part of the side that won the World Cup in 2002.

 

ROGER MILLA

Roger Milla became the World Cup's oldest scorer when he hit the net for Cameroon in 1994 at the age of 42, having announced himself at the same tournament four years previously with his famous corner-flag dance. Milla's four goals at the 1990 World Cup helped Cameroon to reach the quarter-finals of the tournament and he is fondly regarded as one of Africa's greatest ever players. Remarkably, Milla regained the African Footballer of the Year title 14 years after he first won the award.

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