Cristiano Ronaldo's future has been widely discussed this off-season.

The 36-year-old five-time Ballon d'Or winner has only one more year on his existing Juventus contract.

Ronaldo has been linked with several suitors among Europe's elite clubs as well as a switch to MLS after Juve failed to win the 2020-21 Serie A title.

 

TOP STORY - RONALDO SET TO EXTEND JUVE STAY

Cristiano Ronaldo is set to remain with Juventus amid talk of a new cut-price deal, reports Gazzetta dello Sport.

The Portugal international has attracted interest from Paris Saint-Germain and former club Manchester United this off-season.

However, Ronaldo is close to extending his Juve stay with a fresh one-year contract, taking a pay cut.

 

ROUND-UP

– Manchester City are determined to sign Aston Villa's Jack Grealish, according to The Athletic, although the Birmingham Mail claims the England winger is expected to sign a new deal at Villa Park.

– The Sun reports Inter are ramping up their bid to sign Arsenal full-back Hector Bellerin on a one-year loan deal with the option of a permanent switch.

– Real Madrid have not received any offers for Gareth Bale, who is expected to remain in the Spanish capital for another season, according to Mundo Deportivo.

– Goal claims Juventus have had their initial €30million offer for Manuel Locatelli rejected by Sassuolo, who have a higher price in mind.

Arsenal are set to land Brighton's Ben White, having agreed to a deal in principle, worth around £50m, reports The Athletic.

Gareth Bale put talk of international retirement to bed following Wales' Euro 2020 exit, saying he will play for his country until his professional career comes to an end.

Bale had previously said he would make a decision on his international future after the delayed tournament but walked out of a BBC interview when asked if he had played his last game for Wales following their 4-0 last-16 loss to Denmark in Amsterdam on Saturday.

However, speaking to S4C, he made it clear he will not be calling time on his Wales career.

"I want to continue to play. People ask stupid questions all the time, but obviously I love playing for Wales," said Bale.

"I'll play for Wales until the day that I stop playing football.

"We've just started the World Cup campaign, and we need to take this experience into that.

"I feel like we have a very good way of playing when we play well and we need to keep that confidence high, keep playing football and I think we can qualify for the next World Cup."

Wales are third in Group E of UEFA qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar having taken three points from their opening two games. Belgium are top with seven points with Czech Republic in what would be a play-off spot in second.

They return to action with a qualifier in Belarus on September 5 but before then Bale will likely seek to clarify his club future.

He spent last season on loan at Tottenham, who are still without a permanent replacement for former manager Jose Mourinho, but is due to return to Real Madrid, where his contract expires at the end of the 2021-22 campaign.

Bale fell out of favour with Zinedine Zidane but it remains to be seen whether he will have a chance to revive his Madrid career under Carlo Ancelotti, who returned for a second spell at the club this month having delivered a long-awaited 10th Champions League crown for Los Blancos back in 2014 in his first stint. 

On target in the 4-1 win over Atletico Madrid in the 2014 final, Bale has since won a further three Champions League titles under Zidane with Madrid.

Gareth Bale refused to answer questions over his future after Wales crashed out of Euro 2020 with a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Denmark.

Kasper Dolberg scored twice before late goals from Joakim Maehle and Martin Braithwaite sent Denmark into the quarter-finals with an emphatic win in Amsterdam.

It brought up the first time Wales have lost successive matches at a major tournament – after their defeat to Italy in the group stage – with Robert Page's team also having Harry Wilson sent off late on.

Indeed, Wales were on the receiving end of a result which saw Denmark become the first team to score four or more goals in consecutive matches in European Championship history.

After a bright start in which he went close with a long-range strike, one of three attempts he managed in total, Bale was a peripheral figure following a clever tactical tweak from Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand, whose team will face either the Netherlands or the Czech Republic in Baku next Saturday.

The 31-year-old – who is due to return to Real Madrid after spending 2020-21 on loan at Tottenham – said before the tournament that he had made a decision on his future, though he would not reveal it until Wales' campaign was over.

 

However, asked to expand on that in a pitch-side interview on BBC Sport following Wales' defeat, Bale walked immediately out of shot.

Prior to the refusal to discuss his next move, both domestically and internationally, Wales' record goalscorer said: "Of course, not how we wanted the game to go.

"We started very well the first 25 minutes. Conceded a goal and the game changed a little bit. We came out in the second half trying to play but unfortunately made a mistake to concede the goal which I guess killed the momentum on our side.

"To finish the game how we did was disappointing. The boys are frustrated and angry but I’d rather us go out like that kicking and screaming than laying off and doing nothing.

"Of course we missed an opportunity but one thing we can't fault is the effort, that's the minimum requirement of this group."

Wales were furious when Denmark's second goal was allowed to stand despite what seemed to be a foul on Kieffer Moore in the build-up.

"If you play the ball through the back of someone it's a foul," Bale added.

"I thought like the referee was being influenced by a lot of supporters here but I guess it is what it is, there's no point making excuses now. It's disappointing, that's all I can say."

Gareth Bale is "one of the great players in Europe" according to Florentino Perez, but the Real Madrid president did not offer any assurances on the Wales international's future.

Bale fell out of favour with Zinedine Zidane at Madrid and spent last season on loan in the Premier League with former club Tottenham.

Zidane's second departure as head coach paved the way for a return to the Santiago Bernabeu for Carlo Ancelotti, who was in charge during Bale's maiden season in the Spanish capital in 2013-14 that culminated in Madrid's 10th Champions League crown.

In an interview with El Transistor on Onda Cero, Perez referenced Bale scoring a key goal during extra time of that final triumph over Atletico Madrid, along with his similarly decisive contributions in the 2014 Copa del Rey final against Barcelona and 2018 Champions League final win over Liverpool.

Although he was not always first choice for ex-Spurs boss Jose Mourinho last season, Bale scored 16 times in 19 starts and 34 appearances overall.

Of Premier League players to score 15 goals or more in all competitions during 2020-21, none did so at a better rate than Bale's one every 104.4 minutes. Leicester City's Kelechi Iheanacho was the next most efficient in that regard, with 19 goals at one every 118.8 minutes.

Overall, Bale has 105 goals in 251 appearances for Madrid.

"He's a great player. The way I see him, he is one of the great players in Europe," Perez said of Bale, who has impressed on Wales' run to the last 16 of Euro 2020 and has a contract at Madrid running until June 2022.

"Each one is as he is and has his personality. The last thing I remember from him is in Kiev [against Liverpool]. He throws a scissors [overhead kick] and scores a goal. And then he scores another.

"And the header in Lisbon [against Atletico Madrid]. That race against Barcelona in Valencia in the Copa del Rey.

"Would I would like him to stay? I love all [the Madrid players]."

 

The most notable outgoing at Madrid this close season, arguably more so than Zidane, is long-serving captain Sergio Ramos.

The veteran defender bade a tearful farewell to the club last week and has claimed he did not want to leave Madrid, only to be told a contract offer that was on the table for him had expired.

"I have adoration for Sergio and I am not going to talk about it. He has been a Real Madrid legend," Perez said.

"We offered him a contract, we told him that he had a deadline and he did not admit it. He thought otherwise."

Perez added that there would be a role for Ramos at Madrid when the 35-year-old's playing days conclude, if he so desires.

"I love Sergio as a son. I bought him in 2005. Of course, I'm sorry," Perez said.

"He will return, this is his house. It has happened to me with other players. I love him as if he were my son and I wish him the best.

"I am not going to talk here about who is right and who is not. There are no nuances."

Italy's squad are well aware of the different task they will face in the Euro 2020 knockout stages, so says Roberto Mancini.

The Azzurri maintained their perfect start to the tournament with a 1-0 win over Wales in Rome on Sunday – Matteo Pessina's first-half goal proving the difference, while the visitors also had Ethan Ampadu sent off.

Italy are now unbeaten in 30 matches in all competitions (W25 D5) since losing against Portugal in September 2018, equalling the longest unbeaten run in their history, which was set between 1935 and 1939.

Mancini's team have won their past 11 games and kept a clean sheet in each match, only going on a longer run once before in their history – 12 games without conceding between 1972 and 1974.

With top spot in Group A sealed, Italy will face either Ukraine or Austria at Wembley in the last 16 on Saturday, and look well placed for a deep run in the competition.

However, Mancini knows complacency cannot set in.

With his suit jacket held casually over his shoulder, Mancini told ITV Sport: "We are happy but we know that after the group stage we start a new European Championship. Now it will be different.

"The guys are very clever. They wanted to win every game, they have a good mentality. I am very happy also for this reason because we changed eight players and played a very good game.

"It is always difficult, I think we played against a good team. Wales are a good team, but it was a deserved win."

Italy had 23 attempts, with six hitting the target – Danny Ward pulling off some fine stops late on to help ensure Wales claimed second place in the group on goal difference.

Gareth Bale missed a golden chance to equalise, but it did not prove costly, and Aaron Ramsey was thrilled to have secured a last-16 berth.

"It was tough, for long periods of that game. We were up against a great team, to go 30 games unbeaten is some achievement, so fair play," the Juventus midfielder told ITV Sport.

"Again, we showed great character This team, you can never question our character. We always give absolutely everything out there.

"We dug in for Ethan, we feel sorry for him, but we had each other's backs out there and finished the job.

"We have a lot of attacking threat, keep games really tight and work hard for each other, so we have a good balance.

"In the first half, we showed glimpses of what we can do against good opposition, kept the ball well, created a couple of opportunities. We just need to be consistent throughout the game in doing that because we have the quality to do it.

"It's just about having the belief to go out there and do that, but we're through in second place, so we're delighted."

Bale added: "We knew it was going to be a very difficult game from the start, a lot of defending, a lot of running, very tight. But I'm proud of the boys, we wanted to try and get a result but it made no difference, we've finished second anyway.

"We have to just recover again now, we've got a bit of a break. Five days to patch everyone up and get going again."

Wales will face whichever team finishes second in Group B in Amsterdam on Saturday.

Italy will aim to equal their all-time unbeaten record of 30 matches and finish top of Euro 2020 Group A when they face Wales at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday.

The Azzurri have won their opening two matches by the same 3-0 scoreline against Turkey and Switzerland, making it 10 wins in a row in all competitions without conceding.

Roberto Mancini's side are already assured of a place in the last 16, but they require a point against second-placed Wales to make certain of top spot.

However, victory will be the target for Italy on home soil as they look to match their previous record for games without defeat, set between November 1935 and July 1939.

Mancini has indicated he will rotate his side with the knockout stages in mind, but experienced defender Giorgio Chiellini has warned Italy cannot take Wales lightly.

 

"They are a great team," said Chiellini, who is not expected to play any part in the match. "Wales have been playing together for many years and we know them well. 

"There have been many small changes but never revolutions, so they are tough opponents."

Wales are practically through to the last 16 after drawing with Switzerland and beating Turkey in their two games, but need a point in the Italian capital to seal the deal.

The Euro 2016 semi-finalists do not have the best of records against Italy, though, losing seven of their previous nine meetings and failing to score in three attempts on Italian soul.

But winger Daniel James is relishing the chance to end Italy's long-running unbeaten run, which spans back to September 2018.

"Italy are a great team, but we have to go in believing we can win. We will do our analysis, and we will go there with our heads held high," he said.

"They've had a great run going into this tournament, but we want to win every game and we fully believe that we can do that."


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Italy – Marco Verratti

Verratti was not even named in Italy's squad for their opening two games as he continues to recover from an injury sustained with Paris Saint-Germain, but Mancini has hinted he will play a part on Sunday.

Manuel Locatelli has starred in Verratti's absence, becoming the third youngest Italy player to score a brace at a major tournament with his double against Switzerland.

But PSG midfielder Verratti has been one of the key men in Italy's remarkable turnaround after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and Mancini will be eager to get him back to full fitness.

Wales – Gareth Bale

Gareth Bale skied a penalty in Wales' 2-0 win against Turkey, becoming the first player to miss the goal frame entirely with a spot-kick at the Euros since Raul for Spain against France in 2000.

The Real Madrid forward more than made amends for that, however, by assisting goals for Aaron Ramsey and Connor Roberts in a well-earned win for the Dragons.

He created five big chances across the 90 minutes in Baku – the most by a player at the Euros since such records were recorded in 1980.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Italy and Wales' latest encounter was 18 years ago, in a European Championship qualifier back in September 2003. On that day, Filippo Inzaghi scored his one and only hat-trick with the Italian national team (4-0).

- Wales have made it out of the group stages in their previous two appearances at a major tournament (1958 World Cup, Euro 2016). If they avoid defeat in this game, they are guaranteed a spot in the knockout stages.

- Italy are looking to win all three of their group-stage matches for the fourth time at a major tournament, previously doing so at the 1978 and 1990 World Cups, and at Euro 2000.

- The Azzurri have gone 965 minutes without conceding, scoring 31 goals without reply in that run.

- If he keeps a clean sheet, Italy keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma would be the youngest keeper to earn shutouts in three consecutive games at the Euros (22y 115d on the day of the game).

Roberto Mancini's Italy side scored three goals once again as they stormed into the last 16 of Euro 2020 with a 3-0 rout of Switzerland.

Italy leapfrogged Wales to the top of Group A, with Robert Page's team having beat Turkey earlier on Wednesday to give themselves a great chance of making the knockout stages.

Gareth Bale was heavily involved, teeing up both of Wales' goals either side of missing a penalty.

Elsewhere, Russia beat Finland 1-0 in Saint Petersburg to inject life into their hopes in Group B.

Italy 3-0 Switzerland: Mancini's Azzurri in rampant form

It is now 10 wins on the bounce for Italy, with 10 clean sheets to boot, and Mancini is just one game away from matching the all-time Azzurri record of 30 games unbeaten, set by Vittorio Pozzo in the 1930s.

Remarkably, Italy had never scored three goals in a Euros match before their win over Turkey on Friday. Their successive 3-0 victories make them only the second side in European Championship history to open their tournament with consecutive wins by a three-goal margin, after the Netherlands in 2008 (3-0 v Italy, 4-1 v France).

Manuel Locatelli's double – his first for club or country – put the hosts in control at Stadio Olimpico. Only Giacomo Bulgarelli (v Switzerland in 1962) and Mario Balotelli (v Germany in 2012) have scored a brace for Italy at a major tournament at a younger age than the Sassuolo midfielder (23 years, 159 days).

Ciro Immobile rounded the win off late on with his second goal of the tournament. 

The Lazio star is the first player to score in Italy's opening two games of a major tournament since Christian Vieri at the 2002 World Cup.

Turkey 0-2 Wales: Bale spares his own blushes

Excluding penalty shootouts, Bale became the first player to miss the goal frame entirely with a penalty at the Euros since Raul did so for Spain against France at the 2000 tournament when the Wales captain blazed over from 12 yards midway through the second half in Baku.

Bale had previously set up Aaron Ramsey for Wales' opener in a frantic Group A clash, playing a fantastic pass over Turkey's defence – one of four chances the duo created for each other.

The 31-year-old, who created five chances in total, the record in a Euros game since at least 1980, atoned for his miss in style, charging in from a stoppage-time corner to tee up Connor Roberts to settle the contest and put Wales well in with a shout of a last-16 place.

Only world champions France (six) have won more games across Euro 2016 and Euro 2020 than Wales, who have now triumphed in five of their eight matches in the competition, boasting the highest winning percentage of all sides to have played at any European Championships (63).

Wales remain unbeaten in their six matches across all competitions in Baku (W4 D2), keeping clean sheets in each victory, while no side has suffered more defeats in the group stages of the competition than Turkey (nine, level with Russia).

Finland 0-1 Russia: Miranchuk ends goal drought 

Aleksey Miranchuk scored his first goal for Russia since November 2019 – a run of nine appearances – to secure the three points against Finland in Wednesday's early game.

The win keeps Russia's chances of qualifying for the knockout stages alive, and a Denmark victory over Belgium on Thursday would throw Group B wide open.

It was Russia's first win at the Euros since they beat the Czech Republic in 2012 (4-1) – ending a six-match winless run in the competition.

Miranchuk's goal, timed at 46:21, came after the longest wait for a shot on target in a game at Euro 2020 so far.

Since 1980, only Sweden at Euro 2016 (0) have managed fewer shots on target in their opening two games of a single European Championships tournament than Finland (two).

Aaron Ramsey quipped that he might get back on penalty duty for Wales after Gareth Bale's miss in the 2-0 win over Turkey.

Wales put themselves onto the verge of the last 16 at Euro 2020 thanks to goals from Ramsey and Connor Roberts in Baku on Wednesday.

Bale set up both goals and turned in a supreme performance overall, crafting a game-high five chances (a Euro record in a single game since at least 1980) and having five attempts himself – in total, there were 34 efforts throughout the match, the most of any game in the tournament so far.

However, the Wales captain did have some making up to do after his 61st-minute spot-kick woe, with Bale slicing his attempt way over.

Indeed, he became the first player to miss the goal frame entirely with a penalty at the Euros since Raul did so for Spain against France in 2000.

Asked for his thoughts on the miss, Ramsey jokingly told BBC Sport: "He's tried to wobble it into the top bins. Maybe I'll get back on them now!"

"It was a big moment but we didn't really panic, we stuck at it, we dug in and we left everything out there," the Juventus midfielder then reflected.

"That's what we've built our success on over the last few years, is really working hard for each other, and we showed that tonight."

Bale, meanwhile, took the miss in his stride, saying: "Yes, I missed the penalty but thought I showed good character to help the team, we needed that victory more than anything and to get a second goal at the end was the icing on the cake."

Though his composure from the spot was found wanting, Bale was excellent, with his link-up play with Ramsey a joy to watch at times.

They created a total of four chances for one another against Turkey, the most of any duo in a single game at Euro 2020, while at Euro 2016, the most by any pair in a single game was also Bale and Ramsey (six in a group match against Russia).

Bale played in Ramsey twice in the opening stages, but the former Arsenal man, who tallied up a non-penalty expected goals (xG) figure of 1.64, failed to find the net until the third such opportunity.

"He [Ramsey] got in a few times, we've always linked up well since our early days," Bale explained.

A raking, pinpoint pass from Bale allowed Ramsey to beat Turkey's offside trap and, after taking the ball down expertly on his chest, he finished it off coolly.

"It was a relief," Ramsey acknowledged. "I had two opportunities before that to score.

"The first half was superb, to a man. We created so many opportunities and really dominated the play. Second half we showed character, dug in, and I thought we thoroughly deserved the win in the end."

Only France (six) have won more matches across the last two European Championship finals combined than Wales (five), and Robert Page's team sit on four points from their first two Group A games.

Third place is the lowest they can finish, and a spot in the last 16 looks well within reach given the four best third-placed sides progress.

"We've given ourselves a brilliant opportunity now, we've still got a game to go, that was a really good point against Switzerland and it gave us the platform to go on and get the win," added Ramsey, who is also looking forward to a return to Italy, where he plies his trade domestically. 

"It'll be nice [going to Italy]. I've got a few team-mates playing for the national team, so that'll be nice, but I'm representing my country and want to do everything to win that game as well. It'll be a good battle!"

Wales are on the brink of the Euro 2020 knockout stages after Gareth Bale set up two goals, either side of a dismal penalty miss, to help Robert Page's team to a 2-0 win over Turkey.

Bale, who provided a sublime assist for Aaron Ramsey to break the deadlock after 42 minutes in Baku, sliced way over from 12 yards with just over an hour played, wasting the chance to put Wales clear.

Yet the Euro 2016 semi-finalists overcame the setback, holding their nerve in defence before Bale atoned with another fantastic assist, this time for Connor Roberts to score with the last kick of the game.

It took Wales, temporarily at least, top of Group A, and with the four best third-placed teams progressing into the last 16, they look well placed to make the knockouts.

Ramsey's first chance came in the sixth minute, the Juventus midfielder electing to shoot rather than square to the unmarked Kieffer Moore, with Ugurcan Cakir pulling off a fine save at his near post. 

Having been found brilliantly by Bale, Ramsey squandered another golden opportunity in the 24th minute, blazing over when one-on-one with Cakir. 

Yet amid mounting Turkey pressure, it proved third time lucky for Ramsey. Bale was the architect with another sensational pass over the defence which the former Arsenal man controlled with his chest before slotting into the bottom-left corner. 

Bale would have gone from provider to scorer had a venomous effort had enough dip to drop under the crossbar, though Wales should have been pegged back moments later. 

A corner was flicked onto Burak Yilmaz, whose acrobatic attempt flashed over from close range. 

Turkey should have been made to pay, but Bale – having drawn a clumsy tackle from Zeki Celik – sent his spot-kick soaring over. 

Danny Ward made a stunning save to deny Merih Demiral and Wales made it count – Bale driving in from a last-minute corner to tee up Roberts, who prodded home to put the last 16 firmly within reach.

Gareth Bale is hopeful Wales can use their hard-fought 1-1 draw against Switzerland in their opening Euro 2020 match as a springboard to push on.

Kieffer Moore headed in 16 minutes from time to cancel out Breel Embolo's opener in Saturday's Group A clash at the Baku Olympic Stadium.

Switzerland managed double the number of shots than Wales and had a Mario Gavranovic goal ruled out by VAR late on, but Moore rescued the Dragons a potentially huge point.

Wales have now lost just one of their last 14 competitive games – against Belgium in March – and Bale is pleased with his side's attitude to battle back in the blistering Baku heat.

"Both teams tried to play. It was a little bit tense, but it's not a bad result and we take the positives," Bale told BBC Sport. "We wanted to win the game and had chances, but so did they.  

"When you go 1-0 down and you can crumble but we showed a lot of grit and character like always and we showed our class to fight back and get the goal.

"We worked very hard. It's hard in this heat. I'm proud of the boys. After the match we said we need to use this as a springboard.

"We now need to recover and move onto the next game."

That next game for Wales is once again in Baku against Turkey, who were beaten 3-0 against heavyweights Italy on Friday in the opening match of the tournament.

Like captain Bale, Wales' caretaker boss Rob Page believes his side can take confidence from the point gained against Switzerland.

"We wanted a positive start and it feels like a win in the changing room. We had to dig deep at the end and we had a bit of Lady Luck," he told BBC Sport.

"Turkey are a different opposition to what we've faced today, but we will have to be solid and well organised again.

"Italy have quality in abundance and we respect Turkey too. It's all about focusing on that now and we will be preparing for that test now.

"That's the foundations. If we need to dig in we will but we've proved we can play."

Moore's goal was his sixth for Wales in 18 appearances, four of those being scored with his head.

Page recalled the Cardiff City striker to his starting line-up in a big tactical decision that ultimately paid dividends.

"Kieffer has been terrific at international and club level," added Page.

"He's got a great touch and his link-up play is great. He's got all his attributes for a centre-forward and has given us the rewards today."

Switzerland are now unbeaten in their last six European Championship games in normal time, but Vladimir Petkovic's men had enough chances to pick up all three points against Wales.

Goalscorer Embolo, whose six shots was the most ever attempted by a Switzerland player in a single European Championship match, admits the draw is a disappointing result.

"I feel a bit of frustration as we had the chances for the second goal but didn't take them," he said.

"Perhaps we were too passive after the first goal. We deserved the win, but it turned out to be a draw and that's a pity.

"But we have to take the positives, rest up, focus on the next game and bring the good things from this match into the next one."

Gareth Bale accepts there will inevitably be pressure on Wales to perform when they get their Euro 2020 campaign underway against Switzerland.

Wales were beaten 2-0 by eventual winners Portugal after a stirring campaign in 2016 in which they came top of their group and defeated Belgium 3-1 in the quarter-finals. Indeed, they were the first tournament debutants to reach the semi-finals since Sweden in 1992.

Bale is one of eight survivors from that squad to make Robert Page's selection, who begin a challenging Group A against Switzerland in Baku before facing Turkey and Italy.

Wales reached the quarter-finals in each of their previous two major tournaments, the other being the 1958 World Cup, but hopes are not quite as high for a side who averaged only 1.25 goals per game in qualifying, the joint-lowest among the 24 finalists alongside North Macedonia.

They are also facing a Switzerland side who reached the last 16 of the previous Euros and the 2018 World Cup, and who are on a five-game unbeaten run at this tournament (they were knocked out last time by Poland on penalties).

Still, Bale – Wales' all-time top scorer with 33 goals, who finished the Premier League season with a competition-high rate of a goal every 84 minutes – does not appear overburdened by any extra pressure to perform.

"It's similar [to Euro 2016] coming into the tournament," he said. "On the back of 2016 there should be expectations, but it's a different team and a different tournament.

"We know it's a difficult group to get out of. They are all difficult teams to play against, but we've got to take one game at a time.

"We are very excited to be here and one day away. I feel fine and ready to give 100 per cent for my country, as I always do."

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Wales – Dan James

Bale and Aaron Ramsey remain the star names for Wales, just as they were five years ago in that famous run to the final four, but Manchester United winger James offers a little more of the unknown at this level. While he only started 11 Premier League games last season, the 23-year-old created three chances and provided a fine assist for Anthony Elanga against Wolves on the final day, all from the wide-left position he tends to adopt for his country.

James also scored Wales' most recent goal, securing a 1-0 win over the Czech Republic in World Cup qualifying in March.

Switzerland – Xherdan Shaqiri

Unhappy with his playing time at Liverpool, the Euros represent a good chance for Shaqiri either to convince Jurgen Klopp of his worth or to secure a transfer elsewhere.

With five goals and two assists, Shaqiri has been directly involved in 47 per cent of Switzerland's goals at major tournaments since the 2014 World Cup and is just nine caps short of becoming the fifth player to win 100 for the Nati. Born in Gjilan to Kosovar Albanian parents, the 29-year-old is the beating heart of a polyglot squad of great ethnic diversity, and one then befits a tournament being staged right across the continent.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- This is the first meeting between Wales and Switzerland at a major tournament (World Cup and European Championship). In all competitions including friendlies, Switzerland have won five of their seven encounters (L2) but their last meeting in October 2011 ended in a Wales victory (2-0 at Swansea's Liberty Stadium in Euro 2012 qualfying). 
- Switzerland have scored more than one goal in only one of their 13 games at the European Championship, a 2-0 win on home soil against Portugal in the 2008 group stages.
- Gareth Bale has scored in each of his two previous appearances against Switzerland (two goals in two games).
- Aaron Ramsey was directly involved in 50 per cent of Wales' goals in their last major tournament at Euro 2016, scoring one and assisting a further four.
- Vladimir Petkovic – in charge since August 2014 – is only the second coach to lead Switzerland at three consecutive major tournaments, after Kobi Kuhn (Euro 2004, World Cup 2006, Euro 2008).

Euro 2020 is just days away, and that means the rumour mill is about to go into overdrive.

International tournaments always represent something of a showcase for clubs seeking reinforcements and this year will be no different, even if the impact of the pandemic means spending may not quite reach levels of old.

There will be several players eager to impress at these finals: some will be long-term targets out to justify the hype, while others will be seeking a new challenge as contracts begin to wind down.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform has compiled a list of some of the candidates vying to be front and centre of this particular shop window...

 

Belgium: Jeremy Doku

One of Belgium's less-known attacking stars, Jeremy Doku was directly involved in 10 goals in the Jupiler League by the time he was 18 years and 115 days old, a record bettered only by Romelu Lukaku.

Previously wanted by Liverpool, the Rennes forward could become a target for Jurgen Klopp – thought to be exploring new attacking options – should he be given the chance to impress by Roberto Martinez.

Croatia: Bruno Petkovic

"Bruno Petkovic has to be at Euro 2020 what [Mario] Mandzukic was in Russia," said Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic last month. No pressure, then.

Still, the Dinamo Zagreb forward impressed in last season's Europa League with four goals in nine starts and could represent a relatively low-cost option in the market.

England: Jadon Sancho

The star performer as Borussia Dortmund won the DFB-Pokal final, Jadon Sancho was the first English player since David Beckham 20 years ago to register at least 10 assists for three seasons in a row in Europe's top-five leagues.

Manchester United continue to be mooted as the winger's most likely destination should he leave Dortmund, but a star turn at the Euros could trigger a bidding war among some of the biggest clubs.

France: Jules Kounde

Getting into the France starting line-up is no easy task these days, but Jules Kounde could well force Didier Deschamps' hand given the qualities he brings to centre-back.

An accomplished stopper, the Sevilla man is also impeccable on the ball: he made 887 forward passes in LaLiga last season, the most of any outfield player. Little wonder that Barcelona, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have all been linked.

Germany: Florian Neuhaus

Given he has been linked with Bayern Munich for months now, Florian Neuhaus must be doing something right.

The 108th Germany debutant under Joachim Low, the Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder could well find himself in high demand in the transfer window should he earn a regular spot at the Euros.

Italy: Manuel Locatelli

The heartbeat of a vibrant Sassuolo side, Manuel Locatelli in January became the first Italian player born after January 1, 1998 to record 10 Serie A assists.

Juventus are considered his likely next destination, but there are reports of interest from the Premier League, which would likely only increase in number should he shine at the Euros.

Netherlands: Memphis Depay

It appears likely Memphis Depay will leave Lyon for Barcelona on a free transfer, but, as long as that deal is not concluded, other clubs may sense the chance to snap up the forward.

Depay just became the first Lyon player to register at least 20 goals and 10 assists in a single Ligue 1 season since at least 2006-07 and looks like one of the Oranje's form players.

Poland: Kacper Kozlowski

At just 17, Kacper Kozlowski has established himself in the Pogon Szczecin first team, something made all-the-more remarkable given he was badly injured in a car crash in January 2020.

Although a name not well known outside Poland, the midfielder has been scouted by Manchester United and interest across the continent could well pick up after this tournament.

 

Portugal: Nuno Mendes

Considered one of Portugal's brightest prospects, Nuno Mendes has already been linked with the Manchester clubs after shining for Sporting CP.

Interest in the 18-year-old is only likely to increase should he perform well at the Euros, especially if he ousts Raphael Guerreiro from the side, and Sporting would surely be prepared to sell for a handsome fee.

 

Russia: Denis Cheryshev

Zero goas in 21 games for Valencia in LaLiga last season underlined a frustrating spell for Denis Cheryshev at club level.

The 30-year-old was Russia's star performer at the World Cup three years ago, though, and the Euros offer a good chance to tempt any possible suitors as he considers his future.

Spain: Pau Torres

Pau Torres was at the heart of Villarreal's Europa League triumph. In fact, he made nine appearances without being dribbled past, a single-season tally only bettered twice in the competition's history.

The centre-back has made it clear he is happy at the club, but strong performances for Spain could tempt suitors including Manchester United to test Villarreal's resolve to keep him.

Sweden: Alexander Isak

Linked with Barcelona during the season, Real Sociedad's Alexander Isak broke Zlatan Ibrahimovic's record for most goals by a Swede in a single LaLiga campaign by scoring 17 in 2020-21.

With Ibrahimovic missing these finals due to injury, 21-year-old Isak has a good opportunity to impress on the international stage.

Switzerland: Denis Zakaria

With his contract expiring next year, Denis Zakaria could be a more affordable midfield signing for any clubs willing to tempt Borussia Monchengladbach into a sale.

The 24-year-old offers great variety to the Switzerland midfield and English sides are expected to be watching him closely at these finals.

Ukraine: Ruslan Malinovskiy

Ruslan Malinovskiy is another Atalanta player to catch the eye under Gian Piero Gasperini. He was directly involved in a goal every 94 minutes in Serie A in 2020-21, the most of any midfielder to play at least 15 times.

Now 28, this could be his best chance to secure a significant transfer should he decide to leave Bergamo, and there have been rumblings of interest from Chelsea.

Wales: Gareth Bale

With 11 goals in 10 Premier League starts in 2020-21, Gareth Bale registered the best minutes-per-goal ratio (84) of any of the competition's top goalscorers.

He is returning to Real Madrid following his loan at Tottenham and Carlo Ancelotti appears keen to keep him, but heroics for Wales could encourage suitors to bid.

Is Aymeric Laporte's future away from Manchester City?

Laporte hit the ground running in Manchester, but Pep Guardiola has since preferred John Stones and Ruben Dias.

Real Madrid and Barcelona are reportedly willing to pounce.

 

TOP STORY – LAPORTE HEADED FOR SPAIN RETURN?

LaLiga pair Real Madrid and Barcelona are tracking Manchester City defender Aymeric Laporte , according to Caught Offside.

Laporte left Spanish outfit Athletic Bilbao for City in 2018 but the newly capped Spain international slipped down the pecking order during the 2020-21 campaign.

As City reportedly prepare a new long-term contract for John Stones , who has been preferred alongside Ruben Dias, Madrid and Barca are waiting in the wings.

 

ROUND-UP

-  Tottenham have abandoned their plans to appoint former Inter boss Antonio Conte , reports Sky Italy. Spurs and Conte were in negotiations and while ex-Juventus sporting director Fabio Paratici is poised to join the Premier League side, Conte will not reunite with his Italian compatriot. Tottenham were initially linked with former manager Mauricio Pochettino , who is currently in charge of Paris Saint-Germain. Amid ongoing speculation, Le10 Sport claims a sensational deal to bring Pochettino back to London could go ahead.

- PSG  are trying to hijack Barcelona 's move for Georginio Wijnaldum , says ESPN. Wijnaldum is available on a free transfer following the expiration of his Liverpool contract and he has been tipped to make the switch to Camp Nou.

- Mundo Deportivo reports Valencia captain Jose Luis Gaya is the on the radar for Barca , who are eyeing a new left-back.

- Gazzetto dello Sport reports  Juventus  are interested in Fiorentina defender  Nikola Milenkovic . Fiorentina could be willing to sell the Serbia international, who is out of contract in 2022. Milenkovic has previously been linked with  Tottenham Manchester United  and  West Ham Milan  could also make a move if they fail to tie up a permanent deal for Chelsea's  Fikayo Tomori .

Dusan Vlahovic  of Fiorentina, Marseille's  Arkadiusz Milik and Sassuolo's Gianluca Scamacca  are among the possible new forward signings for  Milan , says Gazzetta dello Sport. Chelsea veteran Olivier Giroud has been strongly linked with Milan.

- Marca claims  Gareth Bale  is leaning towards retirement after Euro 2020. Bale is set to return to Real Madrid following his loan spell at Tottenham.

- New Inter boss  Simone Inzaghi  wants to keep  Alexis Sanchez , per Calciomercato. As Inter look to cut costs, Sanchez has been linked with  Roma Romelu Lukaku Lautaro Martinez  and  Alessandro Bastoni  and their futures have also been questioned due to the club's financial issues.

Gareth Bale has backed Carlo Ancelotti to be "amazing" in his second spell in charge at Real Madrid, though the Wales international has reiterated he will not reveal his own future until after Euro 2020.

Ancelotti has returned to the Santiago Bernabeu to replace Zinedine Zidane, leaving Everton to undertake a second spell at a club where he previously spent two years in charge.

Bale was in the squad that won the Champions League under the Italian in 2014, scoring Madrid's second goal as they defeated Atletico Madrid 4-1 in the final to secure 'La Decima'.

However, the forward fell out of favour under Zidane and spent the 2020-21 season back on loan at Tottenham, scoring 16 goals in 34 appearances in all competitions.

It remains unclear if he has a future with Los Blancos, though, even with a familiar face now back in charge.

"He's returned to Real Madrid and he's a great guy," Bale said about Ancelotti in an interview with Sky Sports.

"We had a great time together at Real Madrid and I'm sure he's going to be amazing in charge there.

"I spoke to him when we played Everton at the start of the season, we hugged and had a little chat which was nice.

"But I'm still in the same boat and haven't thought about it too much. I'm concentrated on our preparation now and what's going to happen in the Euros. I'll sort the rest of it after."

Wales take on Albania in a friendly on Saturday before beginning their Euro 2020 campaign against Switzerland on June 16. They also have group games against Turkey and Italy, too.

After scoring twice on the final day of the Premier League season in a 4-2 win at Leicester City, Bale said he already knew what was in store for next season but did not want to cause "chaos" by making an announcement.

"It will have to happen after the Euros. I know what I'm doing but it'll just cause chaos if I say anything," he told Sky Sports after the game at the King Power Stadium.

Spurs are still looking to appoint a new head coach, with former Chelsea boss Antonio Conte - who left Inter after winning the Serie A title - strongly linked with the vacancy.

The year-long delay to Euro 2020 has shifted the narrative for a host of stars, and meant the long wait for a return to the big stage has been extended for others.

Now, though, Europe's elite are set to battle it out as Portugal defend the title they won in France five years ago.

Some players enter the competition in great form and with little baggage, but for others this month-long tournament is a chance to make a big splash, or live up to long-held expectations.

Here, Stats Perform looks at two famous footballing nations, four big-name stars and a coach who bows out of his current job and may have designs on his next assignment.

Gareth Bale: Finished or a new beginning?

The wing wizard can do little wrong in the eyes of Wales and Tottenham supporters, and perhaps now there is a glimmer of hope for his Real Madrid career.

At the end of a season-long loan at Spurs, it seemed likely Bale would head back to Madrid and spend the final year of his contract largely on the sidelines. His future looked to be one of training, playing the odd Copa del Rey game and making fleeting LaLiga appearances, and spending his happiest hours on the region's best golf courses.

Now that Zinedine Zidane has moved on, that could change all of a sudden, and Bale has an immediate chance to make an impression on new Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti when he captains Wales at the Euros.

Bale joined Madrid in 2013, when Ancelotti was embarking on his first spell at the Santiago Bernabeu, but his career in Spain looked to have all but conked out 12 months ago.

The door certainly seems open for the 31-year-old to do just that as, in his presentation news conference at Madrid, Ancelotti said: "Gareth has not played much in the Premier League [in 2020-21], but he scored lots of goals, and was very effective in recent games when he had a chance to play.

"He is coming back, I know him very well, he will be motivated to play better and have a great season, no doubt."

At Spurs, he scored 16 goals across all competitions at an average of one every 104.44 minutes, and his match fitness appeared to be building up nicely when the season ended.

Bale exceeded his expected goals (xG) total of 11.07 quite handsomely, and for the first time since the 2015-16 season he scored more goals than he had big chances.

He had 15 such chances, defined by Opta as situations "where a player should reasonably be expected to score".

Bale is said by some observers to be considering retiring after Euro 2020, but that could be a waste of a still-luminous talent and Ancelotti is sure to be closely watching.

Eden Hazard: Brilliant Belgian has been a Real disappointment

So often sparkling for Belgium and Chelsea in the past, Hazard has left Madrid supporters wondering what has happened to that fizz since he landed in Spain.

He started just seven games in LaLiga in the season just ended, a string of muscle injuries and a spell out with COVID-19 ruining his campaign.

When fit enough to feature, the forward's numbers have been way down on those that he produced – to take a pertinent example – during Belgium's Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

A fair way of assessing his figures is to look at how Hazard contributes for every 90 minutes he is involved with club and country, and the comparison between his displays in Belgium's run to reach this tournament and in 2020-21 at Madrid shows an alarming dip.

His chances created total per 90 minutes falls from 4.6 to 1.0, his number of touches of the ball slides from 95.1 to 73.8, and his dribbles attempted plummet from 7.4 with Belgium to 4.2 in Madrid's season.

His involvements in shot-ending sequences of play fall from 10.8 to 4.9 per 90 minutes, and analysis of goal-ending sequences shows his contribution drops from 1.9 with Belgium to 0.8 per 90 minutes with Madrid.

It bears remembering that Hazard has not had the run of games that would give him full match fitness. If Real Madrid fans want any succour, they can find it in his Belgium statistics and must hope the coming month sees the 30-year-old roll back his form a couple of years.

A fit and firing Hazard would be a huge asset to Ancelotti, who is expecting the former Chelsea star to have an impact next term.

"Hazard is a top player, he has had injury problems, and not shown his top potential yet here," Ancelotti said. "I believe he can do that next year, he wants to, is motivated."

 

Karim Benzema: Have France really missed him?

Nobody doubts Benzema's ability or his current form. Firing 23 goals for Real Madrid in LaLiga showed he is coming into Euro 2020 in great shape.

The thing is: few expected him to play any part in this tournament.

Off-field matters and an impending court case have seen Benzema frozen out by France, the 33-year-old sidelined from international duty since 2015 following allegations he had a part in a plot to blackmail former Les Bleus player Mathieu Valbuena.

Benzema strenuously denies any wrongdoing and for the duration of Euro 2020 he will aim to show what France have been missing in his absence. They managed to win the 2018 World Cup without him, and reach the final of Euro 2016, yet coach Didier Deschamps has decided his team need Benzema's presence for the coming month.

It could be a masterstroke or could go disastrously wrong, with France a national team who have combusted before during a big tournament.

Benzema last year made the snippy remark that Olivier Giroud was a go-kart and he, by contrast, was a Formula One car, but now they are rivals for selection.

Squad harmony is vital at any major championship, and Benzema's presence brings that little extra frisson. This gamble could go either way. Watching him and France will be fascinating.

Marcus Rashford: Making his pitch for a better England

Manchester United striker Rashford has been a pandemic social justice warrior, emerging as an inspirational figure as he battled for school children to avoid food poverty.

There is so much to admire about the 23-year-old Mancunian, who has also faced – and faced down – appalling racism on social media.

It would take a cold, cruel heart to begrudge Rashford a major moment on the pitch now, and that could come with England over the coming weeks.

On the international scene since just before Euro 2016, Rashford is now fixtures-and-fittings within the Three Lions set-up, but he has still yet to score at a World Cup or European Championship.

Before June's pre-Euros friendlies he had 40 caps and 11 goals and will want to improve his so-so goals-to-games ratio, which is partly explained by the fact only 20 of those caps came as a starter.

Golden Boot winner Harry Kane carried so much of the scoring burden for England at the last World Cup, and sometimes it takes two. Rashford scored three times in Euro 2020 qualifying and is coming off a 21-goal campaign with United, scoring on average once every 197.76 minutes.

The man who is effecting positive change in the way many live their lives, influencing politicians and shaping a better future for millions, could now do his country a massive favour on the football field.

 

Scotland: They're back, thanks to Mourinho's former right-hand man

Few in the Scotland team are long enough in the teeth to remember the last time the Tartan Army descended on a major tournament.

It was 1998, with the Scots giving Brazil a major test in the opening game at the Stade de France. A draw followed against Norway followed the 2-1 loss to the Selecao, before a dismal defeat to Morocco meant the campaign ended in crushing disappointment.

Hopes have flickered and foundered in the decades since, but Steve Clarke, once an assistant boss to Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, has led his team back to the big time.

With the likes of Andy Robertson, Scott McTominay and Che Adams, they possess Premier League quality, and two games Hampden promise to be nourishing for the soul.

Scotland is an expectant nation. That tends to end in intense disappointment at major tournaments, but optimism abounds as the games approach, the June 18 clash with England at Wembley ringed in the diary.

Italy: Blue skies again for Azzurri

It felt absurd that Italy should be absent from the 2018 World Cup, but they failed the meritocracy test of qualification when losing a play-off to Sweden.

That meant they were absent from football's great global gathering for the first time since 1958, and coach Gian Piero Ventura was swiftly given the heave-ho.

Enter Roberto Mancini, the former Inter and Manchester City boss who has led a scorching revival of the Azzurri, a team who won all 10 of their qualifiers and headed into June on a 26-game unbeaten run.

Wales, Turkey and Switzerland are the group-stage opposition for Italy, and the Turkey game in Istanbul gets the tournament underway.

They are a team perhaps without a superstar, but as Paolo Rossi and Toto Schillaci would attest, iconic Italian figures can emerge on the big stage.

Joachim Low: Hit for six, Germany go back to the future

After 15 years, Low will step down as Germany head coach following these finals. Many in Germany think he should have stepped aside already, but Low has powerful support within the DFB, the national federation.

A 6-0 defeat to Spain in the Nations League last November felt like an appalling nadir, with Germany outshot 23-2 in Seville and having just 30 per cent of possession.

Something had to change and it has, with Low summoning Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels out of the international exile he harshly imposed on the experienced pair over two years ago.

Low felt he could do without their talents but it proved a major misstep, and for Germany's sake they are back. What Low does next remains to be seen, but a strong Euro 2020 campaign with Germany would bolster his chances of landing any elite club job.

The 61-year-old was a World Cup winner seven years ago, but the most immediately telling part of his legacy will be written during this European summer.

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