France captain Hugo Lloris believes the outcome of the Euro 2020 last-16 clash with Switzerland will hinge on the match-day attitude of Les Bleus.

The title favourites have yet to truly hit their stride, narrowly beating Germany but drawing with Portugal and Hungary in the group stage.

They topped Group F but left room for improvement, and will look to show in Monday's clash with the Swiss in Bucharest that their pedigree has not been overstated.

Lloris said in a news conference on Sunday: "We've turned the page from the group stage which demanded a lot of effort. We're entering a new competition.

"In the approach we take, it's completely different. We know that we can't make an error. There will be adversity. We will have a great team playing against us who have achieved beautiful things in recent seasons.

"We know the mental aspect will come into play. This will certainly be key to success. We have to produce a performance of a very, very high level to get through to the next round.

"We can count on our background and experience but that's not enough. We have to put all the necessary ingredients together to succeed.

"This wil mean lots of effort, sacrifices, talent and equally discipline. We have to be prepared to overcome this challenge in a mental sense. All of this as a team. From the start we've lived this adventure with all the players, the technical and medical staff. We want to go as far together as possible."

 

France have a number of injuries, with Lucas Digne, Jules Kounde and Marcus Thuram all ruled out by head coach Didier Deschamps. Lucas Hernandez could be involved, though, after a knee problem.

Goalkeeper Lloris said: "It's up to us to give the response on the pitch, by putting in the necessary energy, showing discipline and making the efforts to write our history and create success.

"We're a team of competitors, we don't like losing, but especially when you know that you can go home, the challenge is even greater. It's up to us to do what is necessary in our performance to still be there in the next round and to rise to the occasion."

Karim Benzema's two goals in the draw with Portugal were a welcome boost for France, with the recalled Real Madrid striker showing his value.

Benzema and Antoine Griezmann, who scored in the draw with Hungary, are the only France players to score so far at these finals, with a Mats Hummels own goal bringing about the team's opening win over Germany.

There is surely more to come from the likes of Kylian Mbappe, who has had a team-high eight shots at goal and built up an expected goals tally of 1.29, second only to Benzema (1.71).

According to Lloris, there was never any doubt about Benzema's impact on his return, even before he made a goalscoring contribution.

"I think he's been ready, since he was called up, to do what is necessary for the team but also in a personal sense to bring his experience, his background and his talent in order to help the France team," Lloris said.

"Obviously a striker is looking for goals, that builds confidence. We already know his influence on the team's game, we've not needed to wait for him to score these two goals to see it."

A stunning goal and a beautiful assist by 19-year-old Dwayne “Busy” Atkinson gave a youthful Cavalier FC a deserved  2-0 win over an ageing Humble Lion team in the feature encounter at the UWI-JFF Captain Horace Burrell Centre of Excellence on Saturday.

The lively Atkinson, who came on as a 46th-minute substitute, fired a dipping shot from 25 metres that whistled past a bewildered Dennis Taylor in goal for Humble Lion in the 77th minute.

It was a beautiful goal deserving to be the first of this new season from a  player, who Head Coach Rudolph Speid said was arguably the best player in the country when he was just 15-years-old.

Then in time added on in the 90+2, Atkinson latched onto a ball at the halfway line and in one motion with the outside of his right foot, curled a beautiful through ball into the path of fellow substitute Courtney Allen, who rounded the goalkeeper and slotted home.

It was three very good points for a spritely and youthful Cavalier team with an average age of 20 years and they have thrown down the gauntlet that they will be contenders.

The Clarendon-based Humble Lion unbelievably averaging 32 years, was left stunned by the young guns with some early soul searching needed as to the make-up of their ageing squad.

Man-of-the-Match Atkinson, formerly of Kingston College, said he will be hoping to keep the legacy going set by the former young guns of Cavalier who are now playing overseas.

Meanwhile winning coach Everdean Scarlett, was not surprised by Cavalier’s energy.

“My team gave a good performance of themselves and in the end, it was youthful exuberance that prevailed,” noted Scarlett.

Losing coach Andrew Price said his ageing men could not respond to the more energetic younger Cavalier boys. “We had about 14 training sessions and definitely this Cavalier team has been training long before us and they are a much fitter and younger bunch,” Price pointed out.

“Fatigue set in and we had to make some substitutions but it’s a learning curve. The mind is saying they can do thing but their body won’t allow  them,” said Price

“In the second half Cavalier really turn on the burners on us. But it’s the first game so I won’t mark them too hard,” he added.

Georginio Wijnaldum struggled to explain the Netherlands' "off-day" against the Czech Republic as their Euro 2020 campaign ended at the last-16 stage.

Frank de Boer's side were the favourites to reach the quarter-finals after three wins from three games in the group stage, but they succumbed to a 2-0 defeat in Budapest as a red card to Matthijs de Ligt proved costly.

The Juventus man was sent off for a deliberate handball and the Czech Republic capitalised on their advantage, Tomas Holes and Patrik Schick scoring the goals to send them through.

The Netherlands failed to attempt a shot on target for the first time in a European Championship or World Cup match for the first time since at least 1980 as they struggled to replicate the attacking flair they showed previously in the tournament.

Captain Wijnaldum was an isolated figure throughout in the number 10 role, completing just 10 passes in the contest, the fewest of any Oranje outfield player in a Euros knockout match for at least the past 41 years.

Wijnaldum pointed to a good chance for Donyell Malen, which was missed barely 30 seconds before De Ligt's red card, as a key point in the contest but admitted his side deserved little for their performance.

"In the second half, we had a good chance and you have to finish that," he told NOS.

"The goals we gave away, the chances we didn't take... all that goes through your head. After the red card, we found it difficult to put them under pressure. Things just got more difficult for us.

"The whole match was tough going. Somehow we couldn't deal with the way they pressurised us. We couldn't create spaces. We fashioned a few chances in the first half, but not enough.

"Before the tournament, there was a lot of criticism around our way of playing, and we turned that around. Today was an off-day. I can hardly explain it. It's very difficult, but it's the reality."

The Czech Republic will face Denmark in the quarter-finals next Saturday.

 

The Netherlands have been one of the most obviously entertaining and thrilling sides to watch at Euro 2020 and the opening stages of their shock 2-0 last-16 defeat to the Czech Republic in Budapest was no exception.

Frank De Boer's side were rapid and relentless down the flanks and, by the time Denzel Dumfries peeled infield and charged into the centre-forward position to collect Daley Blind's raking pass, a bedraggled Czech backline might have found it easier to be marking all 50,000 inhabitants of the Scottish town with which the rampaging right wing-back shares a name.

Tomas Kalas managed to force Dumfries wide and made a vital, scampering challenge. There is entertainment in such last-ditch defending too, although it rarely looks much fun for the protagonist.

Seven minutes before half-time, it was impossible to ignore a towering man in orange who appeared to be deriving little enjoyment from what was unfolding.

Some worryingly passive Dutch defending let Lukas Masopust find Antonin Barak in the area. In flew Matthijs de Ligt with a goal-saving challenge. The Juventus centre-back howled at everyone within earshot. He was furious.

 

De Ligt the leader

At that moment, it felt like the 21-year-old was in the process of turning in a defining performance to quell the hum of criticism that has soundtracked the past two years of a career that still promises so much.

"De Ligt is the centre-back of our defence. He needs to become much more of a leader than he is now," Netherlands great Marco van Basten told the NOS channel in a curiously harsh criticism after De Ligt returned to help his side to a clean sheet against Austria following the chaotic 3-2 win over Ukraine.

"He went to Italy to learn how to defend more, but I think he didn't learn much there. He needs to lead the rest much more."

De Ligt left Ajax after their celebratory 2018-19 campaign already looking like a born leader. It was hard to imagine those credentials being questioned. But a transitional year at Juventus as Maurizio Sarri tried to implement a new style, followed by last season's ignominy of surrendering the Serie A title under Andrea Pirlo amounted to an unforgiving education in Italy's top flight.

Still, he managed to retain an admirably positive outlook.

"I'm really lucky as I'm playing with almost everybody I'd be watching if I was a young player," De Ligt told The Athletic midway through 2020-21.

"[Leonardo] Bonucci is really good in the build-up, so I talk to him about that and watch what he is doing. [Giorgio] Chiellini is really good at marking, so I'm trying to learn from him too.

"I play with [Virgil] Van Dijk [for the Netherlands]. In the end, though, it's so important that you develop your own game and don't start being a copycat of someone else."

Sunday's match, with Van Dijk a long-term absentee and the prospect of a charge for glory such as the one Bonucci is underpinning with Italy, looked like it might become the game where De Ligt stepped out of those considerable shadows.

De Ligt the scapegoat

As it was, his ill-timed stumble and handball to deny Patrik Schick a goalscoring opportunity – moments after Donyell Malen should have opened the scoring at the other end – engulfed the defender and his team-mates in a darkness they could not lift as the lights went out on their Euro 2020 bid.

"An experienced mature defender doesn't make the second mistake and lets the forward go on and score, because he doesn't leave his team with 10 men on the field," Gary Neville said on ITV after some horrid last-ditch defending that was no fun at all for the man involved.

 

De Ligt's red card makes him an obvious scapegoat. Everything changed when he went off. Save for the effervescent Dumfries charging forward to draw a yellow card from Vladimir Coufal, making a block to rival De Ligt's earlier effort to thwart Pavel Kaderabek and still causing havoc in the opposition half, there was little to recommend about how De Boer's men responded to adversity – their game management very much a minute-by-minute, reactive endeavour.

Tomas Holes' 68th-minute opener hastened the capitulation and the Golden Boot-chasing Schick put the result beyond doubt with his fourth of the tournament. The Netherlands were out, having not conceded a goal at any stage with De Ligt on the field.

He will not have wanted to perversely prove his worth in this fashion. De Ligt's tendency to find positives will be put to its biggest test after this shot at greatness slipped through his fingers because the ball did not.

Spain boss Luis Enrique has described the abuse received by Alvaro Morata as a "crime" and says it should be a matter for the police. 

Morata has been the focus of attention since being jeered by his own fans during a pre-Euro 2020 friendly with Portugal after missing several opportunities.

He was then criticised for his displays in Spain's 0-0 draw with Sweden in their Group E opener and 1-1 draw with Poland, a game in which he scored but missed more chances.

The Juventus striker, whose loan from Atletico Madrid was extended for another season last week, then missed a penalty in Wednesday's 5-0 win against Slovakia, which saw Spain progress from their group in second place.

Morata revealed in an interview that he has received vicious messages on social media during the tournament, while his wife and children have also been targeted in public. 

Luis Enrique has repeatedly leapt to the defence of Morata for his performances and is expected to stick with the 28-year-old for the last-16 tie with Croatia on Monday. 

Speaking at a media conference, the Spain boss said: "The situation is so serious that it must be put in the hands of the police because it is a serious crime. 

"Insulting Morata's relatives is a crime and I hope it is corrected outright."

 

Spain will hope to end a run of falling at the first hurdle in the knockouts of a major tournament when they face Croatia.

After winning Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, La Roja were eliminated at this stage of both Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.

Despite that, Luis Enrique said his side have no doubts about their ability to get past Croatia. 

"I have had the same confidence since the start of the Championship," he added.

"No team has surprised us. I thought we were going to be first in the group, but football is the result. But in terms of morale and dedication, we are at the max.

"We have not been there since 2012, but against Slovakia we had to win and now we have another final. I don't know if we are going to pass, but my team has no doubts. We are going to try to minimise the threat of the rival."

The match will be Croatia and Spain's third major tournament meeting, with both previous such clashes coming in European Championship group stages. Both sides won once each: Spain in 2012 and Croatia in 2016.

The Czech Republic reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2020 with a surprise 2-0 win over the Netherlands, who had Matthijs de Ligt sent off.

A close game in Budapest swung the way of Jaroslav Silhavy's men 55 minutes in when De Ligt was dismissed for a deliberate handball that prevented Patrik Schick from having a clear goalscoring opportunity.

Tomas Holes then headed in the opening goal before superbly setting up Schick for the second as the Czech Republic progressed to the last eight, where they face Denmark.

The majority of the Netherlands' first-half threat came through the forward runs of Denzel Dumfries, the right-back posing a real danger down the right but unable to provide for Memphis Depay and Donyell Malen.

The best of the first-half chances fell to Antonin Barak, who was teed up by Lukas Masopust but saw his effort from six yards out just blocked over the bar by De Ligt.

Malen carved out a brilliant opening to break the deadlock, driving his way through the Czech Republic defence only to see Tomas Vaclik take the ball from his feet as he tried to round the goalkeeper.

Moments later, De Ligt misjudged a bouncing ball and hooked it away from Patrik Schick with his hand as he fell, leading referee Sergey Karasev to send off the centre-back after a VAR review.

Pavel Kaderabek had a great chance when Schick missed a header, but Dumfries made a brilliant block in front of keeper Maarten Stekelenburg, the Netherlands suddenly on the ropes.

The breakthrough came with a little over 20 minutes left, Holes heading into the net after Tomas Kalas nodded the ball back across the box, with Stekelenburg caught out of position.

Frank de Boer introduced Wout Weghorst in a bid to find an equaliser, but Schick put the game beyond doubt with a slick low finish after Holes drove through a gap between Georginio Wijnaldum and Dumfries before cutting the ball back.

 

Bayern Munich have confirmed that goalkeeper Alexander Nubel will spend the next two seasons on loan at Monaco.

And the German champions have brought Sven Ulreich back to the club on a free transfer in order to fill the newly created vacancy behind first choice Manuel Neuer.

Nubel, who signed from Schalke in June 2020, took on that role last term and ultimately made just four appearances across all competitions.

The 24-year-old is considered a long-term successor to Neuer but had made clear to Bayern his desire to play more regularly next season.

As sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic explained: "It was Alexander Nubel's wish to gain match practice. We supported that."

Nubel joins Monaco on a two-year deal with Bayern reserving the right to recall the player at the end of the coming season.

Of his move, the German said: "I'm pleased to be taking the next step in my development at Monaco. 

"It's important to play at a high level, and now I've got that chance at Monaco. I'd like to thank the officials at Bayern Munich for this opportunity. My big goal is to repay their trust in the future."

Ulreich returns as a free agent after his contract with Hamburg, where he spent just one season, was terminated by mutual agreement.

Prior to joining the 2.Bundesliga club, the 32-year-old spent five years with Bayern Munich, whom he signed for from Stuttgart.

Salihamidzic said of the goalkeeper's return: "The condition was that we could sign a serious back-up. 

"Our goalkeeping coach Toni Tapalovic advised us about Sven Ulreich, and we're pleased we could reach an agreement with Sven. 

"This combined situation is very appealing. It helps everyone involved and fits within our financial framework because Sven returns on a free. 

"FC Bayern continues to plan for the future with Alexander Nubel."

Argentina can clinch top spot in Group A as they aim to maintain their unbeaten run under Lionel Scaloni against a Bolivia side already certain of an early Copa America exit.

The format of the 2021 tournament means just one team from each section misses out on the last eight, though the final matches are still pivotal as nations jostle for positions in the final standings.

Bolivia's exit was confirmed with a 2-0 reverse against Uruguay last time out, another blank in front of goal meaning Cesar Farias' side have managed to score just once in three outings so far.

Argentina have also found it tough going in attack, despite the presence of the talismanic Lionel Messi. Following a 1-1 draw with Chile in their opener, they have recorded back-to-back 1-0 triumphs over Uruguay and Paraguay.

Those results mean head coach Scaloni has not seen his team lose in his previous 16 games. His last defeat in the job came in the previous edition of the Copa America, as they were knocked out by rivals Brazil in the 2019 semi-finals.

A potential rematch appears unlikely until the final this time around, with Brazil winning Group B. Argentina know a victory in Cuiaba will be enough for them to do the same ahead of the quarter-finals.

Scaloni has a decision to make over whether to rest Messi, who has played every minute in the competition so far.

While the Barcelona superstar just recently turned 34, he may want to be involved from the start as he looks to win his 148th international cap, which would move him out of a tie with Javier Mascherano to sit alone at the top of the list for Argentina appearances.

Those in danger of receiving a suspension with another yellow card on Monday are likely to be left out, among them Lautaro Martinez, Leandro Paredes and Giovanni Lo Celso.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Argentina - Alejandro Gomez

'Papu' Gomez arrived late to international football but helped make up for lost time in his previous outing with his first goal in a competitive fixture for Argentina. He struck in the 10th minute against Paraguay, while he also completed 88.2 per cent of his attempted passes in the opposition half before being substituted. Did he do enough to keep his place, though?

Bolivia - Carlos Lampe

Goalkeeper Lampe has been a rare positive for his team at the Copa America, making the most saves per game (eight) among those to have played in two or more fixtures. Even with Argentina potentially resting players, Bolivia's last line of defence may well be busy again as they prepare to say farewell to this year's Copa.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- This will be the 10th meeting in the Copa America at a neutral venue, with Argentina never previously losing in such contests (W9 D1). However, Bolivia have won twice when serving as competition hosts, in 1963 and 1979.

- Scaloni is unbeaten in his last 16 managerial games in all competitions, his best run since taking charge of Argentina (W9 D7).

- After five unbeaten games in the Copa America with Venezuela, Cesar Farias has lost the last four; one for Venezuela (semi-final in 2011) and three for Bolivia (all this year).

- Argentina are the team with the most goals scored in the first 15 minutes of their games (two), with all of their goals scored in the first half of games (three, same as Ecuador).

Karim Benzema will hope to build upon a return to the international scoresheet when France take on Switzerland in the last 16 of Euro 2020.

Benzema netted both his team's goals in 2-2 draw with Portugal that secured top spot in Group F for Les Bleus last time out – his first since the end of an exile from the national team that began in 2015.

In his only previous appearance against Switzerland at the 2014 World Cup, the 33-year-old Real Madrid forward scored twice and supplied an assist in a resounding 5-2 win.

Indeed, this will be the fifth meeting between the teams at a major tournament and France are unbeaten in the previous four, with their most recent encounter at Euro 2016 finishing goalless.

If the identity of a France front three featuring Benzema, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe feels fairly settled, Didier Deschamps' starting formation has become a matter for debate.

 

A report by L'Equipe du Soir claimed a number of players have asked the coaching staff to revert to a 3-4-3 system

Jules Kounde started at right-back against Portugal but is a doubt for Monday's game in Bucharest with a hamstring problem and, while Lucas Hernandez is back in training after a knee complaint forced him off at half-time in the previous match, Lucas Digne (thigh) is out, meaning Deschamps has plenty to ponder whether operating with a back three or a back four.

"They’re a well-structured team and they have good attacking potential with [Haris] Seferovic, [Breel] Embolo and [Xherdan] Shaqiri," the World Cup-winning coach said of Switzerland.

"We must not underestimate them and it's a knockout game so we’ll have to do everything we can to ensure we have smiles on our faces at the end of the match."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

France – Kylian Mbappe

While Benzema is now off and running for the tournament and Griezmann netted the equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Hungary, Mbappe is yet to get off the mark – a state of affairs that surely cannot continue much longer for the Paris Saint-Germain superstar. Mbappe has no goals from eight shots in the tournament with a combined expected goals (xG) value of 1.3.

 

Switzerland – Xherdan Shaqiri

One man who had no problem in front of goal during the final round of group stage matches was Liverpool attacker Shaqiri, upon whom Switzerland will again pin plenty of their hopes. His brace against Turkey made him Switzerland's all-time leading scorer in major tournaments with seven, overtaking Josef Hugi (six).

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Switzerland have reached the knockout stages at each of their past four major tournaments. They were eliminated in their first match following the group stages on each of those previous three instances.
- France have only lost one of their previous 17 matches at the Euros and World Cup combined (W12 D4) – the Euro 2016 final against Portugal.
- Switzerland will face the reigning world champions at a major tournament for the first time. Overall, they have won only three of their 20 matches against reigning world champions (D9 L8), with this their first such match since a 1-1 draw with Italy in June 2010.
- France progressed the ball upfield 18.7 metres per sequence on average during the group stages, the highest figure of any side, highlighting their ability to advance the ball after regaining possession.
- Griezmann has played in each of France's past 51 matches, a run that started on August 31, 2017 against the Netherlands. The Barcelona forward is the only player to make 50+ appearances for a European country since that date.

Jean-Clair Todibo has completed a permanent move to Nice from Barcelona for an initial fee of €8.5million.

The centre-back signed for the Ligue 1 club in February on a loan deal with the option for a permanent transfer.

Barca announced on Sunday that they could receive up to €15.5m for the 21-year-old depending on variables, while they will also be due a percentage of a future transfer.

Todibo joined Barca from Toulouse in 2019 but only made six appearances for the Catalans in all competitions.

He spent loan spells with Schalke and Benfica before moving to Nice this year, where he made 15 appearances in Ligue 1, scoring in the 3-1 win over Montpellier in April.

"Barcelona wishes to publicly state its gratitude to Jean-Clair Todibo for his commitment and dedication and wishes him all the very best of success in the future," a Barca statement said.

 

Spain will look to end a run of falling at the first hurdle in the knockouts of a major tournament when they face Croatia in the last 16 of Euro 2020.

A 5-0 thrashing of Slovakia sent La Roja through in second place in Group E after draws with Sweden and Poland had left their chances of progressing in doubt.

Croatia, meanwhile, were 3-1 winners over Scotland on matchday three, ensuring they followed England in escaping Group D to secure a spot in the knockout phase for the fourth time in six European Championship appearances.

They have never progressed beyond the first round after the group stage, while Spain's recent form in the latter rounds of tournaments has also been poor: after winning Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, they were eliminated at this stage of both Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.

Their previous meeting with Croatia ended in a 3-2 defeat in November 2018 in the Nations League, but coach Luis Enrique would do well to be inspired by the match two months earlier when Spain romped to a 6-0 victory. So too would his forwards.

Spain had a higher expected goals total than any other side in the group stage (8.8), but scored only six times. In fact, the players to underperformed the most based on xG over the first three matchdays were Gerard Moreno (zero goals from 2.1 xG) and the much-maligned Alvaro Morata (one goal from 2.9 xG).

Scoring goals is certainly not a worry for Marcos Llorente, who told AS: "In the first two games, we got a bit stuck with in front of goal, but we've already seen we're capable of creating many chances, even for opponents who sit back.

"We did so and we lacked effectiveness in the first two games, and in the last one, we had it. It was a good victory."

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Croatia – Ante Rebic

With Ivan Perisic - who scored one and set up another against Scotland - missing after a positive COVID-19 test, there is great pressure on the rest of the Croatia attack to perform.

Rebic is most likely to replace Perisic in the line-up and, while the Milan forward is far from prolific for his country, his work rate at the very least could be key to disrupt Spain's rhythm.

Spain – Sergio Busquets

It would be wrong to claim the return of Busquets was the reason Spain suddenly found their goalscoring groove against Slovakia, but it is certainly true that there was more purpose to their possession play with the Barcelona man in the middle.

Against a midfield of the strength and experience of Croatia's, Busquets could be critical to La Roja's plans when it comes to keeping the ball and warding off counter-attacks.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- This will be Croatia and Spain's third major tournament meeting, with both previous such clashes coming in European Championship group stages. Both sides won once each: Spain in 2012 and Croatia in 2016.
- Spain forced more pressed sequences (sequences where the opposition has three or fewer passes and the sequence ends within 40 metres of their own goal) than any other side during the Euro 2020 group stages (60), while their average of eight passes allowed per defensive action was the lowest by any side in the round.
-All six of Spain's goals in the group stage were scored by different players, including two own goals. Indeed, Spain were the highest scoring side in the round not to see a player score more than once.
- Last time out against Scotland, Luka Modric became the oldest player to score for Croatia at the Euros (35 years and 286 days), while he also holds the record as the youngest goalscorer for his nation in the competition (22 years and 73 days versus Austria in 2008). Should he score in this game (aged 35 years and 292 days), he would become the second-oldest player in European Championship history to score in consecutive appearances in the competition, after Cristiano Ronaldo.

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.

Melbourne City gained revenge over 10-man Sydney FC with a 3-1 Grand Final victory to claim a first A-League title at AAMI Park on Sunday.

City were beaten by the Sky Blues in the Grand Final last year, but Patrick Kisnorbo's side were not to be denied this time around as they completed a Premiership-Championship double.

Kosta Barbarouses put the defending champions in front, but Nathaniel Atkinson equalised soon after and Sydney were rocked by Luke Brattan's first-half dismissal for a second bookable offence.

Scott Jamieson's penalty put Melbourne in front on the stroke of half-time and Scott Galloway sealed the victory in stoppage time at the end of a dramatic final, with Sydney unable to become the first team to win three successive titles.

After going 10 seasons without lifting a trophy, Melbourne have claimed two in the space of five weeks.

The defending champions drew first blood against the run of play with 21 minutes played, Barbarouses rifling into the bottom-left corner of the net with his right foot from just outside the penalty area on the counter-attack.

City were level just a couple of minutes later, though, Atkinson firing into the top-right corner following an incisive run from Stefan Colakovski.

The Sky Blues suffered a huge blow 10 minutes before the break as Brattan was given his marching orders by referee Chris Beath for a challenge on Marco Tilio.

Sydney felt aggrieved once again when Beath pointed to the spot after Adrian Luna went down seemingly following minimal contact from Anthony Caceres, with Jamieson sending Thomas Heward-Belle from the spot on the stroke of half-time,

Melbourne applied huge pressure in the second half but the third goal proved to be elusive until Galloway found the back of the net with his left foot with time almost up.

Kylian Mbappe understandably has a long list of admirers as speculation swirls over his Paris Saint-Germain future.

The 22-year-old's contract with PSG is due to expire in 2022 and Mbappe has previously hinted at his desire for a move.

He has been heavily linked with Real Madrid but one of the biggest clubs in England reportedly have their eye on the France international.

 

TOP STORY - LIVERPOOL'S AUDACIOUS MBAPPE ENQUIRY

Liverpool have entered the race to sign PSG forward Kylian Mbappe, claims Marca.

Marca reports that the Reds have enquired with PSG about Mbappe's availability.

The audacious move comes as Liverpool plan for a long-term future with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

 

ROUND-UP

- Rennes' 18-year-old Eduardo Camavinga is on the radar of Manchester United, claims The Mail. Camavinga has already caught the eye of several top clubs.

- Manchester City are circling for Chelsea defender Reece James, with The Athletic reporting he is on their "wish list".

- Tottenham are homing in on a move for Bologna's Japanese defender Takehiro Tomiyasu, according to The Sun. It is understood the deal is worth £15million (€17.5m).

- With Jadon Sancho set to leave Borussia Dortmund for Manchester United, the German club are targeting PSV Eindhoven's Donyell Malen, claims The Mirror.

- Sport claims that AC Milan are close to agreeing a loan deal with Barcelona's Junior Firpo.

Belgium face holders Portugal in a mouthwatering Euro 2020 last-16 tie on Sunday and their star attacking midfielder is in ominous form.

Kevin De Bruyne began the Red Devils' group campaign on the sidelines as he recovered from facial injuries sustained during Manchester City's Champions League final defeat to Chelsea.

“I don't feel anything on the left side, like after a visit to the dentist," he explained in a typically abrupt fashion.

But since being introduced as a half-time substitute with Belgium 1-0 down to Denmark in Copenhagen, the 29-year-old has unquestionably made his presence felt.

A brilliant assist and thumping winning goal saw the playmaker inspire a 2-1 win almost singlehandedly.

Belgium made it three wins from three thanks to a routine 2-0 triumph over Finland in their final Group B match, with De Bruyne laying on Romelu Lukaku's third goal of the tournament.

Despite only playing 134 minutes at Euro 2020, he has created five chances with an expected assists (xA) value of 1.18.

 

Bruno benched as holders struggle to find their feet

If this is a case of De Bruyne emphatically bringing his Premier League form onto the international stage, the same cannot yet be said of Bruno Fernandes.

Since his Manchester United debut on February 1 last year, Fernandes' 19 assists are the most supplied by any player in England's top fight. De Bruyne, with 17 assists having played 2,904 minutes to the Portugal international's 4,297, is the only other player to have recorded more than 15 over the same period.

The Manchester maestros also close out the top two in terms of chances created (De Bruyne 131, Fernandes 125), big chances created (De Bruyne 31, Fernandes 23) and chances created from open play (99 apiece) in this time.

 

Fernandes was in the starting line-up for Portugal's opener when they left it late to beat Hungary 3-0 in Group F, before being unable to avert a chastening 4-2 loss to Germany in Munich.

The former Sporting CP favourite was one of the victims as Fernando Santos shuffled his pack in response, only coming on as a late substitute in the 2-2 draw against France – his most notable contribution coming when he escaped punishment for an untidy challenge on Kingsley Coman in his own penalty area.

 

KDB running free

De Bruyne and Fernandes' contrasting contributions at Euro 2020 so far can by partly explained by the amount of freedom they are granted by their respective international bosses to recreate their club heroics.

"Kevin will have an influential role, the playmaker, linking possession," Martinez said a couple of days out from the showdown in Seville, with De Bruyne once again poised to leave a stamp on the game irrespective of starting position.

He replaced Dries Mertens against Denmark, nominally roving in the front three, before reverting to a central midfield position alongside Axel Witsel for a man-of-the-match showing versus Finland.

For City, the majority of De Bruyne's Premier League touches last season came in the middle third of the opposition half of the field, with 15.27 per cent in the middle of the left flank.

 

Within the far smaller sample size of his Belgium minutes at Euro 2020, the story is similar enough. Although he does not hit double-digit percentages across the middle attacking third as he does for City, 15.38 per cent of De Bruyne's Red Devils touches are in that favoured position - coming in from the left and able to see the full picture unfolding.

Fernandes' made 14.08 per cent of his United touches in the same area in 2020-21, with a comparable spread across the attacking midfield zones to De Bruyne.

By contrast, for Portugal at Euro 2020, there has been a huge concentration of Fernandes' touches on the right flank - 22.68 per on the right of the middle third of the opposition half, compared to just 4.12 per cent where he does the biggest chunk of his United work.

This suggests far less license to express himself than De Bruyne enjoys under Martinez and the on-field relationship each man has with their team's superstar goalscorer is somewhat wrapped up in all this.

 

KDB and Rom in sync, Bruno struggling to feed Ronaldo

The outcome of Sunday's match could have a huge bearing on the winner of the Golden Boot, although Cristiano Ronaldo's group-stage haul of five means he might have already done enough.

Lukaku is building on a fabulous couple of seasons at Inter and has three for Belgium so far, with the centre-forward seeming to come alive whenever De Bruyne is in close proximity.

A marginal offside call had already thwarted the De Bruyne-Lukaku link before Belgium's number seven and number nine combined to complete the scoring against Finland.

It is not a one-way relationship, either, with Lukaku holding up play expertly for De Bruyne to lay Thomas Meunier's equaliser on a plate in the Denmark match.

 

Of De Bruyne and Lukaku's seven combinations at Euro 2020 – when one of them has passed to the other – six have ended in the opposition penalty area, underling their considerable threat in tandem.

Fernandes and Ronaldo have passed to one another 15 times, but only two of these exchanges have ended in the area and neither yielded a goal.

Their combinations have also been uneven. Fernandes came on in the 72nd minute against France and he and Ronaldo each passed to the other once. They shared three in total despite being on the pitch for 89 minutes together versus Hungary.

Perhaps this speaks of the respective status of the two playmakers with their countries. Fernandes, 26, is in Ronaldo's shadow like the rest of his international team-mates, meaning the cajoling leader on show at Old Trafford is unlikely to be seen to the same extent. Much like his overall presence, his on-field contributions have shrunk.

 

De Bruyne is second to no one in the Belgium set-up, the shining light of a celebrated generation alongside Lukaku and Eden Hazard.

It means that, while they might compete as men of equal status in the next Manchester derby, De Bruyne will be the heartbeat of Belgium's bid for a quarter-final spot as Fernandes seeks to muscle in and make his own talents felt from the margins.

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