NFL

Rodgers urges Packers to embrace underdogs tag

By Sports Desk November 07, 2022

Aaron Rodgers urged the Green Bay Packers to embrace their new-found status as underdogs following a fifth loss in a row.

The Packers' troubles deepened in an upset defeat to NFC North rivals the Detroit Lions, who triumphed 15-9 on Sunday.

Green Bay had not lost five on the bounce since 2008 – Rodgers' first year as a starter – but they are a team devoid of confidence at present.

Rodgers' own display summed up the fortunes of his team as he threw three interceptions in a game for only the fifth time in his career and for the first time against NFC North opponents.

Two of those came with the game still scoreless, giving the lowly Lions a foothold they fought hard to protect.

"I had some s***** throws, for sure," said Rodgers. "I played s*****, but I never gave up.

"We moved the ball well in the first half, and I threw a couple picks in the end zone, took points off the board. That, obviously, came back to hurt us down the stretch.

"I've been counted out many times in my life as have many of my team-mates, and I hope we just dig deep and find a way.

"We will truly be underdogs for many games moving forward. Hopefully we can embrace that. We have two games at home. We've got to go win those two games in a week, and then this thing looks a little different."

Packers coach Matt LaFleur conceded the going was tough but wants to see Rodgers and his team-mates channel their frustration more productively.

"I'm sure he's extremely frustrated, as we all are," LaFleur said.

"I don't think we've been in this [situation]. I know in my time here, we haven't been in this situation and I don't think he's been in this situation too many times in his career, obviously.

"It's disappointing and frustrating. But I think that we all probably need to do a little bit better job of controlling that frustration."

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  • The Numbers Game: Messi set for triumphant Argentina send-off in Miami? The Numbers Game: Messi set for triumphant Argentina send-off in Miami?

    The stage is set for what could be Lionel Messi's international swansong, as Argentina face Colombia in Sunday's Copa America final in the forward's new home of Miami.

    The Hard Rock Stadium is the venue as Messi and La Albiceleste go in search of a record-breaking 16th Copa America crown, currently level with Uruguay on 15. It would also be a second in a row after they overcame old rivals Brazil in the 2021 final.

    Standing in their way, however, are arguably the most impressive team at the tournament in Colombia.

    Unbeaten in 28 games – a new national record – and led by a rejuvenated James Rodriguez, who is surely the favourite for Player of the Tournament honours, Los Cafeteros downed a much-fancied Uruguay side with 10 men in the last four and are sure to present a stern test.

    Ahead of the showpiece game, we dive into the best Opta data surrounding the two finalists. 

    What's expected?

    Argentina began the tournament as favourites, being given a 30.8% chance of securing back-to-back titles for the first time since 1993 by the Opta supercomputer.

    The supercomputer is still on their side ahead of the final, giving them a 50.9% chance of winning the match in 90 minutes.

    Colombia are assigned a 25.4% chance of victory and a 23.6% chance of taking the game to extra time (which will take place if required after being scrapped for all other knockout matches) and potentially penalties.  

    Argentina have won their last two Copa America shoot-outs, against Ecuador in this year's quarter-finals and Colombia in 2021, though they have lost three of their last four finals at the competition on spot-kicks, versus Brazil in 2004 and Chile in both 2015 and 2016.

    Overall, Lionel Scaloni's team are given a 63% chance of lifting the trophy to Colombia's 37%. 

     

    Colombia will be featuring in just their third Copa America final (also 1975 and 2001), becoming the fourth team to reach multiple finals at the competition this century, after Argentina (six), Brazil (four) and Chile (two).

    Argentina have now reached the final at six of their last eight major tournaments (World Cups and Copa America). The only exceptions were at the 2018 World Cup and the 2019 Copa, losing to the eventual champions (France and Brazil) in both instances.

    Colombia have only won one of their last 12 meetings with Argentina (five draws, six defeats) – a 2-0 group-stage win at the 2019 Copa America. The teams' last draw led to Colombia losing on penalties in the 2021 Copa quarter-finals, with Davinson Sanchez, Yerry Mina and Edwin Cardona all unsuccessful from 12 yards.

    The teams have met on 15 previous occasions in the Copa America, with Argentina recording seven wins to Colombia's three and the remaining five being drawn.

    Fitting farewell for the GOAT?

    Sunday's final could very well be the end of an era, with arguably the greatest footballer of all time contemplating international retirement after the match.

    While there are plenty stateside who are desperate to see Messi continue his glittering Argentina career until the 2026 World Cup, the eight-time Ballon d'Or winner said this week he is fighting his "last battles" on the international stage.

    Having led Argentina to glory at the 2021 Copa and the Qatar World Cup, Messi could go out on a high by inspiring his country to three straight major tournament successes, a feat they only previously achieved by winning three consecutive Copas in 1945, 1946 and 1947, with the World Cup not held during that time.

    It took him a while, but Messi finally got up and running at this year's Copa with a goal in Tuesday's 2-0 semi-final victory over Canada, converting his 12th shot of the tournament.

     

    He has now scored at six different editions of the Copa America, matching the record set by Zizinho all the way back in 1957. Messi has netted at the 2007, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2021 and 2024 editions, only failing to get on the scoresheet in 2011.

    His semi-final strike came 17 years and one day after his first Copa America goal, versus Peru in 2007. That gap is the longest between goals for a single player in the tournament's history, breaking another record previously held by Zizinho (15 years and 52 days between 1942 and 1957).

    Another trophy on Sunday would enable him to end what had previously been a disappointing Argentina career with a perfect run of three tournament triumphs.

    There is also the small matter of another international trophy pulling him clear of his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo, who led Portugal to glory at Euro 2016 and in the 2018-19 UEFA Nations League but now looks unlikely to add to that collection. 

    Cafeteros the Copa's best?

    Argentina may have star quality unmatched by any of their South American rivals, but they were made to work for knockout successes against Ecuador and Canada. Many would argue they have not been the tournament's outstanding team.

    That honour may go to Colombia, who topped Group D ahead of Brazil before dumping out Uruguay – considered second-favourites for the trophy by some – in the semi-finals.

    Nestor Lorenzo's team did not even require a full complement to overcome La Celeste, standing firm after Daniel Munoz's first-half red card as Jefferson Lerma's earlier header proved decisive. 

    Lerma's goal was Colombia's fifth to come via a header at this tournament, the most by a team at a single edition since Argentina netted six times via that route in 1991, when they lifted the trophy.

    Colombia's aerial prowess has been another string to their bow at a tournament where they have been extremely efficient in attack, scoring a competition-high 12 goals from 8.49 expected goals (xG), a tally that puts them second to Argentina (11.1). Colombia rank just sixth for touches in the penalty area (104) but third for shots from inside the box (59).

    Only conceding twice, Lorenzo's side have also been solid at the back – a recipe for tournament success. 

     

    Per game, they have averaged a tournament-low 0.51 expected goals against (xGA), as well as 9.6 shots faced (the third-best figure) and 2.2 shots on target faced (second-best). 

    That solid backline has given James and Luis Diaz the platform from which to make things happen, with the duo ranking third and fourth, respectively, for expected assists (xA) among all players at the competition. 

    Miserly at the back and with two of the competition's most creative players in attack, Colombia will back themselves to spoil Messi's Miami party.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Argentina – Angel Di Maria

    Di Maria made his 27th Copa America appearance in the last four, becoming Argentina's second-most capped player in the competition, behind Messi (38 matches).

    The former Real Madrid wideman will play his final international match on Sunday, and he could go out with a bang, having earned a reputation as a big-game player.

    Di Maria, who has 31 goals in 144 games for La Albiceleste overall, scored the winner in the 2021 Copa America final versus Brazil and also got on the scoresheet in the 2022 World Cup showpiece game against France.

    Only James (17), Nicolas de la Cruz (14) and Messi (13) have bettered his nine chances created at this tournament, while he also ranks sixth for xA (1.01) and only Messi has matched his tally of four chance-creating carries. 

     

    Colombia – James Rodriguez

    Colombia captain James has looked a player reborn at this tournament, recording six assists, with the most recent teeing up Lerma's semi-final winner versus Uruguay.

    That meant he surpassed Messi (five in 2021) for the most assists at a single edition of the Copa America since this data began being recorded by Opta in 2011.

    A remarkable 12 of his 17 chances created at this tournament have come from set-pieces, and with a cagey affair potentially in store, his dead-ball prowess could prove decisive.

    Five of Colombia's 12 goals have come from corners or indirect free-kicks, with James' deliveries helping them surpass their previous best goalscoring return at a Copa America (11 in both 1975 and 2001).

     

  • Euro 2024 Data Dive: Spain hand baton to Yamal, Olmo emulates Roja great Euro 2024 Data Dive: Spain hand baton to Yamal, Olmo emulates Roja great

    Once the dominant force in Europe, Spain reclaimed their place among the elite of international football on Tuesday. 

    La Roja reached their first major tournament final since Euro 2012 following a 2-1 victory over France in Munich. 

    After several dull knockout games meandered their way to extra time and penalties, a frenetic 25 minutes had eyes across the world glued to their screens for this one.

    With Spain the first team to book their place in Sunday's final, we take a deep dive into the best Opta statistics from a memorable encounter.

    Spain 2-1 France: Roja baton passed down to Yamal

    In a battle between the tournament's most potent strike force and best defence, it would be La Roja's crop of attacking talent that emerged victorious. 

    Attention was fixated on the talented feet of youngster Yamal, and his goal was worthy of winning any semi-final, let alone levelling it. 

    Yamal twisted and turned before curling a fine effort beyond the grasp of Mike Maignan and in off the post, announcing football's newest superstar on the big stage. 

    And at the age of 16 years and 362 days, the Barcelona forward became the youngest goalscorer at a major tournament (World Cup/Euros), a record previously held by Brazil’s Pele against Wales at the 1958 World Cup (17 years, 239 days). 

    While Yamal is only beginning his footballing journey, history was also made by one of the senior players in the Roja dressing room. 

    Despite enduring a difficult evening against Kylian Mbappe, Spain's Jesus Navas will leave Germany with a record to his name, and possibly the Henri Delaunay Cup. 

    At 38 years and 231 days, Navas became the oldest ever outfield player to appear in a semi-final at a major international tournament. 

    While much of the focus will centre around the mercurial talents of Yamal, midfielder Dani Olmo once again proved his worth to Luis de la Fuente's side. 

    Olmo was on target again for Spain, doing brilliantly to manoeuvre space inside the France penalty area before striking the ball home for what proved to be the winner. 

    The RB Leipzig midfielder became the first Spanish player to score in three successive games at the European Championship finals, while his five goal involvements at Euro 2024 (three goals, two assists) are the most by a Spaniard at a major tournament since David Silva at Euro 2012 (two goals, three assists). 

    Olmo also had the joint-most touches in the opposition box along with Fabian Ruiz (three), also showing his defensive influence by winning four of his six duels, a total only bettered by Yamal and Alvaro Morata (both six). 

    Spain's triumph also saw them become the first team to win six matches at a single edition of the Euros, while including World Cups, only Brazil in 2002 have won more games at a major international tournament (seven). 

    For France, however, their stuttering run in Germany finally came to an end. 

    It is only the second time Les Bleus have taken the lead and lost a game at the European Championships, having last done so at Euro 2000, in a 3-2 defeat to the Netherlands in the group stages. 

    Ranal Kolo Muani's eighth-minute strike threatened to tell a different story, but it wasn't meant to be for Didier Deschamps' side. 

    It was Kolo Muani's fifth goal in his last five starts for France in all competitions (four goals, one assist). 

    The Paris Saint-Germain forward also became just the third player to score for France in the semi-finals of both the World Cup and Euros, after Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane.

    The defeat also marked the first time Les Bleus have been eliminated at the semi-final stage of a major tournament since Euro 1996, with only Germany (eight) going out of major tournaments at the semi-final stage more often among European sides than France (six).  

  • 'One step away from glory', says Spain's hero Olmo after France triumph 'One step away from glory', says Spain's hero Olmo after France triumph

    Dani Olmo lauded a resilient Spain showing as his strike against France moved La Roja "one step away" from Euro 2024 glory.

    Didier Deschamps' side snatched an early lead through Randal Kolo Muani in Tuesday's first semi-final, only for record-breaking Lamine Yamal to equalise soon after before Olmo found the net just four minutes later.

    Olmo became the first Spanish player to score in three successive games at the European Championship finals, while his five goal involvements at Euro 2024 (three goals, two assists) are the most by a Spaniard at a major tournament since David Silva at Euro 2012 (two goals, three assists).

    His neat first-half finish helped Spain to a 2-1 victory, setting up Sunday's showpiece against the Netherlands or England, where Olmo hopes to write further history.

    "We are very close now, one step away from glory," Olmo told reporters shortly after the full-time whistle at Allianz Arena.

    Yamal, aged 16 years and 362 days, surpassed Brazil's Pele – who scored against Wales at the age of 17 years and 239 days at the 1958 World Cup – as the youngest-ever scorer at a major tournament (World Cup/Euros).

    Barcelona's teenage star eased past Adrien Rabiot before curling into the top-left corner, levelling just 13 minutes after Kolo Muani headed past the helpless Unai Simon.

    "We planned the game very well and, although we conceded a goal, we knew how to react with the spectacular goal from Lamine and then with my own," Olmo added.

    "And in the second half we knew how to control it."

     

    Spain will now prepare for their fifth Euros final, with only Germany playing in more (six), as they aim for their fourth crown at this tournament.

    Roja centre-back Nacho, who will move to Saudi Arabia after leaving Real Madrid last season, says European Championship success would cap his own individual joy, having lifted the Champions League and LaLiga trophies in the 2023-24 campaign.

    "Playing in this final is something magical, a dream," Nacho said, as quoted by Spanish outlet Mundo Deportivo. "Winning the Euros would be the icing on the cake for a spectacular career.

    "It's going to be an incredible final. It's a team with a lot of character, I always say that the mix of veterans and youngsters makes us very strong.

    "We grow in the face of adversity, we push forward with the strength of the group."

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