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.

Paraguay have not defeated Uruguay at the Copa America since 1947, but La Albirroja have momentum entering Monday's final group-stage game in Rio. 

While Uruguay have laboured to find their form in the tournament, Paraguay have taken six points from the first three Group A matches. 

They defeated Chile 2-0 on Thursday to confirm their place in the quarter-finals, three days after Uruguay needed an own goal by Arturo Vidal to salvage a 1-1 draw with La Roja. 

Coupled with a tournament-opening defeat of Bolivia, Paraguay will be feeling confident about their chances to earn a long-awaited victory.

Head coach Eduardo Berizzo said he expects the game to unfold along similar lines as the sides' scoreless draw in World Cup qualifying in Montevideo earlier this month. 

"Uruguay is tough, difficult, we faced each other recently in the qualifying rounds, it was very physical and tactical and surely the same awaits us," he said. "We will go out to win as we always do." 

La Celeste broke a five-game winless streak with a 2-0 defeat of Bolivia in their previous match, with Edinson Cavani breaking through for his first international goal since Uruguay's most recent victory against Colombia in November. 

With qualification for the knockout phase ensured, Uruguay will hope to gain their footing against a side they have dominated for decades. 

Uruguay are unbeaten in 15 Copa America games (W9 D6) against Paraguay dating to that long-forgotten La Albirroja triumph 74 years ago. 

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Uruguay – Luis Suarez

Suarez is responsible for five of Uruguay's 12 shots on target in the tournament, a sign that he may be close to breaking his five-game international scoring drought. 

Beyond that stretch, the Atletico striker has not scored in the run of play for his country since a November 2019 friendly draw with Argentina. His four goals in World Cup qualifying last fall each came from the spot. 

Paraguay –​ Miguel Almiron

The Newcastle man had a hand in both goals against Chile, assisting on Braian Samudio's 33rd-minute opener and scoring from the spot in the second half. 

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- After their last win against Bolivia, Uruguay broke a run of three winless games in Copa America (D2 L1). They also scored two goals after scoring just once in each of the previous four (W1 D2 L1).
- After 11 winless games in Copa America (D6 L5), Paraguay won two of their last three games losing just against Argentina (1-0).
- Paraguay are the team with the higher shooting average in the current Copa America (17). The Albirroja also have the highest tally in a single game in the competition: 34 shots against Bolivia. 

Cristiano Ronaldo will be the man in the spotlight on Sunday, but Roberto Martinez says Belgium cannot afford to focus only on the Portugal star. 

Ronaldo tied Ali Daei's record of 109 international goals with a pair of penalties against France to send Portugal into the knockout stage of the European Championship. 

Still, Martinez insists Ronaldo will get no special attention in their last-16 clash. 

"When you put a plan against a specific player, you can be hurt by other players," the Belgium head coach told a news conference. "The way that Portugal plays, they’ve got a lot of threat, they’ve got a lot of pace in behind.

"Of course Cristiano Ronaldo seems to be the player that gets the right moment, the right pass and the right chance, and you have to be always aware, but you have to defend the 10 outfield players of Portugal in the same measure.

"We need to be compact, we need to be really solid, and we need to defend as a team.

"Obviously we always think about the opposition and that’s always the case, you need to have that information, but I think we’ve got real good momentum and that’s where we’re concentrating."

Belgium conceded only one goal across their three wins in the group stage, but their prime reason for optimism may rest in Kevin De Bruyne's successful return. 

After his swift recovery from facial fractures suffered in the Champions League final, the Manchester City star played nearly the entire game against Denmark after scoring in his return to action as a half-time substitute against Denmark. 

"Kevin, it’s been great to be able to see him 45 minutes and then almost the 90 minutes, so I feel that he is in the perfect physical condition to go into this game," Martinez said. 

"Kevin will have the normal role, an influential role. He’s not a player that needs to play in a certain position. We need to give him that opportunity to be the play-maker, to be able to link up to that possession that we have.

"We will have to be patient against a really good, resolute, and well-defensive-structured Portugal team, but I think we’re going to see ourselves doing what we always do."

Italy head coach Roberto Mancini has hailed the impact of his substitutes who "changed the game" as the Azzurri won 2-1 over Austria in extra-time in their Euro 2020 last-16 clash.

Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina came off the bench to both score in extra-time, while 67th-minute substitute Manuel Locatelli helped turn the game too.

Mancini had weighed up starting Locatelli ahead of Marco Verratti, whom he replaced, and delighted in his subs' impact and their potential roles moving forward, with a quarter-final date confirmed.

"They were brilliant and that can be a huge advantage for us," Mancini said.

"The fact we have players that can step in and change the game because they are fresh, it was an excellent performance.

"The players wanted to win at all costs and with the subs they did a good job and we were able to win."

The win set a new national record as they extended their unbeaten run to 31 games, surpassing the 30-game streak posted under Vittorio Pozzo between 1935 and 1939.

However, Sasa Kalajdzic's 114th-minute header ended their 11-game run without conceding a goal, dating back to October 2020, ending a run of 19 hours and 28 minutes without conceding.

Mancini insisted Italy did not under-estimate Austria, claiming the match would be tougher than their quarter-final against either Belgium or Portugal on Friday.

"We knew there would be potential banana skins in this match and we thought it would be tougher than the quarter-final, they are not as good as teams in quarter-final, but they really make life tough for you, they cause problems," he said.

"We knew we scored in the first half it would have been a different game. We said it would be a match we would have to struggle through to get the win. We had to dig deep."

Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma said their quarter-final opponent held no fears for the Azzurri.

"It doesn’t matter who we face, we have to keep playing our football and keep going," he said.

"The emotions are extraordinary, we can’t wait until we can play in a packed stadium in front of these fans."

Ivan Perisic will miss Croatia's Euro 2020 last-16 clash with Spain after testing positive for COVID-19. 

The Croatian Football Association announced the veteran winger's result on Saturday and said he will spend the next 10 days in self-isolation. 

All other national team members and staff tested negative, they said.

The rest of the team will fly from their base in Pula to Copenhagen on Sunday, with their last-16 match against Spain set for Monday. 

Perisic has scored two of Croatia's four goals at the Euros, with the Inter Milan man providing the equaliser in their 1-1 draw with the Czech Republic and netting the final goal in the 3-1 defeat of Scotland. 

Perisic also provided the winning margin in Croatia's 2-1 victory over Spain at Euro 2016 with a goal in the 87th minute. 

 

The opening two fixtures of the last-16 stage of Euro 2020 played out on Saturday with Denmark and Italy triumphing in contrasting matches.

There were seven goals scored across the two fixtures with Denmark easing to a 4-0 victory Wales thanks to two goals from Kasper Dolberg to become the first team to reach the quarter-finals.

Italy followed them into the last eight later on the day, although their progress was much more hard fought via a 2-1 extra-time win over a spirited Austria at Wembley courtesy of substitutes Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina.

Stats Perform reflects on a day of youthful confidence and omens for later in the tournament.


Wales 0-4 Denmark: A landmark double for Dolberg 

Denmark have won each of their last four competitive meetings with Wales in a run stretching back to June 1999, and they swaggered to victory again in the first meeting between the sides in a major tournament.

The Danes showed their prowess from long range when Dolberg put them ahead with a curling shot from distance - and they have netted more goals from outside the penalty area (three) than any other side at Euro 2020. Indeed, since 1980 only France (five in 1984) and Belgium (four in 2016) have scored more from distance in a single edition of the competition.

Since the start of 2019, only Christian Eriksen (11) has scored more goals in all competitions for Denmark than the eight Dolberg has so far. At the age of 23 years 263 days, Nice striker Dolberg became the youngest player to score for Denmark in the knockout stages of the European Championship.

Dolberg also became the second Denmark player to score two goals in a knockout game at a major tournament (World Cup and Euros) after Henrik Larsen against the Netherlands at Euro 1992 when the Danes went on to win the tournament.

Another youngster making his mark for Denmark was Mikkel Damsgaard, who, at 20 years and 358 days, became the youngest player to assist a goal in Euros knock-out game since Cristiano Ronaldo in 2004 against the Netherlands.

It was a miserable game for Wales who suffered their biggest defeat in a competitive match since a 6-1 thrashing by Serbia in September 2012. Wales had Harry Wilson sent off in Amsterdam and, following the dismissal of Ethan Ampadu against Italy, became the first team to receive two red cards in a single edition of the European Championship since Russia and Switzerland in 2004.

 

Italy 2-1 Austria: Mancini's side finally let one in

Italy have won four consecutive games at the European Championship for the second time, which bodes well for them going far, having previously done so at Euro 2000 when they ended up as losing finalists.

Chiesa and Pessina gave them a 2-1 win over Austria, and it was the was just the second time two different substitutes have scored in a European Championship game for Italy after Alessandro Altobelli and Luigi De Agostini did so in 1988 against Denmark.

Sasa Kalajdzic's goal for Austria was the first Roberto Mancini's side have let in since October 2020, ending a run of 19 hours and 28 minutes without conceding for the Italians.

Although Austria have now lost all five of their meetings with Italy in major international tournaments (World Cup and Euros), netting just two goals in these matches.

This was Italy’s eighth game at the European Championship to go to extra time, more than any other side in the history of the competition. Their two goals were their first goals in the additional 30 minutes.

Despite playing 157 minutes at Euro 2020 so far, Marco Verratti has created more chances than any other player for Italy (nine).

For a moment it looked as though we were about to say goodbye to the outstanding team of the Euro 2020 group stage as early as the round-of-16.

But VAR came to the rescue in denying Marko Arnautovic a famous goal and, from then on, you just had the feeling fate was on Italy's side.

Roberto Mancini's Azzurri were aiming to extend their unbeaten run to 31 matches, setting a new record, and while Austria certainly went for it towards the end as they pulled one back through Sasa Kalajdzic, Italy saw out a historic 2-1 victory.

But where there was unrelenting praise before, there were arguably doubts about Italy and their system for the first time in Euro 2020, with Mancini forced to turn to his bench to get the job done in extra-time.

 

It should be said, for long periods they were dominant in the first half at Wembley, with their 12 shots the second-most Italy have managed in the opening 45 minutes of games at the tournament.

But there was unquestionably something missing, with Austria shrewdly set up by Franco Foda.

The German coach has proven tactically flexible in Euro 2020, switching between a back three and a back four – he chose the latter on this occasion as they zoned in on Italy's threat from the flanks.

David Alaba had been deployed at centre-back against the Netherlands but moved to left-back in the 1-0 win over Ukraine, and that was where he remained here.

Foda went with a double pivot again, giving the centre-backs extra protection but also ensuring Domenico Berardi and Lorenzo Insigne had little joy when cutting in from their respective wings, finding themselves crowded out more often than not by Florian Grillitsch and Xaver Schlager, whose five tackles were more than anyone else.

It became a recurring theme, with the only Italy player who looked even moderately threatening out wide for much of the game being Leonardo Spinazzola.

The left-back was bright in the opening 45 minutes, making some lung-busting runs up the flank and one of those led to arguably their best chance, when Nicolo Barella was denied by Daniel Bachmann. Nevertheless, he too was rather quieter after half-time.

Italy's struggles out wide were further highlighted by the fact they failed to deliver any open-play crosses before the break for the first time in a Euros game since 1980.

This was made even more surprising given 74.2 per cent of their attacks in the group stage came down the flanks. While an attack from the wings doesn't necessarily mean a cross has to be played in, it does suggest Foda was wise to focus his attentions on this area of the pitch.

Italy also weren't helped by the fact Giovanni Di Lorenzo offered very little by way of support to Berardi, who was a source of frustration well into the second period.

 

That was with the exception of one moment very early on in the second half, as Berardi got to the byline and drilled a low ball into the danger zone, much in the same vein as his assist for Manuel Locatelli against Turkey.

This time a team-mate couldn't get it into the goal, but instead of that acting as a source of encouragement, it was a tactic Berardi was barely able to carry out again.

Berardi's performance was summed up by his scissor-kick attempt in the 84th minute that was sliced high and wide. It was a final action befitting his underwhelming performance before being replaced by Federico Chiesa.

It was something of a surprise on matchday one when Berardi was the chosen man ahead of Chiesa out on the right. While the former justified that call in his first few games, the Juventus talent impressively staked his own claim here.

Five minutes into extra-time, Chiesa had hung out wide before springing into the box to receive a lofted pass from Spinazzola. He controlled it with his head, before cleverly knocking it underneath the approaching Konrad Laimer and smashing into the far side of the goal with a vengeance.

Another substitute in Matteo Pessina then got the goal that proved decisive, making the most of good hold-up play by Francesco Acerbi and powering home.

While Pessina's initial introduction for Marco Verratti, who had been key for Italy beforehand, raised eyebrows, Mancini's decision was ultimately vindicated in that moment.

Kalajdzic's late header saw him become the first player to score against Italy since Donny van de Beek for the Netherlands last October, but it could not prevent Italy from marching on to the quarter-finals.

On a day that saw Italy create history, with their unbeaten run as much to do with Mancini as any player such has been the transformative impact he's had, it was only fitting that his in-game changes made the difference.

Italy set a new national record as they extended their unbeaten run to 31 games with a 2-1 triumph over Austria at Euro 2020.

Extra-time goals from substitutes Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina at Wembley Stadium made sure the in-form Azzurri progressed through to the quarter-finals of the tournament, where they will play either Belgium or Portugal in Munich.

Roberto Mancini has not seen his team lose since a 1-0 Nations League reverse against Portugal back in September 2018.

Their current run is now the longest in Italy's long and illustrious history, surpassing the 30-game streak posted under Vittorio Pozzo between 1935 and 1939.

Mancini was appointed to the job after the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup under Gian Piero Ventura. 

Italy have been victorious in 27 of their 36 games under the former Inter and Manchester City boss (D7 L2). His 75.6 per cent win ratio is the highest of any manager to have spent at least 10 games in charge of the national team.

They won all three of their group fixtures for just the fourth time in European Championships and World Cups, defeating Turkey, Switzerland and Wales on home soil in Rome without conceding a goal.

Sasa Kalajdzic's goal for Austria in the 114th minute was the first Italy have let in since October 2020, ending a run of 1,168 minutes without conceding.

 

Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina scored in extra time as Italy beat Austria 2-1 to move into the Euro 2020 quarter-finals. 

The win set a new national record as they extended their unbeaten run to 31 games, surpassing the 30-game streak posted under Vittorio Pozzo between 1935 and 1939.

Marko Arnautovic saw an effort ruled out by VAR in the second half as Austria threatened to cause an upset, but substitutes Chiesa and Pessina booked the Azzurri's last-eight spot with clinical finishes in the first half of extra time, although Sasa Kalajdzic did set up a frantic finish with his 114th-minute effort. 

Roberto Mancini's side will face the winner of Sunday's clash between Portugal and Belgium in Munich on Friday.

Italy started strongly and had seven shots before the half-hour mark, Daniel Bachmann keeping out Nicolo Barella with his feet in what was the Azzurri's best chance in that period. 

At the other end, Arnautovic blazed over from a promising position, while Ciro Immobile crashed a superb effort off Bachmann's right-hand post from 25 yards. 

Bachmann pawed away a low effort from Leonardo Spinazzola shortly before the interval as Italy ultimately failed to make their first-half dominance count.

Austria improved dramatically after the break and thought they had gone ahead midway through the second half, but Arnautovic's deft header was ruled out by VAR for offside. 

Franco Foda's side might have thought they would have the edge in extra time given Italy's lethargy for much of the second period, yet it was the Azzurri who struck the decisive blow. 

Chiesa controlled Spinazzola's cross in the 95th minute, cut inside Konrad Laimer and lashed a fine half-volley past Bachmann. 

The Austria goalkeeper did well to keep out Lorenzo Insigne's free-kick soon after, but there was little he could do to deny Pessina in the 105th minute, the Atalanta midfielder powering past him from six yards after skipping past Martin Hinteregger.

Kalajdzic set up a grandstand finish with a clever near-post header from Louis Schaub's corner – ending Italy's run of 1,168 minutes without conceding – yet Mancini’s men held firm to keep their Euro 2020 dreams alive. 

 Ludlow Bernard has managed to keep the Stars of the East mentally focused ahead of the long-awaited start of the Jamaica Premier League (JPL).

Bernard will be keeping the same squad from last season. The Stars of the East last met and trained as a team in February.  As a result, the coach is concerned that the inactivity of the league and inconsistent training sessions might see a decline in his players' fitness levels.

The management team of the club admits they are cautious and concerned about possible injuries that may be sustained given the brief period allotted to prepare for the start of the league.

What seems to be the general modus operandi for all clubs, during the wake of the pandemic, Bernard's men were given training drills to complete independently.

The four-time champions are, however, currently facing financial hiccups.

"This is our primary line of activity, in the event that you are not being competitive, then your ability to earn, the ability for the players to be compensated on a monthly basis has certainly been hindered," Bernard said.

Even though the players have been badly impacted psychologically and physiologically have been hampered by over a year of inactivity, once news broke that the league would officially begin in June, Bernard is happy to report his players were delighted.

Joao Moutinho urged his Portugal team-mates not to go overboard trying to stop Belgium's Kevin De Bruyne in their Euro 2020 last-16 tie on Sunday.

De Bruyne has lit up Belgium's last two performances having missed their opening game in Group B match against Russia with the facial injury he picked up in the Champions League final.

A brilliant assist and winning goal saw the Manchester City playmaker inspire Roberto Martinez's side to a 2-1 win over Denmark having come off the bench at half-time.

Belgium made it three consecutive wins after a 2-0 victory over Finland with De Bruyne laying on Romelu Lukaku's third goal of the tournament.

De Bruyne has only played 134 minutes at Euro 2020 and has created five chances with an expected assists (xA) value of 1.18.

Since (and including) the 2014 World Cup, De Bruyne has created 71 chances in major tournaments (Euros and World Cup), more than any other European player in that time.

Moutinho will be one of those charged with stifling De Bruyne's influence, but warned about singling out the player for too much attention.

"Kevin is very competent, we have to be careful but not just focus on one player," Portugal midfielder Moutinho told a media conference.

 

"If he has space to play it's even more dangerous. But if all of them have space, they will play their game calmly and that will make our job difficult. 

"That would set the others free and that would be even worse. As a team we will try to minimise their strengths and put ours into practice, not only focus on De Bruyne.

"If the manager thinks I'm the player with the characteristics to face Belgium, I'll do that. Try to impose my experience and the pace of the game that interests us the most. 

"I'm available to give my best, that's what we all want to do, for the team to achieve its goals."

Portugal head coach Fernando Santos has dubbed the match a "final" and acknowledged the defending champions must improve on their displays in the group stage.

"We know that we are going to have a competent opponent. I believe, I hope and I am convinced that we will be more competent," he said.

"To reach the final, this is the first final. What we have to do is not to give space. The team that defends better, knows how to manage the ball better and create opportunities, will win the game."

 

Head coach of Arnett Gardens, Alex Thomas, is looking forward to a productive season when the Jamaica Premier League (JPL) kicks off this weekend.

Arnett resorted to training in small groups when Covid-19 unexpectedly abrupted the sporting arena after Minister of Sports Olivia Grange had barred the Premier league teams from training as a unit.

Thomas revealed the club has since taken a different approach to their squad line-up, shedding some weight, and adding younger players to the team.

The club has released Ricardo Holder and Jamar Martin among a few veteran players that were with the team last season.

Thomas believes that the changes will bring positive results and is pleased with what he has seen so far.  Despite having had a short period to prepare for the season, he is not concerned about it impacting the quality of the team’s performance. 

"We have a nice squad put together and they have come a long way and we are shaping up well for it. We are ready for the 26th," Thomas said.

According to Thomas, the young players are keen to prove their abilities and will be guided by more experienced players in the team.

He and the rest of the management team are happy that there are no injuries within the squad for far and hope it will remain that way.

Thomas has lauded the club's involvement and interaction with the players during the pandemic and the uncertainty that came with it.

Social media engagement and zoom meetings were some of the club's avenues to communicate with the players.

"It worked quite well for us, we couldn't come together most of the time, but we kept the squad upbeat within the group, we have a WhatsApp group that we keep in touch with," said Thomas.

The five-time champions are confident in their chances of winning the league and will be pushing themselves to reign as titleholders once again.

"Our chance of winning this competition out of ten, I would say eight, but we are going to push them as far as possible. Our objective is to reach the top six and from the top six we take it from there. We will do very well for ourselves," Thomas ended.

The league format has been altered from the usual three rounds to just one. Instead, teams will play each other in a round-robin. Therefore, the top six teams will have a chance to book a spot in the finals, and the bottom six will battle each other in another round-robin format; this will determine their respective placings on the league table.

Team Manager of Dunbeholden FC Paul Christie has no time for excuses, despite the pandemic affecting their usual way of getting business done.

Dunbeholden FC has been adapting to the circumstances and creating a pathway to a successful campaign for the upcoming season.  Christie reports that the club's coaching staff are effectively getting the players ready for competition and the title is theirs to take.

"At Dunbeholden FC, right now we are in it to win it. We are trying our best to prepare like any other team, and we give ourselves a chance against any opponent,” Christie said.

The Spanish Town-based club is looking to secure their first-ever league title and wants to do so in style.

Christie admitted to SportsMax.tv that his players had some psychological impact due to the pandemic. However, he said the management team addressed those issues with professional intervention because the team needs to be focused mentally on winning the title.

"We have persons who we had to engage for psychological evaluation, based on the severity of what was happening to them.  However, I know that our opponents will not empathize with that, on the game day they will still have to show and give the best account of themselves and that is what we are assiduously working on at this time,” he added.

In a bid to strengthen their overall depth, Dunbeholden FC has added several quality players to their armoury. Among the new signings are former Portmore United striker Rondee Smith, defender Roberto Johnson, Damion Hyatt from Arnett Gardens, Diego Gordon, Kiethy Simpson, and Mark Miller from Waterhouse FC.

Christie believes Smith will be lethal up front and is expected to be a nightmare for their rivals.  Johnson should be sturdy in defence, organising and commanding their backline. Miller and Simpson will be mobilising the midfield, threading, and splitting defences with creative passes, putting their strikers on the end of open goal-scoring opportunities.

The new signings expect to give Dunbeholden FC a competitive edge with a degree of experience and talent, says Christie.

Dunbeholden FC had also signed the late Tremaine Stewart in September of last year. However, the 33-year-old forward did not feature for the club because of the cancelled season due to the pandemic.

Dunbeholden FC had felt Stewart's presence instantly when he joined, and Christie was confident that with Stewart’s talent and energy, Dunbeholden would be sure winners of the competition.

According to the manager, the team was in a sombre mood but has since redirected their emotions towards winning the league title in honour of Stewart.

"We are trying to flip it around…although we are having a sad and a mournful time, we are trying to use it as motivation and try to just do this one for our fallen brother."

Mount Pleasant manager David Galloway has picked the trio of Prince Christie, Ricardo Gaynor, and Kevin Wilson to stun the Jamaica Premier League (JPL) this season.

In an interview with SportsMax.tv, Galloway lauded the talent that has progressed from the academy and believes the young players are going to be brilliant and surprise many in our local sporting arena.

Galloway insists Mount Pleasant is currently enjoying their football in training, and the passion and quality of play he is seeing should put his team in the top two come the end of the season.

The Saint Ann-based will not be threatened or intimidated by any opponent in the league. However, Galloway also said that his players and technical team are not complacent and are taking every opponent seriously.

"Football is a highly competitive sport, doesn't matter who you play against it's the day that counts, and at the end of the day it is the score that counts. You can go out there with your best team and still not come out on top. We try our best to just stay focused, maintain that discipline and we try to prepare players mentally and physically to get them out there and do the job and finish according to our dream plan."

He admitted that the ending prematurely last season was a disappointment.  The team was fourth and he believes their in-form squad would have been serious title contenders.

Since Mount Pleasant has resumed training, players are showing signs of 'top form' once again and Gallaway says he is thankful and elated for the team's consistency. 

Mount Pleasant's first bridge to cross is against five-time champions Tivoli Gardens FC on Sunday, at 8:30 am at the University of the West Indies Bowl, Mona campus.

Kasper Dolberg described his two-goal haul against Wales as "completely crazy" after helping to fire Denmark into the quarter-finals of Euro 2020 with a 4-0 win.

The Nice forward scored either side of half-time to put the Danes in control of Saturday's last-16 tie at the Johan Cruijff ArenA, where he previously spent three years with Ajax.

In doing so, Dolberg became only the second Denmark player after Henrik Larsen against the Netherlands in 1992 to score two goals in a knockout game at a major tournament.

Further goals from Joakim Maehle and Martin Braithwaite followed, either side of Harry Wilson's red card, as Kasper Hjulmand's side ran riot in Amsterdam.

Dolberg, who is Denmark's youngest scorer in the knockout stages of the Euros, received the man of the match award and struggled to sum up his emotions after the match.

"It's completely crazy. I actually don't know how I feel. This is total madness. It's surreal," he told Danish television station DR.

"It was here it all started for me with Ajax, and to play here again in this setting was insane."

 

Since the start of 2019, only Christian Eriksen (11) has scored more goals for Denmark than the eight Dolberg has managed.

He had more shots (four) and shots on target (three) than anyone on the field, despite having just five touches in the Wales box before being taken off after 70 minutes, and scored his two goals from an expected-goals (xG) return of 1.1.

"It had to end this way with him scoring on his old home ground. I had a good feeling about him, and he was fantastic," Denmark boss Hjulmand told DR.

After thrashing Russia 4-1 to book their place in the last 16, Denmark are the first side ever to score four or more goals in successive European Championship matches.

It is also the first time they have won back-to-back matches at a single major tournament since the 1986 World Cup, and a meeting with either the Netherlands or the Czech Republic awaits in next week's quarter-finals.

"It's hard to believe that this is reality. I admire the boys and the fact that we can keep fighting," Hjulmand added. "No matter who plays, they play very well. The guys are true warriors.

"We showed today we are able to be flexible. Not everything was perfect during the game but we improved and that's something we've done several times."

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.