Finn Russell will captain Scotland in this Saturday’s World Cup warm-up match against France – less than 10 months after Gregor Townsend left the fly-half out of his initial squad for the autumn series.

The 30-year-old will lead the team in the absence of Jamie Ritchie, who misses out with a minor niggle. Scotland medical staff hope the regular skipper will be fit to return for the rematch with France in St Etienne the following Saturday.

Head coach Townsend has restored most of his senior players, making 13 changes to his starting XV, after a largely experimental side defeated Italy last weekend.

Darcy Graham and Matt Fagerson are the only two to retain their places from the win over the Azzurri, while hooker Ewan Ashman – with just seven caps to date – is the least-established player in the XV to face the World Cup hosts.

Ritchie and George Turner – who played against Italy – are the only notable absentees from the starting XV.

Versatile Edinburgh back Blair Kinghorn has been given a chance to establish himself as the first-choice number 15 following the recent retirement of Stuart Hogg.

Russell being handed the captaincy marks a significant turnaround in fortunes for a player whose international future looked in serious jeopardy just under a year ago after he was a surprise omission from the autumn series squad, with Townsend citing concerns about his form and consistency levels.

However, following an injury to Adam Hastings that left him short of dependable options at stand-off, Townsend held clear-the-air talks with Russell and recalled him for the third of the four autumn Tests at home to New Zealand.

The number 10 – who has moved to Bath from Racing 92 this summer – shone against the All Blacks and Argentina last November and continued to flourish in the Six Nations, rediscovering the faith of Townsend who has rewarded him with the honour of leading the team this weekend, just five weeks out from their opening World Cup match against South Africa in Marseille.

While admitting to some disappointment that she was sent off in their opening Fifa Women's World Cup game against France, Reggae Girlz captain Khadija "Bunny" Shaw says she has nothing to be ashamed of, as she did what was required to assure her team the best possible result.

In fact, Shaw's general mindset and outlook is one of utmost positivity, especially given the fact that the Girlz remained composed and resolute to earn their first ever World Cup point, following her ejection at Sydney Football Stadium.

The towering striker, who is rated among the best in the world at present, was sent off in time added in the goalless stalemate with fifth-ranked France, after she was shown a second yellow card for an unnecessary sliding challenge on Wendie Renard. She had early picked up a 37th-minute caution.

Though video replay showed that there was minimal contact, the rules of the game are such that VAR could not have intervened unless it was a straight red card. Still, it mattered little as an appeal by Head coach Lorne Donaldson was dismissed by Fifa and her suspension stands.

"Every time I go out on the pitch, I always give my 100 percent and try to help the team and be the leader that I know I can be. So, at the end of the day, my ultimate goal is more than just to score goals, I always aim to help the team defensively as well and stuff like that.

"So, it's a bit difficult for me, my first red card but looking back at the game, I am taking the positives from it which is my overall performance and of course, our first point at the World Cup," Shaw said.

"Physically I am pretty banged up, it was a very physical game and I strive off that so I know that my overall effort is something that I can feel proud of, and I walked off the pitch, not in the best way, but I walked off knowing that I did my best. So yes, I've looked back at it but only taking positives from it," she added.

Reflecting on the performance, Shaw pointed out that the well-experienced French outfit, a quarterfinalist from 2019 and one of the favourites for this ongoing showpiece, was always expected to prove a handful. On that note, she credits her teammates for their grit and determination in executing the game plan.

"As a team, we spoke about the game, we had a while to prepare for the game and we knew it wasn't going to be an easy game. We knew defensively we had to be solid and attacking wise, we had to make the right decisions when we are on the ball, so I think overall our performance was good. 

"We dug deep as a team, we had some difficult moments when France had a lot of corners and transitional moments, but we fed off each other in different aspects and actions of the game and I think ultimately the result speak for itself,” the Manchester City stalwart noted.

Despite her suspension from the upcoming game against 52nd-ranked Panama, a team she has always had success against dating back to the historic qualification in 2018, Shaw, 26, has every confidence in her team to once again deliver accordingly.

"Outsiders looking in can see our team, we are always together, we are one family and like I said, we feed of each other’s energy. So, when you have that chemistry and that sort of relationship with your teammates, it means if one of the ladies are out of position and another cover for her, they are going to do that and we have always been that way," Shaw reasoned.

"We have always believed in ourselves and our capabilities and preparation wise, it wasn't the best, but we have to focus on what we can control and that is to give of our best on the pitch and hopefully it will always be good enough," the Spanish Town native said.

The 43rd-ranked Girlz are currently third in Group F on a point, same as France, both behind leaders Brazil on three points, while Panama is pointless.

A win, particularly by a handsome scoreline in Saturday's encounter at Perth Rectangular Stadium, would put the Girlz in a good position to achieve their main objective –to progress beyond the group stages.

They are scheduled to close group play against Brazil on August 2.

"I think that (upcoming game) is going to be a big challenge for us, we have played Panama multiple times before, so we know what they have to offer. But I think ultimately, we have to focus on ourselves go out there build from the result that we got against France, keep our confidence high and hopefully at the end of the day we can get the job done," Shaw ended.


Jamaica's assistant coach Xavier Gilbert says the senior Reggae Girlz are well aware of the importance of focusing on the task at hand, instead of overdosing on the high of earning their first ever Fifa Women's World Cup point.

Though their historic goalless draw against one of the tournaments favourite and fifth-ranked France is worth celebrating, Gilbert pointed out that the players required no reminders about their main objective at the tournament being co-hosted in Australia and New Zealand --to progress beyond the group stages.

In fact, the assistant to Head coach Lorne Donaldson emphasized that the focus shifted to their upcoming game against Panama, soon after they departed the Sydney Football Stadium on Sunday, where the 43rd-ranked Girlz gritty performance delighted a crowd of almost 40,000.

"I think we did well, we had our game plan against France and the Girlz executed, not perfectly, but well enough to earn us a point in an atmosphere that almost felt like Jamaica's National Stadium. The crowd was really behind us and supported us and for that we are happy, even moreso, to get on the board where the point is concerned, but it's unto the next game," Gilbert told

"It (the point) is huge, and it no doubt ranks high on the list of the country's accomplishments among male or female teams, but more importantly, it puts us in good stead for the rest of the tournament and the players know that. So, while they basked in the achievement, they remain focus on the job at hand and know the level of work they have to put in to earn it," he added.

The Girlz have now been subjected to much higher expectations than they usually entertain with many pundits now believing they can pull off what initially seemed an impossible task of getting out Group F which also includes number eight-ranked Brazil.

That hype and confidence behind the team has reached a level where the Girlz commanded the media spotlight for the past two days and even earned the respect of many, who would have probably scoffed at their ambitions in the buildup to this, their second appearance global showpiece, following three losses on debut in France 2019.

Still, Gilbert reiterated that the players are aware that the off-field hype isn't enough to carry the team and it is only through consistent efficiency in their performances against more top-quality teams that will truly prove them worthy.

"I'm sure the other teams will start to respect us now, we had objectives that we want to achieve so the strength of the first game performance would have increased the confidence level in the Girlz ability and what they can achieve in the tournament," he said.

"But we haven’t won anything yet, so obviously there’s a lot of expectations, but we still feel like the underdogs, and we still have a lot of work to do as we keep building towards a sustainable and competitive women’s football programme," Gilbert noted.

With Brazil currently at the top of the group on three points, the Jamaicans, who are joint second on a point with France, will be hoping to assert their authority against 52nd-ranked Concacaf rivals Panama, who are without a point, after a 0-4 loss to the Brazilians.

Though the Reggae Girlz setup has improved significantly where player quality is concerned, since that famous October 17, 2018, penalty shootout victory against the Panamanians, which secured their first World Cup berth, Gilbert said they will by no means grandstand against their rivals come Saturday at the Perth Rectangular Stadium, especially without inspirational captain Khadija "Bunny" Shaw.

The prolific striker picked up two yellow cards I that opening contest against France. Efforts have since been made to have the second caution that led to the suspension, overturned, but it is left to be seen what will transpire.

For now, Gilbert explained that they are proceeding accordingly.

"It's a huge disappointment both for her [Bunny] and the team that she will miss the next game, but the ladies are professional, they know what is at stake, they understand what to do and again it's just about the belief in their own ability to get the job done without Bunny.

"So we are preparing for the next game in that vein because we don't underestimate any team. So as soon as we got the Girlz recovered, it was back to business because we have to take care of business come Saturday," Gilbert ended.


Sweden got their Women’s World Cup campaign up and running in dramatic fashion while Jamaica claimed a historic point on day four of the tournament.

The Swedes, who finished third in 2019, battled back to beat South Africa while Jamaica held France and in the day’s other game, the Netherlands claimed a narrow win over Portugal.

Here the PA news agency takes a look at all of Sunday’s action.

Netherlands down debutants

Stefanie van der Gragt’s header saw the Netherlands open their challenge with a 1-0 victory over debutants Portugal in Dunedin.

The defender beat Ines Pereira after 13 minutes but needed to wait before the effort was awarded by VAR.

Jill Roord and Danielle van de Donk missed good chances to extend the lead for the Dutch, who are without injured record scorer Vivianne Miedema. Portugal substitute Telma Encarnacao had a late effort saved by Daphne van Domselaar.

Reggae Girlz hold on to make history

Jamaica secured their first-ever point at a Women’s World Cup by drawing 0-0 with France in their Group F opener.

The Reggae Girlz had skipper Khadija Shaw sent off late on but held on against a side 38 places higher than them in the FIFA rankings.

Kadidiatou Diani saw one shot saved by Rebecca Spencer, another deflect just wide and headed against the woodwork late on as France were left frustrated.

New Gunners signing seals Sweden comeback

Amanda Ilestedt’s late winner saw Sweden come from behind to beat South Africa 2-1 at Wellington Regional Stadium.

The new Arsenal signing’s header came in stoppage time to break South Africa hearts after Hildah Magaia put them ahead minutes into the second half.

But Sweden, who beat England in the third-place play-off four years ago and were runners-up in 2003, recovered with Fridolina Rolfo equalising in the 65th minute. Defender Ilestedt then nodded in the winner in the 90th minute.

Picture of the dayPost of the dayQuote of the day

Jamaica manager Lorne Donaldson: “I would say it is the number one result we have had so far. The number one result, men or women. Just look at the rankings. You would say this result, on this stage, has to be number one.”

Up next

Group F: Brazil v Panama (12pm Monday, Hindmarsh Stadium)
Group G: Italy v Argentina (7am Monday, Eden Park)
Group H: Germany v Morocco (930am Monday, Melbourne Rectangular Stadium)
all times BST

After three defeats on their historic Fifa Women’s World Cup debut in France in 2019, Jamaica’s senior Reggae Girlz dreamt of picking up their first ever point at the global showpiece on this occasion, and that they did.

The 43rd-ranked Reggae Girlz fought gallantly to hold overwhelming favourites and fifth-ranked France to a goalless stalemate, much to the delight of the over 39,000 spectators inside the Sydney Football Stadium on Sunday.

France, a quarterfinalist in 2019, has never been involved in a goalless draw and little did they expect that it would have come against the Jamaicans, who lost captain Khadija “Bunny” Shaw in the latter stages of the high intensity encounter, as she was sent off in time added on.

Reggae Girlz Head coach Lorne Donaldson praised his team for their heroic display, particularly goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer.

“She has been training for this, she hardly took a break after her club season, she just wanted to get right back into it. I saw her efforts in Jamaica, and I questioned whether she is doing too much, but she said no coach, I am ready, and she was just fantastic,” Donaldson said of the Tottenham Hotspur shot stopper.

With their first point in the bag, Donaldson declared intentions for the remainder of the tournament, with Concacaf rivals Panama, next in their line of sight.

“We came here believing we could get something out of the game, it was a fantastic French team, but we were determined to play hard, and the ladies gave it everything.

“This is the number one result we would have had in our history on this stage male or female, so now we have to keep getting points, it three games we just have to keep getting points and try to get ourselves in a good position to advance from the group,” he added.

It was always expected to be a dogfight given the Jamaicans intentions, as the Les Bleues entered the contest with six wins from their last eight outings, including wins over Norway, Denmark and Ireland earlier this month. However, the Reggae Girlz again displayed their ability to turn up when it matters most.

Though France was always the dominant force in the high-intensity and physical battle, the Jamaicans stood up strong and had their chances from set pieces, the best of which was when Shaw’s stinging free kick from about 25 yards out was parried by Pauline Peyraud-Magnin in goal for France.

At the other end, Kadidiatou Diani, forced a save from Jamaica’s goalkeeper Spencer and later saw another effort deflected wide to end the first half.

France maintained the momentum on the resumption, but the Jamaicans had a few good breaks in patches, none of which amounted to any real goal scoring chance.

In fact, there best chance of the half came in the 65th minute when Player of the game, Deneisha Blackwood’s weighted cross in the 18-yard box was headed down by Cheyna Matthews, but the effort lacked enough pace to beat Peyraud-Magnin.

France’s first effort on target in the second half came in the 76th when Eugenie Le Sommer squeezed a right-footed effort off while under pressure from Chantelle Swaby, but it was easily gathered by Spencer, who was well positioned at her near post.

After consistently probing, the French almost got the much sought after breakthrough in the 90th when substitute Vicko Becho floated in a cross that was headed on towards goal by Diani, but the late effort came back off the bar, leaving one of the tournament favorites to settle for a point.

Teams: Jamaica –Rebecca Spencer, Chantelle Swaby, Allyson Swaby, Vyan Sampson, Tiernny Wiltshire, Deneisha Blackwood, Jody Brown, Atlanta Primus (Havana Solaun 70th), Drew Spence, Cheyna Matthews (Solai Washington 70th), Khadija Shaw

Subs not used: Liya Brooks, Sydney Schneider, Konya Plummer, Tiffany Cameron, Trudi Carter, Peyton McNamara, Kameron Simmonds, Kalyssa Van Zanten, Paige Bailey-Gayle, Kayla McKenna

Booked: Primus (24th), Shaw (37th, 90+1 (red)

France: Pauline Peyraud-Magnin, Maelle Lakrar, Estelle Cascarino, Wendie Renard, Sakina Karchaoui, Sandie Toletti, Grace Geyoro, Amel Majri (Vicko Becho 66th), Kadidiatou Diani, Eugenie Le Sommer, Clara Mateo (Kenza Dali 66th)

Subs not used: Solene Durand, Constance Picaud, Laurina Fazer, Elisa De Almeida, Selma Bacha, Aissatou Tounkara, Lea Le Garrec, Viviane Asseyi, Naomie Feller, Eve Perisset

Booked: Mateo (14th)

Referee: Maria Carvajal (Chile)

Assistant referees: Leslie Vasquez (Chile); Loreto Toloza (Chile)

Fourth official: Laura Fortunato (Argentina)

Kylian Mbappe must head to either LaLiga or the Premier League if he wishes to compete at the top level, believes ex-Barcelona forward Hristo Stoichkov.

The Paris Saint-Germain superstar is the subject of another visible public struggle over his future with the Ligue 1 champions amid a contract stand-off.

Having turned down joining Real Madrid last year in favour of a new two-year deal at Parc des Princes, the World Cup-winning forward is now refusing to sign an extension.

That has led to the 24-year-old being dropped for his side's pre-season tour of Asia, and Stoichkov believes Mbappe must force the move abroad if he is to truly challenge himself.

"He is a great player," he told Stats Perform. "We have spoken off camera and he has told me that his greater dream is to win the Ballon d'Or. It is difficult to reach his level and even more so to stay at that level.

"Perhaps PSG opted for him, for [Lionel] Messi, for Neymar, for Sergio Ramos and for [Gianluigi] Donnarumma to have a competitive team and be able to win the Champions League, but it couldn't be.

"If Mbappe wants to compete big, he has to go to the Spanish league or the Premier [League]. In England, there are teams that can sign him, [like] Manchester City, Liverpool or Arsenal.

"But he has to choose the path where he feels most comfortable because it won't be easy. He will have a lot more pressure and with the press on him.

"Kylian is a great guy and very humble. Some say that he is arrogant, but he is not. He is very well off, and he knows very well what he wants to do.

"Hopefully sooner or later Kylian will have the opportunity to lift the Ballon d'Or because he deserves it."

Following a decade-and-a-half dominated by the powers of Mbappe's former team-mate Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the illustrious duo's departure from Europe has effectively ended a sporting era.

Stoichkov believes Mbappe sits near the summit of a new group of players looking to be considered the best in the world, predicting a great rivalry with Erling Haaland and Vinicius Junior.

"Now begins another era with big names, as in mine there was Roberto Baggio, [Michael] Laudrup, me, Michel, [Emilio] Butragueno, [Jurgen] Klinsmann or [Lothar] Matthaus, many great players.

"Then this time came with two phenomena like Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo where the two always fought. Now comes another with a litter of fantastic players.

"Haaland, Mbappe, Vinicius, Pedri, Gavi, other players who can get close. In the coming years, we will see a great rivalry between Haaland, Mbappe and Vinicius who are the strikers who make the big difference."

After months of preparation and anticipation, Jamaica’s senior Reggae Girlz wait to wet their feet at a second-consecutive Fifa Women’s World Cup, is now over.

They kick off their Group F campaign hopeful of getting their first ever point on the board at the global showpiece, but doing so against an experienced France squad that is well versed in the challenges that the World Cup presents, will by no means be easy.

France obviously enters Sunday’s contest scheduled for 5:00 am Jamaica time, at Sydney Football Stadium as strong favourites with Les Bleues currently fifth in the Fifa rankings, while Lorne Donaldson’s Reggae Girlz sit at number 43.

However, Donaldson would readily tell you that rankings mean very little and while they proudly wear the underdog tag, they are not to be taken lightly.

“We have been training for this match for the last few weeks, obviously France is one of the top five teams in the world, they have been to a few World Cups, and I think they are one of the favourites right now. But our preparation has been good throughout, so hopefully we can come out, put up a good fight and show the world what we can do,” Donaldson said in a pre-game press conference.

 “I don’t want to give much away in terms of our tactics, we are going to just come out and adjust to what they are doing and just put up a fight and just figure things out as we go along,” he added.

Though Hervé Renard's French side have picked up six wins from their last eight outings, including wins over Norway, Denmark and Ireland earlier this month, the Reggae Girlz have highlighted their ability to turn up when it matters most.

It is that unpredictability along with the presence of prolific striker Khadija “Bunny” Shaw that Donaldson believes will spark some semblance of fear in the opponents.

“I think anytime you get into this (big game) situation there is always pressure. We can say we don’t have nothing to lose, but we still want to play well and make our country proud, and the players feel the same way that they want to get something out of the game. So, I don’t know if France has more pressure than us but there is pressure both ways,” Donaldson opined.

“The French team has a new coach they haven’t played a lot of game under the new coach so we can’t look back at the old France team, some of the players are the same and there are new players and they have played more games than us recently. So, we have to study those games to see how we approach the game. It’s a new enthused and energetic French team, different mentality and different style of play,” he noted.

Though he is yet to confirm his starting team, it is likely that Donaldson and his assistants could lean towards a 4-3-3 formation, which would see Tottenham Hotspurs’ Rebecca Spencer in goal, shadowed by Swaby sisters Chantelle and Allyson in the heart of defence, flanked by Tiernny Wiltshire on the right and Deneisha Blackwood on the left.

Havana Solaun, Drew Spence and Atlanta Primus, could marshal the midfield, while Shaw could possibly be joined by Jody Brown and Cheyna Matthews in the three-pronged attack.

Meanwhile, the England-born Primus, who will be among a number of players making their World Cup debut, pointed out that the team is raring to go.

“We are very much here to play and our primary focus is the game tomorrow against France. I am super excited, we have been working hard to prepare as much as we can for this, so our attention and focus is very much on that,” she said.

“Obviously Bunny is the top striker from last year and she is coming off an incredible season in the WSL, so I think she will enter the tournament with great confidence and for us as a team it is great to have her on our side because it’s a matter of scoring goals to win games so hopefully, she can sparkle,” Primus added.

After France, the Girlz will engage Panama on July 29 and Brazil on August 2.

Tiffany Cameron believed the foundation for her to achieve continued success in a longstanding career, hinged on her making another Fifa Women’s World Cup appearance, backed by a new signing.

So, the fact the Canada-born player was overcome with emotions when news came that she made Jamaica’s final squad to the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, followed by a new deal with top flight Spanish club Real Betis, is understandable, as everything fell in place as she had hoped.

For the Reggae Girl striker, turned defender, both accomplishments are a testament of her hard work and unwavering determination to ensure she remains prominent on the international and club scene in a career spanning over 10 years.

“When the (World Cup) roster was released, I had a big smile on my face and I did shed a little tear because it has been quite the journey for me. This is my third World Cup, second with Jamaica and I had one with Canada at the youth level, so it is definitely something to really be proud of,” said Cameron, who was also a part of Jamaica’s historic team at the 2019 global showpiece in France.

Cameron’s sense of satisfaction, particularly where the Reggae Girlz are concerned, comes from the fact that it initially seemed like she would have missed out on the final 23, based on the approach Lorne Donaldson and his assistants took.

In fact, versatility was always expected to be a characteristic held in high regard by the coaching staff in making their selections and Cameron, recognizing that much, paraded her immense potential by assuming a role as a right full back.

It is that show of versatility that propelled her above others.

Prior to the Cup of Nations tournament, the 31-year-old did not get many minutes, until she accepted the fact that she would not make the squad as an attacker.

Despite logging over 14 goals and more than 10 assists in over 15 games for her previous club FC Gyor in the Hungarian top-flight league, Cameron, who could be considered an important leader in the Reggae Girlz group, embraced change and made the right full back position her comfort zone.

"I’m glad I defeated the odds. It just proves what I’m willing to do to represent Jamaica. I’ll play anywhere needed. Yes, I love to score goals and play forward, but it’s not all about that,” Cameron declared.

“I think I have really worked hard this year and I have proven that I am a versatile player wherever the national team needs me, I am able to play, and I think that is super important going into the World Cup that we have players that are okay with possibly playing in different positions that is being asked of them,” she added.

That said, Cameron, whose career has taken her to club in various parts of Europe and elsewhere around the world, expressed intentions to continue working extremely hard at improving her craft, as she looks forward to playing a key role in Real Betis’s charge when the Liga F gets under way.

“I’m really looking forward to my new adventure with Real Betis. I love the Spanish football culture as it is predominantly possession based. It’s similar to the style of football in Germany, where I’ve played for two and a half seasons in the top division, so this style of football won’t be foreign to me,” Cameron shared.

She continued: “I enjoy combinational play and possession-based football. I think my best qualities are my speed, my fitness, my versatility, my movement off the ball and my ability to combine with the players around me and create goal scoring opportunities for myself and others.

“I believe that no matter a player’s age they can always improve in all aspects of the game. This will be a good challenge for me and like I’ve proven with Jamaica, I respond well when I’m challenged and is expected to prove why I belong in an environment. I’ve worked hard for everything that I’ve achieved thus far and I’m truly grateful that my efforts have been acknowledged.”

But for now, Cameron’s attention is fully focused on the Reggae Girlz objective which to get out of Group F at the World Cup. They are scheduled to open against fifth-ranked France on Sunday, before engaging Panama on July 29 and Brazil on August 2.

“I think its super important the team bonding off the field, I think we utilized our time well in the respective camps and we are ready and raring to go. The shout outs from Sean Paul, DJ Khalid and others, will also certainly help to fuel us,” the multi-talented player, who also dabbles in music, ended.


Jamaica’s assistant coach Xavier Gilbert is not denying that France will pose a challenge for his Reggae Girlz outfit to start their Fifa Women’s World Cup campaign. But he is hopeful that they will be able to overcome the daunting task and secure their first ever point at the global showpiece.

Gilbert’s cautious optimism came, as he was heartened by the Girlz lively training session, which he believes is a good indicator of the team’s mental and physical readiness ahead of Sunday’s opening Group F fixture against the fifth-ranked French team.

Well aware that France will be no pushovers, Gilbert, an assistant to Head coach Lorne Donaldson, is backing the 43rd-ranked Girlz to give their more illustrious opponents a run for their money when they take the field at the Sydney Football Stadium.  

“We have been analyzing the French team from before they got here and their (0-1) loss to Australia kind of confirmed some of the things that we already knew. They really don’t change their style of play; they kept pressing and the Australian faced them front on. But that was a part of their preparation, so we still have to be mindful of how they attack and how they defend, and we just have to execute our game plan,” Gilbert said.

“Nothing is wrong with dreaming, but I honestly think we really have a good chance of getting something from the game, especially if we play smart and contain them, it will get easier for us. We do have quality players who can match up against them, there is no doubt about that.

 “Psychologically our top striker [Khadija “Bunny” Shaw] is raring to go and they know that she can be a handful, so their efforts to contain her, might leave an opening for others in the attacking front to capitalise and those are some of things we want to exploit,” he added.

With two good sessions now under their belts, including a competitive squad match at the Victoria State Training Centre on Thursday, Gilbert explained that the focus now is to iron out a few finer tactical details to ensure an efficient execution against, France, in particular.

 “The Girlz were buzzing from the other day, and it showed in this session which is a good indication that they are ready and raring to go. The session was pretty much how we can exploit some weak areas in the French tactics and also how to curtail some of their strengths based on how we defend, especially in the wide areas.

“We know they are going to counter press a lot and then try and force us through the middle and they also play a lot in transition. So, this session was pretty much to look at countering some of the things that they have been doing over the last few games and how we anticipate they are going to attack us,” the tactician shared.

He pointed out that the Reggae Girlz 1-0 win over Morocco in their first and only warm-up encounter, also provided good insight where gauging the team was concerned.

“We did our analysis and showed them some clips of the things that we did well because part of that game was to fix some of the things that we want to do against the French team. We did some of that, and even the goal, was as a result of what we did before in terms of our attacking thrust. So, there were a lot of positives that came from that game in terms of how we want to operate going forward,” Gilbert noted.

Finally, Gilbert revealed that all concerns regarding Jody Brown’s knock which she picked up in the Morocco friendly, have been allayed, as the diminutive winger was fully integrated into the team’s session and brought up to speed on tactics.

“She is good, it is just about managing and ensuring that we have a full team, and everybody is available for selection ahead of our first game. But she will be fine, the nature of the injury is nothing to be alarmed about,” Gilbert declared.

After their contest with France, the Girlz will do battle against Panama on July 29 at Perth Rectangular Stadium and then close the group stages against Brazil at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, on August 2.

Kasper Asgreen outsprinted the chasing peloton to take victory from a breakaway on stage 18 of the Tour de France in Bourg-en-Bresse.

The sprint teams got their sums wrong on the 185km stage from Moutiers as a four-strong break held on by less than 50 metres to take the stage, with Asgreen beating fellow escapees Pascal Eenkhoorn and Jonas Abrahamsen to take his first career Tour stage win.

Jasper Philipsen, hoping to add to his four sprint stage wins in this first opportunity for the quick men in over a week, came home in fourth having failed to make the catch.

There was perhaps some karma in that given the aggressive tactics Philipsen had used earlier in the stage when trying to block Eenkhoorn’s bid to join the breakaway.

The sprint finish to the 185km stage from Moutiers meant no changes at the top of the general classification, in which defending champion Jonas Vingegaard took an all-but-unassailable seven-and-a-half minute lead over Tadej Pogacar on Wednesday.

This slightly lumpy stage offered up the prospect of a breakaway denying the quick men if enough riders could get up the road, although the sprinters who survived the mountains were desperate for their chance, with perhaps only the Champs-Elysees left after this.

But with exhausted legs throughout the peloton after some punishing days in the Alps only three – Asgreen, Abrahamsen and Victor Campernaerts – chanced their arm and were rarely given more than a minute’s advantage.

That short gap allowed Campernaerts’ team-mate Pascal Eenkhoorn to bridge over with 60km to go, despite being forced on to the verge by Philipsen as he tried to get away from the main bunch.

Even as a quartet, the front group appeared to have little chance, but the sprint teams struggled to reel them in on the way into town, and as the road narrowed into a couple of tight technical corners, it became apparent that the scales were tipping in favour of those out in front.

Asgreen then came around Abrahamsen inside the final 100 metres with the chasing Eenkhoorn unable to get on terms.

It was a first stage victory of this Tour for Soudal-QuickStep, a perennial winning machine who had not reached stage 18 without taking a stage for more than a decade, but also a team who lost star sprinter Fabio Jakobsen to injury earlier in the race.

“The situation was not ideal,” Asgreen said. “We’d have preferred to have gone with maybe six or seven (in the break) but also the last week of the Tour coming off some really, really hard days, we’ve seen it before that even a small group can manage to beat the sprint teams so I didn’t rule it out.

“It was a team time trial to the finish. I really couldn’t have done it without Pascal, Victor and Jonas. They all did amazing out there and to be honest we all deserved the win with the work we put in but I’m really happy to come away with it.

“It means so much. With the period I had in the last year since my crash at the Tour de Suisse and having to leave the Tour de France I’ve come a long way. To cap it off with victory like this I really want to dedicate it to all the people who helped me throughout the last year.”

David Menuisier will keep the Goodwood door ajar for Heartache Tonight, although the talented filly is more likely to run in France next month.

The Pulborough-based trainer has left the daughter of Recorder in the Qatar Lillie Langtry Stakes, although as she builds up to a possible Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe tilt, the three-year-old is being primed for a return to action at Deauville.

Owned by Chris Wright and Andy MacDonald, Heartache Tonight was a close-up fourth to Jannah Rose in the Group One Prix-Saint Alary at ParisLongchamp in May, before finishing sixth to Soul Sister in the Oaks.

Menuisier stated that he would then give her a summer break and look towards the autumn, but she was handed a surprise entry for a possible step up to a mile and three-quarters for the Group Two Lillie Langtry on August 5.

However, Menuisier insists it is only a speculative option and said: “We put her in the race just to have a look at it, but without any real interest at the moment.

“It wouldn’t be a target as such. Unless circumstances turn really favourable, it wouldn’t really be on the radar. We have kept her in to have a look, but we’ve no real interest.

“The circumstances would be softer ground and if the field was absolutely shattered and then you wouldn’t have to maybe think about it.

“It goes without staying she should stay, there is a lot of prize money and it would be an interesting race to win. That’s why we have kept her in.”

Heartache Tonight also holds an entry in the Yorkshire Oaks later next month, but the trainer is favouring a Group Three contest over an extended mile and a half for her return.

Menuisier added: “The main target would be to come back in the Prix Minerve at Deauville on August 13.”

The general belief in Jamaica’s senior Reggae Girlz camp is that they can progress beyond the group stages on this, their second-consecutive Fifa Women’s World Cup appearance.

In fact, Head coach Lorne Donaldson would readily declare that the possibility of his Reggae Girlz achieving the feat is by no means impossible. Still, he is under no illusion that defeating or merely taking points off the new-look, young and formidable Brazil outfit, as well as the well-organised and experienced France team, will be easy.

While their just-concluded camp in Amsterdam inspires confidence, as it assisted in fine-tuning certain technical and tactical aspects, Donaldson admits that the team is still not yet where he wants them to be with the July 20 to August 20 global showpiece in Australia and New Zealand, now nine days away.

“The camp was good; I wish we had a game which would have been the true test, but it was good, nonetheless. The players worked hard, and they seem very focused, but we're not there yet.

“We still have a few more days to go, so we start working on some of the tactical stuff and I the players are going in with a sense of purpose because they know what's at stake,” Donaldson told shortly after arriving in Australia on Monday.

Since the start of their build up to the World Cup, Donaldson has stressed the importance of holding a tight defensive line, being very well organised and more effective when in possession, if they want to be competitive.

The 43rd-ranked Reggae Girlz will open Group F play on July 23 against the number five-ranked Les Bleues, which is now the centre of their focus.

“I think France is playing a game (against Australia on Friday), so we might get a look at what their starting squad is like and just see exactly how we want to approach the game and how we want to match up against them and just go from there. If we want to be competitive, we will need to defend, and be very well organised and when we have possession, we would like to be more effective,” Donaldson shared.

“So, we still have some tactical stuff to look at and work on. I think our players know that they have to show up and be ready to perform so that makes life a little bit easier sometimes, but yes, we have to hold them accountable for certain things especially tactical mistakes,” he added.

After France, the Girlz will then tackle 52nd-ranked Panama on July 29, before closing against 8th-ranked Brazil on August 2.

However, before all of that, they will engage on final preparation game against Morocco which Donaldson believes will serve them well to lock in their plan towards efficient execution Down Under.

“We will use that game to try some things, we will give as much players as possible some minutes because the aim is to improve the work that we're doing, and we saw some stuff that we need to clean up. So, we will use this game to do that and then look at some tape with the players to see how much more we can brush up on our execution,” the coach noted.

That said, Donaldson, who was an assistant to Hue Menzies when the Girlz were hammered 0-3, 0-5 and 1-4 by Brazil, Italy and Australia on their World Cup debut in France in 2019, said they have no intentions of going out in that manner on this occasion.

“We expect to do well and get something out of the tournament,” he declared.

“We are not going to come here to the World Cup to lay down, we are going to push to get some success. We are planning to get out of the group, whichever way we have to get it done, we intend to get it done. So, it's just a matter of how well we execute when it comes to the big day,” Donaldson ended.

Pello Bilbao pointed to the sky in memory of his late team-mate Gino Mader as he celebrated his first career Tour de France stage win in Issoire on Tuesday.

Bilbao triumphed from a breakaway, a first Spanish stage win in five years, sparking emotional scenes less than a month after Mader died following a high-speed crash at the Tour de Suisse.

The pair were close friends, with Mader even having adopted a stray dog from the city of Bilbao and naming him Pello. In his podium interview, the Basque rider said the memory of Mader was “the only reason” for his win.

“It was hard to prepare the last two weeks with him in mind, but staying with my family at home helped me a lot, just to keep calm, be positive and put all my positive energy to try to do something nice in the Tour,” he said.

“I wanted to do it in the first Basque stages, that was so special for me but it was not possible so I just waited for my moment.

“I was maybe thinking my position in the overall was going to be a problem but I decided to a make an all-in move and in the end it was the right movement.

“My first victory in the Tour in 13 years as a pro is such a special moment for me.”

It was also an expensive one. Following Mader’s death, Bilbao had pledged to replicate the Swiss rider’s charitable gesture – donating one euro to environmental causes for every rider he finishes ahead of on each stage, also promising to double the donation if he won a stage.

Bilbao had already run up a bill of more than 1,200 euros in the opening week and will not mind having cost himself much more with a victory which also propelled him up the general classification to fifth, four and a half minutes behind Jonas Vingegaard who still leads by 17 seconds from Tadej Pogacar.

The 167km stage from Vulcania through the Massif Central looked custom-designed for a breakaway as racing resumed in sweltering temperatures after Monday’s rest day, but things were never so simple on a day when the attacks raged from the start to the finish.

Vingegaard and Pogacar were both involved in some of the early moves, splitting the main peloton, before 14 riders eventually got away.

But it was only occasionally a cohesive group. Krists Neilands launched an attack at the foot of the final climb and crested it with an advantage of 30 seconds, but that tumbled on the descent towards town and he was caught by a chasing group of five with three kilometres left.

Bilbao felt confident he was the fastest and let Zimmerman move to the front before launching his sprint with a couple of hundred metres left.

“With cold blood I let Zimmerman make his sprint and I went on the wheel, then it was just full gas for the last 200 metres thinking of nothing,” he said. “I crossed the line and I just put out all the energy inside of me and remembered the reason for this victory, a special one – for Gino.”

The main peloton came to the line a little under three minutes later with no change in the top four in the standings, while Bilbao jumped up six places with Adam Yates, Simon Yates and Tom Pidcock now sixth, seventh and eighth overall respectively.

Mark Cavendish is due to have surgery on his broken right collarbone on Wednesday after being forced out of the Tour by a crash on Saturday.

The 38-year-old has previously announced his intention to retire at the end of the season but has been offered a one-year contract extension by Astana-Qazaqstan.

Olivier Giroud and Kylian Mbappe scored for France in their 3-0 victory over Gibraltar in European Championship qualifying.

Giroud netted after only three minutes but a penalty from Mbappe just before half-time was the only other chance that the World Cup finalists converted before a late own goal from Aymen Mouelhi as France maintained their 100 per cent record in Group B.

In Group C, Ukraine fought back from 2-0 down to beat North Macedonia 3-2 and claim their first victory.

Enis Bardhi put the hosts ahead from the penalty spot and Elif Elmas doubled their advantage before the break.

But Illya Zabarnyi and Yukhym Konoplya scored within five minutes of each other to draw Ukraine level and Visar Musliu was then shown a second yellow card for North Macedonia before Viktor Tsygankov grabbed the winner seven minutes from time.

There was also late drama in Group D, where Turkey won their second game with a 3-2 victory over Latvia.

After goals from Abdulkerim Bardakci and Cengiz Under for Turkey either side of Eduards Emsis’ strike, Latvia looked to have secured a point when Kristers Tobers scored deep into injury time.

But Turkey went down the other end and Irfan Can Kahveci netted the winner a minute later.

Four teams are on six points in Group H, with Finland and Kazakhstan joining Denmark and Slovenia.

Teemu Pukki set up goals for Joel Pohjanpalo and Oliver Antman in Finland’s 2-0 win over Slovenia, while Kazakhstan defeated San Marino 3-0.

Switzerland made it three wins from three with a 2-1 victory over Andorra in Group I.

Remo Freuler and Zeki Amdouni put the Swiss two up before half-time but Marcio Vieira pulled one back for Andorra in the 67th minute.

Two late goals helped Israel to a 2-1 victory over Belarus, their first win of the campaign.

Belarus looked to be heading for the three points through Max Ebong’s 16th-minute opener but Shonn Weissman equalised with a penalty five minutes from time and teenager Oscar Gloukh netted an injury-time winner.

Also in Group I, Kosovo secured their third draw, holding Romania to a goalless stalemate in Pristina.

Olympic and World Championship silver-medalist, Marileidy Paulino of the Dominican Republic, continued her unbeaten start to the 2023 season by outdueling American 400m hurdles world record holder, Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, to win the 400m at the Paris Diamond League on Friday.

McLaughlin-Levrone, the reigning Olympic and World Champion and in the 400m hurdles, ran extremely aggressively in the first 300m before Paulino used her experience in the flat 400m to reel her in and cross the line first in 49.12. The American ran a personal best 49.71 for second while 2019 World Champion Salwa Eid Naser ran 49.95 for third.

Elsewhere on the track, Kenyan Faith Kipyegon, who set a spectacular 1500m world record in Florence last week, was at it again, running 14:05.20 to set a new world record in the 5000m. Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey, the previous world record holder, was second in 14:07.94 while her countrywomen Ejgayehu Taye was third in 14:13.31.

Commonwealth Champion, Kyron McMaster, ran a season’s best for fifth in the 400m hurdles.

The BVI native, who fell at the LA Grand Prix on May 27, ran 48.65. The race was won by American CJ Allen in 47.92 ahead of France’s Wilfried Happio (48.26) and World Championship bronze medalist Trevor Bassitt (48.28).

Jamaica’s Natoya Goule ran a season’s best 1:58.23 for third in the Women’s 800m. Keely Hodgkinson took the race in a new personal best, British record and world leading 1:55.77 while American Ajee Wilson was second in 1:58.16.

2011 World 100m champion, Yohan Blake, ran 10.16 for fourth in the Men’s 100m behind reigning 200m World Champion, Noah Lyles (9.96), Kenya’s Ferdinand Omanyala (9.98) and Botswanan World Junior record holder Letsile Tebogo (10.05).

In the field, Jamaican 2019 World Championship silver medalist Danniel Thomas-Dodd threw 19.25m for fourth in the Women’s shot put behind Portugal’s Auriol Dongmo (19.72m) and Americans Chase Ealey (19.43m) and Maggie Ewen (19.26m).


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