Ukraine midfielder Taras Stepanenko wants their World Cup qualifying play-off semi-final against Scotland to be postponed again.

Scotland and Ukraine were meant to meet last month, but FIFA delayed the match until June due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

As such, Wales – who beat Austria 2-1 in their play-off semi – are yet to find out which team they will face for a place at the Qatar World Cup in November.

Wales, Scotland and Ukraine all know which group they will be in should they progress, however, with the winner of the play-off path having been drawn alongside England, Iran and the United States in Group B.

But with no sign of the conflict in Ukraine ceasing, Stepanenko, who has played 69 times for his country, has called on FIFA to delay the match with Scotland again. 

The Shakhtar Donetsk man, who last played a match in December, told The Sunday Times: "We don't want to be known as victims here. We are strong and capable guys, everyone is fine, and we can play 100 per cent.

"But the question I would ask is how can we play such an important game when you haven't played a match for such a long time?

"Every football player knows that if you recover from an injury for a long time, no matter how much you work out in the gym and do running, you go out to play football and everything is different.

"The level and strength may not be enough with one match, but we will be asked to play two incredibly tough matches in maybe four days to get to the World Cup. If there is no option, then we must play.

"But I think it would be extremely difficult to achieve two positive results. We are hoping FIFA and UEFA recognise this and postpone the matches to give us more time to prepare."

Speaking after the World Cup draw was made in Doha on Friday, both England manager Gareth Southgate and USA coach Gregg Berhalter stressed they were not concerned by how long it might take for the final team in their group to be confirmed, given the extraordinary circumstances.

"When that tie is played out is irrelevant really," said Southgate, while Berhalter added: "We're patient on that and pulling for [Ukraine] 100 per cent."

Gareth Southgate said England's foremost focus will be getting out of their World Cup group after two of their three opponents were confirmed in Friday's draw.

England, who have reached one major semi-final and one final under Southgate, will open their campaign with a first-ever meeting against Iran on the tournament's opening day on November 21.

They will then face the United States in a repeat of their opening game at the 2010 World Cup, while their final group match could see them face a home nations rival in Wales or Scotland, who will compete with Ukraine for Europe's final qualification place in a play-off that has been delayed due to Ukraine's ongoing conflict with Russia.

On paper, Group B looks set to present a smooth passage to the knockout stages for England but Southgate, who led the Three Lions to a first World Cup semi-final since 1990 four years ago, is not looking any further ahead than the group stages.

"The first two teams we've not played for quite a while," Southgate told BBC Sport. "The third is a total unknown but throws up a possible British derby. We know what they're all about, we've had plenty of them!

"For us, we're in on day one so it's quite clear now what our program looks like, with the end of the Premier League season and getting out here as quickly as possible."

Asked if that knowledge gave England more time to prepare for possible knockout games, Southgate responded: "It does, but we've got to get out of the group.

"What we've done well is approach these tournaments by looking at the group. 

"The first objective is to get out of the group, regardless of the opposition, and then you build from there.

"When you're seeded, you get the advantage of missing out on those big six or seven teams. For most of the first seeds, they'll be pleased with the group they get.

"There's obviously some really high ranked teams in Pot Two, and the US in particular, I know Gregg Berhalter quite well, we've met a couple of times and had long chats about things. 

"They've got some very good players and we know what they could be capable of as a nation. That one, in particular, is an intriguing one."

Furthermore, being drawn into a World Cup group with the United States for a third occasion represents the first time that England have been in the same group as one particular nation at three separate editions of the tournament.

England captain Harry Kane, meanwhile, was glad to see that the Three Lions will open their campaign on the first day of the tournament.

"Always exciting to see who we get in the group!" Kane tweeted. "Playing on the opening day will be incredible as well."

The decision to host the World Cup in Qatar has faced strong opposition from many quarters.

Southgate, who made his opposition to any boycott of the tournament clear during the recent international break, expressed his desire for the World Cup to drive substantive change in the Gulf state.

"We'll continue to speak to people here," he added. "We've got to build relationships here to be able to highlight any change that we'd like to make. 

"It's important to do that in the right way. Today my focus is just on the draw and working out what that all means really."

Alan Shearer claims England will be happy with their group for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, with the Three Lions facing the United States, Iran, and the final European play-off winner.

The draw means Gareth Southgate's men could face a clash against rivals Wales or Scotland, with the Scots due to face Ukraine for a place in June's play-off final in Cardiff.

It also threw up a repeat of England's 2010 clash with the United States, with whom they shared a 1-1 draw in their opening game at the tournament in South Africa.

England have never faced Wales, Scotland, or Ukraine at the World Cup, but did face a home nation in each of their last two European Championship campaigns, beating Wales 2-1 at Euro 2016 and drawing 0-0 with Scotland at Euro 2020. 

Former England captain Shearer felt his nation should be pleased to have avoided many of the bigger nations, and spoke of his excitement at the prospect of facing a rivalry match.

"Gareth will look at that and think it could have been a lot more difficult," Shearer said to BBC Sport. "I am sure he and his players will be happy with that. 

"This is the one thing in not having that 'group of death', it [the tournament] is pretty much open.

"I have to say that I am pleased Scotland, Wales or Ukraine got put in England's group. It adds that little bit more excitement. If it is Wales or Scotland it makes it a bit tougher.

"Gareth Southgate would have taken that - deep down, without a doubt. 

"He just can't come out and say it just in case. He's too professional to say it, but he'll be more than happy with it."

"It's a big enough incentive to get to the World Cup but to be in a group with England is great and that will motivate the players," he said.

"We've got play-offs we have to worry about first. It won't be easy against Ukraine. If we manage to get through that and play Wales in the final then that is a huge game. 

"Scotland don't have a bad record against Wales and Scotland are in a good place at the moment.

"Our performance at Wembley in the Euros showed the potential of this Scotland team. They've responded well to going out in the group stage at the Euros and there's competition for places all over the pitch."

Former Wales skipper Ashley Williams was also pleased with his nation's draw, but insisted that Rob Page's team would be desperate to reach their first World Cup since 1958 for their own reasons.

"No disrespect to anyone, all the teams are good, but it could have been a little bit more daunting in another potential group," he said.

"I'm quite happy but there's a lot of work to do before then. 

"They [Wales] just want to get there anyway for their own reasons [not purely to face England]. One of Wales or Scotland usually draw England!"

England will begin their 16th appearance at the World Cup against Iran on November 21, before facing the United States on November 25 and wrapping up their group campaign on November 29.

Qatar 2022 is fast approaching and the anticipation will surely be at its most intense so far when Friday's draw for the group stage is completed.

The Doha Exhibition and Convention Center plays host to the milestone event, which will see eight groups drawn from pots as the eventual storylines of the World Cup begin to unfurl.

Among the narratives that will start being mapped out on Friday is France's title defence, with Les Bleus hoping to become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to successfully defend their World Cup crown.

Ahead of the draw, Stats Perform provides a lowdown of all the key information…

 

How will the draw work?

Most of us have seen a draw and understand the general premise, but there's a lot of detail to consider before we end up with our completed group stage.

For starters, the draw (19:00 local time) will only include 29 qualified teams, with the other three spots to consist of a couple of intercontinental play-off slot placeholders and one UEFA play-off slot placeholder, with those nations to be determined later in the year.

The qualified teams will be sorted into four pots of eight, with their FIFA world ranking determining which they enter – joining Qatar in pot one will be the top seven teams, while the nations ranked eight-15 will be in pot 2, and so on. The three play-off slot placeholders will be drawn from pot four.

There will also be eight pots representing the groups, A to H. Each group pot contains four balls with position numbers, ranging from one to four, which correspond to the teams' respective starting position in the tables and subsequently impact their fixture schedule.

Team pot one will be the first to empty, with Qatar automatically drawn into slot A1. The other sides from pot one will go straight into position one of the remaining groups.

From then on, a ball is drawn from a team pot and followed by one from a group pot, determining that team's position – for example, the second nation drawn into Group A could be placed in slot A4. The process continues until each team pot is emptied, with pot four the last to be drawn.

Where possible, no group will contain more than one team from the same qualification zone, with the exception of Europe – so anyone hoping for an encounter like Brazil v Uruguay will have to wait for the knockout stage.

Thursday's release of the latest world rankings confirmed the make-up of the respective pots, so, without any further ado, let's take a look through them…

The Pots

Pot One:

Qatar (hosts)
Brazil
Belgium
France
Argentina
England
Spain
Portugal

 

Pot Two:

Denmark
Netherlands
Germany
Mexico 
USA
Switzerland
Croatia
Uruguay

Pot Three:

Senegal
Iran
Japan
Morocco
Serbia
Poland
South Korea
Tunisia

 

Pot Four:

Cameroon
Canada
Ecuador
Saudi Arabia
Ghana
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 1 
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 2
UEFA play-off placeholder

Luck of the draw!

It goes without saying that, theoretically, being in pot one means you would be favourites to win your group. But that's the beauty of football; practically anything can happen once you're on the pitch.

If we look back to the last World Cup four years ago, defending champions Germany were top of the FIFA rankings and in pot one, but then failed to get through the group stage for the first time ever.

 

But just as being in a higher pot is no guarantee of going deep into the tournament, who's to say how eventual 2018 champions France would have fared had they been in pot two?

Les Bleus were ranked seventh at the time so squeezed into pot one ahead of Spain. While that arguably gave them a trickier route to the final in the knockout phase, perhaps the tests posed by Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium were what kept them sharp all the way to the end?

This time around, Spain do appear in pot one. Portugal do as well, with Fernando Santos' men benefiting in that regard from European champions Italy's shock absence.

Nevertheless, there are some powerful teams in pot two. The Netherlands and Germany are undoubtedly the pick of the bunch there, both of whom will provide a stern test for any of the teams in pot one. Brazil v Die Mannschaft in the group stage, anyone?

There's a chance we could even see a repeat of the 2018 final in the group stage, with Croatia (pot two) able to come up against France in the opening round, while an England v United States showdown would surely capture the imagination of fans on both sides of 'the pond'.

We can expect to see plenty of quality in pot three as well, especially with Serbia, Robert Lewandowski's Poland and African champions Senegal present.

Among those in pot four are Canada. They may only be competing in their second World Cup and first since 1986, but John Herdman's team have won plenty of admirers en route to winning the CONCACAF qualifying section ahead of Mexico and reaching a record high of 33rd in the rankings.

 

Excitement, expectations and exoduses as Ronaldo and Messi look likely to bow out

Whether watching football on TV or from the stands, it can often be easy to forget that our heroes are just ordinary people as well. They are individuals who in all likelihood had the same hopes and dreams as many of us as children.

The glitz and glamour surrounding professional football can lead us to put footballers on a pedestal, but behind the sport's shiny facade, our teams are made up of – and coached by – people who are just as obsessed with the idea of the World Cup as anyone else.

England manager Gareth Southgate encapsulated the excitement earlier this week, as he said: "[The World Cup evokes] a different sort of feeling, but it's still a tournament we all watched as kids, we all filled our wallcharts out, we all hoped and followed when England were there that we would do well. And it's a unique chance to make history, so that of course is massively exciting."

Of course, that innocent excitement harbours expectation and hope for many, for others there will be a feeling of responsibility to amend the wrongs of the past.

This time around, that's arguably truest when looking at Germany, with Manuel Neuer fully appreciating he may not get another opportunity to put things right.

"I know that I will probably not get to play many more World Cups, so after crashing out in 2018 in Russia and our exit against England [at Euro 2020], it's important that we show a new version of ourselves and visualise success," the experienced goalkeeper said.

That finality Neuer alluded to is another key aspect of the World Cup. Given the four-year cycle of the tournament, every time we bid a fond farewell to a few greats of the game who opt to take advantage of the cyclical nature and end their international careers.

 

This time it looks as though Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – who for so long battled out their own personal 'Greatest of All-Time' rivalry – may be among those appearing on the World Cup stage for the last time.

"Goal achieved, we're at the Qatar World Cup. We're in our rightful place!" Ronaldo's Instagram post after Portugal's play-off success focused on the positive, but at 37, Qatar 2022 will surely be his final appearance at the tournament.

As for Messi, he said last week: "I don't know, the truth is I don't know. Let's hope [Argentina's preparations] go the best way possible. But for sure after the World Cup many things will change."

Exoduses after major international tournaments are common as teams reset or rebuild, but given what Messi and Ronaldo have represented on the pitch and the fact they've appeared at each of the previous four World Cups, their appearances at Qatar 2022 need to be savoured.

It all begins with Friday's draw, when narratives and talking points that'll live longer than any of us will start to take shape with the unscrewing of a few shiny plastic balls.

It's nearly four years since Didier Deschamps became only the third man to win the World Cup as a player and coach, as he guided France to their second success on football's grandest stage.

The target now for Les Bleus is to become the first nation since Brazil in 1962 to retain their crown, and that journey begins on Friday with the draw for the group stage of Qatar 2022.

Four years is a long time to wait for anything, but the draw for the World Cup is always a milestone event that sees the anticipation taken up a notch.

The eyes of the football world will be on the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center, where the eight groups will be drawn and potential routes to December's finale can start being plotted.

But there is a little more to the draw than that…

 

How will the draw work?

Most of us have seen a draw and understand the general premise, but there's a lot of detail to consider before we end up with our completed group stage.

For starters, Friday's draw (19:00 local time) will only include 29 qualified teams, with the other three spots to consist of a couple of intercontinental play-off slot placeholders and one UEFA play-off slot placeholder, with those nations to be determined later in the year.

The qualified teams will be sorted into four pots of eight, with their FIFA world ranking determining which they enter – joining Qatar in pot one will be the top seven teams, while the nations ranked eight-15 will be in pot 2, and so on. The three play-off slot placeholders will be drawn from pot four.

There will also be eight pots representing the groups, A to H. Each group pot contains four balls with position numbers, ranging from one to four, which correspond to the teams' respective starting position in the tables and subsequently impact their fixture schedule.

Team pot one will be the first to empty, with Qatar automatically drawn into slot A1. The other sides from pot one will go straight into position one of the remaining groups.

From then on, a ball is drawn from a team pot and followed by one from a group pot, determining that team's position – for example, the second nation drawn into Group A could be placed in slot A4. The process continues until each team pot is emptied, with pot four the last to be drawn.

Where possible, no group will contain more than one team from the same qualification zone, with the exception of Europe – so anyone hoping for an encounter like Brazil v Uruguay will have to wait for the knockout stage.

Thursday's release of the latest world rankings confirmed the make-up of the respective pots, so, without any further ado, let's take a look through them…

The Pots

Pot One:

Qatar (hosts)
Brazil
Belgium
France
Argentina
England
Spain
Portugal

 

Pot Two:

Denmark
Netherlands
Germany
Mexico 
USA
Switzerland
Croatia
Uruguay

Pot Three:

Senegal
Iran
Japan
Morocco
Serbia
Poland
South Korea
Tunisia

 

Pot Four:

Cameroon
Canada
Ecuador
Saudi Arabia
Ghana
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 1 
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 2
UEFA play-off placeholder

Luck of the draw!

It goes without saying that, theoretically, being in pot one means you would be favourites to win your group. But that's the beauty of football; practically anything can happen once you're on the pitch.

If we look back to the last World Cup four years ago, defending champions Germany were top of the FIFA rankings and in pot one, but then failed to get through the group stage for the first time ever.

 

But just as being in a higher pot is no guarantee of going deep into the tournament, who's to say how eventual 2018 champions France would have fared had they been in pot two?

Les Bleus were ranked seventh at the time so squeezed into pot one ahead of Spain. While that arguably gave them a trickier route to the final in the knockout phase, perhaps the tests posed by Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium were what kept them sharp all the way to the end?

This time around, Spain do appear in pot one. Portugal do as well, with Fernando Santos' men benefiting in that regard from European champions Italy's shock absence.

Nevertheless, there are some powerful teams in pot two. The Netherlands and Germany are undoubtedly the pick of the bunch there, both of whom will provide a stern test for any of the teams in pot one. Brazil v Die Mannschaft in the group stage, anyone?

There's a chance we could even see a repeat of the 2018 final in the group stage, with Croatia (pot two) able to come up against France in the opening round, while an England v United States showdown would surely capture the imagination of fans on both sides of 'the pond'.

We can expect to see plenty of quality in pot three as well, especially with Serbia, Robert Lewandowski's Poland and African champions Senegal present.

Among those in pot four are Canada. They may only be competing in their second World Cup and first since 1986, but John Herdman's team have won plenty of admirers en route to winning the CONCACAF qualifying section and reaching a record high of 33rd in the rankings.

 

Excitement, expectations and exoduses as Ronaldo and Messi look likely to bow out

Whether watching football on TV or from the stands, it can often be easy to forget that our heroes are just ordinary people as well. They are individuals who in all likelihood had the same hopes and dreams as many of us as children.

The glitz and glamour surrounding professional football can lead us to put footballers on a pedestal, but behind the sport's shiny facade, our teams are made up of – and coached by – people who are just as obsessed with the idea of the World Cup as anyone else.

England manager Gareth Southgate encapsulated the excitement earlier this week, as he said: "[The World Cup evokes] a different sort of feeling, but it's still a tournament we all watched as kids, we all filled our wallcharts out, we all hoped and followed when England were there that we would do well. And it's a unique chance to make history, so that of course is massively exciting."

Of course, that innocent excitement harbours expectation and hope for many, for others there will be a feeling of responsibility to amend the wrongs of the past.

This time around, that's arguably truest when looking at Germany, with Manuel Neuer fully appreciating he may not get another opportunity to put things right.

"I know that I will probably not get to play many more World Cups, so after crashing out in 2018 in Russia and our exit against England [at Euro 2020], it's important that we show a new version of ourselves and visualise success," the experienced goalkeeper said.

That finality Neuer alluded to is another key aspect of the World Cup. Given the four-year cycle of the tournament, every time we bid a fond farewell to a few greats of the game who opt to take advantage of the cyclical nature and end their international careers.

 

This time it looks as though Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – who for so long battled out their own personal 'Greatest of All-Time' rivalry – may be among those appearing on the World Cup stage for the last time.

"Goal achieved, we're at the Qatar World Cup. We're in our rightful place!" Ronaldo's Instagram post after Portugal's play-off success focused on the positive, but at 37, Qatar 2022 will surely be his final appearance at the tournament.

As for Messi, he said last week: "I don't know, the truth is I don't know. Let's hope [Argentina's preparations] go the best way possible. But for sure after the World Cup many things will change."

Exoduses after major international tournaments are common as teams reset or rebuild, but given what Messi and Ronaldo have represented on the pitch and the fact they've appeared at each of the previous four World Cups, their appearances at Qatar 2022 need to be savoured.

It all begins with Friday's draw, when narratives and talking points that'll live longer than any of us will start to take shape with the unscrewing of a few shiny plastic balls.

The Czech Republic were no match for the United States as Jayson Tatum and Kevin Durant starred in a 119-84 romp.

Team USA's emphatic victory sealed their place in the quarter-finals as the second-placed side in Group A and ensured they will not face one of the pool winners.

Durant put up 23 points and six assists, overturning an early deficit, while Tatum led the team with 27 points, including five three-pointers.

Team USA's 20 threes represented the fourth time they have managed as many in an Olympic game,  also doing so against Argentina in 2012 (20), Lithuania in 2004 (21) and Nigeria in 2012 (29).

Due to the margin of defeat, the Czechs – who threatened an upset before falling away dramatically – will not progress into the next round as one of the best third-placed sides.

ROTATION GAME

France were able to rest some star names as they progressed. Les Bleus had won their opening two games and completed a clean sweep in Group A with a 79-62 victory over Iran.

Only one player – Timothe Luwawu Cabarrot – played more than 20 minutes, with star men Evan Fournier and Rudy Gobert given limited game time.

Nando De Colo enjoyed a highly efficient cameo in his 15 minutes on court, scoring 10 points on 100 per cent shooting while adding five rebounds and five assists.

Iran talisman Hamed Haddadi finished off his Olympic campaign with an 18-point showing, but it was not enough to keep his team in the tournament.

France have already beaten the United States, but Fournier dismissed the suggestion they are gold medal favourites.

"To be honest, I'm not even focused on the gold medal, just the quarter-finals," he said. "Any team that we are going to play there will have its strengths and weaknesses, but I can't tell you who I would prefer there because we don't even know who's going to be there."

AUSTRALIA CLAIM TOP SPOT

Patty Mills scored five threes in a haul of 24 points as he led Australia to an 89-76 victory over Germany.

The Boomers needed victory to secure first place in Group B and they did so with a 13-point margin to ensure they will be seeded in the quarter-final draw on Sunday.

Despite defeat, Germany will go through as one of the best third-placed teams.

Mills is heading into unrestricted free agency in the NBA, but his sole focus is on propelling Australia towards a medal.

"This is a lifetime of work in a matter of a couple of weeks. I'm making sure there are no distractions for me or my team-mates," he said.

MANNION SEALS FOURTH-QUARTER FIGHTBACK

Italy clinched a spot in the last eight by overturning an eight-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter to beat Nigeria 80-71 in Group B.

Nico Mannion scored 14 points in 16 minutes, including a vital late effort from deep to help seal Italy's comeback success as Nigeria ended winless following a 24-8 fourth quarter.

"I think everybody is surprised with the way he's playing, he's showing everybody that he's a great player. Also, he's only 20 years old," Achille Polonara said of Golden State Warriors guard Mannion.

"I hope that he can help us like this in the next game, too. He's a great guy, he's very happy to stay with us, and we're very happy to have him."

Kevin Durant feels the key to the United States' confidence-boosting win over Iran at the Tokyo Olympics was down to becoming more selfish and playing with freedom.

Team USA's 25-game winning run in the men's basketball at the Games was ended by France last week but they responded with a 120-66 victory against Iran on Wednesday.

That loss to France followed exhibition defeats to Australia and Nigeria in the build-up to the event, leading to questions over the cohesion of the record 15-time gold medallists.

But Gregg Popovich's side answered those critics against Iran with a comprehensive victory in which they played fast, aggressive basketball throughout.

Damian Lillard, one of those to come in for heavy criticism following the opening-game defeat, top-scored with 21 points, all from beyond the arc.

USA knocked down 19 3-pointers and 22 of their 37 shots (62 per cent) inside the arc as they showed signs of the quality that has taken them to three successive gold medals.

Brooklyn Nets forward Durant insists the chemistry of the side was never in question as he highlighted the changes made between matches.

"After a tough loss last game, today we came out with more freedom as individuals and took the shots that we normally like to take," Durant said.

"They went in tonight, and we guarded up, so it was a good step.

"I felt like we were in sync last game, but like I've been saying, it's a make or miss game today.

"We created good shots last game and I think today it's the continuity of what we've been doing over the last week. We finally capitalised on the stuff that we've been working on.

"Like I said, our chemistry has been great since day one. We're all excited to be here, I mean this is the Olympics, this is the national team. 

"But I think we were a bit too unselfish early on and tried not to step on toes. That bit us before.

"Tonight the guys came out there and were super aggressive to look for their shot but also keep everybody involved, and we were able to make some shots. 

"Damian came out, got it scorching for us, so we're going to need that going forward."

 

Head coach Popovich rotated his roster against Iran by bringing in Jrue Holiday and Devin Booker, who were brought off the bench against France.

"In the last game we have to play two 'bigs' and I think that might have clogged it up a bit for us all offensively," Durant added.  

"Defensively we've been solid the whole time, but offensively we were trying to find our rhythm. 

"I played the four [position], so I was able to stretch the floor a bit and give guys space and we were able to get some confidence and knock some shots down."

A victory over the Czech Republic on Saturday will guarantee the world's top-ranked side a place in the quarter-finals.

That next match will also provide Durant with his next opportunity to surpass Carmelo Anthony as USA men's basketball all-time Olympic top scorer.

Durant managed 10 points against Iran, moving him to within five of Antony's record (336).

Team USA star forward Kevin Durant remains bullish about the side's ability to adjust their game in their pursuit of a gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

USA were beaten 83-76 by France in their opening game at the Tokyo Olympics having been beaten by Australia and Nigeria in exhibition games in the lead-up.

The losses have led to criticism of the cohesion of Team USA who are 15-time Olympic gold medalists, but Durant insisted there was no panic ahead of Wednesday's second group game against Iran.

"Our adjustment is we just make more shots," Durant said. "We've got the best talent in the world on the team."

USA led throughout the first half against France before collapsing down the stretch, surrendering a 74-67 advantage.

"We got each other good shots," Durant added. "We know how to play off each other."

USA assistant coach Lloyd Pierce reiterated Durant's calmness about the situation, stating they need to remain confident.

"The keys to beating these guys is just being ourselves, worrying about what we do best," Pierce said.

"We want to get out and play fast and create extra possessions throughout the course of the games.

"It's only 40 minutes, we have to make this game a little bit faster and get as many easy shots as we can.

"We have to be ourselves as well. Our guys have to play with confidence, have to play with the freedom they're used to, they also have to do that together, make simple plays, quick plays and enjoy the experience."

Brooklyn Nets forward Durant provided a positive assessment of the impact of Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and Devin Booker who played against France after competing in the NBA Finals last week.

The trio arrived barely 48 hours before the France game, with Holiday top scoring with 18 points plus four assists from 27 minutes.

Booker shot poorly, with four points and three assists from 18 minutes, while Middleton only had five minutes of game time.

"What they did to me felt like just who they are," Durant said. "I always have a high-level respect for all three of those guys.

"For them to come out and play, not really complain about anything, be excited to be here [full credit]. Those guys are amazing talents, it's great being around them."

The United States saw a 25-game winning streak in men's basketball at the Olympics come to an end as they were beaten by France in their first outing at Tokyo 2020.

Team USA arrived in Japan looking to strike gold for a fourth straight Games, yet their build-up had been anything but straightforward. Exhibition defeats to Australia and Nigeria raised concerns before travelling, while COVID-19 protocols ruled out Bradley Beal and Kevin Love was replaced at late notice by JaVale McGee.

Still, a squad including Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard and Jayson Tatum – as well as Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday from the Milwaukee Bucks, the newly crowned NBA champions – saw the reigning champions listed as favourites.

France, though, caused an early upset at the start of the tournament. Evan Fournier starred with 28 points to help his team triumph 83-76 at the Saitama Super Arena.

There were wins for Australia and Italy too on Sunday, as well as a victory for the Czech Republic.

 

Big names come up short in shock defeat

Team USA had rounded out their build-up to the Games by beating Spain, yet there will be concerning signs for head coach Gregg Popovich following a flat performance against France.

They were successful with just 41 per cent of their two-point attempts and landed only 10 of the 32 shots put up from beyond the arc. Despite the shooting issues they still led 45-37 at half-time, only for the game to turn in a third quarter where they mustered a paltry 11 points.

Durant finished up with 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting, while Lillard had 11. The latter's slip that caused a turnover in the closing seconds when down by four rather summed up a disjointed performance from the entire roster, leading to a first loss at the Olympics since going down to Argentina at Athens 2004.

Devin Booker, who had helped the Phoenix Suns reach the NBA Finals, landed only one of his six attempts from the field, with Holiday (18 points) finishing as the USA's leading scorer having only joined up with the team on the day of the game.

Also in Group A, the Czech Republic recorded an 84-78 victory over Iran.

Ingles impressed, but Nigeria come up short

Nigeria had defeated both Argentina and the United States ahead of the Games, raising hopes of making an impact in Japan.

However, able to knock down just 29 per cent of their attempts from deep, they struggled to keep pace with Australia, scoring only 27 points in the entire second half as they went down 84-67.

Still, Joe Ingles – who had 11 points for Australia – praised the Nigerians for their display, particularly on defense as they forced 21 turnovers. Patty Mills was the leading scorer in the game, finishing with 25.

"You have to give a lot of credit to Nigeria, with how they played and the style they play," Ingles said. "They are up and in, they are athletic and get up the floor, and they obviously have a great coach [in Mike Brown].

"I think a lot of people underestimate the team and the country. They are a really good basketball team."

Meanwhile, Italy opened their Group B campaign with a 92-82 victory over Germany. Simone Fontecchio led the way with 20 points, including landing all five of his three-point attempts.

Ali Daei congratulated Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo for equalling his long-standing record for international goals.

Ronaldo scored twice from the penalty spot to move onto 109 goals for defending champions Portugal as they secured passage to the knockout stages of Euro 2020 with a 2-2 draw against France on Wednesday.

The 36-year-old Ronaldo now needs just one more goal to surpass Daei, who chalked up his remarkable tally for Iran between 1993 and 2006.

Daei was quick to mark the achievement on social media and predict that he will not jointly hold the record for long.

The 52-year-old wrote on Instagram: "Congratulations to @cristiano who is now one goal away from breaking the men’s international goalscoring record. 

"I am honoured that this remarkable achievement will belong to Ronaldo - great champion of football and caring humanist who inspires and impacts lives throughout the world.

"Vamos!"

Ronaldo's first opportunity to claim the outright lead will come when Portugal contest their last-16 tie on Sunday.

Having finished third behind France and Germany in Group F, Fernando Santos' side will take on Group B winners Belgium in Seville.

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