Euro 2020 is disappearing before our eyes, with the delayed tournament somehow already at the business end as we head into the final three matches.

It's been a thrill ride since the very beginning. From Italy making a sparkling start and Denmark rallying after Christian Eriksen's medical emergency, to France falling at the last 16 and England reaching the semi-finals of a second successive major tournament.

Italy, England, Spain and Denmark are all that's left as Euro 2020 enters its final week, and at this point it seems particularly tricky to call, particularly between first three.

But, given how integral statistics are to football these days, data can potentially give you edge when attempting to predict certain outcomes, and this is where Stats Perform's Artificial Intelligence team comes in as they've used Opta's extensive data reserves to quantify each semi-finalist's chances of winning tournament.

Every match has been run through the Stats Perform Euros Prediction model to calculate the estimated probability of the outcome (win, draw or loss). This uses odds from betting markets and Stats Perform team rankings, which are based on historical and recent performances and also takes into consideration the strength of each side's opponents.

The games are then simulated 40,000 times and analysed, providing the AI team with a percentage for each nation, showing the probability of them ultimately lifting the trophy at Wembley on July 11.

Without any further ado, let's take a look at the results…

Denmark (8.8 per cent chance of winning Euro 2020)

The fact Denmark even got out of their group was an achievement in itself as they became the first team to ever reach the knockout phase having lost their opening two matches. Yet, here we are.

The Danes are into the last four for the first time since winning the competition in 1992 and have really hit their stride since their two early defeats, with only Spain (12) outscoring Kasper Hjulmands' men until this point (11) – that haul is the most they've ever managed at a major tournament.

 

Denmark have projected a real sense of unity since Eriksen collapsed against Finland, and it's hard to believe they will fear anyone at this point.

Nevertheless, England should represent trickier opposition than the likes of Wales and the Czech Republic, which is perhaps reflected by the fact their 8.8 per cent chance of winning the title is the lowest of the four remaining teams.

But if standout performers such as Joakim Maehle, Simon Kjaer and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg continue to deliver the goods, who's to say they cannot emulate the 1992 vintage?

 

Spain (23.1 per cent)

Luis Enrique's Spain have been a fascinating watch at Euro 2020, partly because they somehow manage to flitter between exceptional and unrefined. Their erratic nature has become one of the sideshows of the tournament.

For example, only the Netherlands (53) have forced more high turnovers than Spain, while La Roja are the sole side to break the 100 barrier in terms of sequences of 10 or more passes (147). They only allow their opponents 8.3 passes on average in the defensive third before they initiate a defensive action, indicating they are the most intense pressers at the tournament, and their haul of 12 goals is more than anyone else.

 

Yet, their xGA (expected goals against) of 6.8 is comfortably the worst of the four teams left, and their xG underperformance of 3.6 is the biggest of all 24 teams. In short, these points suggest that not only have Spain been lucky to only concede five times, they are also the most wasteful team at Euro 2020.

 

That's obviously not helped by the fact Gerard Moreno (no goals from 3.3 xG) and Alvaro Morata (two goals from 3.95 xG) are among the three players with the worst xG underperformance records in the competition.

However, they've got this far and have still crafted plenty of goal-scoring opportunities, with their record of 25 big chances a tournament-high. If the penny drops with Spain's forwards and they start to convert in line with their xG, they could have real joy.

 

England (29.1 per cent)

It would be fair to say England's performances in the group stage, although not alarming, certainly didn't inspire a huge amount of confidence as they scored just two goals. But in the two games since, they have netted six times and attracted significant acclaim.

The fact they don't necessarily stand out in many specific team metrics (perhaps bar 10+ passing sequences – 98, second to Spain) is arguably partly down to how flexible Gareth Southgate's team have been in their approach to specific games. For example, their passes per defensive action (PPDA) dropped from 13.7 against Scotland to 25.9 against Germany, suggesting they were concerned about the German midfield playing through their press and instead sat back more in order to cut off passing routes.

Of course, adapting to your opponents is hardly revolutionary, most teams do it to a certain extent, but in a tournament where Spain and Italy have almost religiously stuck to principals and formations that govern their setups, England have chopped and changed.

 

It's clearly worked as well given the fact the Three Lions have equalled a major-tournament record of five successive clean sheets, while their 2.95 xGA (with no goals conceded) leads the way at Euro 2020.

With their defence seemingly watertight and Harry Kane finding some confidence with three goals in two games, England look in great shape. If our prediction model took into consideration that all of the remaining games are to be at Wembley, they'd likely be a bit closer to top spot.

 

Italy (38.9 per cent)

It seems like a long time ago now that Italy came into Euro 2020 as – some claimed at the time – unknown quantities. The common conception was that their 27-match unbeaten run coming into the tournament was misleading because most of the games were said to have been against sub-optimal opposition.

Well, they are now at 32 games unbeaten having won or drawn all of their five matches to this point at Euro 2020, setting a new national record in the process.

But, more than that, they've been utterly joyful to watch. They are relentless in attack, as highlighted by their tournament-leading shot (11) and goal-ending high turnovers (three), but also impressive at the back having only conceded one non-penalty goal.

 

Built around a solid core of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella that expertly blends craft and guile arguably unlike any team at Euro 2020, Roberto Mancini's turned Italy into a side that's not only been generally fun to watch, but also effective.

Spain represent a completely different challenge to any other side Italy have faced thus far, yet Luis Enrique's men have afforded their opponents plenty of chances. The Azzurri have been consistent throughout in attack, as demonstrated by their 11 goals from 10.3 xG. Without the one own goal in their favour, it would be 10 from 10.3 xG.

 

Italy have shown no major weaknesses en route to the semi-finals, and as such our model suggests it is they who have the greatest chance of success this week.

It is hard to think that before the start of this year's Copa America, some were calling for Tite's sacking.

Those calls stemmed on the uncertainty of the Selecao's participation after CONMEBOL controversially relocated the event from Argentina to Brazil.

The Brazil squad were united against hosting the Copa on home soil amid the coronavirus pandemic. The defending champions eventually committed to representing their country and now they stand on the cusp of another title with Tite at the helm.

On an historic night for Tite, Brazil moved through to a second consecutive Copa final at the expense of 2019 runners-up Peru 1-0 on Monday.

Tite made history by equalling Mario Zagallo as the Brazil head coach with the longest unbeaten run in Copa America history (12), winning nine games and drawing three fixtures.

 

The 60-year-old has the fifth-best winning percentage among coaches with at least 10 games in Copa America history – 75 per cent.

Only Flavio Costa (79 per cent, 19 games), Zagallo (83 per cent, 12 games), Guillermo Stabile (84 per cent, 44 games) and Pedro Cea (90 per cent, 10 games) have a better percentage.

Lucas Paqueta scored the decisive goal 10 minutes before half-time as Brazil extended their undefeated streak to 13 matches across all competitions, a run including 10 clean sheets and dating back to November 2019.

Since his appointment in 2016, Brazil have kept 42 clean sheets in 60 games under head coach Tite across all competitions (70 per cent).

During his tenure, Brazil have 45 wins, 11 draws and just four defeats.

This Brazil team have style and substance – trademark flair and free-flowing football but with defensive stability and the ability to close out games.

As Brazil – who have won the last five Copa finals they have played, 1997, 1999, 2004, 2007 and 2019 - await rivals Argentina or Colombia in Saturday's decider, Tite continues to reach new heights.

The Tokyo Olympics will scale new heights, ride the crest of a wave, and hit it out of the park.

You can guarantee the Games will achieve that triple-whammy, because sport climbing, surfing and baseball are all part of Japan's big show.

The Games of the 32nd Olympiad have been hit hard by the pandemic, but the diversity of 'new' sports on offer means a feast of entertainment is beckoning, designed to attract younger audiences.

Skateboarding an Olympic sport? After snowboarding proved a raging success at the Winter Games, it was a banker that kickflips and Caballerials would be coming to the summer programme.

And soon enough we will all have a tight grip on the technicalities of lead climbing, speed climbing and bouldering.

The Olympics are getting a radical facelift, and you'll want to take a close look.


Sport climbing

Given the Olympic motto is 'faster, higher, stronger', perhaps it is a wonder that climbing has not been a part of the Games before now.

Yet this version of the sport is a relatively modern phenomenon, having first become established in the 1980s.

Climbing walls are as prevalent in many parts of the world as ice rinks or bowling alleys, becoming a fashionable leisure activity but a competitive sport for some.

Complicated routes to dizzying heights, seeking the highest controlled hold possible, are the hallmark of lead climbing, while speed climbing is an attack on the senses for competitor and viewer alike, with elite men having been known to hurtle up a 15-metre wall in barely five seconds.

Bouldering is a test of problem-solving expertise as well as skill, a true examination of the climber's wit and athleticism.

At Tokyo's Aomi Urban Sports Park, the climbing competition for men and women will cover all three disciplines, with combined scores deciding the medals.

 

Surfing

Sailing, canoeing and kayaking have been mainstays of the Olympic Games, and now surfing joins as a high-octane addition to the roster of sports.

The daredevil nature of surfing means it should prove one of the outstanding spectacles, assuming Mother Nature brings the Pacific coast waves Games organisers are looking for.

Each of the 20 men and 20 women competing will be allowed to ride up to 25 waves in 30 minutes, with their two highest scopes from the five judges being counted, so choosing the right moment for a high-tariff manoeuvre is all important.

Surf stars will be assessed on their "commitment and degree of difficulty, innovative and progressive manoeuvres, combinations of major manoeuvres, variety of manoeuvres, and speed, power and flow", the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said.

American John John Florence is a man to watch out for, with the 28-year-old two-time former world champion having built up his skills riding the waves of his native Hawaii. He suffered a worrying knee injury in Perth, Australia in May, but has recovered in time for the Games.

Skateboarding

Once largely portrayed as the preserve of weed-smoking punk kids, and certainly still patronised by the disaffected youth, skateboarding now comes with a highly professional element too.

Washington Square Park, Venice Beach and the undercroft of London's Southbank Centre have been epicentres of the growing subculture, but now the focus turns to Tokyo, where separate street and park disciplines will test the elite boarders.

Competitors will be assessed on the difficulty level, the originality and the execution of their displays at the Ariake Urban Sports Park.

This will be skateboarding's coming-out party as a major competitive sport, with the eyes of millions across the world setting their eyes on the stars who put themselves in more danger of injury than most Olympians.

Japan's Yuto Horigome and Aori Nishimura won gold in the men's and women's Street World Championship in Rome just a matter of weeks ago, ramping up the interest at home.

British 12-year-old Sky Brown, poised to become her country's youngest summer Olympian, will also be one to watch after recovering from a horror skateboarding accident last year that saw her suffer skull fractures. They are a tough set in this sport, with surely nobody braver than Brown.

Karate

Of course karate needed to be in any 21st century Olympics hosted by Japan, and it may be a surprise to many that this marks its debut at the Games.

The sport has Japanese roots and there seem sure to be home gold medals, while global exposure to karate is perhaps at an all-time high thanks to the popularity of Karate Kid spin-off Cobra Kai, the Netflix series.

Spain are a mighty force too, with Damian Quintero and Sandra Sanchez prime contenders for gold in the kata discipline, both being ranked number one in the world.

In the combat element, known as kumite, the jargon may take some getting used to for newcomers. One point, known as a Yuko, is awarded for a punch to key areas of an opponent, including the head, back or torso, while a Waza-ari is worth two points and will be given for a kick to the body.

An Ippon, for three points, is achieved by landing a high kick to the head or a punch to a grounded opponent.

Karate will take place at Tokyo's famous Nippon Budokan, which as well as being a famous martial arts venue also famously played host to The Beatles for a series of shows in 1966.

Rock acts including Bob Dylan and Cheap Trick recorded legendary live albums at the Budokan, which was built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and has also staged Muhammad Ali fights, one a standard boxing match in 1972 and the other a bizarre hybrid clash in 1976 with wrestler Antonio Inoki.

 

Baseball and softball

Baseball was an Olympic medal-awarding sport from 1992 to 2008 and softball had that status from 1996 to 2008, so you would be forgiven for not feeling any huge rush of enthusiasm about its return to the Games.

Unlike in basketball, the United States do not bring their baseball A-listers to the Games, relying on a group largely formed of minor-leaguers and free agents, and South Korea were the last Olympic champions.

This year the competition will feature the Dominican Republic, Israel, Japan, Mexico, South Korea and the United States, while the women's softball event will be contested by Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Mexico and the USA.

Japan's baseball stars are reportedly each in line for bonuses worth 10 million yen (£65,000) if they carry off the gold medal.

They won an exhibition event at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, beating the United States in the final, and have since claimed a silver and two bronze medals.

"I want people to talk about the football and say, 'there was that team that Newcastle had and we loved going to watch them play, it was exciting and they always had it go'", says Newcastle Jets head coach Arthur Papas.

There are so many similarities between Papas and Australian trailblazer Ange Postecoglou, who is now embarking on his journey as manager of Scottish giants Celtic.

Postecoglou has an unrelenting belief in his philosophy, with an emphasis on a high-octane style of attacking football. Papas is no different.

That entertaining football delivered Yokohama F.Marinos their first J1 League crown in 15 years in 2019. Papas was Postecoglou's assistant during two highly successful seasons in Japan.

After almost 10 years and priceless journeys across India, Saudi Arabia and Japan, Papas is back in Australia and in the Hunter Valley, this time as coach of Jets.

Papas – who spent less than a year as an assistant with the Jets in 2011-12 – is Down Under to be closer to family, having been appointed head coach of J3 League outfit Kagoshima United in December.

The 41-year-old is now tasked with restoring the glory days to McDonald Jones Stadium, where the 2008 A-League champions have fallen on tough times.

Newcastle have missed the finals for the past three seasons, finishing seventh in 2019, eighth in 2020 and 11th in the 12-team competition last season.

"We're all aiming for success," Papas told Stats Perform. "I'm not in this just to get into the finals. That's not enough, the bar isn't low. There's no ceiling with what I want to achieve with this club. There shouldn't be. Anyone who puts a ceiling on it straight away has basically cancelled any ambition of where you could go.

"But, the main thing is I want people to talk about the football and say 'there was that team that Newcastle had and we loved going to watch them play, it was exciting and always had it go and okay, didn't get it right every time', but they could resonate with our football and they don't forget that. If we're able to achieve that, we would have done something special. Normally, if you have achieved that, you also would've got pretty close to being quite successful in terms of results."

Papas added: "You can be in a club where you're playing exciting football, but there's nothing better than having that in front of 10-15,000 people. The difference is in this league, you can also have teams that could do that but not attract that support. For me, the big reason is the supporters of the club because I know when this place gets it right, it's one of the most difficult places to come in the A-League, the strongest support and genuinely get behind the team.

"They've had some lean years but that's why the challenge is so great. You don’t want to be doing it in front of an empty stadium. It's going to generate momentum for us. It's going to take a bit of time because the football I like to play doesn't happen overnight, but it's going to happen because I'm so clear in how I work and the vision I have for how to build teams and play a certain brand of football. Then the idea is we're all connected and doing it together, including the whole region."

 

Since reaching the 2018 A-League Grand Final, the Jets have a 30 per cent winning percentage in the competition – Central Coast Mariners (25 per cent) are the only team with a lower win rate than Newcastle across the last three seasons.

The Jets have had an expected goals (xG) per game value of 1.6, the sixth-most of any team in the last three seasons; however they have scored 33 goals fewer than their xG suggests they should have – by far the largest negative difference of any team in the competition in that time.

"It's a really interesting job in terms of A-League context," Papas said. "Maybe every five or six years there's a good year and then it really falls away. There's so many reasons for that I'm sure. There's been constant talk about the ownership model, which hasn't created the stability that the club and region deserve.

"It's the kind of thing that I normally do, put myself in really difficult situations and relish those challenges. I believe we can do something special there."

Newcastle have won only 19 points from losing positions in the last three seasons of the A-League – the joint-fewest of any team among those to have participated in all three campaigns (Macarthur FC - 10pts).

The Mariners (92) and Jets (96) are the only teams to have participated in each of the last three A-League seasons but scored fewer than 100 goals across them.

Former boss Carl Robinson (60 per cent) – now in charge of Western Sydney Wanderers – is the only man to have won at least one third of his games as manager of the Jets across the last three A-League seasons.

But Papas has already set out to rebuild the Jets, luring Cameron Devlin, eight-time Australia international Matthew Jurman, Dane Ingham and Mohamed Al-Taay to the club, while boosting his staff with the arrivals of Arthur Diles, Huss Skenderovic and Riccardo Marchioli.

"It always has to be aligned to the vision I have for how we want to play and behave," Papas said. "No disrespect to anything been happening there, it's more about when you come in, you need as many people on the bus as possible to move in the same direction. I don't really compromise any part of how I see football being played, to be successful and winning teams. It's more identifying characters and kind of characteristics to play that type of football.

"The main thing is we need certain physical and technical profiles and certain characters. I know it sounds a bit cliché but after you speak to different people, I'm confident we've done some good business so far."

"The main part for me is we have a certain culture within the staff and competency to deliver a world-class program, that is really the goal," he continued. "To deliver an environment and program that players come and all they think about is today I'm going to get better and how am I going to get better and our staff are driving that daily. I feel, amongst improving players, I have a greater job than that and it's about how do we align the staff and improve those areas to make sure players come in and know they're coming into a special environment. We will create that because I have experiences now, I've seen it first-hand at the best levels in Asia under one of the best managers in the world and that's added layers to my coaching I'm sure. I'm constantly trying to grow and improve, which I've done from day one."

Papas is relying heavily on data to shape his team and turn the Jets into title contenders, adding: "It's part of the story for me and how we work. We utilised it extremely well in Japan. It depends on resources also. I'm not big on using data for data.

"I've developed a model over time that is specific to giving us ideas on what makes our game tick or not. We can use some of that to quantify what's happening but at the end of the day, it's not going to give you a total picture. It just gives you a framework. It's an evidence-based research in essence. It's very difficult for managers to do this because we get caught up in the emotions of that result on Saturday and that result evidently defines us but doesn't always show a true reflection of what's really happening.

"We've won games at times where I thought we weren't really where we needed to be and our data didn't actually stack up in terms of what we define as a game where we were strong across all areas. Other games, you lose and can't work out how you lost because you have a certain about of ball possession, expected goals … what do you do with these situations as well? I have certain data which I consistently refer to, whether it's physical or technical, that gives me a clear reflection of if we're on track or not."

Papas, who brings vast experience to the Jets and the A-League, returns to Australia at a time when calls for a national second division grow louder.

Beyond the A-League, Australian football currently relies on clubs in eight separate National Premier Leagues (NPL) as part of a mainly semi-professional second tier.

The Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC) has already detailed their plans for a national second division amid hopes it could be introduced by the end of 2022.

As nations across Asia continue to invest and improve, Papas – who has coached India's Under-23 team, Pailan Arrows, Dempo and worked as an assistant for Saudi side Ettifaq FC and NorthEast United – said: "In terms of resources, I don't think we're competing at all.

"I've had some interesting stuff come to me over this period of coming back to Australia. I was working in J3 for example and people weren't sure if that was even full-time or not. I was a bit surprised by the naivety of that question because I had 11 full-time staff around me. The office has 30-plus people working around the clock. The resources available you can't even imagine and that goes all the way down to their academy systems. The important thing is you need to know what's happening out there. Between Saudi Arabia, Japan and the Indian Super League, they're all ranked in the top-eight leagues in Asia right now and I've been through all of them.

"I've got to see so many parts of why Asia is progressing and I think we're still progressing at our own speed. The difference is the speed of it, are we progressing at the same speed at some of the other countries? Are we able to resource our leagues and academies at the same level? We have huge difficulties in establishing a second division as an example. In Japan, they have over 50 full-time professional clubs, so the opportunities are so much more available for young players. The problem is here, when you're not at a professional level, the drop is too big and it doesn't compare. Over time, it just makes the gap wider and wider. That is why it's important to think about creating a second division because it will create opportunities. Not only opportunities for players but for staff, administrators, coaches. Our ecosystem keeps growing and growing, and that's when you're finding people are climbing up the chain.

"Unfortunately there's just not enough opportunities and that's what prompted a lot of my choices in terms of my career. It's no disrespect to the NPLs etc, but it's so far away from what happens and professional level. The longer you stay at that level, the harder it is to think you can just jump to the next level."

"I honestly don't know if he's going to get tired of being praised every day," Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni mused after Lionel Messi's latest masterclass.

Once again, Messi was at the heart of all of Argentina's attacking play, providing two assists before netting a goal of his own with a sublime late free-kick in Saturday's 3-0 Copa America quarter-final win over Ecuador.

The 34-year-old tops the Copa America charts for goals and assists, with four of each.

As Scaloni suggests, it is hard to stop praising him. There arguably are not enough superlatives to describe Messi.

This Copa may have been viewed as the younger Neymar's time, on home soil, but the numbers back up the veteran Messi so far.

On a grander scale, Messi has now scored 76 goals for Argentina, one short of Pele's 77 for Brazil.

Only Pele has scored more goals for a CONMEBOL nation, meaning Messi – who will play his 150th cap for Argentina in the semi-finals – is on the verge of another remarkable feat.

There is no shortage of individual accomplishments which could be listed off for the six-time Ballon d'Or winner but as Argentina progress deeper at the Copa America in Brazil, the question of team success at international level looms for Messi.

He has never won a Copa America, nor the World Cup, coming close to the latter as 2014 runners-up in Brazil.

Fourteen-time winners Argentina, as a nation, have not lifted the Copa America since their second all-time top scorer Gabriel Batistuta helped them to the 1993 title.

Messi is playing at his sixth Copa, with Argentina finishing as runners-up three times during that period.

If La Albiceleste overcome Colombia in the semi-finals, they will likely face nemesis Brazil in the decider at the Maracana, the same venue where they lost the 2014 World Cup final.

The current crop is vastly different to the abundantly talented side from 2014, but Scaloni has made this group tough to break down, with a dependence Messi's individual brilliance in attack.

Scaloni's Argentina have gone 18 games unbeaten now, while they have only conceded once in their past four games at Copa.

This side have also scored in the first half in 11 consecutive matches. On Saturday against Ecuador they dearly clung on to a 1-0 lead for long periods of the second half, repelling several attacks with a resolute appproach as Ecuador had more possession (54 per cent). It is not the first time under Scaloni this has happened successfully.

So is this Messi's best shot at international success? Is it his last chance at the Copa, with the next event scheduled for 2024?

That remains to be seen for the 34-year-old, who is currently a free agent after his Barcelona contract expired on June 30, although he is expected to re-sign and play at next year's World Cup.

But the ingredients are there for that breakthrough success for both Messi and Argentina.

As the list of individual accomplishments and accolades continues to grow, achieving that elusive international team success with Argentina would solidify Messi's legacy. The time is now.

Throw them to the lions!

England's bloodlust was dramatically sated in Rome's modern sporting colosseum as Ukraine were ruthlessly torn apart, victims of such savagery that might make an emperor think he could soon rule Europe.

Four-nil, and even Jordan Henderson scored. England doubled their goals haul for Euro 2020 and have still yet to concede. This is Italian-like behaviour by the Three Lions. Where was the drama, where was the pain? This team rarely make it easy for themselves but here they trampled all over the opposition.

Goodness knows what Denmark made of it all, given they are next in line.

Home advantage at Wembley seemed to serve Gareth Southgate's players well in their early games at this tournament, and being taken out of that comfort zone triggered all sorts of concerns. If goals had been hard to come by at home, then would this be one of those nights of England toil, where perhaps they might grind out something ugly and winning but perhaps their bubble might burst too? Would it all end miserably, probably on penalties in that great English tradition.

By the time substitute Henderson nodded Mason Mount's corner past Georgi Bushchan for the fourth goal of the night, any such concerns had long been banished.

The Liverpool captain's first senior England goal arrived on his 62nd appearance. Of all England's goalscorers in their history, nobody has waited longer for that magical moment. Sol Campbell had been the previous holder of that curious record, scoring his first in his 47th appearance.

It was a third headed goal of the night, England now Europe's masters at using their noggins, netting 10 headers across this campaign and their 2018 World Cup semi-final run, where no other European side has managed more than four.

This team plays some beautiful football on the floor, with Jadon Sancho coming into the England ranks for this game and looking like he had been playing there all throughout this run, which will come as good news to Manchester United. Raheem Sterling's winding run and super throughball for Harry Kane to prod the fourth-minute opener was typical of this new England.

 

"I think rotations in the forward area for this team is so important," Rio Ferdinand said on the BBC at half-time. "People that run off the ball, run people away – it's not there for the naked eye sometimes, but it's people who are running people away, opening space and creating space."

Alan Shearer chipped in too: "Everyone's on the same wavelength, everyone wants the ball, backing each other up. It's really, really intelligent, exciting play."

But England do not eschew the direct stuff; Luke Shaw with a free-kick bang into the heart of the penalty area to set up Harry Maguire for the thumping 46th-minute header that made it 2-0, sparking joyous celebration.

And then Shaw with the delicious cross to give Kane the chance to nod England three clear just four minutes later.

Shaw, it should be said, was exceptional.

In the stadium where Jose Mourinho will resume his coaching career in the new Serie A season, as boss of Roma, Shaw provided the perfect response to his former Manchester United manager's recent criticism.

Mourinho reckoned Shaw's set-piece delivery in England's group game against the Czech Republic had been "dramatically bad", but even the Portuguese might shrink from picking any holes in this display.

It was remarkable that Kane finished as the Premier League's top scorer in Mourinho's muddle of a Tottenham side last season, and absurd that a couple of so-so performances for England early in this tournament should have led to doubt being cast on his place in Southgate's team.

He now has three goals in Euro 2020 and nine major tournament strikes across his England career, one behind all-time leader Gary Lineker.

Kane almost reached 10 in Rome, lashing a brilliant volley that was beaten away by Bushchan for the corner from which Henderson scored.

History told us that this game would go to penalties – all three of England's previous European Championship quarter-finals had.

Yet new England have little respect for anything that history might dictate, and now Wembley awaits them on Wednesday. England return home as heroes.

"It's the hope that kills you," Lineker joked on the BBC. To any English person used to failure, this all feels too good to be true.

But as Southgate said, teeing up the Denmark game moments later: "Everybody can really look forward to that, it's brilliant."

Ange Postecoglou changed the landscape of Australian football and now the trailblazer is tasked with leading an embattled Celtic back to the Scottish summit, having been dethroned by bitter rivals Rangers.

Postecoglou – cut from the same cloth as Pep Guardiola and Maurizio Sarri – was appointed by Celtic last month amid some backlash in Scotland, but Bhoys fans are slowly starting to get an idea of why the former Australia manager is so highly rated.

With an emphasis on a high-octane style of attacking football and unrelenting belief in his philosophy, Postecoglou is the most decorated coach in Australian football history.

From South Melbourne to Australia and Japan, Postecoglou has won it all – a pair of National Soccer League championships, back-to-back A-League titles, a record 36-match unbeaten streak at Brisbane Roar, plus a ground-breaking 2015 Asian Cup triumph with the Socceroos and a J1 League crown with Yokohama F.Marinos - while silencing his doubters.

With fellow Australian Arthur Papas by his side in Yokohama, Postecoglou ended F.Marinos' 15-year wait for league glory in 2019.

As Postecoglou embarks on the biggest job an Australian coach has held in football, former assistant Papas – now in charge of A-League side Newcastle Jets – told Stats Perform: "It's a great achievement to be given a position of such stature.

"I'm ecstatic for Ange because the path to success is never a straight line. That is for everyone. The main thing is he's been consistent. Consistent in who he is as a person, how he approaches his work and what he believes in - and he believes in himself a lot.

"He is incredibly humble and hardworking, and full of self-belief. But he knows it's a big job, a difficult job. Celtic are another team who have fallen away in recent times and the pressure is immense, but I do think that's when he is at his best. He thrives under those conditions. It's a challenge after being so successful in Japan."

Postecoglou left F.Marinos with the highest winning percentage (49.2 – 58 victories in 118 games) in the history of the club. Since joining the Yokohama outfit, only two managers have a better winning percentage than Postecoglou from a minimum of 10 games: Toru Oniki (65) and Go Oiwa (50).

Despite the language barrier, F.Marinos bought into the Postecoglou way. Since 2018, the team ranked first for passing accuracy (86.5 per cent) and possession (63.2 per cent), while they were second for goals per game (1.9), expected goals per game (1.8), shots per game (15.2), shots on target per game (5.3), shot conversion rate (12.6), shooting accuracy (47.2), chances created per game (11.4), passes per game (619.4), passing accuracy in opposition half (82.4), big chance total per game (2.4), big chances created per game (1.8) and big chances scored per game (1.1).

Papas, who spent two seasons with Postecoglou at F.Marinos, added: "It's been well-documented the success in Japan but not really understood how difficult it is. People have asked me, for example, how will I deal with the pressure of being an A-League coach? I feel like saying, being in a country where not one player or staff speaks English and still getting a football message across and seeing it come to life so quickly, has more difficulty than maybe coming back here.

"Every job will have its challenge in the end. The main thing is [Celtic] have got themselves a world-class manager. A manager with a very clear philosophy and someone given the time, like every manager needs. Some use that time extremely well and you see progression, and others unfortunately – because the path isn't so clear, doesn't go that way. But given the time, he will be successful there for sure. He will be successful in his own unique way.

"Then, there will be another step after that because that's just Ange. He doesn't settle for that place and get comfortable. When he has had a bit of success, he wants more. That's why he is special at what he does."

Postecoglou, like Manchester City's Guardiola and former Chelsea and Juventus boss Sarri, pushes the boundaries. Firmly set in his belief of how football should be played, Postecoglou's approach never waivers and success follows the 55-year-old in his pursuit of excellence.

Asked about some of the initial negativity after Postecoglou's arrival at Celtic, Papas said: "Australian coaches, unfortunately, don't get start-up respect regardless, so there's always going to be someone that doubts you. What is important, is what you believe in about yourself.

"The thing is, he is so supremely confident in himself that it won't phase him. He knows it's just part of the challenge of where we are from and where we're going. He is a firm believer of it, we as Australian coaches probably get underestimated because of our passport not because of our competency. Having experiences across Asia, you see things and you're like wow.

"The passport unfortunately doesn't carry a lot of weight and definitely carries a lot of criticism at times, but he believes in himself.

 

"He will go there, it will take some time to engrain his ideas but there's no doubt they have a world-class manager that will turn that place upside down and get them on the right path."

During F.Marinos' triumphant season in 2019, Postecoglou's men covered the greatest distance in the J1 League (116.48km), ahead of Oita Trinita (114.79km). They also tallied the most total sprints with 191, more than FC Tokyo (174).

"Ange is the type that scours through every bit of information. If you're a staff member there, you need to be on top of everything because you'll get questioned at times about 'what was the data on this?', 'what were the statistics on this player?' He is obsessed with his work," Papas added.

"It doesn't matter how time progresses; he is just as obsessed as he's ever been in terms of details. There's a lot of work to get that engine going in the background to run that program in a way that he feels befits a world-class program."

Postecoglou oversaw a rebuild at the Roar and after asking to be judged a year from the time he replaced ex-Socceroos boss Frank Farina, his project culminated in the development of arguably the greatest footballing side the country had ever seen.

Playing an entertaining and possession-based brand of football, the Roar won the championship in 2010-11 and successfully defended their trophy the following season amid a 36-game unbeaten streak – an all-time Australian football code record for the longest undefeated run, surpassing rugby league outfit Eastern Suburbs' record set 74 years prior.

Postecoglou also coached Melbourne Victory before his Australia appointment in 2013. In the A-League, his teams scored 1.7 goals per game; only one head coach (minimum 30 games) has a higher average in the competition's history (Graham Arnold - 1.8).

The Greece-born boss left Australia's domestic competition with a 51 per cent win percentage as head coach – the joint-fifth best of any manager in the competition's history.

Named Australia boss in 2013, Postecoglou led Australia at the 2014 World Cup, conquered the Asian Cup the following year and also secured their position at Russia 2018 before stepping down. The Socceroos scored 86 goals in A-Internationals under Postecoglou – the second most they have scored under any manager since the beginning of 1965 (Frank Farina - 197).

Australia won 22 games during his tenure; only two managers have won more since the beginning of 1965 (Frank Farina - 34 and Holger Osieck - 23).

"I don't believe there is a certain timeline and it clicks," Papas said. "The process starts from day one and it's more about what is around you to implement that. Certain positions, you can go in and have the ability to make certain changes early on, which might fast track that progression. The only thing is that it's something that always grows and gets better. Because it's such a clear way of working and style of play that you're constantly working on everyday getting better at doing that.

"It's not, this week we're going to change it and sit back, these messages are so consistent that it just becomes something you get stronger at over time but that's why it takes a bit of time also. It's not a situational philosophy, it's a very clearly-defined progressive philosophy that has clarity and certain principles/frameworks that get reinforced on a daily basis."

When Brazil spring to mind, you don't normally associate defensive stability and clean sheets with the Selecao.

Brazil's flair and free-flowing football have made them the most feared and entertaining nation in world football.

But Tite's Selecao are built differently.

Playing with 10 men from the 48th minute, defending champions Brazil overcame their numerical disadvantage and Chile 1-0 in the Copa America quarter-finals on Friday.

Lucas Paqueta came off the bench at half-time and settled the contest a minute into the second half in Rio de Janeiro, where Gabriel Jesus saw red for a shocking high boot to the face of Chile's Eugenio Mena.

There was a Chile onslaught as they pushed forward in search of an equaliser and while Ben Brereton hit the crossbar, Brazil stood firm to extend their unbeaten streak while setting up a showdown with 2019 runners-up Peru.

In a run dating back to November 2019, Brazil have gone 12 matches without a defeat, including nine clean sheets in the process.

 

"It's a football game, you can't have a smile all the time. Anyone who played knows, you even discuss with friends, discuss plays," said Neymar, who has attempted the second-most dribbles (21) behind Lionel Messi (22) this tournament, while he has been fouled the most (21). 

"Chile are a great team, it was a great test, but the important thing is that we got the victory and advanced to the semi-finals."

Brazil have now won their last five games against two-time champions Chile at the Copa, scoring 12 goals and only conceding once.

Since his appointment in 2016, Brazil have kept 41 clean sheets in 59 games under head coach Tite across all competitions (69.5 per cent).

It further highlights the defensive strength of the Selecao with Tite at the helm.

Against Chile, Casemiro made a game-high four tackles in midfield, defender Marquinhos tallied four clearances, and Richarlison intercepted the ball on five occasions while the star forward gained possession eight times along with full-back Renan Lodi.

When it comes to Tite and Brazil, it is a team effort. Attacking and defending together across the pitch.

As Brazil eye a 10th Copa title, Tite's side have style and substance.

As impressive as Italy were at Euro 2020 before Friday, much of that praise had been tempered – rightly or wrongly – by scepticism from some, with those suggesting their opponents to this point. and throughout their unbeaten run, had been sub-optimal.

It seemed a largely harsh assessment given they are playing at a major international tournament, though the unconvincing nature of their 2-1 extra-time win over Austria did bring with it a hint of doubt.

Regardless of whether or not the sceptics had been correct about Italy, Belgium – the number-one ranked nation in the world – were always bound to leave fans and pundits alike with perhaps a better appraisal of just how good the Azzurri are.

After all, there had been plenty of evidence to suggest Belgium had almost been the antithesis of Roberto Mancini's team in Euro 2020. While Italy had the most efforts on goal of any team at Euro 2020 (87, Belgium had 38) prior to the quarter-finals, Belgium were one of only two teams to face 20 shots in two matches along with Turkey, yet they had only conceded once.

But in Munich on Friday there only ever looked like being one winner, with Roberto Martinez's Belgium eventually running out of luck at the hand of a side that will take some beating, the Italians winning 2-1.

At least the pragmatism Belgium seemed to employ against Denmark and Portugal – when they only managed six shots per game – was less prominent here, as they reached that total by half-time.

But were it not for a fortuitous penalty just before the interval, a spot-kick converted by Romelu Lukaku, they would have been 2-0 down at the break.

Where Italy had perhaps lacked fluency against Austria, they were intensely impressive here – their ability to play straight through Belgium thanks to their exceptional ball-players in midfield was coupled with their desire to win the ball back, routinely having two men putting the pressure on.

Their press resulted in a tournament-high (joint with the Netherlands) two goals from high turnovers before the quarter-finals and a similar scenario led to the opener here, Verratti cutting out Thomas Vermaelen's pass out from the back and finding Nicolo Barella, who brilliantly held off a tackle before firing past Thibaut Courtois.

 

The Real Madrid goalkeeper's form had undoubtedly played a role in Belgium's progress as well, given his 1.7 goals prevented was the third-best in the tournament prior to Friday, though even he could do little to prevent Lorenzo Insigne's gorgeous 25-yard effort finding the top-right corner to make it 2-0.

Italy's approach after the interval seemed to relate more around keeping the ball, firmly aware that the less time Belgium had in possession the less likely they were to draw level. In the 24 minutes that followed half-time, the Azzurri's share of possession was 70 per cent, compared to 54 per cent in the first half.

That's not to say Belgium didn't trouble them. When attacking at pace they caused Italy some issues – Jeremy Doku beat Giovanni Di Lorenzo and played a teasing ball right across goal, but Lukaku somehow failed to net, with Leonardo Spinazzola making a vital block.

Then Dries Mertens darted through the middle and played Nacer Chadli into the same channel of the box, with his eventual delivery being deflected over Lukaku and agonisingly behind Thorgan Hazard.

But Belgium got to the quarter-finals mostly down to moments of individual quality, as highlighted by the fact their eight goals scored was way above their xG tally of 4.1, which was the lowest of the eight teams remaining.

And while Doku was a nuisance with this tendency to dribble, Belgium had little else to throw at Italy as it almost became Lukaku or bust. Their form had seemingly been unsustainable and their luck ran out in Munich.

 

Even if Eden Hazard had been fit, given his form over the past two years it is difficult to see how things would have been any different with him on instead of Doku.

Kevin De Bruyne was passed fit and his three key passes were more than anyone else in a Belgium shirt, but it would be fair to suggest he hardly filled the same talismanic role he has become accustomed to at Manchester City. While you have to take playing styles into consideration, he averaged 81 touches per game in 2020-21, but only 51 on Friday.

His average for Euro 2020 had been 74.1 per 90 minutes. Perhaps there was an element of Belgium playing him out of desperation without him being completely fit.

Either way, Italy's first-half intensity was what set the tone for their victory, yet it was their well-rounded nature as a team that saw them get the job done – the fact they still had more shots than Belgium despite already having the lead and playing with less attacking urgency being the case in point here.

For many, Euro 2020 was seen as the final chance for Belgium's so-called 'Golden Generation' to truly leave their mark on the international stage, with a title eluding them.

But they leave the competition after getting very few people excited, with Italy making something of a statement to those who until Friday had dismissed them as flat-track bullies.

Andy Murray's Wimbledon adventure is over – for this year at least – after Denis Shapovalov put an end to his challenge in a one-sided Centre Court clash.

The doughty two-time former champion insists retirement is not at the forefront of his mind, but a 6-4 6-2 6-2 loss to 10th seed Shapovalov was a fresh reminder of his current place in the tennis pecking order.

After hip resurfacing surgery gave Murray another shot at the career that at one stage looked all but over, it was a Wimbledon return which was high on his list of priorities.

This was Murray's first appearance in the singles since 2017, the year he was last defending champion.

Earlier this year the former world number one spoke of a belief that he could win the tournament for a third time, but he will be 35 by the time next year's championships come around and many have doubts about whether he will still be playing. He came into this fortnight at 118th in the rankings.

Not even the closure of the Centre Court roof could save Murray this time. That had been the spur, coincidentally or not, for his two previous late-night matches to swing around in the Scot's favour, as he saw off Nikoloz Basilashvili and then the unheralded German Oscar Otte to reach this last-32 stage.

Murray and Shapovalov went off after the second set of this contest, as evening turned to night in south-west London and the lights came on, but Murray did not return with super-human strengths this time, and his opponent raced to victory.

Shapovalov told Murray at the net that the Scot was his hero, and spoke eloquently about his appreciation of his comeback, and perhaps Murray would have quietly admired the Canadian's skill in moving in for the kill.

 

This match had been all one way for much of the first set too, but then Murray found a spark and pulled back from 5-1 adrift to 5-4, the crowd beginning to believe it could be his day again.

Murray believed too, of course, but this match proved a step too far for the champion of 2013 and 2016. There were flickers of Murray at his best, and he will represent Great Britain at the upcoming Olympics, where he is a two-time defending champion, but Murray's days of being a grand slam contender are, on the balance of probabilities, pretty much over.

His career has been a spectacular affair, and there was a familiar ovation as he departed Centre Court.

Shapovalov had rammed down an ace on match point, clinical in his despatching of the crowd's favourite.

Speaking at the end of the match, Shapovalov said in an on-court interview: "This is a dream come true for me.

"I've put countless years of hard work into every practice so that one day maybe I could play on Centre Court – to play against a legend like Andy today, to play a match like this. First of all, huge shout-outs to him. What he is doing nobody has ever done. He's truly an inspiration to many people, including me.

"I just told him at the net that he's my hero. Achievements aside, what he's been able to do in the sport with an injury like this and to play the tennis he's playing and moving the way he's moving.

"In his second match it was like vintage Andy and it was just so much fun to see as a fan. I was really excited and the first set today was super, super intense.

"It's incredible what he's done to make it to the third round like this and he's just starting back up so it's going to be amazing to see what he can do."

The Eastern Conference Finals took a titanic turn in Game 3 when the Atlanta Hawks' star point guard suffered a freak injury.

An unfortunate injury to the 'Greek Freak' in Game 4 presented yet another massive twist in this series.

With Trae Young considered questionable and Giannis Antetokounmpo listed as doubtful for Thursday's Game 5, the path to the NBA Finals got significantly more challenging for the Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks.

Knotted at 2-2 in the East, the question now becomes which team is better equipped to overcome the loss of its superstar.

The first major injury setback of this series occurred with the Hawks up by three points in the final minute of the third quarter on Sunday, when Young accidently stepped back onto the foot of an official after passing the ball. He went down and stayed on the court until the next whistle before heading to the locker room.

While able to return in the fourth quarter, Young was not his normal explosive self. He hobbled his way to just three fourth-quarter points on four shots and Atlanta was outscored by 15 when he was on the court as Milwaukee pulled away for a 113-102 victory to take a 2-1 series lead.

A day after the game, an MRI revealed a bone bruise in his right ankle and although he was able to go through morning shootaround prior to Tuesday's Game 4, he was ultimately ruled out shortly before tipoff.

 

The second enormous injury in the series arose a few hours after Young was scratched.

Midway through the third quarter of Game 4, Antetokounmpo jumped to try to defend a Lou Williams alley-oop pass to Clint Capela and his left knee buckled awkwardly while landing. After remaining on the floor in pain for several minutes, he made his way to the locker room and was diagnosed with a hyperextension. An MRI the following day showed no structural damage.

The Bucks fell behind by 10 on Capela's dunk on the play Antetokounmpo was hurt and shortly after he exited Atlanta went on a 15-0 run to put the game away in a 110-88 win.

That run was fuelled by a trio of 3-pointers by Bogdan Bogdanovic, who finally looked he has overcome his own injury.

Bogdanovic has been saddled by right knee soreness that Hawks coach Nate McMillan said began to crop up in Game 5 of Atlanta's Eastern Conference series against the Philadelphia 76ers.

In the Hawks' five-game first-round series against the New York Knicks and their first four games against the 76ers, Bogdanovic averaged 16.4 points on 41.4 per cent shooting and 34.6 percent from 3-point range. His 27 3-pointers led the team and Young was the only Hawk to average more points at 28.3 per game.

In those first nine playoff contests, Bogdanovic also played more minutes than any Hawk, averaging more than 37 a game.

Over the next six games, however, he averaged 6.2 points on 26.8 per cent shooting and 16.7 per cent on 30 3-point tries in a little over 25 minutes per game.

In need of a spark with Young sidelined in Game 4, Bogdanovic shook off any lingering ailments and poured in 20 points while draining six 3-pointers – one more than he made in his previous six games combined. He once again found his shooting stroke on wing 3-pointers, connecting on 5-of-6 shots from there after misfiring on 18-of-20 attempts in the previous six contests.

Not only is his production invaluable for the Hawks, Bogdanovic also excelled when teamed with Young's replacement.

Bogdanovic played 28:55 minutes with Williams and made 7 of 15 shots and half of his 12 3-point attempts when they were together. In just under five minutes without him, Bogdanovic missed all four of his shot attempts – including a pair of 3-point tries.

This entire postseason, Bogdanovic has shot better from 3-point range when teamed with Williams, connecting on 41.9 per cent (13 of 31) with him compared to 27.5 per cent (25 of 91) without him.

While Bogdanovic stepped up, so did the man who was inserted in the starting lineup in place of Young.

In his first career playoff start in his 87th postseason contest, Williams made an immediate impact. The three-time Sixth Man of the Year had 13 points by half-time – the same number of points he had in the first three games of the East Finals – and finished with a game-high 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting.

In 35 minutes, the 16-year veteran had just one turnover while assisting on eight baskets, with three going to Capela as the two worked the pick-and-roll.

 

At 34 years old, Williams obviously is not as dynamic as the 22-year-old Young, whose averaging 29.8 points and 9.5 assists in the playoffs, but he proved to be plenty capable of leading Atlanta's offense, as he either scored or assisted on more than a third of the team's 43 made baskets.

Similarly to Young on the Hawks, it’s impossible for the Bucks to replace Antetokounmpo, who was averaging 29.2 points, 13.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists in the 14 games before his injury.

Good news for Milwaukee, however, is it has not had that big of a drop-off in production without him this postseason. The Bucks are averaging 108.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the court in the playoffs compared to 103.2 without him. By comparison, the Hawks are averaging 110.3 points per 100 possessions with Young on the court in the playoffs and 97.5 without him.

Bobby Portis and Brook Lopez are expected to handle more minutes with the backcourt tandem of Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday shouldering more of the offensive load, and all four have shot the ball a bit better this postseason when not on the court with the two-time league MVP. (Middleton 47.9 per cent without Antetokounmpo/41.1 per cent with him, Holiday 45.5 per cent without/40.4 per cent with, Lopez 58.8 per cent without/53.9 per cent with and Portis 54.3 per cent without/45.8 per cent with.)

Middleton, meanwhile, has also already proven he can pick up the scoring slack.

He had eight of Milwaukee's first 10 points after Antetokounmpo left on Tuesday, and has three games this postseason with 35 points or more. In Bucks franchise history, only one player has more 35-point games in a single postseason and that just happens to be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had six in 1973-74 and five in 1969-70.

Ultimately for Milwaukee, it could simply come down to Middleton's ability to make shots as the biggest difference between the team winning or losing. This postseason, the Bucks are 9-0 in games when Middleton shoots 40 per cent or better and 1-5 in games when he fails to reach that mark.

It is obviously not an ideal situation to be in, but Antetokounmpo and Young could still end up playing, though if they do suit up neither will likely be at full strength.

Both teams have also found some success navigating their way without their best players – the Bucks were 6-5 in the regular season without Antetokounmpo and the Hawks improved to 6-4 this season without Young on Tuesday.

Thursday's game is unlike any of those previous contests, however, with the winner moving one victory away from a berth in the NBA Finals.

Comaneci, Korbut, Biles, Scherbo. Those names are as engrained into Olympic legend as Bolt, Beamon, Griffith-Joyner and Owens.

Gymnastics might pass under many radars outside Games time, but television chiefs have it down as a ratings-winning banker.

There is no other sport that combines quite the same level of athleticism, artistry and acrobatic magnificence, and pairs those factors with a stack of glamour and more than a hint of danger.

Most viewers of the Olympics will know how it feels to casually sprint 100 metres or swim a length or two, but the parallel bars, the pommel horse and the beam were typically last experienced as dreaded apparatus hauled out of school sports equipment vaults.

Anybody who avoided making a muggins of themselves deserved immediate respect, with these implements of humiliation ripe for dishing out a torturing.

On the Olympic stage, we see the human species at its most agile, yet vulnerable too, and that is why gymnastics has been the most viewed sport in the Games on American networks for many years.

Here, Stats Perform looks at three of the great Olympic gymnasts of the last 50 years, and considers who might emerge as a star at the Ariake venue in Tokyo this year.


GAMES GREATS

Nadia Comaneci: The Perfect 10

When Romanian Comaneci scored the first 'Perfect 10' in Olympic history at the Montreal Games of 1976, famously even the scoreboards were unprepared for her fabulous feat. They showed 1.00, with the Omega technology not built to display top marks. Comaneci was 14 years old, and she had made history on the uneven bars in the team competition. It was incredibly just the start of a run of 10s from Comaneci, who produced six more during her heady time in Canada, winning gold medals in the all-around event, the uneven bars and the balance beam.

 

Olga Korbut: Flipping brilliant

The young Comaneci would have watched Korbut dazzle at the 1972 Munich Olympics, where the 17-year-old brought daring new routines to the Games stage. Her backflip to catch on the uneven bars drew gasps from the crowd and media alike. Television footage from the time shows Korbut produce her mesmerising routine, with one commentator questioning: "Has that been done before by a girl?". His colleague responds: "Never, not by any human I know of!"

The Korbut flip was born, a backward somersault on the beam followed, and millions across the globe watched in astonishment at her audacity and execution. The teenager from the Soviet Union won gold medals in the team, floor and balance beam disciplines, pushing gymnastics to new heights.

Vitaly Scherbo: Barcelona bounty

It has often been the case that women gymnasts have attracted more admiration than the men, but in 1992 it was Scherbo who stole the show. The 20-year-old Belarusian was a colossus, winning six gold medals for the Unified Team of former Soviet states with a revelatory exhibition of physical strength, craft and control.

Scherbo became champion at the parallel bars, vault, rings, pommel horse, team event and the all-around event. His haul of golds has only ever been surpassed in a single Olympics by swimmers: Michael Phelps (eight gold medals at Beijing 2008) and Mark Spitz (seven golds at Munich).


TOKYO CALLING

Simone Biles: Great already, and now back for more

What does Biles have in store for a Tokyo encore to her spectacular Rio performance? It was well known before the 2016 Olympics was that Biles was rather special, and the American delivered on the biggest stage, with four gold medals and a solitary bronze, becoming the first quadruple Olympic gymnastic champion since 1984 when the great Romanian Ecaterina Szabo also achieved success on that scale. Biles, a formidable character and sensational competitor, is stretching the limits of athletic achievement every time she competes, taking her beloved sport to new audiences and inspiring generations of youngsters to try the sport.

Now 24 years old, Biles appears to be in great shape for more success in Japan, but watch out for her team-mate Suni Lee too. The 18-year-old outscored Biles on day two of the US Olympic trials

Tang Xijing: China's great hope

Could Chinese teenager Tang be in the picture to deny Biles the all-around title in Tokyo? The 18-year-old took a surprise silver behind Biles at the 2019 World Championship, and it remains to be seen whether that was a one-off or if she can limit the errors that have at times impeded her success and strike again for a medal.

She seems sure to be somewhere in the frame, but the Olympics demands perfection or at least somewhere close to it. Tang has abundant talent, and how she competes against the world's best again, after being limited lately to domestic competition, will be one of many matters of intrigue under the spotlight in the Ariake gymnastics hall.

Usain Bolt charged into history in Beijing, Bob Beamon took one giant leap for mankind in Mexico City, and Florence Griffith-Joyner stunned millions with her Seoul sprint spectacular.

World records in track and field are always special achievements, but athletes take it to the next level when they produce such performances on the Olympic stage, with hundreds of millions of eyes watching across the globe.

At the Tokyo 2020 Games, expect records to tumble, but others will be far from easy to shift from the record books.

Here, Stats Perform assesses five Olympic records that look set to survive the Tokyo test, and five that look distinctly vulnerable.

FIVE TO SURVIVE

Men's 200 metres: USAIN BOLT, 19.30 seconds (Beijing Olympics, 2008)

As well as this 200m mark, the likelihood is that Bolt's 100m Games record of 9.63 from the London Olympics will be untouchable too. That is despite his Olympic bests being narrowly outside the world records he owns for both sprints (9.58 and 19.19). The 200m Olympic record certainly looks locked in to remain intact after Tokyo, with nobody threatening to go remotely close this season, at the time of writing in late June. Just like when he set Olympic high watermarks in the Bird's Nest Stadium – running what were then world records in the 100m and 200m – Bolt remains streets ahead of the rest.

Men's long jump: BOB BEAMON, 8.90 metres (Mexico City, 1968)

The most famous of all athletics records, Beamon leapt into sporting legend in 1968 with the jump that toppled the previous world record by an astonishing 55 centimetres. Before that, in 33 years the record had only been nudged on by 22 centimetres. Beamon's world record has gone now, broken by Mike Powell who cleared 8.95m at the 1991 World Championship, but he still owns the second longest leap and the Olympic record. This is no golden age for long-jumping, and it would send tremors through the sporting world if Beamon's mark could be beaten.

Women's 200m: FLORENCE GRIFFITH-JOYNER, 21.34 seconds (Seoul, 1988)

American Griffith-Joyner brought her unique brand of glamour to the world stage and had eyes popping with her staggering summer of success 33 years ago. She wiped an incredible 0.27 seconds off the 100m world record when clocking 10.49secs at the US Olympic trials, and at the Games in Seoul she doubled up, setting a 200m global best with a run of 21.56s in the semi-finals before going even quicker still in the final.

Women's 800m: NADEZHDA OLIZARENKO, one minute 53.43 seconds (Moscow, 1980)

This came in a world-record run, as Olizarenko led a popular Soviet Union 1-2-3 in the two-lap dash. The current world record, just 0.15secs quicker than Olizarenko's time, was set three years later. Olizarenko died in 2017, but her Olympic record looks set to stay in the history books for years to come, particularly given Caster Semenya will be absent in Tokyo.

Women's heptathlon: JACKIE JOYNER-KERSEE, 7,291 points (Seoul, 1988)

American all-rounder Joyner-Kersee enjoyed staggering success in the 1980s as she pushed the standards of the heptathlon to still-unprecedented levels. Her world-record total from Seoul has looked unbeatable ever since, given no other athlete has come within 250 points. Joyner-Kersee also won gold in the long jump at the same 1988 Olympics with a Games record of 7.40m that also remains to this day and is likely to continue standing the test of time for many years to come.

 

FIVE TO FALL

Men's 1,500m: NOAH NGENY, 3:32.07 (Sydney, 2000)

This mark looks ripe to be broken, given the men's world record is 3:26:00, yet it continues to stand to this day. In 2019, the last normal year for athletics before the pandemic proved so disruptive, this Olympic best was bettered 31 times over the season. But the 1,500m is not a sprint and tactical racing is a familiar slowing factor over middle distance in the Olympics, with all eyes on the prize rather than the clock. An outright race, without any early teasing and slow-going, could see this record crushed. The men's 1,500m record last fell at the 1960 Rome Olympics, to Herb Elliott (3:35.6), and it feels ripe to go again.

Men's pole vault: THIAGO BRAZ, 6.03m (Rio, 2016)

Braz was a highly popular winner in his native Brazil five years ago, setting a Games record to boot. It would be a major shock if anyone but Armand Duplantis carried off the gold this year, with the American-born Swedish athlete the clear class act in the field. He had a 6.10m clearance in Hengelo in early June, and last year he went over 6.18m indoors. Unless he buckles under the pressure of the Olympics, Duplantis looks good to walk away with gold and a Games record.

Men's javelin: ANDREAS THORKILDSEN, 90.57m (Beijing, 2008)

Possibly the likeliest of all the athletics records to be beaten, Thorkildsen's gold-winning effort from the Bird's Nest is surely about to be overtaken. Germany's Johannes Vetter had a throw of 96.29m in May, when he hurled the javelin over 90 metres five times in one six-throw competition. The odd one out in that supreme performance was a world-class 87.27, confirming Vetter as the man to beat.

Women's 100m: FLORENCE GRIFFITH-JOYNER, 10.62 seconds (Seoul, 1988)

Although 'Flo-Jo' clocked 10.54s in the 1988 Olympic final, that was a wind-assisted run and is not considered a Games record. Which means it is this 10.62 – set, stupendously, in the heats – that is the target. For years it has looked out of reach, but then Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce ran 10.63 in Kingston in June, and suddenly it no longer appears quite so insurmountable. Griffith-Joyner died in 1998 after an epileptic seizure, and over 20 years later her records are still being chased by the sprint elite.

Women's triple jump: FRANCOISE MBANGO ETONE, 15.39m (Beijing, 2008)

Cameroonian athlete Etone won gold in Athens and four years later in Beijing, setting the current Olympic record in the Chinese capital. That mark is the fourth furthest achieved in history by a woman; however, Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela has two of the top three triple jumps on that list, and she will be a red-hot favourite for the gold medal. The 25-year-old had a 15.43m effort in May, illustrating she is in shape for a record tilt.

When it comes to Lionel Messi, there are not enough superlatives to describe his brilliance.

That was the case following Messi's magical performance in his record-breaking appearance for Argentina.

Two goals and one unbelievable assist to guide Argentina to a 4-1 rout of Bolivia at the Copa America on Monday.

Three goal involvements all in 45-minutes work for Messi, who shattered another record with his 148th international cap, surpassing former team-mate Javier Mascherano.

Already La Albiceleste's all-time leading scorer, it was Messi's first brace for Argentina in 18 games, dating back to August 2019. The 34-year-old also recorded his second two-goal outing in a Copa fixture.

Messi improved his international tally to 75, while netting his 11th and 12th career Copa goals – the fourth-highest scorer for Argentina at the showpiece CONMEBOL tournament.

 

At this stage of his remarkable career, no one should be surprised by the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

However, Messi was simply incredible from the outset in a merciless display in the final Group A fixture in Cuiaba.

Messi – who has not missed a minute of Argentina's four Copa games in 2021 so far – broke the internet in the sixth minute.

Angel Correa's turn outside the penalty area sparked the move as the ball found the feet of Messi.

Messi's back was towards goal, while the superstar captain was surrounded by at least three Bolivia defenders. But, we know how this movie ends.

He somehow scooped the ball to Alejandro Gomez and the evergreen veteran finished on the volley to cap an irresistible passage of play.

A Messi penalty followed just past the half-hour mark – the 34-year-old converting the spot-kick to get in on the action.

What happened next was even better.

Close friend Sergio Aguero, who will unite with Messi at Barcelona in 2021-22, was the architect. Manchester City's all-time leading goalscorer playing a throughball approaching half-time.

Messi beat the offside trap and beat Bolivia goalkeeper Carlos Lampe with a superb lob in the 42nd minute.

If not for Lampe's heroics, Messi – who completed a game-high 63 passes in the opponent's half while attempting four shots on target (a Copa record) – would have finished the match with more than a hat-trick.

Regardless, it was a special display as Argentina extended their unbeaten streak to 17 matches (W10 D7) under Lionel Scaloni – the joint-third longest undefeated sequence of a coach in the country's history, alongside Guillermo Stabile.

While Messi still covets an elusive international crown with Argentina, the famous number 10 celebrated his latest milestone only he knows how.

Watching Alvaro Morata toil at Euro 2020 has been almost tragic, with every miss seemingly guaranteed to invite some form of pile-on, whether on social media or from fans inside the stadium.

Rarely do footballers inspire feelings of sympathy, with fans perhaps generally forgetting that these entertainers performing for our satisfaction are humans too, carrying out a job like any other member of society.

Maybe it is the money they're paid that prevents certain individuals from feeling empathy for footballers, but surely even the most vociferous cheerleaders of "footballers' wages for soldiers" and other comparable arguments must have felt some kind of compassion for Morata at one time or another during this tournament.

Even before a ball was kicked, Morata was already a hot topic of conversation after he was widely jeered by the home crowd during Spain's 0-0 warm-up friendly draw with Portugal at the Wanda Metropolitano, the home of the club – Atletico Madrid – that owns him. Just 11 days later it was confirmed he would be spending another season on loan at Juventus rather than return.

While Spain as a collective were booed in that game, Morata certainly bore the brunt of it, the crowd making their opinions known after he had wasted four chances. One of those hit the crossbar, meaning he was literally a matter of inches away from winning the match and capping off an otherwise impressive individual performance with a goal.

It has been much the same story during the tournament. No matter how many of those associated with the squad – including Luis Enrique, Dani Olmo, Koke and Aymeric Laporte – publicly defend their colleague, it seems the boo-boys have their target and will not waver.

And the particularly sad aspect of it all is that Morata revealed in a recent interview that even his wife and children have been victims of the abuse when attending Spain's group games at La Cartuja.

But has Morata even been that bad at Euro 2020? Generally speaking, you would have to say no.

 

Now, there is undoubtedly an elephant in the room: his wasteful finishing. No one is going to try and convince you Morata has been effective in front of goal – after all, the data says the exact opposite as his one goal comes from an xG (expected goals) value of 2.9.

In fact, only his team-mate Gerard Moreno has a worse xG differential (2.1) in the group games at Euro 2020, so there's no getting away from the fact Morata has not been clinical enough. On top of that, Morata has missed more Opta-defined "big chances" (four) than any other player in the tournament.

This isn't a new phenomenon, though; since the start of 2017-18 only Lorenzo Insigne (7.8), Gabriel Jesus (9.85) and Edin Dzeko (16.85) have underperformed their xG by more than Morata (7.3) among forwards in the top five leagues (minimum 40 goals scored).

Additionally, among the same group of players since 2017-18, only Alassane Plea (70.3 per cent) has missed a greater proportion of his big chances than Morata (66.4 per cent).

But, intriguingly, no one had more shots on target during the group stage at Euro 2020 than Morata, his six from 11 attempts exactly the same as top-scorer Cristiano Ronaldo.

This suggests the problem is an age-old one with Morata: composure. So much of this part of the game comes down to mentality, and mental health is something Morata has commendably been open about for much of his career.

 

He previously spoke about how mental illnesses should be considered ailments much like physical injuries, and in 2018 he revealed he was seeing a psychologist while at Chelsea.

In that sense, if we consider the incessant abuse of him, Morata's arguably performing better than anyone could feasibly expect.

Now, that raises the question of whether Luis Enrique should have taken Morata out of the firing line before things reached this stage.

It surely cannot be conducive to positive mental health to have 16,000 people enthusiastically communicating that something doesn't impress them much, as if Morata was performing keepy-uppies on stage at a Shania Twain concert.

But the striker insisted last week that he has found himself motivated by the jeers, particularly prior to the penalty against Slovakia. Admittedly, he did miss it.

"I'm proud of the fact I picked up the ball [to take the penalty] after people booed me in the warm-up," he said. "A few years ago, I would have been devastated but I'm really motivated. Whoever thinks the opposite doesn't know me."

It's also worth considering that, while there have been problems with Morata in front of goal, he has otherwise been a positive influence on the team.

For example, Spain's six shot-ending high turnovers have only been bettered by four teams following all group fixtures, while Morata fits into that philosophy given the fact he has won possession in the final third three times – only Memphis Depay and Ronaldo (four each) managed more in the group stage among forwards.

Similarly, Morata brings bursts of positivity and drive to Spain once he gets on the ball, as demonstrated by the fact he has recorded eight progressive carries measuring between five and 10 metres. The only out-and-out strikers to do better in the group stages were Alexander Isak and Ronaldo.

It is also worth bearing in mind that Morata ranks in the top 10 for forwards involved in open-play sequences that end in a shot (12), while his 24 touches in the opposition's box ranked him second behind Kylian Mbappe (27) ahead of the knockout fixtures. Both statistics are further evidence that he has been actively involved in keeping Spain in the ascendancy.

 

Unfortunately for Morata, many will look no further than chances converted when evaluating a striker's performances, and in tournament football when the action is so condensed, conclusions are 100 times more reactionary. Just ask Harry Kane.

But as long as Luis Enrique retains faith and the opportunities keep coming, there remains the chance of a Hollywood-esque conclusion to the hard-on-his-luck tale that has seemed to epitomise the past few years of Morata's career.

In a 2006 biopic of stockbroker Chris Gardner's life, Will Smith portrays a man who has to overcome countless setbacks on his path to making a name for himself.

The script is written for Morata to become the decisive player in a victorious Euro 2020 campaign for Spain, giving him his own successful Pursuit of Happyness.

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