Having been scrapped last year due to the disruption caused by the pandemic, the Ballon d'Or returns in 2021.

With Euro 2020 and the Copa America rescheduled for this year, the stars of Europe and South America have the chance to use those tournaments as a springboard towards claiming the game's top individual prize.

Following club seasons either laden with trophies or padded with statistical achievements – or, in some cases, a bit of both – a few elite-level performances could make the difference in the race to win France Football's famous award.

Stats Perform has chosen a shortlist of 14 players who could make themselves Ballon d'Or favourites should they sparkle over the next month...

 

Karim Benzema

Remarkably, Karim Benzema failed to win a trophy with Real Madrid despite registering 30 goals and nine assists in 46 games in all competitions.

That form did bring his international exile to an end, though, and if he keeps it up for France over the coming month, a Ballon d'Or challenge is not out of the question.

Kevin De Bruyne

A second successive PFA Players' Player of the Year award for Kevin De Bruyne came after another standout season for Manchester City in which he won the Premier League and EFL Cup.

Had Pep Guardiola's men finally got their hands on the Champions League trophy, the Ballon d'Or might be De Bruyne's already. Leading Belgium to Euros glory would probably do the job.

Ruben Dias

The other prime candidate for City's player of the season, Ruben Dias was a colossal performer at the heart of their defence after joining from Benfica, winning the Premier League's Player of the Season award.

Defenders' difficulties winning big individual prizes are well documented, and the last to lift the Ballon d'Or – Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 – did so after leading Italy to the World Cup.

Bruno Fernandes

Bruno Fernandes was heartbroken to lose the Europa League final on penalties as his wait for a trophy with Manchester United goes on.

However, a combined 46 direct goal involvements – the most of any Premier League player – means individual glory could be on the cards should Fernandes and Portugal shine.

Phil Foden

The PFA Young Player of the Year winner, Phil Foden blossomed in 2020-21 from prodigious talent to integral player for both City and England.

His Ballon d'Or chances are probably slimmer than those of a couple of his City team-mates, but long-awaited success for the Three Lions could put him right in the mix.

Harry Kane

Another star performer in 2020-21 to end the season empty-handed, Harry Kane finished top for goals (23) and assists (14) in the Premier League despite Tottenham finishing seventh.

Winner of the Golden Boot at the last World Cup, Kane is England's undisputed star going into Euro 2020 and has every chance of topping the scoring charts again.

N'Golo Kante

Arguably the popular choice for the award, N'Golo Kante won the Champions League with Chelsea after being named man of the match in both legs of the semi-final and the final against City.

France are most observers' favourites to win the Euros and, if they do, Kante will surely be facing short odds to win the ultimate individual trophy – even if it's one in which he has little interest.

Robert Lewandowski

It's widely accepted that, had the award been handed out last year, it would have gone to Robert Lewandowksi, the man whose 55 goals in 47 games delivered Bayern the treble.

How do you follow that? Well, he scored 41 times in the Bundesliga alone in 2020-21, breaking Gerd Muller's 49-year-old single-season record. Winning the Euros with Poland might be a stretch, but finishing as top goalscorer is certainly achievable.

Romelu Lukaku

The best player in Serie A as Inter ended an 11-year wait to win the title, Romelu Lukaku enjoyed the best season of his career, with 41 direct goal involvements in 44 appearances.

With eight goals in his past nine games for Belgium, the 28-year-old could well be the man to fire Roberto Martinez's side to glory, which would make him very hard to overlook.

Kylian Mbappe

Paris Saint-Germain lost their Ligue 1 title to Lille and could not reach back-to-back Champions League finals, which seems incredible given Kylian Mbappe managed 42 goals and 11 assists in just 47 appearances.

Departing Bayern Munich boss Hansi Flick this year said there was no question Mbappe would win the Ballon d'Or one day. The Euros could be his ticket to glory in 2021.

Lionel Messi

The winner of the previous award in 2019 – the sixth of his astonishing career – Lionel Messi amazingly plundered 28 goals and had nine assists for Barcelona from January 1 onwards.

It wasn't enough to win Barca the LaLiga title, but it does put him right in the mix. If he can finally win the Copa America with Argentina, Ballon d'Or number seven may well follow.

Neymar

Even Neymar would admit he has only an outside chance of winning this year's Ballon d'Or, his 17 goals and eight assists in 2020-21 a modest return for the world's most expensive footballer.

He typically produces in a Brazil shirt, though, and winning the Copa America would propel him right back into the mix for the individual prize he supposedly craves above all others.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Juventus may have lost their grip on Serie A, but Cristiano Ronaldo still finished as top goalscorer (with 29), and they won the Supercoppa Italiana and Coppa Italia.

Ronaldo won his fourth of five Ballons d'Or after Portugal triumphed at Euro 2016, and there's little doubt he would be vying for a sixth if they defend that trophy.

Luis Suarez

Discarded by Barcelona for being past his usefulness, Luis Suarez responded with 21 goals in 32 games to propel Atletico Madrid to a first league title since 2013-14.

Should Uruguay upset the odds at the Copa America, you can bet Suarez will be in the running for the Ballon d'Or. Quite what Barca fans would make of that is hard to say.

Lazio have appointed Maurizio Sarri as their new head coach following the departure of Simone Inzaghi.

Former Italy international Inzaghi left Lazio at the end of May after an impressive five-year spell in charge at the Stadio Olimpico, stepping in for Antonio Conte at Inter.

Sarri quickly emerged as a front-runner for the job and has been appointed on a two-year deal.

The 62-year-old has been out of management since being sacked by Juventus in August last year, paying the price for the Old Lady's shock Champions League elimination by Lyon in the last 16.

Nevertheless, Sarri did guide Juve to a ninth successive Serie A title, with his successor Andrea Pirlo unable to continue that run as the Bianconeri scraped a fourth-placed finish on the final day of the 2020-21 campaign.

Pirlo was then also fired, with Massimiliano Allegri returning to Juve.

Sarri boasts a win percentage of over 60 in each of his three previous roles and will be hoping to continue Inzaghi's fine work at Lazio.

The Biancocelesti finished lower than sixth only once under Inzaghi – though the sole campaign where they finished eighth, Lazio were able to console themselves with Coppa Italia success.

Lazio finished sixth in 2020-21 but Sarri will hope to emulate their 2019-20 season when they secured Champions League football by finishing fourth.

He will undoubtedly be keen to ensure the likes of Ciro Immobile, Joaquin Correa, Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic stick around to aid their chances of a return to Europe's top table.

The 12-month delay to Euro 2020 has provided an easy angle for debate ahead of the finals this week.

Which teams might have benefited from the postponement? Italy are back in the groove, Spain were surely buoyed by a 6-0 win over Germany, and England continue to develop exciting young talents.

It works both ways, though, as Germany might have preferred the tournament to go ahead in 2020, prior to their heaviest competitive defeat and before Joachim Low confirmed his exit plans.

Meanwhile, neither situation necessarily suits the Netherlands.

The Oranje have a youthful, talented, newly settled side, but there is the suspicion they have already peaked.

Ronald Koeman, appointed in February 2018, had the Netherlands playing some thrilling, effective football in his first 18 months in charge, narrowly losing the showpiece match at the Nations League Finals while easing to Euros qualification.

Since then, the coach has departed, a number of his young charges have seen their careers stall somewhat and Virgil van Dijk, the team's standout star, has been ruled out by injury.

It means there is plenty of scepticism as Frank de Boer leads the Dutch into their first major tournament in seven years.

 

COACH ACCUSTOMED TO CRITICISM

Koeman left the national team to be appointed by Barcelona. It is highly unlikely De Boer could walk into such a role regardless of his success with the Netherlands.

Since leaving Ajax as a four-time Eredivisie champion in 2016, the coach has endured short, miserable stints with Inter, Crystal Palace and Atlanta United.

De Boer won just 36.4 per cent of his Serie A games, the second-worst rate of an Inter boss this century.

Only Gian Piero Gasperini was less impressive as he went winless, an unfortunate feat De Boer would repeat at Palace as the Eagles did not even score or earn a point in his four Premier League outings.

Atlanta faded from MLS Cup champions to also-rans under De Boer, too, before he was handed an unlikely Oranje opportunity, only to go four without a win at the start of his tenure.

The Netherlands' fortunes have since improved, winning five of seven – albeit while losing a key World Cup qualifier in Turkey and scraping to a friendly draw against Scotland.

Off-field faux pas have also persisted, including media conference mix-ups involving Queensy Menig and Donny van de Beek while Jasper Cillessen was controversially cut from the Euros squad following a positive COVID-19 test.

"It seems clear that things need to get better," De Boer acknowledged after the Scotland game, although he was more optimistic in the aftermath of a subsequent 3-0 win against Georgia.

Having made only two changes to his 5-3-2 line-up – one in goal, the other enforced by injury – De Boer declared: "We're ready."

 

YOUNG STARS' STUNTED PROGRESS

Six players who started the Nations League Finals matches should make De Boer's XI for the Ukraine game, but these stars are not necessarily in the same shape as they were in 2019.

Matthijs de Ligt, Daley Blind and Frenkie de Jong were all coming off an outstanding campaign with Ajax in which they reached the Champions League last four, swatting aside Real Madrid and Juventus on their way before coming within seconds of the final.

Van de Beek, called from the bench against England, was also part of that superb club side.

While Blind remains in Amsterdam and will surely now only start if De Ligt is injured – as he was against Georgia – the other three, who should fit well within De Boer's fluid formation, moved on with mixed success.

De Ligt's first season with Juve was tough, including two errors that led to shots (including one to a goal) and three penalties conceded, before he improved in 2020-21.

De Jong followed a similar path of slow progress at Barca, the highlight of his Camp Nou career so far – now under Koeman – a goal and two assists in April's Copa del Rey final.

That single-game contribution matched Van de Beek's meagre haul for his entire debut season at Manchester United, concerningly. A year behind his two younger international team-mates, the midfielder joined United in 2020 and his three goal involvements came across 36 games but just 15 starts.

Van de Beek's season has ended in miserable fashion, forced to withdraw from the Euros squad this week. Far from a regular at international level, too, this might be a bigger setback for the player than for the Netherlands.

 

DETERMINED TO MAKE THEIR MARK

The absence of Van Dijk means the other Ajax graduates unquestionably maintain key roles in the defensive third, but the Netherlands are relying on older heads in attack, even if they are without the sort of superstar Dutch forward of years past.

This country once had Patrick Kluivert and Ruud van Nistelrooy born on the same day; now they rely on a midfielder and a converted winger for their goals.

It was effective in qualifying, though. Georginio Wijnaldum, 30, was their leading marksman with eight, while Memphis Depay, 27, either scored or assisted every 38 minutes – six goals and seven assists in 495 minutes the best rate among the 54 players to have five or more goal involvements.

Depay netted twice against Scotland and once against Georgia, along with an assist, and will be eager to establish himself on the European stage.

The Barca-linked Lyon forward was an under-19 international when the Netherlands last appeared at the European Championship in 2012, while he made only a single start at the World Cup two years later.

Wijnaldum was at least a regular at Brazil 2014, scoring in the third-place play-off, but both he and Depay have been robbed of a huge chunk of their major tournament careers by the team's failings.

Even with a kind group-stage draw, as they chase a first Euros win since the first round in 2008, the Oranje will need Wijnaldum and Depay to deliver. Neither should be lacking motivation.

Spain have retained 11 of their Under-21 players who featured against Lithuania on Tuesday, with Luis Enrique's Euro 2020 squad having been hit by coronavirus cases.

La Roja's preparations for the tournament were hit by Sergio Busquets' positive coronavirus test on Sunday, with the entire team forced into isolation.

Tuesday's friendly against Lithuania also had to be re-arranged, with the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) promoting their entire Under-21s side, though La Rojita took their opportunity to impress.

Hugo Guillamon, Brahim Diaz, Juan Miranda and Javi Puado scored in a 4-0 win, but it was confirmed after the match that another member of the senior squad – Leeds United centre-back Diego Llorente – had tested positive for COVID-19.

Luis Enrique had already created a parallel training bubble with standby players, including Rodrigo Moreno, Pablo Fornals, Carlos Soler, Brais Mendez, Raul Albiol and Kepa Arrizabalaga.

With Spain starting their campaign against Sweden on Monday, 11 of the players who played against Lithuania have now been added to the separate training bubble.

Alvaro Fernandez, Oscar Mingueza, Marc Cucurella, Miranda, Gonzalo Villar, Alejandro Pozo, Diaz, Martin Zubimendi, Yeremy Pino, Puado and Bryan Gil – the only player to feature on Tuesday having represented the senior side in the past – are the youngsters selected by Luis Enrique, who only named 24 players in his initial squad.

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni says his side deserved all three points after conceding a stoppage-time equaliser to draw 2-2 away to Colombia in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

La Albiceleste had raced to a two-goal lead inside the opening eight minutes but were pegged back by Colombia with substitute Miguel Borja firing in a 94th-minute header.

The result leaves Argentina in second with 12 points from their opening six qualifiers on the road to Qatar 2022, but six points adrift of CONMEBOL leaders Brazil.

"When you think it's all done, no, it's not," Scaloni told reporters post-game. "We're leaving with one point when we deserved all three. Argentina deserved to win.

"Up until the 94th minute, what we were doing was really good and the last play gave them a point, it wasn’t deserved.

"We deserved the three points. I have to congratulate the players because they played a good match in the heat on a difficult pitch against a good opponent."

Argentina did have numerous chances to seal the win including two shots from Lionel Messi which were thwarted by Colombia keeper David Ospina, while Nicolas Gonzalez hit the post in the first half.

Colombia made three half-time substitutions while Luis Muriel was brought on at the half-hour mark to chase down the deficit, with the Atalanta forward netting a 51st minute penalty.

Argentina's Juan Foyth made an error in the lead-up to Borja's late leveller from Juan Cuadrado's cross although Scaloni refused to criticize him specifically.

"It's individual errors not defensive," he said. "The defensive play of the team was perfect up until that play. It was a specific error and nothing more.

"It's the last play and it changes the entire match. The rest of the 94 minutes and a half were perfect."

Argentina turn their attention to the Copa America which is scheduled to commence on Sunday, with Scaloni's team starting their campaign on Monday against Chile in Rio de Janeiro.

Manchester City's ambitions are showing no end after missing out on the Champions League title.

City have been linked with star England pair Harry Kane and Jack Grealish to further bolster the Premier League champions.

But the price tags on the duo from Tottenham and Aston Villa may be their stumbling blocks.

 

TOP STORY – CITY SALE TO FUND KANE AND GREALISH MOVES

Manchester City will offload several fringe players to raise £70million in order to fund their moves for Tottenham star Harry Kane and Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, claims the Daily Mail.

With Sergio Aguero departed, City manager Pep Guardiola wants a frontline striker and those surplus to requirements will reportedly be let go.

First-team players Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez all have admirers and could move on.

But also fringe talent like Yangel Herrera, Ivan Ilic, Jack Harrison, Pedro Porro and Lukas Nmecha, who have had loan spells elsewhere, could be cashed in.

Bernardo Silva has been linked with a move to Atletico Madrid in exchange for Saul Niguez, while Juventus are reportedly eyeing Gundogan.

 

ROUND-UP

Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain are both keen on Inter's Achraf Hakimi and have lodged €60m (£52m) offers, reports Gianluca Di Marzio. Inter's asking price may be higher, while Chelsea may utilise Emerson Palmieri or Andreas Christensen as part of a swap deal.

- Bild says Borussia Dortmund will sell Jadon Sancho to United if they receive a suitable offer by the end of July. Sancho has long been tipped to swap Dortmund for United.

- Arsenal full-back Hector Bellerin is being linked with LaLiga champions Atletico and Real Betis by CBS Sport, while Sport have also claimed Juve are interested in the Spaniard, utilising Aaron Ramsey in a swap deal.

Liverpool are looking to replace Georginio Wijnaldum, lining up Roma skipper Lorenzo Pellegrini, according to Corriere dello Sport.

- The Sun claims West Ham are ready this month to step up their bid to sign Jesse Lingard permanently from Manchester United after his excellent loan spell.

- Fabrizio Romano reports Arsenal are set to finalise the details on a new contract for young talent Emile Smith Rowe.

Crystal Palace are closed to appointing former Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo as their new manager to replace Roy Hodgson, claims The Telegraph.

Brazil's squad said they are "against" the Copa America but will not boycott the upcoming South American showpiece.

The Copa America is scheduled to get underway on Sunday, but the tournament has been overshadowed by controversy and uncertainty after CONMEBOL relocated the event to Brazil.

Postponed from 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Copa America had been due to be shared between Colombia and Argentina, though both countries were removed as co-hosts following respective political and COVID-19 issues.

Brazil was awarded hosting rights, despite being one of the country's worst hit by the coronavirus crisis.

Selecao captain Casemiro suggested the entire team were against hosting the Copa America on home soil, with head coach Tite promising more would be revealed following Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against Paraguay.

After Neymar and Lucas Paqueta preserved Brazil's perfect qualifying record with a 2-0 win away from home, the squad stated their intentions in a statement via social media while criticising CONMEBOL.

"For different reasons, be they humanitarian or professional, we are not satisfied with the way the Copa America has been handled by CONMEBOL," the players said.

"All the recent facts lead us to believe in an inadequate process in realising [the tournament]."

Defending champions Brazil are scheduled to open the Copa America against Venezuela in Brasilia on Sunday.

Tite's Brazil are in Group B for the Copa America, alongside Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela.

"We are workers, professional footballers. We have a mission to take with the historic green and yellow shirt that won the World Cup five times," the statement continued.

"We are against the organisation of the Copa America but we will never say no to playing for Brazil."

Amid the uncertainty, the future of Tite has also been called into question due to the stance of the squad.

But Tite told reporters post-match: "I am not a hypocrite. I am not aloof and I know what is happening. But I know what the priority is. The priority is my work and the dignity of my work."

Tite was reluctant to discuss the stance of his players regarding the Copa America following his historic outing against Paraguay.

Brazil boss tite has never lost in World Cup qualifying (W16 D2) – the longest unbeaten sequence for a coach of any national team in CONMEBOL history after the Selecao won in Paraguay for the first time since 1985.

Brazil made it six wins from six games in World Cup qualifying after Neymar's goal and Lucas Paqueta's late strike secured a 2-0 win over Paraguay.

Neymar broke the deadlock in the fourth minute before substitute Paqueta completed the scoring in the third minute of stoppage time as Brazil preserved their 100 per cent record in CONMEBOL qualifying on Tuesday.

A 67th international goal for Neymar – only 10 adrift of all-time record holder Pele – helped send Brazil six points clear of rivals Argentina atop the standings on the road to Qatar 2022.

Brazil entered the contest away to Paraguay amid continued uncertainty over the scheduled Copa America and their participation, with the Selecao squad united in their opposition of hosting the showpiece tournament on home soil.

On the field, Tite's Brazil impressed and quickly stamped their authority on the match thanks to star Neymar in Asuncion.

Neymar put Brazil ahead with a simple side-footed finish in the fourth minute after Richarlison scuppered his attempt to volley Gabriel Jesus' cross.

It was a good omen for Brazil, with the Copa America champions winning all eight of their previous games in which the Paris Saint-Germain forward had scored in World Cup qualifiers.

A ferocious long-range strike from Paraguay defender Omar Alderete almost restored parity four minutes later but Brazil goalkeeper Ederson was forced into a stunning save.

Richarlison, who almost added a second goal in the 12th minute, put the ball in the back of the net with a brilliant half-volley in the second minute of stoppage time but it was ruled out for offside.

The tempo dropped in the second half however Marquinhos went close to doubling Brazil's lead, with his header sailing just wide of the post in the 55th minute.

Richarlison was in the thick of the action with 20 minutes remaining following a dazzling run into the box however he was thwarted by Paraguay, but Paqueta struck in the 93rd minute to make sure of the points.

 

What does it mean? All eyes on Copa America

After extending their winning streak to seven matches, attention will now shift to the scheduled Copa America. It remains to be seen whether Tite's men will take part, with the event set to start on Sunday.

Clean sheet specialists

Amid their winning run, Brazil – who have not lost since their 1-0 friendly defeat to Argentina in 2019 – have only conceded two goals, keeping six clean sheets in the process.

Winless Paraguay

While Paraguay only lost by one goal, they never really troubled Brazil. Eduardo Berizzo's men have now gone four matches without a win, claiming just one victory from their six qualifiers to date.

What's next?

Brazil are scheduled to face Venezuela in the Copa America curtain-raiser on Sunday, while Paraguay are due to meet Bolivia on Monday.

Achraf Hakimi's agent Alejandro Camano said there is no agreement with Paris Saint-Germain over a move from Serie A champions Inter to the Ligue 1 giants.

Hakimi helped Inter to their first Scudetto in 10 years this past season but the Morocco international has been heavily linked with PSG amid the club's financial problems.

With Inter trying to cut costs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Hakimi, Romelu Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez and Alessandro Bastoni could be sold following Antonio Conte's departure.

PSG reportedly had a €60million offer rejected by Inter – who are holding out for at least €80m – but Camano denied there have been talks with the French powerhouse.

"There are no negotiations with PSG, there's nothing in it at the moment," Camano told FCInter1908.

"We have no agreement with the French club over personal terms. He is happy at Inter."

It comes as Champions League holders Chelsea reportedly join the chase for Hakimi, who has also been linked with Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich.

According to reports, Chelsea could use Italy international Emerson Palmieri or Andreas Christensen as part of a deal to prise Hakimi to Stamford Bridge.

"It's a difficult moment for everyone," Camano replied when asked if he was optimistic about Hakimi remaining at Inter, who replaced head coach Conte with Simone Inzaghi.

Hakimi played in 37 of Inter's 38 Serie A fixtures as the Nerazzurri clinched their first Scudetto crown since 2010, making 29 starts. Only Martinez (38) featured in more top-flight games for Inter in 2020-21.

He scored seven league goals, including a double against Bologna in December, a total only bettered in Inter's ranks by Martinez (17) and Lukaku (24), as well as laying on a further eight assists.

Hakimi played 3,216 minutes across 45 appearances in all competitions, and by early February had been directly involved in 10 Serie A goals, becoming the first defender to do so in Europe's top five leagues in 2020-21. Maicon – in 2009-10 – was the last Inter defender to score at least six league goals.

He created 46 opportunities, with all but one from open play, while his tally of 12 big chances crafted is a joint team-high alongside Ivan Perisic. Hakimi also delivered 145 crosses from open play, 17 more than any other Inter player, recording an accuracy of 25.52 per cent.

Hakimi is more renowned for his attacking, but helped Inter to eight clean sheets in total – of defenders, Milan Skriniar, Stefan de Vrij (both 14) and Bastoni (15), were involved in more.

Indeed, Hakimi's tally of 38 successful tackles is a higher total than any of his fellow defensive team-mates managed.

Hakimi's ball-carrying ability is another major facet of his play. Over 370 carries, he progressed the ball 4,609 metres, at an average of 12.46m.

Sixteen of the carries resulted in a shot, and of all of the full-backs in Europe's top five leagues, Hakimi is top for carries with goals and assists (four and five respectively).

Miguel Borja scored in the fourth minute of stoppage time as Colombia came from behind to salvage a 2-2 draw with Argentina in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.

Colombia substitute Borja produced a bullet header in the 94th minute to pinch a share of the spoils after Argentina had raced to a two-goal lead inside the opening eight minutes on Tuesday.

Goals from Cristian Romero and Leandro Paredes appeared to have Lionel Messi's Argentina cruising to victory, but Colombia pulled one back early in the second half via Luis Muriel's penalty.

Borja, who was one of three half-time substitutes for Colombia, produced the decisive late intervention, moving his side to eight points from six games in qualifying.

Argentina remain undefeated but have drawn three of their past four qualifiers, having collected 12 points from six games in total on the roar to Qatar 2022.

Atalanta defender Romero powered home a third-minute header from Rodrigo De Paul's set-piece for the visitors, who were two up early after the ball pinballed on the edge of the box, with Paredes producing a composed low finish.

It meant Argentina scored two goals before the first 10 minutes of a World Cup qualifier for the first time since 2011.

Argentina almost had a third inside half an hour when Colombia keeper David Ospina saved Lautaro Martinez's shot and Nicolas Gonzalez fired the rebound into the post.

La Albiceleste were forced into a first-half goalkeeper change after Colombia defender Yerry Mina clattered into Emiliano Martinez, who was stretchered off.

Daniel Zapata flashed a shot wide before the break for Colombia, who reduced the deficit after Nicolas Otamendi was adjudged to have elbowed Mateus Uribe, with Muriel sending substitute keeper Agustin Marchesin the wrong way from the spot.

Messi almost caught out Ospina with a curling 58th-minute free-kick, while the Barcelona superstar's crafty ball set up Martinez for a sharp chance too.

Colombia mounted pressure with Muriel shooting over after Borja's chest down, while another Messi shot forced a low Ospina save.

The hosts found an equaliser deep into injury-time when Juventus star Juan Cuadrado's right-flank cross found Borja whose header went in under Marchesin.

Diego Llorente has become the second Spain player to test positive for COVID-19, less than one week out from their Euro 2020 opener.

The Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) confirmed the news on Tuesday following the latest PCR tests within the squad.

Spain's Euros preparations were thrown into chaos when captain Sergio Busquets returned a positive coronavirus test on Sunday, forcing the entire team into isolation and Tuesday's friendly with Lithuania to be hastily re-arranged.

Leeds United defender Llorente has since left Las Rozas in a medicalised vehicle, following all health protocols, while the national team will continue with personalised training.

The remainder of the senior squad in isolation all returned negative tests but will continue to follow strict protocols before the start of Euro 2020, with Spain scheduled to open their tournament against Sweden on Monday.

"The RFEF regrets to announce that central defender Diego Llorente has tested positive in the last PCR tests carried out this morning at the national team camp in Las Rozas," the statement read.

Spain head coach Luis Enrique has created a parallel training bubble with stand-by players, including Rodrigo Moreno, Pablo Fornals, Carlos Soler, Brais Mendez, Raul Albiol and Kepa Arrizabalaga

The Spain Under-21 squad represented the side in Tuesday's friendly with Lithuania, winning 4-0.

Spain have been drawn in Group E, alongside Sweden, Poland and Slovakia.

France earned a 3-0 victory over Bulgaria in their final warm-up game ahead of Euro 2020 but face a nervous wait on Karim Benzema after his withdrawal through injury.

Antoine Griezmann's deflected overhead kick gave the world champions the lead just before the half-hour mark and substitute Olivier Giroud wrapped things up with two close-range finishes late on.

But it is the first-half loss of Benzema to what appeared to be a thigh problem that will dominate manager Didier Deschamps' thoughts in the aftermath.

Recently recalled after a six-year exile from the national team, the Real Madrid forward looked lively prior to his early departure, setting up Kylian Mbappe for a powerful shot that was well saved by Daniel Naumov.

Unfortunately for the Bulgaria goalkeeper, there was nothing he could do about an acrobatic effort from Griezmann shortly after, which took a nick off Ivaylo Chochev before hitting the back of the net.

Only more Naumov brilliance stopped Griezmann from doubling his tally before the break after a flowing team move, and he was also sharp in keeping out an Mbappe effort after the restart.

But the latter should have done better than to drag a shot wide when played in one-v-one by Paul Pogba soon after.

Given the low-stakes nature of the fixture, it was no surprise France's dominance led to some understandable complacency, and they were handed a huge let-off when Birsent Karagaren shot wide after finding space in the area.

However, the win was effectively secured eight minutes from time when Giroud produced a trademark front-post finish from a delicious Benjamin Pavard cross.

And the Chelsea forward was at it again in the final minute of normal time, tapping in an unmissable low ball across the box from fellow substitute Wissam Ben Yedder.

What does it mean? Benzema injury takes shine off

After taking a stunning gamble in recalling Benzema to his squad, Deschamps will now be praying that injury does not deny him the chance to make a big contribution at the Euros.

The 33-year-old did not appear overly concerned by what looked on first viewing to be a dead leg but that won't stop his manager worrying ahead of a likely scan on the issue.

Griezmann shines

He may have endured a forgettable season at club level with Barcelona, but Griezmann is primed to shine again for France at a major tournament.

As well as scoring the opener in impressive fashion here, the 30-year-old took three shots, laid on one key pass, and provided six crosses in a showing full of promise.

Mbappe blank no concern

A striker of Mbappe's class is never pleased to draw a blank, particularly in a game featuring so many France chances.

But his six shots, four of which found the target, and five key passes suggest he is in line for a big say in the Euros.

What's next?

France kick off their European Championship campaign with a mouthwatering group-stage clash with Germany in Munich in seven days' time. Having failed to qualify for the competition, Bulgaria must wait for the resumption of World Cup qualifying for their next outing.

Spain's youngsters had no problems cruising to a straightforward 4-0 win over Lithuania on Tuesday as the Under-21s filled in for the senior side's final pre-Euro 2020 warm-up match due to coronavirus protocols.

Sergio Busquets' positive COVID-19 test on Sunday threw Spain's European Championship preparations into disarray as the situation forced the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) to promote their entire Under-21s side, though La Rojita took their opportunity to impress.

Spain quickly showed they were a cut above Lithuania and opened the scoring inside three minutes, Hugo Guillamon slamming home from 16 yards after Manu Garcia's low cross was deflected back towards the edge of the box.

It was 2-0 with less than half an hour played when Brahim Diaz drilled across goal after being afforded a lot of space in the box following an incisive pass from Gonzalo Villar.

Lithuania were fortunate not to concede further goals before the break, as Tomas Svedkauskas saved Abel Ruiz's feeble penalty after Markas Beneta wrestled Bryan Gil – the only Spain player with a prior senior cap – to the ground, while the goalkeeper also denied Oscar Mingueza from point-blank range.

Half-time substitute Juan Miranda took just seven minutes to get his name on the scoresheet, with Svedkauskas only able to tip the Real Betis left-back's free-kick against the inside of the post and in.

Javi Puado, another introduced from the bench, made it 4-0 with 18 minutes to go as he latched on to Bryan's incisive chipped pass, skipped past a defender and blasted beyond Svedkauskas.

Although Spain could not match the 5-0 win they recorded over Lithuania back in 1993, their Under-21s at least showed they have plenty of talent in reserve should they be needed in the Euros.
 

England boss Gareth Southgate has hit back at suggestions he and his players should "stick to football" amid debate over their decision to take the knee before games.

The Three Lions' squad and staff have shown their support for the global movement to eradicate racism by kneeling prior to recent fixtures.

However, boos and jeers were heard from sections of the crowd when England offered up the gesture prior to European Championship warm-up games against Romania and Austria.

That backlash has prompted a debate over whether Southgate and his squad should be supporting a movement that is considered political in some quarters.

But the England manager pushed back on that idea in a stirring pre-tournament column for the Players' Tribune.

He wrote: "Our players are role models. And, beyond the confines of the pitch, we must recognise the impact they can have on society. 

"We must give them the confidence to stand up for their teammates and the things that matter to them as people.

"I have never believed that we should just stick to football.

"I know my voice carries weight, not because of who I am but because of the position that I hold. At home, I'm below the kids and the dogs in the pecking order but publicly I am the England men's football team manager. I have a responsibility to the wider community to use my voice, and so do the players.

"It's their duty to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice, while using the power of their voices to help put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate."

The topic of abuse on social media – particularly racial abuse – has also been widely discussed in the aftermath of a recent uptick in such incidents.

Southgate admits he does not understand why his high-profile players engage with such platforms but remains certain that those who troll them are on the "losing side" of the battle.

"Social media has been a key resource in giving our players a platform and has been a positive tool in so many ways," he added.

"In fact, I feel like this generation of England players is closer to the supporters than they have been for decades. Despite the polarisation we see in society, these lads are on the same wavelength as you on many issues.

"That said, there are times when my parental instincts kick in. I can't help it. After all, I'm old enough to be a father to most of my players!

"I see players scrolling on their phones straight after the final whistle and I think … Hmmm, is that a particularly good idea? 

"Reading abusive comments on Twitter or Instagram is never going to help performance. 

"There are genuine risks for our players online and I will always want to protect them, but I would never put rules on how or when they use their accounts while on England duty. I trust them and know they are mature enough to make their own decisions, to do what's right for their mental health and to keep being a force for good as we strive for a better society.

"The last 18 months have put added pressure on everyone, I know. Venting that might have taken place while walking out of the stadium, or in the pub has been transferred online. I get that. However, there are things I will never understand.

"Why would you tag someone in on a conversation that is abusive? 

"Why would you choose to insult somebody for something as ridiculous as the colour of their skin?

"Why?

"Unfortunately for those people that engage in that kind of behaviour, I have some bad news. You're on the losing side. It's clear to me that we are heading for a much more tolerant and understanding society, and I know our lads will be a big part of that.

"It might not feel like it at times, but it's true. The awareness around inequality and the discussions on race have gone to a different level in the last 12 months alone. 

"I am confident that young kids of today will grow up baffled by old attitudes and ways of thinking."

Stuttgart footballer Silas Wamangituka has revealed his real name is Silas Katompa Mvumpa, claiming he has been playing under a false identity on the instruction of a former agent.

Silas, who can play on the wing or up front, scored 11 Bundesliga goals for Stuttgart in 2020-21, contributing four assists before his season ended by an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

It was his second campaign with the club, Silas having joined from Paris FC ahead of the 2019-20 season.

On Tuesday, Stuttgart announced their star man from the Democratic Republic of Congo had been playing under a name which was not his own.

Stuttgart said Silas had informed them that a former agent pushed him to change his name and forged false documentation, which also made the player appear a year younger, as his date of birth was switched from October 6, 1998 to October 6, 1999.

"Over the past few years, I was constantly living in fear and was also very worried for my family in Congo," said Silas in a club statement.

"It was a tough step for me to take to make my story public and I would never have had the courage to do so if Stuttgart, my team and VfB had not become like a second home and a safe place to me."

Stuttgart's statement explained how Silas, in 2017, had a trial with Belgian club Anderlecht.

Silas had received a visa to travel to Belgium, under his correct name. Anderlecht, interested in signing the youngster, instructed Silas to return to Congo and return with a new visa in order to sign his contract.

"As this situation unfolded, an agent is said to have put Silas under considerable pressure in Belgium and convinced him that he would not be allowed to return to Europe if he left Belgium and went back to Congo," Stuttgart said in their statement.

"Silas trusted the agent and went to live with him in Paris. He then changed his identity and papers were created for him in the name of Silas Wamangituka [one of the names of his father] and with a date of birth that was exactly one year different from his own."

Silas did not sign for Anderlecht, beginning his career in Europe with French minnows Ales.

Stuttgart sporting director Thomas Hitzlsperger said: "First and foremost, Silas has been the victim of this change of name.

"I have the greatest respect for the fact that at a young age, he has taken the brave step to clarify his situation. We will continue to give him all the help he needs in absolutely every respect."

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