Predicting the winner of a major international tournament is a natural part of being a football fan, even if it can sometimes be something of a fool's errand – as proven by Greece and Denmark.

But considering how integral statistics are to football these days, using data could potentially give you the edge, and that's where Stats Perform comes in.

Our Artificial Intelligence team have used Opta's extensive data reserves to quantify each team's chances of winning the entire 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.

It takes into consideration the strength of each team's opponents as well as the difficulty of their respective paths to the final, plus the make-up of the groups and any relevant seedings heading into the knockouts.

Then, the rest of the tournament is 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 check out the results, some of which may come as something of a surprise…

MOST-LIKELY WINNERS: France (20.5 per cent)

Well, this one probably isn't much of a shock. Anyone who has looked through the squad at Didier Deschamps' disposal has likely come to the conclusion that Les Bleus will have to implode a la the 2010 World Cup if they're to be beaten.

Most of the key players from their 2018 World Cup-winning squad are present, and now they can call upon the services of Karim Benzema again, which is no small thing.

 

Our model also gives France a 46.8 per cent chance of finish top of the so-called 'Group of Death', which also includes defending champions Portugal and a Germany side desperate for redemption after World Cup humiliation in Russia.

If France are successful, Deschamps will become the first man in history to win the World Cup and Euros as both a player and manager.

2. Belgium (15.7 per cent)

Could this be the last-chance saloon for Belgium's 'Golden Generation'? Our predictor model certainly suggests they're still in with a great chance of winning the title, with their 15.7 per cent the second highest.

They have the joint-oldest squad at the tournament (29.2 years) along with Sweden, so while they're certainly not a young team, several of their best players are right at the peak of their powers, with Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku coming into the tournament arguably in the form of their lives.

 

They looked sharp in qualifying – for what it's worth – with a 100 per cent win record and a 40-goal haul that wasn't matched by any other team, while they will be strong favourites to win their group ahead of Russia, Denmark and Finland.

3. Spain (11.3 per cent)

Now, one thing our model cannot take into consideration is a coronavirus outbreak. La Roja had to field their Under-21s for the senior side's final pre-Euros warm-up game against Lithuania – while it means nothing for their chances at the tournament, they did ease to a 4-0 win.

It remains to be seen if there are any further consequences of Sergio Busquets and Diego Llorente testing positive for COVID-19, but if we assume Luis Enrique is able to rely on a squad that's more or less the selection he initially picked, they will at least be strong options to reach the latter stages.

Although perhaps not blessed with the kind of 'superstar' talent they've had at other tournaments over the past 15 years or so, they do have a highly regarded coach and beat Germany 6-0 as recently as November. Nevertheless, their disrupted build-up to the tournament could be telling when their campaign starts.

4. Germany (9.8 per cent)

Joachim Low's going to have to upset the odds if he is to enjoy one last hurrah with Die Mannschaft. The World Cup-winner coach is stepping down a year early after the Euros, with Hansi Flick set to take over.

Having the likes of Thomas Muller back in the squad after a stunning couple of seasons with Bayern Munich will surely improve their chances – though our model doesn't take player data into account.

 

The predictor will see that Germany have failed to beat Denmark and North Macedonia in two of their three most recent games, while they also have a particularly hard group.

5. Portugal (9.6 per cent)

The other major footballing power from the 'Group of Death' – our predictor suggests Portugal are the least likely of themselves, France and Germany to win Euro 2020.

Nevertheless, La Selecao will surely feel good about themselves heading into the competition. Their squad is arguably significantly better than the one that won Euro 2016, while coach Fernando Santos is a shrewd operator.

They also have this chap up front called Cristiano Ronaldo, who is one away from setting a new record for the most goals (10) in European Championship history.

THE REST OF THE FIELD

According to our predictor, a resurgent Italy and Netherlands are the next most likely to win the tournament, which would represent a rather good turnaround from missing out on the 2018 World Cup – in fact, the Oranje weren't at Euro 2016 either.

At this point there are probably many of you pondering – assuming you've not just scrolled straight down to the list – about England's chances.

Well, the Three Lions' ranking here is a prime example of how a good draw can really pay. While they should – in theory, at least – have more than enough firepower to get out of a group that also contains Croatia, neighbours Scotland and Czech Republic, their route to the final would almost certainly see them come up against one – or more – of Germany, France, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands. They're also probably not helped by the fact they've played more Euros games (31) without reaching the final than any other team.

England's 5.2 per cent chance of success sees them behind Denmark (5.4 per cent), whose path to the final would likely be a little kinder, though the caveat is that the Three Lions could potentially play the vast majority of their matches on home soil at Wembley.

Tournament debutants North Macedonia are, perhaps unsurprisingly, the least likely to win Euro 2020, with their chances rated at 0.02 per cent.

 

6. Italy (7.6 per cent)

7. Netherlands (5.9 per cent)

8. Denmark (5.4 per cent)

9. England (5.2 per cent)

10. Switzerland (2.3 per cent)

11. Sweden (1.5 per cent)

12. Croatia (1.0 per cent)

13. Russia (1.0 per cent)

14. Poland (0.8 per cent)

15. Ukraine (0.8 per cent)

16. Wales (0.6 per cent)

17. Turkey (0.4 per cent)

18. Czech Republic (0.2 per cent)

19. Austria (0.2 per cent)

20. Finland (0.1 per cent)

21. Hungary (0.1 per cent)

22. Scotland (0.1 per cent)

23. Slovakia (0.04 per cent)

24. North Macedonia (0.02 per cent)

Everton continue their search for Carlo Ancelotti's replacement.

One emerging candidate has plenty of familiarity with Liverpool. 

Could the Toffees turn to a former rival? 

 

TOP STORY – BENITEZ IN MERSEYSIDE RETURN?

Former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has emerged as a strong contender to replace Carlo Ancelotti at Everton, the Daily Mirror and other outlets report. 

As the Merseyside club's interest in former Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo has faded, majority owner Farhad Moshiri apparently plans to speak to the 61-year-old Benitez. 

The Spaniard was Liverpool's manager from 2004-10, winning the Champions League title in 2005. He spent 18 months in charge of Chinese Super League club Dalian Professional before leaving by mutual consent in January. 

Others under consideration include Brighton and Hove Albion head coach Graham Potter, former Lille coach Christophe Galtier and former Toffees boss Roberto Martinez

 

ROUND-UP

- Chelsea have matched Paris Saint-Germain's offer of about €65million (£56.1m) to Inter for Achraf Hakimi, according to Sky Sport Italia, though Inter value the 22-year-old at €81m (£70m).

- Barcelona see Manchester City's Raheem Sterling as a potential replacement for Ousmane Dembele should the France international depart, according to Sport, and Marca says PSG have interest in Dembele. 

- David de Gea seems inclined to extend his stay at Manchester United and expects to be the first-choice goalkeeper ahead of Dean Henderson, The Sun reports. 

- Atletico Madrid rejected United's £10m bid for England right-back Kieran Trippier, according to Football Insider. 

- Roma are close to completing their long-rumoured signing of Arsenal's Granit Xhaka, Corriere dello Sport claims. 

- West Ham would like to sign Manchester United midfielder Jesse Lingard on a permanent deal, The Sun reports. 

- Tottenham have had discussions with Borussia Monchengladbach winger Marcus Thuram, RMC Sport reports, and The Athletic says Spurs could also be eyeing RB Leipzig's Marcel Sabitzer

- Former Roma coach Paulo Fonseca has emerged as Spurs' preferred option to replace Jose Mourinho and the sides have discussed a three-year contract, the Guardian reports. 

- Former Chelsea boss Frank Lampard could be in the mix for the Crystal Palace opening, the Daily Mirror reports. 

A youthful United States side had no trouble with Costa Rica on Wednesday, rolling to a 4-0 friendly victory at Rio Tinto Stadium in Utah. 

USA head coach Gregg Berhalter made nine changes from the side that defeated Mexico in the CONCACAF Nations League final on Sunday, naming a starting XI with an average age of 23 years, 278 days. 

With stars Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie resting on the bench, two USA players scored their first international goals in a match that was never in doubt. 

Brenden Aaronson opened the scoring after eight minutes, rushing into the area to drive a rebound past Leonel Moreira after Daryl Dike's shot attempt was blocked by a Costa Rica defender. 

Three minutes before the interval, Dike slipped behind the Costa Rica defense and eased a shot past the onrushing Moreira for his first international goal and a 2-0 USA lead at the break. 

Early in the second half, Reggie Cannon opened his international account as well, slotting home a left-footed shot after intercepting a careless Costa Rica pass. 

Moments after coming on as a substitute in the 75th minute, 18-year-old Gio Reyna drew a penalty on a foul by Keysher Fuller in the box and converted for his fourth USA goal. 

Ethan Horvath got the start in goal for the USA on his 26th birthday after his stunning 120th-minute penalty save on Mexico's Andres Guardado on Sunday and turned in a clean sheet. 

Costa Rica are now winless in their last 11 matches (2D, 9L) dating to a 2-1 victory over Curacao in November 2019. 

Portugal boss Fernando Santos insisted his side have "many things to improve" despite securing a 4-0 win over Israel in their final pre-Euros warm-up game.

Bruno Fernandes got on the scoresheet either side of Cristiano Ronaldo and Joao Cancelo strikes as the defending champions prepared for this summer's tournament with an emphatic win.

But, speaking after full-time, Santos shared concerns over elements of the performance, including a lull during the first half.

“The first part, not being extraordinary, was good," he told RTP.

"We did very well in the first 20 minutes, with great intensity in the various moments of play, circulating the ball well and looking for the flanks. 

"Then we had a quarter of an hour with less [urgency], but we accelerated towards the end and ended up scoring two goals."

The 66-year-old went on to reveal that he tried out a new tactical approach in the second period at Jose Alvalade Stadium.

But, while he didn't feel that his changes worked particularly well, the veteran boss struck a positive note ahead of Portugal's defence of their title starting against Hungary next Tuesday.

He added: "In the second I changed things a little, I tried to put one more man next to Ronaldo and two midfielders coming in from the inside, but it didn't work. 

"We started to miss a lot of passes and the ball circulation was not so good. There are many things to improve, certainly. 

"Now let's rest and calmly prepare for the Euros. This team has a huge will and an excellent team spirit."

Portugal warmed up for the start of the European Championship with a convincing 4-0 win over Israel.

In their final friendly game before the delayed tournament gets under way, Fernando Santos' side sent out a warning to their rivals with a dominant performance.

Bruno Fernandes was on target with a double, while there were also goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Joao Cancelo to give Portugal a boost ahead of a Group F campaign that will see them face world champions France and Germany.

The Portuguese were at it from the first whistle, with Ronaldo producing an uncharacteristically weak shot after working space in the box less than a minute after kick-off.

And Diogo Jota was equally wasteful in powering a left-footed effort wide from a similar position before heading over a Cancelo cross shortly after.

But the hosts had their breakthrough just before half-time, Fernandes controlling Cancelo's low cut-back into the bottom-left corner.

The Manchester United man then turned provider, playing Ronaldo in behind for a powerful finish that squeezed through Israel goalkeeper Ofir Marciano to give the hosts a deserved 2-0 half-time lead.

Santos' men should have been three clear on the hour mark but Bernardo Silva fluffed his lines in attempting a dinked finish after being played in by Ronaldo.

However, Cancelo capped a good night for the hosts in the 87th minute as he cut inside off the right before powering a low left-footed shot home.

And Fernandes added deserved gloss to the scoreline with a wonderful strike from long range in injury time that left Marciano rooted to the spot.

What does it mean? Portugal in with a shout

Amid all the hype around the likes of England, France and Belgium, Portugal seem to be consistently overlooked as potential winners of this year's European Championship.

But the defending champions have a fine mix of experience and youth, the guaranteed goals of Ronaldo, and plenty of tournament know-how from 2016.

As they proved in dominating Israel here, they will be a force to be reckoned with in defending their crown.

Cancelo brings club form

Portugal aren't short of quality in forward areas but, if any opponent manages to somehow shut that down, it is good for the manager to know he has threats elsewhere on the pitch.

As he proved here, right-back Cancelo is one of them, the Manchester City man grabbing a goal and an assist as well as laying on three key passes.

Jota place under pressure

A two-game goalless run in a Portugal shirt hardly counts as a drought, but Jota will know he cannot waste chances as he did on Wednesday and hope to keep his place during the Euros.

The Liverpool forward failed to find the target with two big opportunities in his 45 minutes on the pitch and, with the likes of Joao Felix, Goncalo Guedes and Andre Silva behind him in the pecking order, is by no means a guaranteed starter.

What's next? 

Portugal get the defence of their title under way against Hungary in Budapest on Tuesday. Israel, meanwhile, are without a competitive game until World Cup qualifying resumes in September.

Jordi Alba is adamant Ronald Koeman deserves at least another season at Barcelona after president Joan Laporta confirmed the Dutchman will be in charge for 2021-22.

Koeman was appointed last August as Quique Setien's successor following a crushing end to 2019-20, which saw Barca demolished 8-2 in the Champions League, the first time they had conceded so many goals in one game since 1946.

After a shaky start to 2020-21, Koeman eventually got Barca looking capable of challenging for the league title as he got the best out of Lionel Messi, who scored 30 league goals to win an eighth Pichichi trophy of his career.

While Barca did go on to win the Copa del Rey, their challenge to Atletico Madrid wilted in the final weeks of the season and they ultimately finished third.

Their tally of 79 points was their lowest total since 2007-08, when they managed 67. Indeed, the last coach to earn 76 or fewer points in his first 38 games with the club was Frank Rijkaard in 2003-04 (72).

With Atletico winning the title and Real Madrid doing so the previous year, it meant Barca have failed to win LaLiga in two successive seasons for the first time since 2008.

Perhaps it was unsurprising to see Koeman's future come under so much scrutiny, but after several weeks of uncertainty – what Laporta called a "reflection period" – the club eventually opted to keep Koeman, which was the right decision in the eyes of Alba.

Speaking to Radio Marca, Alba said: "Ronald has done a great job since he arrived.

"We had been improving throughout the season and he deserved to continue at the club."

The left-back, who is currently away preparing for Euro 2020 with Spain, also saluted Barca's early dealings in the transfer market, with Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia – a national team colleague of Alba – arriving on free transfers from Manchester City.

"The arrivals of Aguero and Eric Garcia seem very good to me," he added. "We already knew Kun [Aguero] in football terms and they [those in the team who know him] have spoken very well of him to me from a human perspective.

"And Eric is a humble boy who wants to learn, and it is good that people from La Masia come back. In the Spain squad we have already seen his quality."

Spain have confirmed no more players nor coaching staff have tested positive for coronavirus after a recent outbreak in their camp.

Defender Diego Llorente tested positive on Tuesday and was put into isolation, two days after Sergio Busquets was confirmed to have contracted the virus.

Spain suspended all training activity and fielded their Under-21s for Tuesday's final pre-Euro 2020 friendly with Lithuania, which they won 4-0 in Leganes.

Luis Enrique has created a parallel training bubble made up of standby players, including Rodrigo Moreno, Pablo Fornals, Carlos Soler, Brais Mendez, Raul Albiol, Kepa Arrizabalaga and 11 of their Under-21s squad.

There had been fears the virus could spiral out of control, but all other members of the squad and coaching staff – plus those in the parallel bubble – returned negative tests on Wednesday.

The Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) confirmed the news in a statement on its official website, with further tests to be conducted in the coming days.

Spain begin their Euro 2020 campaign against Sweden in Seville next Monday, before facing Poland and Slovakia in their other two Group E fixtures.

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.

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