Manchester City stumble as Marten de Roon grabs Middlesbrough a point

6 days ago

Sergio Ageros goal just before half-time seemed set to give Manchester City the points but Middlesbroughs Marten de Roon secured a 1-1 draw in the 90th minute at the Etihad

Manchester City failed to avoid anticlimax after the thrill of beating Barcelona when they conceded a late Marten de Roon equaliser that left Pep Guardiola disgusted in the technical area.

The Dutch midfielders added-time header came as City scintillated before the break and seriously ran out of gas after it. Sergio Ageros 43rd-minute finish a 150th goal in 223 appearances for the club appeared to be the winner until Adama Traor was left free to run across almost the whole field from the right, George Friend was allowed to float the ball in and De Roon beat Citys jumpers to finish past Claudio Bravo.

When Kevin Friend blew for time moments later the referees whistle was accompanied by boos perhaps to tell Guardiola that when any opposition is not killed off a smash-and-grab can occur.

This meant City have drawn their last three home league games, having also shared the points with Southampton and Everton. A frustrated Guardiola said: Do you think it is a problem when the opponent arrives two times a game and we arrive 10 times? In all three games we are much better than the opponent. Now we talk and analyse, is it a problem in the box [not finishing and conceding]. If we end 1-0, we talk about the performance and how good it was.

The second half we didnt play like the first one but I think they have one chance in the beginning of the second half and the last minute. Everton and Southampton as well, when you see all three games, we drop six points, they arrive maybe four or five times in our box. We create enough chances, we attack really well and control the counterattacks and we create enough chances, more than enough to win the game and when you arrive in the last minutes, just 1-0, everything can happen.

The Catalans message beforehand was clear: use the superb midweek win over Bara as motivation to be as focused and ruthless again. Overall he could be pleased by a first half-hour of domination but anxious his team had not capitalised.

From the side that downed Barcelona, Guardiola made three changes. Out went Willy Caballero, Nicols Otamendi, and Raheem Sterling and in came Bravo (who had been suspended), Aleksandar Kolarov and Jess Navas. Otamendi and Sterling were rested. Of particular interest was how Kolarov, a left-back by trade, beat Vincent Kompany to a centre-back berth, the captain having to settle for a replacement role.

Agero continues to be in a challenge to convince Guardiola of his enduring worth and all he can do is keep on scoring and contributing as he did again here on Saturday.

During Citys first-half onslaught Guardiola bent to his knees in anguish as David Silva blazed at Vctor Valds and the Spaniards reflexes impressed as they had previously. The former Manchester United and Barcelona goalkeeper was having a fine game but, when recovering from a bad gash caused by a Navas challenge, Valds could do nothing about Citys superb opener.

Kevin De Bruyne is having the season of his life under Guardiola. So, too, is Agero. They combined for a simply sublime strike, as the Belgian fashioned another bending pass that left the red shirts before him bystanders, and there was the Argentinian to stab home.

At the break Middlesbrough will have been relieved to wander off only 1-0 behind. Now, though, they turned the game, and Aitor Karanka explained how. We went to the pitch and showed them too much respect, the manager said. At half-time I told them we had to play.

His order was carried out admirably. First, lvaro Negredo, once of this parish, came close to lobbing Bravo as the goalkeeper back-pedalled to tip over.

After Stewart Downing flashed an effort past the wrong side of the left post, Guardiola made a move. This, unsurprisingly, was positive, as he replaced Ilkay Gndogan, a midfielder, with Nolito, a forward.

As the game ended Agero could rue skying over from close range, as now came De Roons moment. The Argentinean echoed his managers words. It was a strange match because we controlled the game but I have a bad feeling because we conceded, he said. The Premier League is a complicated competition where anyone can beat you. That showed today.

Of his late miss, Agero said: I had many chances today, the clearest was the one where Jess Navas pulled the ball back to me. It was under my feet and I only had a few seconds to decide. I need to improve on that. City need to improve, too, to become more ruthless.

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Roger Goodell: it would be an honor to hand Tom Brady Super Bowl trophy

19 days ago

Roger Goodell says he will be happy to present Tom Brady with the Vince Lombardi trophy should the New England Patriots win next months Super Bowl

Roger Goodell says he will be happy to present Tom Brady with the Vince Lombardi trophy should the New England Patriots win next months Super Bowl, despite the fallout from the Deflategate scandal.

The NFL commissioner suspended Brady for the first four games of the season for his role in the saga after a long-running battle that ended up in court. The quarterback has roared back after his ban, leading the Patriots to Super Bowl LI against the Atlanta Falcons.

Tom Brady is one of the all-time greats, Goodell told Fox Sports Radio on Wednesday. He has been for several years. Hes on the precipice of at least potentially winning his fifth Super Bowl ring. Hes an extraordinary player, great performer, and a sure-fire Hall of Famer. So it would be an honor [to present him with the trophy].

Goodell has not attended a Patriots game since the start of Deflategate and chose to watch the Falcons beat the Green Bay Packers in the NFC championship game last weekend rather than attend the Patriots victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Goodell is unpopular to say the least with New England fans but denied he is dodging the team.

We had two great games. I was in Boston two years ago for the divisional and the championship games. I try to get to as many stadiums as I can, he said. We have two great games and you have to choose. Frankly, the focus should be on the players and the coaches and the great game. Thats where it was this weekend, and thats where it should be.

The Patriots owner, Robert Kraft, has been critical of the way the NFL handled Deflategate telling the New York Times the league had messed this up badly. Goodell, however, said Kraft respected him. I wouldnt be doing my job if somebody wasnt unhappy with a decision that you make or where youre doing it. Robert and I can disagree about things. We have a healthy respect for one another, but thats true with any owner. That doesnt affect my relationship or the fact we work together to try to make the NFL better ultimately. Thats the most important thing going for us.

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Novak Djokovic will miss the rest of 2017 season with elbow injury

1 month, 6 days ago

World No4 and 12-time grand slam champion Novak Djokovic has announced he will not play for the rest of the year because of an elbow injury

Novak Djokovic will miss the rest of the tennis season with a persistent elbow injury and has announced that Andre Agassi has agreed to remain part of his team next year.

After 12 months of upheaval on and off the court, speculation had mounted that Djokovic would take an extended break from tennis in order to recover from the right-elbow injury that forced him to retire during his Wimbledon quarter-final against Tomas Berdych. But while the 30-year-olds decision to listen to medical advice means he will be absent from next months US Open, the world No4 vowed to return stronger than ever and expressed his happiness that Agassi will continue to coach him in 2018.

I will take this time to heal and do all the different suggested methods of rehabilitation and healing processes so I can get back on the court as soon as possible, Djokovic said. It will take a couple of months at least without a racket and I hope after that I can start to train. Im looking forward to building my body and my game and my team.

Im happy to share that Andre Agassi is committed to stay with me next year. I want to thank Andre for being with me this year and sharing his experience and wisdom and Im looking forward to getting back on the practice courts with him and having him in the box for any big tournaments.

Djokovics announcement came exactly a year after Roger Federer cut short his 2016 season with a knee injury. Written off at the time, Federer returned from six months out to win the Australian Open in January and Wimbledon earlier this month.

Djokovic, who was speaking in Belgrade, hopes that a similar period of rest will allow him to rediscover his spark. The Serb has struggled ever since completing his career slam at last years French Open. He opted for the shock therapy of ripping up his coaching team earlier this year before reaching out to Agassi, who joined him at Roland Garros on an exploratory basis, but Djokovic ran out of steam when the elbow problem that has troubled him for 18 months flared up against Berdych at Wimbledon.

He has since sought advice from specialists, including the Serbian doctor Zdenko Milinkovic, who said Djokovic is suffering from a bruised bone due to excessive playing.

Djokovic has won 12 grand slams and has not missed one since making his debut at the 2005 Australian Open. He is set to slip to fifth in the rankings on Monday and could drop out of the top 10 by the end of the year. But Djokovic preferred to focus on the positives after his latest setback.

Im very grateful, thats the strongest emotion Im feeling lately, even though as a professional it is not an easy decision to swallow, he said.

I havent skipped any big tournament. I have played all the grand slams and probably 90% of the 1000 Masters series events. I was blessed to have a lot of success. Im grateful for that. But Im also very grateful that I kept my body very healthy throughout the years. I havent had too many injuries and especially no big injuries like this one that would keep me away from the tour for longer than a month.

Its a new experience for me, new circumstances, but Im trying to look at it from a brighter side. I have time where I can dedicate myself to healing and building up my body and strength and focusing on certain elements of my game that I never had time to work on. Now I have time to perfect it and build the foundations for the next five years or more. I really want to play professional tennis for years to come.

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Getty deletes gallery of World Cup’s ‘sexiest fans’ after criticism

1 month, 8 days ago

Campaign group and social media users denounce hottest fans gallaery as a sexist throwback to 1970 s

Picture agency Getty has come under flame from campaigners and social media users after publishing, then deleting, a gallery of what it deemed the “sexiest” fans at the World Cup.

The gallery, with the sub-heading” Talk about a knock-out round …”, exclusively featured pictures of women, and was tweeted out with the description” The hottest fans at the #WorldCup” in a social media post that was subsequently removed.

” The 1970 s called and they want their misogyny back ,” said one user in response to the now deleted tweet.

Getty’s now deleted tweet. Photograph: Screenshot of Getty tweet

A spokesperson for This Fan Girl– a campaign group working to transform the stereotypical image of female football supporters- said:” This listing from Getty that has come out today is so disappointing. They need to do better; because of their size and influence, they have a huge responsibility to not perpetuate the toxic male primacy that prevail in football .”

Not everybody on social media disapproved of the gallery’s theme, with some posters suggesting that “jealousy” from” triggered feminists” was behind the complaints.

The gallery has already had been removed from Getty’s site, replaced with the message:” Earlier, we published a piece,’ World Cup 2018: The Sexiest Fans ‘, that did not fulfill our editorial criteria. We regret the error and have removed the piece. There are many interesting stories to tell about the World Cup and we acknowledge this was not one of them .”

Confirming that Getty had not sought individual permission from the women pictured to feature them in the gallery in this way, a company representative said there would now be an internal investigation. They added” Getty Images holds a deep belief in the power of visuals to provoke change and change attitudes and we have done, and will continue to do, much work to promote and create a more evolved and positive depiction of women .”

Before the World Cup started, This Fan Girl was involved in a campaign to try to change image search results associated with female football fans. They say that while the World Cup has shown some progress in the portraying of women at football matches, there is still much work to be done.

” Football has come on leaps and bounds- the addition of Eni Aluko and Alex Scott to the World Cup commentary team is great, but then there’s Jason Cundy’s comments[ on female match commentators] and Julieth Gonzalez Theran getting groped on camera whilst she was doing a live broadcast.

” We started off buzzing about the progress, but every day there is more and more stuff that presents just how much our campaign to change the focus to be more representative is needed .”

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Olivier Giroud seals Community Shield win for Arsenal as Chelsea pay penalty

1 month, 13 days ago

Arsenal won the FA Community Shield, beating Chelsea 4-1 on penalties after a 1-1 draw at Wembley

Going into a season in which he will be scrutinised like never before, this was pretty much the perfect way for Arsne Wenger to get things going. Back at Wembley and again facing Chelsea 71 days after defeating them in the FA Cup final, Arsenal have the feeling of silverware in their fingers once again via a victory carved out of the type of resilience they have long been accused of lacking.

There seemed no way back for Wengers side as this match entered its closing stages with Chelsea leading 1-0 through Victor Mosess strike shortly after half-time. The champions had retreated, all but happy just to protect what they had and earn revenge for that defeat here in May. Previously that perhaps would have been enough, but not here. The men in red and white kept going, kept persevering, and on 82 minutes secured an equaliser via Sead Kolasinacs close-range header.

Cue an eruption of joy among the Arsenal supporters behind the goal into which the Bosnian, who arrived on a free transfer from Schalke in June, scored, and there was more to come after the penalty shootout that followed full-time. It was conducted under Fifas new ABBA system and ultimately Wengers men were the winners who took it all after Olivier Giroud hit the decisive spot-kick in a 4-1 victory.

As Arsenal celebrated, those within Chelseas ranks could only look on with collective glumness. After a sluggish start the champions had grown into proceedings and looked all set for a fifth Community Shield win, only for Pedros red card and Kolasinacs immediate equaliser to change things completely. No one looked more frustrated than Antonio Conte, with this a less than ideal way to cap what has been a less than ideal summer for the Italian, one in which he has made known his frustrations over Chelseas slowness in the transfer market and had to deal with the protracted attempts to oust Diego Costa from the club.

The manager cut an agitated figure throughout this contest and not only expressed his regret over the result but his disappointment with the referee, Bobby Madley, for dismissing Pedro for the foul on Mohamed Elneny that led directly to Arsenals goal, and for not awarding his side a penalty on 35 minutes after Willian went down under a challenge by Hctor Bellern. The subsequent yellow card shown to the Brazilian for diving only added to the Italians irritation.

A lot of people told me the penalty was clear, Conte said. We have to respect referees decisions but sometimes these decisions make you angry.

Not surprisingly, Wenger was far more upbeat. The Frenchman praised his side for winning the trophy we really wanted to win and, specifically, for not panicking after they went 1-0 down in a friendly that burned with intensity and good old-fashioned niggle throughout.

Along with Pedros red card, there were four yellow cards as well as the sight of Per Mertesacker leaving the field on 32 minutes with blood pouring from his head following a clash with Gary Cahill. The German could later be seen with stitches above his right eye, though Wenger said the injury was not serious enough to rule him out of the Premier League opener against Leicester City on Friday.

Mertesackers departure came after an impressive start by Arsenal. As was the case in the FA Cup final, they pressed Chelsea back and used possession quickly and efficiently through a 3-4-2-1 formation. Alex Iwobi and Danny Welbeck were particularly impressive in positions just behind Alexandre Lacazette, who was playing his most high-profile game for Arsenal since arriving from Lyon for 52.7m, with both testing Thibaut Courtois in the opening 10 minutes.

Chelsea were being suffocated and it did not help their cause that, when given the time and space to make an impact, their approach play was sloppy, with Michy Batshuayi an almost nonexistent presence as their lone centreforward until he was replaced by lvaro Morata, the record signing, on 74 minutes.

Arsenal kept coming and nearly took the lead on 22 minutes when a Lacazette shot hit a post. They were well on top but that only added to the sense they had to strike sooner rather than later. Certainly having Alexis Snchez on the pitch would have helped. Instead the Chilean watched as a nonplaying member of Wengers squad, having returned to first-team training only on Tuesday.

Chelsea grew into the contest and before half-time Moses and Pedro both forced Petr Cech into making fine saves. Then came the penalty appeal and, while it could be argued Willian tumbled to the tuft all too easily as he surged into the Arsenal area, there is no doubt his left leg was clipped by Bellerns knee.

Chelsea were left indignant by Madleys refusal to award a penalty but their mood improved on 46 minutes. Kolasinac, who had replaced Mertesacker, failed to clear a corner and after Cahill dropped the ball back into Arsenals area with a deft header Moses did the rest, lashing an unstoppable drive past Cech.

It was poor defending on Arsenals part but they did not cave in. Their central midfield partnership of Elneny and Granit Xhaka impressed in the closing stages and both played a part in the equaliser. The former was brought down via a studs-up tackle from Pedro and the latter delivered the free-kick from which Kolasinac, who generally impressed here, struck having drifted into enemy territory.

Penalties followed. Cahill scored for Chelsea with Theo Walcott and Nacho Monreal doing the same in succession for Arsenal. Then came the sight of Courtois stepping up to the spot. It was a gamble on Chelseas part and one that did not pay off after the 25-year-old lashed his drive over the bar.

Morata then caught the outside of Cechs right post and, after Alex OxladeChamberlain made it 3-1, Giroud put the seal on a triumph that provided Arsenal with encouragement before what will be Wengers 21st full campaign in charge of the club. Maybe that new twoyear contract will work out well, after all.

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London’s Royal Chelsea Hospital added to Global Champions Tour

1 month, 15 days ago

( CNN) What do you get if you cross a retirement home for ex-servicemen with one of the world’s most prestigious bloom demonstrates? An international prove jumping venue, naturally.

London’s Royal Hospital Chelsea will be added to the listing of venues on the Global Champions Tour circuit from next year, and some of the world’s biggest equestrian names will be in attendance.

Andy Murray too good for Fernando Verdasco and claims Dubai title

1 month, 17 days ago

Andy Murray shrugged off early nerves to claim his first title of the year with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Fernando Verdasco in the final of the Dubai Championships

Andy Murray shrugged off early nerves to claim his first title of the year with a straight-sets victory over Fernando Verdasco in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Championships. The world No1, a runner-up in 2012, looked to have left his game in the locker room when he was broken twice at the start of the match, but a strong recovery sealed a 6-3 6-2 win over the Spaniard.

Victory takes Murrays head-to-head record against Verdasco to 13-1.

Errors littered the opening few games as the players struggled to hold their serve. Two double faults and a forehand into the net from Murray gifted Verdasco an early break but the Scot hit back immediately by taking the first of three break points when his opponent also found the net with a weak shot.

Murrays serve continued to cause concern in game three and another double fault presented two more break points to Verdasco. The Spaniard took advantage when Murray pushed a forehand wide before overturning a 0-30 deficit in his own service game to go 3-1 up.

The recovery began when Murray finally held serve in game five, although not without a struggle, and the scores were levelled when Murray unleashed a winning cross-court backhand in the next game for another break.

Murray made it three games in a row and then four, hitting back from 0-40 down on the Verdasco serve to open up a 5-3 lead and leave himself serving for the set.

He did so successfully and continued to put Verdasco to the sword in the second set, securing a break of serve in the third game with another unreturnable forehand.

Murray was very much in his stride with his service game also on the rise. Although Verdasco managed to claw his way out of trouble to hold his next service game it seemed only a matter of when, not if, the top seed would seal the win.

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Manchester City steamroller Watford after Raheem Sterling’s rapid opener

1 month, 22 days ago

Raheem Sterling scored after 38 seconds to pave the way for Manchester Citys 3-1 win over Watford that restored their 15-point lead at the top

Manchester City are back to winning ways and the breezy, emphatic nature of the defeat of Watford suggests the ending of their record 18-game winning sequence on New Year’s Eve has merely refreshed Pep Guardiola’s side and made them doubly determined to resume their love of steamrollering opposition.

City required only 38 seconds to take the lead. Fabian Delph threaded the ball to David Silva along the left. He recycled it to Leroy Sané who beat Daryl Janmaat for pace and crossed. Marvin Zeegelaar missed the ball and Raheem Sterling struck with a confident left-foot finish that made his total 18 for the season.

City could have doubled the advantage a few minutes later. This time Delph fed Sané, who picked out John Stones in an acre of space in front of Heurelho Gomes’s goal. But what should have been an easy second was spurned, the centre-back spooning over the bar.

Guardiola had made five changes from the draw at Crystal Palace. Sergio Agüero, Stones, Sterling, Delph and David Silva came in but the headline selection was a player who retained his place; Kevin De Bruyne’s presence having been in doubt after a heavy Jason Puncheon challenge at Selhurst Park.

Guardiola said: “He had some pain but wanted to play, if he wants to play then I want him to play. It says a lot [about his character].”

Raheem Sterling sidefoots home Leroy Sané’s cross to give Manchester City the lead inside the first minute. Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images via Reuters

Marco Silva drafted in Étienne Capoue and Andre Gray, Watford’s manager hoping his side could repeat Palace’s feat and become only the third side this season to deny City a league win. Yet going behind so early made the ask all the harder. Sané was floating in behind Watford’s defence at will. On one occasion he rolled the ball into the danger area but it was not precise enough for Agüero to take aim.

City then attacked down the right for the first time and they promptly scored. Silva – again – was the conductor, releasing De Bruyne, and when the Belgian whacked the ball in it ricocheted off a hapless Christian Kabasele past Gomes.

The temptation was to consider the contest over after only 13 minutes. When De Bruyne crashed a free-kick off the bar a few minutes later – Gomes may have got a touch – it underlined City’s domination.

A sodden Silva stood in the technical area wondering how Watford might claw their way back into the game. Guardiola, usually a fixture in the zone, signalled his content by not entering it until the 22nd minute. Yet after Stones hit a high ball intended for Sané straight out, Guardiola returned to his seat slapping a thigh in disappointment before Gray came close to pulling one back. A Nicolás Otamendi slip allowed the centre-forward to race at Ederson, who protected his team’s lead with a fine save.

Towards the end of the half Sané and Agüero, twice, nearly breached the Watford rearguard and the visitors will have been relieved to reach the break only two goals down. Guardiola, though, may have been frustrated for such dominance not to have already sealed victory.

His second-half demand might have been to show more ruthlessness. If so Agüero’s howler of a missed header early on will have displeased him. De Bruyne – who supplied the cross – tried to show the No10 how to finish after Janmaat fouled Sané. From a tight angle on the left De Bruyne hoped to beat Gomes direct from the free-kick but found the side-netting.

City were now in their familiar attack-versus-defence mode. Sané, De Bruyne, Otamendi, Agüero, Silva, Sterling and Fernandinho relayed the ball in dizzying sequences that caught the eye. Whenever Watford managed to take possession they were harried out of it quickly.

Janmaat had to be alert to deny De Bruyne when Silva flipped the ball to him inside the area. It felt only a matter of time before City claimed a third and when it came it was too simple as again Watford made an error. De Bruyne hit the ball in from the right, directly at Gomes, but the goalkeeper spilled it and Agüero scored, his 16th of the campaign.

A little later Guardiola took off Stones for Danilo and followed this by bringing on Yaya Touré for Fernandinho. The manager had shared a smile with the Ivorian as he entered the pitch and there was a long embrace for the Brazilian as he exited. Guardiola was not happy with Gray’s consolation goal, however. André Carrillo moved past Walker, who stumbled, and from the left found Gray for an easy finish.

Silva was left ruing Watford’s opening. “It’s impossible when you start like that,” he said. He is correct. City thoroughly deserved the win. There will surely be many more this season.

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World Cup 2018: 32 fans from 32 countries preview the tournament

1 month, 22 days ago

Supporters from every country that qualified share their hopes and expectations for Russia 2018


Ilya Sokolov

Moscow can … surprise you every day. It’s an ideal city for sports fans as it has 11 professional football teams and four in the Russian Premier League. Expectations are pretty low for the hosts. Fans don’t consider Stanislav Cherchesov a good coach and we are worried about Russia’s inexperienced defence.

Russia will … qualify from the group. But only if Cherchesov find a style to get the best from a talented squad and understands how to defend without the retired Berezutski friends. If Russia can avoid Spain in the first knockout match, there is a chance we can go even further.

Keep an eye out for … Alexey Miranchuk, an intelligent player who can create the moments that matter. Striker Fyodor Smolov could have a decent tournament too. He wants to leave Krasnodar and move abroad, so he requires good performances this summer. Ilya Sokolov


Ahmed Aly

The general mood is … o ne of exhilaration. Egypt haven’t been at a World Cup since 1990, so we seem to have forgotten how to celebrate qualification. The streets are draped in red, white and black, and everyone has now become a football analyst. We should just be happy “were at” the party.

Egypt is … n ot Liverpool. Mo Salah reached the final of one major tournament this year, but no one severely expects him to reach another. We merely want to see our team play arousing football as members of Africa. I would be content if we can get out of the group.

Look out for … Ahmed Hegazi and Ramadan Sobhi. Relegated with West Brom and Stoke this season, they will be keen to redeem themselves on the international stage. Legendary 45 -year-old goalkeeper Essam El Hadari will hopefully fulfil his dream of captaining Egypt in a World Cup. Ahmed Aly


Natalia, her son Mateo and Edinson Cavani.

The country’s emotional state is … euphoric and anxious. Great things are expected. Businesses around Montevideo have decorated their offices in light blue colourings and there are World Cup sweepstakes taking place everywhere.

Uruguay has … A good chance. There’s a healthy mix of experienced professionals and promising young talents. Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani carry most of the weight of expectation but we have a very united squad and the country has a lot of religion in them.

When I was younger … I promised myself that if I ever had a daughter, I would name her Celeste in honour of the national squad. Last year Micaela Celeste was born. Natalia Tassino

Saudi Arabia

Sarah Algashgari Photograph: Sarah Algashgari/ Twitter

Allowing us to watch football was … a bout girls finally achieving one of their demands. Next up we’ll be able to drive. It’s so astonishing to eventually consider all this empowerment for girls in Saudi Arabia.

The country is … v ery aroused about taking part in the World Cup again. Twelve years is a long time to wait for another chance.

The Saudi player I’m most excited by is … all of them. We don’t have any star players and go into the tournament with a group mentality. This unity will be the key if we are to go through.

Saudi Arabia should be targeting … the heroics of USA 94. Reaching the second round in our first World Cup was incredible. The three group-stage exits that followed were so disappointing in comparison. Sarah Algashgari


Payam Kalantar

The World Cup … means a lot to us. We have a large population with a strong sense of identity and history, but as a footballing nation we are still comparatively inexperienced. Young Iranians feel oppressed and isolated at home, while also constantly misconstrue and stereotyped around the world. Cheering on” Team Melli” is an opportunity to express ourselves.

We will … go past our group for the first time. The superb talents of Sardar Azmoun, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Saman Ghoddos and Masoud Shojaei should devote us a chance. It’s hard to look beyond the 2-1 win over USA at France 98 as my favourite World Cup memory. There aren’t that many to choose from. Payam Kalantar

Sardar Azmoun of Iran. Photograph: Amin Mohammad Jamali/ Getty Images


The last day we qualified … I was 10 years old. Back in 1998 we were so close to progressing to the last 16, but Brazil somehow lost to Norway.

I imagination our chances … against Portugal and Iran but Spain will be on their own planet. Making it out of the group would be a huge success, but not much of a surprise.

Our key player is likely to be … Hakim Ziyech, an attacking midfielder who plays for Ajax. Salim Choudart


The mood is … uncertain. The exhilaration of winning Euro 2016 is still there, giving us hope, but the fact that we just aren’t very good still doesn’t sit very well with many.

The minimum expectation is … quarter-finals. Get out of the group with Spain should be a dedicated but I expect the team to buckle against Argentina or France, the most likely adversaries in the quarter-finals.

Our creative force in the national squad should be … Bernardo Silva. Portugal have absence a proper attacking playmaker since Deco retired. Ronaldo should play a massive component too, unless he’s fatigued after another long season. Joao Melo


Javier Perez

Brazil 2014 was … extremely disappointing. We’ve only just recovered but, if we start well this summer, the belief is La Roja will soon be back.

It’s difficult to say … where Spain will end up in the World Cup. There are many wonderful teams and they all want their hands on the trophy. If players such as David Silva, Andres Iniesta and Isco start on the front foot, we won’t be too far away. Javier Perez


Australia will … never again reach the heights of the performance in 2006, when we were spectacular in Germany. The purpose this summer is to get through the group. If the team give their all we shouldn’t be too far away. France are the only team that looking unbeatable.

The beating heart of our midfield is … Aaron Mooy. His tactical and physical approach shouldn’t be underestimated. He is one of the main reasons Huddersfield remain a Premier League side. His workmanship in midfield won’t go unnoticed. James Gough


Emil Christensen

Qualifying was … a relief as it is never assured. Our objective is to do better than last time. South Africa in 2010 was a real disappointment but we can definitely induce the knockout stages this summer. Then we will probably be destroyed by Argentina.

The human with the X-factor is … Christian Eriksen. He’s been on fire for our national team during qualification and inspires younger players such as Pione Sisto, Thomas Delaney and Andreas Christensen. Our squad is based around these youngsters. Emil Christensen


The only thing that can stop us is … overconfidence. We have huge talents but a lack of cohesion. The national team has not evolved as much as we should have since Euro 2016. Didier Deschamps did a very average chore with our young players. There’s no real back up for Olivier Giroud; our full-backs are not so good; and we rely on individual talents to win us games. I’m not sure if that’s enough to win the World Cup.

I would be happy to reach … the semi-finals. Spain, Germany, Belgium and even Brazil seem more organised than us.

The player who excites me most is … Kylian Mbappe. He already has so much experience and can do a lot of damage with Ousmane Dembele up front. Antoine Griezmann will be his usual menace. Thomas Kamdem

Kylian Mbappe playing for France against Italy. Photo: Valery Hache/ AFP/ Getty Images


Miguel Payet

The country is … feverish with anticipation. We’re ecstatic about our first World Cup appearance since 1982. The results are almost inconsequential. I simply hope we avoid any embarrassments.

Peruvians … Don’t follow rules easily. We work hard and never give up. We’re eternally optimistic.

Our national side is … a scrappy squad. There are no outstanding players, but Ricardo Gareca has moulded them into a tight, disciplined division. We go into the tournament hoping for outcomes against Australia and Denmark. France will prove too talented.

Our strikers are … near the end of their careers. Paolo Guerrero and Jefferson Farfan can be a potent ten-strike force if they click. Farfan has had a great season in Russia, while Guerrero needs to prove that he still has it after his recent suspension. At the back we rely a lot on centre-back Alberto” el mudo” Rodriguez. Miguel Payet



The mood is … cautiously optimistic, but I don’t think anyone is very reassured by how Argentina have been playing lately.

My favourite thing about Argentinian football is … the fans. When I go to see La Albiceleste play, there are always a huge number of enthusiastic and friendly supporters.

The most negative thing about the national squad is … the high turnover of players and administrators. Jose Pekerman was given far too little time. He would have developed a consistent and ripen style of play eventually.

I’ve never cheered so loudly as when … Argentina knocked England out on penalties in 1998- although beating the Netherlands in the 2014 semi-finals came close.

If we don’t win the tournament … I hope we bow out gracefully after some memorable performances. Maria


My first World Cup memory … is also my favourite one. Our brave team that lit up France 98 will always be the benchmark for any Croatia squad. That was a huge thing for an eight-year-old boy. Will we ever finish third again?

We should aim for … the semi-finals. There is talent all over the squad, with Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Dejan Lovren and Mario Mandzukic the big stars. If they stay fit, another World Cup escapade is very much on. Luka Ivezic


Tryggvi Kristjansson and his family at Euro 2016.

If we can get a outcome against Argentina … you never know what will happen! We are typically optimistic. Iceland doesn’t do national pessimism.

Keeping an eye on … Albert Gudmundsson. The winger hasn’t featured much for PSV this season, but he’s our only real alternative to Gylfi Sigurdsson. Tryggvi Kristjansson


The mood is … the usual conflict of overblown optimism and deep despair. Some always choose to believe we are due an adventurous tournament, while others expect us to accident and burn. I fear it might be the latter.

I’d be surprised … if we induce the second round. We appear unlikely to match Argentina and Croatia for quality, while Iceland’s resolve seems to surpass our own.

Our leading player is … Wilfred Ndidi. He is an efficient, unfussy footballer. If fully fit, he might earn himself a big move this summer. Kia

Wilfred Ndidi of Nigeria versus Serbia Photograph: Matthew Lewis/ Getty Images


Pedro Henrique Heinzen

The streets of Brazil are … full of green, blue and yellow. Schools are letting students go to classes in their football kits, and class are cancelled when Brazil are playing.

This World Cup … entails a lot to us. After all the recent political unrest, corruption and economic uncertainty, the Selecao is not just a team but a symbol of hope.

The greatest thing about this squad is … we do not depend on just one player. We have Neymar, Coutinho, Firminho, Marcelo, Fernandinho and Thiago Silva. We have a better squad than the 1982 one, which was considered the best in our history.

Brazilians are … expecting a reaction from the disastrous defeat to Germany four years ago. Every minute of this tournament will be watched. If there’s a ball rolled, we’ll be watching. Pedro Henrique Heinzen

Costa Rica

Daniel Villalta and his friends watching Costa Rica beat Italy 1-0 in 2014.

The mood is … cautious. The national squad is not in its best sort and the toughness of the group also increases the uneasiness amongst the more skeptical fans. We want to be competitive. I hope we make it to the second round. Get though such a difficult group will lift our players and we could go even further if confidence grows. Commitment and dedication is a must.

The players carrying the hopes of a nations are … Bryan Ruiz, Joel Campbell and Oscar Duarte. If they play well, Costa Rica will have a chance against Switzerland and Serbia.

We’ve come a long way since … missing out on the knockout stages of the 2002 World Cup on aim difference. I never though I’d see Costa Rica in a World Cup quarter-final, so the efforts of four years ago will be hard to match. Daniel Villalta


The Serbia squad is … t he most talented in years. Coach Mladen Krstajic has made a positive impression. We haven’t reached a World Cup since South Africa in 2010 and this team is seen as far more promising than the one eight years ago.

We should … reach the knockout stages. We can get past Switzerland and Costa Rica, and go through with Brazil. That would likely see us face Germany in the second round. The journey will end there.

What arouses me most about the team is … the midfield. Luka Milivojevic and Nemanja Matic are already proven high-quality holding midfielders. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic has been one of the most dynamic young goalscoring midfielders in Europe, and Dusan Tadic was unplayable at times during World Cup qualification. Oskar


Nischal Schwager-Patel
The mood is … one of exhilaration. There is a real buzz among Switzerland fans. The dreaming is to reach the quarter-finals for only the fourth hour. In the last two international tournaments we were agonisingly knocked out at the second round stage after an 118 th-minute aim and a penalty shootout. This time we may have to overcome Germany in the first knockout stage, but we could do that on our day.

My favourite player is … Xherdan Shaqiri. He grabbed a hat-trick at the last World Cup against Honduras and scored the goal of Euro 2016. Youngsters such as Manuel Akanji, Steven Zuber and Breel Embolo are continuing to show their promise as well. Nischal Schwager-Patel


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Spurs secure top spot after Son Heung-min screamer sinks Borussia Dortmund

1 month, 26 days ago

A wonderful goal from Son Heung-min earned Tottenham a 2-1 win at Borussia Dortmund and ensured Spurs will beat Real Madrid to top spot in Group H

When the time comes to pull the names out of the hat at Uefa headquarters next month, none of the second-placed teams will want to draw Tottenham Hotspur. There is no longer evidence of any inferiority complex when they rub shoulders with Europe’s elite and they will fancy themselves against anyone after winning Group H – at the expense of the mighty Real Madrid, no less – with a game to spare after this mature, resilient victory away to Borussia Dortmund.

Their reward is a relaxing evening when they host Apoel Nicosia at Wembley next month and, more importantly, playing the second leg of their last-16 tie at home. Behind to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s fine goal, Tottenham rallied in the second half to end Dortmund’s slim hopes of snatching second from Madrid, with Harry Kane scoring his sixth goal in five games, Son Heung-min applying a super finishing touch and Dele Alli producing an unselfish display. For Dortmund, exiting the Champions League was tough to take. Peter Bosz’s beleaguered side visit Madrid, who destroyed Apoel, in their final match and are not even sure of finishing third, but they could not complain. Tottenham were superior.“It was difficult because Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund and Apoel are always difficult but we try to enjoy and be competitive and try to win, that was the idea in every single game,” said Mauricio Pochettino afterwards. “I am happy for the result, to be top of the table, first, but we’re looking forward to playing the next game.”

As Tottenham set off in pursuit of the result that would increase their chances of a favourable draw in the last 16, a year since defeat in Monaco brought a premature end to their interest in this competition for another campaign, it was worth taking a moment to reflect on the brutal manner in which Dortmund devoured them in the Europa League two seasons ago. Tottenham have come a long way since those days, back when they seemed to shrink in the company of the silkiest continental sides, and securing their progress from this most daunting of groups with that enchanting victory over Madrid three weeks ago meant that they began with a sense of freedom at one of European football’s most iconic venues.

However it was also a mark of Tottenham’s tougher mentality that it was difficult to detect any weaknesses in their line-up, three days after the bruising experience of losing the north London derby. Mauricio Pochettino was unwilling to accept any loss of momentum, even though the stakes were lower than might have been anticipated when the groups were drawn, while he knew that Dortmund were not to be taken lightly despite the mess the Germans have made of their qualification attempts.

Two draws with Apoel meant that Dortmund’s hopes of progression were already hanging by a thread by the time news filtered through that Madrid were hammering the lowly Cypriots, and perhaps that explained the muted celebrations that greeted Aubameyang’s glorious opener after 30 minutes.

The goal was a reminder of Dortmund’s class, the Gabon striker drilling a low shot past Hugo Lloris after being released by a stunning flick from the impressive Andriy Yarmolenko, but it was a bittersweet moment, too. Bosz, who is under intense pressure after a dreadful run that has seen them slip from the Bundesliga summit to fifth place, stayed in his seat on the bench, his expression impossible to read.

Aubameyang, who was back in the side after being dropped for disciplinary reasons at the weekend, hardly looked delighted, even though the striker was a constant thorn in the side of Tottenham’s back three. The sense of what might have been hung over Dortmund.

Yarmolenko was elusive in the hole, impudently creating an early chance that Aubameyang scuffed wide, but Tottenham also enjoyed themselves at times. Pochettino made four changes from the defeat to Arsenal, bringing in Danny Rose, Serge Aurier, Harry Winks and Son Heung-min, whose movement threatened to expose Dortmund’s risky high line, and Roman Burki had to make excellent saves to deny Christian Eriksen and Eric Dier before half-time.

Despite trailing, Tottenham felt confident of prising open an unconvincing defence and it did not come as a surprise when they equalised three minutes after the break. Dortmund’s self-destructive tendencies were encapsulated when Jeremy Toljan’s indecision allowed Rose to divert the ball to Dele Alli, who quickly shuffled it on to Harry Kane.

The striker had been a peripheral presence, but he bullied Dortmund at Wembley in September and his shot, aimed low to Burki’s right from 20 yards, settled Pochettino’s side. Aubameyang faded, Yarmolenko’s influence diminished and the moment Tottenham were waiting for arrived when Alli, showing great determination and skill, bustled past a series of weak challenges and into the area before finding Son, who curled a peach of a shot past Burki.

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