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Star strikers who are expected to dazzle in Euro 2020

Defending champions Portugal will be one of the favourites along with England, Spain, Belgium and France.

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The 2021 edition of the Euro Championships is going to be the 16th edition of the European Championship and for the first time will be held in 11 cities across 11 European countries. Defending champions Portugal who clinched the title in 2016 will be one of the favourites this year along with the likes of England, Spain, Belgium and World Champions France. Let’s take a look at the possible star strikers who are expected to rattle the opposition goal and dazzle on Europe’s biggest stage from 12th June to 12th July this year.

KYLIAN MBAPPÉ

After winning the League 1 Golden boot for the third successive year, the pocket dynamite is surely waiting to explode on the Euro this year. Considered by many as the most talented player on the planet, the 22-year-old fired in 46 goals in the 2020-21 season for PSG and France, a feat that made him the youngest Frenchman to net 100 goals for Les Bleus. His menacing skills and blistering pace has been a nightmare for any opposition and the fact that he is backed by an extraordinarily talented French squad of Antoine Griezmann, Karim Benzema and Olivier Giroud seems to be a combination that can see the World Champions as top contenders.

HARRY KANE

England’s steady surge to the top of Football’s big prize has been knitted around a very special crop of young players who are led by their talismanic captain fantastic Harry Kane. His prolific form in the Premier League earned him the Golden Boot with 23 goals from 35 matches. His aerial ability and the knack to find the vacant spot in the opposition goal with sublime finishes has buoyed Tottenham Hotspurs into Europe. Kane was also responsible for 14 assists this season is a testimony of his eye for goal that will be vital for the English Lions. The England skipper has a galaxy of stars like Marcus Rashford, Calvert Lewin, Raheem Sterling, Foden, Sancho and Saka upfront to make the English attack its most potent weapon.   

ROMELU LUKAKU

There is absolutely no doubt that Romelu Lukaku is blossoming into a world-class striker at Inter Milan.  The 28-year-old is considered as a goal-scoring tank owing to his power-packed form that reaped 24 goals in 36 matches in the Serie A edging out Ronaldo’s opportunity to win with Juventus. Lukaku’s ability as a goal machine that has been tearing the opposition’s defence apart was on display this week as his strike was the sole difference that saw Belgium edge past Croatia, the 2018 FIFA World Cup Runners Up. Belgium has emerged in the last decade as the team to watch out for, especially with the youth academies churning out some of the best quality players on display all over the world. With Thibaut Courtois under the bar, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne marshalling the midfield with Jan Ceulemans in the attacking third, it is unfortunate that these stars choke when they don their national colours.

CHRISTIANO RONALDO  

The Christiano Ranaldo scoring machine is firing on all cylinders at age 36 and there is no sign of him taking his foot off the accelerator. He is the only footballer to have won the Golden Boot for top-scoring in England, Spain and now in Italy. In Juventus colours this season his goal-scoring spree saw him at the top of the Serie A with 29 goals in 33 matches. He skippered Portugal to realize their long-cherished Euro Crown in 2016 and this time has a star-studded team to win the crown in 2021. The likes of Diogo Jota, Andre Silva and Bruno Fernandez team Portugal are definitely the heavyweights.  

MEMPHIS DEPAY

The 27-year-old Lyon striker will be shouldering the aspiration of a nation after a nearly decade long hiatus as they return to European Football. The football world was shocked after the Dutch failed to qualify for the Euro 2016 and the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Netherlands’ return to top-flight football has been more due to Roland Koeman who has left for Barcelona and now Frank de Boer appears to be a strong squad. Depay’s sixty-three goals in 139 appearances, including six last season in the Champions League catapulted Lyon to the semifinal. Lyon briefly threatened a title charge in France courtesy of Depay’s 20 goals and 12 assists – a feat that has resulted in a race between Barcelona and Juventus for this Dutch rising star.

 ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI

The 32-year-old Robert Lewandowski leads the pack of illustrious strikers and is Poland’s leading scorer with 66 goals in a record 118 appearances. This season he broke the Bundesliga’s 49-year-old record for goals in a season with 41 in 29 appearances for Bayern Munich and is in top form firing 17 goals in the last 10 games. However, the newly appointed head coach of Poland, Paulo Sousa, is working on his backup options in case his captain is not available.

While Germany looks shaky after their World Cup win in 2014 and is currently languishing at the 12th spot in the FIFA Rankings. A return of Thomas Muller could witness a resurgent Germany who were shockingly shown the exit doors after the nightmare first-round debacle in Russia 2020 and lost 0-6 to Spain in a Nation’s League game encounter. The German defence will be manned by Antonio Rudiger while Manuel Neuer will be taking his place as goalkeeper and captain. Leon Goretzka is a player who has emerged as Joachim Low’s box to box midfield player.

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IRELAND STUN WEST INDIES IN THIRD ODI TO CLINCH HISTORIC SERIES

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Andy McBrine and Harry Tector smashed respective half-centuries to help Ireland defeat West Indies in the third ODI by two wickets on Sunday. With this win, Ireland registered their first-ever ODI series win away from home over an ICC Full Member after recording a two-wicket victory over the West Indies in the final match of the series. West Indies had won the first ODI but Ireland came back strongly to register back-to-back wins.

West Indies were folded for 212 in the 45th over and Ireland survived a late batting collapse to get over the line in the third ODI.

Ireland won the toss and chose to bowl first but didn’t get off to a good start as West Indies added 72 runs for the first wicket. Craig Young removed both Shai Hope and Justin Greaves in his successive overs to bring back Ireland in the game. Those dismissals brought about a middle-order collapse with West Indies losing 7-57 in the next 17 overs. Young picked two wickets, but it was off-spinner Andy McBrine who wreaked havoc.

West Indies were only able to score 212 as McBrine returned with four wickets to dismantle the hosts’ batting line up. Chasing 213, Ireland lost opener Porterfield on the first ball of the innings but Paul Stirling and Andy McBrine revived the innings before Harry Tector smashed a fifty to help visitors take full control over the game.

Ireland suffered a collapse just when they were about to reach the target but the visiting side held their nerves to clinch the third ODI.

Brief Scores: West Indies 212 (44.4 overs: S Hope 53, J Holder 44; A McBrine 4-28, C Young 3-43) vs Ireland 214-8 (44.5 overs: A McBrine 59, H Tector 52, P Stirling 44; A Hosein 3-59)

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CAPTAINCY NOT SOMETHING I LIKE TO CHASE, FOCUS IS ON DOING MY JOB: BUMRAH

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India pacer Jasprit Bumrah on Monday said that he would be honoured if he is deemed worthy of leading the country, but it is not something he is chasing. India and South Africa will lock horns in a three-match ODI series, with the first match set to be played on Wednesday in Paarl. Earlier, the Proteas had defeated India 2-1 in the Test series. “For me, I am ready to contribute in whatever position and way I can. If given an opportunity to lead India, you will think about it. It is not something that I like to chase, I like to do my work, however, I can do the job. Me having a post or not does not really matter. That has always been my process and what I look to do. If given an opportunity, there is a no bigger honour than this but yeah, I try to focus on how I can contribute,” said Bumrah during a virtual press conference.

“For me, the role does not change at all. I have to do my job and I will be helping KL Rahul as much as I can whenever he needs assistance. Even when I am not the vice-captain, I try to help the younger guys and I have a lot of discussions with them regarding having a particular field,” added Bumrah who will be the vice-captain of India ODI team for the series against South Africa.

Further talking about his role as vice-captain, Bumrah said: “You always want the responsibility. If there is no responsibility or pressure, you would not enjoy the game. I try to manage the responsibility and contribute to the side’s cause. I am a keen learner, when I came into the team, I always asked questions. I try to help out the youngsters and eradicate their doubts. Sometimes I also end up learning from them.”

When asked about how he would approach the ODIs against South Africa, Bumrah said: “Obviously you have to move forward, it is a different format of the game. The pace of the game changes, the load on the body reduces as well. It is a shorter format, faster pace. As a bowler, you have to quickly assess and vary your pace accordingly.”

Talking about pacer Mohammed Siraj’s fitness, Bumrah said: “I think he is fine, he is practicing with us. I do not see any discomfort, hopefully that stays that way. Nothing I am aware of right now but everyone seems to be okay. Hopefully, that stays that way.”

When asked about whether India would look at SA ODIs as preparation for the 2023 World Cup, the pacer said: “There has to be a vision on which direction we want to go in. We will try to give guys an equal opportunity. Every series needs to be given importance and we will keep a vision.”

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AN OPPORTUNITY FOR YOUNG INDIAN PLAYERS TO COME OF AGE

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It’s a new beginning for the Blue Tigresses as they take on the massive challenge of representing a country of 1.3 billion dreams in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup India 2022 in Mumbai. While the initial target remains to reach the last eight stage, and give themselves a shot at qualifying for the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the Indian team — the youngest in Group A with an average age of 23.13, will look to its young Tigresses to come of age.

“We’ve got so many youngsters in our team. There are 20-year-olds, 18-19-year-olds, and even a 16-year-old,” said Sanju Yadav. “But playing for the senior team at this young age means that you must come of age mentally. I think these youngsters that we have are very mature.”

Football is often deemed as a physical sport, but the mental fitness required in the game is just as important. Sanju believes that the youngsters who have made the final list of 23, have been brought in on the basis of both their physical and mental strengths.

“Not everyone in a team will have the same physical capacity. But football is a game where mental aptitude is just as important, and these youngsters have shown a lot of that,” she continued.

20-year-old Manisha Kalyan feels that it has been a learning process for her in the senior team over the last few years. “Every youngster has to adapt themselves to senior football, and it took me a couple of years of being on the fringes, after I was brought in from the U-19 team,” said Manisha.

Manisha, who stole the headlines in November last year, with her goal against World No. 7 side Brazil, is not one resting on her laurels. “That’s all in the past. We don’t know who will make the starting XI, or who will come on from the bench, but one thing we do know is that the coaches select us because of the players we are in the present, and nothing what we have done in the past,” she stated.

“That goal against Brazil was a great moment personally, and I will look back from time to time in my low moments and try to take strength from it. But the Asian Cup is a much bigger stage,” continued Manisha. “A good performance here could change Indian Football.”

Wonder girl from Jharkhand, Sumati Kumari, who has also dazzled with her displays on the wings, believes that with the Asian Cup coming up, it’s time to step up for the youngsters. “We have all been given some valuable lessons in football and in life by the coaches and the senior players over the last 6 months. Now, it’s time for us to repay their faith in us and put those learnings into practice. There’s no better stage than the Asian Cup to do so,” she stated.

The Blue Tigresses will take on IR Iran (December 20), Chinese Taipei (December 23), and China PR (December 26) in Group A of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup India 2022. All the matches will be broadcast live on the Eurosport channel and streamed live on Jio TV.

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K.L. Rahul-led India begin preparations for ODI series against South Africa

After losing the Test series 2-1, India would look to make a fresh beginning and salvage lost pride.

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The KL Rahul-led Indian team on Monday began preparations under coach Rahul Dravid’s guidance ahead of a three-match ODI series against South Africa at Boland Park. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) shared photos of the Indian team where stand-in captain KL Rahul and coach Rahul Dravid could be seen having a pep talk with the team. Ex-India captain Virat Kohli was also part of the squad.

“ODI MODE On We are here at Boland Park to begin prep for the ODIs #TeamIndia | #SAvIND,” BCCI tweeted.

After losing the Test series 2-1, India would look to make a fresh beginning and salvage lost pride when they take on South Africa in a three-match ODI cricket series starting in Paarl on January 19. The second ODI is scheduled at the same venue on January 21, following which the team will travel to Cape Town for the series finale.

The Indian team will be distracted by the 1-2 series loss in the Test series prior and will want to do well in the ODIs. On the other hand, they will also need to balance their approach by keeping next year`s World Cup in mind.

Temba Bavuma will lead South Africa in the ODI series, while India named a 19-member squad for the ODI series, comprised of experienced and young players. There are few players in the Indian team who are the core strength of the squad. They will be part of every ODI game.

India ODI Squad: KL Rahul (C), Shikhar Dhawan, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Venkatesh Iyer, Ravichandran Ashwin, Rishabh Pant, Ishan Kishan, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Deepak Chahar, Prasidh Krishna, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Siraj, Jayant Yadav, Navdeep Saini.

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LAKSHYA SEN WINS INDIA OPEN 2022, DEFEATS LOH KEAN YEW

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India shuttler Lakshya Sen won the men’s singles final of the ongoing India Open 2022 here at the KD Jadhav Stadium here on Sunday. Lakshya Sen defeated Singapore’s Loh Kean Yew 24-22, 21-17 in the summit clash that lasted for 54 minutes. This is the first time that Sen has managed to win the Super 500 title in his career.

Lakshya Sen was comfortably leading the first game, but world champion Kean Yew came from behind, and it was evenly poised at 22-22. The India shuttler then raised his game to win the first game 24-22. The 20-year-old Sen continued with his momentum and he went on to win the summit clash in straight games.

Earlier on Sunday, the duo of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy clinched victory in the men’s doubles finals of Indian Open 2022, which is part of the BWF World Tour tournament series. The Indian pair defeated the Indonesian duo of Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan in straight games 21-16, 26-24 in the summit clash that lasted for 43 minutes.

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WITH VIRAT STEPPING DOWN AS TEST LEADER, TASK OF TRANSITION RELIES HEAVILY ON DRAVID

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With Virat Kohli stepping down as Test skipper, it is safe to say that it is an end of an era, and now head coach Rahul Dravid has much work to do in order to create a solid unit which can win on both at home and overseas conditions.

The 33-year-old Kohli brought an end to his seven-year stint as the captain of Team India, which saw him becoming the most successful Indian Test captain. Kohli holds the record for most Test appearances as India Test captain (68) and he also holds the record for most Test wins by an Indian captain (40). Only Graeme Smith, Ricky Ponting, and Steve Waugh have won more matches than Kohli as captain in Test cricket.

Kohli had first led the side in Test cricket in 2014 against Australia. His last game as captain was the Cape Town Test in South Africa, which India lost by seven wickets. Now, the 33-year-old has departed as skipper so it needs to be asked if not Virat, then who as the skipper of the Test side?

It is safe to say that Rohit Sharma is the frontrunner to be the Test captain as he was named the vice-captain for the South Africa Tests, but injury ruled him out and KL Rahul had to step in as the deputy. Over the past year, the right-handed batter showed great grit and determination with the bat and everyone knows about what he can bring as a captain.

However, Rohit’s fitness has been an issue and it needs to be seen whether the selectors want to give a 34-year-old the reign of all three formats or do they want to look at the future and think of a long-term prospect. The second option is KL Rahul, who recently led Team India in the second Test against South Africa in the absence of Kohli.

Rahul has also shown great determination with the bat at the top of the order in overseas conditions but one thing with Rahul is that his batting can hit a rough patch all of a sudden.

And when the batter hits a lull patch, getting out of it has become tough for Rahul and this can act against Rahul. His leadership record for Punjab Kings in the Indian Premier League (IPL) is not that great — 15 losses in 27 games. Another prospect is Rishabh Pant and the selectors can look at the wicketkeeper-batter if they want to look at the future.

Pant showed a great cricketing brain while leading the Delhi Capitals and with age being on his side, the 24-year-old can emerge as a good choice. Now, this is where the role of head coach Rahul Dravid will come in as Team India looks set for a transition.

Speaking before Cape Town, Virat Kohli had said that transition cannot be forced and it tends to happen naturally. However, with Virat stepping down and the poor form of Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara, it is fair to say that the transition has been forced.

The era of Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli has come to an end, and now it needs to be seen whether Dravid can create another impeccable unit that can win on both at home and overseas conditions. Pujara and Rahane’s form does not make it easy for Dravid as the head coach also needs to look at probable replacements for the duo.

Shreyas Iyer, Hanuma Vihari, Suryakumar Yadav, and Shubman Gill are the four probable suspects that can come into the playing XI to replace Pujara and Rahane. This will make Kohli the most experienced batter in the lineup, and it is fair to say that he would have to lead the batting unit despite not being the “designated leader”.

In the end, it is fair to say that Dravid’s tenure coach could not have gotten to a more rocky start, and if the former India batter was known for his resilience in the field, it is the same quality, the new coach has to show in order to take the team through some testing times.

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