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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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WE WON’T PLAY FOR A DRAW AGAINST AFGHANISTAN, SAYS STIMAC

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A day before India’s last match against Afghanistan in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Qualifiers at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, Doha, head coach Igor Stimac has dismissed apprehensions that his side may play out for a draw.

India is currently placed on six points after seven matches in comparison to Afghanistan being on five points from seven games. “I need to say that I don’t know any coach or any team who would come out playing for a draw. Even that might seem to be a situation when you are facing much better sides. Then, you need to drop and defend for your life and wait for one, two or three chances to counter-attack like against Qatar. But, we are not going out to play for a draw. Rather, we will go out to win it,” the official website of All India Football Federation (AIFF) quoted Stimac as saying. “That’s what we are aiming to do. We need to start doing it from the kick-off. I know and am very confident that all our boys are ready and fit. They need to enjoy the game,” he added.Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu added: “I think it’s important for us to stay fresh and face this new challenge against a very good side. Afghanistan has good quality players who can manipulate the ball and convert if given the chance. So, we need to make sure that as players, we stick to the plan and that we make life difficult for the other team and try to finish with a smile.”

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If any country can pull off Olympics, it’s definitely Japan: Sathiyan

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India table tennis player Sathiyan Gnanasekaran on Monday showed faith in Japan and said the country would successfully host the Tokyo Games this year. The Olympics were slated to go-ahead last year, but it was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and it will now go ahead this year from July 23 to August 8. “I have been to Japan many times, have played in the Japan league as well. If some country can pull it off it’s definitely Japan and I know about their meticulous planning how they prepare for any event. I have full trust in Japan and IOC and they will host a very safe Olympics,” Gnanasekaran told ANI.Talking about his qualification for the Olympics, Gnanasekaran said: “For me, it’s my childhood dream, I saw Olympics on television like 17 years before, the dream has come true. I wanted to be part of the Indian team, so I had started training really really hard, especially after joining Raman sir, it has been a huge amount of hours that I have spent on training.”“It’s the most important opportunity of my life but at the same time, I would just enjoy the game as I have always done, go out there and have fun on the biggest stage,” he added.

The paddler also talked about how playing without fans in attendance would be hard and athletes will be required to find the push without the audience cheering them on. “Certainly, that’s the most difficult part I would say. Initially, I had thought it would be fine but when I played the Japan league in a huge stadium without fans, I felt a very big difference. Fans give you the push, they give you the extra energy at the very crucial juncture or when the scores are level,” said Gnanasekaran.“I think we are now kind of used to this new normal. It’s gonna be hard but I hope I can dedicate the medal to fans even though they are not with us,” he added.

Talking about his game and training, the paddler said: “Fantastic. I have been training with my coach, I have been working on my technique, footwork and I am getting match practice as well. I am doing good fitness, I have seen improvement in the last month and I will be all guns blazing for the Olympics. “For me, attack is the best defence. I was a very defensive player in my childhood days, and then when I started training with Raman sir, I shifted gears and that’s where I transformed as a player. I always prefer finding out opportunities where I can attack and score a point against my opponent.”

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DJOKOVIC’S COACH FEELS VICTORY AGAINST NADAL MADE THE DIFFRENCE IN FINAL

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World No. 1 Novak Djokovic’s long-time coach Marian Vajda believes that the confidence attained by the Serbian in the semi-final win against Rafael Nadal made all the difference in Sunday’s French Open final against No.5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.Marian says that Djokovic, who won 6-7(6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 to claim his second Roland-Garros and 19th Grand slam title, after going two sets down against Tsitsipas was because of the belief he built up in his victory over the Spaniard. “I think Rafa’s game gave him a lot of confidence, believing in himself that he can win Roland-Garros,” Vajda was quoted as saying to the official website. “First two sets it took him [a] little bit off [guard] because maybe he was thinking too much ahead. Then he was able to be present after first two sets. Then he just prevailed [with] his tennis.”

Vajda told reporters after the final that Novak was in a much better place mentally in 2021, compared to the 2020 final, when he was obliterated by Nadal in straight sets. “I think he was much better than the last year mentally,” he said.

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EXPERIENCE OF MAGUIRE AND HENDERSON WILL BE VITAL MOVING FORWARD, SAYS ROONEY

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Former England player Wayne Rooney feels it’s vital that Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson get fit as soon as possible because they will be vital moving forward in the Euro 2020 for the Three Lions. “To win that was massive, Croatia are a good team and it will give the players a relief that they are comfortable in the group now,” Wayne Rooney told Sky Sports. “There’s a lot of quality in the squad, my only worry is a lack of experience — it’s important Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson get fit because they will be vital moving forward.”

England’s all-time record goalscorer feels the team will now be more comfortable in the next game against Scotland as they started off on a winning note at the European Championships in a “professional” manner against 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia. For the very first time in Euros, England won their opening fixture thanks to Raheem Sterling’s second-half goal against Croatia at Wembley on Sunday. Gareth Southgate’s men are now in a comfortable position ahead of fixtures against Scotland and the Czech Republic.

It would now be very interesting to see how England’s manager Gareth Southgate will navigate his starting XI for the remaining matches in the group stage as he made some very eyebrow-raising decisions against Croatia which ultimately paid off for the English side.

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NEW ZEALAND’S VARIETY OF FAST BOWLERS WILL CHALLENGE KOHLI & BOYS, SAYS PARTHIV

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Parthiv

Former Team India wicket-keeper Parthiv Patel feels Virat Kohli needs to give himself a bit of time in regards to his batting ahead of the inaugural ICC World Test Championship final against New Zealand. “I think probably he will have to give himself a bit of time and try to think what he did in 2018 – where he got a number of hundreds. So, probably he is better equipped than he was in 2014, but there will be challenges and there will be challenges of a variety of fast bowlers. The reason being — it is not a one-dimensional fast bowling attack,” Prithvi Patel said on Star Sports show Game Plan.

Virat Kohli’s growth in English conditions has been phenomenal, especially if compared to the Indian skipper’s below-par 2014 tour to the one in 2018. In 2014, he managed only 134 runs in five Tests at a poor average of 13.40. Four years later, he hammered 593 runs in the five-Test series. Virat Kohli averaged 59.30 with two hundred in 2018. Considering this, if India wants to beat the Blackcaps in Southhampton, then they will surely need the same herculean effort from the captain.

Former India opener Virender Sehwag also feels Kohli needs to be patient and force the Kiwi bowlers to bowl at him rather than on the fourth and fifth stump outside off. “I think Kohli should show patience and he should leave a lot of balls. They must be made to pitch in the line and then he can score,” he told ANI. “He has to show patience and I am sure he knows that. I remember in 2014 when he didn’t score runs, he came back and spent time with Sachin Tendulkar and went back (in 2018) and scored a lot of runs.” Virat Kohli will lead India in the World Test Championship (WTC) final against New Zealand from June 18 at the Ageas Bowl, Southampton to decide the first champion side of the longest format. The WTC final will be followed by the five-match Test series against England.

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Ishant should get a chance to play in WTC final

If the conditions are dry, then India should go with two spinners and if the weather remains cold and there is grass on the pitch, then in that case they should go with four fast bowlers.

Raj Kumar Sharma

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The most discussed point these days is about the bowling options Team India will go with against New Zealand in the WTC final. If the conditions are dry, then India should go with two spinners and if the weather remains cold and there is grass on the pitch, then in that case they can go with four fast bowlers. Who will play largely depends on the player’s current form and the skill he shows in the nets.

 Although the New Zealand team is in a better position to face the fast bowlers, they do not feel themselves in that comfortable position against spinners. In such a situation, it can be a better option for Team India to field both the spinners. Talking about the fast bowlers, it is certain that Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami are certain to play while there is a choice between Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Siraj, if team management plays with three fast bowlers.

 But I will go with Ishant Sharma in both options as he has vast experience of 100 tests. That experience can prove to be very useful for Team India, but if Team India goes with four fast bowlers, then Siraj can get a place in the team. Of course, this decision lengthens India›s tail. Shardul is definitely a substitute who can bat well but I think he doesn›t find a place in the team because he is a bit slow compared to other fast bowlers.

 In the case of playing four fast bowlers, the team will have to go with only one spinner. In such a situation, R. Ashwin would be a better option as there are many left-handed batsmen on the New Zealand side and secondly, he can bat as well. Their being in form also goes in their favor but in dry conditions I believe both of them will play. If a fast bowler is unfit, the team would prefer to play Umesh Yadav instead of Shardul.

 As far as opening the innings is concerned, Shubman Gill is a better option with Rohit Sharma as the second opener. He is a constant part of the team. He has shown his rhythm in the practice match. The rest of the team management can gauge the good pace of the players in the nets.

The writer is Virat Kohli›s coach and Dronacharya Awardee.

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