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Wales unchanged for Six Nations finale against France

March 15, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Wales will field an unchanged side against France in their final match of the 2017 Six Nations, it was announced Wednesday.

Wales

Interim head coach Rob Howley has retained the same starting line-up that beat Ireland 22-9 at home last week for Saturday’s match in Paris.

If Wales win — and England beat Ireland in Dublin on Saturday to secure a Grand Slam — it will mean that the Welsh are assured of a top-four position in the world rankings ahead of the 2019 World Cup pool draw in May.

Saturday will see Wales bidding for their sixth straight win over France in a match where hooker Ken Owens wins his 50th cap, with experienced Bath forwards Taulupe Faletau and Luke Charteris remaining on the bench.

Although Wales have already been beaten by England and Scotland this season, a win at the Stade de France could see them finish second behind already-crowned champions England if other results fall in their favour.

“I was delighted for the players about Friday’s result and performance, and they deserve the opportunity to build on that in our final RBS 6 Nations encounter,” said Howley after announcing his team.

The former Wales scrum-half, in charge while Wales head coach Warren Gartland is seconded to the British and Irish Lions for the combined side’s tour of New Zealand in June and July, and his team had faced criticism after the successive defeats by England and Scotland.

But Wales responded impressively by scoring three tries against Ireland, including two from powerhouse wing George North, while not conceding any at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium last Friday.

“The experience we showed and the intensity we brought to the match was hugely important, and that will be just as important as we face a good France team at home,” said Howley. “We put pressure on ourselves and turned that pressure into a result.”

He added: “For us, there are areas of the game we want to work on from Ireland, and we have an opportunity to do that on Saturday and finish the campaign with another quality performance.

“The players who took to the field at the Principality Stadium deserve the opportunity to start, and we were pleased with the impact from the bench, so will be looking for the same this weekend.”

Wales have not lost at the Stade de France since a 28-9 defeat in 2011.

They will face a France side who’ve also won two out of their four Six Nations matches so far this season, following victories over Scotland and Italy.

Schmidt desperate for Ireland to ‘stay alive’ against France

February 24, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Ireland coach Joe Schmidt hopes to end France’s title challenge and keep his own side’s dreams of Six Nations glory alive when the sides meet at Dublin’s Lansdowne Road on Saturday.

Schmidt

Both Ireland, bidding for a third Championship in four years, and France have won one and lost one of their opening two matches, with Schmidt accepting defeat on Saturday would effectively end their title challenge.

“We’re desperately keen to stay alive,” said the New Zealander, who guided Ireland to successive Six Nations titles in 2014 and 2015.

“England have taken a flier (the defending champions have won both their opening games and face whipping boys Italy on Sunday).

“Mathematically there is no other way of looking at it. By Saturday evening there will be two teams hanging in there (the winners of Scotland-Wales being the other) and two who will be scrambling for the minor placings.”

Schmidt, who guided the Irish to a historic series of Test wins over the southern hemisphere ‘big three’ of the All Blacks, Australia and South Africa last year, is looking to standout fly-half Johnny Sexton to provide the spark for an Irish win and avenge a controversial 10-9 loss to France last year.

“I think he’s a great orchestrator of play,” said Schmidt.

“I think he navigates us around the pitch really well and I think he sees things very much earlier and that allows other players to get into good positions.

“He brings other players into the game well because his experience is such that his option-taking is often very good and he varies play well for us.”

However, Schmidt has called on Sexton — one of three changes to the starting XV that thrashed Italy 63-10 a fortnight ago — with the increasingly fragile 31-year-old not having played for five weeks because of a calf injury.

Schmidt, though, says Sexton’s ability to slot straight back in again, as he did two years ago in kicking five penalties in an 18-11 win over the French after being out for three months, led to his recall instead of Paddy Jackson, who did little wrong in the first two games.

“You base it on the past and if they have come back and played well then they are more likely to replicate it in the future,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt conceded that with the weather unpredictable Sexton was best suited to adapt.

“If Doris (the storm that battered Britain and Ireland on Thursday) has done her best and blown through then we’ll be able to play our normal game, if not we will adapt,” he said.

His France counterpart Guy Noves — who Schmidt knows well from his time as assistant coach at Clermont when Noves was in charge of Toulouse — made three changes to the team that narrowly beat Scotland 22-16 last time out.

Noves said he had brought in Rabah Slimani instead of Uini Antonio at prop in order for the French to try to dominate the scrum from the off.

“The set play scrum where Slimani excels is one of Ireland’s strong points,” Noves explained.

“We need a super-strong scrum to start the match off on the right note,” added the France boss, who suggested Ireland had “temporarily fallen asleep” in losing 27-22 to Scotland in thei tournament opener.

Schmidt has been impressed by what he has seen of France, only edged out 19-16 by England in the first round, and hopes they don’t click against his side.

“Guy seems to have the right mix and the right players,” said Schmidt. “He is putting the foundations in place and I hope they don’t come to fruition on Saturday.”

Injured Irish trio expected to face France

February 21, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Ireland stars Johnny Sexton, Rob Kearney and Conor Murray are expected to prove their fitness for Saturday’s Six Nations showdown with France by taking part in a full training session on Tuesday.

Ireland

Sexton has been sidelined for Ireland’s first two Six Nations matches against Scotland and Italy due to a calf injury.

Kearney has struggled with a biceps problem and Murray sat out training on Friday with an adductor issue.

But team manager Paul Dean tipped the British and Irish Lions fly-half Sexton to use Tuesday’s training session to show he can face the French in Dublin.

“Everybody looks good to fully train tomorrow,” Dean said on Monday.

“Johnny Sexton will play a part in training today, but will fully train tomorrow. Hopefully when he comes through that, he’ll be fine for the weekend.

“Rob Kearney continues to make progress. He’ll do some contact work today and he’ll fully train tomorrow.

“If you talk to Johnny and Rob they’ll both say that they’re 100 per cent fit and ready to go, so we just need the medics to pass them and they need to prove to us that they are.

“Conor Murray’s workload was managed in Monaghan last week. It was a difficult week for the players last week, but I’m happy to report that the outlook is positive.”

Ireland, who also expect flanker Peter O’Mahony to return after hamstring concerns, narrowly lost their Six Nations opener against Scotland and then thrashed Italy in Rome.

France edge past battling Scotland in Six Nations

February 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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France pulled clear in the final 10 minutes to defeat battling Scotland 22-16 in the Six Nations on Sunday.

France

Scotland outscored France by two tries to one but Camille Lopez kicked 17 points to guide the hosts to victory.

Although wasteful at times, France coach Guy Noves said it was important to win following defeats to England, New Zealand and Australia in their previous three games.

“We’ve just lost three games to big teams. Those matches were close but today what I want to take away is this victory,” said Noves.

For 70 minutes Scotland looked capable of causing a second upset in successive weeks following their 27-22 victory over Ireland at Murrayfield.

But two late Lopez penalties as France turned the screw proved decisive.

“First of all we’re not particularly happy to lose the game,” said Scotland’s New Zealander coach Vern Cotter.

“We’ll have a good look at some of the reasons we didn’t have control from start to finish. There will be an honest review and then we’ll move on from there.”

Scotland weren’t helped by losing four players to injury during the game, including captain and kicker Greig Laidlaw.

Yet still they twice led after tries from Stuart Hogg and Tim Swinson, but a failure to convert either didn’t help.

France put the first points on the board when Josh Strauss was penalised for not rolling away and Lopez kicked a seventh minute penalty.

But a mistake by Scott Spedding gave Scotland a line-out on France’s 22-metre line and the visitors went through 15 phases before Hogg’s dancing feet took him over in the corner on 17 minutes.

Laidlaw’s conversion came back off the woodwork and moments later a second Lopez penalty put France back in front.

Scotland suffered a blow on 25 minutes as Laidlaw hobbled off.

Both sides were showing plenty of ambition but too often poor handling or an ill-advised offload brought a promising move to a shuddering halt.

Scotland had a let off when a relatively simple Lopez penalty came back off the upright.

But France soon rumbled up to the Scotland five-metre line and quick hands sent the ball right where Gael Fikou ducked under two tacklers to dive over in the corner on 31 minutes, Lopez nailing the conversion from wide right.

Just as France looked to be taking control, Scotland came storming back despite the loss of flanker John Barclay to injury as Finn Russell took over kicking duties and landed two penalties to send his team into the break trailing only 13-11.

The second half got off to a bad start for Scotland as Barclay’s replacement John Hardie also went off injured, meaning lock Swinson had to come on and play flanker.

And yet moments later, a brilliant offload from Russell sent Tommy Seymour scampering down the right wing. He gathered his own chip ahead and fed Swinson to go over under the posts.

But remarkably, from right in front of the posts, Russell hit his conversion under the bar.

That let France level up at 16-16 on 47 minutes through another Lopez penalty.

Scotland’s discipline was an issue and they were repeatedly penalised at the scrum.

Scotland saw centre Alex Dunbar go off for a head injury assessment, although he was able to return to the fray, but hooker Fraser Brown was next to take a knock to the head and be forced off.

France turned down two kickable penalties in a row, kicking the first to touch and opting for a scrum second time around but it came to nothing as Remi Lamerat lost control of the ball when trying to ground it one-handed.

It could have proved costly but Huw Jones was penalised for holding on after the tackle and this time Lopez dissected the posts, giving France the lead with eight minutes left.

And with his fifth penalty of the match three minutes from time, Lopez made the game safe.

‘Magnificent’ Hogg helped by better Scotland

February 12, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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When Stuart Hogg’s name appeared on the Scotland teamsheet for Sunday’s Six Nations clash against France, the Glasgow full-back was set to win his 50th cap.

Scotland

What makes that so remarkable is that Hogg is just 24 years old, but such is the stature of this powerful and incisive runner that he is not only a certain starter for Scotland but also widely expected to wear the No.15 shirt for the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand this summer.

“I think it’s synonymous of the modern game that a guy of just 23 or 24 years of age can trot up 50 caps,” said Scotland’s assistant coach Jason O’Halloran.

“He’s been such an important player throughout that period and he’s certainly a talisman for us at the moment.”

Hogg scored two tries in Scotland’s surprise 27-22 win over Ireland last week in their Six Nations opener and was his team’s standout performer.

“He’s got quality players around him. I’d like to think that as dominant as Stuart was last week, we’ve got other threats on the field as well,” added O’Halloran.

“That makes him all the harder to look after when you’ve got Huw Jones inside of him, as well as Tommy Seymour and (Sean) Maitland around him as well, and Finn (Russell) on the inside with Alex (Dunbar).

“So we’ve got threats across the back line. He’s a magnificent guy who has a good way about him. He’s always got a smile on his face, he’s willing to play.”

Hogg is an integral part of a Scottish side that has earned plaudits for an attractive, attacking, running game.

And O’Halloran said this is no longer the Scotland of old that would hope for poor conditions and try to battle their way to a tight victory on the back of forward grunt and landing penalties.

“We want to be in control of our own destiny, we want to win or lose the game by the quality of our own performance, not turning up and relying on the opposition playing poorly to sneak a few penalties or maybe some sort of intercept try or turnover with our defence,” said the former All Black international.

“We want to construct tries with the quality of our attacking game and put them under pressure with our defence, and being good both sides of the ball.

“But we don’t want to win because they play badly.”

France bring in Goujon for Six Nations clash with Scotland

February 10, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Flanker Loann Goujon replaces Damien Chouly in coach Guy Noves’s solitary change to his France team announced on Friday to face Scotland in the Six Nations on Sunday.

Goujon

France made a positive start to their tournament campaign last week but still went down 19-16 to England at Twickenham and Noves has kept faith with almost his entire starting line-up.

It means young Bordeaux-Begles scrum-half Baptise Serin, who only made his France debut in June, retains his place ahead of Maxime Machenaud.

Goujon, 27, will win his 15th cap as he replaces veteran Chouly, 31, who drops to the bench.

It’s Goujon’s first start since he was injured in France’s 52-8 win over Samoa at the beginning of November.

Although losing to last season’s Grand Slam winners a week ago, France posted some impressive statistics during the match, making more yards, more offloads and beating more defenders than England over the 80 minutes.

All that was lacking was points on the board and Noves has retained 21 of his match-day 23, the only other changes seeing forwards Christopher Tolofua and Julien Le Devedec come onto the bench in place of hooker Clement Maynadier and lock Arthur Iturria.

“It’s normal (not to make many changes) if changing everything means that we’re not satisfied with what happened — when you lose a match by three points in England in the last nine minutes,” said Noves.

“For the most part the lads delivered, even though once again we need to develop more character to finish matches in the right way.”

Noves said Goujon would give his side more power.

“We wanted a little more density in the pack, although they’re two very similar players,” said Noves.

“The aim is to be a bit more powerful.”

Noves keeps faith with tighthead Uini Atonio despite the New Zealand-born front-rower being penalised several times against England.

His second half replacement Rabah Slimani made an instant impact and scored France’s only try of the game.

“We wanted to see if Uini has understood what we’ve told him and whether he’ll perform differently. We wanted to offer him an olive branch,” Noves said of the 26-year-old former Samoa youth international.

France’s defensive statistics were also better than England’s with fewer errors and tackles missed.

But for the third time in a matter of three months, they lost a closely-fought encounter against a top side following test defeats to Australia (25-23) and New Zealand (24-19) in November.

“It’s true that against Australia we could have won but didn’t; against New Zealand we had a chace at the end and lost by little; against England we lost at the end: it’s annoying,” said Noves.

They welcome a buoyant Scotland who were in fine form a week ago as they eased past highly-fancied Ireland 27-22 at Murrayfield.

“They had a tough year or two but now their work is starting to bear fruit,” Noves said of the Scots.

“You can see that physically and technically they’re not the same Scotland of a few years ago.”

Two yeas ago, Scotland finished bottom of the table with five defeats from five but they have come on leaps and bounds since then under New Zealander Vern Cotter.

They were a minute away from knocking Australia out of the World Cup quarter-finals in late 2015, finished above France in the Six Nations last year and, having run Australia close again in November, they toppled Ireland last week.

England up there with All Blacks – Warburton

February 8, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Wales star Sam Warburton has compared arch-rivals England to world champions New Zealand ahead of their Six Nations clash in Cardiff on Saturday.

England's Owen Farrell celebrates with team mates after the game

Grand Slam champions England will arrive in the Welsh capital aiming for a 16th successive Test match win against all opponents.

The All Blacks hold the world record of 18 straight international wins by a tier-one nation but another Six Nations clean sweep this season would see England go one better.

“England are deservedly tagged as the best team in the northern hemisphere,” Warburton told the BBC.

“It’s a fair judgment to compare them to the All Blacks right now — that’s how good they are. It is going to take a huge game out of us to get a win and it will be one of the biggest games of the championship for sure.”

Even when they are not one of the world’s leading teams, England, for historical reasons, remain the one their European rivals want to beat above all others.

But they have become an even bigger target under Eddie Jones, with the Australian yet to lose a match as England boss after taking over after a 2015 World Cup where defeat by Wales prevented England getting out of the group stage and played a major role in the sacking of Stuart Lancaster.

“If you’re Wales the biggest game you play in the Six Nations is England,” said back-row forward and former skipper Warburton.

“If you’re Scotland, it’s England. If you’re Ireland, it’s England. Or if you’re France or Italy, it’s England,” added Warburton, whose father was born in England.

“We know as players that’s the one game the fans look forward to most and you sense that in the build-up. It’s a huge occasion for everyone in Wales.”

England, who beat Wales twice in 2016, started the defence of their Six Nations title with an unconvincing 19-16 win against France at Twickenham on Saturday.

By contrast, Wales launched their Six Nations with a 33-7 win away to Italy the following day that included 30 unanswered points in the second half in Rome.

Warburton, back in the ranks this season after experienced lock Alun Wyn Jones was appointed captain by interim coach Rob Howley, could miss out on a starting berth against England if No 8 Taulupe Faletau recovers in time from a knee injury.

Ross Moriarty was at No 8 against Italy in a back-row featuring Warburton and Justin Tipuric.

“The back-row competition is so fierce at the minute, I don’t want to put pressure on him, but Toby (Faletau), when he’s playing well, is one of the best players in the world,” said Warburton.

“If he did come back I’m sure there would be a few selection headaches in the back-row because Ross and Justin went extremely well against Italy.”

England and Wales will name their teams on Thursday.

Britain advances in Davis Cup after Canadian default

February 6, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Britain booked a Davis Cup quarter-final matchup against France in odd fashion Sunday after the decisive final singles match ended when Canada’s Denis Shapovalov hit the umpire with a ball.

Evans

The 17-year-old Israeli-born Canadian was defaulted after hitting a ball into the face of chair umpire Arnaud Gabas, handing Britain’s Kyle Edmund a 6-3, 6-4, 2-1 triumph that gave Britain a 3-2 victory in the first-round tie at Ottawa.

“It was a strange way to finish,” Edmund said. “I’ve never been part of something like that.”

Britain advanced to a quarter-final matchup April 7-9 against France with that winner facing either Spain or Serbia in a September semi-final.

Gabas suffered bruising and swelling around his left eye and was taken to a nearby hospital.

Shapovalov apologized to Gabas in the referee’s office while he was being treated, and was contrite in a press conference.

“I would like to begin with apologizing to that umpire, the referee and to all ITF officials. It was unacceptable behavior from me,” said Shapovalov, who was frustrated at losing a point, took a ball from his pocket and hit it wildly to send it flying into Gabas’s face.

“I feel incredibly ashamed and embarrassed, for letting my team down and my country down. That’s the last time I’m going to do anything like that. I’m going to learn from it.”

Vasek Pospisil had blasted 25 aces in a 7-6 (7/3), 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7/5) victory over Dan Evans after three hours and 23 minutes earlier to draw Canada level at 2-2, setting the stage for the final drama.

Pospisil took to Twitter to defend his young teammate.

“No one is nicer or carries themselves better for a 17 y/o than Shapovalov,” Pospisil tweeted. “Everyone can see that today was an accident. Can happen to anyone.”

British Davis Cup captain Leon Smith was sympathetic as well.

“It’s a shame that it has happened that way and I feel for the young lad because he’s a great talent and he has learned a harsh lesson today,” Smith said.

“I thought Kyle, from what we saw Friday to the way he came out today, he was absolutely fantastic.”

World number one Andy Murray was absent for Britain but injured fourth-ranked Canadian Milos Raonic was also missing.

In the first reverse singles, Pospisil smacked a forehand winner to grab a 6-4 edge in the final tie-breaker. Evans answered with his seventh ace but Pospisil took the final point to keep Canada’s hopes alive.

It was a busy weekend for Pospisil, who teamed with Daniel Nestor in a Saturday doubles loss to Britain’s Dominic Inglot and Jamie Murray.

He had beaten Edmund in three sets on Friday, when Shapovalov fell to Evans in the opening match of the tie.

Six Nations champions England ready for France ‘war’

February 3, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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It was once billed as ‘Le Crunch’ but outspoken England coach Eddie Jones was ready for a rugby ‘war’ against France in the opening match of his Grand Slam champions’ Six Nations title defence at Twickenham on Saturday.

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England, on a 14-match unbeaten run — 13 of those wins since Australian coach Jones was installed after their lacklustre first-round exit at the 2015 World Cup — will be firm favourites.

But Jones insisted ‘Les Bleus’ would prove as formidable opponents as any of the ‘teams’ who’ve troubled England in their long history of rather more serious conflicts with France.

“It’s always a historic game, certainly there is history between France and England,” said Jones.

“We’ve got one staff member who is into history — (defence coach) Paul Gustard.

“There’s been 20 wars between England and France. That’s a lot of rivalry there. There is another one happening on Saturday,” the Australian added.

“We are going to face a side that’s desperate for success. They are under pressure to play with French flair.”

But Jones, coming right up to date, said an upset was possible if England followed the example of an Arsenal football side coached by French manager Arsene Wenger after their hopes of Premier League title glory suffered a setback with a surprise 2-1 midweek defeat by Watford.

“If we do what Arsenal did on Tuesday when it was 2-0 and the team wakes up, if we do that against France, we will be in trouble because they can score some points.

“It’s really important that they’re in the game right from the start. We have to front up, do the business.”

Jones has drafted utility back Elliot Daly in on the left wing while injuries have seen him reshape his pack.

Maro Itoje, best known as a lock, makes his first Test start in the back-row after blindside flanker and former England captain Chris Robshaw was ruled out of the entire Six Nations with a shoulder injury.

“The boy’s got athletic ability,” said Jones of Itoje. He’s a great defender and that’s what we want from 6 –- a great defender. He fits that spot that Robshaw had.”

Turning to Daly, whose last England appearance saw him sent off for a dangerous tackle against Argentina in November, Jones added: “He has a big left-foot kick and he has genuine pace and can also play outside centre.

“The way we want to attack France, that’s going to be important for us.”

With George Kruis, Itoje’s lock partner at both Saracens and England, out with a knee problem, Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury will start in the second row.

England will also be without the injured Vunipola brothers, with prop Mako replaced by Joe Marler, who said drinking vast quantities of milk lay behind his recovery from a fractured leg.

France will be looking to go one better after running both world champions New Zealand and Australia close in November defeats.

Scrum-half Baptiste Serin has been given the chance by France coach Guy Noves to show what he can do from the start against England.

“Serin was very effective off the bench in November after a very good tour of Argentina,” said Noves.

“It seemed wise to see what he could give in a difficult context from the start of the match.”

An admiring Noves was wary of even an injury-hit England.

“Like anyone else, we can only admire the continuity in their results, their mindset,” he said.

“But I hope we will show we can start doing the same, and that we will match up. We know their development system is so good that even with a few injuries, they have enough depth.”

Someone knows the English game well is gifted France back-row Louis Picamoles, now with Premiership side Northampton, where he plays alongside England captain Dylan Hartley.

“It’s helped his career, coming to Northampton,” said Jones of Picamoles, whom he labelled a “lovely player”.

“He would be probably 15 percent fitter than I’ve ever seen him.”

France to stop picking ‘foreign’ players for national rugby team

December 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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France will no longer select non-French players for its national team, French federation president Bernard Laporte said on Tuesday.

France

The news came following a meeting between the French Rugby Federation (FFR) and World Rugby president Bill Beaumont in Paris.

“I told Bill that we’ve taken the political decision to stop playing foreign players in the national team,” said Laporte, who was only elected FFR president on December 3.

The issue of foreign-qualified players is contentious particularly for the Pacific Islands — Fiji, Samoa and Tonga — who often lose talented players that opt to represent some of the bigger, richer nations.

Current France players including New Zealand-born prop Uini Atonio, South African-born full-back Scott Spedding and Fijian wings Noa Nakaitaci and Virimi Vakatawa will remain eligible to represent France but other foreign-born players will not be allowed to follow suit.

“Obviously it’s not retroactive. Those playing can continue playing but it’s a strong signal for French acadamies and our youngsters that we’ll play a maximum number of Frenchmen.”

According to current World Rugby rules, a player can represent another country if he has lived there for three consecutive years and has not yet played for anyone else.

World Rugby is looking at extending that criteria to five years.

During the meeting Laporte reiterated France’s commitment to bidding against Ireland and South Africa to host the 2023 World Cup. Japan will organise the 2019 event.

Cheika proud of Wallabies

November 20, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said his team could look each other in the eye with pride after Australia held off France in a thrilling Test on Saturday.

Cheika

Camille Lopez missed a last-gasp drop goal as the Wallabies claimed a 25-23 win at the Stade de France in Paris.

Australia were missing a number of stars, with the likes of Israel Folau, Michael Hooper and Quade Cooper not involved in the French capital, but the Wallabies – led by stand-in captain David Pocock closed out the victory to remain undefeated on their European tour.

After Saturday’s side were labelled a “B Team” pre-game, Cheika said: “The team selection was made with the knowledge that obviously when a player steps inside a gold jersey, he knows who he has to be and we’ve been working really hard on that this year with a new group of players and that’s all I wanted them to do tonight.

“Whether they were labelled as the ‘Equipe Bis’ or not or the first team, I was just really proud of the effort.

“We made some mistakes as well but I feel like there was a lot of commitment there from our lads.

“That gives them the opportunity to eye-ball each other in the dressing room after the game and say, ‘You know what? I did my job and I can look at my team-mate straight in the eye’ and that is all there is to it.”

Cheika also singled out Pocock for praise, telling reporters: “I think we all know what David brings I don’t want to embarrass him sitting next to me but I think as a leader – different as a No.7 – today he played as a leader and captain.

“And I think that inspires other players around him and it certainly inspires me watching him in the game when you see a leader take it on like that.

“Full credit to him because he was one of the players that was retained in the team, he knew he had a job to do and he took it on with both hands.”

France boss Guy Noves added: “[The most] frustrating [thing] is it took first half to get going, I was really bored in the first half and the match only became beautiful in the second half.

“We were lucky to wear the jersey and be there on the pitch so I told my guys if you do nothing during the first half it’s not worthwhile.

“There is a lot of frustration because I feel we could have won and the first half does not pay tribute to the work that has been going into the preparation.”

Lloyd, Marta lead USA, Brazil into last eight

August 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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United States kept their quest for fourth straight women’s football gold firmly on track when captain Carli Lloyd ensured a 1-0 victory over France to qualify for the quarter-finals.

Lloyd

Brazil are also into the last eight as, inspired by a near 60,000 capacity crowd at the Rio Olympic Stadium and two goals from five-time world player of the year Marta, they thrashed Sweden 5-1.

The United States are now unbeaten in 13 Olympic matches and, a year on from scoring a hat-trick in the World Cup final, Lloyd has once again been the United States’ inspiration in Brazil.

After netting the US opener in a 2-0 win against New Zealand on Wednesday, she slotted home the only goal in Belo Horizonte after Tobin Heath’s initial effort came back off the post.

The US team are assured of their place in the knockout rounds as at least one of the two best third-placed sides, but can secure top spot in Group H with just a point against Colombia on Tuesday.

France had impressed in thrashing Colombia 4-0 in their opening game and had the better of the first 45 minutes.

However, American keeper Hope Solo made a huge save to deny Marie Laure Delie on her 200th international appearance.

The world champions improved after the break and were rewarded when Lloyd was characteristically in the right place at the right time to score her 90th international goal.

New Zealand beat Colombia 1-0 in the other game in the Group to move level with France on three points.

In contrast to their male counterparts, who stumbled 0-0 against South Africa under the pressure to deliver Brazil’s first Olympic football gold, the hosts’ women have been the most impressive side in the tournament.

“Initially the pressure was all about performing well and promoting women’s football,” said Brazil coach Vadao.

“Now we have played so well the pressure changes because people’s expectations rise, so we will face a different pressure now.”

Fresh from brushing off China 3-0 in their opener, Brazil tore Sweden apart to go in 3-0 up at the break.

Beatriz nipped in ahead of Sweden ‘keeper Hadvig Lindahl for the opener, before Cristiane extended her record as all-time top scorer in the Olympics with her 14th goal in her fourth Games.

Marta played against the country where she has played club football for the past four years, just 24 hours after carrying the Olympic flag into the Maracana during the opening ceremony.

However, she looked far from jaded as she converted Brazil’s third from the penalty spot before doubling her tally with a fantastic finish 10 minutes from time.

Beatriz curled home her second six minutes later before Lotta Schelin netted a consolation goal for Sweden.

Tan Ruyin scored with a sensational dipping drive from over 40 yards out as China moved into second in Group E with a 2-0 win over South Africa.

Canada are also through to the knockout stages after sealing their second win in as many games against tournament debutants Zimbabwe 3-1 in Sao Paulo.

Janine Beckie scored twice, whilst veteran striker Christine Sinclair scored her 163rd international goal from the penalty spot.

Two-time world champions Germany came back from 2-0 down against Australia to move into second in Group F.

The Matildas looked set to bounce back from their opening 2-0 defeat to Canada thanks to first-half goals from Samantha Kerr and Caitlin Foord.

However, Sara Daebritz pulled a goal back immediately and Saskia Bartusiak snatched a point two minutes from time.

China lead as Uchimura’s Japan trail in Rio

August 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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China powered ahead as ‘King’ Kohei Uchimura and the Japanese team trailed on an opening day of men’s gymnastics overshadowed by France’s Samir Ait Said’s gruesome double leg fracture.

Uchimura

Led by Zhang Chenglong, the Chinese laid the groundwork for a third consecutive team title with Japan, silver medallists in 2008 and 2012, qualifying fourth best behind the United States and Russia for Monday’s team final.

“Team is always the priority,” said China’s Liu Yang after losing their world title to Japan last year. “Everyone in our team has one common goal: to get the gold medal.”

Olympic all-around champion Uchimura had a bad day with the six-time world champion scoring 91.964 points to trail Ukraine’s Oleg Verniaiev in the individual competition by a point and a half.

The 27-year-old Uchimura slipped on the pommel horse and fell off the horizontal bar, meaning he will not advance to the final on that latter apparatus where he is the reigning world champion.

But he regrouped on the floor to qualify for the final of that event behind Americans Samuel Mikulak and Jacob Dalton.

“It gives me a lot to think about. This will make me stronger,” said Uchimura, who qualified ninth in London 2012 before claiming the title.

“I made a mistake. I don’t usually do that.”

The five-man Japanese team, which also included Ryohei Kato, Yusuke Tanaka, Koji Yamamuro and Kenzo Shirai, had many errors.

“In parallel bars we all made mistakes, but I think it’s going to be okay, we’ll learn from this,” said Uchimura.

Kato qualified for the all-around final in eighth.

Verniaiev, 11th in the 2012 Olympics, gave a solid performance to qualify for six finals including the pommel horse, vault, parallel bars and horizontal bar.

“I didn’t fall on any apparatus and went through everything perfectly,” said the 22-year-old former world champion on parallel bars.

“In the team competition we’re in the top eight and that’s extremely important for us, but this is just qualification and everything starts from zero in the final.”

Russia’s David Belyavskiy qualified in third ahead of China’s Deng Shudi, Britain’s Nile Wilson and Japan’s Ryohei Kato.

China were not perfect with Zhang, the only member of the 2012 gold medal winning team, slipping off the horizontal bar.

The Chinese scored 270.461 with the United States just behind on 270.405 and Russia (269.612), Japan (269.294), Britain, Brazil, Ukraine and Germany completing the line-up for Monday’s eight-team final.

Germany’s Marcel Nguyen, the silver medallist in 2012, qualified in 22nd position with world silver medallist Manrique Larduet of Cuba 15th.

The top 24 gymnasts advance to Wednesday’s all-around final.

The four countries who failed to make the final were Switzerland, South Korea, the Netherlands and France.

Brazil kept home hopes alive with Diego Hypolito in tears after his performance on the floor earned him 15.500, just behind Uchimura, with Arthur Zanetti, the Olympic rings champion in 2012, qualifying fifth on the rotation.

Dutchman Epke Zonderland, the reigning champion on the horizontal bar, advanced to the final, with world champions Shirai (floor), Britain’s Max Whitlock (pommel horse), Greece’s Eleftherios Petrounias (rings), China’s You Hao (parallel bars) and Gwang Ri Se (vault) also in the running on their speciality.

Injury however overshadowed the day with Ait Said, 26, breaking the lower part of his left leg in two places after landing badly on the vault, in images which had spectators and competitors gasping in horror.

It was the second Olympic blow for the French rings specialist who suffered a knee injury at the London Games, and had reached the final on that apparatus in Rio.

Germany’s Andreas Toba picked up a knee ligament injury on the floor but continued on the pommel horse, allowing his team to scrape into the final.

Portugal stun France with late Eder strike in Euro final

July 11, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Portugal found an unlikely hero as Eder’s thunderous finish deep into extra time secured their first European Championship title after they overcame the early loss of Cristiano Ronaldo to snatch a 1-0 victory over hosts France on Sunday.

Football Soccer - Portugal v France - EURO 2016 - Final - Stade de France, Saint-Denis near Paris, France - 10/7/16 Portugal celebrates with the trophy after winning Euro 2016 REUTERS/Darren Staples Livepic

The substitute picked the perfect time to score his first competitive goal for his country, marauding forward before letting fly with a bullet shot from 25 metres in the 109th minute.

It was a magic moment for the 28-year-old who plays for French club Lille and delivered a devastating knockout blow to decide a tight and cagey encounter.

“It was amazing,” the striker told reporters. “We fought with immense strength, we were amazing. I think we deserve this title due to the work we put in, all the players and the staff.”

It was a cruel outcome for Didier Deschamps’ side, who had dominated the match and squandered a number of chances, in front of their devastated home support, who arrived at the Stade de France hoping to celebrate a third European crown.

The trophy was lifted triumphantly by Ronaldo, who broke down in tears at the final whistle after his own game had come to a frustrating end with 24 minutes on the clock when he cried as he was carried off the pitch on a stretcher with a knee injury.

So much of the build-up had focused on Ronaldo and his hopes of crowning a glittering career with the only achievement missing from his CV, a piece of international silverware.

The script had been written for him to produce a performance to match his status as one of the game’s truly great talents, but he had to settle for a back-stage role after Dimitri Payet’s challenge left him in a heap on the floor.

It was not how he would have envisaged his evening panning out, but having been part of the Portugal side that were stunned in the final as hosts by Greece in 2004, he celebrated wildly with his team mates as ticker tape rained down from the rafters.

For France it was a debilitating defeat after they had come into the match as heavy favourites and hoping to lift the spirits of a nation still recovering from last November’s attacks in Paris.

“We missed a chance, maybe not a unique chance, but a great chance to become European champions,” Deschamps said.

“Our disappointment is immense and will take time to digest. We won together, we suffered together and we lost together. It would have been magnificent to offer this trophy to our supporters, here at home.”

For the much of the match, there had looked like being only one winner as France began with early attacking intent, fuelled by the bullish presence and charging runs of Moussa Sissoko in midfield.

His 34th-minute shot was well-parried by Portugal keeper Rui Patricio, but by that point the match had settled into a pattern of France probing and pushing but struggling to break down their more defensively-minded opponents.

Without Ronaldo, Portugal seemed in no hurry to rush the ball forward, happy to see the game descend into a cagey, tactical battle.

They had a scare, however, in the 67th minute when Kingsley Coman’s cross found Antoine Griezmann unmarked six metres from goal, only for the tournament’s top scorer to head a golden opportunity over.

Minutes later, Olivier Giroud, fed by sprightly substitute Coman, forced a diving save from Patricio, who then parried away a pile-driver from Sissoko as France turned the screw.

France’s best chance of the night arrived in stoppage time when substitute Andre-Pierre Gignac turned his marker inside out before scuffing a shot past the keeper and against the post, with the ball bouncing across the face of goal and then out of harm’s way.

While Portugal continued to sit back in extra time, they had the better chances with Eder’s header parried by Hugo Lloris and Raphael Guerreiro striking the crossbar with a free kick before Eder’s moment of magic.

French people needed ‘an escape’ – Lloris

July 9, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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France’s run to the Euro 2016 final on home soil has given the country “an escape” after the horror of last November’s Paris attacks, captain Hugo Lloris said on Saturday.

Lloris France

The rolling attacks on the French capital, claimed by the Islamic State group, left 130 people dead and led to calls for the tournament to be cancelled.

The France team also experienced pre-competition problems, with striker Karim Benzema dropped over a blackmail plot involving team-mate Mathieu Valbuena, but they have managed to reach Sunday’s final against Portugal.

“Of course we’ve had some very difficult times this year, both with those tragic events, but also with events that have gone on off the field,” Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Lloris told a press conference at Stade de France.

“But we’re even prouder to be on the pitch, to feel the entire French population behind us, to feel this happiness which is shared between the players and the French people.

“That gives us strength and is lovely to see. But we still have that final step to take to finish this competition in the best possible fashion.

“The French people really needed to escape via this competition, and sport has this strength: to unite people.

“We are currently experiencing that. We still have one step to take, the hardest one, but one that’s worth it.”

France will tackle Portugal at their national stadium after overcoming Germany 2-0 in the semi-finals courtesy of a brace from tournament top scorer Antoine Griezmann.

As well as diverting attention from the November attacks, France’s vibrant displays have helped to obscure the memory of the squad’s shameful antics at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The players refused to train at their Knysna training base in protest at striker Nicolas Anelka’s expulsion from the squad for insulting coach Raymond Domenech and the team were eliminated in the first round.

There are only five survivors from that campaign in current coach Didier Deschamps’s squad: Lloris, Bacary Sagna, Patrice Evra, Steve Mandanda and Andre-Pierre Gignac.

Reflecting on how the squad’s image has improved since 2010, Manchester City full-back Sagna said: “Knysna is one of the events that marked French football.

“We made a mistake, clearly. We brought French football to its lowest point. We showed a very, very bad image.

“We had to put in a lot of effort and a lot of work to restore our reputation. We’re just getting there six years later.

“We want to give French people something to smile about, to show a completely different image. We can’t change the past, but we can build a better future.”

Griezmann v Ronaldo — duel of the magnificent sevens

July 9, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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With France’s baby-faced poster boy Antoine Griezmann going up against preening Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, the Euro 2016 final will feature a duel between two very different number sevens.

Ronaldo v Griezmann

Griezmann, 25, is the tournament’s top scorer and is bidding to deliver success for the home nation in his first major international final.

Ronaldo wept teenage tears after Portugal’s 1-0 loss to Greece in the Euro 2004 final and at 31, he knows he may not get a better chance of success with his country.

“Euro 2004 was special — I was just 19 and it was my first tournament,” Ronaldo said after scoring a magnificent header in Portugal’s 2-0 semi-final win over Wales.

“Now we are in the final again and we hope we will win it. I hope that we’ll be smiling and that it will be tears of joy in the end.”

Griezmann has already had a tearful tournament exit, having cried on the pitch at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana after France lost to Germany in the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals.

He appeared close to tears again six weeks ago following Atletico Madrid’s Champions League final defeat by Real Madrid, in which he blasted a second-half penalty against the bar.

He atoned, partially, in the penalty shootout, but Ronaldo had the last laugh, tucking away the fifth and final spot-kick to secure his third European title.

It is Griezmann, however, who has captured imaginations at the Euro and he provided another exhibition of his talents with a brace in the 2-0 semi-final win over Germany.

“He’s a great player,” said France coach Didier Deschamps. “In this Euro, he’s been decisive for us. He can score and he can help others score.”

Disappointing in France’s opening 2-1 win over Romania, Griezmann came off the bench to head in a crucial late goal in the 2-0 defeat of Albania.

But having started the tournament on the right flank, it was only after being moved behind Olivier Giroud at half-time of the last 16 clash with the Republic of Ireland that his tournament sprang to life.

He scored twice in the second half, found the net again in the 5-2 last 16 defeat of Iceland and downed Germany almost single-handedly in Marseille on Thursday.

Paul Pogba went into the tournament as the heir apparent to Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane. But L’Equipe newspaper dubbed the team the “Griezmann Generation” following the defeat of Germany.

Griezmann is the first player to score six goals at a Euro since Platini, who netted nine times when France triumphed as hosts of the 1984 tournament.

Ronaldo’s goal against Wales saw him equal Platini’s record of nine goals at Euro finals, but whereas it took the Frenchman one tournament to set his mark, it has taken the Portugal captain four to equal it.

Like Griezmann, Ronaldo made a slow start to the tournament.

He was widely ridiculed for accusing Iceland — population 330,000 — of having a “small mentality” after the 1-1 draw between the teams and then slammed a penalty against the post as Portugal drew 0-0 with Austria.

But he scored twice in the 3-3 draw with Hungary that secured Portugal’s last 16 place and after two games without a goal, he settled the semi-final against Wales with a goal and an assist for Nani.

With his great rival Lionel Messi’s Argentina career up in the air — the Barcelona star announced his international retirement following a defeat on penalties by Chile in the Copa America final — Ronaldo has an extra incentive to win on Sunday.

Like Messi, he has never won a World Cup or continental tournament with his country.

Lead Portugal to a first major title, and a fourth Ballon d’Or — the prize he covets above almost all others — would swim tantalisingly into view.

Ronaldo has the opportunity to leave Messi in the shade

July 8, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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For so much of Cristiano Ronaldo’s majestic career, he has battled with Lionel Messi, often unsuccessfully, to be considered the greatest player in the world.

Ronaldo

If history ultimately judges the finest talents by their achievements on the international stage, where neither player has tasted success, then the Portuguese captain could use Sunday’s Euro 2016 final to land a haymaker blow in one of football’s great rivalries.

Ronaldo has overcome rumblings of discontent at the tournament, with his form and attitude subjected to microscopic analysis, to lead his side into a showpiece finale where they will face hosts France in Paris.

Should he end the occasion holding aloft the trophy, it would not only crown a remarkable career, it would perhaps settle once and for all a debate that has divided fans across the world.

Ronaldo and Messi have been jostling for the World Player of the Year title for years, often with little to separate them in the scoring charts or in their burgeoning trophy cabinets.

They have hoovered up eight Ballon D’Or titles between them (Messi five, Ronaldo three) and been the cause of innumerable arguments among fans and pundits who have picked over their various merits.

Yet neither has led their country to glory in a continental or World Cup tournament.

A rivalry that stretches back a decade and includes two of the world’s biggest clubs in Ronaldo’s Real Madrid and Messi’s Barcelona, could be about to witness a defining moment.

And timing is everything.

When Messi’s Argentina failed to beat Chile in last month’s Copa America final it proved too heavy a blow for the diminutive playmaker, who announced his international retirement in the aftermath.

A multiple trophy winner with Barcelona, the 29-year-old Messi had been part of four final defeats with the national team, three in the Copa America and at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Fast forward a few weeks and Sunday’s final offers Ronaldo an opportunity to stamp his authority decisively on the debate. Victory against France would elevate him into a pantheon of former greats who have tasted international success.

Pele, Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane, Franz Beckenbauer and Michel Platini all claimed international trophies to cement their standing as the best players of their generations.

It is a list that Ronaldo would no doubt like to join and he is coming into form right on cue.

The 31-year-old, who suffered disappointment in the 2004 final when his side were beaten by Greece, began Euro 2016 with his influence on the team under scrutiny.

As Portugal failed to win their first five games inside 90 minutes, Ronaldo was frequently pictured scowling at team mates and throwing up his arms in despair as passes went astray and chances went begging.

He threw a reporter’s microphone into a lake when he was asked a question during a team walk and was criticised for disparaging remarks he made about Iceland after Portugal drew 1-1 with the rank outsiders in their opening match.

Yet for all the theatrics, when the curtain rose on their biggest match of the tournament, he was the undoubted star of the show, scoring once with a magnificent header and setting up another goal in their 2-0 semi-final victory over Wales.

The current Portugal side are far from the most talented in their recent history and Sunday’s opponents France are heavy favourites but a Ronaldo-inspired victory would, for once, leave Messi firmly in his rival’s shadow.

Griezmann double sends hosts France into final

July 8, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Antoine Griezmann’s double fired France into the Euro 2016 final as an emotional smash and grab 2-0 win over a territorially dominant Germany on Thursday ended 58 years of tournament suffering at their hands.

Football Soccer - Germany v France - EURO 2016 - Semi Final - Stade Velodrome, Marseille, France - 7/7/16 France's Paul Pogba and teammates celebrate at the end of the match REUTERS/Darren Staples Livepic

Griezmann drove in a penalty at the end of the first half after a needless handball by Germany captain Bastian Schweinsteiger.

The striker then poked the ball home for the host nation in the 72nd minute following a blunder by goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to set up a meeting with Portugal in Paris on Sunday.

World champions Germany dominated in terms of possession but their lack of a deadly finisher cost them and the razor-sharp Griezmann, whose double took his tournament-leading goal tally to six, was the difference.

“We are extremely happy and it was beautiful to live it,” said Griezmann.

“But there is still one match left. We have to keep our feet on the ground and from tomorrow let’s prepare for this final.”

It was the first time France defeated Germany in a competitive match since the 1958 World Cup, a drought that included defeats in the semi-finals of the 1982 and 1986 World Cups and the quarter-finals two years ago.

Their reward is a place in the final where they will be strong favourites to emulate the teams of 1984 and 1998 who won the European and world titles respectively on home soil.

“I have played in many finals, most of them on the pitch. Now I’m on the bench,” said France coach Didier Deschamps, captain of the victorious 1998 squad.

“We deserve it. We played the best team in the world and we knocked them out. Yes, we suffered, but we never gave up. I always trusted my players and this is their reward.”

Germany will look at the statistics and wonder how they failed to score.

After defender Jerome Boateng’s handball had given Italy a lifeline in the quarter-finals, their captain’s similarly inexplicable high hand swung the game France’s way when they most needed it.

“There weren’t too many things that went wrong, we were the better team,” said Germany coach Joachim Loew.

“In 2012 or 2010 the sides were better than us but today that wasn’t the case,” he added in reference to semi-final defeats by Italy and Spain.

“We tried everything in the second half. We created a lot of pressure and had chances towards the end but that’s football.”

Apart from the opening exchanges when France tore forward on a wave of noise from their home crowd, Germany totally controlled the first half.

They swamped the midfield but had only half-chances for Emre Can, Thomas Mueller and Schweinsteiger to show for it.

Schweinsteiger then gifted France the opener, changing the whole atmosphere when his raised hand touched the ball as he challenged Patrice Evra in the air from a corner.

Few in the stadium saw it but replays validated Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli’s decision and Griezmann, who missed a penalty in Atletico Madrid’s Champions League defeat by Real Madrid six weeks ago, sent Neuer the wrong way with the last kick of the half.

It was a similar pattern after the break with almost all the action taking place in French territory.

However, with Mueller looking out of sorts, there was no focal point to Germany’s attacks and home keeper Hugo Lloris was barely tested.

Instead it was Germany keeper Neuer who was found wanting as he flapped a Paul Pogba cross straight to Griezmann who sent it back past him into the net.

Joshua Kimmich and Benedikt Hoewedes went close as Germany poured forward late on but there was no way back.

The result was the same as when the teams met in a Paris friendly in November but that night will be remembered for the death and destruction caused when Islamist militants struck at the stadium and other locations around the city.

Eight months on, Les Bleus will return to the Stade de France in very different circumstances, carried by a wave of national and international goodwill.

“It was our duty to win matches to give the French joy and reach the end,” said Griezmann. “I hope we will make it a beautiful end.”

France bid to end 58-year run of losing to Germans in big games

July 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Coach Didier Deschamps believes his players are ready to write a new page in the history of French football at Euro 2016 on Thursday when the hosts attempt to beat Germany for the first time for 58 years in a competitive match.

Football Soccer - Euro 2016 - France's Training - Domaine de Montjoye, Clairefontaine, France - 2/7/16 France head coach Didier Deschamps during training REUTERS/John Sibley Livepic

The French go into the semi-final against the world champions in Marseille as underdogs. Even though they have twice won the European championship, they have not beaten their German neighbours outside of friendlies since the 1958 World Cup.

During six decades, French fans have been forced to endure World Cup semi-final losses in 1982 and 1986 and, most recently, a 1-0 quarter-final defeat at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

“Nobody can change history, but we have a new page to write,” Deschamps said. “It’s a blank page today, but they can fill it tomorrow. I think the players believe and the people too, but our opponents remain the best team.”

Deschamps, who captained France to World Cup and European trophies in 1998 and 2000, said his side could not compete with Germany in terms of experience, caps and number of semi-finals or finals. But he said they had enough quality to win.

“I don’t want to play this game thinking of just defending,” he said. “We have offensive strength to score and create chances with players of different profiles and we can put our opponent in danger.”

France did beat Germany 2-0 in a friendly last November on the night that Islamist militants struck in Paris, but captain Hugo Lloris said it would mean nothing tomorrow night.

“We’re very close to the end of the tournament so the bodies are tired and that means the mind will start to take over,” he said. “We have that little spark that has been guiding us since the start.”

Deschamps said he knew how he would play tactically tomorrow, although at this stage, given the injuries and suspensions in the German team, he had no idea how his opponents would line up.

He will also be looking to emulate the success of Michel Platini’s generation in 1984 when the French came from behind to defeat Portugal in a semi-final in Marseille before going on to win the tournament.

Deschamps, a former coach and player for Marseille, said the passionate local crowd could also give his young side the edge.

“We will have the public totally behind us and that will play its role. We’ll need it because we will have difficult times,” he said.

Fantastic France end Iceland’s dream run with crushing win

July 4, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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France swept emphatically into the Euro 2016 semi-finals and brought Iceland’s fairytale run to a crushing halt as Olivier Giroud scored twice in a 5-2 win on Sunday to set up a mouth-watering last-four clash with Germany.

France celebrate scoring a goal at Euro 2016 quarter final

Paul Pogba, Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann were also on target in a one-sided romp at the Stade de France that proved a nightmare end to war-weary Iceland’s improbable Euro dreams.

Having fairly comfortably eased past England into the quarter-finals, Iceland, the smallest nation ever to have qualified for the European Championship, with a population of 330,000, were 4-0 down inside the first half.

They tried to rally after the break with a goal from Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, and added a late consolation through Birkir Bjarnason, but the damage had already been done.

France, who had not been past the quarter-finals since they won the tournament in 2000, eased off and cruised home and will no doubt feel they are warming up nicely ahead of Thursday’s semi-final against world champions Germany in Marseille.

“I am delighted for the players as they deserve this, and for these fans who have been behind us for months,” said France coach Didier Deschamps.

“To be able to offer them something to make them smile and feel happy and have another week in it — I’m delighted about that.”

The French boss will also have been happy to see midfield powerhouse Pogba finally stamp his authority on a match, having struggled in the early games, while striker Giroud silenced some of his critics with a man-of-the-match performance.

For Iceland, a revved-up France team, packed with attacking talent and aggressive running, proved a game too far, but they leave their first major tournament with their heads held high.

“We’re disappointed but still incredibly proud,” said captain Aron Gunnarsson. “It’s been such an amazing experience, it’s been a lot of hard work and the supporters have been fantastic. They’re still singing, it’s unbelievable.”

Coming into the game, Iceland were praised for a rigidly well-organised defence while France had found first-half goals hard to come by, with their previous six coming after the break.

It was a matter of minutes, however, before both of those traits were swept aside, as France set about picking their way through gaping holes in Iceland’s previously solid rearguard.

Having defended so admirably against England, Iceland were 2-0 down inside 20 minutes through two of the oldest and simplest tricks in the football playbook.

The opener came after 12 minutes from a hopeful long ball which found Giroud with acres of space to run through and then drive a low finish beneath keeper Hannes Halldorsson.

The second goal was a simple corner to the far post that the soaring Pogba headed emphatically home.

It seemed as though the contest was already effectively over when Payet turned the screw two minutes before halftime, sweeping home a low left-foot strike from the edge of the area for his third goal of the tournament.

Yet worse was to come for Iceland as Griezmann twisted the knife on the stroke of halftime, latching onto a through ball after Giroud’s dummy to race clear and chip the advancing Halldorsson to become tournament top scorer with four goals.

There was a brief respite for Iceland as they clawed a goal back 11 minutes after the break when Kolbeinn Sigthorsson slid in at the near post to convert Gylfi Sigurdsson’s low cross, but their raised spirits were swiftly doused.

A simple lofted free kick from Payet three minutes later allowed Giroud to dart in front of the keeper and flick his header into the unguarded net.

With six minutes remaining, Bjarnason pulled another goal back for Iceland with a header but the tie, and Iceland’s hopes of extending their dream run, were over.

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