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Match Preview: Finland draw hope from past ahead of Belgium showdown
21 June 2021, 7:45 PM

Finland face a daunting challenge against the world’s highest-ranked team Belgium to qualify for the Euro 2020 knockouts in their maiden tournament, but coach Markku Kanerva is taking inspiration from his side’s ability to surprise the top nations.

“A draw will probably be enough to qualify,” he said of the final Group B game in St. Petersburg on Monday for Finland, who sit on three points after an opening win against Denmark.

“When I started as head coach in the Finnish team one of the first matches was a friendly against Belgium and we managed a draw,” he added at a news conference on Sunday, recalling a 1-1 result in 2016.

Kanerva called Monday’s game – taking place at the same time as Denmark meet Russia in Copenhagen – the biggest ever for Finland, who sit 53 places below Belgium in the FIFA rankings.

“We still have a chance to win the group – it’s completely in our own hands,” he said.

“The most important part of our task is to focus on the part we can actually control, and that is our own game. We have our colleagues who will keep us informed about the situation between Russia and Denmark, but hopefully we won’t need that information.”

After beating the Danes, the Finns then lost to Russia but they believe other past heroics such as a 2-0 friendly win over France in November will help them against Belgium.

“It is great that we have a chance to face the two best teams in the world. Although it was a friendly, the France game gave us an idea of how we can do well against the best teams,” Kanerva said.

“Now we are facing the number one in the FIFA world ranking, the experience with France gives us the idea that we can beat big teams.”

The Finns are third in Group B behind Belgium and Russia. The top two go through to the knockout stage, along with the four best third-place finishers from the six groups.

Kevin De Bruyne is still struggling with a dead feeling on the left hand side of his face after a double fracture but said it would not hinder his performance at the European Championship.

Belgium’s midfield talisman broke an eye socket and his nose in last month’s Champions League final and made a belated entry into Euro 2020 on Thursday, quickly reminding the world of his prodigious talent as he engineered a comeback for his country as they beat Denmark 2-1 in Copenhagen.

The 29-year-old said he had little sensation on the side of his face and had been told by doctors, who performed minor surgery on his eye socket, it would only disappear after a few months. It is just a bit irritating,” he told a news conference on Saturday.

But I am used to it now. I am also less scared in the heading duels. When I was on the field, I did not think about it anymore.”

De Bruyne suffered the injury in a clash with Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger as his Manchester City finished on the losing side in Porto.
“I was not upset with Rudiger. It was one of those things that happens on the field. He tried to block me, not to break my nose, and so it was unlucky for me.”

De Bruyne left the field in tears, and Belgian fans feared it might impact his performance at the Euros.

But the disappointment did not last long, he said.

“The fact that we had such an incredible season with City softened the blow. We tried everything to win, and it did not work out. That’s just part of the way it works in sport.”

De Bruyne will start a game for the first time since the May 29 final when Belgium meet Finland in their last Group B match in St Petersburg on Monday.

“I knew I would not make the first match against Russia, but might get some time off the bench against Denmark. I think the timing with 45 minutes (against Denmark) and then starting against Finland is ideal to get some rhythm back.

“I felt good being back, the first half hour was good. After that it was more difficult, but that was normal because I was playing my first minutes in three weeks. I hope to be able to hold out against Finland for a longer period of time,” he added.

Match Preview: Denmark dream of win against Russia to save their Euros
21 June 2021, 6:57 PM

Denmark are without a point in a Euro 2020 campaign dominated by Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest, but they hope fans will rouse them for Monday’s last-chance game against Russia.

“It’s like our Euros are starting right now,” coach Kasper Hjulmand said on Sunday ahead of the game at Parken Stadium in Copenhagen where fans have stayed passionately behind the team during narrow defeats to Finland and Belgium.

“We have a knock-out game ahead of us and only if we win we will have the chance to move further in the tournament,” the 49-year-old manager told a news conference.

“We respect Russia, it’s going to be a tough game and we need the support we had last time (against Belgium).”

Danish fans were left stunned and emotional after midfielder Eriksen’s collapse in the opener, with the players looking shell-shocked when play resumed and Finland scored to win 1-0.

An outpouring of support from the stadium propelled the Danes to an early lead and stirring performance against top-ranked Belgium in the next game, but despite scoring an early goal they also lost that game 2-1.

“For us, to sit here with zero points still is also painful, so it is a massive opportunity for us,” said goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

With a normal capacity of just over 38,000, the stadium held 16,000 for the opener and 25,000 against Belgium, and on Monday another 25,000 will be present for Denmark‘s last roll of the dice.

Belgium top Group B on six points with the Danes bottom on zero and needing to beat Russia to have any chance of advancing to the knockout stage. Finland, who like Russia have three points, take on Belgium in St. Petersburg at the same time to decide the outcome of the group.

Hailed as a hero for his quick action and leadership after Eriksen collapsed, Denmark captain Simon Kjaer said the team deserved success.

“We go into the game with the mentality that we have to get there (to the knockout stage), and after everything we’ve been through I think we deserve it,” the central defender said.

“You can be sure that everything will be left out on the pitch tomorrow – with the support and the quality that this team has, I’m confident about the match.”

Russia, who have not reached the knockout stage of a European championship since 2008, need either a win against Denmark to get into the last 16 or a draw if Finland fail to beat Belgium in the other Group B match on Monday.

“We think that this will be a difficult match,” Cherchesov told a news conference, highlighting Denmark‘s explosive play and Yussuf Poulsen’s early goal in the Danes’ 2-1 loss to Belgium, the world’s highest-ranked side.

Russia are preparing for a tough match against a Danish team determined to reach the knockout stages of the European championship, Russian manager Stanislav Cherchesov said on Sunday, a day before their final Group B game in Copenhagen.

Russia, who have not reached the latter stages of the European championship since 2008, need either a win against Denmark to get into the last 16 or a draw if Finland fail to beat Belgium in the other Group B match on Monday.

“We think that this will be a difficult match,” Cherchesov told a news conference, highlighting Denmark’s explosive play and Yussuf Poulsen’s early goal in their 2-1 loss to Belgium, the world’s top-ranked side.

Danish manager Kasper Hjulmand has pledged that Denmark, who will benefit from home advantage, will beat Russia in honour of Christian Eriksen, who collapsed after suffering a heart attack during their opening game against Finland.

To grab the second qualifying spot, Denmark must beat Russia by two or more goals and rely on Belgium, who have reached the last 16, to beat Finland.

AS Monaco midfielder Alexander Golovin, one of the few Russians who plays in a top European league, said Russia would be facing difficult opponents.

“They are a very powerful team and play at a high tempo,” Golovin said. “Even the Belgians had trouble with them the first half… They cannot be underestimated.”

Cherchesov would not disclose whether midfielder Mario Fernandes, who was cleared of a spinal injury after a heavy fall in Russia’s 1-0 win over Finland, would be fit to play.

He also declined to say who would start in goal after turning to 22-year-old Matvei Safonov against Finland after a sub-par performance by Anton Shunin against Belgium.

Cherchesov is not happy that Denmark is not allowing Russian fans into the country due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

“We regret that our fans won’t be able to be at the stadium,” he said. “In one sense it’s unfair. But the situation in the world is complex. The situation here in Denmark doesn’t permit them to come and there is nothing we can do about that.”

Match Preview: Dutch to stay largely unchanged in push to improve
21 June 2021, 4:30 PM

Netherlands coach Frank de Boer will make only two changes to his starting lineup for Monday’s last Euro 2020 group game against North Macedonia in an effort to improve performance even though his side is guaranteed top spot. As the Dutch won their first two and North Macedonia are already out, the game is a dead rubber so there was speculation De Boer may rest regulars and give fringe players a run out.

On the eve of the Group C match at the Johan Cruyff Arena, he confirmed there would be a double change but did not say who, telling a news conference the priority was improvement.

His team let a two-goal lead slip against Ukraine before sneaking victory and also looked lethargic at times in the win over Austria. De Boer confirmed he would stay with the new 5-3-2 tactics, having successfully employed three centre backs and two wing backs to good effect in their opening two encounters.

“We have enough time to rest after the match before our last 16 match (next Sunday) to be at full strength. Otherwise, the rest period will be very long,” he said.

De Boer expressed relief that lead attacker Memphis Depay has settled his future by signing with Barcelona on Saturday.

“We need Memphis to be achieving if we want to go far in this tournament. We have a lot of confidence in him and he in himself. He doesn’t get too flustered and that’s why he’s such a special player for us.”

North Macedonia captain Goran Pandev will draw his international career to a close after their final Euro 2020 Group C match against the Netherlands on Monday, the 37-year old forward said.

The Macedonians, playing at their first major tournament as an independent nation, cannot reach the last 16 after defeats by Austria and Ukraine left them certain of finishing bottom of the group.

Pandev, who has scored 38 goals in 121 appearances for his country since making his debut in 2001 and turns 38 in July, was confident the Balkan nation would enjoy more success after they got off to a good start in 2022 World Cup qualifying.

“This will be my last game for the national team as it’s the right time to call time on my international career,” Pandev told a news conference on Sunday.

“This generation can bring the nation plenty of joy in the future, and I believe they are capable of qualifying for the World Cup. Tomorrow’s match will be special, and I am hoping for a good farewell performance.

“I will probably soon finish my club career too, but as far as the national team goes, this is definitely the end because playing on two fronts at the age of 38 is too much.”

Pandev has spent the last six years of his career at Serie A side Genoa, having won the treble with Inter Milan in 2010 of the Champions League, the Italian league title and the Coppa Italia.

North Macedonia won two of their opening three World Cup qualifiers, including a stunning 2-1 away upset of Germany in March. But they have been unable to replicate that form at the European championship.

They showed glimpses of it and a fighting spirit which won over their raucous fans in two games in Bucharest, and coach Igor Angelovski was upbeat ahead of the clash against 1988 European champions Netherlands in the Johan Cruyff Arena.

“The Dutch are the absolute favourites but we have to reproduce the good things we did against Ukraine and go out there believing we can get a result,” he said.

“The Netherlands are the kind of team which should bring out the best in us. As for Pandev, I can only thank him and say that I am fortunate to have worked with a man and a player like him.”

Euro 2020 players affected by COVID-19
21 June 2021, 3:57 PM

The European Championship was delayed for a year due to COVID-19 but various teams have still been affected by cases:

NETHERLANDS

* Jasper Cillessen – tested positive on May 28

The Netherlands left first choice goalkeeper out of their squad after he tested positive, with coach Frank de Boer not prepared to risk how long he needs to recover.

PORTUGAL

* Joao Cancelo – tested positive on June 12

The Portugal defender was ruled out of Euro 2020 after testing positive and was replaced by Diogo Dalot.

RUSSIA

* Andrei Mostovoy – tested positive on June 11

Russia replaced midfielder Andrei Mostovoy with defender Roman Yevgenyev in their lineup after a coronavirus test came back with “unfavourable results”.

SCOTLAND

* Billy Gilmour – tested positive on June 21

Scotland midfielder Billy Gilmour will miss Tuesday’s Group D match against Croatia after testing positive for COVID-19, the Scottish Football Association said.

SLOVAKIA

* Denis Vavro – tested positive on June 17

Defender Denis Vavro and another staff member tested positive ahead of the team’s Euro 2020 match against Sweden.

SPAIN

* Sergio Busquets – tested positive on June 6

Captain Sergio Busquets tested positive eight days before Spain’s first match at Euro 2020, missing the opener against Sweden. But he returned to the team’s camp on June 18 after returning a negative test.

Defender Diego Llorente also tested positive five days before the opening match, but returned to the squad’s training camp days later after testing negative in another two rounds of tests.

SWEDEN

* Dejan Kulusevski – tested positive on June 8
* Mattias Svanberg – tested positive on June 8

Sweden midfielders Dejan Kulusevski and Mattias Svanberg missed the opening game against Spain.

Kulusevski returned to the Swedish team for the match against Slovakia.

Match Preview: Arnautovic starting against Ukraine as Austria seek first knockout spot
21 June 2021, 2:46 PM

Austria’s Euro 2020 group game against Ukraine on Monday will feel like a final as they bid to reach the knockout stages of a major tournament for the first time in 39 years, captain David Alaba said.

Austria, who have not gone beyond the group stage since the 1982 World Cup, are third in Group C on three points, behind second-placed Ukraine on goal difference.

A draw in their final group game would be enough for Ukraine to finish second behind the Netherlands, who have already qualified, but Austria will advance if they win at Bucharest.

“We are aware that it has a feeling of a final, we want to win this match and write history, this is obvious,” Alaba said.

“It won’t be easy but we can see that we have great team spirit. There are so many players who play at such a top level and have already gained experience.

“We know how strong Ukraine are, but we also know their weaknesses and we want to benefit from this.”

Austria’s main striker Marko Arnautovic will start against Ukraine in their final Group C game on Monday, coach Franco Foda said as his team look for the win that would secure their first knockout spot in a European Championship.

Arnautovic missed their 2-0 loss to Netherlands earlier this week after being banned for a game following his verbal attack on an opponent in their 3-1 opening win over North Macedonia.

“We decided that Marko will play from the start and to announce it today,” Foda told a news conference on Sunday (June 20).

“That means our opponents know that now and can prepare for it but we are happy that he can play again. But we are not dependent only on Marko. He has his ability and quality, but many players have to take on responsibility tomorrow.”

Both Austria and Ukraine are on three points, the Netherlands are already through with two wins, while North Macedonia have yet to open their account after losing both of their games. The top two in each of the six groups proceed to the round of 16 along with the four best third-placed finishers.

Ukraine will not be lulled into complacency by the fact a draw in their final Group C game against Austria guarantees progress to the Euro 2020 knockouts, coach Andriy Shevchenko said on Sunday.

Ukraine are second, behind Netherlands who are already through as group winners, and Shevchenko’s side will advance to the last 16 with a win or draw on Monday.

“Theoretically we can be happy with a draw but we know how difficult this game is,” Shevchenko told a news conference.

“They have great players, a great leader in David Alaba, several players who deserve respect. They play very aggressively and we expect a tough game.”

Center back Denys Popov, who was on the bench for Ukraine‘s defeat by Netherlands in their opening game but left out of the side for their 2-1 win over North Macedonia, will probably miss the Austria game with a calf injury.

Ukraine will not be lulled into complacency by the fact a draw in their final Group C game against Austria guarantees progress to the Euro 2020 knockouts, coach Andriy Shevchenko said on Sunday.

Ukraine are second, behind Netherlands who are already through as group winners, and Shevchenko’s side will advance to the last 16 with a win or draw on Monday.

“Theoretically, we can be happy with a draw but we know how difficult this game is,” Shevchenko told a news conference.

“If you go into the game thinking that a draw is okay then you will never get a certain result. This kind of thinking can be punished a lot. All this talk that the teams can agree to have a draw together should be stopped immediately. It just isn’t right.

“My team understands how important this game is and Austria is the same … I really respect Austria. They have a certain style and they stick to it.

“They have great players, a great leader in David Alaba, several players who deserve respect. They play very aggressively and we expect a tough game.”

Ukraine and Austria both have three points, with Netherlands on six, while North Macedonia have none after losing both their games. The top two in each of the six groups advance to the round of 16 along with the four best third-placed finishers.

Centre back Denys Popov, who was on the bench for Ukraine‘s defeat by Netherlands in their opening game but left out of the side for their 2-1 win over North Macedonia, will probably miss the Austria game with a calf injury.

“Popov has issues with his calf muscle and hasn’t trained today,” Shevchenko said. “I don’t think there is a serious problem but he needs some time to recover.”

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