Jude Bellingham has spoken out on the racist abuse directed at England team-mates Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, calling for social media platforms to do more.

Bellingham was among the substitutes for the Three Lions as they lost on penalties to Italy in Sunday's Euro 2020 final.

Saka, Rashford and Sancho each stepped off the bench in the 1-1 draw and missed spot-kicks in the 3-2 shoot-out defeat. Saka's failed effort, saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma, was decisive.

The trio were subsequently the subject of racist abuse, which the Football Association condemned, and manager Gareth Southgate described as "unforgivable".

Bellingham, the 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder, added his anger on social media alongside an image showing Saka, Rashford and Sancho wearing crowns.

"We win together and we lose together," he said. "So proud to have team-mates with such top character. Takes huge b******s just to volunteer [to take a penalty].

"As for the racism, hurtful but not surprising. Will never get bored of saying that more needs to be done. Educate and control the platforms!"

Bellingham celebrated his 18th birthday while away with the England team, having become their youngest player at a major tournament when he appeared from the bench against Croatia.

That was the first of three substitute appearances, tallying 55 minutes across wins over Croatia, the Czech Republic and Ukraine.

Following defeat in the Wembley showpiece, Bellingham posted: "A devastating end to a journey we can be very proud of.

"Very grateful to have been given the experience to share a pitch and changing room with such a great group of players and people. Thank you for your incredible support over the past few weeks.

"It wasn't to be but our time will come... Always believe!"

Gareth Southgate wants his England squad to heal together following the pain of losing the Euro 2020 final - and insisted abuse aimed towards any of his players is "unforgiveable".

England's hopes of glory at Wembley on Sunday were dashed by Italy in a penalty shoot-out, during which substitutes Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka failed to convert from the spot.

The trio were targets for racist online abuse in the aftermath to the match. The Football Association condemned such behaviour in a strongly worded statement, as well as calling on both the government and social media companies to take action to stop such incidents continuing to occur.

Speaking the morning after his team's heartbreaking defeat, England boss Southgate made clear his squad had been a "beacon of light" during the European Championship, helping unite the nation during their impressive run.

"I'm not totally across everything, but my first thoughts this morning are with the boys that have done so well for us," he said.

"The players have had such a great togetherness and spirit and brought our country together. They should be, and I think they are, incredibly proud of what they have done.

"For some of them to be abused is unforgivable. Some of it has come from abroad, we have been told this, but some of it is from this country.

"It's not what we stand for. We have been a beacon of light to bring people together and the national team stands for everybody. That togetherness has to continue.

"We felt the energy and positivity from the fans and I'm incredibly proud of that."

Southgate added: "We heal together as a team now, we are there for them [the players who missed penalties] and I know that 99 per cent of the public will be as well, because they will appreciate how well they have played."

 

England seized an early lead thanks to Luke Shaw's first international goal after less than two minutes but were pegged back by Leonardo Bonucci's second-half equaliser, forcing extra time.

Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford saved penalties from Andrea Belotti and Jorginho, yet Saka saw his attempt - England's fifth - turned away by Gianluigi Donnarumma, meaning Italy prevailed 3-2 at the end of an dramatic shoot-out.

While his focus will have to quickly switch to securing qualification for next year's World Cup in Qatar, Southgate admitted he is in need of a break.

Asked about reports he could be offered a new contract, Southgate replied: "I don't think now is an appropriate time to be thinking about it.

"We have to qualify for Qatar. I need time to go away and reflect on Euro 2020. I need a rest.

"Its an amazing experience to lead your country in these tournaments, but it takes a toll. I don't want to commit to anything longer than I should. It's not a financial thing.

"I don't want to outstay my welcome. But, as I sit here today, I would be wanting to take the team to Qatar."

Gareth Southgate acknowledged it was a "gamble" to bring on substitutes Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho to take penalties in the Euro 2020 final.

England suffered a 3-2 defeat to Italy in the shootout, after the match finished 1-1, with Rashford striking the post before Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma saved from Sancho and Bukayo Saka.

England have won just 22 per cent (two out of nine) of their major tournament shootouts, the lowest ratio of any European nation to have been involved in three or more.

When asked if Rashford and Sancho, both brought off the bench in extra-time a few minutes before the shootout, might have been "cold", Southgate said the decision was one fraught with danger.

"That is the risk you run but they have been the best in the lead in, and to throw all those attacking players on you have to do it late," he told ITV.

"You have got to have balance to the team. You can't just throw on attacking players earlier, or you lose your shape and don't have a foothold in the game.

"It was a gamble but if we gambled earlier in the game, we maybe lose the game in extra time. I chose the guys to take the kicks."

Southgate revealed England's order for the penalty kicks had already been decided in advance of the Wembley final, and said the decision to let Saka take one was his alone.

He added: "It's my decision to give him that penalty so that is totally my responsibility. Not his. 

"The same with Marcus or Jadon. We work together, worked through them in training, that was the order that we came to.

"I said afterwards that nobody was on their own in that situation [missing a penalty]. 

"We decided to make the changes late in the game and we lose together as a team. The players have been tight throughout and that's how it will stay."

Southgate said he was proud of England's overall display in the tournament although felt they were poor in possession in the final.

"In the end we were not quite able to see the game through in normal time and Italy showed the outstanding team they are with 30 plus games unbeaten," he explained.

"Our players have to be proud of themselves. Every one of them has been exceptional. First time we have to a final and we are very disappointed not go on a step further.

"Italy have some outstanding players but we didn't keep the ball well enough in that initial period in the second half. We changed the shape to get more of a grip. It was a lack of composure in possession which turned the game."

England will now switch their focus to next year's World Cup in Qatar, although Southgate needs time to let the wounds heal from this defeat.

"It's hard to reflect at this moment because the disappointment is enormous for all us," he said.

"The players have done us proud. The way the nation have got behind us. I know tonight has burst the balloon. But I hope everyone remembers what this group has given them.

"We have given everyone some fantastic nights and we wanted to give them one more and came close to having done that. It's hard for me to put that into words at the moment.

"At this moment it is hard to look that far ahead. This was a wonderful opportunity and we need let that sink in before thinking about Qatar."

Marcus Rashford can get the most out of Paul Pogba at Manchester United should he learn to make runs in behind like Kylian Mbappe, according to club legend Wayne Rooney.

Pogba had been one of the standout performers at Euro 2020 prior to France's shock elimination at the hands of Switzerland at the last-16 stage.

The 28-year-old scored one and set up another in Les Bleus' four matches at the tournament, while also creating eight chances for his team-mates.

He completed nine dribbles – a tally bettered by only eight others, some of whom have played a game more – while his 51 passes into the final third is the sixth-most of any player.

Rooney believes a big part of Pogba's impressive performances was down to the movement of striker Mbappe, who ended the competition goalless despite having 14 shots.

And United's all-time leading goalscorer has challenged England forward Rashford to replicate Mbappe's positioning in order to unlock Pogba's best form at club level.

"Give Paul time and space and he has the ability and imagination to really hurt the opposition," Rooney said in his Times column. 

"Mbappe had a poor Euros overall but he did contribute to Paul's success. Teams sat off France because they were worried about Mbappe's pace.

"That helped buy Paul that bit of room to play in, and Mbappe's ability to run in behind allowed Paul to play a type of pass that he is so good at, the brave throughball right down the middle of the pitch.

"At United, if Marcus Rashford can develop his game and be encouraged to start making those Mbappe-style runs in behind, I believe you would see Paul doing more of what he does for his country in a club shirt."

Rashford has featured from the substitutes' bench in four of semi-finalists England's five Euro 2020 games so far, but he has yet to score, assist or even have a shot.

At club level, Rashford scored 21 goals for United in all competitions last season and became the first English player to score eight times for the club in European competition in a single season since Bobby Charlton in 1964-65.

Jadon Sancho is finally set to become a Manchester United player, with Stats Perform understanding a fee has been agreed with Borussia Dortmund.

Sancho, currently on duty with England at Euro 2020, has become a star since making the decision to leave Manchester City and head to the Bundesliga in 2017.

The 21-year-old, who has only made one European Championship appearance so far for Gareth Southgate's team, will reportedly cost United £72.9million (€85m) and has been a long-term target for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Indeed, a prospective move to Old Trafford for Sancho was one of the major talking points ahead of the 2020-21 season, but United have had to bide their time.

It appears they are to finally get their man. Using Opta data, Stats Perform assesses just what Sancho can bring to United, as well as how he stacks up against some of the Red Devils' current attacking options.

TAKING DORTMUND BY STORM

Sancho had to be patient upon his arrival at Dortmund, but by the end of the 2017-18 season he had broken into the first team, scoring once in 12 league appearances.

He went from hot prospect to star turn in a stunning 2018-19 campaign, however, and has made 137 appearances in all competitions for the German side, playing 9,901 minutes and scoring 50 goals from 100 shots on target.

Since Sancho made his Dortmund debut, only Erling Haaland (57) – another rumoured United target – and Marco Reus (51) have scored more goals, while Sancho has also provided 57 assists, easily a team high.

Sancho has crafted 285 chances, 104 more than any of his Dortmund team-mates, with Raphael Guerreiro (181) ranking second, while he has created 65 'Big Chances', those which Opta define as an opportunity from which a player would be expected to score.

Among players in Europe's top five leagues, only Sancho and Lionel Messi have created over 180 chances, scored at least 30 goals and provided more than 40 assists in all competitions since the start of the 2018-19 campaign.

COMPARISONS TO UNITED'S CROP

Sancho's close friend and England team-mate Marcus Rashford all but confirmed the move to Old Trafford on social media on Tuesday, and he will be one of the wide players competing for a place in United's attack.

In 104 Bundesliga appearances, Sancho netted 38 times, averaging a goal every 197 minutes. That betters Rashford's ratio of a strike every 223 minutes in 79 Premier League appearances for United, while Anthony Martial (55 goals from 167 games) and Daniel James (six goals from 48 appearances) also fall short of Sancho's goals-per-minute average.

Of the quartet, James leads the way in terms of shooting accuracy (63.41 per cent), though Sancho's shots-to-goal conversion rate of 33.63 per cent in the league is far better than any of the three United forwards, Martial (24.02) the closest to him.

Though perhaps not as versatile as Rashford and Martial, who can both lead the line as well as play out wide, Sancho has recorded 45 assists, 15 more than Rashford (30), 19 more than Martial (26) and 38 more than James (seven), while his chances created total of 219 tops the comparison table by some distance – Martial ranking second with 177.

The former City youngster's dribble success rate of 52.21 per cent is also clear of his soon-to-be fellow United wingers, while his passing accuracy of 84.18 per cent could just prove the difference as United look to mount a title challenge, with Rashford, Martial and James not quite so consistent when it comes to the final ball.

Another player who could be competing with Sancho for a place in the side is Mason Greenwood, who has played much of his football on the right flank for United.

The teenager scored 12 goals in all competitions last term, four fewer than Sancho.

Sancho, who played fewer minutes, boasted a better shot conversion rate in the campaign – 21.33 per cent from 75 efforts, compared to 12 per cent of 100 attempts – while his 18 assists is over three times more than Greenwood's tally of five.

Despite his struggles cementing a place in the England first team, the numbers suggest Sancho should have little trouble fitting in at Old Trafford.

Manchester United star Marcus Rashford appeared to confirm Jadon Sancho's blockbuster arrival from Borussia Dortmund via social media on Tuesday.

Sancho has long been linked with a move to United and the Premier League giants are reportedly nearing a deal to sign the England international.

After failing to prise Sancho from Dortmund at the start of 2020-21, United are believed to be on the cusp of finally landing the 21-year-old.

Rashford – on England duty with Sancho at Euro 2020 – seemingly confirmed the proposed transfer on Twitter.

After a Twitter user wrote "Announce Sancho, Marcus", Rashford replied: "Yes x".

Sancho provided eight goals and 11 assists in 26 Bundesliga games, and was the division's fifth most successful chance creator, carving out 67 opportunities.

The former Manchester City sensation ended the 2020-21 season with 16 goals across all competitions as Dortmund finished third in the Bundesliga and reached the Champions League quarter-finals.

Sancho also scored twice in Dortmund's 4-1 DFB-Pokal triumph over RB Leipzig, while supplying an assist for Erling Haaland in the final.

Manchester United and England forward Marcus Rashford may undergo shoulder surgery after Euro 2020.

Rashford has been playing through the pain barrier since suffering a muscle tear of his left shoulder against Arsenal last November.

The 23-year-old, who scored 21 goals and provided 15 assists in all competitions for the Red Devils last season, could go under the knife ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.

Rashford said: "It's either an operation or I don't get an operation. 

"I'm not 100 per cent sure if I need it yet, so I'll just take it as it comes. I'll finish strong here [in the European Championship] and I've got a few weeks off to just relax and decide what I'm going to do."

He added: "The doctors have not said yet. The reason I don't know is that when the season was going, and before I came here, I knew there was no chance I was going to be getting the operation, so I did not know how long the operation would put me out for.

"I am fully concentrated on here. When the tournament is finished, then I will ask the question."

Rashford has been limited to three substitute appearances in Euro 2020 so far and knows he has much more to offer ahead of a last-16 showdown with Germany at Wembley next Tuesday.

"Obviously I am not performing at my best and what I know I can perform to," Rashford said.

"Whatever that is down to, it doesn't really matter because it has been going on since early on in the season. I managed to get through the season with United.

"I think I had 36 goal involvements so I can't look back at the year and say 'mmm, I should have taken time off to do this and do that'.

"That's just not the way I look at things. I just want to be available for every game."

Jose Mourinho does not think Manchester United duo Marcus Rashford and Luke Shaw should be in England's starting XI to begin Euro 2020.

The former United boss has been involved in media controversies around both players in the past.

Mourinho feels Chelsea defender Ben Chilwell is a better option than Shaw at left-back for England, who open their campaign against Croatia at Wembley on Sunday in a World Cup semi-final rematch.

That is despite Shaw having a fantastic season for United, which saw him recently named the Players' Player of the Year at the club.

"I wouldn't think twice, I'd go with Chilwell," Mourinho told talkSPORT.

"I know that he plays normally with Chelsea in a five, but he is intelligent, he covers the space and the diagonals inside very well, he's dangerous in attack, he's good in the air and good on set pieces.

"He can defend well the possible long build up from Croatia on the first phase. He is very calm under pressure. I like Chilwell a lot.

"[Shaw] had a good season and clearly an evolution in terms of emotion, professionalism. But Chilwell has something more, especially with the ball, the way he thinks." 

The new Roma boss also feels Rashford's only positional option is to play on the left of attack, where he would prefer to line up with Aston Villa star Jack Grealish.

Mourinho believes Grealish is an "untouchable" selection and compared his play to that of Real Madrid great Luis Figo.

United target Jadon Sancho was not in Mourinho's team, which does include Manchester City star Phil Foden and Harry Kane, who thrived under his management at Tottenham.

Rashford scored against Romania in the 1-0 friendly win last week but Mourinho said: "Harry Kane is untouchable, Jack Grealish is untouchable and the best position for Grealish is coming in from the left.

"For me, Marcus Rashford can only play there. When he plays on the right, he is completely lost.

"He is dynamic but on the right totally broken. He is very good on the left attacking spaces. But Grealish, for me, is tremendous.

"What he creates and his personality – 'give me the ball' – he reminds me a little bit of Luis Figo.

"I don't like making comparisons, especially with a Golden Ball winner, but Grealish reminds me of my Figo.

"Figo, I had him in different periods in my career but I had him in his last season as a player at Inter Milan and even in his last season he was like, 'Give me the ball and I will resolve the problems for you'.

"The way Grealish gets the ball and attacks people, gets fouls, gets penalties, he is very powerful, I like him very much.

"So I would say Grealish on the left, Mason Mount as the number 10 and because I like the wingers to come inside, I would play Phil Foden on the right."

One United player who would be in Mourinho's starting team, though, is goalkeeper Dean Henderson, who he would start over Jordan Pickford.

"I am a Henderson fan," said Mourinho. "When I was at United he was a kid, and I tell this story because it shows his nature.

"He came to my office asking for a loan, he went to Shrewsbury, but this kid said to me then, 'When I come back, I want to be number one'.

"We looked at each other because we had [David] de Gea and this kid never played one game, but he has had incredible development.

"The loans were all very successful. The way United organised them I think United did amazing for him and he did amazing for himself.

"He has this arrogance in him, this trust and belief which I think an England goalkeeper needs."

Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips were Mourinho's two central midfielders.

Mourinho, though, would like to see Jude Bellingham play alongside Rice as the tournament progresses, describing the Borussia Dortmund prospect as "perfect" for such a role.

Kyle Walker, Tyrone Mings and John Stones made up the rest of his back four alongisde Chilwell.

England, who are in Group D, also face Scotland on June 18 and the Czech Republic on June 22.

England beat Romania 1-0 thanks to a Marcus Rashford penalty in their final pre-Euro 2020 warm-up match but the game was once again marred by supporters booing the Three Lions for taking the knee.

Fans jeered England players for showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement at the start of the 1-0 win over Austria earlier in the week, and despite Gareth Southgate clearly explaining on Saturday that his team's gesture was motivated by racial injustice rather than politics, boos were clearly audible once more at the Riverside Stadium.

Potentially deflated by those fans' blatant disregard for the team's feelings, perhaps England's rather subdued start in Middlesbrough had a straightforward explanation, with Southgate's side not posing much of a threat until Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Jadon Sancho hit the crossbar after the half-hour mark.

The visitors looked as much of an attacking threat as England, but good work from Jack Grealish earned a penalty with 22 minutes to go and Rashford – captain for the day – converted with aplomb, with Jordan Henderson unable to follow suit from the spot a little later.

Romania looked much sharper than England initially, with Denis Alibec shooting just wide of the top-right corner and Razvan Marin firing at Sam Johnstone following a flowing move.

Florin Nita in the visitors' net had very little to do before having the bar come to his rescue in the 32nd minute, keeping out a ferocious Calvert-Lewin header, and then again six minutes later as Sancho's bending effort following a clever offload by Grealish had left the goalkeeper looking helpless.

But Romania still posed a threat at the other end, with Deian Sorescu testing Johnstone after being released in behind the suspect Tyrone Mings.

An encouraging aspect was the performance of Rashford, who after a difficult spell at club level, did well in the 62nd minute as he collected Calvert-Lewin's lay-off and burst into the Romania half before shooting wide on the stretch after a lung-busting run.

Rashford was decisive soon after, however, coolly slotting in a penalty after Grealish – who was fouled on five occasions more than anyone else – found himself tripped by Tiberiu Capusa.

Henderson, introduced at half-time for his first outing since February, passed up the chance to make it 2-0 from the spot as Nita saved his kick following a foul on Calvert-Lewin by Vlad Chiriches.

That came hot on the heels of Johnstone producing a wonderful stop to thwart Andrei Ivan, with England ultimately settling for the 1-0 win.

Rio Ferdinand has questioned Gareth Southgate's decision to include Harry Maguire in England's Euro 2020 squad and says Marcus Rashford should not be considered for a starting spot.

Maguire was this week named as part of England's final 26-man squad for the tournament, despite missing Manchester United's final five games of the season – including the Europa League final loss to Villarreal – with ankle ligament damage.

He has yet to take part in training since linking up with his Three Lions team-mates, with Southgate admitting on Tuesday he is unsure if the defender will be ready for the Group D opener against Croatia on June 13.

With fears Maguire may not be fit enough to play any part in the group phase, former United centre-back Ferdinand does not believe Maguire should have been selected at the expense of another defender.

"Harry is important from set-pieces, as he showed at the World Cup. But I have to be honest, I wouldn't take players that are 50 per cent fit," said Ferdinand, who was speaking to Stats Perform on behalf of Heineken, an official UEFA Euro 2020 partner. 

"If I'm worried about a player being able to make 90 minutes, I wouldn't take them. Too much energy goes into talking about it and worrying about it, that it takes the focus off what you are there for as a team."

Who to play alongside John Stones in the heart of defence should Maguire fail to win his fitness battle is not the only big selection call Southgate has to make ahead of Euro 2020 getting under way next week.

The England boss is spoiled for choice in the final third, with Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho, Bukayo Saka, Mason Mount, Phil Foden and Dominic Calvert-Lewin all battling for starting spots alongside captain Harry Kane.

Rashford has scored four goals in his last five appearances for England, but he struggled with a niggling injury issue towards the end of last season and Ferdinand would hold off from using the versatile forward until later in the tournament.

"If you're looking at form, I think Marcus probably doesn't deserve to start," Ferdinand said. "I think of the players around him in that position, Sancho and Foden should be picked in terms of form.

"I don't know much about Gareth's relationship with them players and what they've done in the past for him, and his confidence in certain players. Also, tactically how the game looks, who he is going to play. 

"In terms of form, I think he's scored one in nine or 10 games at the end of the season [for United]. I think he's a bit fatigued and I think he's been carrying a few injuries. I'd like to see him recuperating in this little period of time off, and then come into it fresh."

Of those eight players vying for a starting role in the final third, Aston Villa playmaker Grealish and Borussia Dortmund's Sancho lead the way in terms of big chances created in the league during the 2020-21 campaign with 14 each.

Despite missing 12 matches, Grealish was by far and away the most fouled player in the Premier League last season (110 fouls won), while his 2.68 dribbles completed per 90 minutes was bettered by just six players to have played at least 20 times.

Only Belgium (40) scored more goals than England's 37 in qualifying for Euro 2020 and Ferdinand is particularly excited by the attacking options available to choose from.

"In terms of wide players, we must have some of the biggest talent," he said. "We've got Foden, Sterling, Rashford, Grealish, Sancho, and Mount can play there as well – so six of the most talented, impactful players that are playing at the moment. 

"You look at Sancho, over the last three years has got 30 goal involvements every year, which is astounding for a kid who had been 21 and under. 

"Jack Grealish has been one of the hardest to combat players in the Premier League when he's fit. Phil Foden is deciding games in Champions League knockout stages, for one so young, and Man City are dominating in midfield. 

"It's crazy. You've also got Sterling, with what he's done over the last three years, his trophy haul that he's building at the moment is up there with the best. Those young players, it's mouthwatering."

While a number of positions are up for debate, it is certain that captain Kane – who topped the scoring charts in qualifying – will lead the line for the Three Lions.

Kane won his third Golden Boot after scoring 23 times in 2020-21, becoming the third player after Thierry Henry (four) and Alan Shearer to achieve such a feat.

He also set up 14 goals to become just the second player in the Premier League era to top the charts for both goals and assists (also Andy Cole in 1993-94).

The Tottenham striker's future is a hot topic of debate heading into the tournament after recently admitting he is at a "crossroads" in his career, but Ferdinand does not expect that to have any sort of impact on his performances.

"It happens to the best players," he said. "These players we're talking about with speculation, like Sancho and Kane, they have this every day of the week. This is normal for them, they are just in a tournament, that's the only difference.

"I think Harry has shown he enjoys wearing the armband. He enjoys the responsibility, some players grow with it. This tournament, I'd like to see that."

 

Ferdinand was speaking as part of Heineken's 'Enjoy the Rivalry' campaign, which encourages fans to watch Euro 2020 matches alongside their rivals.

The United legend was pranked by fellow former pro Robbie Savage as part of the initiative, culminating in the ex-England international having his portrait draped in a flag of rivals Wales.

"I was a bit surprised, I've got to be honest," he said. "I was probably being a bit too polite because there were two young ladies in front of me and I didn't want to be... well I saw the Welsh flag and I thought what are these people playing at?

"They don't understand the rivalry that we have with Wales and all of a sudden they drape me in a Welsh flag. It was weird.

"I think 'finally together again to be rivals', is a perfect strapline. I think everyone's waited for this opportunity, to have some sort of rivalry with teams, with people, with individuals."

The year-long delay to Euro 2020 has shifted the narrative for a host of stars, and meant the long wait for a return to the big stage has been extended for others.

Now, though, Europe's elite are set to battle it out as Portugal defend the title they won in France five years ago.

Some players enter the competition in great form and with little baggage, but for others this month-long tournament is a chance to make a big splash, or live up to long-held expectations.

Here, Stats Perform looks at two famous footballing nations, four big-name stars and a coach who bows out of his current job and may have designs on his next assignment.

Gareth Bale: Finished or a new beginning?

The wing wizard can do little wrong in the eyes of Wales and Tottenham supporters, and perhaps now there is a glimmer of hope for his Real Madrid career.

At the end of a season-long loan at Spurs, it seemed likely Bale would head back to Madrid and spend the final year of his contract largely on the sidelines. His future looked to be one of training, playing the odd Copa del Rey game and making fleeting LaLiga appearances, and spending his happiest hours on the region's best golf courses.

Now that Zinedine Zidane has moved on, that could change all of a sudden, and Bale has an immediate chance to make an impression on new Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti when he captains Wales at the Euros.

Bale joined Madrid in 2013, when Ancelotti was embarking on his first spell at the Santiago Bernabeu, but his career in Spain looked to have all but conked out 12 months ago.

The door certainly seems open for the 31-year-old to do just that as, in his presentation news conference at Madrid, Ancelotti said: "Gareth has not played much in the Premier League [in 2020-21], but he scored lots of goals, and was very effective in recent games when he had a chance to play.

"He is coming back, I know him very well, he will be motivated to play better and have a great season, no doubt."

At Spurs, he scored 16 goals across all competitions at an average of one every 104.44 minutes, and his match fitness appeared to be building up nicely when the season ended.

Bale exceeded his expected goals (xG) total of 11.07 quite handsomely, and for the first time since the 2015-16 season he scored more goals than he had big chances.

He had 15 such chances, defined by Opta as situations "where a player should reasonably be expected to score".

Bale is said by some observers to be considering retiring after Euro 2020, but that could be a waste of a still-luminous talent and Ancelotti is sure to be closely watching.

Eden Hazard: Brilliant Belgian has been a Real disappointment

So often sparkling for Belgium and Chelsea in the past, Hazard has left Madrid supporters wondering what has happened to that fizz since he landed in Spain.

He started just seven games in LaLiga in the season just ended, a string of muscle injuries and a spell out with COVID-19 ruining his campaign.

When fit enough to feature, the forward's numbers have been way down on those that he produced – to take a pertinent example – during Belgium's Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

A fair way of assessing his figures is to look at how Hazard contributes for every 90 minutes he is involved with club and country, and the comparison between his displays in Belgium's run to reach this tournament and in 2020-21 at Madrid shows an alarming dip.

His chances created total per 90 minutes falls from 4.6 to 1.0, his number of touches of the ball slides from 95.1 to 73.8, and his dribbles attempted plummet from 7.4 with Belgium to 4.2 in Madrid's season.

His involvements in shot-ending sequences of play fall from 10.8 to 4.9 per 90 minutes, and analysis of goal-ending sequences shows his contribution drops from 1.9 with Belgium to 0.8 per 90 minutes with Madrid.

It bears remembering that Hazard has not had the run of games that would give him full match fitness. If Real Madrid fans want any succour, they can find it in his Belgium statistics and must hope the coming month sees the 30-year-old roll back his form a couple of years.

A fit and firing Hazard would be a huge asset to Ancelotti, who is expecting the former Chelsea star to have an impact next term.

"Hazard is a top player, he has had injury problems, and not shown his top potential yet here," Ancelotti said. "I believe he can do that next year, he wants to, is motivated."

 

Karim Benzema: Have France really missed him?

Nobody doubts Benzema's ability or his current form. Firing 23 goals for Real Madrid in LaLiga showed he is coming into Euro 2020 in great shape.

The thing is: few expected him to play any part in this tournament.

Off-field matters and an impending court case have seen Benzema frozen out by France, the 33-year-old sidelined from international duty since 2015 following allegations he had a part in a plot to blackmail former Les Bleus player Mathieu Valbuena.

Benzema strenuously denies any wrongdoing and for the duration of Euro 2020 he will aim to show what France have been missing in his absence. They managed to win the 2018 World Cup without him, and reach the final of Euro 2016, yet coach Didier Deschamps has decided his team need Benzema's presence for the coming month.

It could be a masterstroke or could go disastrously wrong, with France a national team who have combusted before during a big tournament.

Benzema last year made the snippy remark that Olivier Giroud was a go-kart and he, by contrast, was a Formula One car, but now they are rivals for selection.

Squad harmony is vital at any major championship, and Benzema's presence brings that little extra frisson. This gamble could go either way. Watching him and France will be fascinating.

Marcus Rashford: Making his pitch for a better England

Manchester United striker Rashford has been a pandemic social justice warrior, emerging as an inspirational figure as he battled for school children to avoid food poverty.

There is so much to admire about the 23-year-old Mancunian, who has also faced – and faced down – appalling racism on social media.

It would take a cold, cruel heart to begrudge Rashford a major moment on the pitch now, and that could come with England over the coming weeks.

On the international scene since just before Euro 2016, Rashford is now fixtures-and-fittings within the Three Lions set-up, but he has still yet to score at a World Cup or European Championship.

Before June's pre-Euros friendlies he had 40 caps and 11 goals and will want to improve his so-so goals-to-games ratio, which is partly explained by the fact only 20 of those caps came as a starter.

Golden Boot winner Harry Kane carried so much of the scoring burden for England at the last World Cup, and sometimes it takes two. Rashford scored three times in Euro 2020 qualifying and is coming off a 21-goal campaign with United, scoring on average once every 197.76 minutes.

The man who is effecting positive change in the way many live their lives, influencing politicians and shaping a better future for millions, could now do his country a massive favour on the football field.

 

Scotland: They're back, thanks to Mourinho's former right-hand man

Few in the Scotland team are long enough in the teeth to remember the last time the Tartan Army descended on a major tournament.

It was 1998, with the Scots giving Brazil a major test in the opening game at the Stade de France. A draw followed against Norway followed the 2-1 loss to the Selecao, before a dismal defeat to Morocco meant the campaign ended in crushing disappointment.

Hopes have flickered and foundered in the decades since, but Steve Clarke, once an assistant boss to Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, has led his team back to the big time.

With the likes of Andy Robertson, Scott McTominay and Che Adams, they possess Premier League quality, and two games Hampden promise to be nourishing for the soul.

Scotland is an expectant nation. That tends to end in intense disappointment at major tournaments, but optimism abounds as the games approach, the June 18 clash with England at Wembley ringed in the diary.

Italy: Blue skies again for Azzurri

It felt absurd that Italy should be absent from the 2018 World Cup, but they failed the meritocracy test of qualification when losing a play-off to Sweden.

That meant they were absent from football's great global gathering for the first time since 1958, and coach Gian Piero Ventura was swiftly given the heave-ho.

Enter Roberto Mancini, the former Inter and Manchester City boss who has led a scorching revival of the Azzurri, a team who won all 10 of their qualifiers and headed into June on a 26-game unbeaten run.

Wales, Turkey and Switzerland are the group-stage opposition for Italy, and the Turkey game in Istanbul gets the tournament underway.

They are a team perhaps without a superstar, but as Paolo Rossi and Toto Schillaci would attest, iconic Italian figures can emerge on the big stage.

Joachim Low: Hit for six, Germany go back to the future

After 15 years, Low will step down as Germany head coach following these finals. Many in Germany think he should have stepped aside already, but Low has powerful support within the DFB, the national federation.

A 6-0 defeat to Spain in the Nations League last November felt like an appalling nadir, with Germany outshot 23-2 in Seville and having just 30 per cent of possession.

Something had to change and it has, with Low summoning Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels out of the international exile he harshly imposed on the experienced pair over two years ago.

Low felt he could do without their talents but it proved a major misstep, and for Germany's sake they are back. What Low does next remains to be seen, but a strong Euro 2020 campaign with Germany would bolster his chances of landing any elite club job.

The 61-year-old was a World Cup winner seven years ago, but the most immediately telling part of his legacy will be written during this European summer.

Marcus Rashford and Manchester United have condemned social media users who allegedly racially abused the England star after Wednesday's Europa League final defeat to Villarreal.

United lost 11-10 to Villarreal on penalties following a marathon shoot-out after the sides could not be split at the conclusion of extra time, with the score 1-1 in Gdansk.

Rashford received online racial abuse in January after United's 0-0 Premier League draw against Arsenal and said he was subject to similar comments again, prompting the forward to call them out.

The England international said he had seen "at least 70 racial slurs" on his social media account following the defeat.

"At least 70 racial slurs on my social accounts counted so far," Rashford wrote on Twitter. "For those working to make me feel any worse than I already do, good luck trying."

United swiftly backed Rashford, condemning the racial abuse on social media.

"Following the #UEL final, our players were subjected to disgraceful racist abuse," the official United account tweeted. "If you see any form of abuse or discrimination, act and report it."

After the racial abuse in January, Rashford described the slurs as society at its worst.

"Humanity and social media at its worst. Yes I'm a black man and I live every day proud that I am," Rashford wrote on Twitter at the time.

"No one, or no one comment, is going to make me feel any different. So sorry if you were looking for a strong reaction, you're just simply not going to get it here.

"I'm not sharing screenshots. It would be irresponsible to do so and as you can imagine there's nothing original in them.

"I have beautiful children of all colours following me and they don't need to read it. Beautiful colours that should only be celebrated."

Manchester United star Marcus Rashford vented his frustration after the shock Europa League final loss to Villarreal, insisting finishing second counts for nothing, though he is confident the Red Devils are on the right path under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

United were looking to win their first trophy with Solskjaer at the helm, however, the Premier League giants were upstaged by Unai Emery's Villarreal following a marathon 11-10 penalty shoot-out on Wednesday.

Penalties were needed after the match ended 1-1 at the conclusion of extra time in Gdansk, where Edinson Cavani's 55th-minute goal cancelled out Gerard Moreno's first-half opener for Villarreal.

United goalkeeper David de Gea missed the only spot-kick as Solskjaer's men – who have not won silverware since 2016-17 – fell short following their second-placed finish in the Premier League this season.

"It's disappointing. The feeling is difficult to explain," Rashford told BT Sport. "We came here to win. We've been working so hard all season and this was the opportunity to win a trophy.

"Maybe not now, but we need to look back at the game and see where we can improve.

"The team will not give up, the manager will not give up. We'll come next season with a bigger desire. People say a lot about Manchester United, but for me the hunger, desire, talent and ability – we have everything to compete at the highest level.

"We just have to show it to the world and to ourselves, why we belong in places like this."

United have lost six of their last seven penalty shoot-outs in all competitions, only winning against Rochdale in the EFL Cup in September 2019 during that time.

When facing an English side in a European competition final (including Super Cups), Spanish sides have taken home the trophy in the last 10 such finals, with United accounting for four of those defeats (2009 and 2011 Champions League, 2017 Super Cup and 2021 Europa League).

"Second doesn't count for nothing. I don't want to hear, 'oh they were so close'. It doesn't mean anything. We have to make sure we don't lose," added Rashford.

"To win big trophies you have to show sacrifice. I can show you six, seven players who've been carrying injuries since September. We have to go away now and clear our heads.

"When Ole came in there was a process. We believe in the process and this isn't the end of the process. Just because we've lost today, I promise the fans that we won't give up.

"We have to do our best on the pitch. We're close, I promise we're close, but close isn't good enough."

Manchester United star Marcus Rashford admitted former manager Jose Mourinho's style of play prevented him from playing his best football.

Mourinho spent two and a half years in charge of United, where he worked with Rashford before being sacked by the Premier League giants in 2018.

Rashford scored five league goals during Mourinho's first season in 2016-17 and followed that up with another seven in 2017-18 as the Portuguese often preferred either Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Romelu Lukaku at the time.

The 23-year-old Rashford, who won the Europa League, EFL Cup and Community Shield during Mourinho's tenure, finished with just 15 Premier League goals under the former Chelsea and Real Madrid boss prior to his sacking midway through the 2018-19 season.

England international Rashford has since flourished under Mourinho's replacement Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as he reflected on the Portuguese's tenure in Manchester.

"I think that's when we play our best football [when we can be flexible]," Rashford told BT Sport when asked if Mourinho allowed the players to express themselves in attack.

"Under Jose I would say everything was a bit [points] 'you play there, you play there, you play there'.

"And yeah, you can do a job, but it was difficult for me to play my best football."

Having scored a career-best 17 Premier League goals in 2019-20, Rashford has 10 goals this season and 20 across all competitions.

Rashford has broken the 20-goal mark for United in back-to-back seasons under Solskjaer.

His form has helped United to second in the Premier League and a Europa League final berth against Villarreal.

Rashford, meanwhile, has scored more Premier League goals against Leicester City than he has versus any other side in the competition (five) as the Red Devils prepare to host Brendan Rodgers' team on Tuesday.

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