Jordi Alba leapt to the defence of Spain coach Luis Enrique after La Roja suffered their first World Cup qualifying defeat since 1993 at the hands of Sweden on Thursday.

In what was their first game since losing to Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 semi-finals, Spain were in Stockholm hoping to go top of Group B on the road to Qatar 2022.

It was initially going well too, as Carlos Soler opened his account less than four minutes into his international debut as he turned in an Alba delivery.

But the Valencia midfielder made an error almost straight after the restart and Alexander Isak netted from 20 yards, meaning Spain's lead lasted just 63 seconds.

Viktor Claesson got the winner for Sweden in the second half, producing a cleverly disguised finish after inventive play by Dejan Kulusevski, with Spain's late pressure coming to nothing.

In the end, Spain – who had 75 per cent of the ball – finished with an expected goals value of 2.2 to Sweden's 0.6, highlighting the lack of decisiveness shown by La Roja in front of goal compared to their hosts.

Alba does not believe a major re-think is required for Luis Enrique, though he accepts Spain now have to be faultless if they are to usurp Sweden atop Group B given they are now two points adrift having played a game more than Janne Andersson's men.

"As in all matches, when you win or lose, you have to improve," he told Teledeporte. "The ideas of ​​the coach have been very good since he arrived and the players are taking to it perfectly. We have to improve as in all games, but we are doing a good job.

"It's clear we still have a lot to do. We have no margin for error. Today we have lost and there are still difficult games to be won.

"We have done things well, they have had their chances, they have put them in and we must continue to improve and do the job that the coach asks of us.

"We didn't deserve to lose. We had a very good first half, it's just a shame that after our goal they scored their goal in the next play.

"In the second half they waited for their strengths [counterattacks] and they did very well. We have no margin for error, we must win every game; we had that idea from the beginning, but now more than ever."

Luis Enrique echoed his left-back's sentiments and stressed Spain did not play poorly in general, though he rued a lack of success in midfield duels as well as Sweden's success in transition, with the pace and ability of Kulusevski and Isak routinely threatening the defence.

"It was not a bad game, there was ambition, good positioning, we have created many chances but we have lost many duels in midfield," he added.

"And with the transitions they have done us a lot of damage. We have lost many duels and they have generated more transitions than in the last ten games."

Spain suffered their first defeat in 90 minutes since October 2020 as Sweden came from behind to emerge 2-1 victors at the Friends Arena and take control of Group B in World Cup qualifying. 

The two sides drew 0-0 during Euro 2020 but in front of a vibrant home support, Sweden were far more of a threat going forward this time, with star duo Dejan Kulusevski and Alexander Isak playing decisive roles. 

Isak got the swift equaliser after Carlos Soler netted a debut goal early on in a largely enjoyable but undramatic first half. 

The second period was considerably more exhilarating, and it was fine work by Kulusevski that created Viktor Claesson's winner, which leaves Sweden top of the group with nine points, two clear of Spain who have also played a game more. 

Soler's international career was less than four minutes old when he turned in Jordi Alba's pinpoint delivery at the end of a flowing move, but their lead lasted only 63 seconds. 

An error by Soler in the Spain midfield allowed Isak to seize possession and he clinically found the bottom-right corner from 20 yards. 

Spain predictably dominated possession but did not create any other clear-cut chances before the break, while at the other end they needed Unai Simon alert as he blocked Kulusevski's effort from a tight angle in the 36th minute. 

Sweden had a lucky escape just after the restart, Robin Olsen saving from point-blank range when Filip Helander diverted a Cesar Azpilicueta cross towards his own goal. 

They soon made the most of that let-off by going 2-1 up. 

Kulusevski beat Eric Garcia on the left and pulled a wonderful pass back to the centre of the box for Claesson, whose disguised finish found the bottom-left corner. 

Spain piled the pressure on in the final stages, substitute Adama Traore particularly lively on the right, but ultimately Sweden held on for a deserved victory. 

Alexander Isak has signed a contract extension with Real Sociedad that ties him to the LaLiga club until the end of the 2025-26 season.

The Sweden striker has scored 26 league goals in Spain since arriving from Borussia Dortmund, while he also found the net seven times during a successful Copa del Rey run in the 2019-20 campaign that ended the club's 34-year trophy drought.

After helping his country reach the last 16 at Euro 2020, Isak has committed his long-term future to La Real, who reached an agreement with Dortmund over a buy-back clause earlier in the offseason.

According to reports in the Spanish media, the new deal for the 21-year-old – who has been linked with a move to the Premier League – sees his release clause rise to €90million.

"I'm very happy to continue at La Real. It is a great club, I feel loved here and hope to enjoy things with this team for many more years," Isak said.

 

Real Sociedad finished fifth in LaLiga last term, good enough for Europa League qualification.

Isak scored 17 times in the domestic competition and while unable to grab a goal for his country during Euro 2020, his performances helped Sweden top a group that included Spain, Slovakia and Poland.

Their run in the tournament came to a dramatic end at Hampden Park on Tuesday, however, as a last-gasp winner at the end of extra time saw them go down 2-1 to Ukraine.

Is Lionel Messi's future close to being resolved?

Messi is out of contract at Barcelona and the six-time Ballon d'Or winner has been linked with a move away.

But, if reports are to be believed, the superstar is on the verge of extending his Barca contract.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI SET TO RENEW AT CAMP NOU

Lionel Messi will renew his contract with Barcelona until 2023, according to Fabrizio Romano.

Messi is out of contract at Camp Nou and the superstar captain has been linked with Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.

But Messi is poised to re-sign, with an official deal reportedly only a matter of time.

 

ROUND-UP

Manchester United are edging closer to signing long-time transfer target and Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, reports Bild.

- Diario AS claims Real Madrid are set to rival Arsenal for Real Sociedad star Alexander Isak. The Sweden international appeals as a more affordable option compared to Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and PSG forward Kylian Mbappe.

- Inter star Achraf Hakimi is expected to join PSG, says Romano. Personal terms have reportedly been agreed until 2026. He has also been linked with Chelsea.

- Premier League champions City are willing to wait a year to sign a striker if they are unable to prise Harry Kane from Tottenham, according to ESPN. Kane has been linked with City, United, Chelsea, Madrid and Barca amid reports he wants to leave Spurs. With Tottenham unwilling to sell Kane, City are prepared to wait in the transfer market as they also eye Haaland.

- Mundo Deportivo claims Inter want to sign Barca full-back Jordi Alba, with the Serie A holders willing to offer three players – Milan Skriniar, Lautaro Martinez and Marcelo Brozovic.

- Maurizio Sarri's Lazio are close to signing Arsenal midfielder Lucas Torreira, reports Sky Sport Italia.

West Ham have made a bid to sign Fiorentina defender Nikola Milenkovic, says Sky Sport Italia. The Serbia international has previously been linked with Tottenham, United and Milan.

Sweden can win Group E by recording a sixth consecutive victory against Poland, but their opponents are focused heading into a matchday three "final".

The pool leaders have a dominant recent record in meetings with Poland, winning nine of their past 11 games and each of the previous five.

Poland have not beaten Sweden since 1991, although they were victors in the only previous major tournament clash at the 1974 World Cup.

Either way, Poland coach Paulo Sousa insists he is not concerned by past results ahead of Wednesday's game in St Petersburg.

"It is true that, from a statistical point of view, Sweden have a better record against Poland," Sousa said. "But if we look at the past, we won't move forward. We are only focused on what is now.

"Sweden are a perfect team. They press very well, they are good in set-pieces. There is huge diversity in their play."

Sousa added: "For us, it is like a final. We have been working hard since the first day of our training camp to be prepared."

Following a draw with Spain and narrow victory over Slovakia, Sweden are aiming to go an entire group stage without conceding for the first time since 1974.

And they do not intend to take their foot off the gas now.

Captain Sebastian Larsson said: "It's nice to be through to the round of 16 already after just two games, but we want more. Of course we'll go for the group win."

Despite Sweden's strong defensive record, this game should at least deliver goals. The sides' previous 26 meetings have not yielded a single 0-0 draw.
 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Sweden – Alexander Isak

Sousa described Sweden forward Isak as "one of the best players in Europe when it comes to counter-attacks". The striker completed six dribbles against Slovakia, although Sweden have not had a single fast break yet at the tournament. That may change against Poland, who will have to push forward in pursuit of all three points.

Poland – Robert Lewandowski

Having so often failed to make an impact on the international stage, dominant Bayern Munich goalscorer Lewandowski turned up against Spain. A stunning header meant he has been involved in 14 goals in his past 12 starts for his country. Another Lewandowski goal would make him Poland's outright leading Euros scorer on four.
 

KEY OPTA FACTS

– Sweden and Poland's only previous encounter at a major tournament came in the second round of the 1974 World Cup; Poland won 1-0, courtesy of Grzegorz Lato's solitary goal. The victors finished third – their joint-best performance at a major tournament – and Lato won the Golden Boot (seven goals).
– Poland have won just one of their past nine matches across all competitions (D4 L4), beating Andorra 3-0 in March. Indeed, Poland's ongoing five-match winless streak (D3 L2) is their longest since September to November 2018 (six games).
– Of Sweden's goals at the Euros, 88 per cent have been scored in the second half of games (23 of 26), the highest percentage of any side with at least three goals at the tournament.
– Poland have won their final group game in both of their last two major international tournaments (World Cup and Euros), beating Ukraine at Euro 2016 and Japan at the 2018 World Cup. Failing to win this match would be the first time Poland have not won any of their three group games at such a competition since Euro 2012.
– Sweden's Emil Forsberg has scored each of his nation's past two goals at major tournaments, netting winners in 1-0 victories over Switzerland at the 2018 World Cup and against Slovakia at Euro 2020. Forsberg has only scored in consecutive international appearances once previously, netting against France in November 2016 and Belarus in March 2017.

Harry Kane reportedly informed Tottenham of his desire to leave the club in the final week of the 2020-21 season.

The England international has since been linked with Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United.

Tottenham are desperate to retain their talisman, let alone allow him to join a rival English club.

 

TOP STORY – KANE OPEN TO CONTINENTAL SWITCH

Harry Kane is willing to move abroad for his next challenge as Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain circle for his signature, according to 90min.

The report claims Kane is unimpressed with Tottenham's search for a new manager to replace Jose Mourinho and the England international has been linked to Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United.

PSG, who are in the market for a striker having been linked with Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland amid doubts over the future of Real Madrid target Kylian Mbappe, are led by Kane's ex-Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino.

 

ROUND-UP

PSG have renewed their efforts to sign United star French midfielder Paul Pogba, reports to Le Parisien. Juventus and Madrid have also been linked.

United, PSG and Sevilla are keen to sign superstar defender Sergio Ramos after he left Real Madrid, claims 90min.

- Diario AS says Real Sociedad's Swedish forward Alexander Isak is attracting interest from Chelsea, joining Arsenal in the race to sign him.

Liverpool are interested in Sassuolo's Italy international winger Domenico Berardi, claims Gazzetta dello Sport.

- Corriere dello Sport reports Miralem Pjanic could be headed back to Juventus from Barcelona on a two-year loan, part financed by the Catalans. Inter and Chelsea have also been linked.

It was an underwhelming day for England as they could not seal their place in the next round of Euro 2020, though Sweden moved a step closer to at least ensuring they do not go home early.

Nevertheless, Friday was not a day of great entertainment in the European Championship, with no team managing more than one goal among the three matches.

Only one of the three goals on the day was not a penalty, as Ivan Perisic made history when sealing a point for Croatia.

While the matches may not have set pulses racing, there was still plenty to talk about.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform takes a look at some of the best facts from across the day's games.

England 0-0 Scotland: Kane tame as Three Lions rendered toothless in rare draw

England failed to make sure of their qualification for the knockout phase as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Scotland, only the fourth goalless game in 115 official fixtures between the old rivals.

It was the first 0-0 draw between them since 1987, and the only one in 33 clashes at Wembley.

Similarly, England had only ever slumped to one other goalless draw at the new Wembley, that stalemate as far back as October 2010 when Fabio Capello's side were held by Montenegro.

Accentuating England's toothlessness was the fact Harry Kane managed only 19 touches of the ball, the fewest he has ever managed for the Three Lions in a game in which he has featured for more than 45 minutes.

The last time he had fewer touches for Spurs while playing for more than 45 minutes was against Manchester city in April 2018 (17 touches in 90 minutes).

Nevertheless, England can seal qualification with a point on Tuesday against the Czech Republic, and they can at least take solace in that this was their 14th clean sheet from their previous 18 matches, evidence that at least one area of the team is functioning properly.

 

Croatia 1-1 Czech Republic: Schick nets again as Perisic makes history with equaliser

Patrik Schick's bid for the Golden Boot received another boost as he scored a controversial penalty to open the scoring against Croatia, the Bayer Leverkusen striker subsequently becoming the first Czech Republic player to net three or more goals at a major tournament since Milan Baros (five) in Euro 2004.

Schick is also the first player to score each of his team's first three goals of a European Championship tournament since Mario Gomez for Germany in 2012.

But his spot-kick was cancelled out in the second half by Ivan Perisic, who made history in doing so.

The Inter winger became the first Croatian to score at four major international tournaments (2014 and 2018 World Cups, Euro 2016 and Euro 2020).

His powerful strike was his eighth in such tournaments, a figure that only Antoine Griezmann (10), Cristiano Ronaldo (10) and Romelu Lukaku (nine) can better among European players in the past four international events.

He is now just one behind Davor Suker's all-time record of nine goals across World Cups and the European Championship for Croatia.

Could he level the record in Croatia's pivotal final group game against Scotland?

 

Sweden 1-0 Slovakia: Isak a ray of sunshine in turgid encounter

St Petersburg was not treated to a classic as Sweden narrowly beat Slovakia at the Krestovsky Stadium, but Janne Andersson's men gave themselves a massive boost with respect to potentially reaching the knockout phase.

Emil Forsberg's second-half penalty ultimately proved decisive and ended a run of 365 minutes without a Sweden goal in European Championship tournaments, their most recent goal coming in their Euro 2016 opener.

That was their 23rd second-half goal in the history of the Euros, which equates to 88 percent of their total, the highest percentage of any side with at least three goals in the competition.

Once Sweden went ahead there looked to be little danger of a turnaround, as Slovakia – who had previously looked happy to settle for a point – failed to get a single shot on target, making them only the second team to fail in that regard after Turkey against Italy.

While it was by no means an exhilarating watch, Alexander Isak at least did his best to provide some entertainment.

The Real Sociedad forward completed six dribbles over the course of the match, the most by any player in a single Euro 2020 game and a figure unmatched by a Sweden player since 1992.

 

Euro 2020 is just days away, and that means the rumour mill is about to go into overdrive.

International tournaments always represent something of a showcase for clubs seeking reinforcements and this year will be no different, even if the impact of the pandemic means spending may not quite reach levels of old.

There will be several players eager to impress at these finals: some will be long-term targets out to justify the hype, while others will be seeking a new challenge as contracts begin to wind down.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform has compiled a list of some of the candidates vying to be front and centre of this particular shop window...

 

Belgium: Jeremy Doku

One of Belgium's less-known attacking stars, Jeremy Doku was directly involved in 10 goals in the Jupiler League by the time he was 18 years and 115 days old, a record bettered only by Romelu Lukaku.

Previously wanted by Liverpool, the Rennes forward could become a target for Jurgen Klopp – thought to be exploring new attacking options – should he be given the chance to impress by Roberto Martinez.

Croatia: Bruno Petkovic

"Bruno Petkovic has to be at Euro 2020 what [Mario] Mandzukic was in Russia," said Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic last month. No pressure, then.

Still, the Dinamo Zagreb forward impressed in last season's Europa League with four goals in nine starts and could represent a relatively low-cost option in the market.

England: Jadon Sancho

The star performer as Borussia Dortmund won the DFB-Pokal final, Jadon Sancho was the first English player since David Beckham 20 years ago to register at least 10 assists for three seasons in a row in Europe's top-five leagues.

Manchester United continue to be mooted as the winger's most likely destination should he leave Dortmund, but a star turn at the Euros could trigger a bidding war among some of the biggest clubs.

France: Jules Kounde

Getting into the France starting line-up is no easy task these days, but Jules Kounde could well force Didier Deschamps' hand given the qualities he brings to centre-back.

An accomplished stopper, the Sevilla man is also impeccable on the ball: he made 887 forward passes in LaLiga last season, the most of any outfield player. Little wonder that Barcelona, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have all been linked.

Germany: Florian Neuhaus

Given he has been linked with Bayern Munich for months now, Florian Neuhaus must be doing something right.

The 108th Germany debutant under Joachim Low, the Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder could well find himself in high demand in the transfer window should he earn a regular spot at the Euros.

Italy: Manuel Locatelli

The heartbeat of a vibrant Sassuolo side, Manuel Locatelli in January became the first Italian player born after January 1, 1998 to record 10 Serie A assists.

Juventus are considered his likely next destination, but there are reports of interest from the Premier League, which would likely only increase in number should he shine at the Euros.

Netherlands: Memphis Depay

It appears likely Memphis Depay will leave Lyon for Barcelona on a free transfer, but, as long as that deal is not concluded, other clubs may sense the chance to snap up the forward.

Depay just became the first Lyon player to register at least 20 goals and 10 assists in a single Ligue 1 season since at least 2006-07 and looks like one of the Oranje's form players.

Poland: Kacper Kozlowski

At just 17, Kacper Kozlowski has established himself in the Pogon Szczecin first team, something made all-the-more remarkable given he was badly injured in a car crash in January 2020.

Although a name not well known outside Poland, the midfielder has been scouted by Manchester United and interest across the continent could well pick up after this tournament.

 

Portugal: Nuno Mendes

Considered one of Portugal's brightest prospects, Nuno Mendes has already been linked with the Manchester clubs after shining for Sporting CP.

Interest in the 18-year-old is only likely to increase should he perform well at the Euros, especially if he ousts Raphael Guerreiro from the side, and Sporting would surely be prepared to sell for a handsome fee.

 

Russia: Denis Cheryshev

Zero goas in 21 games for Valencia in LaLiga last season underlined a frustrating spell for Denis Cheryshev at club level.

The 30-year-old was Russia's star performer at the World Cup three years ago, though, and the Euros offer a good chance to tempt any possible suitors as he considers his future.

Spain: Pau Torres

Pau Torres was at the heart of Villarreal's Europa League triumph. In fact, he made nine appearances without being dribbled past, a single-season tally only bettered twice in the competition's history.

The centre-back has made it clear he is happy at the club, but strong performances for Spain could tempt suitors including Manchester United to test Villarreal's resolve to keep him.

Sweden: Alexander Isak

Linked with Barcelona during the season, Real Sociedad's Alexander Isak broke Zlatan Ibrahimovic's record for most goals by a Swede in a single LaLiga campaign by scoring 17 in 2020-21.

With Ibrahimovic missing these finals due to injury, 21-year-old Isak has a good opportunity to impress on the international stage.

Switzerland: Denis Zakaria

With his contract expiring next year, Denis Zakaria could be a more affordable midfield signing for any clubs willing to tempt Borussia Monchengladbach into a sale.

The 24-year-old offers great variety to the Switzerland midfield and English sides are expected to be watching him closely at these finals.

Ukraine: Ruslan Malinovskiy

Ruslan Malinovskiy is another Atalanta player to catch the eye under Gian Piero Gasperini. He was directly involved in a goal every 94 minutes in Serie A in 2020-21, the most of any midfielder to play at least 15 times.

Now 28, this could be his best chance to secure a significant transfer should he decide to leave Bergamo, and there have been rumblings of interest from Chelsea.

Wales: Gareth Bale

With 11 goals in 10 Premier League starts in 2020-21, Gareth Bale registered the best minutes-per-goal ratio (84) of any of the competition's top goalscorers.

He is returning to Real Madrid following his loan at Tottenham and Carlo Ancelotti appears keen to keep him, but heroics for Wales could encourage suitors to bid.

After a year's delay, Euro 2020 will finally get under way when Italy take on Turkey in Rome on Friday, June 11.

Some of the world's top talents will be on display in the month-long tournament, including the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe, Robert Lewandowski and Harry Kane.

But away from the elite players, there are a clutch of others looking to overshadow those aforementioned names and leave their own mark on the pan-European competition.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform picks out eight under-the-radar stars – those that would not necessarily be considered as one of the favourites for individual honours before a ball is kicked – ahead of the tournament.

 

Federico Chiesa (Italy and Juventus)

Juventus may have endured one of their worst campaigns in recent memory last time out, but Chiesa can hold his head up high after impressing in his first year at the Allianz Stadium.

He was the man for the big occasions, scoring a couple of goals in January's league victory over Milan and the winner in Juve's Coppa Italia triumph against Atalanta.

The 23-year-old was a regular threat down both flanks ​– only Benevento forward Riccardo Improta (77, 29.87 per cent) had more open-play crosses in Serie A last season with a higher success rate than Chiesa (69, 27.54 per cent).

That ability to both create and score goals, plus his never-say-die spirit – best embodied by his three goals in two legs of the Champions League last-16 knockout defeat to Porto – means he is already a fan favourite in Turin.

"He tries to ignite the fans at home on the couch to let them feel the game like the players in the pitch," former Juve striker Fabrizio Ravanelli told Stats Perform. 

"He always sends a strong message to Juventus fans, the true DNA of Juventus of never giving up like it says in the motto: 'Till the end'."

 

Alexander Isak (Sweden and Real Sociedad)

Whisper it quietly, but Sweden may have a new superstar forward emerging to rival the legendary figure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Isak's 17 strikes in 34 league appearances for Real Sociedad last season saw him become the Swede with the most goals in a single LaLiga campaign, surpassing Ibrahimovic's 16 for Barcelona in 2009-10.

He may be tall and blessed with great technical ability, but Isak is a lot different to Ibrahimovic – ruled out of Euro 2020 with a knee injury – in terms of his playing style.

And with clubs such as Barcelona and Manchester City reportedly keeping a close eye on the 21-year-old, it may well be one day that other youngsters from the Scandinavian country are described as 'the next Isak'.

 

Unai Simon (Spain and Athletic Bilbao)

Luis Enrique has not shied away from putting his faith in youth at the expense of those who have been there and done it, with veteran centre-back Sergio Ramos arguably the most high-profile omission from any squad at Euro 2020.

That is also true between the sticks, where 23-year-old Athletic Bilbao stopper Simon has usurped David de Gea to take control of the number-one spot.

Unlike Manchester United keeper De Gea and Chelsea's Kepa Arrizabalaga, who has not made the cut for Spain, Simon played regularly for his club side in 2020-21.

Indeed, the only Spanish goalkeepers to play more minutes last term in Europe's top five leagues than Simon (3,330) were Alex Remiro and Fernando Pacheco of Real Sociedad and Deportivo Alaves respectively.

Simon saved 63.3 per cent of the shots he faced in LaLiga in 2020-21, compared to 65.22 per cent for De Gea in 26 Premier League games, and the six-cap keeper will need to be at his best if Spain are to banish their demons from the 2018 World Cup.

 

Jamal Musiala (Germany and Bayern Munich)

Musiala switched international allegiance from England to Germany four months ago in the same week he became Bayern's youngest Champions League goalscorer at the age of 17 years and 363 days.

Despite strong competition for places, Musiala featured regularly for the German champions last season with 35 appearances in all competitions, albeit the majority of those outings being as a substitute.

The former Chelsea product made his first two appearances for Germany in March's World Cup qualifiers and only adds to a plethora of options available to Joachim Low in the final third.

Musiala may not be considered a regular just yet, but the stats suggest Low should perhaps consider using the youngster from the beginning of games.

Bayern's win rate increased from 62.5 per cent without Musiala in their side in the Bundesliga last term to 73.1 per cent with him, while their average goals for climbed from 2.5 to 3.0, and their passing accuracy in the final third went from 72.4 to 74.1.

Not so much a lucky omen, but a player who is clearly already good enough to make a telling impact on even the biggest sides.

 

Marcus Thuram (France and Borussia Monchengladbach)

No nation boasts a collection of forwards quite like France, who can call upon Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Wissam Ben Yedder, Thomas Lemar, Kingsley Coman, Olivier Giroud and the returning Karim Benzema.

What chance does Borussia Monchengladbach forward Thuram have, then, of ousting any of those players from the side?

While the 23-year-old may not be used as a regular starter, he will provide an intriguing option for spoiled-for-choice head coach Didier Deschamps to choose from off the bench for group games against Germany, Portugal and Hungary.

Thuram, the son of World Cup winner Lilian, certainly knows how to make the most of his minutes on the field and has the ability to score via a range of different ways.

All eight of his Bundesliga goals last term were scored inside the box, but they were shared between his right foot (three), left foot (two), head (two) and other means (one).

In fact, he was one of just nine forwards to start 20 games or fewer in Europe's top five leagues last season and still score more than once with his right foot.

 

Aleksandr Golovin (Russia and Monaco)

Monaco midfielder Golovin was plagued by injuries and illness in 2020-21 but still played a starring role in Monaco's unlikely Ligue 1 title bid that went down to the final game.

The 25-year-old found the net five times and set up nine more in 21 appearances, three of those goals coming in one game against Nimes in early February.

That made Golovin the first Russian to score a hat-trick in Europe's top five leagues since ex-Fulham striker Pavel Pogrebnyak in 2012.

He is undoubtedly the key creative talent in the Russia squad and, in a group that contains a defensively-strong Denmark and Belgium, plus Finland, it will likely be the Monaco man that holds the key to his side's hopes of progression.

His effectiveness with set-piece deliveries could be particularly vital.

 

 

Yusuf Yazici (Turkey and Lille)

Lille's incredible Ligue 1 triumph was down to a collective effort, but a few players certainly stood out for the shock title winners.

Look no further than breakthrough star Yazici, whose return of a goal every 153.71 minutes was the fourth best of any midfielder with at least five goals in Europe's top five leagues in 2020-21, trailing just Joe Willock, Lars Stindl and Musiala.

The 24-year-old scored seven league goals in total and netted the same amount in the Europa League, where Lille made it to the knockout stages before being eliminated by Ajax.

That includes a couple of three-goal hauls in the group stage as he became the first player to score an away hat-trick against Milan in all competitions since Rivaldo in October 2000 for Barcelona.

With experience of scoring in big matches and winning silverware with rank outsiders, Yazici will now be looking to guide many people's dark horses Turkey deep into Euro 2020.

 

Ryan Gravenberch (Netherlands and Ajax)

A member of the Netherlands' Under-17s European Championship-winning squad in 2018, Gravenberch has gone from strength to strength in the three years since and is now a regular in Ajax's central midfield.

Gravenberch also has two Eredivisie titles and two Dutch Cups to his name to go with that age-grade continental triumph, all before he even turned 19 last month.

The teenage talent, another product of Ajax's fabled academy, made his senior international debut earlier this year and has a chance of starting – or at least playing a prominent part in – the Oranje's quest for a second European Championship crown.

If nothing else, Gravenberch will certainly bring a level of calmness to the Dutch midfield.

He had a pass accuracy rate of 87.21 per cent in the Eredivisie last season – the only midfielders younger in Europe's top five leagues to play 20 or more times with a better return were Pedri (87.66) and Lucas Gourna-Douath (87.29). 

Michael Zorc disagrees with Mino Raiola's assessment that as many as 10 clubs would realistically be in the running to buy Erling Haaland if he wanted to leave Borussia Dortmund.

The Norway international has been prolific since joining the Bundesliga club midway through the 2019-20 season, scoring 43 goals in as many appearances in all competitions.

Haaland's contract is rumoured to include an agreement allowing him to leave for a €75million fee at the end of the 2021-22 campaign.

Raiola, the striker's agent, said this week that a list of potential buyers only just reaches double figures, with four possible destinations in the Premier League.

While Dortmund sporting director Zorc has no problem with Raiola speaking out on Haaland's future, he believes even fewer clubs would appeal to the 20-year-old if he decides to move on.

"It is clear that Erling Haaland can't and won't pick just any club after his time at Dortmund," he told a media conference.

"I can't even pick out 10 possible clubs. So, there is no dissent. It was a normal statement he [Raiola] has to give from time to time. 

"We are happy to have Erling here with us and that he has scored in the last games and proven his value for us. I can only say that we will continue to plan with him and I don't think he is uncomfortable here in Dortmund."

Zorc also acknowledged the impressive form of ex-Dortmund striker Alexander Isak, who has scored 12 goals in 16 LaLiga starts for Real Sociedad this season. 

The Spanish side acquired him in a deal worth a reported €7.5m in 2019, but Dortmund managed to retain a buy-back clause. 

Zorc did not reveal if Dortmund were interested in re-signing Isak, but confirmed the club are keeping a close eye on the Sweden international's progress. 

"We think he made the right step going to Real Sociedad," he added. "In the beginning he impressed as a substitute and scored goals. 

"He has become a regular starter this season and scored a lot of goals in the past weeks. Of course, we are following all that."

Sergio Aguero is being targeted by four European giants, while Bayern Munich are looking at Christian Pulisic.

Aguero, 32, is out of contract with Manchester City at the end of the season and his future is uncertain.

The forward has only played nine games this season, but he is still wanted by several European clubs.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA, JUVENTUS CHASE AGUERO

Barcelona, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Inter are interested in signing Aguero, according to the Mirror.

Aguero has been at City since 2011 and is the club's all-time leading goalscorer.

The Argentina international has struggled with injury and coronavirus this season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Another player who has battled injuries this season is Pulisic. Todofichajes.com reports Bayern Munich have contacted Chelsea about a possible move for the former Borussia Dortmund star.

- Juventus want to keep Alvaro Morata. Goal reports the Serie A side are keen to extend the forward's loan for another season and are prepared to pay Atletico Madrid €10million.

- Barcelona seem set to sign a forward ahead of next season. ESPN reports the LaLiga giants have intensified their interest in Real Sociedad striker Alexander Isak.

- Struggling for game time at Manchester United, Dean Henderson could make a move. Chelsea, Tottenham and West Ham are interested in the goalkeeper, according to the Manchester Evening News.

- Hector Bellerin may leave Arsenal. CBS Sports reports the full-back is eager to test himself away from the Premier League club and Paris Saint-Germain are ready to revive their interest.

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