South Africa are now unbeaten for five consecutive Rugby Championship matches for the first time since 2009 following Saturday's 29-10 defeat of Argentina.

The Springboks made 11 changes to the starting line-up from last week's 32-12 win and it heralded a more one-sided contest at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

A first half dictated by the boot of Handre Pollard and too many cheap Pumas penalties allowed South Africa a more carefree second 40 minutes, with Makazole Mapimpi and Malcolm Marx scoring their two tries in a straightforward victory.

Pollard's penalty opened the scoring after some good early Pumas possession, before Trevor Nyakane was forced off with injury inside a quarter of an hour.

Argentina gave up eight penalties inside 25 minutes, with Pollard stretching the lead to 9-0 before Domingo Miotti kicked his side onto the scoresheet.

Pollard made it four from four as the Springboks continued to draw ill-discipline from their opponents. Referee Karl Dickson had soon had enough, sending Rodrigo Buni to the sin bin for offside, with Pollard again making no mistake with his fifth penalty before half-time.

Miotti missed his mark either side of the interval before South Africa got the first try of the contest, Mapimpi racing in down the left after a good Willie Le Roux pass at the end of a quick move.

The power of the Springbok pack was simply too much and Marx went over after another maul, Pollard adding the extras to keep up his spotless record.

With South Africa chasing a bonus point and Argentina desperate to reduce the deficit, the contest went beyond 84 minutes before Pablo Matera battled his way over the line and Nicolas Sanchez converted.

De Jager dominates on 50th cap

Lood De Jager marked his half-century for the Boks with another imperious performance as the pack once again proved too strong.

The Sale Sharks lock made seven carries and won all 14 of his tackles, having not missed any of his 16 attempts a week ago.

Pumas pay penalty

Argentina simply made life too easy for South Africa through their own lack of discipline, giving up 21 penalties to the Boks' 11.

It proved the undoing of a decent defensive effort that saw Tomas Lavanini and Julian Montoya reach double figures for tackles.

Lionel Messi has been given the blessing of Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino to link up with the Argentina national side for September's World Cup qualifiers.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner has yet to play for new club PSG since completing a shock free transfer from Barcelona on August 10, having yet to regain full fitness since winning the Copa America.

However, Messi has taken part in a full week's training and Pochettino confirmed after Friday's 4-2 win against Brest that his compatriot is in contention to make his debut in next week's Ligue 1 clash against Reims.

That is PSG's final fixture before the first international break of the season, and Pochettino has no worries about the superstar forward travelling to Argentina if selected for duty.

"I have not yet spoken with the national team selectors," Pochettino told ESPN Argentina. 

"But they know that I am pro-selection and that we are to help not only Argentina, but all those nations which involve our players."

Neymar, who has also yet to play for PSG since reaching the Copa America final, was this week named in Brazil's squad for their upcoming fixtures.

Messi's most recent match of any sort was Argentina's Copa America final victory over Brazil on July 10.

The 34-year-old played a key role in his country's first major title in 28 years with four goals and five assists to win the Golden Boot.

Argentina have won three and drawn three of their opening six Qatar 2022 qualifiers and face Venezuela, Brazil and Bolivia in next month's fixtures.

There will be two very different-looking sides when South Africa face Argentina for the second time in this year's Rugby Championship on Saturday.

The Springboks triumphed 32-12 at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium last week despite making 10 changes to the side that secured a series win over the British and Irish Lions.

Coach Jacques Nienaber has again elected to mix up the line-up, with six alterations at the back and five among the forwards. Indeed, there are 17 changes to the matchday squad in total, with Lood de Jager, Siya Kolisi, Jasper Wiese and Cobus Reinach the only men to retain their places in the starting XV.

It will be a special occasion for lock De Jager, who will earn his 50th cap for South Africa.

"Lood is a stalwart, and his work ethic is admirable, so we are excited to see him achieve this big feat," said Nienaber this week.

"It takes special character to feature and perform consistently at international level and to play 50 Tests for the Springboks, and Lood is certainly deserving of this accolade."

Argentina too have rung the changes following last week's defeat, their first of 2021.

Santiago Chocobares and Jeronimo de la Fuente keep their places in midfield, but the whole backline has changed, with wing Ignacio Mendy set to win his first cap.

The front row remains the same, but Guido Petti moves from lock to flanker to replace Facundo Isa, who is not in the squad. Marcos Kremer has dropped to the bench, with Tomas Lavanini and Matias Alemanno brought in.

Lucio Cinti is among the replacements, having helped Argentina to a rugby sevens bronze medal at the Olympics this year, alongside Mendy.

Saturday's contest represents the sole Rugby Championship interest for this week, with New Zealand's clash with Australia having been called off after the All Blacks withdrew from the contest in Perth due to COVID-19 concerns.

SOUTH AFRICA V ARGENTINA

Form

South Africa have won 87 per cent of their Test matches against Argentina, their best record against a single country they have faced at least 10 times, aside from Italy (93 per cent). They have lost only once in their past 30 Tests in Port Elizabeth and have won 15 of their most recent 16.

The Springboks are bidding to go five games without defeat in the Rugby Championship for the first time since 2009.

Argentina, who have not lost consecutive Test matches since September 2019, have only won once in their most recent 10 Rugby Championship games – that was a 25-15 defeat of New Zealand last November.

 

Ones to watch

De Jager, who will become the fourth Springbok this season to reach 50 caps, won the joint-most lineouts (including steals) of any player in round one (six, level with Sam Whitelock). That is double the tally of any Argentina player.

"I've been fortunate enough to be part of real highs but also real lows of SA rugby," he said ahead of the match. "I've had more injuries than most guys, but it's part of my journey and I have to overcome it.

"Playing my 50th Test is a true privilege."

Argentina will need to disrupt their hosts as best they can and captain Julian Montoya could be crucial: he won all 13 of his tackles last week, the most of any player without missing a single attempt during the firsts round of matches.

SA Rugby has offered to host the remainder of the 2021 Rugby Championship after coronavirus cases in New Zealand saw three All Blacks Tests called off.

With travel and quarantine restrictions tightened in New Zealand, it was announced the national team's matches against the Springboks in Auckland and Dunedin had been cancelled.

The All Blacks also will not travel to Perth for their third Bledisloe Cup clash against Australia – a decision their SANZAAR rivals said they only learned of through the media.

These developments have left Rugby Championship plans in tatters after just a single round of matches.

The tournament was replaced by the Tri-Nations in 2020 when South Africa withdrew. This time, SA Rugby is able to provide a potential solution, confirming in a statement its offer to SANZAAR.

"We have advised SANZAAR that we are ready and able to host the remainder of the competition in South Africa, pending our government's approval," said CEO Jurie Roux.

"But we are now well-versed in turning on rugby Tests within the prevailing COVID restrictions and have the venues and accommodation necessary. We just need the go-ahead."

The Springboks are still set to face Argentina, as scheduled, in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, although the two teams will not then fly out to Australia as they await an announcement on the rescheduling of the tournament.

South Africa has already this year hosted a British and Irish Lions tour, which the Springboks won 2-1.

Jaden Hendrikse scored a late debut try as a much-changed South Africa side started their Rugby Championship campaign with a 32-12 win over Argentina.

Jacques Nienaber made 10 alterations to his starting line-up following a series-clinching win over the British and Irish Lions last weekend, but the Springboks were too strong for the Pumas.

Cobus Reinach raced away for a sublime breakaway try and Aphelele Fassi finished clinically in the first half for the world champions at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday.

Elton Jantjies scored 17 points with the boot to keep South Africa in command and Hendrikse came off the bench to go over in the closing stages.

Argentina could only muster four Nicolas Sanchez penalties as the Springboks made it 10 wins in their past 11 Tests in their first Rugby Championship match since winning the 2019 tournament.

Reinach capitalised on a loose pass to dart away from inside his own half and score a superb try that was brilliantly converted by Jantjies, who had opened the scoring with a penalty.

Sanchez got the Pumas on the board from the tee, but wing Fassi showed great hands to keep a clever kick from Jantjies in and crossed in the left corner following a juggling act.

South Africa were bossing the forward battle and went in at the break with a 21-9 lead after two penalties apiece from the livewire Jantjies and Sanchez.

The trusty boot of Sanchez reduced the deficit to nine points early in the second half, but Jantjies responded by sending another two kicks sailing between the posts.

Backs saw little of the ball in a bruising battle and Fassi had what he thought was his second try of the match ruled out, as Malcolm Marx played the ball on the ground in an earlier passage of play.

Hendrikse put the icing on the cake when he went over in the corner following a powerful run from Marco van Staden.

The Rugby Championship returns this weekend with a pair of intriguing fixtures.

The tournament took a year off in 2020, reverting to a Tri-Nations format with world champions South Africa absent due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Springboks are back, though, and come into the 2021 edition on a high after beating the British and Irish Lions 2-1.

Meanwhile, New Zealand have already gained an edge over Australia in last week's Bledisloe Cup opener.

The tournament is teed up nicely, as Stats Perform provides the key Opta facts...
 

NEW ZEALAND V AUSTRALIA

Form

New Zealand have won their past five Tests, scoring an average of 58 points per game. However, the All Blacks have won only two of their past six outings in the Tri-Nations and the Rugby Championship (D1, L3) – Australia have won two of the sides' previous three meetings across these competitions (L1).

The Wallabies will have to end a long wait for an away win against New Zealand to further improve on that record, though. The All Blacks are undefeated in their past 26 encounters on home soil (W25, D1) – including last week's Bledisloe I.

Ones to watch

Two-time World Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett is among the replacements for an All Blacks side who have scored 15 Test tries from the bench since the beginning of 2020, six more than any other tier one nation. Barrett has not scored in that period and last did so from the bench in a Test in 2016.

For Australia, the performance of one of their inexperienced stars will be key. Noah Lolesio has 57 Test points in 2021, but only five of those came at Eden Park last week as he missed two of three penalties and three of four conversions. He must be more clinical.
 

SOUTH AFRICA V ARGENTINA

Form

Argentina have led at half-time in four of their past five away Tests against South Africa, but they have gone on to win only one of those (L4). That victory, in Durban in August 2015, was the Pumas' only triumph in South Africa and one of only three against the Springboks in 30 Tests (D1, L26).

Both teams come into this match in form, however. South Africa have won nine of their past 10 Tests (L1), including the series win over the Lions, while Argentina have only lost one in eight (W4, D3) and are unbeaten in four (W2, D2).

Ones to watch

Coming off the gruelling Lions series, South Africa have made 12 changes, giving wing duo Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi a rest. That means another opportunity for Aphelele Fassi, who scored on his debut against Georgia last month but will now take on trickier opponents.

In-form Argentina will fancy their chances of disrupting a much-changed home side. The Pumas made the most tackles per game (146) and had the highest tackle success rate (89 per cent) at the 2020 Tri-Nations, with Marcos Kremer leading the tournament with his 72. He has made just 16 tackles from 22 attempts in his past three games, though.

Tottenham have completed the signing of defender Cristian Romero for a reported fee of £47million.

The Argentina international has put pen to paper on a reported five-year contract with the north London club.

The 23-year-old becomes Tottenham's third signing under Nuno Espirito Santo following the arrival of winger Bryan Gil from Sevilla and the loan acquisition of Atalanta goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini, whom Romero played alongside in 2020-21.

Romero is also the second-most expensive transfer in Spurs' history after Tanguy Ndombele's £53.8m switch from Lyon in 2019.

After beginning his career with spells at Belgrano and Genoa, the centre-half failed to make a competitive appearance during his two-year stint with Juventus, spending the entire time out on loan.

Atalanta signed him on loan with a purchase option in September 2020 and Romero went on to play 42 times in all competitions last season as the Bergamo club recorded a third-place finish in Serie A and reached the Coppa Italia final.

Atalanta triggered their purchase option on Romero before then selling him on to Spurs.

Romero's performances led to his senior international debut against Chile prior to this year's Copa America, in which he made three appearances and started the final as Argentina beat Brazil to end their 28-year wait for a major trophy.

His arrival provides a much-needed boost to the Tottenham back line, following the departures of Toby Alderweireld and Juan Foyth earlier in the window.

Romero will compete with Davinson Sanchez, Joe Rodon and Eric Dier for a place in the heart of the defence, and could make his debut when Spurs launch their Premier League campaign against reigning champions Manchester City on August 15.

Tottenham have completed the signing of defender Cristian Romero for a reported fee of £47million.

The Argentina international has put pen to paper on a reported five-year contract with the north London club.

The 23-year-old becomes Tottenham's third signing under Nuno Espirito Santo following the arrival of winger Bryan Gil from Sevilla and the loan acquisition of Atalanta goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini, whom Romero played alongside in 2020-21.

Romero is also the second-most expensive transfer in Spurs' history after Tanguy Ndombele's £53.8m switch from Lyon in 2019.

After beginning his career with spells at Belgrano and Genoa, the centre-half failed to make a competitive appearance during his two-year stint with Juventus, spending the entire time out on loan.

Atalanta signed him on loan with a purchase option in September 2020 and Romero went on to play 42 times in all competitions last season as the Bergamo club recorded a third-place finish in Serie A and reached the Coppa Italia final.

Atalanta triggered their purchase option on Romero before then selling him on to Spurs.

Romero's performances led to his senior international debut against Chile prior to this year's Copa America, in which he made three appearances and started the final as Argentina beat Brazil to end their 28-year wait for a major trophy.

His arrival provides a much-needed boost to the Tottenham back line, following the departures of Toby Alderweireld and Juan Foyth earlier in the window.

Romero will compete with Davinson Sanchez, Joe Rodon and Eric Dier for a place in the heart of the defence, and could make his debut when Spurs launch their Premier League campaign against reigning champions Manchester City on August 15.

Kevin Durant believes the United States are starting to become more comfortable as a team with the Olympic gold medal in their sights after surviving a stern test from Spain.

Durant was instrumental for Team USA, scoring 29 points as they claimed a 95-81 quarter-final victory at Tokyo 2020.

Gregg Popovich's team trailed narrowly after the first quarter and were then 10 points down in the second before finding their rhythm to go into the half tied.

They pulled away in the final two quarters to set up a last-four meeting with Australia, with Durant seemingly growing more confident Team USA will live up to expectations and seal the gold medal.


"WE'RE IN A GOOD SPOT"

Team USA were in a 39-29 hole with under three and a half minutes left in the second quarter, but then went on a 14-4 run to level matters at 43-43.

Durant felt avoiding going into the second half with a big deficit was critical and, according to the two-time NBA Finals MVP, a roster stacked with elite talent is gelling at the right time.

"We didn't want to go into the half down double digits. This team [Spain] runs their sets with precision, they run it with pace and then on the defensive side of the ball they do a good job of running and jumping and playing together on the defence," said Durant.

"So we knew we didn't want to get down big against this team.

"We're in a good spot right now. Guys are starting to understand their roles and just get more comfortable within the team.

"In this setting, it's always hard to get your footing as an individual player because you don't want to step on toes.

"I love how we stuck with it throughout this whole period of time and guys started figuring out what we need to do.

"You've just got to finish it. We're supposed to be here. For us it's about getting a gold."

 

BOOMERS TO SPOIL THE PARTY?

An uneven exhibition schedule prior to the Games saw the USA lose to both Nigeria and Australia.

Australia were 91-83 victors last month and they have continued to impress since getting to Tokyo.

The Boomers set up a rematch with the gold medal favourites in fine style on Tuesday, sweeping aside Argentina 97-59 to secure their place in the semis.

Five Australia players reached double figures, Patty Mills leading the way with 18 points as he went three of four from beyond the arc.

SLOVENIA'S 'UNBELIEVABLE' ACHIEVEMENT

Slovenia were similarly dominant in seeing off Germany in their last-eight clash, easing to a 94-70 victory.

It means a battle between Durant and Co. and Slovenia superstar Luka Doncic for the gold medal is still very much a possibility.

Zoran Dragic was the star of the show against Germany, top-scoring with 27 points on 11 of 13 shooting, while Doncic added 20 of his own.

"It's unbelievable, a country of two million being top four in the world," Doncic said of Slovenia reaching the semis. "We already achieved a lot by just going to the Olympics, it was our first time in history."

Slovenia have never lost a competitive game in which Doncic has featured, if that run continues for two more games, they will be Olympic champions.

"It's going to be very, very hard," he added. "We've got some tough opponents but we're going to be ready, we've got nothing to lose and I hope we win two more."

France stand between Slovenia and a place in the final, having overcome Italy 84-75.

Rudy Gobert tallied 22 points and nine rebounds for France and Evan Fournier put up 21 to keep their hopes of repeating their preliminary round win over the USA in the final intact.

Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez heaped praise on Luis Scola after a crucial 97-77 victory over Japan that made sure of a place in the knockout rounds of the men's basketball tournament.

Following back-to-back defeats, Argentina needed to beat the hosts in their final Group C match to qualify for the quarter-finals as one of the best third-placed teams.

Scola certainly led by example. The veteran power forward scored 23 points and also had 10 rebounds as the 2004 Olympic champions prevailed, securing a last-eight date with Australia.

Still going strong at the age of 41, the five-time Olympian's efforts delighted Hernandez.

"He's ridiculous. He's a hard worker, he doesn't stop ever. I think he hasn't stopped one day in the last 25 years," the Argentina coach said. 

"I am sure I am not the same coach without him. Not for his 23 points [against Japan], but for his leadership. I love him."

World champions Spain and Luka Doncic's Slovenia are set for a top-of-the-table shoot-out in Group C at Tokyo 2020 after both teams were victorious on Thursday.

In a tough preliminary round pool, both Spain and Slovenia have two wins from two to reach the quarter-finals heading into an intriguing match-up.

With perennial Olympic champions the United States looking a little ordinary, the two nations will fancy their chances of breakthrough golds.

Their latest exploits ensured Sunday's game will attract plenty of attention, considering it could open the door to a potentially easier route through the knockout rounds.

RUBIO INSPIRES SPAIN AGAIN

Spain reinforced their status as the team to beat as they eased past Argentina, the opponents they also defeated in the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup final.

Ricky Rubio was the MVP at that event, leading the champions with 20 points in the final, and he was highly influential once more in Tokyo on Thursday.

The Minnesota Timberwolves guard had 26 points – 13 in each half – with 83 per cent three-point shooting in an 81-71 success.

It was all painfully familiar for Argentina, as Nicolas Laprovittola explained: "We know Spain, we know how they play, we know Ricky Rubio is the key."

With Doncic up next, Spain coach Sergio Scariolo added: "We are 2-0. We beat a very strong team, so we take it and we move forward." Doncic is 15-0 in Slovenia colours in all competitions.

'IT'S NOT ONLY LUKA... THAT TEAM CAN HOOP!'

Doncic is undoubtedly Slovenia's player to watch, having added to his 48-point Olympic debut against Argentina with 25 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, two blocks and two steals in a 116-81 demolition of hosts Japan.

But Slovenia – described by Japan coach Julio Lamas as "a very complete team with one amazing player" – have more to them than the 22-year-old alone.

Zoran Dragic weighed in with 24 points, while Vlatko Cancar shot five of five from the field – including three of three from deep – for 16. Klemen Prepelic added 12 in 20 minutes off the bench.

"It's not only Luka," said the Washington Wizards' Rui Hachimura, whose 34 points were in vain. "That team has guys who can actually hoop. There's a lot of guys who can score."

Turning their focus towards the Spain game, Slovenia coach Aleksander Sekulic said: "We want to play our game and we're going to prepare and we're going to be ready for them.

"We have a great coaching staff; they're really doing an amazing job. We want to play our style, our game, and also make Spain think about us."

ROJA REVENGE AS WOMEN SINK SERBIA

It was double delight for Spain on Thursday as their women claimed an eye-catching win over Serbia, the new European champions.

Spain had won back-to-back EuroBasket Women titles prior to co-hosting this year's event, where they were beaten by Serbia in the quarter-finals.

Serbia went on to take the championship and named a strong team again for the Games, but Spain fought back in Group A.

Alba Torrens put up 25 points and Astou Ndour added 20 along with nine rebounds in an 85-70 win that puts them top of the pool.

"We know they badly wanted this revenge from Valencia," said Serbia coach Marina Maljkovic, while Jelena Brooks added: "Knowing Spain and what they came here to do because of the Eurobasket, we knew they were going to punish our mistakes twice as bad as Canada did [in the opening game]."

Canada, meanwhile, recorded a 74-53 triumph over South Korea early in the day.

Real Madrid winger Takefusa Kubo was on target again as hosts Japan eliminated France from the Tokyo Olympics men's football tournament with a 4-0 win on Wednesday.

Kubo netted in Japan's first two Group A games and gave Madrid another reminder of his quality by opening the scoring against France in Yokohama.

In doing so, the 20-year-old became the first Japanese player to score in each group-stage match at the same Olympic tournament.

Hiroki Sakai doubled Japan's lead prior to half-time before Koji Miyoshi and Daizen Maeda completed the rout, either side of Randal Kolo Muani being sent off.

Japan advance as the only side with a 100 per cent record, whereas France – who had Timothee Pembele and Andre-Pierre Gignac in their line-up – are out at the first stage.

Only Fiji (23 in 2016) and Serbia-Montenegro (14 in 2004) have let in more than the 11 goals France conceded at Tokyo 2020 in the 21st century.

"The tournament was really difficult for us, because we are young players and these are the first games we have played with the team," France midfielder Alexis Beka Beka said. 

"One of the big differences was the other teams knew each other much better. But it's all about the details. The game is never finished."

Mexico recovered from their loss to Japan last time out by beating South Africa 3-0 in a game in which both sides had a player sent off, seeing them through in second place ahead of France.

 


SPAIN MATCH CLASS OF '92

Spain were not perfect in the pool phase, having been held for the second time in three games in Wednesday's clash with Argentina, but they still went through as Group C winners.

It is the first time La Roja have achieved that feat at the Olympic Games since the likes of Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique went on to win gold in Barcelona in 1992.

Spain dominated possession against Argentina and took the lead through Mikel Merino's 66th-minute strike at Saitama Stadium.

Tomas Belmonte's late equaliser came against the run of play, but it was not enough to prevent 2004 and 2008 gold medallists Argentina crashing out early on.

London 2012 quarter-finalists Egypt finished level on four points with Argentina after beating Australia 2-0 and progress to the last eight, where heavyweights Brazil await, by virtue of a superior goal difference.

HISTORIC ACHIEVEMENT FOR OLYWHITES

New Zealand picked up the point they needed against Romania in a goalless draw to advance to the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time.

Goalkeeper Michael Woud redeemed himself for his horror show in the loss to Honduras by making a string of stops against Romania, who would have advanced with a win.

"It really came down to desire tonight," said OlyWhites head coach Danny Hay. "The boys really dug deep and showed a lot of that.

"I'm really proud of the performance. It's historic and we look forward to a quarter-final for a New Zealand men's team."

New Zealand also needed a favour from South Korea, who followed up a 4-0 win against Romania with a 6-0 victory over Honduras on Wednesday en route to topping Group B.

Hwang Ui-jo scored three of the goals, two of those from the penalty spot, and a showdown with Mexico is up next for rampant South Korea for a place in the semi-finals.

RIO FINALISTS GERMANY FALL SHORT

Germany will not get the opportunity to match or better their silver medal from Rio in 2016 as a 1-1 draw with Ivory Coast saw their opponents through at their expense.

Nothing less than a win would do for Stefan Kuntz's men but they fell behind to a Benjamin Henrichs own goal with 67 minutes played.

While Eduard Lowen's impressive free-kick did set up a tense finish in Miyagi, Germany were unable to find a winner and are on the plane home.

Ivory Coast will now take on Spain, the last European nation standing, in the quarter-finals.

Also through to the knockout stage are reigning champions Brazil after seeing off Saudi Arabia 3-1, with Richarlison's late double adding to Matheus Cunha's first-half opener.

Luka Doncic was labelled the "best player in the world" by Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez after he inspired Slovenia to an opening win at the Olympic Games.

The Dallas Mavericks star led his country to qualification for the Games and was at his remarkable best in Slovenia's 118-100 triumph.

Slovenia lead Group C after the first round of games, which wrapped up with Spain comfortably seeing off host nation Japan.

Ricky Rubio was the star for Spain, who emerged 88-77 victors at the Saitama Super Arena.


THERE'S NO DOUBT ANYMORE

Hernandez already had an extremely high opinion of Doncic, but his side's defeat at the hands of Slovenia's talisman left no question in his mind that he is the world's best.

Doncic scored 48 points, shooting 62 per cent from the field, and registered 11 rebounds in a stunning double-double performance.

Klemen Prepelic went four of six from deep in racking up 22 points, but this was predominantly a one-man show which left Hernandez in awe.

"It's really hard to analyse a game when one player just dominates everything as we saw tonight with Luka Doncic," Hernandez said. 

"We tried everything that we could and it truly sounds like an excuse but we weren't able to do much when you have such a dominating player.

"I said this two years ago: he is the best player in the world, including the NBA. If there was any doubt in my mind, there is no doubt anymore that he is the best player in the world."

RUBIO PULLS THE STRINGS

Spain will have been boosted by the United States' defeat to France as they seek a first Olympic gold medal.

And it was Rubio who ensured their quest started in routine fashion, top-scoring with 20 points and excelling as a passer in registering nine assists.

Japan improved in the second half after scoring just 14 points in each of the first two quarters, NBA duo Rui Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe excelling for the hosts.

Hachimura scored 20 points while Watanabe finished with 19 points and eight rebounds but could not prevent Japan from coming up short in their comeback bid.

France got the better of South Africa in a seven-goal thriller as Andre-Pierre Gignac's hat-trick inspired Les Bleus to a 4-3 victory at the Tokyo Olympics.

Having been thrashed 4-1 by Mexico in their opening game of Group A, France hit back to keep their chances of progression alive, though they had to do so the hard way in Saitama.

Indeed, South Africa led on three occasions during a remarkable second half, yet it was Les Bleus who took the points.

Liberato Cacace's stunner was not enough to propel New Zealand to victory against Honduras in Group B, while reigning champions Brazil could only draw 0-0 with the Ivory Coast and Spain overcame Australia thanks to Mikel Oyarzabal's late winner.

 

GIGNAC AND SAVANIER SETTLE THRILLER

France were on the wrong end of conceding four last time out, and though they still let three in this time around, Teji Savanier's stoppage-time goal saw them clinch victory.

It was 35-year-old Gignac who had previously dragged France level on three occasions – a close-range finish followed by a thumping header before the Tigres striker, the leading scorer in the competition, converted his second penalty of the tournament to cancel out Teboho Mokoena's glorious 81st-minute strike.

Luther Singh had missed a first-half penalty for South Africa, with Kobamelo Kodisang and Evidence Makgopa also getting on the scoresheet.

But Gignac's efforts set the stage for France to nose themselves ahead when Montpellier's experienced Savanier lashed home, sending South Africa out in the process.

France sit third in Group A, three points behind leaders Japan, who survived a late scare to beat Mexico 2-1.

ALL WHITES LET LEAD SLIP

Cacace's exceptional strike put New Zealand ahead after just 10 minutes in Kashima – the defender picking out the top-right corner with a first-time effort from 30 yards out.

Luis Palma restored parity in first-half stoppage time, yet Chris Wood carried on his scoring form to put New Zealand back in front just after the restart.

Yet substitutes proved the difference for Honduras. Juan Obregon netted with 12 minutes remaining, paving the way for Rigoberto Rivas to clinch the comeback victory.

Matters were much more simple for South Korea, as they cruised to a 4-0 triumph against Romania, meaning all four Group B teams are on four points heading into the final matchday.

 

OYARZABAL RECORDS LONG-AWAITED SPAIN WIN

Spain secured their first win at an Olympic Games since 2000 thanks to Oyarzabal's header against Australia, which came with nine minutes of normal time remaining.

The 24-year-old Real Sociedad winger – who played a pivotal role in Spain's run to the semi-finals at Euro 2020 – has put La Roja top of Group C heading into Wednesday's encounter with Argentina, who beat Egypt.

Spain, who drew with Egypt in their opener, won gold in 1992 and silver in 2000, but had only qualified once since then, but they failed to score across their three appearances in the 2012 London Games.

CHAMPIONS HELD AS GERMANY BOUNCE BACK

Brazil sparkled in their 4-2 win over Germany on matchday one, though they could not find a way past the Ivory Coast, who held them to a 0-0 draw in Group D.

Douglas Luiz was sent off early on for Brazil, who missed a last-gasp chance to seal qualification through substitute Malcom after the Ivory Coast had also been reduced to 10 men.

Meanwhile, Germany recovered from their defeat on matchday one to beat Saudi Arabia 3-2 – Felix Uduokhai netting the decisive goal in the 75th minute.

New Barcelona signing Memphis Depay is relishing the chance to link up with Lionel Messi, who he believes showed at the Copa America why he is still the world's best player.

Netherlands international Depay joined Barca as a free agent when his Lyon contract expired on July 1 and was officially unveiled at Camp Nou on Thursday.

While the 27-year-old is excited to begin a new chapter in his career at Barca, club legend Messi's future is less clear as he has yet to sign a new deal and is now a free agent.

But the six-time Ballon d'Or winner is reportedly close to agreeing a long-term contract with the Spanish giants that will keep him tied down to the club until 2026.

Messi is currently on an extended break after inspiring Argentina to their first Copa America crown since 1993 earlier this month.

He scored four goals and provided five assists to win the Golden Boot and his maiden piece of silverware while representing his country at senior level.

Depay is hopeful Messi will soon put pen to paper so he can fulfil a dream of playing alongside the superstar forward.

"He is a legend and the best player in the world," Depay said at his unveiling. "Did you see what he did in the Copa America?

"I really want to play with Leo. His qualities with the ball are undeniable. As long as I make the runs, I know the ball will come. I am a great fan of his.

"Yesterday I had a tour of the museum and saw all of the Ballon d'Or awards he has won. He probably has another one coming, too. It's going to be a dream for me."

 

After a short break following the Netherlands' last-16 exit to the Czech Republic at Euro 2020 last month, Depay arrived in Catalonia on Monday to begin pre-season training.

The Dutchman got his career back on track at Lyon following a disappointing spell with Manchester United, scoring 76 goals in 178 appearances for the Ligue 1 side.

He enjoyed an impressive final season in the French top flight with 20 goals, trailing only Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe (27).

The former PSV youth product's 12 assists and 94 chances created, meanwhile, were more than any other player managed in Ligue 1 in 2020-21.

After months of drawn-out speculation, Depay is pleased to have finally completed a switch to Barcelona this month.

"It's an honour to be here, a dream come true," he said. "Since I was little I dreamed of it. The conversations have been long, but the will has always been there.

"At last I am here. Everyone who is present knows the importance of the club around the world, of how great it is and the impact it has.

"At 27 years of age achieving my dream is surprising and fantastic. I really want to start playing. 

"The team is ready for the new season, we are rested and the time has come to go back to work and pick up trophies."

Koeman previously managed Depay while in charge of the Netherlands, but the former Man Utd attacker insists his compatriot was not a deciding factor in leaving Lyon for Barca.

"I would have come even if he was not here because you don't say no to Barca," he said. "I would have come anyway, but it is also true that the coach has had a great impact. 

"I know him well. He played me as a forward with the national team. He has made me feel comfortable because I started playing better."

Depay is one of three free agents to have joined the cash-strapped Catalans this window, along with former Manchester City pair Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia.

Asked if he is concerned by Barca's financial problems, which have not been helped by the coronavirus pandemic, Depay said: "No. I am focused only on the game. 

"I cannot focus on that. The business part is something the president [Joan Laporta] and the board will take care of. When fans are back in the stadium the situation will improve."

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