After months of uncertainty over whether the tour will go ahead, the British and Irish Lions start their quest to secure a series win over South Africa on Saturday.

The two sides will go into battle at Cape Town Stadium without the roars of partisan Springboks fans and passionate Lions supporters who have made the trip, as no spectators are allowed in due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

However, neither team should require a raucous atmosphere to get fired up for a first contest between South Africa and the Lions in 12 years.

Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber has selected 21 of the 23 players who were World Cup winners in Japan two years ago in the matchday squad for such an eagerly awaited opening showdown. The world champions' preparation has been far from ideal, with 14 players and six members of the management team having tested positive for COVID-19 this month.

Captain Siya Kolisi was among those to have contracted the virus, but he will lead a formidable side that will be so tough to beat on home turf.

As for the Lions, Alun Wyn Jones has made an astonishing recovery to captain the tourists only four weeks after suffering a dislocated shoulder against Japan.

South Africa can win consecutive series against the Lions for the first time since they were successful in both 1962 and 1968, having come out on top by a 2-1 scoreline in 2009.

Yet the Lions have been racking up the points in their tour matches ahead of the three Tests, scoring 39 tries in six games in 2021 - which is 21 more than they managed in the entire 2017 trip to New Zealand.

Warren Gatland's men were beaten 17-13 by a strong South Africa A team during the warm-up fixtures, though, getting a taste of the sort of power they know they will come up against when facing the Boks.

 

TMO CHANGE STOKES THE FIRES

There is never a shortage of off-field sub-plots to fan the flames ahead of a Lions series - and this trip has been no different.

Lions head coach Gatland is said to be fuming over a chance of TMO for the first Test, with South African Marius Jonker replacing New Zealander Brendon Pickerill, who was unable to officiate due to coronavirus-related travel issues.

Robin McBryde, forwards coach for the Lions, said: "It [Jonker stepping in] was a bit unexpected. We only found out on Wednesday. There's a slight like lack of foresight because there's a reason why that position is neutral. There's no plan B put in place. You've just got to get on with it really."

Jonker was the TMO in a clash with South Africa A that saw Faf de Klerk avoid a red card for a high tackle on Josh Navidi.

VAN DER MERWE READY TO BE TARGETED

Duhan van der Merwe gets the nod to start against his country of birth, with the Scotland wing accepting he will be targeted.

Gatland said: "It's a challenge for him. I've spoken to him about what's coming on the weekend and he's fully aware.

"I presume every time he touches the ball, they'll be trying to hit him with everything they've got and there will probably be some verbals as well. So he's well aware of what's at stake and he's been incredibly relaxed."

 

South Africa: Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi, Trevor Nyakane, Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi (captain), Pieter-Steph du Toit, Kwagga Smith.

Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Lood de Jager, Rynhardt Elstadt, Herschel Jantjies, Elton Jantjies, Damian Willemse.

British and Irish Lions: Stuart Hogg, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly, Robbie Henshaw, Duhan van der Merwe, Dan Biggar, Ali Price; Wyn Jones, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje, Alan Wyn Jones (captain), Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Ken Owens, Rory Sutherland, Kyle Sinckler, Tadhg Beirne, Hamish Watson, Conor Murray, Owen Farrell, Liam Williams.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- This is the 14th Test series between South Africa and the Lions, with the Springboks winning eight of the previous 13 editions and the Lions triumphant in four.
- South Africa hold the head-to-head advantage in individual Test matches between the sides, winning 23 of their 46 previous Test encounters (L17, D6).
- The Lions are unbeaten in their past two Tests (W1, D1) and have not enjoyed a longer such run since a six-game run spanning the 1971 and 1974 tours (W4, D2).
- South Africa have lost just one of their previous 13 Tests (W11, D1), winning the last seven in a row – their longest winning run since 2013-14 (W8)
- Lions captain Jones will win his 10th Lions Test cap, becoming the eighth player to achieve that feat and the first this century.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes Jadon Sancho has made the perfect step at the right time in his career, as he believes Manchester United's latest addition can showcase 'untapped talent' at Old Trafford.

United's long pursuit of Sancho has resulted in a deal that Stats Perform understands is worth £72.9million (€85m), making him the fourth most expensive signing in the club's history, behind Paul Pogba, Harry Maguire and Romelu Lukaku.

The 21-year-old, who left United's rivals Manchester City to join Borussia Dortmund in 2017, has signed until 2026 with an option for a further year.

Sancho scored 50 goals and provided 57 assists in 137 appearances across all competitions for BVB, with only Erling Haaland and Marco Reus having scored more since the winger made his debut.

In 104 Bundesliga appearances, Sancho netted 38 times, averaging a goal every 197 minutes, bettering the totals of the wide players he has joined at United in Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Daniel James.

Having secured a long-term target – Sancho was the subject of much speculation in 2020 – Solskjaer hailed the England international as the ideal player to bring into United's squad.

"Jadon epitomises the type of player I want to bring to the club, he is a forward player in the best traditions of Manchester United," Solskjaer told the club's official website.

"He will form an integral part of my squad for years to come and we look forward to seeing him blossom. His goals and assists records speak for themselves and he will also bring tremendous pace, flair and creativity to the team. 

"Old Trafford will give him the platform he needs to release his untapped talent and perform at the highest level. For a player of his age, Jadon has already achieved a great deal and showed the courage to go and prove himself abroad. We all look forward to welcoming Jadon to the squad as we prepare for the new campaign."

For his part, Sancho – who came through Watford's academy before moving to City at the age of 14 – explained it was always his plan to return to the Premier League.

He said: "I'll always be grateful to Dortmund for giving me the opportunity to play first team football, although I always knew that I would return to England one day.

"The chance to join Manchester United is a dream come true and I just cannot wait to perform in the Premier League. This is a young and exciting squad and I know, together, we can develop into something special to bring the success that the fans deserve. I am looking forward to working with the manager and his coaching team to further develop my game."

Sancho also thanked Dortmund directly, telling the Bundesliga club's official website: "I can't thank the people in charge at Borussia Dortmund enough for the chance they gave me as a very young player. 

"At BVB I was able to mature into the player I am today. The DFB-Pokal win last season was a great end to my time at BVB. But I will always remember the support and love of the incredible fans as something special."

Karim Benzema has had to delay his return to training at Real Madrid after testing positive for COVID-19.

The 33-year-old striker was on holiday in France when he was found to have the virus, and it means he must isolate before heading back to Spain.

Benzema played for France in the Euro 2020 finals after being called up to Didier Deschamps' squad for the first time since 2015.

He scored four goals in four games, hitting doubles against Portugal and Switzerland, but could not help France advance any further than the second round, with the Swiss ousting Les Bleus in a penalty shoot-out after a 3-3 draw.

According to reports in Spain, Benzema is undergoing his quarantine period in Lyon.

A short statement from his club read: "Real Madrid CF confirm that our player Karim Benzema has tested positive for COVID-19."

Benzema has been Madrid's leading scorer in each LaLiga season since Cristiano Ronaldo left for Juventus in 2018, scoring 21 goals in 2018-19 and 2019-20 before improving to 23 goals last term, adding nine assists.

Madrid, who appointed Carlo Ancelotti to succeed Zinedine Zidane in June, begin their LaLiga campaign on August 14 with a match against Deportivo Alaves.

Looking to dethrone reigning champions Atletico Madrid in 2021-22, Ancelotti's team will step up pre-season efforts with a friendly against Scottish champions Rangers in Glasgow on Sunday.

Jadon Sancho has finally joined Manchester United after they sealed a deal to bring in the England winger from Borussia Dortmund.

The long pursuit of Sancho has resulted in a deal that Stats Perform understands will see United pay £72.9million (€85m) for Sancho, with no add-ons included within the deal.

It makes the 21-year-old the fourth most expensive signing in United's history, behind Paul Pogba, Harry Maguire and Romelu Lukaku.

He has signed until 2026, with United having the option to extend that agreement for another year.

United were keen on Sancho last year but could not drive through a deal at the time, with Dortmund reluctant to sell one of their chief assets.

However, they have now been persuaded to part company with a player who scored twice in their DFB-Pokal final win over RB Leipzig last season.

Sancho established a strong understanding with the much-coveted Erling Haaland while at Dortmund and now joins a United side who have ground to make up on neighbours Manchester City.

He will look to build a similar rapport with his Manchester United team-mates, having experienced the agony of losing the Euro 2020 final on penalties alongside Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire and Marcus Rashford.

Both Sancho and Rashford missed from 12 yards in the shoot-out as Italy prevailed after a 1-1 draw following extra time to deny England a first major title since the 1966 World Cup.

Having joined Dortmund in 2017, Sancho scored 50 goals and provided 57 assists in 137 appearances across all competitions for BVB.

It was City that Sancho left to join Dortmund in August 2017. He had come through the youth ranks with Watford initially before moving as a 14-year-old to the Etihad Stadium.

The balance of power in Manchester, and indeed in English football, remains weighted in City's favour after they won the Premier League title by 12 points from second-placed United last season.

United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should have Sancho among his attacking options for his team's opening Premier League game against Leeds United at Old Trafford on August 14.

Sancho is the only player from Europe's top five leagues to have scored 10 goals or more and had at least 15 assists across all competitions in each of the past three seasons while playing at that high level.

United's penalty shoot-out defeat to Villarreal in the Europa League final in May means they remain without a major honour during Solskjaer's reign, which began when he was initially placed in caretaker control in December 2018 after Jose Mourinho was sacked.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants produced an MLB first as a controversial end to the latest series in their historic rivalry left ejected manager Dave Roberts apoplectic.

Dodgers manager Roberts sprinted to confront first-base umpire Ed Hickox in the ninth inning after he ruled Darin Ruf did not swing on a pitch outside the strike zone on a full 3-2 count with two men out and the bases loaded, awarding the Giants a walk that tied the game at 3-3.

Los Angeles thought the game was over moments earlier when Jason Vosler was ruled to have been thrown out at second base, only for the umpires to rule him safe on review, with Sheldon Neuse unable to keep his foot on the bag as he caught Chris Taylor's throw, meaning Thairo Estrada's groundball trimmed the Dodgers' lead to 3-2.

Hickox's contentious decision followed, setting up LaMonte Wade Jr to give the Giants a 5-3 lead with the next at-bat with a two-run single to right field.

The Giants held on to that advantage to take a three-game lead over the Dodgers in the National League West, with Los Angeles left to pick up the pieces after a third successive blown save from closer Kenley Jansen and his second in as many nights against San Francisco.

San Francisco prevailed 3-1 in the four-game series, which is the first in the modern era to have three games in which the team trailing in the ninth inning scored three runs to win, according to Stats Perform data. The Dodgers scored three runs in the last to emerge victorious on Tuesday, before the Giants scored three on Wednesday and four on Thursday to solidify their grip on the division.

But that piece of league history will have been of no interest to a furious Roberts.

"There's no doubt in my mind that he went [around and swung] and the game should have been over," Roberts said. "Eddie's a very good umpire, been around a long time. But in that spot, two contending teams, you just can't miss that call.

"The game should have been over and there's no other way to look at it.

"There's a lot of people that are really p****d off and I'm leading the way. We should have won that game. It's a game we really wanted, we had and we didn't. The game should have been over, man. I don't think the blame should be all on Kenley at all.

"I thought that play at second base, if we stretch, he's out and the game's over. The checked swing, the game's over and we're not having this conversation. I'm not reconsidering his [Jansen's] role."

Ruf, meanwhile, was able to reflect on the turning point with a smile.

"At that point, I'm just trying to have a good at-bat," Ruf said. "The 2-0 pitch was probably outside, but those things happen throughout the course of an at-bat. You just have to move on.

"After I got to 2-2, I just really wanted to see a pitch in the middle. He has three pretty good pitches and luckily I laid off the 2-2. The 3-2 was kind of a high backup cutter and luckily that call went our way.

"I'm just thinking, 'Please say I didn't go [and swing]. I think at full speed it was really, really close.

"Luckily that call went our way tonight and then LaMonte came up huge."

Sadio Mane feels he has benefitted from an extended break as he looks to regain his best form for Liverpool in 2021-22.

Mane scored 11 times in the Premier League last season as Liverpool failed to defend their title.

That was his second-lowest tally for Liverpool since he joined from Southampton in 2016-17, with the Senegal forward only netting fewer league goals in the 2017-18 season (10), while last term also featured a run of just three strikes in 20 games before helping himself to a double against Crystal Palace on the final day.

Mane did however keep up his creativity, supplying seven assists from 61 chances created – the most opportunities he has crafted in a Premier League season since his arrival in England seven years ago.

Only in 2018-19 (3,085) did Mane play more minutes than in 2020-21 (2,810), and the 29-year-old believes the longer break he was able to have before he joined up with the Reds' pre-season training camp in Austria has provided a much-needed boost.

Asked if he felt in better shape compared to before the 2020-21 season, Mane told Liverpoolfc.com: "Yes, sure.

"I think it's always important as a player to have a break because I can say since I came to Liverpool this was the first time I have had four weeks or more holidays, so I think that sometimes helps a lot. 

"I could see from day one that everybody was looking sharp, which for me was unbelievable! I am not complaining about having one week or two weeks' holiday, but I think it's always extra [helpful] for us to have this long period of holiday. 

"At the same time, we have been working in individual training, which is also important because you could see from day one that everybody was looking sharp and ready to go for the new season.

"To be honest, everybody, and myself for sure, feels more ready. I always say tiredness is here [in the head] and obviously you have to be mentally strong to cope with it, but at the same time I think resting is the best thing.

"I think now we have all rested properly so this is another advantage for us. We are looking to be ready for the season now."

Liverpool fell way short of competing with Manchester City for the title, though Jurgen Klopp's side will point to the impact injuries to key players – mainly in defence – had on their efforts.

The Reds lost Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip to season-ending injuries, while Jordan Henderson also failed to return after sustaining a problem in February.

"I think not only me, I think everybody [is excited]!" Mane said when asked how positive it was to see Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip back in training.

"As a player we all become like fans because if you see your team-mate getting back in training and fit, you just say, 'Wow!' 

"When I see Virgil, Joe and Joel, after every training session I say, 'My friend, how are you feeling?' because I think to have everybody back in the team is just incredible.

"Because we know what they are capable of doing for the team and for us the most important thing is the team, so having those players fit, 100 per cent – I think you can always see the smiles of the boys and say: 'Wow, what a season it’s going to be for us again.'"

Joe Ingles is coming off the sort of disappointment with the Utah Jazz that perhaps only an Olympic medal could soothe.

Ingles, runner-up for the NBA's Sixth Man Award in the 2020-21 season, could not prevent the top-seeded Jazz losing to the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round of the playoffs.

He scored 19 points in three successive games against the Clippers but twice in a losing cause, meaning a season that he packed with career-bests ended on a painful note.

Ingles is now chasing gold with Australia at Tokyo 2020, with an opening game against Nigeria scheduled for Sunday.

Australia have never won an Olympic medal in men's basketball, finishing fourth on four occasions, most recently at Rio 2016. 

They were also fourth at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, but Ingles says the time has come to get hold of a medal.

Gold is the obvious target, and when Ingles was asked whether silver or bronze would be a disappointment, his verdict was that anything but top step on the podium would feel like a letdown, at least initially.

"In the moment, yeah; in the long run, no," he said. "We don't talk about anything else – there's one goal in mind and that's to win a gold medal in Tokyo.

"If we wait and look 10 years down the track we'll think different but we're here to make history."

Australia's women have fared better on the big stage, winning three Olympic silvers and two bronze medals.

 

Ingles had an NBA career-best 34 points against the Washington Wizards in March, while in January he passed John Stockton to set a new Jazz record for the most three-pointers in a career with the franchise. Stockton made 845 and Ingles is now on 993.

He set career highs in field-goal percentage (48.9 per cent), three-point success rate (45.1 per cent) and free-throw hit rate (84.4 per cent) in the regular season, along with a points-per-game average of 12.1 that matched his 2018-19 best.

Now the 33-year-old small forward heads into his fourth Olympics seeking that elusive medal, and a familiar face in Brian Goorjian is leading the team.

Coach Goorjian was in charge of Australia when Ingles made his Games debut in 2008 at Beijing, and he returned to the role in November of last year.

"He's a lot older. We're both a lot older," Ingles said. "So awesome to have him back.

"I was interested to see if there would be any differences in him. He moves a bit slower and his fingers are a bit more busted up but he's the same coach."

The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have faced each other more than 2,000 times dating back to 1901, but they have never had a game end quite like Thursday's. 

Four wild pitches by New York reliever Brooks Kriske in the 10th inning brought home the tying run and set up the winning run as Boston prevailed 5-4 at Fenway Park. 

The Red Sox had trailed 3-1 with two outs in the ninth inning when Kike Hernandez ripped a two-run double to left-center off Chad Green to tie the game and send it to the 10th.

Thanks to MLB's second-year rule that puts a runner on second base to start each extra inning, New York was able to take a 4-3 lead on a groundout and a Brett Gardner sacrifice fly in the top of the inning, but Boston did them one better. 

Two wild pitches by Kriske brought Rafael Devers home from second to make it 4-4, and after Xander Bogaerts drew a walk, two more wild pitches moved him to third. 

After J.D. Martinez struck out, Hunter Renfroe lifted a sacrifice fly to right field to drive home Bogaerts with the winning run – all without benefit of a hit. 

According to Stats Perform, Kriske is the first pitcher in MLB history to throw at least four wild pitches in one extra ininng. 

"There's a lot of guys battling their butts off and it sucks to be the one to blow it for the team," Kriske told reporters. 

The Yankees sent him to the minor leagues after the game. 

 

Giants stun Dodgers late

The San Francisco Giants scored four runs in the ninth inning for a shock 5-3 victory over the rival Los Angeles Dodgers as they opened up a three-game lead over LA in the National League (NL) West division.

Down 3-1 with two out in the ninth, the Giants loaded the bases and earned a reprieve when video replay overturned a call at second base that would have been the final out of the game. Darin Ruf then walked on a controversial checked-swing call to force in the tying run before LaMonte Wade's two-run single off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen broke it open. 

The Tampa Bay Rays pulled out another late victory, scoring twice in the ninth inning and again in the 10th to defeat the Cleveland Indians 5-4. Entering the ninth trailing 4-2, the Rays got a leadoff homer from Yandy Diaz and a two-out double by Brandon Lowe to tie the game, then brought home the go-ahead run on Austin Meadows' single in the 10th. 

The Detroit Tigers remain undefeated since the All-Star break, getting a three-run first-inning homer from Eric Haase and going on to beat the Texas Rangers 7-5 to complete a four-game sweep and extend their winning streak to seven games. The Tigers were 9-24 on May 7 but are 38-27 since.  

Sean Manaea struck out a career-high 13 for the Oakland Athletics in a 4-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners. 

 

Braves get to Moore

After allowing six earned runs over his last four outings combined, Philadelphia Phillies starter Matt Moore gave up six in the first four innings of a 7-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves. Dansby Swanson's third-inning grand slam was the big blow for Atlanta. 

 

Another robbery by Bader

St Louis Cardinals center fielder Harrison Bader made a maximum-effort play to end the top of the seventh inning, robbing Nico Hoerner of a bloop single to help the Cardinals hang on to a lead and eventually defeat the Chicago Cubs 3-2. 

 

Thursday's results

Detroit Tigers 7-5 Texas Rangers
Tampa Bay Rays 5-4 Cleveland Indians
Atlanta Braves 7-2 Philadelphia Phillies
Boston Red Sox 5-4 New York Yankees
San Diego Padres 3-2 Miami Marlins
St Louis Cardinals 3-2 Chicago Cubs
Los Angeles Angels 3-2 Minnesota Twins
Oakland Athletics 4-1 Seattle Mariners
San Francisco Giants 5-3 Los Angeles Dodgers
 

White Sox at Brewers

The Chicago White Sox (58-38) and Milwaukee Brewers (56-41) both have healthy leads in their divisions heading into a week-end showdown in Milwaukee. 

Nani came up with a crucial assist as Orlando City leapfrogged Philadelphia Union into second spot in the Eastern Conference with a 2-1 win in MLS on Thursday.

Orlando had taken the lead in the 10th minute from Benji Michel's cool finish and Andrea Perea doubled their advantage in the 58th minute when he met ex-Manchester United winger Nani's right-flank cross.

Philadelphia found a route back into the game when Kacper Przybylko netted with a first-time 68th-minute strike but they could not find an equaliser.

Union came close when City keeper Pedro Gallese made a fine stop to deny Jack Elliott with Jack McGlynn's effort from the rebound hitting the post.

Orlando, who were winless in their past three games, move up to second in the east on 25 points from 14 games.

Union have now only won one of their past five games and are third in the east with 23 points from five games.

Raul Ruidiaz scored a spectacular long-range goal to lift Seattle Sounders back into top spot overall with a hard-fought 1-0 win at Austin.

Ruidiaz moved into the outright lead for most goals this season with his 11th strike, which came in stunning style.

The Peruvian swooped a loose ball, spotting Austin keeper Brad Stuver off his line and expertly firing in from range for the 67th-minute winner.

Austin thought they had a 77th-minute equaliser which was disallowed by the VAR, while Ruidiaz also had a potential second ruled out for offside.

Seattle, whose 13-game unbeaten run ended on Sunday, are up to 32 points from 15 games atop the Western Conference.

The Tampa Bay Rays made a high-impact move ahead of MLB's July 31 trade deadline, acquiring veteran slugger Nelson Cruz from the Minnesota Twins on Thursday in a four-player deal. 

Locked in their perennial struggle with the big-money Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees atop the American League (AL) East division, the Rays swooped for one of the most reliable power bats on the market. 

Winner of the AL's Silver Slugger award at designated hitter the last two years, Cruz was named to the All-Star Game for the seventh time in his career this season. 

Despite turning 41 on July 1, Cruz had 19 home runs and 50 RBIs along with a .294 batting average and .537 slugging percentage for the last-place Twins. 

Heading into Thursday's game, Rays designated hitters had 13 home runs and a .395 slugging percentage, third-worst in the American League ahead of only the Texas Rangers (.380) and Detroit Tigers (.265).

Austin Meadows has been the primary DH for the Rays, starting 48 games there including Thursday's contest against the Cleveland Indians, but he can play the outfield.

Cruz, however, is purely a hitter. He has not made a defensive appearance since playing four games in right field for the Seattle Mariners in 2018. 

Entering Thursday, the Rays were 57-39, one game back of the Red Sox in the division and two and a half games ahead in the AL wild card standings. 

In addition to Cruz, Tampa Bay landed minor league pitcher Calvin Faucher in the trade while sending minor league pitchers Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman to the Twins. 

Heading into the season, MLB.com ranked Ryan as the Rays' 10th-best prospect and Strotman number 17 in the organisation. 

 

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."

Barcelona president Joan Laporta insists the club are "making progress" in all aspects of the contract negotiations with Lionel Messi after the six-time Ballon d'Or winner's previous deal expired.

Despite Messi technically no longer belonging to Barca, those associated with the club have portrayed a serene demeanour regarding a potential future agreement.

Even with his contract winding down, Barca officials have routinely affirmed that Messi's desire is to remain at Camp Nou, though LaLiga's salary cap rules mean he is reportedly set to be on half his previous wage should he ultimately accept a new deal.

However, the caveat that is thought to favour Barca in discussions is they are said to be offering Messi a five-year contract that would keep him at the club until he is at least 39.

While that may surprise some, Messi's form in 2020-21 showed he is far from being finished, as he ended the campaign as LaLiga's top scorer and managed 38 goals and 12 assists across all competitions, which translated to a goal every 110.3 minutes.

Similarly, he laid on 117 chances for others across all competitions. The fact Jordi Alba was the second most creative player in the Barca squad with 85 key passes only further underlined Messi's remarkable influence, but Laporta is adamant talks are proceeding as planned.

"The player has always said that he wants to continue [at Barca], there is no doubt about that," Laporta said at the presentation of Memphis Depay on Thursday.

"We are making progress in all the negotiations involving a contract of this type. They are going very well and it is a wish that we all have [for Messi to sign].

 

"We do not hide the will that we want him to continue and to be here for many years."

One player who is still signed to Barca but arguably has a more uncertain future than Messi is Antoine Griezmann, who could reportedly be involved in a swap deal that sees Atletico Madrid's Saul Niguez arrive in Catalonia.

Laporta initially stressed Griezmann has a future at Barca, though he soon acknowledged he is not untransferable.

"He is a player in the Barca first team, he has a valid contract and we are counting on him," Laporta said.

"The transfer market has started and practically nothing has happened. All the clubs are in certain difficulties.

"Players like Griezmann have a market, there are interested clubs and we are building our squad looking for financial balance. We are delighted with him and we are all professionals.

"Yes, the market is moving. We are open to all proposals because we are in a delicate moment and we are talking with all the players of the first team to see how they feel so that balancing acts hurt as little as possible."

Yealimi Noh showcased her potential as the LPGA-newcomer shot six under par on the opening round of the Evian Championship to hold a share of the lead heading into day two.

The 19-year-old set herself up brilliantly on the very first hole, holing out from some 126 yards for a confidence-boosting eagle.

Noh only officially joined the tour last year and her record at the highest level had been rather up-and-down, having been fined for slow play in a tournament as recently as March, before then finishing tied for third at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational last week.

It was certainly more of the latter that she evoked on Thursday, as she reached the turn at three under – her eagle and two birdies only impacted by a single bogey.

But that five on the par-four fourth hole would be the only time Noh failed to at least make par on the day, as she carded three birdies on the back nine to record a 2021-low of 65.

And she felt that opening eagle gave her a psychological edge after the early bogey.

"I wasn't making a few putts after the turn," Noh said. "After pars, it was bogey, and I was like, 'oh, what the heck, you had an eagle!'

"I think it's the first time I've ever done that. I was just like, what? Like OK. It was really cool."

Nevertheless, Noh is not alone at the top of the leaderboard, as Pajaree Anannarukarn matched her six-under 65, which was the best she had ever managed in a single round at a major.

A group of five are a shot further back, while Sarah Kemp and previous major winners Ariya Jutanugarn and Kim Hyo-joo find themselves on four under, certainly within reach of the top with a positive second round.

However, world number one Nelly Korda is seemingly already out of contention after finishing the day three over par.

Phil Neville accepts he is under increasing pressure amid a terrible run of form for Inter Miami but insists he feels the full support of the MLS club's owners.

Inter were thrashed 5-0 by New England Revolution on Wednesday to make it six defeats in a row, scoring just one goal and conceding 13 during that run of losses.

The Herons finished 10th in the Eastern Conference in their maiden campaign under Diego Alonso last time, but they have the worst record of all 27 MLS teams in 2021.

Former Manchester United defender Neville was named as Alonso's successor in January and has won two, drawn two and lost eight of his first 12 league games in charge.

On the back of his side's latest loss, Neville says he does not need the club's owners – who include former United team-mate David Beckham – to tell him an improvement is needed.

"I feel their full support – I always have done," he said of Miami's financial backers. "They don't need to tell me about their concerns because I have the same concerns.

"I've been in football long enough and I know the consequences – that's no problem to me. We're doing everything in our power, we just need better performances on the field.

"I've got great responsibility and I'm accountable for everything that I do. We're on a run at the moment that puts me under pressure."

Miami have the likes of former Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain and World Cup-winning midfielder Blaise Matuidi in their ranks, but they were 4-0 down before half-time against the Revs.

That performance and scoreline against the conference leaders left Neville questioning whether his players had done enough for the team.

"I wasn't expecting it. The players need to take a long, hard look at themselves, and so do I. We win and we lose together," he said.

"Ultimately it's my job to make this team better, and in this moment in time they are not. That's on my shoulders.

"When we suffer a disappointment, we need to make sure that we can recover. That's what football's all about – having courage, bravery, not letting your team-mates down.

"We're not doing that and it's something we've not done for the last six games. It's something we have to rectify ASAP.

"Did they have better players than us? On paper, no, but they're a team and that's what we must become. 

"That's all I'm asking for – a team that will fight for each other and look around the dressing room and trust each other.

"That's what I've asked them to do – look in the mirror and ask, 'What are you doing for the team?' Nothing will deter me from trying to be a success at this football club."

Neville guided England Women to their first SheBelieves Cup triumph in 2019 and to fourth place in that year's World Cup, but results between then and his departure had been poor.

Reflecting on a club-record defeat for Inter, who are also on a club-record run of losses, Neville added: "It's the lowest in terms of my feelings after a defeat that I've had since I came to this football club – and we've had some disappointments.

"You can lose games in football, but the manner in which we lost [against the Revs] was… we've said the word unacceptable in the past – it feels worse than that.

"It's a case of playing for your pride, for the badge, for your supporters – I can only apologise to them for what they saw. It's them that I feel for, more than myself or the players, because they deserve better."

Inter Miami return to action on Sunday with a home match against Philadelphia Union, before rounding off July with the visit of Montreal.

Having taken a five-month break in January, Tom Dumoulin cannot wait to get back into cycling action for the Netherlands as he lines up as one of the favourites in Tokyo.

Dumoulin took an indefinite break from cycling at the start of 2021 to understand his motivations for the sport, but the three-time Tour de France stage winner returned in June and will represent his country at the Games.

Usually a time-trial specialist, Dumoulin will compete in the combined road race and time trial as he looks to become only the second cyclist to win both events at a single Games.

The only cyclist to achieve this feat before is Dumoulin's compatriot Leontien Zijlaard-Van Moorsel, who won both events at the Olympic Games Sydney 2000.

"I'm glad to be back. I had a couple of good weeks in June and the condition improved gradually. The most important thing is that I had fun on the bike again, and I took pleasure in working towards a goal again," the 2017 Giro d'Italia general classification winner said.

"I really want to go for it in the road race. It's a super-beautiful course and the heat normally suits me. I mainly prepared for the time trial, because that's my main goal, but that full gas on Saturday does not have to affect my [performance in the] time trial on Wednesday."

The Netherlands and Italy have won a joint-record nine cycling gold medals at the Games and Dumoulin believes he and his team-mates have another good chance of success on Saturday.

"We have Bauke Mollema as target man and that's logic. We have got a strong team, but not really a team to control the race.

"Dylan Van Baarle, Wilco Kelderman and me, we have free roles and the three of us hope to go a long way, but we will support Bauke wherever necessary.

"Yoeri Havik who combines the road race with track cycling [at Tokyo 2020], joins us to support the team in the first 100 kilometres."

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