The first international break of the 2021-22 campaign has arrived, and with it comes an opportunity for many national teams to start afresh.

Following the conclusion of the Copa America, Gold Cup and Euro 2020 in quick succession, all roads now lead to the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

For a number of players, the September qualifiers provide an opportunity to make an impression, while for others it is potentially a first taste of international football. 

With the games coming thick and fast over the next week or so, Stats Perform has looked at those in contention to make their senior international debuts.

Albert Sambi Lokonga (Belgium)

Belgium's golden generation of talent missed another opportunity to turn promise into something more tangible when losing to eventual winners Italy in the Euro 2020 quarter-finals.

Roberto Martinez has decided against wholesale changes after that disappointment, with Lokonga the only outfield player in line for his first cap, having failed to get further than the bench – against Greece in June – after previous call-ups.

A product of the same Anderlecht youth system that oversaw the development of Romelu Lukaku, Youri Tielemans and Leander Dendoncker, among others, Lokonga sealed a move to Arsenal in July after impressing in the Belgian top flight.

The £15million signing has not had the best of starts to life at Arsenal, the Gunners finding themselves bottom of the English top-flight table having played at least three league matches for the first time since October 1974.

Lokonga, noted for his ability to play in front of the defence, featured in just two of those games yet still trails Granit Xhaka alone in terms of passes (113 to 139) and successful passes (97 to 118) and is behind only Sead Kolasinac for interceptions.

 

Claudinho (Brazil)

Citing concerns over the availability of his European-based contingent due to clubs being reluctant to release players to red-list countries, Tite has named a bloated Brazil squad for this month's triple-header of World Cup qualifiers.

Those complications appear set to deny Raphinha a debut, having impressed during his first year in the Premier League with Leeds United. 

Raphinha ranks seventh in the division for dribbles attempted since the start of last season (142), completing 42.96 per cent of those. He also ranks in the top 10 for chances created over that period with 68.

But Claudinho remains in line to be capped for the first time, called up after helping his country secure Olympic gold at Tokyo 2020.

The midfielder, whose signing at Zenit was announced not long after the Olympic tournament had concluded, described his call-up as "a dream come true".

Theo Hernandez and Moussa Diaby (France)

It is out with the old and in with the new as far as France's first post-Euros squad is concerned – to an extent, at least, with Olivier Giroud one of nine players to make way from the previous group named by Didier Deschamps.

Injuries have also played a part in that, potentially giving a quartet of uncapped players the chance to impress in the upcoming qualifiers with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ukraine and Finland.

Hernandez, a more natural left-back option than brother Lucas, will feel his first call-up is long overdue following back-to-back campaigns as a regular for Milan, whom he joined from Real Madrid. 

Since making his Rossoneri bow in September 2019, no defender in Serie A has completed more dribbles than Hernandez (133), while only Federico Dimarco (87) and Juan Cuadrado (107) have created more chances than his 86.

Monaco midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni and Roma's Jordan Veretout may also feature during this international break, but perhaps the most exciting of the new additions is Bayer Leverkusen winger Diaby.

The Paris Saint-Germain product scored twice and assisted another in Leverkusen's opening two Bundesliga games of 2021-22, while Alphonso Davies is the only player in the division to have attempted more dribbles this term (24 to his 22).

Known for his blistering pace and ability to take on opponents, Diaby could well provide Deschamps with a different option in an attack already packed full of talent.

 

Otavio (Portugal)

Three new players have been called up by Fernando Santos, who is looking to the future after his Portugal side's reign as European champions came to an end in July.

Goncalo Inacio is injured, but Diogo Costa and Otavio could each make their senior debuts during this international window, with the latter the name on many lips right now.

Otavio has tallied 11 goal involvementss in each of the past two Primeira Liga campaigns for Porto and has made a fast start to the new season with two assists in his first four games.

Since the start of last season, only team-mate Mehdi Taremi has provided more assists (12) in the Portuguese top flight than Otavio's 10, coming from 51 chances created.

The Brazilian-born attacking midfielder was granted Portuguese citizenship earlier this year and will be eager to show that Brazil's loss is very much Portugal's gain should he get some minutes over the next week.

Ricardo Pepi (United States)

The dual-national drama surrounding Pepi appears to have reached a resolution as the FC Dallas forward has seemingly pledged his allegiance to the United States over Mexico.

After breaking into the Dallas side two years ago and featuring regularly last year, 2021 has been quite the season for the El Paso-born youngster.

Pepi, who does not turn 19 until next January, has 11 goals and two assists in 21 games this term and scored the decisive kick in last week's penalty shoot-out win for MLS against their Liga MX counterparts in the All-Star Game.

He has 13 MLS goals in total, the fourth-most ever by a teenager – ahead of Freddy Adu – and just nine short of the record held by Diego Fagundez.

On the basis of the past four months in particular, the USMNT could have a potentially world-class player to lead their line for a number of years to come.

 

Karim Adeyemi (Germany)

For the first time in 17 years, Germany will play a match without Joachim Low in their dugout either as assistant or head coach when they face Liechtenstein on Thursday.

Hansi Flick is tasked with ushering in a new generation of German talents, with help from the old guard, many of whom were key to his successful spell at Bayern Munich.

Away from regulars such as Thomas Muller, Leon Goretzka, Joshua Kimmich and Manuel Neuer, Flick has included four uncapped players in his first squad – David Raum, Nico Schlotterbeck, Florian Wirtz and Adeyemi.

A technically gifted and supremely fast winger, Adeyemi has long been considered one of Germany's most promising young players, having cost Salzburg a reported €3m when he was 16.

Adeyemi, who left Bayern six years earlier, has been given the chance to spread his wings with Salzburg and has been strongly linked with Red Bull sister club RB Leipzig.

He already has six goals in six Austrian Bundesliga appearances this term, just one less than he managed in 29 top-flight appearances last time out – a return he will be looking to build on if he is given the nod by Flick.

Justin Bijlow (Netherlands)

The Netherlands are another European heavyweight going through a transitional period of sorts after turning to veteran coach Louis van Gaal for a third stint in charge.

Frank de Boer failed to get the most out of this talented Dutch squad and already Van Gaal has put his own mark on the team by calling up a few newbies.

There will be plenty of focus on the goalkeeping position as, with Jasper Cillessen not fully fit and Maarten Stekelenburg recently retiring, Joel Drommel and Bijlow can stake a claim to be the long-term number one.

Bijlow is considered one of the finest young goalkeepers in Europe and already has 45 Eredivisie games under his belt for Feyenoord, where he is a real fan favourite.

The 23-year-old has kept 15 clean sheets across those appearances and boasts a save percentage of 72.16. Van Gaal can seemingly rely on the young stopper, as he has made just one error leading to a goal.

It was well after the final whistle on deadline day but, eventually, Antoine Griezmann's return to Atletico Madrid was officially confirmed.

Two years after leaving, Griezmann has joined on a season-long loan from Barcelona, with the deal including an option to extend for a further year and a compulsory permanent transfer clause.

Earlier this month, Barca – in a straw-clutching move following Lionel Messi's departure for Paris Saint-Germain – made a rather big deal of Griezmann making his 100th club appearance. Not even two weeks later, he is gone.

On that landmark appearance, Griezmann hit the crossbar in a 4-2 win over his former club Real Sociedad, where he had developed into one of LaLiga's brightest attackers before joining Atleti in 2014. 

He went on to score 94 LaLiga goals for Diego Simeone's team before a long-rumoured switch to Barca went through. Yet he has never quite managed to scale the same heights at Camp Nou as he did at his previous home.

A disappointing first campaign marred by injuries and inconsistency left Griezmann playing catch up last term, though he did net 20 times across all competitions to finish as Barca's second-leading scorer.

Stats Perform assesses how Griezmann's efforts last season match up to his best campaign from his previous Atleti stint, as well as looking at what he could contribute to Simeone's attack.

 

GRIEZMANN AT HIS PEAK

Griezmann was a model of consistency throughout his time at Atleti, as he became the perfect, versatile forward for Simeone's disciplined side.

He partnered Mario Mandzukic, Fernando Torres and Diego Costa among others during his time at the club, transforming himself from a speedy winger to a centre forward with predatory instincts in the penalty area, as well as harbouring plenty of creative talents.

Though he played more games (54) and scored more goals (32) during the 2015-16 season, Griezmann's finest campaign at Atleti arguably came in 2017-18.

His tally of 19 LaLiga strikes was 11 more than any other Atleti player as he finished sixth in the scoring charts overall.

Griezmann added another 10 goals across the cup competitions, however, including a brace in the Europa League final to help Atleti beat Marseille 3-0 in Lyon.

Only Griezmann got into double figures for Atleti in terms of assists (13), while only Koke (81) created more chances than his total of 65.

Griezmann was clinical when opportunities came his way too, converting 52.38 per cent of the 42 "big chances" (an opportunity defined as one where they player should score) that were crafted for him, while he ranked top for attempts (124) as he averaged a goal every 133 minutes.

To cap off an exceptional domestic campaign, Griezmann put in a man-of-the-match display as France beat Croatia 4-2 in the 2018 World Cup final.

 

PAST HIS BEST?

After making much of his call to stay put at Atleti – he took part in a mini-documentary to confirm his decision before the 2018 World Cup – Griezmann completed a €120million switch to Barca a year later.

It was not without controversy: Atleti insisted Barca had fallen some €80m short of the obligated fee, but the transfer was nevertheless upheld.

His first season at Camp Nou was one to forget, eventually ending with a humbling 8-2 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich on home soil.

Griezmann came into his second season with a renewed sense of purpose and finally seemed to click under new boss Ronald Koeman. Playing 51 times in all competitions, including making 45 starts, he clocked up 3,904 minutes in total - the second most he has managed in a campaign since moving to Atletico.

A total of 20 goals sees him fall some way short of the 29 he managed in 2017-18, though his 12 assists come close to matching his Atleti peak.

His expected assists (xA) total of 8.99 does suggest the quality of opportunities he created was perhaps not wholly responsible for his final total. Given he was linking up with Messi, this is perhaps no surprise. It was, though, also the case in 2017-18, with Griezmann tallying an expected assists figure of 6.3, suggesting his Atleti team-mates were finishing chances they may not have been expected to.

Griezmann created more chances (67) last term than in his 2017-18 season, though his conversion rate of gilt-edged opportunities dropped to 39.39 per cent.

Only in 2018-19 (15.11) did Griezmann have a lower shot conversion rate than last term (18.02) while there was no international glory for him this time around either – he scored once as France dropped out of Euro 2020 in the last 16.

 

BACK WHERE HE BELONGS?

Griezmann was the main man at Atleti but had to play in the shadow of Messi at Barca, not to mention Luis Suarez before he moved on to Madrid.

Barca sold Suarez to Atleti last year and, well, the rest is history – the former Liverpool star scored 21 league goals as Atleti clinched their second title under Simeone.

Griezmann's haul of 13 goals would have put him as Atleti's second-highest scorer in LaLiga last term, four ahead of the next forward in Angel Correa, though midfielder Marcos Llorente plundered 12 in a more advanced role.

Of Atleti players, only Llorente (11), Yannick Carrasco (10) and Correa (8) provided more league assists than Griezmann's seven from 42 chances created in total.

While he has failed to score or create a single opportunity across Barca's three league games so far this season, Simeone must surely be confident he can get Griezmann operating at somewhere close to his former glory.

With city rivals Real Madrid failing to land Kylian Mbappe in the transfer window, Atleti will surely fancy their chances of reigning in Spain once again.

France will be without N'Golo Kante for their World Cup qualifier against Bosnia-Herzegovina on Wednesday, Didier Deschamps has confirmed.

The Chelsea midfielder aggravated an ankle injury during the 1-1 draw with Liverpool at the weekend.

Sitting top of Group D with seven points from three games, Les Bleus resume their World Cup qualifying campaign with a trio of fixtures in early September.

However, the reigning world champions will be unable to call upon Kante for the first of those, which takes place in Strasbourg.

Addressing the media on Tuesday, head coach Deschamps said: "Kante will be too soon for tomorrow. 

"There are too many risks; he will not be used tomorrow."

 

Meanwhile, Hugo Lloris believes Kylian Mbappe will not be bothered by the recent speculation linking him with a blockbuster move to Real Madrid.

The forward has made a bright start to the Ligue 1 season with three goals in Paris Saint-Germain's first four games, including a brace in Sunday's 2-0 win over Reims as Lionel Messi made his debut for the club.

"As you could see, he was very focused in the last game. He is very professional," Lloris said.

"He was decisive in the first four matches. It shows that he respects his club and is ready to perform. 

"There is a lot of agitation around him, it's normal, but he knows how to make the difference to help the French team."

France are looking to bounce back having exited Euro 2020 in the round of 16 following defeat to Switzerland on penalties.

Lloris revealed that following positive discussions within the camp, he and his team-mates are hungry to make amends with a fresh approach.

"We highlighted what was less successful, but there were also good things –especially in the group stage – which were quite successful," the goalkeeper added.

"We switch to something new, fresh. Everyone must participate in giving a new impetus.

"We are positive. We have very little time to prepare for the match, but there is desire."

Kylian Mbappe's future is not being discussed within the France squad amid strong links to Real Madrid, according to Les Bleus duo Moussa Diaby and Aurelien Tchouameni.

Madrid have reportedly been in negotiations with Paris Saint-Germain in a bid to prise Mbappe from the Ligue 1 giants to the LaLiga powerhouse, though a transfer is yet to materialise.

Mbappe has one year remaining on his contract but Madrid are determined to sign the 22-year-old – who has scored 133 goals in 174 games for PSG, at a rate of one goal every 102.46 minutes – before the end of the transfer window.

The intense speculation comes with Mbappe away on international duty as France prepare for three World Cup qualifiers against Bosnia-Herzegovina (Wednesday), Ukraine (Saturday) and Finland (September 7).

When asked about Mbappe's future, Diaby – who could make his France debut – told reporters: "I spoke with Kylian. He congratulated me on my first call up.

"We ate, we laughed together. We didn't talk about his future. His situation is his own business. I have nothing to say about that."

Diaby played alongside Mbappe at PSG before the 22-year-old left the French capital for Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen in 2019.

"He is an extraordinary player," Diaby said. "I don't think that Kylian is still considered a 'youngster' because of what he does on the pitch.

"I have to take a leaf out of his book and ask him for some advice to reach my full potential. Try to be like Kylian. When he came the first time, it couldn't have been easy either. By asking him for some advice, everything can go well for me."

Monaco's Tchouameni, who also received his first international call-up amid links with Chelsea and Manchester United, added: "Quite honestly, we didn't talk about that [Mbappe's future].

"We talked about the different results of our teams in the last weekend. We didn't talk about the transfer market with Kylian anyway."

Aurelien Tchouameni said he is inspired by Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante as the Monaco sensation continues to be linked with Chelsea and Manchester United.

Tchouameni is reportedly wanted by Premier League giants Chelsea and United following his exploits in Ligue 1.

Before the weekend's fixtures, the 21-year-old midfielder ranked first in possessions won (209) and tackles won (52) in the top five European leagues in 2021, while he was tied for fifth in duels won (221).

Tchouameni's performances under Niko Kovac earned a France call-up for the first time as Les Bleus face Bosnia-Herzegovina in a World Cup qualifier on Wednesday before continuing their road to Qatar 2022 against Ukraine on Saturday and Finland on September 7.

Amid speculation over his future heading into the international break, Tchouameni was asked about his inspirations, and he told reporters: "I followed a lot what [United midfielder] Paul [Pogba] was doing. Since he started his career.

"Now I have the chance to be with him and [Chelsea midfielder] N'Golo [Kante]. They are players who are very successful at their clubs, so I try to see what they do and take inspiration from their strong characteristics.

"There are also some players I didn't get to see play at the time, like Patrick Vieira. Foreign players too, like [Manchester City and Belgium midfielder] Kevin De Bruyne. I try to look at everything that is good in the midfield and their characteristics to inspire me."

Meanwhile, France head coach Didier Deschamps will be without Dayot Upamecano for the three World Cup qualifiers after the Bayern Munich centre-back suffered a right thigh injury.

Upamecano has been replaced in the squad by Barcelona defender Clement Lenglet.

France head coach Didier Deschamps said Kylian Mbappe's transfer saga is "not deal" as Les Bleus prepare for upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

Mbappe wants to leave Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid are reportedly trying to reach an agreement with the Ligue 1 giants.

Despite Mbappe being out of contract at the end of the season, Madrid are believed to have offered €180million for the France international.

As world champions France gear up for qualifiers against Bosnia-Herzegovina (September 1), Ukraine (September 4) and Finland (September 7) on the road to Qatar 2022, Deschamps was asked about Madrid target Mbappe.

"I can't answer for [Kylian Mbappe]," Deschamps told reporters. "It is better to ask him the questions [on his future].

"The only factual thing is that the transfer market closes on Tuesday. The September games are brought forward and that coincides with the day before the game for us. Is that ideal? Obviously not. I'm not going to fight with that.

"Kylian, as well as other players, may be in a situation where they have to change clubs. I will try to be conciliatory as much as possible because their future is at stake. It's their decision, it's their career.

"I am not in their shoes, I can at most give an opinion. The decision is theirs."

Mbappe has scored 133 goals and provided 58 assists across 174 games over four years at PSG since arriving from Monaco.

The 22-year-old's 191 goal involvements since his debut rank third among players in Europe's top five leagues in that time, behind Messi (236) and Bayern Munich superstar Robert Lewandowski (213).

Mbappe was on target as Mauricio Pochettino's PSG overcame Brest 4-2 in Ligue 1 last week.

PSG's Mbappe scored his fourth Ligue 1 headed goal, his first with for club and his first since March 2017 with Monaco at Caen.

Mbappe has been decisive in eight consecutive Ligue 1 games (eight goals, three assists), his second-best run in the top-flight, behind February-November 2020 (10).

A World Cup winner, Mbappe has scored 17 goals in 48 appearances for France since debuting in 2017.

Olivier Giroud was dropped by France boss Didier Deschamps on Thursday in a move that casts early doubt on the striker's World Cup prospects.

The decision to omit France's second highest goalscorer of all time was taken by Deschamps ahead of the three World Cup qualifiers that await Les Bleus in early September.

Giroud, who turns 35 at the end of next month, has scored seven times for his country in the past 12 months but did not find the net at Euro 2020.

Pre-tournament comments, which were interpreted as Giroud criticising Kylian Mbappe, saw the veteran forward complain of a lack of service.

Mbappe was disappointed with those remarks, particularly with Giroud making them in public rather than in the dressing room, and it remains to be seen whether they have played their last game together at international level.

Les Bleus were favourites going into Euro 2020 but went on to lose on penalties to Switzerland in the second round, and now they must focus on qualifying for the World Cup, as holders.

They face Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ukraine and Finland in the first seven days of September.

Speaking about Giroud, who has swapped Chelsea for Milan since last season, Deschamps said: "It's my choice today. It's up to Olivier to perform, he's still available.

"His situation has changed with his transfer to Milan, where he's found a lot more game time."

Giroud insisted during the European Championship that he intended to play on for France beyond the tournament.

"I'm not finished, far from it. Count on me, grandpa is not dead!" Giroud, who was one of the key members of France's World Cup-winning squad in 2018, told Le Figaro.

"I'm almost 35 but have the hunger of a 20-year-old guy. I know how to do it with the team."

Deschamps handed first call-ups on Thursday to Giroud's Milan team-mate, left-back Theo Hernandez, Monaco midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni and Roma playmaker Jordan Veretout, along with Bayer Leverkusen winger Moussa Diaby.

He also recalled Manchester United forward Anthony Martial, who has been involved in both Premier League games for the Red Devils this season after overcoming a long-term injury, and Bayern Munich defender Dayot Upamecano.

France squad: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Mike Maignan (Milan), Steve Mandanda (Marseille); Lucas Digne (Everton), Leo Dubois (Lyon), Presnel Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain), Jules Kounde (Sevilla), Dayot Upamecano (Bayern Munich), Raphael Varane (Manchester United), Theo Hernandez (Milan), Kurt Zouma (Chelsea); N'Golo Kante (Chelsea), Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Aurelien Tchouameni (Monaco), Corentin Tolisso (Bayern Munich), Jordan Veretout (Roma); Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), Moussa Diaby (Bayer Leverkusen), Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona), Thomas Lemar (Atletico Madrid), Anthony Martial (Manchester United), Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain).

On August 9, 2016, Manchester United completed a deal that was expected to transform them back into title regulars.

Paul Pogba – who had left United in 2012 – arrived in an £89.3million (€105m) deal from Juventus, a then-world record transfer fee.

Five years on, Pogba seems to be at something of a crossroads in not just his United career, but as a player altogether.

Like in 2016, Pogba heads into the 2021-22 season on the back of an impressive European Championship with France.

Unlike in 2016, Les Bleus failed to go deep in the competition, dropping out in the last 16 stage to Switzerland.

That game in June perhaps provided the perfect summary of Pogba the player. A global superstar in his own right, the 28-year-old has perhaps never hit the heights his talent suggested, or at least not on a consistent basis.

An exquisite long-range strike put France 3-1 up against Switzerland, yet it was Pogba who dawdled on the ball and was robbed of possession as Les Bleus contributed to their own downfall in Bucharest.

But just how has Pogba fared in the five years since he arrived back at Old Trafford, and what could come next?

 

HIS UNITED RECORD

Pogba has made 199 appearances in all competitions for United in his second spell at the club, with Marcus Rashford (252), David de Gea (216) and Anthony Martial (208) playing more games in that time.

Indeed, only De Gea and Rashford have played more minutes than Pogba's 15,708. While he has struggled at times with niggling injuries, he has more often than not been consistently available throughout his time at Old Trafford, with De Gea and Rashford the two players to start more games than the former Juve star (174).

Pogba has played 134 times in the Premier League since 2016, helping United to 73 victories –  a win percentage of 54.5 per cent.

He has missed 56 league games, with United's win percentage dropping down to 50 per cent in those matches, underlying that he is perhaps more crucial than some of his critics would suggest.

It has to be said, however, that Bruno Fernandes' arrival in 2020 did see Pogba take a back seat.

The Portugal playmaker has already netted more goals (40) in all competitions than Pogba (38), in 119 fewer appearances, though 21 of Fernandes' goals have come from the penalty spot.

Rashford, with 39, is the only United player to record more assists than Pogba, who has teed up as many as he has scored, while the Frenchman's 301 chances created is a team-high, 66 clear of second-placed Rashford.

Pogba ranks in the top three for dribbles attempted (624), with 393 of these being successful, displaying his ability to carry the ball through the thirds, and his total of 11,723 passes is way clear of Nemanja Matic in second (9,849).

 

PARIS FOR PAUL?

With just 12 months left on his contract, talks of a move away for the Frenchman at the end of his deal continue – Paris Saint-Germain his most likely destination, given their reported interest last year.

PSG already have a wealth of midfield options, though, including former team-mate Ander Herrera, Euro 2020 winner Marco Verratti and Leandro Paredes.

Pogba completed 1595 passes last term, yet the PSG trio, along with Idrissa Gueye, averaged out at 2126 successful attempts – perhaps aided by their domination on the ball in Ligue 1.

Despite this, only Paredes (322) completed more passes in the final third than the United midfielder's 282, suggesting a different dimension Pogba could bring to Mauricio Pochettino's midfield.

Pogba also won 255 duels, recovering possession 242 times when doing his defensive duties for Solskjaer. Idrissa Gueye, PSG's best performer in this area, only managed 201 successful duels and 208 recoveries in two games more.

However, Verratti, who featured in 11 fewer games than Pogba, was victorious in 233 duels and made 174 recoveries  – could the pair form Pochettino's pivot next season?

While Pochettino now also has Georginio Wijnaldum, who made 262 recoveries albeit in six more games for Liverpool last year, to call upon, Pogba would add undoubted quality to the French giants in every midfield aspect.

Draymond Green turned on Team USA's critics after landing another basketball gold medal at the Olympic Games, saying: "Somebody needs to teach these people some loyalty."

A sketchy start to the Tokyo 2020 mission was followed by steady improvement from Gregg Popovich's team, and an 87-82 win over France in Saturday's final tied up a fourth successive gold-winning campaign.

Pre-tournament losses to Australia and Nigeria hinted at teething problems in fusing together a new-look squad, and an early-group stage loss to France only fuelled doubts that this side might come up short.

But the United States team came good when it mattered, fending off a France side who kept coming back for more in the gold game. 

Golden State Warriors power forward Green has now played on two of the Americans' triumphant men's basketball Olympic teams, and he was keen to hit out at what he called "a lot of doubters".

"You turn on American sports talk, TV, or whatever, and you got guys like Kendrick Perkins doubting us," Green said.

Perkins, 36, is a former NBA championship winner with the Boston Celtics who now works as a television game analyst and commentator.

"Somebody needs to teach these people some loyalty. How about you cheer for your country?" Green said.

"When a guy doesn't play they say, 'Oh you need to represent your country', and then you lose, hit a little bump in the road, and everybody is mad in America. You are an American too, act like it.

"Do your job. I do some media stuff, I understand doing your job, but when you talk about a special group, you better be sure you are right, and a lot of people got it wrong.

"And trust me, I will be posting those guys, I'll be posting everyone I find who said something. No one holds anyone accountable any more, but I will."

 

Kevin Durant was the driving force behind the USA's success, scoring a game-high 29 points in the final and being a powerful presence during the tournament.

Like others, Green said that Durant "carried" the team, but he also pointed to the efforts of Jayson Tatum, Devin Booker and Jrue Holiday as being significant.

"It's a challenge to do special things," Green said. "I know it seems as if it has come easy for so long, but I played in 2016. It wasn’t easy then, it wasn’t easy this year.

"If it's worth having, you have to fight for it. We fought, they fought, I think the better team came out with the gold medal."

With families unable to join the team in Tokyo, and the Games coming on the back of a taxing NBA season, Green suggested this was a win to savour perhaps more than the Rio success, where there were no issues as imposing as the ongoing COVID restrictions.

"Don't get me wrong, I don't take either one for granted, but this one feels sweet," Green said. "It feels a lot sweeter."

Kevin Durant dazzled as Team USA won a fourth successive Olympic men's basketball gold medal, edging out France 87-82 in Saturday's final.

A game-high haul of 29 points from Brooklyn Nets superstar Durant saw the United States to a victory that avenged their opening group-stage loss to France.

It meant the USA kept up their strong recent record on the Olympic stage, with Durant securing a third gold medal of his career.

Jayson Tatum weighed in with 19 points, while France had five players in double figures but nobody in their ranks scored more than the 16 points managed by both Rudy Gobert and Evan Fournier.

The USA led by 11 points at 71-57 in the third quarter, but an impressive France cut that advantage to three points at 73-70 with 5:42 remaining of the fourth after Frank Ntilikina drained a three-pointer

France again reined in a double-digit lead to get back to 85-82 in arrears with 10 seconds remaining, but a foul by Gobert on Durant gave the USA's star man the chance to put the game away, which he seized by making both his free throws.

Nine-time Olympic gold medallist Carl Lewis did not hold back in his criticism of the United States' performance in the men's 4x100 metres relay at Tokyo 2020.

Team USA have not won the event in 21 years and though they entered Thursday's heat as one of the favourites, they failed to qualify for the final.

It is the first time Team USA have failed to reach the Olympic final since 2008, though they have hardly had much fortune in the event since their success in Sydney.

Indeed, they have only once made it to the finish line cleanly, without any mistakes, when they claimed silver at London 2012. That medal, however, was conceded in the wake of Tyson Gay's doping ban.

This time around, a team including three of the fastest men in the world over 100m in 2021, fared little better.

Trayvon Bromell, Fred Kerley, Ronnie Baker and Cravon Gillespie finished sixth in the heat with a time of 38.10 seconds.

"We just didn't get the job done today," Kerley said. "That's all."

Sprinting great Lewis, who won two golds in the 4x100m relay, hit out at what he labelled a "clown show".

"The USA team did everything wrong in the men’s relay," Lewis wrote on Twitter. "The passing system is wrong, athletes running the wrong legs, and it was clear that there was no leadership. It was a total embarrassment, and completely unacceptable for a USA team to look worse than the AAU kids I saw."

He then expanded on his criticism in an interview with USA Today.

"This was a football coach taking a team to the Super Bowl and losing 99-0 because they were completely ill-prepared," Lewis said.

"It's unacceptable. It's so disheartening to see this because it’s people's lives. We're just playing games with people's lives. That's why I’m so upset. It's totally avoidable.

"America is sitting there rooting for the United States and then they have this clown show. I can't take it anymore. It's just unacceptable. It is not hard to do the relay."

HISTORY MADE BY SPAIN

Sport climbing and karate were two of the sports introduced for the Tokyo Games, and the first medals in each were won by Spanish athletes.

At the age of 39 years and 323 days, Sandra Sanchez became Spain's oldest Olympic champion as she triumphed in the women's kata, breaking the record set by Joan Llaneras in the velodrome in 2008.

Sanchez also became the first Spanish woman to clinch gold in martial arts since judoka Isabel Fernandez did so in 2000.

Her triumph was followed up by golds for France's Steven da Costa and Bulgaria's Ivet Goranova in the men's and women's kumite respectively.

At the opposite end of the spectrum to Sanchez, 18-year-old Alberto Gines Lopez became the youngest male Spanish athlete to strike gold at the Games as he pipped Nathaniel Coleman and Jakob Schubert in the sport climbing men's combined final.

"I think it will help the sport to grow, and for it to get more support. We need good installations in order to help the sport, and I think this will bring more support to the sport," the teenager said, before revealing his plans of celebration: "I'm going to break my diet. And then call my family and friends."

FOURNIER PREPPED FOR 'THE MOST COMPLICATED MATCH'

Team USA and France will meet in the final of the men's basketball competition, as the two favourites go head-to-head for gold.

Luka Doncic's shooting was off as Slovenia fell to an agonising 90-89 defeat to France, who beat the USA in the pool stage.

The European Champions, who also defeated the USA in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, now face a rematch against a side that has scored over 90 points in the last four games.

Evan Fournier, whose 23 points was second behind only team-mate Nando de Colo, knows what is in store.

"It represents a real step towards a dream, and the dream is to win the Olympics against the United States," said Fournier, who has just swapped the Boston Celtics for the New York Knicks.

"We have to rest and not let our minds wander, and prepare as much as possible, because there's a team waiting for us. They've prepared for us for two years, apparently, and because we beat them in the pool it will be worse, so it will be the most complicated match of the competition for us without any doubt."

SHOOT-OUT GLORY FOR BELGIUM

Beaten finalists in 2016, Belgium claimed their first hockey gold, and only their second in an Olympic team sport, after their men beat Australia 3-2 in a shoot-out.

Goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch was the hero in dramatic circumstances.

He made two saves before then denying Jacob Whetton, only for Belgium's celebrations to be cut short by a referral. However, Vanasch stood firm for a second time.

The shoot-out drama followed a 1-1 draw, with Tom Wickham having cancelled out Florent van Aubel's opener.

"What a feeling. You become Olympic champion, but twice [because of the referral] It's unusual," Vanasch said. "We had to calm down and go again. We knew that.

"I'm like a musician, it's a rehearsal and then you come to the concert and it comes naturally. That's how I come on the pitch. I'm composed, but also I trust myself, I trust my reflexes."

Australia have now won seven men's hockey medals across the last eight Games, while Belgium won their first gold in a team event since the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, when their men's football team triumphed.

Luka Doncic explained an uncharacteristic poor shooting performance was the reason for his assist-heavy approach in Slovenia's Olympic semi-final defeat to France, despite appearing to sustain a wrist injury in the fourth quarter.

Slovenia – featuring at their first Games – agonisingly went down 90-89 to France following Nicolas Batum's block in the final three seconds of the game.

The European champions ran Les Bleus close even as Doncic attempted only two shots in the fourth quarter.

The Dallas Mavericks superstar looked to have taken a knock when he collided with a court-side screen early in the fourth but did not indicate any issue as he discussed his late preference for passes.

"My shots weren't falling today, so I was trying to find open team-mates," Doncic said.

Asked specifically about the final play when Batum blocked Klemen Prepelic's lay-up from a Doncic pass, he added: "I think Batum was helping so I had to pass.

"I think [Prepelic] was open and it was a great drive, but Batum had an amazing block. I think it was a good choice.

"Not always you can make a smart choice but I trust them, they trust me and I thought that was a good choice."

Doncic shot five-for-18 from the field and two-for-nine from three-point range but still tallied 16 points, 10 rebounds and 18 assists.

He became only the third player in Olympic history to record a triple-double, following in the footsteps of Alexander Belov and LeBron James.

But having been beaten for the first time in Slovenia colours, falling to 17-1 after success at EuroBasket 2017 and the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Kaunas, Doncic was not interested in individual achievements.

"We lost the game so I don't care about my performance," he said.

Doncic leads the Games in points (121) and assists (50) but has also drawn the most fouls (39) and played the most minutes (160) in a gruelling campaign.

Opponent Evan Fournier felt the point forward, who led the NBA in usage rate last season (36 per cent), tired under close scrutiny from the French defenders.

"It was the objective to target him all through the match, several of us in relay," New York Knicks signing Fournier said.

"Tim [Luwawu-Cabarrot] did an excellent job, Nico did an excellent job, and I think, as strong as he is, in a 40-minute match you still get tired physically.

"He wasn't taking three-point shots and I think if he'd been fresher he would have done."

Doncic said of the attention: "I'm used to every defense now."

Batum embraced the 22-year-old at the end of the game, with the duo facing off in yet another crunch contest after a seven-game playoff series between the Mavs and the Los Angeles Clippers.

Doncic was on the losing side on that occasion, too, but averaged 35.7 points per game, and he said of the post-game exchange with Batum: "It was a good message. He's a class act. He told me he hates playing against me, in a good way."

An exhausted Luka Doncic fell agonisingly short of carrying Slovenia into the gold medal game at the Tokyo Olympics as they went down 90-89 in their semi-final against France.

Dallas Mavericks superstar Doncic has been the dominant player at the Games and was at the centre of the action again on Thursday.

Despite uncharacteristically slack two-for-nine shooting from deep – hindered by an apparent injury – Doncic put up 16 points, 10 rebounds and 18 assists for a heroic triple-double.

It was the third in Olympic history and first since LeBron James' against Australia at London 2012.

The 22-year-old played a game-high 36 minutes and took numerous hits, but it was Nicolas Batum's clutch block on Klemen Prepelic that decided the contest in France's favour.

Les Bleus will now face the United States, who they have beaten in consecutive tournament games, while Doncic must turn his focus to the bronze medal match against Australia after falling to 17-1 in international play.

Slovenia – making their Olympics debut this year – led 44-42 at halftime before a tough third quarter in which they struggled to get stops and were outscored 29-21.

Doncic then sustained a knock to his wrist in a collision with a court-side screen early in the fourth and seemed reluctant to shoot thereafter.

With their primary scorer pulling the strings but relying on his team-mates to make shots, Slovenia still took the game down to the closing seconds.

After Doncic's 10th rebound ensured his first triple of the Olympics, Prepelic went through for a lay-up inside the final three seconds, only for Batum's fourth block and Gobert's 16th board to deny Slovenia.

Japan squeezed through to the women's basketball semi-finals following a dramatic 86-85 victory over Belgium at the Tokyo Olympics.

Targeting a first medal in the event, the host nation almost suffered last-gasp heartbreak after recovering from 70-61 behind in the final quarter.

Saki Hayashi’s three-pointer put them in front by one with 16 seconds remaining, but there was still time for Belgium’s Kim Mestdagh to take aim right at the death.

However, her last-second jump shot bounced off the rim, meaning Japan go through to a last-four clash with France.

"There were so many peaks and valleys. We were hanging on to the cliff by a fingernail in the fourth quarter," coach Tom Hovasse said.

"We just came up with plays and towards the middle of the fourth quarter, we ramped up our defence and that took them out of their comfort zone.

"We believe in ourselves, and I am hoping more people outside our locker room believe in us.

"I think it is safe to say it is the biggest win in Japan basketball history."

 

FRANCE FEND OFF SPAIN FIGHTBACK

Japan's next opponents are France, who beat Spain 67-64 after another epic encounter.

Despite dominating most of the contest – Marine Johannes leading the way with 18 points – France appeared in danger of throwing it all away as they fell 61-60 behind.

However, they recovered to snatch victory and secure a third consecutive appearance in the last four.

Astou Ndour had 16 points in a losing cause for Spain, runners up from the Rio Games who will not be taking home a medal this time around.

 

SERBIA STUN CHINA

Serbia were another team to produce an inspired turnaround as they defeated China 77-70.

Bronze medallists on their debut in Rio, the European champions recovered from 58-50 down to reach their second successive semi-final at the Games.

"How many times have we done this, 20, 30 times?" said shooting guard Ana Dabovic, who claimed six assists during the game to go alongside her 13 points.

"We never quit, and we play the hardest when we are down. We showed today we can find energy.

"This is a great success for a small country. Second time at the Olympics for Serbia; second time in the semi-finals. This is great."

Jelena Brooks top-scored with 18 points for Serbia, while Sonja Vasic had 16.


SEVEN IN A ROW STILL ON

The United States remain on course for a seventh straight Olympic gold after easing to a 79-55 win over three-time silver medallists Australia.

Breanna Stewart led the way with 20 first-half points – she would finish the contest with 23 overall - as USA ran out 79-55 winners.

"I thought we came out and played inspired basketball on both sides of the ball," said coach Dawn Staley.

"We played with an incredible desire to advance and it was just contagious.

"I thought our team was focused on keeping the heat on Australia and not let them back in the game."

Team USA have not failed to win the women’s tournament at an Olympics since Barcelona in 1992.

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.

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