Team USA star forward Kevin Durant remains bullish about the side's ability to adjust their game in their pursuit of a gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

USA were beaten 83-76 by France in their opening game at the Tokyo Olympics having been beaten by Australia and Nigeria in exhibition games in the lead-up.

The losses have led to criticism of the cohesion of Team USA who are 15-time Olympic gold medalists, but Durant insisted there was no panic ahead of Wednesday's second group game against Iran.

"Our adjustment is we just make more shots," Durant said. "We've got the best talent in the world on the team."

USA led throughout the first half against France before collapsing down the stretch, surrendering a 74-67 advantage.

"We got each other good shots," Durant added. "We know how to play off each other."

USA assistant coach Lloyd Pierce reiterated Durant's calmness about the situation, stating they need to remain confident.

"The keys to beating these guys is just being ourselves, worrying about what we do best," Pierce said.

"We want to get out and play fast and create extra possessions throughout the course of the games.

"It's only 40 minutes, we have to make this game a little bit faster and get as many easy shots as we can.

"We have to be ourselves as well. Our guys have to play with confidence, have to play with the freedom they're used to, they also have to do that together, make simple plays, quick plays and enjoy the experience."

Brooklyn Nets forward Durant provided a positive assessment of the impact of Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and Devin Booker who played against France after competing in the NBA Finals last week.

The trio arrived barely 48 hours before the France game, with Holiday top scoring with 18 points plus four assists from 27 minutes.

Booker shot poorly, with four points and three assists from 18 minutes, while Middleton only had five minutes of game time.

"What they did to me felt like just who they are," Durant said. "I always have a high-level respect for all three of those guys.

"For them to come out and play, not really complain about anything, be excited to be here [full credit]. Those guys are amazing talents, it's great being around them."

There was plenty of drama in Tokyo on Tuesday and that is set to continue as the Olympic Games ramps up further on Wednesday.

A titanic tussle in the swimming pool should be well worth watching, but action on the bikes and in the basketball court will also draw plenty of eyes.

Stats Perform guides you through the events not to be missed.

TITMUS OUT TO TOP LEDECKY AGAIN

Katie Ledecky is one of the dominant forces in the pool, taking gold in each of her prior four individual Games finals since her 2012 debut as she headed to Tokyo, but she was upset in the 2020 opener.

Ariarne Titmus, the 20-year-old Australian, beat the United States' world record holder by more than half a second in the 400m freestyle final.

Now, Titmus is coming for Ledecky's crown again as the pair do battle in the 200m freestyle, where another victory would send a significant message.

TOUR STARS TAKE ON TIME TRIAL

There are no shortage of big names in the men's time trial, with a number of Grand Tour winners involved – including Geraint Thomas, no doubt determined to put on a show after his fall in the road race.

The last two men to head out perhaps represent the most likely Olympic champions, though, as Wout van Aert and Filippo Ganna go for gold.

Van Aert won the final two stages of the Tour de France, including a time trial on the penultimate day of the race.

FOCUS ON THE FOUR

The first rowing medals of the Games are to be handed out on Wednesday, and the women's four – back in the Olympics for the first time in 30 years – should provide plenty of intrigue.

World champions Australia changed their line-up for the Olympics, having not competed internationally since taking their title in 2019. Meanwhile, the Netherlands, world silver medallists and back-to-back European champions, have been dominant.

The two teams won their respective heats, but Australia's time of six minutes and 28.76 seconds was an Olympic best and almost five seconds quicker than the Dutch. Whether that chasm will remain when the boats are side by side is another matter.

TWO-WAY TUSSLE IN THE GYM

There is more gymnastics action to look forward, with the men's individual final taking place.

Home hope Daiki Hashimoto qualified with the best score and was outstanding for Japan in the team event, yet could only take silver as the hosts were pipped by the Russian Olympic Committee.

It was Nikita Nagornyy's floor routine which sealed that Russian success and he will be bidding for another gold, having trailed Hashimoto in second in qualification.

CAN DREAM TEAM RECOVER FROM NIGHTMARE START?

The United States' latest men's basketball title defence started in miserable fashion with a defeat to France, the team who eliminated them at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

It was Team USA's first Olympics loss since 2004, but it is highly unlikely a second will follow as they face Iran. A big performance is needed regardless to calm the critics.

While France delivered the upset in the basketball, they face their own humiliation in the football. Only a two-goal win against hosts Japan, themselves needing a point, will secure progress through Group A for Les Bleus.

Damian Lillard predicted Team USA's stunning defeat to France at the Tokyo Olympics would be portrayed as "the end of the world" but vowed the gold medal was still a target.

The Portland Trail Blazers star was one of a host of under-performing players in blue as Gregg Popovich's team were beaten 83-76 at the Saitama Super Arena.

France's shock win meant the US team's 25-game winning streak in men's basketball at the Olympics came to an end, raising doubts about their ability to challenge for glory at these Games.

Exhibition defeats to Australia and Nigeria ahead of the Olympics getting underway were red flags, but most expected the Americans to find match-winning form once the stakes were raised.

"I think we have a history of dominance and, maybe not always blowing people out, but we have a history of winning," Lillard said.

"It's not often that you see Team USA go out there and lose, especially to start. So, I think that's why a lot of people make it seem like the end of the world.

"But our job as professionals and this team, representing our country in these Olympics, we got to do what's necessary, and we still can accomplish what we came here to accomplish, and we got to make sure we keep that in mind."

 

Evan Fournier of the Boston Celtics starred with 28 points for France.

Fournier began the 2020-21 NBA season with the Orlando Magic and averaged 19.7 points per game, before that figure dropped to 13.0 for his outings with the Celtics following a trade in March.

Here he served up a reminder of how he can perform, and the US opposition suffered.

Lillard, who made just three of his 10 field-goal attempts, said: "You know who we see each night sometimes in the NBA, they are completely different when they play for their countries.

"They got more freedom, and the comfort level is obvious. So we put ourselves in a dogfight, and they made plays to win it."

Kevin Durant called it "a make-or-miss game".

"And we didn't hit the shots that we were supposed to late in the game in the fourth quarter, but I think we will be better next game," Durant, who scored 10 points, added.

There are Group A games to come for the Americans against the Czech Republic and Iran, and those could allow Durant, Lillard and co to find form ahead of the knock-out rounds.

Team USA have won the last three gold medals at the Olympics, and Bam Adebayo, who scored 12 points and had a team-high 10 rebounds, pointed to French desire for a slice of such glory as being a telling factor on Sunday.

"You can definitely tell they're tired of the USA winning," Adebayo said. "Everybody wants that feeling of getting that gold medal. And we can't rely on talent all the time to just bring us home."

United States men's basketball coach Gregg Popovich insists his side's defeat to France in their first outing at Tokyo 2020 should not be considered a surprise result.

Team USA have won gold in the last three Games, but they saw a 25-game winning streak in the tournament come to an end on Sunday against an inspired France side.

Les Blues, who also beat a much-fancied USA in the World Cup quarter-finals in 2019, are ranked seventh in the FIBA rankings but proved too strong for the world's top team with an 83-76 win at the Saitama Super Arena.

Despite his side's long unbeaten run in the competition coming to an end, Popovich – taking charge at his first Games – was quick to put the loss into some perspective.

"People shouldn't be surprised that we lost to the French team or the Australian team or the Spanish team or the Lithuanian team," he told reporters. 

"It doesn't matter who it is – the gap in talent shrinks every year, as there are more and more great players all over the world. 

"And you need to give the French team credit for playing well. They were more consistent than we were at both ends of the court. It's as simple as that."

 

STARS ALIGN FOR HISTORY-MAKING ZOLOTIC

Sunday was a positive day on the whole for Team USA – especially compared to Saturday, when they failed to win a medal on the opening day of a Games for the first time since Munich 1972 – as they picked up four gold, two silver and four bronze.

That haul includes a maiden gold in the women's taekwondo thanks to teenager Anastasija Zolotic, who beat Tatiana Minina of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) in the final of the -57kg weight category event. 

"My eight-year-old self was running around the schoolyard saying I was going to be Olympic champion but she could never have imagined what this moment is like," Zolotic said. 

"It's unbelievable. It really hasn't sunk in yet. I can't believe it. I'm in a bit of shock. I'm just trying to wrap my head around it. It feels wonderful. I came here confident and ready to take the gold. The stars were aligned."

Zolotic's win came on the back of two-time Olympic champion Jade Jones suffering a shock elimination to Refugee Olympic Team member Kimia Alizadeh in the last 16, denying the Team GB athlete a shot of winning a historic third gold.

 

BILES BOUNCES BACK, CHUSOVITINA WAVES GOODBYE

A lot of focus has been on Simone Biles heading into the Games, though she had a rare off day as the USA finished behind ROC in the women's gymnastics qualifying.

Biles, who won four golds and a bronze in Rio, was penalised on both floor and vault but still scored a respectable 14.166 to book a spot in the final.

While Biles still has time on her side, both in Tokyo and in the long term, the 2020 Games will be the last for Uzbekistan's Oksana Chusovitina, who bowed out on Sunday after a record-setting eighth appearance at the Olympics.

Chusovitina, at the age of 46, just missed out on qualifying for the vault event and was given a standing ovation by the small number of people inside the arena.

To put Chusovitina's remarkable run of appearances into perspective, she made her debut at the Games in 1992, some five years before Biles was born.

"It was really nice. I cried tears of happiness because so many people have supported me for a long time," she said. "I didn't look at the results, but I feel very proud and happy. I'm saying goodbye to sports. It's kind of mixed feelings.

"I'm alive, I'm happy, I'm here without any injuries, and I can stand on my own."

KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY

Japanese pair Uta and Hifumi Abe made Olympic history as they became the first siblings to win gold medals on the same day of a Games in an individual sport, both enjoying success in judo on day two in Tokyo.

Uta won the women’s 52kg competition, defeating France's Amandine Buchard. A closely contested bout went to a golden score, with Abe crucially claiming ippon to settle the final in her favour.

The two-time world champion cried tears of joy in the aftermath, admitting: "I don't know, maybe it may not have been appropriate but I couldn't hold myself back."

Older brother Hifumi made it a family double, overcoming Vazha Margvelashvili of Georgia to triumph in the men's 66kg final.

"This has turned out to be the greatest day ever," he said. "I don't think we, as brother and sister, could shine any brighter on this stage known as the Tokyo Olympics. I'm so happy."

 

The United States saw a 25-game winning streak in men's basketball at the Olympics come to an end as they were beaten by France in their first outing at Tokyo 2020.

Team USA arrived in Japan looking to strike gold for a fourth straight Games, yet their build-up had been anything but straightforward. Exhibition defeats to Australia and Nigeria raised concerns before travelling, while COVID-19 protocols ruled out Bradley Beal and Kevin Love was replaced at late notice by JaVale McGee.

Still, a squad including Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard and Jayson Tatum – as well as Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday from the Milwaukee Bucks, the newly crowned NBA champions – saw the reigning champions listed as favourites.

France, though, caused an early upset at the start of the tournament. Evan Fournier starred with 28 points to help his team triumph 83-76 at the Saitama Super Arena.

There were wins for Australia and Italy too on Sunday, as well as a victory for the Czech Republic.

 

Big names come up short in shock defeat

Team USA had rounded out their build-up to the Games by beating Spain, yet there will be concerning signs for head coach Gregg Popovich following a flat performance against France.

They were successful with just 41 per cent of their two-point attempts and landed only 10 of the 32 shots put up from beyond the arc. Despite the shooting issues they still led 45-37 at half-time, only for the game to turn in a third quarter where they mustered a paltry 11 points.

Durant finished up with 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting, while Lillard had 11. The latter's slip that caused a turnover in the closing seconds when down by four rather summed up a disjointed performance from the entire roster, leading to a first loss at the Olympics since going down to Argentina at Athens 2004.

Devin Booker, who had helped the Phoenix Suns reach the NBA Finals, landed only one of his six attempts from the field, with Holiday (18 points) finishing as the USA's leading scorer having only joined up with the team on the day of the game.

Also in Group A, the Czech Republic recorded an 84-78 victory over Iran.

Ingles impressed, but Nigeria come up short

Nigeria had defeated both Argentina and the United States ahead of the Games, raising hopes of making an impact in Japan.

However, able to knock down just 29 per cent of their attempts from deep, they struggled to keep pace with Australia, scoring only 27 points in the entire second half as they went down 84-67.

Still, Joe Ingles – who had 11 points for Australia – praised the Nigerians for their display, particularly on defense as they forced 21 turnovers. Patty Mills was the leading scorer in the game, finishing with 25.

"You have to give a lot of credit to Nigeria, with how they played and the style they play," Ingles said. "They are up and in, they are athletic and get up the floor, and they obviously have a great coach [in Mike Brown].

"I think a lot of people underestimate the team and the country. They are a really good basketball team."

Meanwhile, Italy opened their Group B campaign with a 92-82 victory over Germany. Simone Fontecchio led the way with 20 points, including landing all five of his three-point attempts.

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.

France head coach Sylvain Ripoll has called on his players to "digest" their 4-1 thumping by Mexico and promptly step up their game at Tokyo 2020.

Les Bleus went into the Olympic tournament rated as being among the leading medal contenders along with Brazil and Spain.

But they suffered a miserable defeat to Mexico on Thursday and are now under pressure in Group A with just three days until their next match against South Africa.

The match was goalless at half-time, with five goals scored in an extraordinary second period.

But France only accounted for one of those strikes, a penalty from captain Andre-Pierre Gignac.

"The first thing we are going to do is digest what happened," said Ripoll. "We only have a couple of days between matches so it's not very much time. 

"Of course we knew this would be difficult but we know we can do better. There's not a lot of time [between matches] so each player will have to focus on themselves individually.

"We play as a team but everybody needs to step up their game so we can get a better result in the game against South Africa."

Ripoll felt France's struggles to keep the ball were key to their defeat, but does now feel Mexico will be looked at in a different light.

"We are disappointed, not just with the result but with the content of the match," he added.

"We should have had a better balance, we needed to be better, but now we can really understand the quality of the Mexico team, which is a really high-quality team.

"There's more that we should have done. It's important to understand that we need to improve our game going forward. 

"In football it's all about having the ball and we struggled with that."

Hosts Japan, who beat South Africa 1-0 in their opener, are the other team in Group A.

France are expecting the United States to come out firing when the men's basketball competition at the Tokyo Olympics begins.

Team USA are favourites to win a fourth consecutive gold at the Games despite losing two exhibition games in a mixed build-up period to the tournament.

They open their Group A campaign against France in Saitama on Sunday.

France defeated the Americans in the 2019 World Cup quarter-finals and head coach Vincent Collet expects that to be on the minds of their opponents.

He said: "We also know that they want to beat us because two years ago we did it in China - so we know what to expect."

Collet is aware that France's Olympics fate is unlikely to be determined by their group game with the USA, even if it is an occasion to savour.

Asked if it was an advantage to play USA first, he said: "I don't know. It's always a very tough game. It's a special game, but for us it’s just the beginning of the competition.

"I would hope that we play a good game but whatever happens we will need to beat the Czech Republic in the second one, which is probably even more important.

"The preparation has been up and down. We didn't have a couple of players until last week so it has hurt the preparation a little bit."

Rudy Gobert and Evan Fournier are two of the five NBA players in the 12-man France roster.

Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Draymond Green and Devin Booker are among the leading names playing for the USA.

Antoine Griezmann has repeatedly been linked with a return to Atletico Madrid during this transfer window and Diego Simeone has heaped praise on a player he still believes can be a success at Barcelona.

Griezmann endured a mixed season for Ronald Koeman's men last campaign, scoring 13 times in 36 appearances as Barca's LaLiga title challenge faded down the home straight.

In contrast, Atleti – in true Simeone fashion – battled to secure their first Spanish top-flight success on the last day of the 2020-21 season and ended a seven-year spell without a LaLiga triumph.

Ahead of the 2021-22 campaign, reports in Spain have suggested that Simeone was keen to link-up with the France forward once more, but the Atleti head coach seemed keen not to inflame that speculation too much during an interview with Marca.

“I want the best for him and I hope he will succeed at Barcelona”, ​he said.

“He is at an extraordinary club and Antoine is a complete player. At Euro 2020, he again proved he can bring a lot [to a team] regardless of his positioning. But today, he is not with us. I only wish the best for a player who gave me everything.”

Indeed, Griezmann was in fine form at Euro 2020, despite France's last-16 shoot-out exit at the hands of Switzerland. He created more chances (10) than any of his team-mates as Didier Deschamp's team crashed out of the tournament earlier than expected.

Simeone's praise of his former player, of course, comes as no surprise. In arguably his best season for Atleti in 2017-18, Griezmann found the net 19 times in LaLiga – 11 more than any other team-mate – and provided 13 assists, while only Koke (81) created more opportunities than his 65.

 

And, while Griezmann's future remains unclear, he could partner Luis Suarez, whose 21 goals fired Atleti to LaLiga success last year, up top.

Simeone praised Suarez's workmanlike productivity up front and his unwavering desire to win.

"At the moment the option [to sign Suarez from Barcelona] appeared, I knew that the team lacked that forcefulness. There are not many. There are few specialists and Luis is one of them.", Simeone added.

"We understood that if we continued to be solid behind him, he would be closer to responding in the most difficult moments, when he had to appear. What I said about the 'Suarez area'. I'm not a fortune teller, but I'm a soccer man and I knew it was his time."

Australia overcame a controversial fourth-minute red card for Marika Koroibete as they beat France 33-30 in a thrilling contest to take the Test series 2-1.

Les Blues claimed their first away win over Australia for 31 years in Melbourne last week to level the series, but they fell short in Saturday's tense decider at Suncorp Stadium.

The Wallabies had to defy the odds after wing Koroibete was harshly dismissed early on for a high tackle on opposition skipper Anthony Jelonch. It was their first Test red card since Tevita Kuridrani was dismissed against Ireland in November 2013.

France initially took full advantage of the extra man as Baptiste Couilloud crossed from close range to add to Melvyn Jaminet's earlier penalty.

But Australia responded almost instantly when Tate McDermott went over unopposed and Noah Lolesio touched down soon after – those tries sandwiching another Jaminet penalty – to swing the game in the hosts' favour.

 

After Cameron Woki went over the top of the Wallabies' defence and slammed down for France's second try, Lolesio kicked his second penalty to level up the game at 20-20 midway through.

France then put themselves in a strong position to complete a series win when Pierre-Louis Barassi raced through early in the second half to round off a sensational move.

However, Australia hit back once again through Taniela Tupou, who evaded a few opposition players to cross the whitewash, before Lolesio and Jaminet exchanged penalties.

Australia had a try for Brandon Paenga-Amosa ruled out for a knock-on, but France's ill-discipline would cost them as they conceded another penalty that Lolesio made no mistake in converting two minutes from time to settle the series. 

When we look ahead to the Olympics, we usually think about track & field sports, swimming, cycling, maybe even wrestling and boxing.

Given it dominates so much of the sporting agenda for the rest of the year, football may not be among those sports we initially associate with the Olympics, but it has offered numerous stars the opportunity to show their talents to a global audience and to potentially take home a coveted medal.

Of course, the Olympic football tournament is geared more towards lesser-established players, given the age-restriction rules in place.

While teams are usually allowed no more than three players over the age of 23, that age limit has been increased to 24 so not to penalise those around the cut-off who may well have missed out as a result of the 12-month delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Superstars such as Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi may be missing, but there are still plenty of familiar faces. Barcelona's Pedri will be involved after starring for Spain at Euro 2020; Brazil great Dani Alves is joined by Arsenal and Everton forwards Gabriel Martinelli and Richarlison; and dynamic Milan midfielder Franck Kessie will be the Ivory Coast's go-to man.

But there are plenty of other relatively unheralded talents ready to make you sit up and take note. Below, Stats Perform takes a look at 10 of them.

Facundo Medina, 22, centre-back – Argentina

It's fair to say Lens defender Medina has enjoyed a rapid rise to prominence. The French side brought him in from Club Atletico Talleres just last July and he's already being mentioned as a potential target for clubs like Manchester United.

While he may not be the most physically imposing central defender, he's a good technician, which is demonstrated by his ease on the ball – only three Ligue 1 centre-backs (more than 1,000 minutes played) embarked on more ball carries per 90 minutes (20) than Medina, while his average of 56 successful passes per game was more than any of his team-mates.

Bryan Gil, 20, winger – Spain

La Roja's squad is packed with familiar names – as many as six were at Euro 2020, and that doesn't include the likes of Marco Asensio, Carlos Soler and Dani Ceballos. But of the players with less global recognition, old-fashioned left-winger Bryan is arguably the most exciting.

He just completed a very encouraging loan spell away from Sevilla with Eibar, where his direct and brave style of play was frequently on display, with only Lionel Messi, Javi Galan and Yannick Carrasco attempting more dribbles than him (132). In January he became only the second player born this century to score a LaLiga brace, and he won his first senior Spain caps this year.

 

Diego Lainez, 21, winger – Mexico

It feels like Lainez has been tipped for a big future for a long time now – after all, he first burst on to the scene with Club America four years ago. Two-and-a-half years into his time in LaLiga with Real Betis, he's yet to really establish himself with only 13 of his 48 league appearances coming as a starter. He's still not scored a goal.

But there's no doubting he's a talent. In 2020-21, he attempted a dribble every 17 minutes, which was a record among Betis players and ahead of even Nabil Fekir (21 mins). Lainez is an entertainer and clearly gifted, but perhaps lacking consistency in his end product. Who knows, as one of the more talented players in the Mexico squad, being seen as a go-to player may aid his quest for maturity.

Teji Savanier, 29, central midfielder – France

Savanier is the odd one out in this list, given he's the only one who actually counts towards an over-age quota, though it could be argued that it's to players like him that playing at the Olympics may matter the most. Savanier's never even played for France's youth teams, let alone the senior side, and he only made his top-flight bow as recently as 2018, but he's one of those central midfielders that's a joy to watch with his wonderful ability on the ball.

He has completed 58.4 per cent of his 279 dribbles in Ligue 1 since July 2018, which is bettered by only three players (more than 150 attempts) in the same period. For greater context, Neymar's completion rate in that time is 52.5 per cent. Savanier should also provide France with a threat at set-pieces, as only Benjamin Bourigeaud created more chances (40) from such situations than the Montpellier star (37) in 2020-21.

 

Thiago Almada, 20, attacking midfielder – Argentina

La Albiceleste's squad boasts numerous talented young attacking players – Ezequiel Barco, Pedro de la Vega, Ezequiel Ponce, but Almada's arguably rated highest of the lot.

A diminutive attacking midfielder from Carlos Tevez's old neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, Fuerte Apache, Almada is skilful, explosive and creative. Among players born this century, Almada boasts the best chances created per game frequency (two) in the Copa Libertadores (at least two games played) this season, as well as being the youngest player to have netted at least twice in the competition in 2021.

Claudinho, 24, forward – Brazil

All roads point to Europe for Claudinho, who looks poised to be the first major export of Red Bull Bragantino, the energy drink giant's Brazilian club. While no move has been confirmed yet, it seems only a matter of time before RB Leipzig look to bring him over to Germany.

 

After all, he was the joint-top scorer in the 2020 Brasileirao (18 goals), with his finishing abilities highlighted by the fact a league-high seven of those were scored from outside the box. Claudinho also created 25 more chances than anyone else in the division, and scooped both the Young Player of the Year and MVP awards.

 

Nathanael Mbuku, 19, winger – France

He may not necessarily be a starter for Les Bleus, given they've plenty of attacking talent in the squad, but at the very least left-winger Mbuku could be an interesting option from the bench. Reims are reported to already value him at €15million, and he has previous when it comes to excelling in national team colours – he netted five goals in six games as France finished third at the 2019 Under-17 World Cup.

Mbuku enjoyed a smattering of Ligue 1 appearances that season, though it was in 2020-21 that he truly established himself, making 28 starts – that was tied with Eduardo Camavinga for the most by a player born in 2002 or after. He caught the eye with his ability to beat a man, completing a highly respectable 58.1 per cent of his 74 dribbles last term, a completion rate bettered by only 10 players who attempted at least 70.

Felix Uduokhai, 23, centre-back – Germany

Wolfsburg plucked Uduokhai from 1860 Munich in 2017 with much expected of him. He fell well out of favour in his second season before moving on loan to Augsburg, who triggered their purchase option on him last year. Since moving to Bavaria, he's hardly looked back.

He earned his first senior call-up to the Germany team in November and now there is chatter that some of the Bundesliga's biggest clubs are circling for him again. Whoever gets Uduokhai will land an imposing centre-back whose 102 aerial wins was the fourth-highest in the league last term, while only Amos Pieper (160) bettered his 157 clearances.

 

Brenno, 22, goalkeeper – Brazil

For years, goalkeeper was considered the only position where Brazil struggled to develop world-class players, though Alisson and Ederson have firmly disproved that notion and Brenno could be another to keep an eye on.

In the 2021 Brasileirao, Brenno is averaging the fourth-most amount of saves per 90 minutes (3.5) among those to have played at least four times, and is reportedly interesting Portuguese clubs. A solid showing in Japan might see a potential transfer sped up.

Amad Diallo, 19, winger – Ivory Coast

Manchester United fans will be eager to get a good look at Amad during the Olympics, given they only got glimpses of him in 2020-21 after joining from Atalanta. Amid those eight appearances, he certainly showed flashes of his exciting ability and silky footwork, but they will hope to see some performances of a little more substance.

As much as anything, it could be an opportunity for Amad to earn himself a loan move or prove to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer he's worth keeping around. Jadon Sancho's arrival will likely further impact his exposure to first-team football, but impressing in Japan might encourage his manager to use him as a regular back up to the England international, with Mason Greenwood moved into a central position.

Reports in Spain suggest Atletico Madrid and Antoine Griezmann could be set for a reunion, just two years after Barcelona broke their transfer record to sign the France star.

Griezmann spent five seasons at Atleti, joining Diego Simeone's team from Real Sociedad.

He went on to score 94 LaLiga goals for the club, before a long-mooted switch to Barca went through in 2019.

Yet Griezmann, who turned 30 in March, has never quite managed to scale the same heights at the Camp Nou as he did in Madrid.

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-highest goalscorer, behind the imperious Lionel Messi.

With the uncertainty over Messi's future seemingly set to be resolved by a new five-year deal, reportedly worth half of the 34-year-old's previous contract, Barca have to clear their wage bill if they are to comply with LaLiga's salary cap.

The Blaugrana have added Sergio Aguero, Memphis Depay, Eric Garcia and Emerson Royal in the close-season, though are unable to register those new signings until players are moved out.

Griezmann, who is one of the club's highest earners, looks set to be one of the names to make way in a swap deal involving Saul Niguez – though Renan Lodi and Mario Hermoso have also been touted as potential options for Barca. Ahead of his potential return, Stats Perform assesses how Griezmann's efforts last season match up to his best campaign from his first Atleti stint.

 

GRIEZMANN AT HIS PEAK

Griezmann was the perfect example 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 nippy winger to a central striker with predatory instincts in the 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, which Atleti won 3-0 against Marseille in Lyon.

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

Griezmann was clinical when opportunities came his way, too, converting 52.38 per cent of the 42 "big chances" that were crafted for him, and he ranked top for attempts (124) as he averaged a goal every 133 minutes.

To cap off an exceptional domestic campaign, Greizmann 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 – Griezmann having taken part in a mini-documentary to confirm his decision before the World Cup – the 28-year-old completed a €120million switch to Barca a year later.

It came with controversy; Atleti insisting 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. The coronavirus pandemic merely prolonging a dismal campaign by Griezmann's lofty standards – the nadir for all involved at Barca coming in the humbling 8-2 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich.

Yet Griezmann came into his second season with a renewed sense of purpose and finally seemed to click under new boss Ronald Koeman.

While still having to fit in around key man Messi, Griezmann played 51 times in all competitions, making 45 starts, clocking up 3,904 minutes in total (the second most he has managed in a campaign since his move to Atleti).

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, however, suggest the quality of opportunities he created was perhaps not wholly responsible for his 12 goal provisions. Given he was linking up with Messi, that is perhaps no surprise. This 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 from 33 such openings.

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.

Italy and Argentina can prepare for the 2022 World Cup full of confidence after continental triumphs in the European Championship and Copa America.

The Azzurri have recovered in spectacular fashion from failing to qualify for Russia 2018, while Lionel Messi finally has an international honour to shout about.

Those teams were not alone in taking encouragement from this year's major international tournaments, but other potential Qatar contenders were not quite so impressive.

While some sides could reasonably point to mitigating factors – Belgium's injuries, Germany's final campaign under Joachim Low – plenty of big names underwhelmed.

With the World Cup finals, now just 16 months away, the next big target on the horizon, Stats Perform assesses which teams have put themselves in a better or worse position to challenge.

FULL OF HOPE...

Italy

Italy might have missed the previous World Cup after an awful qualifying campaign but, barring another such mishap, will enter the next tournament as defending European champions, and the Azzurri have in the past tended to perform better on the world stage than in the Euros, this their second continental championship to go alongside four global triumphs.

The only question mark against Roberto Mancini's side heading into Euro 2020 on a long unbeaten run was how they might fare against top teams, having largely avoided facing elite opposition since their most recent defeat to Portugal in September 2018. They then eliminated Belgium, Spain and England in succession to take the title and extend their stunning streak to 34 matches without a loss.

 

Only in the centre of defence, with Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, are Italy really ageing, and even then a swift turnaround could see the pair go again, having trailed for only 109 minutes of their undefeated stretch – 65 of those coming in the final against England.

Argentina

Argentina had been without a major honour since 1993, losing four Copa America finals and one World Cup decider since then. Messi had been involved in four of those five disappointments, but his and his country's fortunes finally changed for the better against Brazil.

The world's finest free agent was the obvious difference-maker, even if he did not score or create a goal in the 2021 final. Messi's goal involvements across the campaign improved from two in 2019 to a leading nine. He also created more chances (3.0, up from 2.0) and attempted more shots (4.0, up from 3.1) per 90 minutes.

But Messi also benefited from Argentina's sturdier foundations. Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez – a debutant last month – was a breakout star, with the defence in front of him limiting chances as La Albiceleste conceded only three goals, half as many as in more matches in two years earlier.

England

Qatar 2022 will feel a long way away right now for England, who were so close yet so far from glory at Wembley. It ended in disappointment, but just making a first major tournament final in 55 years can only be counted as a success.

And the Three Lions have now proven they can now regularly contend; having reached the semi-finals at the previous World Cup, they have won knockout matches at consecutive tournaments (excluding third-place play-offs) for the first time. This might well be England's best ever team and they still have age on their side heading to Qatar.

Gareth Southgate's side should at least continue to be hard to beat. Since his first game in charge in 2016, England have kept 35 clean sheets – four clear of Italy with the best tally for a European nation.

 

Spain

Two games into Euro 2020, it seemed unlikely Spain would emerge from the tournament in a particularly positive light. They had dominated against Sweden – setting records for possession (85 per cent), passes (917) and successful passes (830) – and Poland, yet drawn both matches.

But the next two outings were rather more uplifting as La Roja scored five times against both Slovakia and Croatia to become the first team in Euros history to do so in consecutive matches. After scraping past Switzerland on penalties, Spain were the better side against Italy in the last four, only to come up just short – this time beaten on spot-kicks.

If Luis Enrique can unearth a reliable forward before next November, having underperformed their expected goals total by an alarming 4.1, Spain will very much be back in business.

DOWNWARD SLOPE...

Netherlands

At the end of the group stage, the Netherlands looked to be on a comparable course to Italy. They had also missed out on the 2018 World Cup – and Euro 2016 – but then reached the final of the inaugural Nations League in 2019 and won their first three matches at Euro 2020.

Led by Memphis Depay, those victories had also extended a run of scoring at least twice to 10 consecutive games in an Oranje record. Only then, though, did their campaign fall apart.

 

Matthijs de Ligt's red card against the Czech Republic in the last 16 led to a shock 2-0 defeat and cost Frank de Boer his job. Rebuilding again, the Netherlands – who were missing Virgil van Dijk due to the injury he sustained in October 2020 – have work to do just to get to Qatar, one of three teams on six points in Group G in qualifying, behind Turkey.

France

France were the favourites for Euro 2020 and may well be the popular pick again next year, but their shock shoot-out exit to Switzerland raised plenty of questions.

Supposed to shine alongside the returning Karim Benzema, superstar forward Kylian Mbappe disappointed for the first time on the big stage, a solitary assist his only goal involvement. Yet even when the big names did combine to devastating effect, as Benzema scored twice within four minutes and three seconds of a Hugo Lloris penalty save against Switzerland, dismal defending cost Les Bleus.

France gave away a tournament-high three spot-kicks, not helped by Didier Deschamps' unsuccessful attempt to switch to a new 3-4-1-2 formation – one that will surely be left in the drawer for the World Cup.

Portugal

Will Cristiano Ronaldo consider this a successful tournament? Portugal lost their crown, but he took home the Golden Boot with five goals and an assist. The Juventus forward's contributions kept Fernando Santos' side in contention as far as the round of 16, although – as at times at club level – there was a suspicion this team might better be able to thrive without their talisman.

 

No other Portugal player tallied more than two goal involvements, with Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix, Bernardo Silva and Andre Silva each drawing blanks. Indeed, that highly talented quartet only attempted 10 shots – five fewer than Ronaldo alone – and created 13 chances between them.

In Qatar, Ronaldo may be less mobile but will surely remain front and centre, reluctant to step aside for Fernandes and Co as he takes one final shot at World Cup glory.

Brazil

Had a tense home final gone their way, Brazil would have again been big winners coming out of the Copa America. But Argentina's progress and decisive victory has seen the Selecao – for so long on top in South America – knocked off their perch.

After five consecutive successes, it was Brazil's first major tournament final defeat since the 1998 World Cup, while they had not been beaten in a knockout match at the Copa America (excluding penalties) since 2001 against Honduras. However, they did become world champions for a fifth time the following year.

That will be the hope as Tite's men regroup, having lost their scoring touch when it mattered most. Brazil netted only twice in three knockout games.

France claimed their first away win over Australia for 31 years as they secured a nail-biting 28-26 victory in the second Test at AAMI Park.

Les Bleus let victory slip through their grasp in a dramatic finish in the first game between the nations in Brisbane last week.

Despite controlling much of Wednesday's contest in Melbourne, France risked suffering a similar fate and losing the series when Michael Hooper crossed in the 71st minute and Noah Lolesio then gave Australia their first lead of the match with a 40-metre penalty in the 75th minute.

But there was a final twist in the tale as France gained a penalty in the scrum and Melvyn Jaminet split the uprights to take his tally to 23 points and give his side a first triumph against the Wallabies in Australia since June 30, 1990.

The boot of Jaminet and Damian Penaud's first-half try had France ahead 16-13 at the interval, with Jake Gordon keeping the Wallabies in touching distance by going over from close range in the 38th minute.

Lolesio levelled matters at 16-16 six minutes after the restart but Jaminet's accuracy from the tee gave France a seemingly commanding nine-point lead, the tourists dictating matters despite a bruising performance from Marika Koroibete.

Koroibete gained 181 metres for the Wallabies, but it was their captain who looked to have turned the tide, Hooper scoring for the third successive game for the first time in his Australia career. Lolesio converted from out wide and then knocked over a long-range penalty.

Yet France were not to be denied this time around, an immense effort in the scrum allowing Jaminet to set up a decider back at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday.

Cristiano Ronaldo was the biggest omission as UEFA named the Euro 2020 Team of the Tournament.

Five players from competition winners Italy made the best XI announced on Tuesday, though there was no place for Golden Boot winner Ronaldo.

The Portugal forward scored five times, as did the Czech Republic's Patrik Schick, but Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku got the nod in a front three with Federico Chiesa and Raheem Sterling.

Kyle Walker and Harry Maguire were the other England representatives in the team.

But there was no place for fellow defender Luke Shaw, who scored in the final to cap a fine tournament, or his Manchester United team-mate Paul Pogba, one of the tournament's stars before France's elimination in the last 16.

Player of the tournament Gianluigi Donnarumma was joined by Italy quartet Leonardo Bonucci, Leonardo Spinazzola, Jorginho and Chiesa.

However, midfield star Marco Verratti missed out despite some influential performances in the knockout stages.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Pedri were the sole representatives for Denmark and Spain respectively, both teams having gone out in the semi-finals.

Lukaku also edged out Harry Kane, Karim Benzema and Emil Forsberg, who all ended up with the same goal tally (four) as the Inter forward.

 

The best players to miss out

Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer enjoyed an incredible tournament, saving a Kylian Mbappe penalty in his side's shoot-out win against France in the last 16.

He made a tournament-high 21 saves in total, 10 of those coming in the eventual defeat to Spain on penalties in the quarter-finals.

Denzel Dumfries saw his reputation enhanced during Euro 2020, even if the Netherlands were sent packing by the Czech Republic at the last-16 stage.

He became just the second ever Netherlands player, after Ruud van Nistelrooy, to score in his first two European Championship appearances, while also helping his side to a couple of clean sheets in his four outings.

Bonucci and Maguire earning selection meant their centre-back colleagues Giorgio Chiellini and John Stones narrowly missed out despite playing crucial roles.

England conceded just two goals all tournament, with only one of those coming in open play. A large part of that was down to ever-present defender Stones, who won 20 aerial challenges – the joint-second most of any defender in the competition, one behind Maguire.

Shaw was left out for England's opening game against Croatia, but the full-back soon made himself a consistent presence. He was even compared to the great Roberto Carlos after starring with two assists against Ukraine in the quarter-finals.

The Manchester United defender provided three assists in total and netted the fastest-ever goal in a European Championship final with his volley against Italy. Those four goal involvements were bettered only by Schick (five) and Ronaldo (six).

Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Verratti was a major fitness doubt for the tournament and sat out Italy's first two matches, but made an emormous impact in the following five games.

Since his first game against Wales on June 20, all-rounder Verratti ranked first among all midfielders at Euro 2020 for chances created (14), passes completed (388), progressive carries (59), tackles (18) and recoveries of possession (37).

 

Pogba likely paid the price for his team's exit rather than his own displays. 

He scored a stunning goal against Switzerland after getting two assists in the 2-2 group-stage draw with Portugal, and his supreme link-up play with Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Benzema was among the highlights of the early weeks of the tournament.

Schick not only scored the joint-most goals, but he was responsible for surely the most memorable one of the lot - a 49.7-yard lob against Scotland, the furthest ever distance a goal has been scored at a European Championships.

The Bayer Leverkusen forward found the net in all but one of his side's games, with three of his goals coming from open play, compared to just two for Ronaldo.

Even though it was far from a vintage tournament for Ronaldo and dethroned champions Portugal, the Juventus superstar still claimed the Golden Boot accolade thanks to having one assist more than fellow five-goal forward Schick.

Ronaldo's 72 minutes per goal was the best return of any player to have played at least three times in the tournament. 

His haul also moved him level with Iran great Ali Daei as the all-time leading goalscorer in men's international football with 109, a record that he will get a chance to break later this year.

 

UEFA's Euro 2020 Team of the Tournament: Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy); Kyle Walker (England), Leonardo Bonucci (Italy), Harry Maguire (England), Leonardo Spinazzola (Italy); Jorginho (Italy), Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Denmark), Pedri (Spain); Federico Chiesa (Italy), Romelu Lukaku (Belgium), Raheem Sterling (England).

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