Record breaker

Messi overtakes Batistuta as Argentina's 
all-time leading scorer with stunning 
free-kick

SCORE AND SUPPLY: Besides scoring a superb free-kick, Lionel Messi also provided two assists for Ezequiel Lavezzi and Gonzalo Higuain in the 4-0 demolition of the United States.
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Poland coach unfazed by Lewandowski's goal drought

GROUP C

UKRAINE 0

POLAND 1

After Poland secured a last-16 slot with a 1-0 win over Ukraine, coach Adam Nawalka said star striker Robert Lewandowski's third straight blank at Euro 2016 is not a concern.

"The fact that Lewandowski has not scored a goal yet is not a problem," said Nawalka. "It is a matter of time, I think he will score in the next game."

The Poles, who had also beaten Northern Ireland 1-0 and drawn 0-0 with Germany, finish second in Group C on goal difference and play Switzerland in the last 16.

- AFP.

Tipping's no piece of cake

ADDING ICING: A confectioner preparing Euro 2016-themed cakes in Munich.

A Munich confectioner is scoring with Euro 2016-themed cakes, although some of the patisserie predictions are proving a little off target.

Muncher Freiheit is making more than 60 football-pitch cakes a week, complete with marzipan replicas of their favourite players and often score predictions written in icing.

One such sweet tip predicted Germany would beat Northern Ireland 2-0 yesterday morning (Singapore time), but the world champions could only win 1-0.

- Reuters.

Goal-shy Mueller pines for his scoring boots

Goal-shy forward says Germany cannot afford to be wasteful in knockout rounds

Germany and their normally prolific strker Thomas Mueller bemoaned missed chances at Euro 2016 as the world champions scored just one goal against Northern Ireland yesterday morning (Singapore time).

The Germans had 21 attempts on goal at the Parc des Princes to just two for their opponents, but only Mario Gomez was able to beat inspired Northern Ireland goalkeeper Michael McGovern or the woodwork.

Germany won Group C and head to a last-16 match in Lille on Sunday against Albania, Slovakia or the third-placed team in Portugal's Group F.

But Mueller (inset) admitted Die Mannschaft must be more clinical in future rounds.

"The goals were lacking. 
I alone could have drawn level in the scorers' list. We were greedy," Mueller said.

"There were improvements in our play but, of course, we weren't 100 per cent happy. We had more chances than in the last eight games."

The Bayern Munich star combined with Gomez to create the goal on 30 minutes. He also hit the post and the crossbar in the first half. Germany could not increase their goal margin, despite a lively performance from Gomez and Mario Goetze.

Mueller has scored 10 goals at World Cup Finals but has yet to find the net in a European Championship Finals.

With a potential quarter-final against Italy or title holders Spain looming, defender Mat Hummels said Germany cannot afford to be so wasteful as the tournament progresses.

"We played well and we were convincing, but we didn't score nearly enough. That was really lacking today," said Hummels.

GIVE MORE

"When we play against the really top teams, we'll have to give it that little bit more."

Coach Joachim Loew also bemoaned the missed opportunities.

"We created some very good chances, but also squandered a few. They had no chances, but we needed to have had more purpose and consistency in front of goal," Loew said.

"It was good in terms of the football we played, but we should have been more dominant."

- AFP.

Northern Ireland unafraid of anyone in last 16: Lafferty

With such a tight backline, Lafferty says Northern Ireland unafraid of anyone in last 16

GOALKEEPER Michael McGoVern Club: Hamilton Age: 31
WE'RE THROUGH: Kyle Lafferty (second from left) and other Northern Ireland players celebrating after learning of their qualification for the last 16, following Turkey's 2-0 win over Czech Republic. They were in an airport bus to their plane at Charles de Gaulle Airport, where they flew back 
to Lyon.

Kyle Lafferty claims Northern Ireland have one of Euro 2016's best defences and believes they will be tough opponents in the knockout stages.

Michael O'Neill's men booked a last-16 meeting with hosts France or neighbours Wales after keeping a rampant Germany to a 1-0 win at Parc des Princes yesterday morning (Singapore time), enough to progress in third place with three points.

That was made possible by their neutral goal difference, having scored two and conceded two in a tough group containing Ukraine and Poland as well as the world champions.

Much of Northern Ireland's squad is sourced from the second-tier English Championship or Scotland, but their back four contains Premier League regulars Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley and Craig Cathcart as well as 102-cap veteran Aaron Hughes, whose former clubs include Newcastle, Fulham and Aston Villa.

Behind them is goalkeeper Michael McGovern, who turned in a career-best performance to repeatedly deny Germany yesterday morning, and Lafferty is confident that can be the basis of an underdog success story.

"We've probably got one of the best defences in the tournament," said Lafferty.

RIGHT BACK Aaron Hughes (No club) Age: 36
 
CENTRE BACK Gareth Mcauley Club: WBA Age: 36
 
CENTRE BACK Craig Cathcart Club: Watford Age: 27
 
LEFT BACK Jonny Evans Club: WBA Age: 28

"We've come up against world-class players and kept them relatively quiet. We've conceded only two goals in three games which isn't bad considering the players we've been up against.

"No matter who we come up against, we'll fancy our chances. It's a one-off game now and I'm sure we'll go into it thinking we can get a victory.

"We kept going until the 93rd minute against Germany because we knew 1-0 wasn't a bad result and it had a massive say in our goal difference. To leave with that result is something we can take a lot of positives from."

DESERVING

O'Neill believes his Northern Ireland side fully deserve their place in the knockout stage.

At full-time in Paris yesterday morning, they knew they had a good chance of seeing further action. Three hours later, Turkey's 2-0 triumph over the Czech Republic in Group D confirmed it.

O'Neill was never content simply to be a sideshow at the tournament and is now looking forward to a tie against Wales or hosts France.

"The nature of the competition is such that small teams deserve the opportunity and we earned our right to be here," he said.

"We've earned a right to be in the Round of 16. I think our players deserve the opportunity, they've done magnificently well.

"It (the next round) becomes a cup tie, a different scenario. We have to hope we produce an upset in a cup-tie format.

"We're a very small nation with a very small group of players. I'm immensely proud to be here."

They might have been on the receiving end of a German bashing had goalkeeper McGovern not produced the performance of a lifetime.

The soon to be out-of-contract Hamilton stopper, representing his country for only the 14th time at the age of 31, defied the world champions with a string of wonderful saves and was rewarded with a standing ovation in the dressing room.

"It was a phenomenal performance and up there probably with the great goalkeeping performances we've had in the past from the likes of Pat Jennings, Tommy Wright, Maik Taylor," said O'Neill. "He's an exceptional goalkeeper."

Germany coach Joachim Loew also had his say.

When it was suggested McGovern might be a new name to him, Loew said: "Of course, I have heard of him before, we have analysed the opponent.

"I have to compliment him. He has kept goal brilliantly and shown great reflexes.

"Three of four times he was completely alone in his goal, he put in a great effort."

- PA Sport.

NORTHERN IRELAND: Michael McGovern, Aaron Hughes, Gareth McAuley, Craig Cathcart, jonny evans, jamie Ward (josh Magennis 70), Corry evans (niall McGinn 84), Steven Davis, oliver norwood, Stuart Dallas, Conor Washington (Kyle lafferty 59)

GERMANY: Manuel neuer, joshua Kimmich, jerome Boateng (Benedikt Hoewedes 76), Mats Hummels, jonas Hector, Sami Khedira (Bastian Schweinsteiger 69), toni Kroos, Mesut oezil, thomas Mueller, Mario Goetze (Andre Schuerrle 55), Mario Gomez

 

GROUP C

NORTHERN IRELAND 0

GERMANY 1
(Mario Gomez 30)

Croatia coach tells fans: Be like my players

Croatian coach Ante Cacic had a message for his country's fans after the team's 2-1 Euro 2016 Group D win over Spain yesterday morning (Singapore time) - follow the example of his players.

Flares thrown by Croatian fans halted their side's momentum in a 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic last Saturday and saw the country's football federation fined 100,000 euros ($151,000).

However, despite threats of a repeat in Bordeaux, the Croatian fans were on their best behaviour to celebrate a glorious night.

Said Cacic: "We had great support from Croats all over the world. We have to fight to make all Croatian people happy.

"These players are showing how you have to represent and play for your country and how you have to behave."

- Wire Services.

Split loyalties? I'll have to explain to my (Spanish) wife what's happened.

— Ivan Rakitic on helping Croatia beat Spain

Turkey boss: If we qualify, we’ll go far

GROUP D

CZECH REPUBLIC 0

TURKEY 2

(Burak Yilmaz 10, Ozan Tufan 65)

Triumphant Turkey coach Fatih Terim says his side can go far in the tournament if they manage to qualify for the Euro 2016 knockout stages as one of the four best third-placed teams.

After limp defeats by Croatia and Spain, the Turks delivered a stunning performance full of fire and passion to defeat the Czech Republic 2-0 yesterday morning (Singapore time) and finish third in Group D on three points.

They now face a wait until the other groups are concluded to see if they qualify.

Turkey have a better record than Albania, also on three points, but need one more team from the remaining two groups to finish third with an inferior record.

If they do make it, Terim says they could repeat their performance at the 2008 tournament, where they made it to the semi-finals only to lose to a last-minute goal as Germany won a thriller 3-2.

CONFIDENCE

He said: "If we advance, we can do what we did in Euro 2008, because our confidence is growing.

"We still have some problems, but now it's easier to find solutions.

"We have a good side and now we have our team spirit back.

"If we advance, I think we will go a long way."

Goals from Burak Yilmaz and Ozan Tufan gave the Turks a victory few had predicted beforehand, with Yilmaz winning the Man-of-the- Match award for his tireless display.

"I'm very happy, I scored an important goal in a very decisive game, and everything worked very well," he said. "It's been a good night, a good goal for me."

Czech coach Pavel Vrba was disappointed with his side's exit but said the young players in his squad had learned some valuable lessons.

He said: "I'm not going to say that our performance here was any good... (But) this has been a great lesson for our young players, and I hope they will use it in the next qualifiers."

- Reuters.

Modric's penalty tip spot on

WORDS OF WISDOM: Injured Luka Modric's advice for Croatia teammate Danijel Subasic (above, in pink) helps him save a penalty from Spain's Sergio Ramos (in white).

It pays to have a teammate who knows your opponents inside out.

That's precisely the advantage Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic had when he faced Sergio Ramos' penalty during the Croats' 2-1 Group D win over Spain.

Just before the spot-kick was taken, the custodian received a message passed on by midfielder Luka Modric, who is a long-time teammate of Ramos at Real Madrid, Spanish newspaper AS reported.

"He told me to wait and then go to the right," Subasic said, having been relayed the information by captain Darijo Srna - who had received the nugget from the injured Modric on the touchline.

True enough, Ramos shot to the goalkeeper's right after a stuttering run-up and saw his effort saved.

- Wire Services.

WORDS OF WISDOM: Injured Luka Modric's (above) advice for Croatia teammate Danijel Subasic (above, in pink) helps him save a penalty from Spain's Sergio Ramos (in white). PHOTOS: AFP, REUTERS

 

Neil Humphreys: How Croatia fashioned Spain's first Euro loss since 2004

Beware the dark horses

TIME TO SEE THE LIGHT: After their win over European champions Spain, Croatia's fans (above) must be hopeful of a bright finish by their in-form team.

From also-rans to tournament dark horses, Croatia pulled off one of the shocks of Euro 2016 by beating Spain 2-1 and overtaking them at the top of Group D yesterday morning (Singapore time). Here's how they did it. 

 

1 Cacic's bold pressing game

Somehow, Croatia handed the Spaniards their first European Championship defeat since 2004. And they did so without the injured pair of Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic.

Rather than hedge his bets, coach Ante Cacic made five changes and went for a pleasantly attacking approach.

As part of a 4-2-3-1 approach, Darijo Srna and Sime Vrsaliko had the thankless task of containing Nolito and David Silva and supporting Marko Pjaca and Ivan Perisic.

In fact, the quartet complemented each other, thanks to Cacic's insistence on a fast, pressing game that played to Perisic's strengths.

 

2 Kalinic played the bully

At a tournament where traditional No. 9s have struggled to assert themselves, Nikola Kalinic bullied Spain's back four and particularly David de Gea at set pieces.

The Fiorentina hitman intimidated the Spanish goalkeeper throughout, forcing him to make rash decisions that led to goals.

Kalinic deserved his delightfully flicked goal and might have had a hat-trick. He offers a legitimate attacking threat for Croatia in the knockout stages.

 

3 Rakitic had the Barca boys' numbers

Ivan Rakitic knows everything about his Barcelona teammates Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta, and it showed.

An increasingly dominant influence at the Nou Camp, he gradually controlled proceedings against Spain, too.

Despite being outnumbered in midfield, Rakitic wriggled free to feed Kalinic and was unlucky not to score himself when his glorious chip struck the bar.

 

4 Perisic puts in a star turn

On the right side of a front three, Perisic put together his own highlights package.

Head down and legs pumping like industrialised pistons, he delivered the kind of swashbuckling, positive performance that has been so rare at Euro 2016.

Spain are rarely subjected to such penetrative running, leaving Juanfran dazed and confused as Perisic crossed for Kalinic's opening goal.

The Inter attacker would have left the Duracell Bunny trailing in his wake in his frantic dash to score Croatia's winner.

Like his team, the Croat is slowly coming to the fore and stealing the limelight from more illustrious names.

 

5 No fan violence

The behaviour of the Croatian fans should not be underestimated.

Before kick-off, rumours circulated that there were disturbances planned for the 30th minute, including an attack on referee Bjorn Kuipers.

A sizeable number of supporters remain angry at what they perceive to be systemic corruption within their football association.

Both coach Cacic and the players admitted that the previous violence inside the stadium had affected their concentration.

However, yesterday's game passed without serious incident.

The Croatians may yet face further punishment for crowd violence, but for now, the country can breathe a little and look forward to the knockout stages.

 

GROUP D

CROATIA 2
(Nikola Kalinic 45, Ivan Perisic 87)

SPAIN 1
(Alvaro Morata 7)

Spain's Pique shrugs off national anthem gesture

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique insisted he was merely crossing his fingers after being accused of raising his middle finger during the Spanish national anthem before the Euro 2016 game against Croatia.

Pique, an outspoken supporter of a referendum for Catalan independence, earned his 78th Spain cap in the 2-1 loss to Croatia yesterday morning (Singapore time).

"I am crossing my fingers during the anthem," Pique posted on his Twitter account.

"We should stop looking for controversy where there is none and try to win the Euros together."

Spanish sports daily Marca, a fierce critic of some of Pique's other controversial acts, labelled those making the accusations as "lamentable".

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque was also visibly annoyed at being asked about the incident.

"I am here to talk about football," he said.

- AFP.

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