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Portugal escape punishment for pitch-invading fan

Portugal have escaped punishment for a fan running onto the pitch to take a selfie with Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Portuguese Football Federation was charged with field invasion by Uefa after the incident following the goalless Euro 2016 draw with Austria on June 18.

A man ran half the length of the field to grab the photo opportunity and Ronaldo duly obliged, waving away stewards until the photo was taken.

Meanwhile, Belgium have been fined 5,000 euros ($7,500) after charges were brought relating to the setting off of fireworks and throwing of objects after their 3-0 win over Republic of Ireland on June 18. 


- PA Sport.

Deschamps' half-time pep talk does the trick

Deschamps reveals half-time pep talk that roused lacklustre Les Bleus

"I raised my voice at times, but we also needed calm... There were also players who spoke up, even ones who were on the bench." — France coach Didier Deschamps (above) on his half-time pep talk

ROUND OF 16

FRANCE 2

(Antoine Griezmann 57, 61)

REP OF IRELAND 1

(Robbie Brady 2-pen)

Didier Deschamps can come across as quiet and unassuming but, after his team's dismal first-half display against Ireland, the France coach had to shake up his players to turn the tricky tie into a 2-1 victory.

Coming in at the break, the hosts looked shell-shocked after conceding a second-minute penalty that appeared to ebb away all their attacking football.

Passes went astray, balls bobbled off shins and the stop-start nature of the game just reinforced a growing feeling that this young French side needed to be given an electro-shock before they could respond.

"I raised my voice at times, but we also needed calm," Deschamps, who won the European Championship in 2000 as captain, said after the match.

"I had to shake the trees, but there were also players who spoke up, even ones who were on the bench. I think we have a real group and they are all fixed on the objective of winning."

HEATED

Two-goal hero Antoine Griezmann also shed light on the half-time dressing room bust-up.

"We had a bad first half, but a few things were said at half-time," Griezmann said of the heated exchanges between the players.

"It was stormy," added the Atletico Madrid striker. "In the second half, we were more like a team who wanted to fight until the end."

Deschamps said France got better when they shook off the early tension and went "a bit crazy".

"Sometimes, it's difficult. When you concede a penalty at the start of a match, it made us tense and the Irish can play a bit," he said.

While Griezmann's two goals will get the plaudits, it was Deschamps' tactical switch that changed the game completely.

In the first 45 minutes, his forwards were unable to carve up a clear-cut opportunity.

Striker Olivier Giroud often found himself isolated, while Griezmann and Dimitri Payet dropped further and further back to collect the ball, only to find Irish feet snapping at their heels.

"We needed to be calm and had to make sure we didn't fall into the provocations and fouls committed on us," Deschamps said.

His masterstroke was to bring on winger Kingsley Coman for holding midfielder N'Golo Kante after the break, pushing Payet further wide and Griezmann closer to Giroud.

Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi took defensive midfield roles that meant they were now in thorough control of the midfield, enabling them to launch wave after wave of attacks.

REGROUP

"The Irish were regrouped and were playing very low, so I wanted to give us more of an offensive presence. I wanted to stretch them," said Deschamps.

Deschamps said the three tight last-16 matches on Saturday, two of which went to extra-time, showed there are no easy games in the tournament.

"It was hard for us too, but mission accomplished," he said.

"You shouldn't be too calculative. The players need discipline but, sometimes, we're better when we go a bit crazy.

"We really speeded things up and that's when we are most dangerous."

France will switch to the Stade de France in Paris when they go in search of a semi-final place on Monday morning.

- Wire Services.

Sniffing Loew at it again

Someone may want to tell Joachim Loew that the whole world can see what he is up to on the touchlines.

First it was his hands down his trousers, then his backside, now it's his wet armpit that the Germany boss (below) is scratching and sniffing.

Another video of Loew having a whiff of his armpit during the 3-0 win over Slovakia in the Euro 2016 Round-of-16 clash yesterday morning (Singapore time) has gone viral online.

So where is he going to scratch and sniff next?

The Mirror ran a poll on the possibilities: his feet, his other armpit, he's going to pick his nose and eat it and there's literally no body parts left.

Whatever it is, Loew has his own ways of relieving the pressure during matches.

- Wire Services.

Dazzling Draxler

Germany coach Joachim Loew appears to have found the right formula to get his attack firing at Euro 2016 after Julian Draxler's outstanding contribution in yesterday morning's (Singapore time) 3-0 win over Slovakia.

The 22-year-old Wolfsburg attacking midfielder was the Man of the Match as Germany produced arguably their slickest performance since winning the 2014 World Cup to clinch a place in the European Championship quarter-finals.

After Jerome Boateng's early opener, Mesut Oezil had a 13th-minute penalty saved before Draxler (above) intervened with an assist and a goal to send the world champions into the last eight.

Playing on the left wing, Draxler combined superbly with Jonas Hector before cutting the ball back for Mario Gomez to double Germany's lead just before half-time.

And the former Schalke prodigy then volleyed home on his right foot from close range following a corner just after the hour mark, securing a comfortable win on a sunny evening in northern France.

Julian Draxler (above).

Draxler had started Germany's opening two games before being left on the bench in the 1-0 win against Northern Ireland last Tuesday, but he was recalled at the expense of Mario Goetze yesterday morning and his performance justified Loew's selection.

"It wasn't easy in the last game because I didn't play but, today, I was happy to play and help the team," said Draxler.

"We have a lot of quality in our side, so it doesn't matter if I don't play. I just work hard in training, so the manager can count on me if needed."

Draxler, who said he found out he would be starting the game when he spoke to Loew just after breakfast at the team's hotel, admitted getting into one-on-one situations with the Slovakian defence had been a key part of the German plan.

"The coach asked me to do that. He gave me a lot of self-confidence. He trusts in my quality and wanted me to search for the one-on-ones," said Draxler, who gave Slovakia's Bundesliga-based right back Peter Pekarik a torrid time at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy.

A player with "two magic feet" according to Gomez, Draxler's performance summed up why Manchester United have been linked with a £30 million ($55.4m) bid to sign him just a year after he joined Wolfsburg.

It may, however, take far more than that for Wolfsburg to part with a player who is not 23 until September and has four years left on his contract, especially after his display yesterday.

- AFP.


WHAT THE FANS SAY

"I believe that germany have what it takes to go all the way. They played extremely well in the winover slovakia and, if they are able to ‘switch it on’ again, even the so-called big teams won’t be much of a problem for them.”

— Kevin Wang (below, in white), student, 24, at Harry’s Bar in Clarke Quay yesterday

"Germany are growing into the tournament. but, apart from them, there are other strong teams like France, Portugal and belgium who have qualified for the last eight. it will be a France v germany final this year.”

— Ralf Gielen (above, in stripes), consultant, 45, at Harry’s Bar in Clarke Quay

Loew's the most meticulous of men

From dirty tables to Draxler, German coach controls everything around him

GERMAN MACHINE RUMBLES ON: 
Defender Jerome Boateng (left) celebrating with coach Joachim Loew (right) after his goal sparked Germany's progress to the quarter-finals.

REPORTING 
FROM LILLE

ROUND OF 16 

GERMANY 3

(Jerome Boateng 8, Mario Gomez 43, 
Julian Draxler 63)

SLOVAKIA 0

Joachim Loew was preoccupied with the dust on the table.

More than once, he brushed away fluff, real or imagined, during the press conference here yesterday morning (Singapore time).

Call it attention to detail or a disturbing obsession with domestic chores, but Germany's coach presents himself as the most meticulous of men.

He's already the best-dressed manager at Euro 2016, but there really wasn't a hair out of place, a crease in that trademark V-neck sweater or anything in his immediate environment that wasn't clinically controlled.

Even the water bottles beside the microphone were straightened. When something isn't aligned, Loew really does know about it.

Whether it's desk dust or an imbalanced forward line, the World Cup winner finds the flaw and fixes it.

He swopped Mario Goetze for Julian Draxler and suddenly everything looks clear, like a grubby telescope cleaned and pulled into focus.

Germany's comfortable 3-0 victory over Slovakia yesterday morning (Singapore time) hinted at an upgraded model, but the perfectionist would not be swayed.

"In the early stages of the tournament, we had our problems, lots of tactics along the way," said the 56-year-old.

"We put in a great effort against Slovakia, in defence and attack.

"But, with all due respect to Slovakia, our opponents will get better. There's a need to improve."

Loew means every word he says.

The journey is one of perpetual improvement, striving for the next victory, rather than fixate on the past.

Loew was looking ahead to the last eight the moment his side scored a third goal against Slovakia, pulling Toni Kroos aside to assess his resources.

"I asked Kroos if he was fit and could continue," Loew said.

"I was already thinking about the next game. We have players on yellow cards, Jerome Boateng and Sami Khedira for instance, so I made my substitutions carefully."

Loew sipped his water, just a mouthful, as he did after every question. Subconsciously, his every move seems calculated and precise.

In restoring Draxler to the side, at the expense of Goetze, he calculated on the Wolfsburg winger's precision.

"Draxler has courage in one-on-one situations. He's not afraid to attack," said Loew,  addressing Germany's lack of penetration in the group games.

"He knows he's fast and knows he can beat his opponent and proved it against Slovakia. An assist and a goal tell you everything."

Loew is often accused of making the obvious changes only at the point of no return, when a stubborn man finds himself entirely out of options.

But the accusation does the detailed, complex coach a disservice.

Draxler for Goetze wasn't straightforward. Draxler remains an intoxicating prospect, but he's still a 22-year-old winger, barely shaving at Wolfsburg.

FOCAL POINT

Goetze is an established World Cup winner, an unreliable brand certainly, but a brand name nonetheless.

Likewise, the return of Mario Gomez in the last two games gave Germany a focal point, a conventional No. 9, acting as a backboard for Draxler, Mesut Oezil and Thomas Mueller to play off.

But the Besiktas striker hadn't featured for his national side for the best part of four years. He was yesterday's news, a splintered battering ram, seeing out his nondescript days in Turkey.

Loew was unperturbed, concerned only with what he needs, rather than what his critics want, refusing to pander to simple labels and safe alternatives.

"It's not false No. 9s or true No. 9s," he insisted.

"It's about using the right striker, someone who's comfortable leading from the front and allowing others to join him in the penalty box.

"That was not the case against Poland but, against Slovakia, we always had three or four players in the box. That's all I need. Size and reputation do not matter."

Loew's underlying success rests with his uncanny ability to make changes that only appear obvious after the fact because they worked, fitting seamlessly into Germany's refined pattern.

Joshua Kimmich solved his nation's fullback woes, giving Germany a defensive stability few expected before the tournament began. They are yet to concede a goal.

Before Euro 2016, he had one international cap and just a full season of top-flight football on an otherwise sparse resume.

Now it's hard to imagine Germany heading into the quarter-finals without him, or Draxler, or even Gomez.

But that's not Loew's way. Form is always temporary. Tinkering is permanent. The finished article doesn't exist. It's only polished further to increase its lustre.

"No, against Italy or Spain, I might change or I might not," he said.

"You saw how much Draxler benefited from being rested; he was quick and sharp. I don't always have to keep the same starting 11."

Germany, the world champions and Euro 2016 favourites, are still a work in progress.

Loew wouldn't have it any other way.

Hazard back to his best

Belgian wizard lays down marker in what is best individual display at Euro 2016

Eden Hazard.
"On the goal that he set up for me, he was superb. He dribbled past two players to give me the ball. I was unmarked and all I had to do was stick it in the net. I’ve got only one thing to say to him, ‘Thanks captain’." — Belgium goalscorer Michy Batshuayi (above) on Hazard’s assist for the goal

ROUND OF 16

HUNGARY 0

BELGIUM 4

(Toby Alderweireld 10, Michy Batshuayi 78, Eden Hazard 80, Yannick Carrasco 90+1)

As the Belgian wizard strolled off the Stadium de Toulouse pitch, the respect he had earned during 80 minutes of spell-binding football became tangible.

The 28,921 spectators, even the Hungarians among them, rose to applaud a superlative individual performance that far outshone any other at Euro 2016.

It was Eden Hazard's greatest show on the international stage to date.

The Belgium skipper silenced his critics - and there are plenty of them - with a vengeance.

The 25-year-old terrorised Hungary with an all-round performance bursting with class at the seams, scoring one goal and setting up another to down their opponents 4-0 yesterday morning (Singapore time) and lift Belgium the quarter-finals.

Belgium coach Marc Wilmots' surprising decision to hand him the captain's armband has been vindicated.

The move to install him as the team's leader was met with ridicule when it was first announced.

The Chelsea playmaker has never been as highly regarded in Belgium as, say, Kevin de Bruyne.

A lacklustre 2014 World Cup campaign, during which he played an anonymous role, reinforced a belief that he isn't cut out for an integral role with the national side.

Hazard's mediocre past season with Chelsea didn't help, although his form did improve slightly towards the end of the term.

Just days earlier, former Belgium goalkeeper Jean Marie Pfaff had provided a stinging assessment of the 25-year-old.

He said: "He (Hazard) has the ball, he looks towards the players of the other team - he goes left, he goes right, he makes a trick and people say, 'Oh, Hazard is incredible.'

"But then what does he do? He plays for himself, not the team."

EXAMPLE

Hazard certainly cannot be accused of selfishness yesterday morning. On a ridiculously slippery field in Toulouse, he was exemplary.

The elegance with which he glided across the turf was mesmerising to watch, and the statistics confirmed his truly world-class display.

In the final third of the pitch, he was peerless. There, he completed 29 out of 32 passes for a pass accuracy rate of 90.6 per cent, and fashioned four goal-scoring chances for his teammates.

During the game, he successfully pulled off 11 dribbling attempts - eight more than anybody else on the pitch - out of 14.

Many were similarly impressed by his defensive work, as he was regularly seen closing down on opponents and helping out in his own penalty box.

That the attacking midfielder recovered the ball 10 times - the highest tally among both sets of players - is testament to his work-rate.

His decisive contributions were timely.

Belgium's 1-0 lead, which came via a Toby Alderweireld header in the 10th minute, was looking increasingly fragile as the game wore on, with Hungary's offensive trio of Adam Szalai, Balazs Dzsudzsak and Gergo Lovrencsics beginning to attack with more purpose.

Then Hazard broke free down the left, and delivered a firm cross to the centre where substitute Michy Batshuayi scored with his first touch to make it 2-0 in the 78th minute.

Moments later, Hazard slammed the door shut on the Hungarians.

Outnumbered in the opponents' half, he somehow weaved his way past three defenders, before wrapping his right foot around the ball to send it on its way to the bottom corner of the net.

It was a perfect end to an immaculate performance, and he soon made way for Marouane Fellaini with nine minutes remaining.

Yannick Carrasco added the fourth goal to complete a resounding Belgian victory, but the talk was all about Hazard.

When he leads the team out to face Wales in the quarter-finals in Lille on Saturday morning, he will meet an equally appreciative audience.

It was the very same place where he began his professional career, and blossomed.

His time there culminated during the 2010/11 campaign, when he led Lille to the domestic cup and league double, en route to becoming the youngest player ever to win the Ligue 1 Player of the Year award.

The last-eight clash is billed as a Gareth Bale v Hazard showdown.

With the form both players are in, it promises to be a battle for the ages.

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