Vlahovic 'honoured' to play with Di Maria as Juventus clinch crucial win

By Sports Desk October 05, 2022

Dusan Vlahovic said he was "honoured" to play alongside Angel Di Maria after the Argentina international claimed three assists in Juventus' Champions League win over Maccabi Haifa.

Adrien Rabiot scored a brace either side of Vlahovic's cool second-half finish as Juventus triumphed 3-1 to boost their hopes of progressing from Group H on Wednesday, but Di Maria was the star of the show.

At 34 years and 233 days old, Di Maria became the oldest player to record a hat-trick of assists in the Champions League since data began in 2003-04, as well as the first player to do so for an Italian club.

Since Di Maria made his first Champions League appearance in the 2007-08 season, meanwhile, only Lionel Messi can match his tally of 35 assists in the competition.

Asked about Di Maria's influence by Sky Sports, Vlahovic said: "I don't know what to say. I am honoured to have the opportunity to play with him, to see him every day, to learn from him. I would like to make the most of my moments with him on the pitch."

Vlahovic was pleased to see Juventus end a three-match losing streak in the Champions League, but saw room for improvement in his own performance.

"I could do better and do more," he added. "I had to make better use of the assists of my team-mates, but we won. We have to improve and work with our heads down in silence.

"Attackers live on goals. I am always focused on the team, then the goals come as a consequence. 

"If I think I have to do something, I just put weight on myself and I don't do things with clarity. I have to be more calm and focused."

Meanwhile, under-pressure Bianconeri coach Massimiliano Allegri praised Di Maria's display, but was concerned by his team's lack of control in the final 15 minutes.

"Di Maria is good, the important thing is to get the ball to him, the first and second assists were of excellent craftsmanship," he said in his post-match news conference.

"The boys immediately realised that you cannot not play for a quarter of an hour. The games must be closed earlier, this does not mean to stop playing, but to play less and be more bad.

"We were too light, then the games are about psychology, and we risked 2-2. This doesn't have to happen.

"The defensive phase is a mental issue. Everything seemed easy, we gave up as a team. We didn't foul [ahead of] their goal, that's not good. Goal difference will also be important."

Looking ahead to next week's return fixture in Israel, two-goal hero Rabiot said: "We will have to be concentrated, but with this attitude, I am convinced that we will win. We must continue like this.

"I'm happy to have scored, but it's more important to win, and tonight we did it well. We played well - a little less in the second half - but we're on the right path."

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  • Santos: Ronaldo not weighed down by Portugal pressure Santos: Ronaldo not weighed down by Portugal pressure

    Cristiano Ronaldo has the personality to handle any pressure that comes with being Portugal's leading man, says Fernando Santos.

    Ronaldo, the record goalscorer in the history of international football, came into the World Cup with his future uncertain, after an inflammatory interview with Piers Morgan.

    The 37-year-old has since left Manchester United and is playing as a free agent for the first time in his career.

    Ronaldo scored Portugal's opener in their 3-2 win over Ghana on Thursday, becoming the first male player to score at five separate World Cup finals in the process.

    And Santos shrugged off the suggestion Portugal place too much pressure on their captain's shoulders.

    "We have players that are more visible than others and they need to deal with that, with the high priority and pressure," Santos said in a press conference ahead of Portugal's second Group H game against Uruguay.

    "They express themselves in one particular way. There are players who are more extroverted, those more introverted, the most important thing is they play as a group, play together as one team.

    "As far as Cristiano is concerned, I've known him for many years, since he was 19, we have other players that share the same personality.

    "Little by little he has gained more experience, and understands this pressure, but we also take into account other players, not only Cristiano Ronaldo."

    Another experienced campaigner in Santos' squad is Ronaldo's former Real Madrid club-mate Pepe, with the 39-year-old centre-back potentially in line to feature against Uruguay after Danilo suffered an injury to his ribs in the win over Ghana.

    "He's a monster, Pepe is a monster," Santos said of the defender. "Someone who has a huge role, there's no doubt."

    Ronaldo started with Joao Felix in a front two against Ghana, though Santos also has Milan star Rafael Leao, who scored with his first touch after coming on a substitute, to call on.

    Asked if he would consider starting the trio together, Santos replied: "Of course it's possible, we did not come here with labels of one, two or three starters.

    "We will line them up according to our needs, I'm serious about it. We have choices, and no player will be excluded, but we should not address this with an individual perspective, but as a collective.

    "That's what we did against Ghana. In the first half we played very well, Ghana could not enter our area. In the last 30 minutes we should have been more aggressive because I know my players are capable. We were perhaps overconfident, but we can be confident if we are more aggressive.

    "Our advantage is that we have a plethora of players that we can use. Our players are free to play, the only thing that I ask them is to follow my instructions. We will not hold our players on a tight leash – we let them free."

  • Costa Rica can 'still dream' after late World Cup win against Japan Costa Rica can 'still dream' after late World Cup win against Japan

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    Coming off the back of a 7-0 thrashing at the hands of Spain in their opening game, Keysher Fuller's 81st-minute strike against the run of play at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium handed Costa Rica a win that gives them a chance of advancing to the knockout stage in Qatar.

    Los Ticos became the first team to concede seven goals in a game and then win their next match at the World Cup since Paraguay in 1958 (lost 7-3 to France, won 3-2 against Scotland).

    Head coach Suarez said he did not want to discuss "tactics or technical aspects" of the win as he praised his team at his post-match press conference.

    "I believe the main thing was our ability to do such amazing things," he said. "I'm not going to talk about tactical or technical aspects, today I need to value and appreciate what they have done to get this result.

    "We had to face many challenges but we firmly believed and wanted to be 100 per cent committed for our country to play well against a strong opponent like Japan.

    "We are alive [in the group], that is the main thing and no-one can forget about us yet. We can still dream."

    Fuller was the hero, with his goal the only shot Costa Rica have had on target in the tournament so far, and the 28-year-old added: "The main thing was to keep ourselves alive and to win, and we managed to do so.

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    Japan struggled to reproduce the form that saw them shock Germany in their opening game in Qatar, but the Samurai Blue still dominated large parts of the game, having 13 shots to Costa Rica's four and recording an expected goals (xG) rate of 0.8 to their opponents' 0.1.

    Head coach Hajime Moriyasu was left disappointed but stated in his press conference that his team will go into their final Group E clash against Spain with confidence.

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    "We beat Germany but that does not mean we will beat Spain. Both countries are World Cup winners, we have a lot of respect for them.

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  • South Korea v Ghana: Taeguk Warriors targeting apparent lack of 'teamwork' as Addo keeps faith South Korea v Ghana: Taeguk Warriors targeting apparent lack of 'teamwork' as Addo keeps faith

    Unity will likely be key if Ghana are to avoid an early elimination from the World Cup, though that is seemingly an area upcoming opponents South Korea are aiming to exploit.

    The Black Stars put up a good fight as they lost 3-2 to Portugal, almost rescuing a commendable point only to see Inaki Williams slip at the vital moment after stealing the ball off goalkeeper Diogo Costa.

    As such, defeat at Education City on Monday will see Ghana exit at the group stage in consecutive appearances at the World Cup (also in 2014) after reaching the knockout rounds in both of their first two (2006 and 2010).

    But Ghana coach Otto Addo retains a positive outlook.

    Granted, his optimism is based partly on Portugal doing Ghana a favour against Uruguay, but Addo sees a real possibility of the Black Stars sitting second in Group H heading into the final game of the first stage.

    Asked if he was confident Ghana could still reach the last 16, Addo said: "First of all, certainly, we have a chance, especially because [South Korea and Uruguay] played a draw.

    "If we win against South Korea and Portugal wins, hopefully, against Uruguay, then we will be second, so the chance is still great.

    "For sure, it will be very, very tough to beat South Korea because they are good, but now we have to win. We are under pressure, but they are too."

    Ghana have not won any of their past five World Cup matches but they rarely fail to score, having netted at least once in six successive games at the tournament – Nigeria (eight) are the only African team to better that streak.

    With that in mind, South Korea will probably need to improve on their run of not scoring in three of their past five World Cup outings if they are to prevail on Monday.

    On top of that, they have failed to get a single shot on target in two of their most recent four fixtures at the tournament, and that includes the stalemate with Uruguay when they looked somewhat toothless.

    However, Paulo Bento's men seem to feel there will be an element of Ghana not helping themselves.

    Midfielder Jeong Woo-yeong said: "They are a fast team, but if we can take advantage of space behind their defence, I think we should have some opportunities.

    "They didn't seem to have such great team work. We played well in our first match and we'll try to build on that against Ghana."

    Fellow midfielder Song Min-kyu did not question Ghana's work ethic, though he picked up on a similar theme with regards to exploiting the Black Star's backline.

    "They have some speedy and physical players with good skills. We know we have to be prepared against them.

    "But we also saw that they had some holes behind their defense, and we should try to exploit that extra space."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    South Korea – Lee Kang-in

    Son Heung-min is, of course, South Korea's star. He will undoubtedly be expected to lead from the front, but he was ineffective against Portugal, managing just a single shot.

    Lee had some bright moments off the bench and ended up recording two key passes, a figure bettered by none of his team-mates. It is unclear if he will come into the starting XI, but he certainly has the ability to influence proceedings off the bench.

    Ghana – Thomas Partey

    Arsenal midfielder Partey showed how important he is to Ghana in the defeat to Portugal. Perhaps not known as a creator, he laid on two chances to team-mates in that game, a joint-high for Addo's side.

    But on top of that, he had the most touches (68), successful passes (47) and tackles (four) in the Ghana team. If they do beat South Korea, he will surely have played a vital role.

    PREDICTION

    With a 40.9 per cent chance of winning, South Korea go into this as the favourites according to Stats Perform data. However, the win probability calculator suggests it could be a very tight affair.

    The likelihood of a Ghana win sits at 31.3 per cent, meaning they have every right to feel they can leave with the three points – though a draw looks almost as likely (27.8 per cent).

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