EPL

Mason unsure if 'excellent' Alli can force way into England's Euro plans

By Sports Desk May 16, 2021

Ryan Mason was reluctant to suggest Dele Alli could force his way into England's Euro 2020 plans despite an impressive showing in Tottenham's 2-0 win over Wolves.

Alli produced an energetic performance as Spurs kept their slim Champions League qualification hopes alive with a routine victory on Sunday.

He hit the woodwork on the rebound after Harry Kane had seen an effort tipped onto the post from the midfielder's throughball.

Alli may have a tough time earning a place in Gareth Southgate's squad for the Euros, which starts next month, with England not short of midfield options.

Phil Foden, Mason Mount and Jack Grealish have enjoyed excellent seasons and will almost certainly feature for the Three Lions.

Jordan Henderson will hope to recover in time from groin surgery to be involved, while Jesse Lingard, Declan Rice and Kalvin Philips are all likely to be in the mix following strong seasons.

Alli may also have a hard time jumping Borussia Dortmund teenager Jude Bellingham in the queue, but Mason was pleased to see Alli press his case regardless of Southgate's thinking.

"I can't speak in terms of what Gareth is thinking. I don't know on that, but for me Dele was excellent," Mason told a media conference.

"I don't really like singling out players but it's hard not to because I'm sure everyone felt it.

"He ran, he competed, he pressed, he created opportunities. I'm sure he's disappointed not to get a goal himself. It was an excellent number 10 performance, I'm really, really pleased."

Even more instrumental than Alli was Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who set up the opening goal for Kane and then made the points safe in the second half.

Hojbjerg scored and assisted in a Premier League game for the first time on his 145th appearance in the division, and was the first Dane to do so since Christian Eriksen in April 2019 against Crystal Palace.

"Pierre has had a very good season for this football club," interim manager Mason added.

"I'm not too sure what he's doing in the six-yard box to be perfectly honest, but he felt it was right and that came from an excellent piece of play from Reggy [Sergio Reguilon] as well.

"The desire never to give up and to compete for every single ball and that's what can happen, you can create chances from that.

"So very pleasing performance from Pierre. Not just his goal and assist but overall I thought he helped the team, and everyone collectively was very good today."

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    It was a modest record for a player as magnificent as Lionel Messi: three games, two final defeats, one red card, no goals.

    But the Barcelona great's Copa America performances against Chile prior to Monday's curtain-raising clash were not entirely out of keeping with the rest of his Argentina career.

    There have been moments of magic, of course, but just 15 goals across 46 Copa America and World Cup appearances ahead of this game. Meanwhile, not since 2007-08 has Messi fallen short of averaging a goal every two games for Barca, let alone one every three.

    Even Messi himself could not reasonably argue his international displays have come close to the standard set at club level.

    And while World Cup failures will always remain at the forefront of any such discussion – his achievements in contrast to Diego Maradona's one-man show in 1986 – the Copa America has provided its fair share of pain.

    The final defeats to Chile in 2015 and 2016 were among three for Messi and four for Argentina since their 14th and most recent title in 1993.

    Those two in consecutive years both came courtesy of penalty shoot-outs. Messi scored his spot-kick in the first match but missed the following year, setting his side on their way to another sore setback.

    It was fitting then, it seemed, that this latest campaign – surely one of Messi's last – would start against Chile and initially start in much more encouraging fashion.

    Neymar had set the standard against Venezuela the previous day.

    In front of empty, hushed stands that make it impossible to ignore the influence of politics in football – a popular topic of debate in 2021 – the pace was ponderous until the world's most expensive footballer got to work.

    Neymar scored one and created another in a 3-0 Brazil win. Along with five shots, he created seven chances – the most of any Selecao player in a Copa America match since his debut.

    It took 33 minutes, in which the absence of an atmosphere again jarred, but Messi rose to that challenge when presented with a free-kick in a central position, dipped over the wall and beyond the grasp of Claudio Bravo.

    That was one of seven Messi shots and he played four key passes, too. On paper, this ranked alongside Neymar's efforts.

    By full-time, though, it was a frustratingly familiar tale, as the supporting cast proved unable to suitably assist their superstar.

    Messi's excellence has excused a whole generation of Argentina internationals, absolved of blame because their great number 10 should have been able to win major tournaments alone.

    Too many hugely talented players have misfired on the big stage; Lionel Scaloni sent out some past and present examples.

    Lautaro Martinez is supposed to be the face of a young, new team. He had 11 goals in 23 prior internationals and should have added to that tally more than once in Rio de Janeiro.

    The Inter forward failed to hit the target with any of his three attempts and optimistically appealed for a foul following two of them when he inexplicably missed from point-blank range.

    And Martinez's frustration unfortunately came to the fore after 62 minutes when he lunged into an awful challenge on Charles Aranguiz under the nose of the referee and escaped with a booking.

    The 23-year-old's evening might have ended early with a red card. Instead, it was cut short by the introduction of Sergio Aguero.

    Chile had equalised five minutes prior to Martinez's moment of madness, one of a series of rash attempted tackles punished as a VAR review found Nicolas Tagliafico had made contact with Arturo Vidal in the area.

    Vidal took the penalty and Emiliano Martinez turned it onto the crossbar, but Eduardo Vargas was on hand to nod in his 13th Copa America goal – staying three clear of Messi and climbing into the top 10 all-time.

    Aguero followed Angel Di Maria onto the pitch as Argentina sought a response. Both players were not so long ago out of the picture under Scaloni, having previously been part of the Messi-led team that repeatedly came up short.

    In each Chile final, Di Maria started. Aguero was introduced from the bench in one and in the XI for the other.

    As on those occasions, there were no heroics from either on Monday. Di Maria, now 33, had two shots but neither troubled Bravo. Aguero, also 33, was caught offside once.

    Messi will be the story if Argentina do not deliver silverware in the coming weeks, just as he will be should they finally get over the hump.

    But the same problems persist. When Messi's free-kick set the stage, it was Martinez who could not step up, underwhelming again like too many past Argentina attackers.

    If this is to be the tournament in which Messi reaches his promised land, he is going to need some help.

  • Tarkovic praises defence after Slovakia 'neutralise' Lewandowski in shock win Tarkovic praises defence after Slovakia 'neutralise' Lewandowski in shock win

    Stefan Tarkovic praised his Slovakia side for their efforts in "neutralising" Robert Lewandowski during a shock 2-1 Euro 2020 win over Poland.

    Slovakia claimed only their second European Championship victory as an independent nation thanks to Milan Skriniar's 69th-minute winner in St Petersburg on Monday.

    An own goal from Wojciech Szczesny, which followed great work from Robert Mak, gave Slovakia a first-half lead that was cancelled out 32 seconds into the second half by Karol Linetty.

    But Grzegorz Krychowiak's red card turned the game back in Slovakia's favour and Skriniar's third goal in his last four games for Slovakia secured the three points.

    Key to Slovakia's success was Lewandowski's lack of influence. He had the fewest touches of any Poland outfield player in the first half (22) and finished with 39. None of his five shots hit the target, meaning he has still not scored in a major tournament since Euro 2016.

    Asked about how they shut down a striker who broke Gerd Muller's Bundesliga record with 41 goals in the 2020-21 season, Tarkovic told a media conference: "I think the whole team played very well, we prepared for Poland's attack very responsibly and of course Lewandowski plays a decisive role in the final third. 

    "Skriniar did not personally mark Lewandowski, but the duels with him and other players such as Peter Pekarik and Lubomir Satka, I'm really happy they managed to neutralise such a great player as Lewandowski.

    "After this win, there will be even more pressure to make it from the group. For me it wasn't really about the result, it was about showing what we are capable of. We will enjoy this win but tomorrow we are starting to prepare for Sweden.

    "This means a lot for me, I think it means a lot for all the people that have prepared together with us, the coaching staff, everyone around the team. 

    "We spent three weeks together and we had time to focus on the things we wanted to concentrate on. There are still two difficult games for us but what's really good is that the co-operation is working and the players want to show the country of Slovakia and the fans that they want to fight for Slovakia."

  • Germany receive Goretzka boost as Low prepares for tough French test Germany receive Goretzka boost as Low prepares for tough French test

    Joachim Low believes Germany have the right mix in attack to cause France problems as the two heavyweight nations prepare to do battle at Euro 2020.

    Tuesday's huge clash pits the previous two World Cup winners against each other in Munich, with reigning European champions Portugal and Hungary the other nations in Group F.

    France have been boosted by the international return of Karim Benzema, the Real Madrid striker joining Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud - who is five goals shy of Thierry Henry's record of 51 goals for Les Bleus - as attacking options for head coach Didier Deschamps to utilise.

    However, on the eve of the contest, Low has made clear he is not short of talent in his own squad, meaning defenders for both sides will have to be on high alert at all times.

    "It's obvious we also have a lot of qualities in our team, a good balance and the right mix in attack," Low told the media on Monday.

    "We have a lot of quality. Timo Werner, Leroy Sane, these are players who can decide matches. Kai Havertz, Thomas Muller and Serge Gnabry too.

    "I think both attacks are a real threat, you shouldn't let them out of sight.

    "You have to be focused every minute, because all of these players can score and be decisive."

    Leon Goretzka could be involved in his country's opening fixture having trained with his team-mates as he continues his recovery from a torn muscle.

    "It's only Jonas Hofmann who is not available. All other players have joined in with training, Leon as well was with us," Low said when asked for a squad update.

    "I think he [Goretzka] trained four or five sessions with the team, overall he gave a good impression and he doesn't feel anything from his injury.

    "He won't be risked, but I've said to Leon we will talk after our final training session. It's clear that he won't be in the starting XI just because the break he's had is too long.

    "We will talk and take a decision over whether he can be on the bench, maybe give him some minutes. We will talk with the medical department about him too, I just wanted him to participate in training and if something wasn't going well he could tell me."

    For Low, this is the start of his farewell tour with the national team. He will step down once the tournament is over but hopes to be celebrating after his final game in charge.

    "I don't think about it that it's my last tournament, my last matches. I'm just too focused on preparations for this tournament," he said. 

    "I'm focused on this year, maybe in a few weeks, hopefully when we've won the tournament, then I might be sad. But not at the moment, I'm focused on our task here."

    Low's former assistant Hansi Flick will take over after Euro 2020.

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