The Masters: Red-hot Matsuyama masters Augusta to seize lead in flawless display

By Sports Desk April 10, 2021

Hideki Matsuyama produced a flawless seven-under-par 65 as his stunning late blitz earned a four-stroke lead heading into the final round of The Masters.

Matsuyama – chasing his maiden major title and Japan's first in men's golf – made a huge splash on moving day at Augusta, where the 29-year-old seized control following a weather delay on Saturday.

After inclement weather halted proceedings, Matsuyama jumped out of the blocks and gained six shots in seven holes to leave overnight leader Justin Rose in his tracks.

Matsuyama – who birdied the seventh hole on a bogey-free front nine – was red hot following the turn, the five-time PGA Tour champion birdieing the 11th and 12th.

Unstoppable, Matsuyama eagled the 15th before following that up with back-to-back birdies at the 16th and 17th as he soared to 11 under through 54 holes.

Matsuyama – making his 87th start since his last victory at the 2017 WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational – posted the first bogey-free round this week and his best score in 37 rounds at The Masters.

Xander Schauffele and Marc Leishman also made their moves to join Rose and Will Zalatoris in a share of second spot heading into Sunday's final round.

Runner-up in 2019, American Schauffele improved 10 positions thanks to a third-round 68, which included an eagle, four birdies and two bogeys.

Leishman (70) – who finished tied for fourth in 2013 – enjoyed a strong finish, with two birdies from his final bogey-free six holes leaving him in a mix to become just the second Australian to win a green jacket after Adam Scott (2013).

The penultimate day did not go according to plan for Englishman Rose, who signed for a second consecutive 72 in Georgia.

It was a mixed day for Rose as the one-time major champion split three birdies and as many bogeys, while American Zalatoris (71) is also seven under overall.

Highlighted by an ace on the sixth hole, Corey Conners posted a four-under-par 68 to be outright sixth, five strokes behind Matsuyama.

Former world number one and 2015 champion Jordan Spieth – who ended his near-four-year title drought last week – will begin Sunday six shots off the pace following his 72.

Another former Masters winner, 2018 champion Patrick Reed, is four strokes further back after shooting a two-under-par 70 to be level alongside Justin Thomas (75) and last year's runner-up Cameron Smith (73).

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  • Denmark 0-1 Finland: Historic Pohjanpalo winner overshadowed by Eriksen collapse Denmark 0-1 Finland: Historic Pohjanpalo winner overshadowed by Eriksen collapse

    Finland marked their first appearance at a major tournament with a 1-0 win over Denmark but their opening Euro 2020 Group B match was overshadowed by the collapse of Christian Eriksen. 

    The match at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen was suspended shortly before half-time after Inter midfielder Eriksen collapsed to the ground with no one around him.

    Team-mates and referee Anthony Taylor called for immediate help from medical staff, with the players forming a protective barrier around Eriksen while efforts were made to resuscitate him.

    The 29-year-old was carried from the pitch, but positive news followed with the Danish Football Union stating Eriksen was "awake" and set for "further examinations" after being taken to hospital. 

    Both sets of players decided to resume the game after more than 100 minutes away from the pitch, with Joel Pohjanpalo sealing an historic triumph for Finland shortly before the hour mark against an understandably deflated Denmark side, who missed a late penalty through Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

    Denmark started on the front foot, with Jonas Wind, Hojbjerg and Eriksen forcing Lukas Hradecky into saves inside the opening 20 minutes. 

    Thomas Delaney and Martin Braithwaite then fired off target as Denmark continued to push forward in search of an opener. 

    The game was suspended for almost two hours following Eriksen's collapse, the players ultimately returning to finish the remaining few minutes of the first half before a short half-time interval. 

    Despite Denmark's dominance, it was Finland who opened the scoring with their first attempt on goal, Pohjanpalo heading through the weak hands of Kasper Schmeichel in the 59th minute. 

    Kasper Hjulmand's side had a golden opportunity to draw level 16 minutes from full-time when Paulus Arajuuri brought down Yussuf Poulsen in the penalty area, but Hojbjerg's tame spot-kick was kept out by Hradecky.

    What does it mean? Finland's famous win will soon be forgotten 

    Ordinarily, Finland beating a side 44 places above them in the world rankings in their first ever European Championship match would be a head-turning result. 

    As it is, the win – achieved thanks to Finland's solitary effort on goal – will largely be forgotten following the distressing scenes involving Eriksen. 

    The reports coming out of Denmark on Eriksen's condition while his team-mates played out the game were encouraging and their attention will now surely turn to his recovery rather than dwelling on an opening-day defeat. 

    Hradecky thwarts dominant Denmark

    Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Hradecky made six saves to deny Denmark, the most important of which was to keep out Hojbjerg's penalty. That save meant he became only the third goalkeeper to save a penalty on their debut appearance in the European Championship after Przemyslaw Tyton in 2012 (for Poland against Greece) and Trols Rasmussen in 1988 (for Denmark against Spain).

    Hojbjerg's spot-kick woe

    Hojbjerg made more successful passes (78) than any player on the pitch and his 11 possession gains was only bettered by Daniel Wass (12), but the Tottenham midfielder was unable to net from the spot and secure what would have been an emotional point for his side.

    Key Opta Facts:

    - Finland have only lost one of their last eight competitive matches, picking up five victories and four clean sheets in the process (D2).
    - Denmark have missed three of their last four penalties in major competitions (World Cup + Euros), having scored the previous five between 1984 and 1998.
    - They have also failed to win eight of their nine opening matches at the European Championships (D3 L5).
    - Pohjanpalo scored Finland's first ever goal at the European Championships with what was their first shot in the competition.
    - He scored his 10th goal for Finland in what was his 43rd cap for his country – becoming one of only two players in their Euro 2020 squad to have netted 10+ goals for the national side (also Teemu Pukki, 30).
    - Hradecky is only the third keeper to save a penalty on their debut appearance in the European Championships after Przemyslaw Tyton in 2012 (Poland v Greece) and Trols Rasmussen in 1988 (Denmark v Spain).

    What's next?

    Denmark face Group B heavyweights Belgium in Copenhagen on Thursday, while Finland take on Russia in St. Petersburg a day earlier.

  • Brazil v Venezuela: COVID chaos as La Vinotinto face up to tall task Brazil v Venezuela: COVID chaos as La Vinotinto face up to tall task

    Coronavirus again cast a shadow over the 2021 Copa America as Venezuela's preparations for their opening match versus Brazil were thrown into chaos.

    The tournament has been moved from Colombia and Argentina to Brazil amid political unrest in the former nation and a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths in the latter.

    Brazil has also suffered horribly during the pandemic, although calls to postpone the tournament have been resisted despite some players from the host nation voicing their opposition.

    Now Venezuela's attempts to snap a run of eight winless Copa America encounters with the Selecao – who have won six in that streak - look set to be compromised after news that 12 of their travelling party have tested positive for coronavirus.

    "The health department was notified by CONMEBOL that 12 members of the Venezuelan national team’s delegation, including players and coaching staff, tested positive for COVID-19," the secretary of state for Brasilia said in a statement, with the match set to take place at Estadio Nacional in the Brazilian capital.

     "They are all asymptomatic, isolated in single rooms and are being monitored."

    The lack of any public statement on the matter from either CONMEBOL or the Venezuelan Football Federation (FVF), means it is unclear how many of the 12 are players.

    The Athletic reported at least five players, including captain Tomas Rincon had tested positive, with local reports in Venezuela suggesting a flight for 14 replacement players had been chartered.

    Teams named provisional squads of up to 60 for the tournament to mitigate against the potential effects of COVID-19 outbreaks.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Brazil – Roberto Firmino

    Firmino might have endured a mixed season as Liverpool ceded their Premier League crown, but Brazil boss Tite will be hopeful the forward rises to the occasion as he did on the way to glory in 2019. Firmino's five goal involvements (two goals, three assists) were more than any other player in the competition.

    Venezuela – Yangel Herrera

    In Rincon's expected absence, plenty of onus will fall upon Herrera's performance in Venezuela's engine room – assuming, of course, that he is available himself. Contracted to Manchester City, Herrera is one of the Premier League champions' loan army, having spent each of the past three seasons with New York City, Huesca and Granada respectively.

    In LaLiga last term, he averaged 2.3 tackles and 10.2 duels won per 90 minutes for Granada – the latter statistic placing him second in the division among midfielders to have played 20 or more games.

    KEY OPTA FACTS

    - Brazil have gone 20 Copa America’s games without losing when the tournament takes place on home soil (W12 D8). Their previous defeat was a 3-1 loss to Peru in 1975.
    - Indeed the Selecao have lifted the title on the previous five occasions they have hosted, with an overall record of W26 D12 L2 – the other reverse coming versus Paraguay back in 1949.
    - Venezuela's quarter-final exit against Argentina in the 2019 Copa America ended a three-match unbeaten run in the competition (W1 D2).
    - This will be Venezuela's 20th Copa América appearance, the fewest of any CONMEBOL nation.

  • Austria v North Macedonia: Arnautovic decision due as Foda eyes long-awaited Euros win Austria v North Macedonia: Arnautovic decision due as Foda eyes long-awaited Euros win

    Austria boss Franco Foda has a selection dilemma in Bucharest as he bids to deliver the country's first ever win at the European Championship.

    No team have played more games at the Euros without earning at least one win than Austria, who have fallen short in all six of their past finals fixtures.

    The Group C clash with North Macedonia on Sunday is one in which many expect Austria to prevail, but Foda must decide whether Marko Arnautovic, the team's star forward, starts the match.

    Arnautovic has indicated he feels ready for a pivotal role after recovering from a thigh injury, but there is no certainty the 32-year-old will play from the start.

    The former West Ham man, now with Shanghai Port, played half an hour for Austria in a friendly against Slovakia last Sunday but Foda may prefer a match-fit Sasa Kalajdzic to lead his attack.

    Foda said in a pre-game news conference: "Ultimately, I have to make the decision about whether Marko is ready for 90 minutes or not."

    A fit and firing Arnautovic's value to his country is obvious, having been directly involved in seven goals in his eight appearances during the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign (six goals, one assist).

    Foda also kept North Macedonia guessing about where David Alaba will feature, the erstwhile Bayern Munich star and new Real Madrid recruit being a top performer both in defence and midfield.

    "We have decided where he will play," Foda said, but gave no detail about that decision.

    The Austria coach added: "We can make history, and we want to. We absolutely want to win and start the European Championship with a positive result. I have a good feeling."

    North Macedonia are making their big-tournament debut as an independent nation and proud captain Goran Pandev said: "Believe that we are ready and we will do our best to make the public and the Macedonian people happy again."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Austria - Marcel Sabitzer

    Sabitzer is coming off a strong season in the German Bundesliga with RB Leipzig and has been linked with clubs including Roma and Arsenal. Austria have plenty of decent pedigree in their squad, but the man who scored eight goals and had three assists on league duty for his club side last term, creating 30 chances in all, is one of a handful with real star quality.

    North Macedonia - Goran Pandev

    At the age of 37, Pandev leads his country on the big stage, and what a moment it will be for him. A star forward in Serie A for over 15 years, notably with Lazio, Inter, Napoli and Genoa, Pandev may be past his prime but he will hope to lead by example at this tournament.

    KEY OPTA FACTS

    - These teams have only played each other twice before – both times in qualifying for this tournament – with Austria winning those matches 4-1 and 2-1.

    - Including the play-off rounds, North Macedonia won each of their final three games in Euro 2020 qualifying – as many as they had won in their previous nine games of the qualifying campaign beforehand (D2 L4).

    - Austria have yet to reach the knockout stages or even win a single game at the European Championships (D2 L4).

    - Austria have won only one of their last 15 games at major tournaments (D5 L9 – World Cups and Euros), a 2-1 victory against United States in the group phase of the 1990 World Cup. They last reached the knockout stages of a major tournament at the 1954 World Cup, finishing third.

    - Austria have scored only two goals in their six games at the European Championship finals; one of them was a penalty (Ivica Vastic vs Poland, Euro 2008). They have never been ahead at any point in those six games.

    - North Macedonia's 1.25 goals scored per game during Euro 2020 qualifiers (15 in 12 games) was the joint-lowest average of any team to have qualified for the finals, alongside Wales.

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