The Jamaica Football Federation has revealed that Shamar Nicholson suffered a facial fracture during Charleroi FC’s 1-0 loss to Club Brugge in the Belgian Pro League on Sunday.

However, the player will be able to continue playing this season and in the upcoming world cup qualifiers with the use of a protective face shield.

Nicholson was forced to leave the field in the second half of the match after he was hit in the face during a violent collision with Brandon Mechele.

The striker jumped to head a ball on goal but Mechele,  the Club Brugge defender, in challenging for the ball, headed Nicholson in the jaw, rendering the Jamaican unconscious for a short time. Reports on the incident said Nicholson tried to play on after regaining consciousness but was unable to continue and was substituted.

Immediately afterwards, club officials feared Nicholson have suffered a broken jaw but were awaiting the results of additional tests. Their fears were proven valid as Reggae Boyz team manager Roy Simpson confirmed this morning that Nicholson suffered a minor fracture but will be able to continue playing this season with the use of a protective face shield.

Nicholson scored both of Jamaica’s goals in the Reggae Boyz first three World Cup qualifiers in the Octogonal round. He scored Jamaica’s only goal in Jamaica’s 2-1 loss to Mexico and scored the equalizer in a 1-1 draw against Costa Rica in San Jose.

Jamaica’s next round of qualifiers begins on October 7 against the United States. The Reggae Boyz then take on Canada on October 10 before facing Honduras on October 13.

 

European champions Italy are on a world record 37-game unbeaten streak, but they remain lodged at number five in the FIFA rankings.

The world governing body published its new list on Thursday and the only change in the top five saw England jump to third, nudging France down to fourth.

England were runners-up to Italy in the Euro 2020 final, losing on penalties at Wembley after a 1-1 draw, and two wins and a draw from World Cup qualifiers in September have seen Gareth Southgate's team edge ahead of Les Bleus.

It is the first time since 2012 that England have reached the top three, and third place remains the highest position they have achieved in the rankings.

Didier Deschamps' France could only manage two draws and a win in this month's international break, while Italy were held by Bulgaria and Switzerland before landing a 5-0 victory over Lithuania.

Italy have been a roaring success under the leadership of Roberto Mancini, who inherited a team that failed to qualify for the last World Cup and had plummeted to 21st in FIFA's rankings.

They set the record for the most games unbeaten at international level during their run of September games, staying in control as leaders of World Cup European qualifying Group C.

With FIFA's rankings offering significant weighting to World Cup tournament performance, Italy could make a significant leap should their strong form under coach Mancini continue into the Qatar 2022 finals.

Belgium remain top of the FIFA list, with Brazil in second. Copa America winners Argentina stay sixth.

 

Belgium took another big stride towards assuring their automatic qualification for the 2022 World Cup with a routine 1-0 win over Belarus.

The Red Devils – ranked number one in the world – made it three wins from three in this batch of qualifiers to all but ensure their place at Qatar.

With 16 points to their name, Belgium need just one win from their remaining two fixtures to seal top spot in Group E, with Dennis Praet's goal the difference on Wednesday.

Shorn of Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium did not make the most of their dominance, yet Belarus never threatened a comeback.

Toby Alderweireld played in a cross De Bruyne would have been proud of from the right-hand channel in the 20th minute – the ball falling to Batshuayi, who dragged his attempt wide.

Batshuayi headed in the rebound from Dedryck Boyata's effort against the crossbar soon after, only for the offside flag to cut short his celebrations.

Belgium had their lead two minutes later, however – Praet sweeping home across Sergey Chernik.

Dodi Lukebakio stretched his legs early in the second half, though made a poor decision to shoot from the edge of the area rather than slide in Leandro Trossard.

Batshuayi's search for a goal continued to prove fruitless as he saw an effort kept out by Chernik, Belgium missing the cutting edge to make the scoreline as comfortable as their performance warranted.

Artem Bykov tried to make them pay with a hopeful long-range attempt, but it never came close to testing Koen Casteels as Belgium eased to victory – Eden Hazard seeing a late free-kick saved well by Chernik at the other end.

Romelu Lukaku marked his 100th cap with a goal as Belgium swatted aside the Czech Republic 3-0 to move a step closer to an automatic place at the World Cup.

Chelsea striker Lukaku and former Blues forward Eden Hazard rampaged almost at will, with both getting on the scoresheet in a comfortable qualifying win for the Group E leaders at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels.

The Belgians remain top of the FIFA world rankings despite their quarter-final defeat to eventual winners Italy at Euro 2020, and this was a reminder of how they got there.

A two-goal cushion by half-time meant they were largely on cruise control afterwards, with Alexis Saelemaekers grabbing their third goal midway through the second period.

Adam Hlozek saw an early firecracker of a shot deflect wide for a corner off Jason Denayer, before Belgium's big guns did their damage.

The Czechs were caught out by Lukaku in the eighth minute as he ran in behind their defence to meet a precise pass from Hans Vanaken and finish coolly with his left foot into the bottom-right corner.

That was his 67th international goal and it was hardly a secret he would present the biggest threat to the Czech goal. Before half-time he had headed another chance over, thrashed a powerful shot that Tomas Vaclik parried away well, and scooped an 18-yard strike 10 yards over the crossbar.

Hazard had laid on each of those chances, and in the 41st minute the Real Madrid forward got the second goal himself, with a pass from Youri Tielemans cleverly helped on with a backheel by Vanaken into Hazard's path, and he toed the ball low beyond Vaclik.

A third goal arrived in the 65th minute as substitute Saelemaekers applied the finishing touches after sensational flicks from Hazard and Lukaku freed him to shoot.

That came moments after Hlozek almost cut the deficit with a thumping shot that Thibaut Courtois tipped behind, and the third goal truly killed the contest.

An over-eager Lukaku was booked for hacking down Filip Kasa while chasing giddily after the ball, before he was roared off the pitch 10 minutes from time, replaced by Michy Batshuayi for the closing stages.

Roberto Martinez was pleased with the maturity shown by his Belgium side after they recovered from an early setback in their World Cup qualifying win over Estonia. 

The Red Devils fell behind for the third time in four Group E matches when Mattias Kait turned over possession and rifled a shot past Thibaut Courtois inside the first two minutes of Thursday's contest. 

But Hans Vanaken had Belgium on level terms 20 minutes later and Romelu Lukaku scored either side of half-time to give the visitors some breathing space in Tallinn. 

Substitute Thomas Foket bagged his first international goal after Axel Witsel had further extended Belgium's lead, rendering Erik Sorga's late strike nothing more than a consolation. 

Despite conceding a couple of sloppy goals in the 5-2 victory, Martinez was ultimately happy with the result in his side's first game since their Euro 2020 quarter-final loss to Italy two months ago. 

"Estonia deserve all the credit for their first goal – they recaptured the ball high up on the pitch and the shot was great. That just happens in football," Martinez said. 

"The second goal is due to the substitutions we made. I was pleased that after the first goal we remained calm and knew what to do.  

"I'm happy to have scored five goals. The team has shown maturity today. These gatherings in September are not the easiest, and it's not always the favourites who win."

Courtois was well beaten by Kait's early shot and was let down by some sloppy defending for Sorga's strike as Belgium shipped two goals for the second game running. 

The Real Madrid goalkeeper was eager to focus on the positives from the win, however, which leaves Belgium top of Group E with 10 points from four matches. 

"We played a good game today," Courtois said. "Those two goals against us are of course less good, but in possession we were good.  

"The goals we conceded is something that happens. There's nothing you can do about it. We have to analyse it internally, but the most important thing today was the win. 

"We could have scored eight or nine goals in the end, but we know that it has to be better against the Czech Republic on Sunday." 

Thursday's match was a special occasion for Arsenal midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga, who made his senior debut for Belgium as a second-half substitute. 

"I'm happy with my first cap," he said. "The coach asked me to play for the team, he didn't want the team to relax.  

"It's a good period for me and my family but you have to keep your feet on the ground. It's clearly a good time for me and I hope it will continue." 

Romelu Lukaku's double helped Belgium recover from an early setback in Tallinn as they saw off Estonia 5-2 to retain top spot in their World Cup qualifying group.

The Red Devils fell behind for the third time in four Group E matches when Mattias Kait fired the hosts – ranked 110 in the world – into a shock lead inside two minutes at A. Le Coq Arena.

But Belgium, in action for the first time since their Euro 2020 quarter-final loss to Italy, replied before the half-hour mark through a Hans Vanaken header and Lukaku's clinical finish.

Lukaku doubled his tally early in the second half and further goals followed from Axel Witsel and substitute Thomas Foket as Roberto Martinez's side made it three wins and a draw from their first four qualifying fixtures, despite Erik Sorga netting a late consolation for Estonia.

Estonia had won their previous three matches and found themselves ahead early on when Kait turned over possession, carried the ball forward and rifled a shot away from Thibaut Courtois.

Belgium soon found their rhythm and were on level terms 20 minutes later thanks to Vanaken, who added to the two goals scored in the 8-0 win over Belarus last time out in qualifying with a headed equaliser from five yards out.

Lukaku then profited from some poor home defending to fire Martinez's men in front, the prolific striker picking his spot after Karol Mets' clearance hit team-mate Vladislav Kreida and fell into his path.

Alexis Saelemaekers went close to extending Belgium's lead with a shot that crashed back off the frame of the goal, but they did not have to wait much longer for their third as Lukaku worked a yard of space and curled the ball past Karl Hein.

Witsel tapped in from close range following some excellent work from Yannick Carrasco, who also played a superb pass over the top for Foket – introduced from the bench 10 minutes earlier – to ghost in behind for Belgium's fifth.

Another substitute in Sorga pulled one back for Estonia seven minutes from time, but Belgium were already home and dry by that point.

The first international break of the 2021-22 campaign has arrived, and with it comes an opportunity for many national teams to start afresh.

Following the conclusion of the Copa America, Gold Cup and Euro 2020 in quick succession, all roads now lead to the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

For a number of players, the September qualifiers provide an opportunity to make an impression, while for others it is potentially a first taste of international football. 

With the games coming thick and fast over the next week or so, Stats Perform has looked at those in contention to make their senior international debuts.

Albert Sambi Lokonga (Belgium)

Belgium's golden generation of talent missed another opportunity to turn promise into something more tangible when losing to eventual winners Italy in the Euro 2020 quarter-finals.

Roberto Martinez has decided against wholesale changes after that disappointment, with Lokonga the only outfield player in line for his first cap, having failed to get further than the bench – against Greece in June – after previous call-ups.

A product of the same Anderlecht youth system that oversaw the development of Romelu Lukaku, Youri Tielemans and Leander Dendoncker, among others, Lokonga sealed a move to Arsenal in July after impressing in the Belgian top flight.

The £15million signing has not had the best of starts to life at Arsenal, the Gunners finding themselves bottom of the English top-flight table having played at least three league matches for the first time since October 1974.

Lokonga, noted for his ability to play in front of the defence, featured in just two of those games yet still trails Granit Xhaka alone in terms of passes (113 to 139) and successful passes (97 to 118) and is behind only Sead Kolasinac for interceptions.

 

Claudinho (Brazil)

Citing concerns over the availability of his European-based contingent due to clubs being reluctant to release players to red-list countries, Tite has named a bloated Brazil squad for this month's triple-header of World Cup qualifiers.

Those complications appear set to deny Raphinha a debut, having impressed during his first year in the Premier League with Leeds United. 

Raphinha ranks seventh in the division for dribbles attempted since the start of last season (142), completing 42.96 per cent of those. He also ranks in the top 10 for chances created over that period with 68.

But Claudinho remains in line to be capped for the first time, called up after helping his country secure Olympic gold at Tokyo 2020.

The midfielder, whose signing at Zenit was announced not long after the Olympic tournament had concluded, described his call-up as "a dream come true".

Theo Hernandez and Moussa Diaby (France)

It is out with the old and in with the new as far as France's first post-Euros squad is concerned – to an extent, at least, with Olivier Giroud one of nine players to make way from the previous group named by Didier Deschamps.

Injuries have also played a part in that, potentially giving a quartet of uncapped players the chance to impress in the upcoming qualifiers with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ukraine and Finland.

Hernandez, a more natural left-back option than brother Lucas, will feel his first call-up is long overdue following back-to-back campaigns as a regular for Milan, whom he joined from Real Madrid. 

Since making his Rossoneri bow in September 2019, no defender in Serie A has completed more dribbles than Hernandez (133), while only Federico Dimarco (87) and Juan Cuadrado (107) have created more chances than his 86.

Monaco midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni and Roma's Jordan Veretout may also feature during this international break, but perhaps the most exciting of the new additions is Bayer Leverkusen winger Diaby.

The Paris Saint-Germain product scored twice and assisted another in Leverkusen's opening two Bundesliga games of 2021-22, while Alphonso Davies is the only player in the division to have attempted more dribbles this term (24 to his 22).

Known for his blistering pace and ability to take on opponents, Diaby could well provide Deschamps with a different option in an attack already packed full of talent.

 

Otavio (Portugal)

Three new players have been called up by Fernando Santos, who is looking to the future after his Portugal side's reign as European champions came to an end in July.

Goncalo Inacio is injured, but Diogo Costa and Otavio could each make their senior debuts during this international window, with the latter the name on many lips right now.

Otavio has tallied 11 goal involvementss in each of the past two Primeira Liga campaigns for Porto and has made a fast start to the new season with two assists in his first four games.

Since the start of last season, only team-mate Mehdi Taremi has provided more assists (12) in the Portuguese top flight than Otavio's 10, coming from 51 chances created.

The Brazilian-born attacking midfielder was granted Portuguese citizenship earlier this year and will be eager to show that Brazil's loss is very much Portugal's gain should he get some minutes over the next week.

Ricardo Pepi (United States)

The dual-national drama surrounding Pepi appears to have reached a resolution as the FC Dallas forward has seemingly pledged his allegiance to the United States over Mexico.

After breaking into the Dallas side two years ago and featuring regularly last year, 2021 has been quite the season for the El Paso-born youngster.

Pepi, who does not turn 19 until next January, has 11 goals and two assists in 21 games this term and scored the decisive kick in last week's penalty shoot-out win for MLS against their Liga MX counterparts in the All-Star Game.

He has 13 MLS goals in total, the fourth-most ever by a teenager – ahead of Freddy Adu – and just nine short of the record held by Diego Fagundez.

On the basis of the past four months in particular, the USMNT could have a potentially world-class player to lead their line for a number of years to come.

 

Karim Adeyemi (Germany)

For the first time in 17 years, Germany will play a match without Joachim Low in their dugout either as assistant or head coach when they face Liechtenstein on Thursday.

Hansi Flick is tasked with ushering in a new generation of German talents, with help from the old guard, many of whom were key to his successful spell at Bayern Munich.

Away from regulars such as Thomas Muller, Leon Goretzka, Joshua Kimmich and Manuel Neuer, Flick has included four uncapped players in his first squad – David Raum, Nico Schlotterbeck, Florian Wirtz and Adeyemi.

A technically gifted and supremely fast winger, Adeyemi has long been considered one of Germany's most promising young players, having cost Salzburg a reported €3m when he was 16.

Adeyemi, who left Bayern six years earlier, has been given the chance to spread his wings with Salzburg and has been strongly linked with Red Bull sister club RB Leipzig.

He already has six goals in six Austrian Bundesliga appearances this term, just one less than he managed in 29 top-flight appearances last time out – a return he will be looking to build on if he is given the nod by Flick.

Justin Bijlow (Netherlands)

The Netherlands are another European heavyweight going through a transitional period of sorts after turning to veteran coach Louis van Gaal for a third stint in charge.

Frank de Boer failed to get the most out of this talented Dutch squad and already Van Gaal has put his own mark on the team by calling up a few newbies.

There will be plenty of focus on the goalkeeping position as, with Jasper Cillessen not fully fit and Maarten Stekelenburg recently retiring, Joel Drommel and Bijlow can stake a claim to be the long-term number one.

Bijlow is considered one of the finest young goalkeepers in Europe and already has 45 Eredivisie games under his belt for Feyenoord, where he is a real fan favourite.

The 23-year-old has kept 15 clean sheets across those appearances and boasts a save percentage of 72.16. Van Gaal can seemingly rely on the young stopper, as he has made just one error leading to a goal.

Thierry Henry has joined the Belgium coaching staff on a permanent basis until after the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

The former France striker was initially employed to work with the Red Devils five years ago following Roberto Martinez's appointment as head coach.

Henry helped Belgium reach the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup in Russia before taking over as Monaco boss.

The Arsenal legend moved to the MLS with Montreal Impact in 2019 after he was sacked by Ligue 1 club Monaco.

Henry ended his spell as Impact head coach in February last year and returned to the Belgium set-up for the rearranged Euro 2020.

The Royal Belgian Football Association on Monday revealed the 44-year-old will be working under Martinez as the Red Devils bid to win a first major tournament next year.

Belgium are top of World Cup qualifying Group E with two wins from three matches.

Nine-time Olympic gold medallist Carl Lewis did not hold back in his criticism of the United States' performance in the men's 4x100 metres relay at Tokyo 2020.

Team USA have not won the event in 21 years and though they entered Thursday's heat as one of the favourites, they failed to qualify for the final.

It is the first time Team USA have failed to reach the Olympic final since 2008, though they have hardly had much fortune in the event since their success in Sydney.

Indeed, they have only once made it to the finish line cleanly, without any mistakes, when they claimed silver at London 2012. That medal, however, was conceded in the wake of Tyson Gay's doping ban.

This time around, a team including three of the fastest men in the world over 100m in 2021, fared little better.

Trayvon Bromell, Fred Kerley, Ronnie Baker and Cravon Gillespie finished sixth in the heat with a time of 38.10 seconds.

"We just didn't get the job done today," Kerley said. "That's all."

Sprinting great Lewis, who won two golds in the 4x100m relay, hit out at what he labelled a "clown show".

"The USA team did everything wrong in the men’s relay," Lewis wrote on Twitter. "The passing system is wrong, athletes running the wrong legs, and it was clear that there was no leadership. It was a total embarrassment, and completely unacceptable for a USA team to look worse than the AAU kids I saw."

He then expanded on his criticism in an interview with USA Today.

"This was a football coach taking a team to the Super Bowl and losing 99-0 because they were completely ill-prepared," Lewis said.

"It's unacceptable. It's so disheartening to see this because it’s people's lives. We're just playing games with people's lives. That's why I’m so upset. It's totally avoidable.

"America is sitting there rooting for the United States and then they have this clown show. I can't take it anymore. It's just unacceptable. It is not hard to do the relay."

HISTORY MADE BY SPAIN

Sport climbing and karate were two of the sports introduced for the Tokyo Games, and the first medals in each were won by Spanish athletes.

At the age of 39 years and 323 days, Sandra Sanchez became Spain's oldest Olympic champion as she triumphed in the women's kata, breaking the record set by Joan Llaneras in the velodrome in 2008.

Sanchez also became the first Spanish woman to clinch gold in martial arts since judoka Isabel Fernandez did so in 2000.

Her triumph was followed up by golds for France's Steven da Costa and Bulgaria's Ivet Goranova in the men's and women's kumite respectively.

At the opposite end of the spectrum to Sanchez, 18-year-old Alberto Gines Lopez became the youngest male Spanish athlete to strike gold at the Games as he pipped Nathaniel Coleman and Jakob Schubert in the sport climbing men's combined final.

"I think it will help the sport to grow, and for it to get more support. We need good installations in order to help the sport, and I think this will bring more support to the sport," the teenager said, before revealing his plans of celebration: "I'm going to break my diet. And then call my family and friends."

FOURNIER PREPPED FOR 'THE MOST COMPLICATED MATCH'

Team USA and France will meet in the final of the men's basketball competition, as the two favourites go head-to-head for gold.

Luka Doncic's shooting was off as Slovenia fell to an agonising 90-89 defeat to France, who beat the USA in the pool stage.

The European Champions, who also defeated the USA in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, now face a rematch against a side that has scored over 90 points in the last four games.

Evan Fournier, whose 23 points was second behind only team-mate Nando de Colo, knows what is in store.

"It represents a real step towards a dream, and the dream is to win the Olympics against the United States," said Fournier, who has just swapped the Boston Celtics for the New York Knicks.

"We have to rest and not let our minds wander, and prepare as much as possible, because there's a team waiting for us. They've prepared for us for two years, apparently, and because we beat them in the pool it will be worse, so it will be the most complicated match of the competition for us without any doubt."

SHOOT-OUT GLORY FOR BELGIUM

Beaten finalists in 2016, Belgium claimed their first hockey gold, and only their second in an Olympic team sport, after their men beat Australia 3-2 in a shoot-out.

Goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch was the hero in dramatic circumstances.

He made two saves before then denying Jacob Whetton, only for Belgium's celebrations to be cut short by a referral. However, Vanasch stood firm for a second time.

The shoot-out drama followed a 1-1 draw, with Tom Wickham having cancelled out Florent van Aubel's opener.

"What a feeling. You become Olympic champion, but twice [because of the referral] It's unusual," Vanasch said. "We had to calm down and go again. We knew that.

"I'm like a musician, it's a rehearsal and then you come to the concert and it comes naturally. That's how I come on the pitch. I'm composed, but also I trust myself, I trust my reflexes."

Australia have now won seven men's hockey medals across the last eight Games, while Belgium won their first gold in a team event since the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, when their men's football team triumphed.

Roberto Martinez has confirmed he will continue as Belgium boss despite overseeing the 'disappointment' of a quarter-final exit at Euro 2020.

The world's number one ranked side breezed through the group stages and defeated Portugal in the round of 16 before seeing their progress halted by Italy.

It had been suggested Martinez could step down after overseeing another major tournament failure for what has often been described as a 'golden generation' of players.

However, the Spaniard has reaffirmed his commitment to the jobs of head coach and technical director for the Royal Belgian Football Association.

"The disappointment after the lost game against Italy was great, but the focus is already on the World Cup qualifiers in September and the final four of the Nations League a month later," he said.

“Only when I feel like I can't add anything more will I leave. I will also continue my work as technical director. That's the plan.

"There has been a lot of talk about my future: before, during and after the tournament. 

"I always find it hard to talk about myself because this isn't about me. It's about creating the best possible conditions in which footballers can work and develop. 

"I still see a lot of energy in this group and this project is still on the rise. This team is now ready to move on, to get back on the field. September can't come soon enough."

 

Martinez also rejected suggestions that Belgium's Euros exit will be followed by a string of international retirements, adding: "Nobody thinks about quitting.

"The players of this team immediately want to continue, do better. On the other hand, there are also no players that I am dissatisfied with and will therefore no longer call. The players have not failed at this tournament."

The former Wigan and Everton boss did, however, acknowledge that he has a talented group of youngsters ready to make their mark at senior international level.

And he expects them to push their more experienced counterparts for regular game time in the years to come.

He continued: "There is a list of 12 young players who are already involved in the national team. 

"Four of them have already [played] several times: Jeremy Doku, Zinho Vanheusden, Charles De Ketelaere and Yari Verschaeren. 

"The next 12 months are going to be very important for them, they have to dare to compete with the older guard. 

"Our job is to put the young people in the right environment, to create conditions in which they can perform, after that you have to let football decide. 

"As a coach you only have to bring young players into the team who are ready for it. Just being young and talented is not enough. We must support and help develop those talents, work on quality. Talents have been lost in the past."

Martinez was also asked about the future of Thierry Henry, who served as his assistant manager between 2016 and 2018 before returning ahead of the European Championship campaign. 

He said: "At the moment, no decision has been made about a possible collaboration in the future. 

"Much will depend on his personal situation, whether or not he is working for a club. But it is clear that the relationship between him and the national team is very good."

The chief executive of the Belgian Football Association says Roberto Martinez will stay on as coach despite Belgium's Euro 2020 "failure".

A 2-1 quarter-final defeat to Italy in Munich on Friday ended the Red Devils' hopes of being crowned champions of Europe.

Belgium once again started the competition with the expectation of mounting a strong challenge to win a first major tournament as the top-ranked team in the world.

They fell short once again under Martinez, but CEO Peter Bossaert says the Spaniard has the full backing of the Belgian FA and he does not expect the 47-year-old to walk away.

Asked if Martinez will remain at the helm, he told HLN: "Yes. He has a contract until the end of the World Cup [in Qatar next year]. 

"We are already together on Monday for the international matches in September and the Nations League final. I'm not afraid he'll leave. Normally he stays.”

Bossaert can understand criticism of Belgium after their exit at the hands of the Azzurri.

"The result is disappointing, so you can call it a failure," he said. "I fully understand that. We didn't realise what we were working for. 

"That's the cruel side of top football. If you lose in the KO phase, you don't have a chance to make amends."

 

Bossaert does not feel Euro 2020 represented the last chance for a so-called 'golden generation' to win a major tournament.

He added: "I am more positive about that [their chances of glory at a big competition]. This European Championship was a missed opportunity, but the Nations League final will follow in October and the World Cup will start in 16 months. 

"Many of our top players are still quite young. [Kevin] De Bruyne and Eden Hazard are 30, [Romelu] Lukaku 28, [Yannick] Carrasco 27, [Youri] Tielemans 24, and I can name many more. 

"They can last a long time. This generation still has opportunities. Certainly in the first two challenges, the Nations League and the World Cup, we can be ambitious. 

"Then there is the European Championship in Germany. The World Cup in 2026 in the US, Mexico and Canada is still too far away. But if we regularly supplement this core with new talents, I look to the future with confidence."

Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez refused to comment on his future after the country's Euro 2020 elimination at the hands of Italy, insisting the situation is "too raw".

Italy booked their spot in the semi-finals against Spain after overcoming Martinez's Belgium 2-1 in Munich on Friday.

Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Insigne put Italy two goals ahead by the 44th minute, but Belgium pulled one back before the interval courtesy of a Romelu Lukaku penalty. 

Despite going close, Belgium – one of the pre-tournament favourites – were unable to find an equaliser against red-hot Italy as the Red Devils lost in the quarter-finals of the European Championship like they did in 2016.

Attention swiftly turned to Martinez, who is contracted through to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar but has been linked with a return to club management.

"Well, obviously, this is a moment that is very, very difficult to speak anything else than the defeat and that we are out of the Euros," Martinez said. "As I say, at the moment, it's still too raw. And I do not want to say anything that it could be [seen as] emotional.

"At the moment, all I want to do is look back into this tournament and I would say that the players have done nothing wrong. It is the opposite.

"They did everything they could to get us as far as we can [at Euro 2020]. And now is the time to analyse and to assess. But, at the moment, the feelings of disappointment and sadness, unfortunately, is what is in my head now."

Belgium have faced Italy more times at major international tournaments (World Cup and Euros) without winning than any other side (five).

No Belgium player has scored more goals than Lukaku at either the European Championship (six) or the World Cup (five, level with Marc Wilmots).

Lukaku has scored 24 goals in his last 23 appearances for Belgium, including 22 in his last 19 competitive internationals.

"The feelings are what you can imagine, really - sadness and disappointment - because I do not think these players deserve to be out of this tournament," said Martinez. "They have done an incredible job to be prepared to be ready to go step-by-step every day, from the beginning of the tournament. And unfortunately, today [Friday], we faced a very good side [Italy]. I thought it was two very good teams in this knockout phase. And, unfortunately, the margins did not go in our favour."

Belgium star Kevin De Bruyne played despite carrying an ankle knock, though captain Eden Hazard watched from the stands due to a hamstring injury.

"The situation with Axel [Witsel] and Kevin [De Bruyne] and Eden [Hazard] going into the tournament, I think we managed it very, very well and you could see the attitude of those players," Martinez added. "They started to grow into the tournament and they have been a real bonus. They really helped us from the moment that they could be on the pitch.

"Obviously, injuries happen and it is unfortunate that Eden could not be on the pitch with us [against Italy]. But it was exemplary to see Kevin De Bruyne getting through whatever he would, to get 90 minutes with his national team and showing that he was ready to help the group.

"So, I think, for every 'Red Devil' fan, there is a real pride and understanding that these players did everything they could to try to get what we wanted to get. And unfortunately today, we faced a very good team [Italy] and, with two good teams, the small margins went for them. And that is a small difference and that happens in football."

Roberto Mancini described his Italy players as "extraordinary" after they booked a Euro 2020 semi-final spot with a 2-1 win over Belgium in Munich on Friday. 

Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Insigne put the Azzurri two goals ahead by the 44th minute, but Belgium pulled one back before the interval courtesy of a Romelu Lukaku penalty. 

The Azzurri held on to extend their unbeaten run to 32 games, however, and will now play Spain at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday after Luis Enrique's side overcame Switzerland on penalties earlier in the day.

Italy have now reached the semi-finals of a major tournament for the 12th time – the only European nation to do so more is Germany (20 times).

The result also meant Mancini became only the second coach in European Championship history to win each of his first five matches in the competition finals after Michel Hidalgo, who won all five of his matches in charge of France at the 1984 edition.

"We deserved the victory," Mancini told RAI Sport. "The lads were extraordinary, and clearly we suffered in the last 10 minutes as we were really tired, but we could've scored more goals earlier.

"I didn't see 25 minutes of struggle at the start. There were chances at both ends, it was an open game. We only struggled in the last 10 minutes when Belgium started playing a long ball game.

"We had no minimum target. We just wanted to do our best. There are still two games to go, we'll see what happens.

"Let us enjoy this victory, then we can think about Spain. Congratulations to the lads, they did a great job."

 

Central to Italy's success was the colossal defensive display by Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. 

No player on the pitch made more clearances than Chiellini's six, while the pair helped reduce the Red Devils to just a solitary shot on target in the second period. 

Bonucci expects a tough game against Spain but urged his team-mates to be ready to go into battle. 

"Now we can keep dreaming with our feet on the ground," he said. "Spain are a great team, but we started this tournament with a dream in our hearts; let's keep it there until the end.

"There are two matches to go, the most difficult will be against Spain, who play similar to Belgium. They again looked as if they might not make it, but they got back on their feet, so it'll be a battle to the end."

The one sour note for Italy was the late injury suffered by Leonardo Spinazzola, with reports in Italy after the game suggesting he had ruptured his Achilles tendon.

"Leonardo had a great Euros, whoever replaces him will do just as well," Bonucci added.

After two engrossing games on Friday, we have our first Euro 2020 semi-finalists.

Spain ended a nine-year wait for a place in the final four of a major tournament, but they had to do it the hard way once again, with penalties needed to defeat Switzerland after a draw in Saint Petersburg.

Then came arguably the finest match of the tournament to date, Italy prevailing against Belgium to set a new record for consecutive wins in this competition and continue their remarkable form under Roberto Mancini.

Here are some of the key data takeaways from day one of the quarter-finals...

 

Switzerland 1-1 Spain (aet, 1-3 pens): Luis Enrique's men are the Euros shoot-out kings

Switzerland's previous three European Championship knockout games had gone to penalties (against Poland in 2016 and France this year), so perhaps we should have expected another shoot-out here.

Things certainly looked to be under Spain's control when Denis Zakaria, in for the suspended Granit Xhaka, scored the 10th own goal of Euro 2020 – that's more than were seen in the previous 15 championships combined (nine). Three of those have now gone in Spain's favour: they got two against Slovakia in the group stage.

Xherdan Shaqiri steered in Remo Freuler's pass to become his country's leading Euros goalscorer with four – he has as many goals (three) in his most recent three games as he did in his previous 31 – as Switzerland responded well in the second half. Then came a crucial moment: a heavy challenge from Freuler, and a red card flashed his way. It made the Atalanta midfielder the sixth person to be sent off at these finals and Switzerland only the third side in the competition's history to score an own goal and have a player dismissed in the same game, after Poland (against Slovakia this year) and Czechoslovakia against the Netherlands in 1976.

Still, Switzerland stood firm. Yann Sommer produced 10 saves, the most by a goalkeeper in a knockout match who did not suffer defeat during normal or extra time since Ivo Viktor for Czechoslovakia, again in 1976. Spain fired in 28 shots in total, with substitutes Dani Olmo and Gerard Moreno attempting six each. They have struck the most shots of anyone at these finals without scoring (Olmo 16, Gerard 15).

Yet Sommer's heroics were not enough in the shoot-out, Ruben Vargas' miss allowing Mikel Oyarzabal to ensure Spain progressed from penalties in a Euros match for the fourth time, more than any other nation. One of those came against Italy in 2008, and another against Portugal in 2012 – each time, La Roja went on to lift the trophy...


 

Belgium 1-2 Italy: Azzurri clinch Euros record against favourite foes

Italy stretched their record unbeaten run to 32 matches and 13 consecutive victories to see off Belgium and reach the semi-finals of a major tournament for the 12th time, a tally only bettered among European sides by Germany (20).

Perhaps more impressively, Italy have now won each of their past 15 games at the Euros (including qualifying), which is a competition record. Had Belgium claimed victory, they would have reached that tally themselves.

Roberto Martinez's side might be the top-ranked in the world, but they have now faced the Azzurri five times at the Euros and World Cup without winning, more than they have against any other side. They may have feared this result was coming.

Nicolo Barella opened the scoring with his sixth goal in 27 international games – only one fewer than he has managed in his past 116 club matches – before Lorenzo Insigne swept home a quite stunning second. Romelu Lukaku got a goal back after the impressive Jeremy Doku had become the first teenager to win a Euros spot-kick since Wayne Rooney in 2004.

Lukaku had a couple of chances for another in the second half, but he could not quite muster what would have been a 23rd goal in his most recent 19 competitive internationals, as Roberto Mancini celebrated becoming just the second coach in Euros history to win each of his first five games in the finals after Michel Hidalgo in 1984.

Italy's resolute defending in the second half was built on the partnership of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, whose guile helped the Azzurri over the line. This was something of a showcase for experienced stoppers: the five starting centre-backs – Chiellini (36), Bonucci (34), Thomas Vermaelen (35), Jan Vertonghen (34) and Toby Alderweireld (32) – averaged an age of 34 years and 234 days.

 

As impressive as Italy were at Euro 2020 before Friday, much of that praise had been tempered – rightly or wrongly – by scepticism from some, with those suggesting their opponents to this point. and throughout their unbeaten run, had been sub-optimal.

It seemed a largely harsh assessment given they are playing at a major international tournament, though the unconvincing nature of their 2-1 extra-time win over Austria did bring with it a hint of doubt.

Regardless of whether or not the sceptics had been correct about Italy, Belgium – the number-one ranked nation in the world – were always bound to leave fans and pundits alike with perhaps a better appraisal of just how good the Azzurri are.

After all, there had been plenty of evidence to suggest Belgium had almost been the antithesis of Roberto Mancini's team in Euro 2020. While Italy had the most efforts on goal of any team at Euro 2020 (87, Belgium had 38) prior to the quarter-finals, Belgium were one of only two teams to face 20 shots in two matches along with Turkey, yet they had only conceded once.

But in Munich on Friday there only ever looked like being one winner, with Roberto Martinez's Belgium eventually running out of luck at the hand of a side that will take some beating, the Italians winning 2-1.

At least the pragmatism Belgium seemed to employ against Denmark and Portugal – when they only managed six shots per game – was less prominent here, as they reached that total by half-time.

But were it not for a fortuitous penalty just before the interval, a spot-kick converted by Romelu Lukaku, they would have been 2-0 down at the break.

Where Italy had perhaps lacked fluency against Austria, they were intensely impressive here – their ability to play straight through Belgium thanks to their exceptional ball-players in midfield was coupled with their desire to win the ball back, routinely having two men putting the pressure on.

Their press resulted in a tournament-high (joint with the Netherlands) two goals from high turnovers before the quarter-finals and a similar scenario led to the opener here, Verratti cutting out Thomas Vermaelen's pass out from the back and finding Nicolo Barella, who brilliantly held off a tackle before firing past Thibaut Courtois.

 

The Real Madrid goalkeeper's form had undoubtedly played a role in Belgium's progress as well, given his 1.7 goals prevented was the third-best in the tournament prior to Friday, though even he could do little to prevent Lorenzo Insigne's gorgeous 25-yard effort finding the top-right corner to make it 2-0.

Italy's approach after the interval seemed to relate more around keeping the ball, firmly aware that the less time Belgium had in possession the less likely they were to draw level. In the 24 minutes that followed half-time, the Azzurri's share of possession was 70 per cent, compared to 54 per cent in the first half.

That's not to say Belgium didn't trouble them. When attacking at pace they caused Italy some issues – Jeremy Doku beat Giovanni Di Lorenzo and played a teasing ball right across goal, but Lukaku somehow failed to net, with Leonardo Spinazzola making a vital block.

Then Dries Mertens darted through the middle and played Nacer Chadli into the same channel of the box, with his eventual delivery being deflected over Lukaku and agonisingly behind Thorgan Hazard.

But Belgium got to the quarter-finals mostly down to moments of individual quality, as highlighted by the fact their eight goals scored was way above their xG tally of 4.1, which was the lowest of the eight teams remaining.

And while Doku was a nuisance with this tendency to dribble, Belgium had little else to throw at Italy as it almost became Lukaku or bust. Their form had seemingly been unsustainable and their luck ran out in Munich.

 

Even if Eden Hazard had been fit, given his form over the past two years it is difficult to see how things would have been any different with him on instead of Doku.

Kevin De Bruyne was passed fit and his three key passes were more than anyone else in a Belgium shirt, but it would be fair to suggest he hardly filled the same talismanic role he has become accustomed to at Manchester City. While you have to take playing styles into consideration, he averaged 81 touches per game in 2020-21, but only 51 on Friday.

His average for Euro 2020 had been 74.1 per 90 minutes. Perhaps there was an element of Belgium playing him out of desperation without him being completely fit.

Either way, Italy's first-half intensity was what set the tone for their victory, yet it was their well-rounded nature as a team that saw them get the job done – the fact they still had more shots than Belgium despite already having the lead and playing with less attacking urgency being the case in point here.

For many, Euro 2020 was seen as the final chance for Belgium's so-called 'Golden Generation' to truly leave their mark on the international stage, with a title eluding them.

But they leave the competition after getting very few people excited, with Italy making something of a statement to those who until Friday had dismissed them as flat-track bullies.

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