Eden Hazard did not make it onto the pitch in Real Madrid's win over Inter and Carlo Ancelotti explained why he sent match-winner Rodrygo on ahead of the Belgium winger. 

Madrid had to withstand a barrage of pressure in the first half, with Thibaut Courtois doing well to deny Edin Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez in the Champions League Group D encounter. 

Rodrygo replaced Lucas Vazquez in the 65th minute with Los Blancos getting more of a foothold in the game and the Brazilian popped up with a late winner in a 1-0 success. 

Asked why Hazard, who played 66 minutes in the 5-2 LaLiga win against Celta Vigo at the weekend, did not feature in Milan, Ancelotti said: "I thought about putting him on in the second half, but Inter closed the centre of the pitch well. 

"I wanted to open up the game from the wings, which is why I put Rodrygo on." 

Rodrygo is yet to start a game under Ancelotti, but he has now scored in two of his three Champions League appearances against Inter - both of his strikes representing a winning goal,

Ancelotti has attempted to stop the 20-year-old worrying about the number of minutes he gets and instead get him focused on performing at the highest level when he is selected. 

"I told him it's not important how many minutes he plays, but how he plays them," Ancelotti told Movistar+.

"He helped [Dani] Carvajal a lot and then in front of goal he is very cool and scores goals. 

"With his introduction we played more on the wing and found the solution. I liked the game because he had to suffer and be compact. The team not only has quality, but it also has commitment." 

Rodrygo said: "Of course, I always want to play. When I'm on the pitch, I can do something for the team. 

"I want to play, but I respect the coach's decisions and I'm going to work hard to be able to be there. At Real Madrid it's always difficult." 

Manchester City top FIFA's list of the biggest spenders on internationals transfers in the past decade.

The world governing body on Monday revealed $48.5billion worth of player trading was done between 2011 and 2020.

Premier League champions City have spent big on the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Ruben Dias during that period, so it is no surprise they top the list.

Chelsea and Barcelona are second and third respectively on the list - which does not state how much each club spent in total.

Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid make up the top five, while 12 of the top 30 clubs, who alone have spent €19.3billion in the time period, are from England.

Neymar's move from Barcelona to PSG was for a world record fee of €222m, while Madrid brought in Eden Hazard from Chelsea for a deal that could reportedly climb to €175m (£150m).

Barcelona have the next two largest transfers, with Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele joining from Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund respectively.

Argentina forward Angel Di Maria also holds two slots in the top 10 of the highest individual transfers, his deal to join Manchester United from Madrid in 10th with his subsequent move to PSG a place higher.

Players of 204 different nationalities have been transferred since 2010-11, Brazil way out in front with 15,128 moves.

Agents have played a hugely increasing role in international transfers, with their involvement growing 69.1 per cent from 2011 to 2020.

From €131.1m worth of commissions in 2011 to €640.5m in 2019, a total of €3.5bn was paid for agents' commissions in international transfers over the course of the decade. 

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti said the potential signing of Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe is "a matter for the club".

According to widespread reports, Madrid have offered €170million plus €10million in add-ons to bring the 22-year-old to the Bernabeu.

Mbappe has one year remaining on his contract with PSG, for whom he has scored 133 times in 174 games – at a rate of one goal every 102.46 minutes.

But Ancelotti insisted he was not the right person to speak about a potential deal when asked about it ahead of Madrid's LaLiga clash with Real Betis.

"It's a matter for the club, I understand that it is of interest, but I can't say more," he said. "If I say that Mbappe is a great player, I tell the truth. I try to get the best quality in my squad.

"My squad is fantastic, I'm focused on that. It can compete against everyone in the world. 

"I'm happy with the squad but if it improves, then better for everyone."

 

While Mbappe could arrive, Madrid's last big-money signing – Eden Hazard – has been linked with a move away.

A seemingly constant battle with injuries has prevented the Belgium forward from truly kicking on at Madrid since his move from Chelsea in 2019.

In the wake of Cristiano Ronaldo leaving Juventus, with a return to Manchester United having been agreed, Hazard has been linked with a switch to the Bianconeri. 

However, Hazard has started each of Los Blancos' opening two matches of the new LaLiga season and Ancelotti emphasised the 30-year-old's importance. 

"Hazard is a very important player, everyone knows that," Ancelotti added. "He's played the first two games coming back from injury, he's doing well.

"He's got good motivation and he's a very, very important player for us."

Real Madrid forward Eden Hazard is confident he can push on this season after an injury-hit first two years in LaLiga.

Hazard signed for Madrid from Chelsea for a reported fee of an initial €100million (£89m), though there was potential for the deal to rise significantly due to additional bonus payments.

However, the Belgium attacker has hardly made an impact in the Spanish capital and is reportedly one of the players Madrid are open to selling as they look to ease their financial difficulties in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Niggling injuries have derailed Hazard's Madrid career, restricting him to just 43 appearances in total across all competitions over the 2019-20 and 2020-21 campaigns, with 31 of these being starts.

Yet the 30-year-old, who featured for Belgium at Euro 2020 after overcoming an ankle problem, looked sharp as Madrid thrashed Deportivo Alaves in Carlo Ancelotti's first game back in LaLiga on Saturday, his deft flick teeing up Karim Benzema for Los Blancos' opener in the 4-1 win.

That assist was one of a game-leading three chances created by Hazard, who lasted 66 minutes before being replaced by Vinicius Junior.

"I have nothing but good feelings for me and for the team," Hazard told Movistar+. 

"The feelings are good, I'm feeling good, we want to win LaLiga this season.

"My ankle injury is a thing of the past, it's already out of my head. I am going to give everything this season."

Hazard started in a front three alongside Gareth Bale and Benzema, who the Belgian found six times in total on Saturday, with only Luka Modric (13), David Alaba and Federico Valverde (both eight) picking out the France striker on more occasions.

"I enjoy playing with Benzema, we know each other very well and it's easy to play with him," Hazard added.

A trip to Levante is next up for Madrid in a week's time.

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti insists Martin Odegaard could still have a future at the club amid reported renewed interest from Arsenal.

The Norway international is expected to be left out of Madrid's matchday squad for their LaLiga opener against Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.

After the news emerged in Spain, reports surfaced in England that Arsenal had opened talks with Los Blancos over the prospect of signing Odegaard before the transfer window closes.

The 22-year-old, said to be valued in the region of €40million, made 14 Premier League appearances during a loan spell with the Gunners last season.

However, Ancelotti does not appear to have made a decision on Odegaard's future, or that of fellow fringe players Jesus Vallejo and Dani Ceballos.

"The fact they've not been named in the squad is down just to technical issues," he said on Friday. "The final list [for the 2021-22 season] doesn't have to be confirmed until September 2.

"Odegaard has done well. We had a chat and of course, there is a lot of competition in midfield. We have eight very good midfielders.

"He hasn't been dropped, nor has Ceballos, nor Vallejo."

 

Madrid kick-start their campaign in what will be Ancelotti's first competitive match in charge since he returned to the club from Everton.

Gareth Bale is expected to be involved, having also gone back to the Santiago Bernabeu after spending last season on loan with Tottenham, with previous Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane deeming him surplus to requirements.

Ancelotti now wants to see Bale prove his worth to the club on the pitch.

"He's a great player, perhaps he quite hasn't lived up to expectations in recent times but I've seen him train every day with great enthusiasm and we have to see how he plays. The talking has to be done on the pitch," Ancelotti added.

"There's competition for places – if players don't play well, there are other players. This is good, it's extra motivation. But he's been very good during this first month back, but we'll see how he performs out on the pitch."

Ancelotti is also hoping for a strong start to the season from Eden Hazard, whose career in LaLiga has been blighted by injuries.

The Belgium star has scored just four goals in 21 league starts since his reported €100m transfer from Chelsea in 2019 and did not once complete a full match in the top flight in 2020-21.

"He's been training with the team for about 10 days, he's fit and ready to play," Ancelotti said. "He's a key player in this team and I'm confident we'll see the best Eden Hazard this season. "

Eden Hazard has struggled for impact at Real Madrid two years into his five-year deal.

The 30-year-old signed with Madrid for a reported €100 million (£86m) from Chelsea in 2019.

Hazard has battled against injuries and poor form in Spain, making 43 appearances and scoring five goals in two seasons.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA WEIGH UP SHOCK HAZARD RETURN

Eden Hazard could make a sensational return to Chelsea and end his underwhelming spell with Real Madrid, reports AS.

Chelsea are weighing up a shock move for the Belgium attacking midfielder, who spent seven years with the Blues.

The report did not disclose any financial details but cited Hazard's strong connection with Chelsea's squad and desire to re-discover his best football.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Sun claims Manchester United are plotting a cut-price move for Bayern Munich midfielder Leon Goretzka as a replacement for Paul Pogba, who has been linked with Paris Saint-Germain in recent days.

- Tottenham's swap deal for Bryan Gil from Sevilla in exchange for Erik Lamela will soon be finalized according to Sky Sports. Spurs will also pay £21.6 million (€25m) for the winger.

- Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowsk is "interested" in a contract offer from Chelsea after his agent spoke to the Blues, claims Bild. Lewandowski is seen as Chelsea's alternative option should they fail to land Erling Haaland.

- Switzerland international Xherdan Shaqiri could be among those sold by Liverpool in an off-season clear-out, according to the Liverpool Echo. Divock Origi and Nat Phillips were also mentioned in the report.

- talkSPORT reports that Arsenal are preparing a £30m bid to sign Sheffield United goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale . The Times claims the Gunners have been told to raise their offer.

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 Martinez will decide on Friday whether Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard will play any part in Belgium's Euro 2020 quarter-final tie with Italy.

De Bruyne was forced off early in the second half of Sunday's 1-0 last-16 win over Portugal with an ankle problem, while Hazard damaged his hamstring later in the same game.

Both players have travelled to Munich for Friday's showdown with Italy, though neither took part in Belgium's final training session ahead of the match.

Martinez admitted on Monday it was unlikely either De Bruyne or Hazard would be fully recovered in time, and the Spaniard still remains unsure if either player will make the squad.

"As you know they have not been able to train today," he said at Thursday's pre-match news conference. 

"There is still another 24 hours to go and they are positive they can recover. It is now a race against time to make a decision.

"We won't make a decision until the last minute. At the moment it's impossible to say whether they will get fit."

Asked if he is playing mind games by making Italy guess as to the pair's availability, Martinez said: "We are trying to get them fit. It has nothing to do with games or arrogance.

"We are in tournament mode. If they are not available tomorrow, we hope to have them available later."

Injury-plagued forward Hazard has struggled for fitness over the past couple of seasons and Martinez appeared to suggest the Real Madrid man has less of a chance of being fit.

"For Eden, it's difficult as it's a muscle injury," he said. "For Kevin, it's another type of injury. It's a decision for the medical staff. We will then make a decision when we hear back."

 

The winners of Friday's match at the Allianz Arena will face either Switzerland or Spain for a place in the final.

Italy needed extra time to overcome Austria in the last round, with that 2-1 victory extending the Azzurri's unbeaten run to a new national record of 31 matches.

Roberto Mancini's side have conceded more than once in only one of their last 18 games at major tournaments, conceding just 13 times in total across that sequence.

Martinez got the better of Mancini in the 2013 FA Cup final, with Wigan Athletic stunning Manchester City, but the Spaniard is full of praise for what his opposite number has achieved.

"Italy are a great team," he said. "They press with many players and are very dynamic, with many players able to counter-attack.

"If I have to mention one quality in particular it is the synchrony. That is credit to Mancini and that is why they are unbeaten for so long.

"Italy and Belgium are statistically the best teams in the European Championship, and the teams that have won the most games since qualifying.

"It's a pity we're meeting them already, just like we faced Portugal too early."

Against no side have Belgium played more games at major tournaments without winning than Italy (four, level with France and Germany).

The only European nations Italy have faced more often at the same tournaments without losing, meanwhile, are Germany (nine) and Austria (five).

However, the Red Devils have won seven of their last eight matches at the European Championships – the exception being a 3-1 loss to Wales in the 2016 quarter-finals.

Italy head coach Roberto Mancini hopes Belgium duo Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard will feature in Friday's Euro 2020 quarter-final clash despite Red Devils boss Roberto Martinez suggesting they will not be fit. 

De Bruyne was forced off early in the second half during his side's 1-0 win over Portugal on Sunday.

The Manchester City midfielder was seen with ice on his left ankle while watching on from the sideline, where he was later joined by Hazard after the Real Madrid winger damaged his hamstring late in proceedings.

Martinez revealed on the eve of the game – the first ever between Italy and Belgium in a knockout tie at a major tournament – that it is "impossible" to predict whether the pair will be available to play a part in Munich.

Mancini, however, said the best players deserve to play in the biggest games and would have no issues should they recover in time. 

"It's always nice for the fans to see all the best players on the pitch; that's what makes football special," he told a media conference.

"We face the best team in Europe along with France, maybe the best in the world. They are on top of the ranking, but we'll try to win. 

"I respect Belgium, but we'll need to play as we know, we are aware of our qualities. Belgium are preparing for an important game and the same goes for us."

 

So impressive in the group stage, the Azzurri had to be patient before landing the decisive blows against Austria in a last-16 clash at Wembley that went to extra time.

Mancini's side prevailed 2-1 in the end, setting a new national record in the process as they extended their unbeaten run to 31 games.

"We knew Austria could create trouble for us and we knew it could have been the most difficult game because it was the first one in the knockout phase," Mancini explained.

"Every game can make you stronger if you improve. We suffered against Austria, but we had 27 shots. It was a tough game, but we deserved to win. There are no easy games, that's what the Euros are teaching us."

This is Italy's fourth consecutive appearance in the quarter-final stage of the European Championship.

Each of those previous three appearances have been decided by a penalty shootout, with the Italians eliminated by Spain in 2008 and Germany in 2016 while progressing past England in 2012.

Indeed, that accounts for three of Italy's five European Championship penalty shootouts – more than any other nation prior to the 2020 edition.

Roberto Martinez has confirmed injured Belgium duo Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard will not be fully fit for the Euro 2020 quarter-final against Italy.

De Bruyne was forced off early in the second half during his side's 1-0 win over Portugal on Sunday, a result that saw the reigning European champions knocked out at the last-16 stage.

The Manchester City midfielder was seen with ice on his left ankle while watching on from the sideline, where he was later joined by Hazard after the Real Madrid winger damaged his hamstring late in proceedings.

Martinez is preparing to be without the pair when the Red Devils take on the Azzurri in Munich on Friday, though remains hopeful they can feature if Belgium progress to the last four.

 

"The initial information that we have from medical staff is positive for both, they will remain with the squad and they have no structural damage," Martinez told the media on Monday.

"But we are up against time and it is very difficult to see them fully fit. We have to take it day by day to try and get them fit.

"We were all a bit concerned before we got the news from the scans and it was a relief to all that we can now work on trying to get them fit again."

Eden's brother Thorgan Hazard scored the only goal of the game against Portugal, sending Belgium through to the last eight for a second successive European Championship.

They lost at the same stage of the previous edition, however, going out to Wales in 2016.

Eden Hazard fears he suffered a serious hamstring injury after Belgium eliminated defending champions Portugal in the Euro 2020 last 16 as Roberto Martinez also awaits news on star Kevin De Bruyne.

Belgium ousted Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal 1-0 en route to the quarter-finals on Sunday but it may have come at a cost, with Hazard and De Bruyne both hobbling off in Seville.

Thorgan Hazard's stunning long-range strike set up a showdown with in-form Italy, however, it was overshadowed by brother Eden Hazard, who clutched his hamstring as he left the field late in the match after De Bruyne succumbed to an ankle problem early in the second half.

Afterwards, Eden Hazard – who has been hampered by injuries since joining Real Madrid in 2019 – told reporters: "I hurt myself, I felt something in the hamstring.

I think I have something, we'll see tomorrow. We will analyse the injury well, we will see the extent afterwards.

"As captain, I will stay with the group because I have an important role to play."

Thorgan Hazard said: "I hope it's not a big injury but it doesn't look so good. The medical staff in Belgium is very good so we hope everything will be ok for the rest of the tournament. Also for Kevin because we need these two players to go forward."

Joao Palhinha's challenge on De Bruyne in the 45th minute saw the Belgium star substituted shortly after the restart, as head coach Martinez added: "We will take 48 hours now to assess the situation of the two players.

"We go back to Belgium now and they will have scans on the injuries tomorrow.

"It's too early to say how they are doing. With Kevin, it's the ankle -- he couldn't really turn in the second half. With Eden it's the muscle, but we have to wait for a diagnosis."

Belgium claimed their first win over Portugal since September 1989 (3-0 in a World Cup qualifier) – ending a run of five meetings without a victory against them (D2 L3).

The Red Devils also equalled their longest winning streak at major tournaments, winning five in a row for the second time (both under Martinez). Belgium have won 10 of their 11 games across the World Cup and European Championships since the Spaniard took charge.

"We had incredible concentration and defended really well," said Martinez. "We scored a very good goal. In the second half the more the momentum went to Portugal we had to show an incredible mentality. Everything was about being disciplined and tactically astute.

"We never lost concentration and there were difficult moments. The way Portugal pushed for victory until the end, this gives me incredible satisfaction.

"This is what a winning team needs. We know the talent we have but all the other elements you need were shown today. For us it was the biggest test there is."

Belgium have scored six goals from outside the box in the last two European Championships (2016 and 2020); at least twice as many as any other team in this period.

Thorgan Hazard was the fifth different Belgian player to score from outside the box in the competition since 2016, along with Radja Nainggolan (two), De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard.

Belgium's Thorgan Hazard netted in consecutive games for the country for the first time, while he has now scored four international goals since his brother Eden last scored for the national team.

"I think the trajectory was a little bit weird for the goalkeeper," Thorgan Hazard said after his goal was compared to Ronaldo. "I tried my luck.

"In these matches, if you have an opportunity or you have a chance, you always have to try and with a little bit of luck, it went it. Especially as this was a qualifying goal so it’s a dream." 

Eden Hazard is feeling strong and happy according to Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez, who urged the Real Madrid attacker to build on his performance in a 2-0 win over Finland.

After coming on as a substitute in Belgium's two opening matches at Euro 2020, Hazard started against Finland and posed Markku Kanerva's side problems alongside Romelu Lukaku and Jeremy Doku.

Hazard, who battled through an injury-plagued 2020-21 season in which he made just 14 LaLiga appearances, played all 90 minutes against Finland and impressed his coach.

Martinez told reporters: "He [Hazard] pushed himself and got into good positions.

"He looks free, twisting right and left. He feels strong, happy, his body is reacting well.

"The next step is now to see Eden with that final pass, that shot that finishes in the back of the net.

"I was delighted with his performance."

Since losing 1-0 to France in the semi-final of the 2018 World Cup, Belgium have scored in 33 consecutive matches in all competitions.

Victory over Finland ensured Belgium have won all three group games at back-to-back major tournaments (2018 World Cup and Euro 2020), and booked them a round of 16 match against the third-placed side from Group A, D, E or F in Seville on Sunday.

Belgium's most recent match in Spain ended in a 5-0 loss to the home side in a 2010 World Cup qualifier featuring Hazard alongside Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertonghen.

Martinez underlined the importance of his side hitting top gear, saying: "This team has been very consistent over the last five years. It's now about getting every individual at their very best.

"We're going to play in Seville and we'll need to adapt and have every player ready and prepared to make the team better."

Eden Hazard is realistic about the strain an injury-hit two years at Real Madrid has put on his body, as he prepares to start for the first time in Euro 2020.

Belgium boss Roberto Martinez has confirmed Hazard, who came on as a substitute in Belgium's opening Group B games – wins over Russia and Denmark – will feature from the off in Monday's match against Finland in St Petersburg.

Hazard teed up Kevin De Bruyne's sweetly struck winner against Denmark last time out, taking his tally of assists to five in seven career appearances for Belgium at the Euros. Since at least 1980, his average of an assist every 98 minutes is the best of any player to have played at least five times in the competition.

The 30-year-old showed flashes of his quality, after what has been another injury-hampered season in the Spanish capital. Across the 2020-21 season, Hazard managed just 896 minutes of game time in all competitions, making 21 appearances in total.

Of those appearances, only 11 were starts, with Hazard scoring four goals and setting up a further two, creating 10 chances in total.

Though the former Chelsea star insists he still has full belief in his abilities, injuries have started to take a toll.

"I never doubted my qualities, but whether I would be 100 per cent fit for the European Championship was going to be a question," Hazard told a news conference on Sunday.

"I broke my ankle three times, it will never be the same as 10 years ago. But I know that when I am in shape, that I can prove myself on the field and that's what I'm working on now.

"I'm not 100 per cent yet, but I'm ready to start. But that was the plan, to bring me along gradually. It's especially important to be completely fit in the knockout phase. Then I have to be in top shape."

 

While stating he is ready to play from the off, Hazard also conceded he may not be able to complete the match.

"We will see how the match goes, but I may not be ready for 90 minutes, but I will play as many minutes as possible at a high level," he said.

"If it is 50 minutes, it will be 50. If it is 60, it will be 60. We'll see."

While Hazard will feature against Finland, his younger brother Thorgan – who netted Belgium's equaliser against Denmark – will not.

The Borussia Dortmund wideman, who has been playing at wing-back in Martinez's 3-4-3 system, will miss out due to a knee injury.

"He's just going to miss a game," Martinez explained.

"He should be back with the squad on Thursday or Friday. He had a knee injury, nothing serious. This game against Finland just comes 24 hours too early."

Belgium will aim to end a seven-match winless run in their rivalry with Finland when the sides meet in Monday's Euro 2020 Group B clash at Saint Petersburg Stadium.

The Red Devils have defeated Russia 3-0 and Denmark 2-1 in their opening two games and are assured of a place in the knockout stages.

However, Roberto Martinez's side may require a point to secure top spot and a meeting with one of the best third-placed sides in the last 16.

Belgium do not have the best of records against Finland, drawing three and losing four of the last seven meetings since their last win in this fixture 53 years ago.

The world's top-ranked side head into this latest encounter as heavy favourites, though, and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is targeting top spot.

"It's prestigious to win the group, so that is something we are definitely going for," Courtois said.

"Sure, the next phase might actually be easier if you're not the group winner, but in football there can always be surprises.

"At the World Cup we seemed to have a tougher time against Japan than against Brazil. You can't try to calculate these things, you just always have to play to win."

Finland beat Denmark 1-0 in their opener – a game overshadowed by the cardiac arrest suffered by Christian Eriksen – before falling to defeat by the same scoreline to Russia.

The Eagle Owls would advance with a win against Belgium, or a draw if Russia lose to Denmark, otherwise they are relying on being one of the best-ranked third-placed sides.

They have mustered just two shots on target across their first two matches, with no team previously managing fewer than four across their three group games in the competition since records began in 1980.

"We created more against Russia, but the final pass was still not ideal," head coach Markku Kanerva said. "We need to improve on that.

"The players are in good spirits and we will do everything to get something out of the game. We all know Belgium's quality and are aware that we are facing a really tough task."

 

 


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Finland – Joel Pohjanpalo

Bayer Leverkusen striker Pohjanpalo wrote his name in Finland folklore by scoring his country's first – and so far only – goal at a major tournament with his header against Denmark.

He had another goal cruelly ruled out for offside against Russia and is accountable for 42 per cent of his side's shots at Euro 2020 so far (5/12), with no other Finland player recording more than two attempts.

Kanerva could do with others helping out in attack, such as a not-fully-fit Teemu Pukki, but Finland's hopes of progression seemingly weigh largely on the shoulders of Pohjanpalo on the basis of the last two games.

Belgium – Eden Hazard

Martinez has confirmed that Kevin De Bruyne and Hazard, who both assisted from the bench against Denmark, will start this concluding group game as they continue to work their way back to full fitness.

Hazard has made five assists in seven appearances for Belgium at the European Championship at an average of one every 98 minutes, which is the best rate of any player to have made five appearances in the competition since 1980, the point from which such records are available.

The Real Madrid forward may have endured a frustrating time of things during his two seasons with Real Madrid, but he showed during his cameo appearance in Copenhagen that he still has plenty to offer in this talented Belgium side.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– None of the last five encounters between Finland and Belgium have produced more than two goals.

– Belgium have won their final group-stage game in each of their last four major tournament appearances (Euros and World Cup), since losing 2-0 against Turkey at Euro 2000.

– Each of Finland's two matches at Euro 2020 has ended 1-0. The only team to have three consecutive matches ending 1-0 in the same European Championship tournament were Greece at Euro 2004, who won the trophy that year.

– Belgium will be looking to win 100 per cent of their group games for the second consecutive major tournament (3/3 at the 2018 World Cup), while it would be the first time they have won all of their group-stage games in a single edition of the Euros.

– After winning four consecutive matches in October and November 2020, Finland have won just one of their last eight games in all competitions (D2 L5), failing to find the net in three of their last four games.

Belgium and the Netherlands joined Italy in booking their place in the knockout stages of Euro 2020 with victories over Denmark and Austria respectively.

The world's top-ranked side Belgium had to bounce back from a goal down to beat an inspired Denmark, with both teams paying tribute to Christian Eriksen after 10 minutes as the midfielder continues his recovery from a cardiac arrest.

Roberto Martinez's side need a point in their final Group B match to make certain of top spot, but the Netherlands are already through as Group C winners after seeing off Austria.

Ukraine also picked up all three points against North Macedonia in Thursday's action – just their second-ever victory at the European Championships.

Using Opta data, we take a look at some of the best facts from across the day's action.

Ukraine 2-1 North Macedonia: Shevchenko's men end losing Euros streak

Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk were on target for the second match running to end Ukraine's six-game losing streak at the European Championships.

With Yarmolenko and Yaremchuk's first-half goals, Ukraine became the first nation to have the same two players score in their first two games at a single Euros.

Ezgjan Alioski pulled one back at the second attempt after his penalty was saved, making it two goals in three games – as many as in his previous 17 for North Macedonia.

His penalty was given after a foul on Goran Pandev, who – at at 37 years and 325 days – is the oldest player to win a spot-kick in the Euros since data was first recorded in 1980.

Ruslan Malinovskyi failed to convert from 12 yards late on in a game which saw both sides win a penalty in the competition for the first time since England v France in 2004.

It means four of the six penalties taken at Euro 2020 have not been converted. The last tournament with more was Euro 2000 (five).

Denmark 1-2 Belgium: Red Devils bounce back from early setback

Belgium showed why they are ranked number one in the world as they recovered from an early setback to make it 11 wins from their last 12 group games at major competitions.

However, they had to do things the hard way after Yussuf Poulsen struck early on in Copenhagen.

Poulsen opened the scoring after 99 seconds – the second-earliest goal ever in the tournament, behind only Dmitry Kirichenko for Russia against Greece in 2004 (65 seconds).

The one shot on target Belgium managed in the first half came via Dries Mertens, who was earning his 100th cap for his country – the fifth Belgian to reach that landmark.

But the half-time introduction of Kevin De Bruyne for Mertens transformed the Red Devils, the playmaker setting up Thorgan Hazard's leveller and then drilling in the winner.

De Bruyne's fantastic strike was teed up by Eden Hazard, who joins the Manchester City star as the two European players to assist a goal at each of the last four major tournaments.

Belgium survived a nervy finish as they won their first two European Championship matches for the first time, while Denmark have lost their first two for the first time since 2000.

Netherlands 2-0 Austria: Faultless Oranje ease through

The Netherlands followed up their opening-game win against Ukraine with a routine victory against Austria in Amsterdam.

It is the third time the Oranje have won their opening two Euros matches, having previously done so in 2000 and 2008, when they exited the competition at the semi-final and quarter-final stage respectively.

Frank de Boer's men are now unbeaten in their last nine matches at major tournaments, which is the longest run by a European nation since Portugal went 12 without defeat between 2014 and 2018.

Memphis Depay opened the scoring for the Netherlands from the penalty spot, the Lyon forward's eighth goal for his country since De Boer took charge last September, with only Belgium's Romelu Lukaku scoring more (10) across all competitions for a European side over that period.

Denzel Dumfries added the second goal and is just the second Netherlands player to net in his first two appearances at the Euros after Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2004, this after the right-back failed to score in his first 19 senior caps.

One of the unsung stars for the hosts was Dumfries' fellow defender Matthijs de Ligt, who completed 100 per cent of his 40 passes – a record for a Netherlands player in a European Championship match since records began in 1980.

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