Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni wants to play star man Lionel Messi in all three of the side's upcoming World Cup qualifiers despite his lack of game-time at club level.

Messi joined Paris Saint-Germain from Barcelona last month but only made his debut as a 66th-minute substitute in Sunday's 2-0 win at Reims.

The six-time Ballon d'Or had been left out previously as he built up his fitness having not played since Argentina's Copa America final victory over Brazil on July 10.

Messi has now linked up with the Argentine squad ahead of three qualifiers against Venezuela, Brazil and Bolivia.

"We evaluate match by match and when I've spoken to [Messi] he says he's fine," Scaloni told reporters.

"Obviously he doesn’t have the same minutes in him as he did ahead of the Copa America but everyone knows what I think of him and he will play all three games if he is fit."

Scaloni was pressed on whether he preferred 34-year-old Messi to be playing in LaLiga with Barcelona or Ligue 1 with PSG but would not be drawn.

PSG, who were Ligue 1 runners-up last season, are one of the favourites for this season's Champions League title.

"If Messi was at Barcelona he would play with Sergio [Aguero]," Scaloni said. "We stay totally outside the transfer market because we know that being part of the Argentina squad is totally different to being at a club.

"Logically if we had to choose, we'd choose from him to be with many Argentines because that helps.

"We have no preferences, we know he is at a good club, one of the best in Europe and that will compete on the biggest stages. That is the most important thing."

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. 

The Wallabies and All Blacks will clash in the Bledisloe Cup in Perth before Queensland hosts the remainder of the Rugby Championship.

New Zealand pulled out of next weekend's third and final Bledisloe Test due to concerns over coronavirus, with the showdown initially set for August 28 at Optus Stadium.

The fixture will go ahead in Perth, with a date for the game set to be confirmed in the coming days following SANZAAR's announcement on Tuesday.

Afterwards, the Rugby Championship will head to Queensland for doubleheaders across four consecutive weekends in Brisbane, Gold Coast and Townsville, where the centenary Test between the All Blacks and Springboks will be played.

The Wallabies play South Africa on September 12 at Cbus Super Stadium on the Gold Coast, where the All Blacks then going head-to-head against Argentina.

September 18 will see the teams travel to Brisbane for Argentina-New Zealand and Australia-South Africa contests at Suncorp Stadium.

Australia and Argentina face-off at Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville the following weekend on September 25, before the New Zealand-Argentina centenary encounter.

The Rugby Championship concludes on the Gold Coast on October 2, with the Pumas facing the Wallabies and Springboks taking on the All Blacks.

"We thought last year was tough when we had to implement a Tri-Nations tournament in Australia with South Africa absent due to the pandemic, but the current disruption caused by the 'delta variant' of COVID-19 has seen government authorities tighten up border bio-security measures substantially," said SANZAAR CEO Brendan Morris.

"This is understandable and therefore, we had no option but to basically move the remainder of The Rugby Championship to Queensland.

"On behalf of SANZAAR and the national unions, I would like to sincerely thank the Queensland Government for working with us around the clock to provide a travel, accommodation, training and playing environment that will safely allow us to complete the tournament.

"SANZAAR and the national unions are incredibly grateful and will work closely with the states' health authorities to ensure all bio-security measures are adhered to." 

Rugby Australia (RA) CEO Andy Marinos added: "This is a world Rugby first and a truly special celebration of the game, in what I see as a once-in-a-lifetime event."

Lionel Messi is yet to play for Paris Saint-Germain this season, but has been called up to Argentina's squad for their World Cup qualifiers next month, with Paulo Dybala making a long-awaited return.

Having led Argentina to Copa America glory, Messi made the shock switch from Barcelona to Paris earlier in August, though he is yet to make his debut for Mauricio Pochettino's team.

The 34-year-old, along with fellow former Barca star Neymar, is expected to make his bow against Reims in PSG's final game before the international break.

Messi, along with club-mates Angel Di Maria and Leandro Paredes, would then travel to South America for matches against Venezuela, Brazil and Bolivia.

However, despite Pochettino having given his blessing for Messi to play for his country next month, this could result in the trio missing up to four of PSG's September fixtures.

Argentina and Brazil are both on the French government's 'red list' for travellers, meaning arrivals must quarantine for 10 days once they return to France, unless they have been fully vaccinated. It is unknown if the players in question have yet received both doses.

PSG face Clermont on the second weekend in September, with a tussle against Lyon following a week later. A 10-day quarantine period would mean Messi and team-mates would certainly miss those matches, as well as the opening round of the Champions League group stage, which is to be played on September 14 and 15, while an away trip to Metz in Ligue 1 could also come too soon.

Travel restrictions could well change in the coming weeks, though PSG will not be the only team fretting over possible mandatory quarantine for players in Lionel Scaloni's squad.

Premier League players Emiliano Martinez and Emiliano Buendia, both of Aston Villa, and Cristian Romero of Tottenham would have to isolate regardless of their vaccination status under the current travel restrictions imposed by the UK government.

Meanwhile, Juventus forward Dybala has earned a recall after almost two years out of the picture.

Dybala, who endured an injury hit 2020-21 but scored in Juve's 2-2 draw with Udinese on Sunday, last featured for Argentina in November 2019.

With Sergio Aguero and Mauro Icardi both unavailable due to injury, and Lautaro Martinez a doubt despite being included, Dybala has made the cut to round off Scaloni's attack.

Argentina squad in full:

Franco Armani (River Plate), Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa), Juan Musso (Atalanta),Geronimo Rulli (Villarreal); Marcos Acuna (Sevilla), Juan Foyth (Villarreal), Lisandro Martinez (Ajax), Lucas Martinez Quarta (Fiorentina), Nahuel Molina Lucero (Udinese), Gonzalo Montiel (Sevilla), Nicolas Otamendi (Benfica), German Pezzella (Real Betis), Cristian Romero (Tottenham Hotspur), Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax); Rodrigo De Paul (Atletico Madrid), Nicolas Dominguez (Bologna), Alejandro Gomez (Sevilla), Giovani Lo Celso (Tottenham Hotspur), Exequiel Palacios (Bayer Leverkusen), Leandro Paredes (Paris Saint-Germain), Guido Rodriguez (Real Betis); Julian Alvarez (River Plate), Emiliano Buendia (Aston Villa), Angel Correa (Atletico Madrid), Joaquin Correa (Lazio), Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain), Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Nicolas Gonzalez (Fiorentina), Lautaro Martinez (Inter), Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain).

South Africa are now unbeaten for five consecutive Rugby Championship matches for the first time since 2009 following Saturday's 29-10 defeat of Argentina.

The Springboks made 11 changes to the starting line-up from last week's 32-12 win and it heralded a more one-sided contest at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

A first half dictated by the boot of Handre Pollard and too many cheap Pumas penalties allowed South Africa a more carefree second 40 minutes, with Makazole Mapimpi and Malcolm Marx scoring their two tries in a straightforward victory.

Pollard's penalty opened the scoring after some good early Pumas possession, before Trevor Nyakane was forced off with injury inside a quarter of an hour.

Argentina gave up eight penalties inside 25 minutes, with Pollard stretching the lead to 9-0 before Domingo Miotti kicked his side onto the scoresheet.

Pollard made it four from four as the Springboks continued to draw ill-discipline from their opponents. Referee Karl Dickson had soon had enough, sending Rodrigo Buni to the sin bin for offside, with Pollard again making no mistake with his fifth penalty before half-time.

Miotti missed his mark either side of the interval before South Africa got the first try of the contest, Mapimpi racing in down the left after a good Willie Le Roux pass at the end of a quick move.

The power of the Springbok pack was simply too much and Marx went over after another maul, Pollard adding the extras to keep up his spotless record.

With South Africa chasing a bonus point and Argentina desperate to reduce the deficit, the contest went beyond 84 minutes before Pablo Matera battled his way over the line and Nicolas Sanchez converted.

De Jager dominates on 50th cap

Lood De Jager marked his half-century for the Boks with another imperious performance as the pack once again proved too strong.

The Sale Sharks lock made seven carries and won all 14 of his tackles, having not missed any of his 16 attempts a week ago.

Pumas pay penalty

Argentina simply made life too easy for South Africa through their own lack of discipline, giving up 21 penalties to the Boks' 11.

It proved the undoing of a decent defensive effort that saw Tomas Lavanini and Julian Montoya reach double figures for tackles.

Lionel Messi has been given the blessing of Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino to link up with the Argentina national side for September's World Cup qualifiers.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner has yet to play for new club PSG since completing a shock free transfer from Barcelona on August 10, having yet to regain full fitness since winning the Copa America.

However, Messi has taken part in a full week's training and Pochettino confirmed after Friday's 4-2 win against Brest that his compatriot is in contention to make his debut in next week's Ligue 1 clash against Reims.

That is PSG's final fixture before the first international break of the season, and Pochettino has no worries about the superstar forward travelling to Argentina if selected for duty.

"I have not yet spoken with the national team selectors," Pochettino told ESPN Argentina. 

"But they know that I am pro-selection and that we are to help not only Argentina, but all those nations which involve our players."

Neymar, who has also yet to play for PSG since reaching the Copa America final, was this week named in Brazil's squad for their upcoming fixtures.

Messi's most recent match of any sort was Argentina's Copa America final victory over Brazil on July 10.

The 34-year-old played a key role in his country's first major title in 28 years with four goals and five assists to win the Golden Boot.

Argentina have won three and drawn three of their opening six Qatar 2022 qualifiers and face Venezuela, Brazil and Bolivia in next month's fixtures.

There will be two very different-looking sides when South Africa face Argentina for the second time in this year's Rugby Championship on Saturday.

The Springboks triumphed 32-12 at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium last week despite making 10 changes to the side that secured a series win over the British and Irish Lions.

Coach Jacques Nienaber has again elected to mix up the line-up, with six alterations at the back and five among the forwards. Indeed, there are 17 changes to the matchday squad in total, with Lood de Jager, Siya Kolisi, Jasper Wiese and Cobus Reinach the only men to retain their places in the starting XV.

It will be a special occasion for lock De Jager, who will earn his 50th cap for South Africa.

"Lood is a stalwart, and his work ethic is admirable, so we are excited to see him achieve this big feat," said Nienaber this week.

"It takes special character to feature and perform consistently at international level and to play 50 Tests for the Springboks, and Lood is certainly deserving of this accolade."

Argentina too have rung the changes following last week's defeat, their first of 2021.

Santiago Chocobares and Jeronimo de la Fuente keep their places in midfield, but the whole backline has changed, with wing Ignacio Mendy set to win his first cap.

The front row remains the same, but Guido Petti moves from lock to flanker to replace Facundo Isa, who is not in the squad. Marcos Kremer has dropped to the bench, with Tomas Lavanini and Matias Alemanno brought in.

Lucio Cinti is among the replacements, having helped Argentina to a rugby sevens bronze medal at the Olympics this year, alongside Mendy.

Saturday's contest represents the sole Rugby Championship interest for this week, with New Zealand's clash with Australia having been called off after the All Blacks withdrew from the contest in Perth due to COVID-19 concerns.

SOUTH AFRICA V ARGENTINA

Form

South Africa have won 87 per cent of their Test matches against Argentina, their best record against a single country they have faced at least 10 times, aside from Italy (93 per cent). They have lost only once in their past 30 Tests in Port Elizabeth and have won 15 of their most recent 16.

The Springboks are bidding to go five games without defeat in the Rugby Championship for the first time since 2009.

Argentina, who have not lost consecutive Test matches since September 2019, have only won once in their most recent 10 Rugby Championship games – that was a 25-15 defeat of New Zealand last November.

 

Ones to watch

De Jager, who will become the fourth Springbok this season to reach 50 caps, won the joint-most lineouts (including steals) of any player in round one (six, level with Sam Whitelock). That is double the tally of any Argentina player.

"I've been fortunate enough to be part of real highs but also real lows of SA rugby," he said ahead of the match. "I've had more injuries than most guys, but it's part of my journey and I have to overcome it.

"Playing my 50th Test is a true privilege."

Argentina will need to disrupt their hosts as best they can and captain Julian Montoya could be crucial: he won all 13 of his tackles last week, the most of any player without missing a single attempt during the firsts round of matches.

SA Rugby has offered to host the remainder of the 2021 Rugby Championship after coronavirus cases in New Zealand saw three All Blacks Tests called off.

With travel and quarantine restrictions tightened in New Zealand, it was announced the national team's matches against the Springboks in Auckland and Dunedin had been cancelled.

The All Blacks also will not travel to Perth for their third Bledisloe Cup clash against Australia – a decision their SANZAAR rivals said they only learned of through the media.

These developments have left Rugby Championship plans in tatters after just a single round of matches.

The tournament was replaced by the Tri-Nations in 2020 when South Africa withdrew. This time, SA Rugby is able to provide a potential solution, confirming in a statement its offer to SANZAAR.

"We have advised SANZAAR that we are ready and able to host the remainder of the competition in South Africa, pending our government's approval," said CEO Jurie Roux.

"But we are now well-versed in turning on rugby Tests within the prevailing COVID restrictions and have the venues and accommodation necessary. We just need the go-ahead."

The Springboks are still set to face Argentina, as scheduled, in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, although the two teams will not then fly out to Australia as they await an announcement on the rescheduling of the tournament.

South Africa has already this year hosted a British and Irish Lions tour, which the Springboks won 2-1.

Jaden Hendrikse scored a late debut try as a much-changed South Africa side started their Rugby Championship campaign with a 32-12 win over Argentina.

Jacques Nienaber made 10 alterations to his starting line-up following a series-clinching win over the British and Irish Lions last weekend, but the Springboks were too strong for the Pumas.

Cobus Reinach raced away for a sublime breakaway try and Aphelele Fassi finished clinically in the first half for the world champions at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday.

Elton Jantjies scored 17 points with the boot to keep South Africa in command and Hendrikse came off the bench to go over in the closing stages.

Argentina could only muster four Nicolas Sanchez penalties as the Springboks made it 10 wins in their past 11 Tests in their first Rugby Championship match since winning the 2019 tournament.

Reinach capitalised on a loose pass to dart away from inside his own half and score a superb try that was brilliantly converted by Jantjies, who had opened the scoring with a penalty.

Sanchez got the Pumas on the board from the tee, but wing Fassi showed great hands to keep a clever kick from Jantjies in and crossed in the left corner following a juggling act.

South Africa were bossing the forward battle and went in at the break with a 21-9 lead after two penalties apiece from the livewire Jantjies and Sanchez.

The trusty boot of Sanchez reduced the deficit to nine points early in the second half, but Jantjies responded by sending another two kicks sailing between the posts.

Backs saw little of the ball in a bruising battle and Fassi had what he thought was his second try of the match ruled out, as Malcolm Marx played the ball on the ground in an earlier passage of play.

Hendrikse put the icing on the cake when he went over in the corner following a powerful run from Marco van Staden.

The Rugby Championship returns this weekend with a pair of intriguing fixtures.

The tournament took a year off in 2020, reverting to a Tri-Nations format with world champions South Africa absent due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Springboks are back, though, and come into the 2021 edition on a high after beating the British and Irish Lions 2-1.

Meanwhile, New Zealand have already gained an edge over Australia in last week's Bledisloe Cup opener.

The tournament is teed up nicely, as Stats Perform provides the key Opta facts...
 

NEW ZEALAND V AUSTRALIA

Form

New Zealand have won their past five Tests, scoring an average of 58 points per game. However, the All Blacks have won only two of their past six outings in the Tri-Nations and the Rugby Championship (D1, L3) – Australia have won two of the sides' previous three meetings across these competitions (L1).

The Wallabies will have to end a long wait for an away win against New Zealand to further improve on that record, though. The All Blacks are undefeated in their past 26 encounters on home soil (W25, D1) – including last week's Bledisloe I.

Ones to watch

Two-time World Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett is among the replacements for an All Blacks side who have scored 15 Test tries from the bench since the beginning of 2020, six more than any other tier one nation. Barrett has not scored in that period and last did so from the bench in a Test in 2016.

For Australia, the performance of one of their inexperienced stars will be key. Noah Lolesio has 57 Test points in 2021, but only five of those came at Eden Park last week as he missed two of three penalties and three of four conversions. He must be more clinical.
 

SOUTH AFRICA V ARGENTINA

Form

Argentina have led at half-time in four of their past five away Tests against South Africa, but they have gone on to win only one of those (L4). That victory, in Durban in August 2015, was the Pumas' only triumph in South Africa and one of only three against the Springboks in 30 Tests (D1, L26).

Both teams come into this match in form, however. South Africa have won nine of their past 10 Tests (L1), including the series win over the Lions, while Argentina have only lost one in eight (W4, D3) and are unbeaten in four (W2, D2).

Ones to watch

Coming off the gruelling Lions series, South Africa have made 12 changes, giving wing duo Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi a rest. That means another opportunity for Aphelele Fassi, who scored on his debut against Georgia last month but will now take on trickier opponents.

In-form Argentina will fancy their chances of disrupting a much-changed home side. The Pumas made the most tackles per game (146) and had the highest tackle success rate (89 per cent) at the 2020 Tri-Nations, with Marcos Kremer leading the tournament with his 72. He has made just 16 tackles from 22 attempts in his past three games, though.

Tottenham have completed the signing of defender Cristian Romero for a reported fee of £47million.

The Argentina international has put pen to paper on a reported five-year contract with the north London club.

The 23-year-old becomes Tottenham's third signing under Nuno Espirito Santo following the arrival of winger Bryan Gil from Sevilla and the loan acquisition of Atalanta goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini, whom Romero played alongside in 2020-21.

Romero is also the second-most expensive transfer in Spurs' history after Tanguy Ndombele's £53.8m switch from Lyon in 2019.

After beginning his career with spells at Belgrano and Genoa, the centre-half failed to make a competitive appearance during his two-year stint with Juventus, spending the entire time out on loan.

Atalanta signed him on loan with a purchase option in September 2020 and Romero went on to play 42 times in all competitions last season as the Bergamo club recorded a third-place finish in Serie A and reached the Coppa Italia final.

Atalanta triggered their purchase option on Romero before then selling him on to Spurs.

Romero's performances led to his senior international debut against Chile prior to this year's Copa America, in which he made three appearances and started the final as Argentina beat Brazil to end their 28-year wait for a major trophy.

His arrival provides a much-needed boost to the Tottenham back line, following the departures of Toby Alderweireld and Juan Foyth earlier in the window.

Romero will compete with Davinson Sanchez, Joe Rodon and Eric Dier for a place in the heart of the defence, and could make his debut when Spurs launch their Premier League campaign against reigning champions Manchester City on August 15.

Tottenham have completed the signing of defender Cristian Romero for a reported fee of £47million.

The Argentina international has put pen to paper on a reported five-year contract with the north London club.

The 23-year-old becomes Tottenham's third signing under Nuno Espirito Santo following the arrival of winger Bryan Gil from Sevilla and the loan acquisition of Atalanta goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini, whom Romero played alongside in 2020-21.

Romero is also the second-most expensive transfer in Spurs' history after Tanguy Ndombele's £53.8m switch from Lyon in 2019.

After beginning his career with spells at Belgrano and Genoa, the centre-half failed to make a competitive appearance during his two-year stint with Juventus, spending the entire time out on loan.

Atalanta signed him on loan with a purchase option in September 2020 and Romero went on to play 42 times in all competitions last season as the Bergamo club recorded a third-place finish in Serie A and reached the Coppa Italia final.

Atalanta triggered their purchase option on Romero before then selling him on to Spurs.

Romero's performances led to his senior international debut against Chile prior to this year's Copa America, in which he made three appearances and started the final as Argentina beat Brazil to end their 28-year wait for a major trophy.

His arrival provides a much-needed boost to the Tottenham back line, following the departures of Toby Alderweireld and Juan Foyth earlier in the window.

Romero will compete with Davinson Sanchez, Joe Rodon and Eric Dier for a place in the heart of the defence, and could make his debut when Spurs launch their Premier League campaign against reigning champions Manchester City on August 15.

Kevin Durant believes the United States are starting to become more comfortable as a team with the Olympic gold medal in their sights after surviving a stern test from Spain.

Durant was instrumental for Team USA, scoring 29 points as they claimed a 95-81 quarter-final victory at Tokyo 2020.

Gregg Popovich's team trailed narrowly after the first quarter and were then 10 points down in the second before finding their rhythm to go into the half tied.

They pulled away in the final two quarters to set up a last-four meeting with Australia, with Durant seemingly growing more confident Team USA will live up to expectations and seal the gold medal.


"WE'RE IN A GOOD SPOT"

Team USA were in a 39-29 hole with under three and a half minutes left in the second quarter, but then went on a 14-4 run to level matters at 43-43.

Durant felt avoiding going into the second half with a big deficit was critical and, according to the two-time NBA Finals MVP, a roster stacked with elite talent is gelling at the right time.

"We didn't want to go into the half down double digits. This team [Spain] runs their sets with precision, they run it with pace and then on the defensive side of the ball they do a good job of running and jumping and playing together on the defence," said Durant.

"So we knew we didn't want to get down big against this team.

"We're in a good spot right now. Guys are starting to understand their roles and just get more comfortable within the team.

"In this setting, it's always hard to get your footing as an individual player because you don't want to step on toes.

"I love how we stuck with it throughout this whole period of time and guys started figuring out what we need to do.

"You've just got to finish it. We're supposed to be here. For us it's about getting a gold."

 

BOOMERS TO SPOIL THE PARTY?

An uneven exhibition schedule prior to the Games saw the USA lose to both Nigeria and Australia.

Australia were 91-83 victors last month and they have continued to impress since getting to Tokyo.

The Boomers set up a rematch with the gold medal favourites in fine style on Tuesday, sweeping aside Argentina 97-59 to secure their place in the semis.

Five Australia players reached double figures, Patty Mills leading the way with 18 points as he went three of four from beyond the arc.

SLOVENIA'S 'UNBELIEVABLE' ACHIEVEMENT

Slovenia were similarly dominant in seeing off Germany in their last-eight clash, easing to a 94-70 victory.

It means a battle between Durant and Co. and Slovenia superstar Luka Doncic for the gold medal is still very much a possibility.

Zoran Dragic was the star of the show against Germany, top-scoring with 27 points on 11 of 13 shooting, while Doncic added 20 of his own.

"It's unbelievable, a country of two million being top four in the world," Doncic said of Slovenia reaching the semis. "We already achieved a lot by just going to the Olympics, it was our first time in history."

Slovenia have never lost a competitive game in which Doncic has featured, if that run continues for two more games, they will be Olympic champions.

"It's going to be very, very hard," he added. "We've got some tough opponents but we're going to be ready, we've got nothing to lose and I hope we win two more."

France stand between Slovenia and a place in the final, having overcome Italy 84-75.

Rudy Gobert tallied 22 points and nine rebounds for France and Evan Fournier put up 21 to keep their hopes of repeating their preliminary round win over the USA in the final intact.

Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez heaped praise on Luis Scola after a crucial 97-77 victory over Japan that made sure of a place in the knockout rounds of the men's basketball tournament.

Following back-to-back defeats, Argentina needed to beat the hosts in their final Group C match to qualify for the quarter-finals as one of the best third-placed teams.

Scola certainly led by example. The veteran power forward scored 23 points and also had 10 rebounds as the 2004 Olympic champions prevailed, securing a last-eight date with Australia.

Still going strong at the age of 41, the five-time Olympian's efforts delighted Hernandez.

"He's ridiculous. He's a hard worker, he doesn't stop ever. I think he hasn't stopped one day in the last 25 years," the Argentina coach said. 

"I am sure I am not the same coach without him. Not for his 23 points [against Japan], but for his leadership. I love him."

World champions Spain and Luka Doncic's Slovenia are set for a top-of-the-table shoot-out in Group C at Tokyo 2020 after both teams were victorious on Thursday.

In a tough preliminary round pool, both Spain and Slovenia have two wins from two to reach the quarter-finals heading into an intriguing match-up.

With perennial Olympic champions the United States looking a little ordinary, the two nations will fancy their chances of breakthrough golds.

Their latest exploits ensured Sunday's game will attract plenty of attention, considering it could open the door to a potentially easier route through the knockout rounds.

RUBIO INSPIRES SPAIN AGAIN

Spain reinforced their status as the team to beat as they eased past Argentina, the opponents they also defeated in the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup final.

Ricky Rubio was the MVP at that event, leading the champions with 20 points in the final, and he was highly influential once more in Tokyo on Thursday.

The Minnesota Timberwolves guard had 26 points – 13 in each half – with 83 per cent three-point shooting in an 81-71 success.

It was all painfully familiar for Argentina, as Nicolas Laprovittola explained: "We know Spain, we know how they play, we know Ricky Rubio is the key."

With Doncic up next, Spain coach Sergio Scariolo added: "We are 2-0. We beat a very strong team, so we take it and we move forward." Doncic is 15-0 in Slovenia colours in all competitions.

'IT'S NOT ONLY LUKA... THAT TEAM CAN HOOP!'

Doncic is undoubtedly Slovenia's player to watch, having added to his 48-point Olympic debut against Argentina with 25 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, two blocks and two steals in a 116-81 demolition of hosts Japan.

But Slovenia – described by Japan coach Julio Lamas as "a very complete team with one amazing player" – have more to them than the 22-year-old alone.

Zoran Dragic weighed in with 24 points, while Vlatko Cancar shot five of five from the field – including three of three from deep – for 16. Klemen Prepelic added 12 in 20 minutes off the bench.

"It's not only Luka," said the Washington Wizards' Rui Hachimura, whose 34 points were in vain. "That team has guys who can actually hoop. There's a lot of guys who can score."

Turning their focus towards the Spain game, Slovenia coach Aleksander Sekulic said: "We want to play our game and we're going to prepare and we're going to be ready for them.

"We have a great coaching staff; they're really doing an amazing job. We want to play our style, our game, and also make Spain think about us."

ROJA REVENGE AS WOMEN SINK SERBIA

It was double delight for Spain on Thursday as their women claimed an eye-catching win over Serbia, the new European champions.

Spain had won back-to-back EuroBasket Women titles prior to co-hosting this year's event, where they were beaten by Serbia in the quarter-finals.

Serbia went on to take the championship and named a strong team again for the Games, but Spain fought back in Group A.

Alba Torrens put up 25 points and Astou Ndour added 20 along with nine rebounds in an 85-70 win that puts them top of the pool.

"We know they badly wanted this revenge from Valencia," said Serbia coach Marina Maljkovic, while Jelena Brooks added: "Knowing Spain and what they came here to do because of the Eurobasket, we knew they were going to punish our mistakes twice as bad as Canada did [in the opening game]."

Canada, meanwhile, recorded a 74-53 triumph over South Korea early in the day.

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