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Euros 2024: Chhetri picks England as favourites, hopes Southgate to be 'more adventurous'

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New Delhi, June 11 (IANS) With club football now over in the top European leagues, fans have now turned their attention to the 2024 Euros to see which of the top 24 countries in Europe takes home the ultimate prize.

In an exclusive conversation with IANS, former Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri labelled England as favourites to win the trophy for the first time in the country’s history.

“For contenders, if I have to pick one, put my neck on the line and then get trolled afterwards. I would say England,” Chhetri told IANS.

England came agonizingly close last time as they faltered in the penalty-shootouts of the finals of the 2020 Euros at Wembley.

Many questions are being raised about manager Gareth Southgate’s chosen squad for the tournament, which has seen big names like Marcus Rashford, Jack Grealish, and James Maddison miss out on the list of players, who traveled to Germany for the tournament.

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“James Maddison (exclusion from the England squad) is a little bit of a shocker for me, Grealish and Rashford didn’t play much domestically, so you can understand. And also you see the kind of talent he has at his disposal, you can’t go wrong. What we have seen is a lot of times he has played two number six’s. Even against teams that they should have gone more attacking. You saw two defensive midfielders playing. I hope he is more adventurous,” added the 39-year old.

Despite the exclusions, no one can question the amount of talent and potential the squad possesses with names like Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka forming a young core of the squad led by England’s all-time leading scorer, Harry Kane.

“I hope Jude will start. I really hope Foden plays number 10 because I’m a big Foden fan and I hope they are a little bit more attacking minded. And as far as the balance of the team is concerned, I think they are in a very sweet spot. In the last six to seven years, we have seen the upward trajectory of England. And now the youngsters like Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden, they are no more youngsters. They are world beaters,” concluded India’s all-time top scorer.

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Chhetri is the expert panelist on Sony Sports Network’s studio show Football Extraaa for UEFA EURO 2024.

–IANS

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Euro 2024: Germany is first team into the last 16 with a 2-0 win over Hungary

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Stuttgart, June 20 (IANS) Goals from Jamal Musiala and Ilkay Gundogan ensured hosts Germany became the first team to confirm their place in the knockout stage of Euro 2024 with a comfortable win against Hungary on Wednesday.

Germany, who had started their campaign with a 5-1 win against Scotland, registered their second win in the four-team Group A and stormed into the knockout stages of the competition. They now have six points from two matches with Switzerland on four, Scotland on 1 and Hungary yet to open their account.

Germany found it a more difficult evening than their 5-1 win against Scotland in Matchday 1. Julian Nagelsmann’s side had enough about them to get the three points, which ensured they would at least finish as the best third-place team in the group stage.

After an even opening, Musiala became the first player to score more than once at this edition of the European Championship, adding to his strike against Scotland last week by blasting in from close range to give the hosts the lead.

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Manuel Neuer, making his 17th Euro appearance to go level with Gianluigi Buffon’s goalkeeping record, was called into action on 26 minutes as he dived to his right to brilliantly save a curling Dominik Szoboszlai free-kick.

Toni Kroos came close to doubling Germany’s lead ten minutes into the second half but his deflected effort was clawed away by Péter Gulacsi before Barnabas Varga headed narrowly over for Hungary.

The game was effectively settled when Maximilian Mittelstädt’s low cross was beautifully stroked into the net by Gundogan to make sure of Germany’s place in the last 16.

–IANS

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2nd ODI: Mandhana, Kaur top Wolvaardt, Kapp centuries as India clinch narrow 4-run victory (Ld)

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Bengaluru, June 20 (IANS) India clinched a last-ball victory over South Africa Women, securing the series 2-0 with a match to spare in the second ODI by 4 runs at M. Chinnaswamy Stadium. The match was marked by a record four centuries and a massive total of 646 runs.

India, opting to bat first on a strip with visible cracks and a patch of grass, faced a challenging start. The new-ball duo of Ayabonga Khaka and Masabata Klaas utilised the conditions expertly, restricting India’s openers, Shafali Verma and Smriti Mandhana, to a slow start. Shafali showed promise but fell for a 38-ball 18, leaving India at a tentative 47 for 1 after 15 overs.

It was Smriti Mandhana’s resilience and class that turned the tide. Partnering with D. Hemalatha, who contributed a steady 24, Mandhana gradually found her rhythm. The turning point came with the arrival of Harmanpreet Kaur, whose aggressive yet calculated approach provided the perfect counterbalance to Mandhana’s grace. Together, they forged a formidable 171-run partnership off just 136 balls, lifting India to a commanding total.

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Mandhana’s journey to her seventh ODI century (136 off 120 deliveries) was a masterclass in adaptability. Initially scoring at a run rate reminiscent of Test cricket, she accelerated brilliantly, moving from 31 off 48 balls to her hundred in 103 balls. Her stroke-play, especially her movement around the crease and her precise targeting of gaps, left the South African bowlers in disarray. Mandhana’s milestone was significant as she became the first Indian woman to score back-to-back centuries in ODIs.

Harmanpreet, on the other hand, displayed raw power and impeccable timing, predominantly scoring on the leg side. Her knock was peppered with powerful shots, including nine fours and three sixes, culminating in a spectacular century in 88 deliveries—her first in nearly two years. An untimely miss-stumping by stand-in wicketkeeper Meike de Ridder allowed Harmanpreet to reach her milestone, adding valuable runs in the final over alongside Richa Ghosh, who contributed a quickfire 25 off 13 balls. India’s innings concluded at an imposing 325 for 3.

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South Africa’s chase began on a shaky note, losing three wickets for 67 runs. However, Laura Wolvaardt and Marizanne Kapp’s resilient 184-run stand brought them back into contention. Wolvaardt, showcasing her exquisite technique, kept South Africa’s hopes alive, but it was Kapp’s dismissal that turned the match into a nail-biting finish.

Wolvaardt smashed 135 in as many deliveries and Kaap scored a brilliant 114 off 94 deliveries.

With 11 runs required off the final over, Pooja Vastrakar was entrusted with the ball. Despite conceding five runs off the first two deliveries, she made a stunning comeback, taking two crucial wickets in the next two balls. With five needed off the final delivery, Wolvaardt, who had been left stranded at the non-striker’s end, finally faced the last ball but was undone by Vastrakar’s clever slower delivery as India won the match by 4 runs.

Brief scores:

India Women 325/3 in 50 overs (Smriti Mandhana 135, Harmanpreet Kaur 103 not out; Nonkululeko Mlaba 2-51, Masabata Klaas 1-67) beat South Africa Women 321/6 in 50 overs (Laura Wolvaardt 135 not out, Marizanne Kapp 114; Pooja Vastrakar 2-54, Deepti Sharma 2-56) by four runs.

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–IANS

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T20 World Cup: Will think whether to play both Kuldeep and Yuzi, says Dravid ahead of Afghanistan clash

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Bridgetown, June 20 (IANS) As the Super Eight stage of the T20 World Cup 2024 approaches, India’s head coach Rahul Dravid has hinted at a potential change in the playing XI that could see wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav making his tournament debut against Afghanistan on Thursday. This strategic adjustment comes as India transitions from the pace-friendly pitches of New York to the spin-friendly conditions of the Caribbean.

India’s campaign in the league stage was marked by dominance, securing victories in all three completed games, with their final match washed out due to rain. The team’s prowess was on full display at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York, where the conditions favoured fast bowlers over spinners, leaving little room for Kuldeep Yadav to showcase his skills.

Looking ahead to the Caribbean leg of the tournament, Dravid emphasized the importance of flexibility and adapting to different playing conditions.

“Tough to leave anyone out. All four being left out do possess the quality. But conditions were in favour of pacers. If we feel the need to play an extra spinner in Kuldeep and Yuzi we will give it a thought,” Dravid said at the pre-match press conference.

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“We are lucky to have players with all-round abilities. We had eight batters, but we (also) had seven bowling options,” he added.

With the Super 8 stage set to unfold in the spin-conducive environments of the Caribbean, Dravid’s comments suggest a shift in strategy. Kuldeep Yadav, known for his ability to turn games with his wrist spin, is likely to play a crucial role. Dravid highlighted this tactical consideration, saying,

“Spinners come into play — We picked the squad keeping in mind all kinds of options. In NY we had eight batting options. Yes, wrist spinners will come into play.”

The inclusion of Kuldeep Yadav could provide India with a significant edge, especially in the conditions expected in the Caribbean. Alongside him, Yuzvendra Chahal, another skilled wrist-spinner, remains a potent option, offering depth and variety to India’s bowling attack. This combination could prove to be a formidable challenge for opposition teams.

Dravid also underscored the importance of flexibility in the team’s batting order, highlighting the strategic thinking that goes into such decisions, reflecting on previous games and the unique challenges of T20 cricket.

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“Each situation is unique. Can’t set it in stone. I believe in flexibility. In the Pakistan game, we moved Axar [Patel], specifically thinking around it… Rishabh [Pant] up the order [at No.3], lots of thinking goes into it. I don’t think in Tests [cricket], we will have that flexibility. In T20s where it is a lot about matchups, you see it happening more [flexibility in batting position],” Dravid explained.

The concept of “match-up” in cricket refers to the tactical deployment of players based on their effectiveness against specific opponents. This strategy was vividly illustrated during a tense league match against arch-rivals Pakistan. With India struggling at 19/2 after the early dismissals of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, Axar Patel was promoted to No.4. His quick-fire 20 off 18 balls provided much-needed stability, showcasing the benefits of a flexible approach.

Reflecting on the upcoming matches, Dravid expressed his enthusiasm for the Caribbean leg of the tournament. “Lovely to come to the Caribbean and play cricket. A couple of practice sessions. We are prepared. Afghanistan are a very dangerous side. Their players play more in leagues than our players. They are not a team to be taken lightly. Deservingly in Super 8,” he noted.

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–IANS

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ATP Tour: China's Zhang upsets Medvedev in Halle, Berrettini, Struff, Eubanks too reach quarters

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Halle (Germany), June 20 (IANS) Chinese No. 1 Zhang Zhizhen scored his second Top 5 victory on Wednesday when he upset third seed Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(5) at the Terra Wortmann Open in Halle. From 3/5 in the third-set tie-break, Zhang won four consecutive points to stun the World No. 5 and become the first Chinese player to reach the Halle quarterfinals.

The 27-year-old dropped six consecutive games from 2-2 in the second set but recovered a break deficit early in the decider to pull within striking distance. Zhang, whose previous Top 5 victory came against Casper Ruud at last year’s US Open, again fought off a challenge on serve at 4-5 in the third set, when Medvedev was two points away from victory.

The World No. 42 in the ATP Rankings next faces American Christopher Eubanks, who ousted defending champion Alexander Bublik 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-3. It will be Zhang’s first ATP head-to-head meeting with Eubanks.

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Medvedev fell to 28-9 on the season, with his best result being a final appearance at the Australian Open and in Indian Wells. The 28-year-old was aiming for his 10th consecutive ATP 500 quarterfinal.

Earlier in Halle, Jan-Lennard Struff earned a dramatic victory against Luciano Darderi, converting his 10th match point to win 6-7(2), 7-5, 7-6(10) after two hours, 31 minutes. The Italian Darderi will rue letting slip a match point at 8/7 in the third-set tie-break.

Matteo Berrettini defeated American Alex Michelsen 7-6(5), 6-2 and Arthur Fils cruised past Dominik Koepfer 6-3, 6-4. Fils, 20, holds the top spot in the ATP Live Race To Jeddah. The Frenchman is aiming for a return trip to the Next Gen ATP Finals, where he was a finalist in 2023.

–IANS

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T2O World Cup: South Africa edge past USA by 18 runs in a thrilling contest

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North Sound (Antigua), July 19 (IANS) South Africa managed to edge out a resilient USA team by 18 runs in a gripping encounter at the start of the Super 8 stage match of Group 2 in the T20 World Cup at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium here on Wednesday.

Reeza Hendricks, however, continued his run of poor form, managing only 11 runs from 11 deliveries. Skipper Aiden Markram contributed a solid 46 off 32 balls, ensuring the momentum stayed with the Proteas. The middle order wobbled slightly as David Miller fell for a golden duck, but Heinrich Klaasen and Tristan Stubbs’ quick-fire cameos pushed the total to 194 for 4 in 20 overs.

On the bowling front, Saurabh Netravalkar was the standout performer for the USA, claiming two wickets for just 21 runs in his four overs. Harmeet Singh also impressed with his left-arm spin, taking 2 crucial wickets to keep the South African total in check.

Chasing a daunting target of 195, the USA stumbled early, losing three quick wickets for 56 including the in-form Aaron Jones for a five-ball duck. The early blows put them on the back foot, but wicketkeeper-batsman Andries Gous mounted a valiant resistance. Gous played a brilliant unbeaten innings, scoring 80 off 47 balls, keeping the American hopes alive.

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Harmeet Singh, playing a crucial supporting role, forged a significant partnership with Gous. Their alliance gave the USA a glimmer of hope, inching them closer to the target. However, the departure of Harmeet in the penultimate over spelt doom for the American chase.

Kagiso Rabada, the pick of the South African bowlers, was instrumental in sealing the victory. He bowled a masterful spell, finishing with figures of 3 for 18 in his 4 overs. Rabada’s penultimate over was particularly decisive, conceding just two runs and dismissing Harmeet Singh, thereby quashing any lingering hopes of an American upset.

In the end, South Africa’s quality attack proved too much for the USA, but the spirited performance by the American side won them many admirers. The Proteas, starting their Super 8 campaign on a winning note, had to fight hard to secure their two points, underlining the increasingly competitive nature of the T20 World Cup.

Brief scores:

South Africa 194/4 in 20 overs (Quinton de Kock 74, Aiden Markram 46; Saurabh Netravalkar 2-21, Harmeet Singh 2-24) beat USA 176/6 in 20 overs (Andries Gous 80 not out, Harmeet Singh 38; Kagiso Rabada 3-18, Keshav Maharaj 1-37) by 18 runs.

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–IANS

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