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3 thoughts from Saturday's Premier League action

theScore examines the most important developments and discusses the biggest talking points from Saturday’s reduced schedule in England’s top flight.

Stones is a legitimate right-back option

Maybe this is meant to be a brief thing. While Kyle Walker deals with fitness issues and new left-back Sergio Gomez settles in at the club, John Stones has appeared at right-back in some Manchester City games.

Center-backs filling in at full-back often enact a classic portrayal of the role – Ben White has overlapped Arsenal’s right-sided attacker with some success in the season’s opening weeks. Stones’ interpretation, however, seems more studied. He slides neatly into midfield alongside Rodri when City are in possession, providing protection from counter-attacks and ensuring his side dominates the ball in this area of the pitch. Stones’ extra defensive cover on the right also frees up Joao Cancelo for more attacking work down the left.

The ease with which Stones has slotted in as an inverted full-back is impressive. It also indicates that this might be the result of hard hours on the training ground as Pep Guardiola tries to formulate more tactical options for his versatile team.

Stones shrugs off Boubacar Traore Nick Potts – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

There must be a caveat from Saturday’s 3-0 win: it was Wolverhampton Wanderers. This might be the most toothless version of Wolves to play in the Premier League (even less potent than the side that scored a paltry 32 goals, yet still survived, in the 2009-10 season), and their day was made more difficult when Nathan Collins was sent off for a wild challenge on Jack Grealish.

While Stones wasn’t overworked at Molineux, he exuded confidence with the ball, linking up the backline and midfield with short passes, and dealt admirably with attacking left-back Rayan Ait-Nouri. He’d already passed a sterner test three days earlier, too. He calmly addressed Borussia Dortmund’s threat, which mostly came down his flank, before stepping upfield to unleash a vicious strike that turned the tide of the Champions League group-stage fixture.

And Stones isn’t only a viable choice at right-back. He took sole ownership of No. 6 duties when Rodri was substituted in the 81st minute, skipping through challenges and dictating City’s tempo with his passing. Given Kalvin Phillips’ injury issues, Stones could be asked to deputize for Rodri a few times in the coming weeks.

Newcastle’s steep learning curve

Bournemouth were largely negative in their approach at St. James’ Park, relying on last-ditch blocks, Neto’s goalkeeping, and the woodwork to keep Newcastle United at bay. In the final 10 minutes of the first half alone, the Cherries headed or smashed away seven clearances.

This is what the “big six” deal with most weeks. The Magpies will need to get used to it. They’ve quickly become one of the division’s strongest teams following their Saudi-backed takeover, so opponents have adapted accordingly. The most pragmatic way for bottom-half sides to approach Newcastle matches is to pack bodies in front of their creative players and then try to inflict damage on the break.

Miguel Almiron is most dangerous in counter-attacks LINDSEY PARNABY / AFP / Getty

Newcastle’s frustrations were beginning to show when Bournemouth took the lead through Philip Billing in the 62nd minute, and they could only respond via Alexander Isak’s successful penalty. Eddie Howe’s side lacked invention throughout and can’t expect a huge uptick in performance when the entertaining yet inconsistent Allan Saint-Maximin returns from injury. The majority of Howe’s players appear to lack the guile to unpick low blocks, and the men he called off the bench – Jacob Murphy, Sean Longstaff, and Chris Wood – seemed to be a concession of that weakness. Rather than patiently adhering to their game plan, Newcastle started to play a more direct, cross-heavy game as their desperation grew.

The next stage in Newcastle’s transformation has to be signing better playmakers. Miguel Almiron and Ryan Fraser simply don’t thrive when their team has the most possession – they’re most dangerous in counter-attacks, not against deep-lying defenses – and back-to-back home draws against Crystal Palace and Bournemouth isn’t the kind of form that earns top-four finishes.

At long last, the Son is out

“I like that he’s a bit angry,” Antonio Conte said about Son Heung-Min’s goal drought before Leicester City’s visit, adding, “he wants to try to change it.”

Son was last season’s true top scorer. Granted, he did share the Golden Boot with Mohamed Salah, but the Liverpool forward boosted his 23-goal haul with five penalties. Son didn’t attempt any throughout Tottenham Hotspur’s Premier League campaign, leaving that responsibility to Harry Kane, so reaching his overall tally was an undeniably more impressive feat than Salah’s.

The South Korean scored 12 of his goals over his final 10 league appearances of last term, helping Spurs clinch the fourth Champions League place at Arsenal’s expense. He was irresistible, marking a stark contrast to his return of no goals from the opening eight matches of this season (in all competitions). Son’s alarming dip in productivity threatened to harm his side’s ambitions for the campaign.

What an emphatic way to vanquish those concerns.

Just like that, Son is back on form ISABEL INFANTES / AFP / Getty

It took around 27 minutes for Son to bag a hat-trick after his introduction on Saturday, making him the first Tottenham substitute to record a Premier League treble. A fine Hugo Lloris save helped Spurs cling on to their one-goal advantage moments before Son was brought on, but the benched forward soon helped his side to a 6-2 victory.

Son’s opening goal wasn’t the fortuitous, scruffy close-range finish that people tend to associate with a player overcoming a bad run. It was a quintessential Son strike: a powerful run followed by an unstoppable right-footed smash into the top corner from 25 yards. His second was another effort plucked from the archives as he shifted the ball onto his left foot before bending it into the far corner from a near-identical spot as his first goal.

Son rounded off his treble following an exceptionally timed run. His return to form should strike fear into Tottenham’s rivals: One of the top flight’s deadliest strikers is “angry” and firing, and the proud Korean is also desperate to hit prime condition in time for his country’s tough group-stage matches at this winter’s World Cup.

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Premier League

World Cup roundup, Day 10: Pulisic leads by example, Senegal brings joy

The 2022 World Cup is in full swing. At the end of every matchday, we’ll review the biggest talking points emanating from Qatar and break down all the action on the pitch. Below, we look back on Day 10 of the tournament.

Dest growing into tournament

Sergino Dest, with help from Weston McKennie and Timothy Weah, caused England problems in the United States’ second group game. There were similar collaborations down the right Tuesday against Iran. However, with McKennie thriving in a more central role in a vital 1-0 win for the U.S., Dest linked up well with Yunus Musah and was a popular target for cross-field switches.

Three of left-sided center-back Tim Ream’s four long balls from the middle third were sprayed to the right flank, where Dest’s positioning and positivity on the ball stretched Iran. The on-loan AC Milan right-back made slick touches in tight areas, and his off-the-ball movement tired Milad Mohammadi in the first half. Before the break, Dest had the joint-most touches with Tyler Adams (53), two completed take-ons, and three dangerous deliveries into the box.

Jam Media / Getty Images Sport / Getty

One of those deliveries resulted in Christian Pulisic’s match-winning goal. Dest saw McKennie receive the ball in space in front of Iran’s deep defensive and midfield lines, and he took advantage of a rare Iranian lapse. Mohammadi and Ehsan Hajsafi were out of position – forward Sardar Azmoun was the closest opponent to Dest – so the full-back ran into the gap and under McKennie’s chip before nodding the ball across for Pulisic’s close-range finish.

Obviously, the U.S. will have bigger challenges the deeper it goes, and the Netherlands awaits Gregg Berhalter’s side in the round of 16. But, while the threat from Cody Gakpo and Memphis Depay is considerable, Dest may have some helpful insight on plenty of Dutch players given his schooling in Ajax’s academy.

Pulisic doesn’t shy away from spotlight

Pulisic admitted in February that he puts “too much pressure” on himself to “save” the United States while on international duty. The “Captain America” tag certainly hasn’t helped.

There have been some below-par performances from Pulisic over his 55 U.S. caps, but there’s evidence to suggest he thrives in high-pressure games.

He scored a huge goal against Mexico and pocketed a hat-trick versus Panama during the qualification cycle for Qatar 2022. He knocked two past Jamaica to send the U.S. into the 2019 Gold Cup final and scored a high-pressure penalty to down Mexico in extra time of the 2021 Nations League final.

Pulisic added further proof to the argument that he flourishes on big occasions with his scruffy tally against Iran.

And let’s not forget, he’s still only 24.

Qatar ends World Cup on historic low

After more than a decade of planning the most expensive World Cup in history, all Qatar’s national team has to show for its on-pitch efforts is three dismal defeats. That’s hardly the return on investment organizers envisioned after spending approximately $220 billion to host football’s showpiece event – smashing the previous record of $15 billion set by Brazil in 2014.

As Qatar attempted to prove it belonged on the sport’s biggest stage, it became glaringly obvious that the 2022 World Cup host was way out of its depth. Over 10 days, the Middle Eastern nation tasted nothing but defeat.

KARIM JAAFAR / AFP / Getty

Tuesday’s loss to Group A winner, the Netherlands, was the final nail in Qatar’s World Cup coffin. The loss ensured that FIFA’s 50th-ranked nation, which had already been eliminated, ended the tournament on a historic low note. After becoming the first host nation to lose the opening match, Qatar then became the first host to lose its opening two games. Now, with zero points from three contests, Qatar will forever be remembered as the worst-performing World Cup host of all time.

Aside from Mohammed Muntari recording Qatar’s first World Cup goal, there was hardly a reason for home fans to cheer. Perhaps the nerves got the better of a Qatari side that never mounted a credible challenge to suggest it could compete with its Group A opponents.

Qatar coach Felix Sanchez conceded that his squad was “still slightly behind” the competition at the 2022 World Cup. That’s a generous verdict for a Qatar side that, even with the expansion from 32 to 48 teams, likely won’t be at the 2026 World Cup.

Cisse can bury 2002 heartache

Aliou Cisse carried the disappointment of slamming his decisive penalty against Alioum Boukar’s legs during the shootout in the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations final. His miss meant Cameroon won the tournament while Senegal’s wait to be crowned king of the continent continued.

Even captaining his country to the World Cup knockout rounds a few months later didn’t diminish his desire to make amends. He mentioned it while coaching Senegal to the AFCON final in 2019. His side lost 1-0 to Algeria in that showpiece.

But, at long last, Cisse should now be confident that he’s more than atoned for that penalty in Mali. First, he overcame huge pressure to lead Senegal to its first AFCON success earlier in 2022 – over 56 years after the country’s inaugural appearance in the tournament.

OZAN KOSE / AFP / Getty

“We would like to win this for him and our country because he deserves it after everything he went through as a player for Senegal and now as the coach,” Sadio Mane said about his national team boss days before he converted the winning penalty in the final.

Then, Cisse took Senegal into its second-ever World Cup knockout appearance courtesy of Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Ecuador. Instead of relying on Mane – who was confirmed out with a leg injury just four days before his country’s campaign began – Cisse created a stronger team dynamic. Five different players have scored Senegal’s goals in Qatar, and the midfield was near-impenetrable against Ecuador.

However, the main concern going into the round of 16 is with Cisse’s midfield. Will Senegal’s core be as impressive now that Idrissa Gueye is unavailable due to suspension?

Quick free-kicks

Southgate’s selection headache

With the entire nation clamoring for Phil Foden to start and England to play a more expansive style after its turgid performance against the United States, Gareth Southgate gave the people what they wanted versus Wales. He did the same with Marcus Rashford. The latter promptly scored twice, including a gorgeous free-kick, while Foden netted the other tally in a comfortable 3-0 triumph that secured top spot in Group B. It was just the Three Lions’ second victory in their last nine matches overall. Now the England manager, who’s constantly under the microscope, has a selection headache going into the last-16 clash with Senegal. Heavily criticized for being too wedded to certain players, including Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount, the 52-year-old tactician has a big decision to make. Foden and Rashford injected some life back into the England attack and deserve to start in the next round. Meanwhile, Sterling and Mount have consistently performed during Southgate’s tenure. Bukayo Saka didn’t start Tuesday, either, but has been a bright spot in the tournament. Someone will inevitably be disappointed when left out of the lineup against the African champion. In a way, it’s a good problem to have, but it’s a delicate situation Southgate needs to manage properly.

Paying tribute to ‘The Wardrobe’

Papa Bouba Diop, nicknamed “The Wardrobe” in England due to his imposing stature, was remembered by fans and players during Senegal’s final group match. The Lions of Teranga icon died exactly two years prior to Tuesday’s meeting with Ecuador. On the international scene, the defensive midfielder was best known for his match-winning goal against defending champion France at the 2002 World Cup. In addition to representing Senegal 63 times, Diop starred for numerous clubs, including Fulham, Portsmouth, and Lens.

LvG finds his best midfield

Marten de Roon isn’t the most fashionable player in the Netherlands’ squad. Far from it. But he might be one of the most important. The 31-year-old midfielder started his first match of the tournament Tuesday, and the Dutch, so stodgy and underwhelming against Ecuador, looked like a more cohesive unit in a 2-0 victory over Qatar. This comes with the caveat that Qatar is objectively the worst team at the World Cup. However, De Roon’s presence at the base of Louis van Gaal’s midfield helped liberate Frenkie de Jong, who slid to the left and pushed higher up the field in a No. 8 role, connecting with Daley Blind and Memphis Depay to create slick passing triangles. Reverting to a system that asks De Jong to play deeper in the last-16 meeting with the United States would be a mistake.

Croatia in hot water over fans’ Borjan taunt

FIFA opened disciplinary proceedings against Croatia on Tuesday after some of its fans displayed a banner designed to taunt Canada’s Yugoslavian-born goalkeeper Milan Borjan. The 35-year-old’s hometown of Knin is now within Croatian borders, but it was an ethnic Serb region until conflict in 1995 forced the Borjans and other families to flee. The message unfurled at Khalifa International Stadium on Sunday referred to this victory for Croatian forces.

Curtain closes on Wales’ golden generation

Defeat to England may have marked the unofficial end to the golden age of Welsh football. After Wales did brilliantly to end its 64-year wait to reach the World Cup, it became clear after three games without a win in Qatar that big changes could be on the horizon for the aging Dragons. The future of Gareth Bale’s international career is bound to dominate headlines in Wales. At 35, it’s unlikely that Bale will ever feature in a major tournament for Wales again. If that’s the case, it was a sad way to go out, as he touched the ball just seven times before being taken off at halftime against England with an apparent injury. While other members of the team, such as Aaron Ramsey, may also consider their futures, none will be missed as much as Bale. If he does hang up his international boots, Cymru will be forced to rebuild for a future without a player who, despite his recent dip in form, is the true definition of a generational talent.

Stat of the day

Rashford joined a very exclusive club Tuesday.

Tweet of the day

Senegal will have some additional support in its corner against England.

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3 reasons why United States shut down England in World Cup draw

England’s and the United States’ World Cup group openers didn’t hint at this outcome. The Three Lions strolled to a 6-2 triumph over Iran, while the U.S. ran out of steam in a disappointing 1-1 draw with Wales – but their meeting Friday drew a blank.

Nil-nil, but not necessarily a bore draw.

Here are three reasons why the USMNT kept England at arm’s length in Qatar.

Ball-playing defenders don’t play ball

It started just a few minutes into the first half. Harry Maguire to John Stones, to Maguire, to Stones, to Maguire – the ball lazily clicking back and forth like a metronome in the bedroom of a doom metal artist testing a forlorn, sludgy riff.

In some ways, it was understandable. Declan Rice was often the only player ahead of the defense showing for the ball, and the U.S. midfield was organized and ready to pounce. But it was also ruinously risk-averse and set the tone for an uninspiring England performance. Stones completed all of his 51 passes in his first half, but none were noteworthy.

There was no incisiveness. A few snappy exchanges through the center could’ve helped turn the tide. England simply needed more ambition from its center-backs.

Long passes in first half

Player Attempts Through the middle
Harry Maguire 6 1
John Stones 3 0

There wasn’t a great deal Gareth Southgate could do about Maguire and Stone’s tentativeness, so the decision to replace Jude Bellingham with Jordan Henderson in the 68th minute made sense. It wasn’t a popular decision – especially after Bellingham’s brilliance in the dominant victory over Iran – but it helped link the midfield and defense. Having an extra body in front of the defense reduced the likelihood of another ineffectual sideways pass from the center-back pairing.

But overall, that substitution was more of a reflection of the United States’ aggressiveness at Al Bayt Stadium: England wasn’t allowed to settle. The ever-steady Henderson at least gave the Three Lions some semblance of control.

McKennie back to his best

Weston McKennie has struggled to find his rhythm with Juventus since fracturing his metatarsal in the last 16 of last season’s Champions League. But something – perhaps the occasion, or maybe the additional responsibility he has with the United States – allowed the midfielder to find his groove against England.

The U.S. was regularly set in a 4-4-2 shape. Haji Wright and Timothy Weah were up front, Christian Pulisic was on the left flank, captain Tyler Adams and Yunus Musah took central midfield, and McKennie often appeared on the right. He’s familiar with the position – having fulfilled similar duties for Massimiliano Allegri at Juve – and it allowed him to create overloads down that side with Weah and right-back Sergino Dest.

The three-man combination initiated the move leading to the Pulisic missile that smashed the crossbar. The only blemish on McKennie’s near-faultless opening period came when he drifted inside, met Weah’s cross, and side-footed the ball over from around eight yards out.

It was a quality, two-way performance. He waded in with two tackles and a clearance and troubled his opponents with two completed dribbles and five passes into the final third before he was withdrawn in the 77th minute.

This young team needs to be nurtured, and that’s no truer in midfield. McKennie (aged 24), Adams (23), and Musah (19) are an extremely promising core for the U.S. and could all be at their peaks once the 2026 World Cup in North America rolls around.

Brenden Aaronson (22) and Giovanni Reyna (20) were also used off the bench, and unused substitute Luca de la Torre (24) is now playing in Spain’s La Liga after impressing in the Netherlands’ Eredivisie. The future doesn’t look bad at all.

An inexcusable waste

An out-of-form Raheem Sterling is one of the most frustrating players in elite football. When his confidence dips, his indecision soars. Instead of running for something – like the back post or the gap between a full-back and center-back – he seems like he’s running from something and, in his panicked state, will stumble down the wrong alleyway or trip over a knotted tree root.

In this instance, at least a trip or slip would’ve been an event of some kind. He was anonymous in Al Khor and failed to register a shot, key pass, cross, or dribble through 67 minutes.

Far too often, Sterling is a hindrance or a passenger. He shouldn’t be a starter for England.

Mason Mount isn’t much better when things aren’t going his way. Aside from a first-time shot that tested Matt Turner, Sterling’s Chelsea teammate outstayed his welcome, somehow lasting the full 90 minutes. Mount failed to offer any creativity or bite.

Mason Mount and Raheem Sterling track Sergino Dest Sebastian Frej/MB Media / Getty Images Sport / Getty

The catalog of below-par performances made the sight of Phil Foden – the most technically gifted and inventive player at Southgate’s disposal – sitting on the bench even more maddening. The Manchester City playmaker was charitably introduced with around 20 minutes left of the opener against Iran – with the score already 4-1 in England’s favor – and otherwise seems to be an afterthought for Southgate.

It’s inexcusable. Harry Kane and Ivan Toney are the only Englishmen with more goals than Foden in the Premier League this season, and the 22-year-old’s bewitching footwork, agility, and appreciation of space could’ve been invaluable in such a congested game.

Foden has a knack of conjuring something out of nothing. And against the U.S., England produced a whole lot of nothing.

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World Cup roundup, Day 6: England and U.S. toil, Qatar bows out

The 2022 World Cup is in full swing. At the end of every matchday, we’ll review the biggest talking points emanating from Qatar and break down all the action on the pitch. Below, we look back on Day 6 of the tournament.

Southgate, Berhalter cancel each other out

Watching England and the United States grind out a goalless draw on Friday was, well, a grind. If anything, the banter between the two fan bases on social media was far more entertaining than the “action” on the pitch.

England boss Gareth Southgate and his American counterpart Gregg Berhalter, both of whom have come under intense scrutiny, have often struggled to get the best out of their talented, exciting squads. In-game management has been a point of contention among both sets of fans with regard to the respective managers. Friday only served to add fuel to the fire.

Southgate, almost incomprehensibly, didn’t introduce Phil Foden off the bench despite his side looking listless in attack. He didn’t even use his full complement of subs. Berhalter, meanwhile, waited 77 minutes to make his first personnel switch despite several members of his team looking totally spent after putting in a huge amount of energy and playing at an aggressive, high tempo for nearly the entire contest. Giovanni Reyna had to wait another six minutes after that to join the fray for the first time in the tournament. It was almost as if the two tacticians were waiting to see who would blink first.

A draw, ultimately, is a fine result for both teams. England is in a comfortable position going into its Group B finale against Wales, while the Americans control their own destiny – beat Iran on Tuesday, and the USMNT will move on. But the lack of desire to take any chances, from both coaches, is coming under fire, and for good reason.

There’s too much skill on either side to play such an attritional style.

Qatar playing for pride now

Twelve years of preparation were undone after just five days as host Qatar was officially eliminated from the World Cup on Friday.

An early exit for the Middle Eastern nation was mathematically confirmed after the Netherlands’ 1-1 draw with Ecuador. It’s undoubtedly a tough blow. However, it’s anything but unexpected given the concerns over the nation’s inability to produce top footballing talent.

And so, Qatar’s fate is sealed with a game to spare, and now the team is teetering on an unprecedented failure.

MANAN VATSYAYANA / AFP / Getty

Qatar joins South Africa (2010) as the only hosts to be knocked out in the group stage. The team is now in danger of finishing its World Cup debut without a single point – a misstep no host has experienced.

A pair of uninspiring displays in defeats to Senegal and Ecuador don’t offer much hope over Qatar’s chances of producing a positive result in its last game against Group A’s favorite, the Netherlands.

Gakpo’s stock soaring

PSV Eindhoven are loving every minute of the World Cup right now.

Few players, if any, arrived in Qatar enjoying a better season than Cody Gakpo. The 23-year-old, linked with a variety of top European clubs this past summer, was already doing his part to ensure the Dutch team would procure a small fortune for his services whenever he does move on. The price tag is only trending in one direction after Gakpo’s first two World Cup games.

Having scored the winning goal in the Netherlands’ first match against Senegal – an imposing header that showed off his athleticism – Gakpo followed that up with a sensational tally on Friday, uncorking a thunderous shot in the opening minutes of the draw with Ecuador. He’s now compiled 16 goals and 18 assists in just 28 games for club and country this season. Video game numbers.

Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images Sport / Getty

His ability to not only play multiple attacking positions, but thrive in them, makes him a fit for just about any club in world football. With the Netherlands having trouble consistently crafting chances thus far in Qatar – the team attempted just two shots against Ecuador – Gakpo is being asked to carry the attack for Louis van Gaal’s surprisingly conservative side.

The more he’s able to do that, the more he’ll shine, and the more PSV will be able to demand from any club interested in his services. His stock is soaring.

Quick free-kicks

Neymar’s absence shouldn’t be too costly

Neymar will definitely miss Monday’s meeting with Switzerland due to ligament damage in his right ankle, but reports indicate the Brazilian superstar is also doubtful for the conclusion of his team’s group-stage commitments against Cameroon next Friday. Neymar’s influence is undeniable, but this should be an absence that head coach Tite can handle. In addition to Neymar, starts were handed to Richarlison, Vinicius Junior, Raphinha, and Lucas Paqueta for Thursday’s 2-0 win over Serbia. Gabriel Jesus, Antony, Rodrygo, and Gabriel Martinelli were brought on as substitutes, while Flamengo veteran Everton Ribeiro stayed on the bench. Tite’s attacking options are the envy of every other team at this tournament.

The team talk that sparked a famous win

Herve Renard drew an incredible response from his Saudi Arabia side in the bowels of Lusail’s Iconic Stadium on Tuesday. The Saudis promptly erased Argentina’s one-goal advantage to engineer an all-time World Cup upset in a 2-1 victory, which is only slightly more impressive than the translator’s speed and gusto when echoing Renard during the halftime address. The video, which emerged Friday, will give you goosebumps.

An unexpected rivalry

All it took was a conventional rallying cry from an emotional coach, but a heated affair is brewing between Canada and Croatia. John Herdman, the Canucks’ English boss, ruffled feathers in a certain strip of the Balkan Peninsula when he declared his team would “F” Croatia during an on-pitch speech to his players following his side’s 1-0 loss to Belgium on Wednesday. Accusations of disrespect have now snowballed into a grotesque depiction of Herdman in a Croatian tabloid with the headline: “You have the mouth (tongue), but do you have the balls as well?” Maybe Herdman should’ve kept the content of his speech a secret; Croatia seems fired up.

Valencia in Golden Boot hunt

Hands up if you expected Ecuadorian captain Enner Valencia to be in the Golden Boot conversation going into the World Cup. If your hand is genuinely raised, you’re likely alone. Ecuador was viewed as a team that would struggle to score goals in the competition; the last time La Tri bagged more than one tally in a single match was in November … of last year. But Ecuador has been far more aggressive and progressive going forward since arriving in Qatar, and Valencia has been the benefactor. He’s now scored Ecuador’s last six goals at the World Cup, a record for a South American player. Considering the World Cup icons the continent has produced, that’s quite the feat. The leading scorer in Turkey’s Super Lig this season – Valencia bagged 13 goals in 12 games before the World Cup break – will need to shake off an apparent knee injury that forced him off against the Netherlands to continue his unexpected Golden Boot pursuit.

Stat of the day

Better late than never for Iran.

Tweet of the day

No winner in the sport’s great vernacular war.

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