Good morning, Jay Asser here giving you a bitesize look at what’s going on today in the world of sport.
All eyes at the World Cup are on Germany today as the title holders face Sweden in a crucial meeting for Die Mannschaft.
After falling to Mexico in their opener, Germany are facing practically a must-win situation already in the group stages. Sweden won’t be an easy target, however, after they took down South Korea in their first game to look like a formidable side.
If you missed yesterday’s contests, Xherdan Shaqiri capped off an impressive comeback by Switzerland over Serbia. Matt Jones picked out the main talking points from the thrilling result.
Nigeria, meanwhile, used a tactical switch to get the better of Iceland in a 2-0 victory. Read how their 3-5-2 lineup caused problems and other takeaways from the encounter.
Philippe Coutinho was the hero for Brazil as he scored in injury time to get the nation off the mark with their first win at the tournament. Check out an in-depth look at Coutinho’s match-winning performance.
Things have gone from bad to worse for Sri Lanka, with Dinesh Chandimal suspended for the third and final Test against West Indies, while Rangana Hertah has split the webbing on his right hand. That means Suranga Lakmal will be the ninth player to lead Sri Lanka across formats since 2013.
For England, a new face will be at the helm of their upcoming T20 campaign against Australia and India, with assistant Paul Farbrace standing in temporarily for head coach Trevor Bayliss.
Ashish Peter takes a look at Australia’s ODI woes after the nation hit a new low with their battering at the hands of England.
FEATURE OF THE DAY
South Korea will have their work cut out to overcome Mexico today. Matt Monaghan examines talking points from the match-up, including the importance of Son Heung-min to South Korea’s attack.
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WHAT’S ON TODAY
WORLD CUP: Belgium v Tunisia, 16:00
South Korea v Mexico, 19:00
Germany v Sweden, 22:00
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Jamie Vardy insists England are in it together at the World Cup and will not allow their harmony to be disrupted by a glimpse of Steve Holland’s notes.
Gareth Southgate’s assistant was pictured at training on Thursday clutching a piece of paper with players listed in formation and in what could be interpreted as a pecking order for each position.
Holland apologised to the squad for allowing the snap to be taken, while Southgate and defender Kyle Walker both used media appearances to suggest reporters avoid leaking potentially helpful information to rivals.
Vardy, whose name was inked in underneath that of Marcus Rashford in the leaked image, rejected the idea it represented a tip-off for Sunday’s opponents Panama.
“All that is saying is telling our next opponents we’ve got 23 players in the squad and letting them know their names again,” he said.
“We find out the team on the morning of the game or the night before and until the gaffer names the team that’s the way it is.
“What the gaffer has said is everyone in the 23-man squad is going to be needed at some point, so we’ve just got to stay focused and put the effort in.
“The attitude and atmosphere is vital, you want to go the extra yard for your team-mates and the performance the other night showed that.”
Vardy was an unused substitute in the 2-1 win over Tunisia and faces one of the toughest battles for game time given he is effectively challenging for the same position as captain Harry Kane.
The Tottenham striker scored both goals in Volgograd and has 10 in 10 games during Southgate’s reign.
Asked if his consistency in front of goal was difficult to deal with in his role as deputy, Vardy said: “He’s not annoying at all!
“At the end of the day we’re all here for the same reason. We just want to win as many games as possible and he just popped up with two goals that got us all three points.
“You’ve just got to keep going, make sure you’re putting the effort in on the training field, getting in the manager’s plans and hopefully if you get the chance make sure you stay there.
“I just do exactly what I do every day during the season: give as good as I can, give 110 per cent and if I get the opportunity that’s what I’ll be doing again.”
The signs were there.
Germany had a five-match winless run heading into their final pre-World Cup friendly against Saudi Arabia – their worst run since 1931. A narrow, unconvincing win against the Saudis did not mask the deficiencies that had been laid bare. Losing to Mexico in their tournament opener may be the shock result of the World Cup so far, but it was coming.
They may have dominated the game – 66% possession, 20 chances created to Mexico’s 12, 26 shots to 13 – but in truth, Mexico, who created the more gilt-edged opportunities to score, should have won this game more handily, by a scoreline that could have matched Spain’s embarrassing 5-1 loss in their opening game as reigning champions at the last World Cup.
At the moment, Die Mannschaft are playing like a self-indulgent side, drunk on its own excesses. It was difficult not to see an air of complacency in their loss. Forward Thomas Muller confirmed as much, saying earlier this week that he and his teammates “took things a bit too lightly” after their warm-up games, assuming that they’d be able to flip the proverbial switch once the tournament proper came.
Well, the tournament proper came, and the switch wasn’t flipped. Now Germany are in danger of becoming the third straight reigning champions to get knocked out in the group stages, after Italy in 2010 and Spain in 2014.
Spain are a troubling blueprint for Germany. In 2014 it seemed that Germans had mastered the Spanish plan, mirroring the dominant, suffocating possession and passing that had led the Spaniards to the 2010 title but adding a level of thrust and attacking impetus that Spain had missed. Vicente del Bosque’s side infamously won each of their knockout games in 2010 by a 1-0 scoreline.
But 2018 Germany are looking more like 2014 Spain. Heavy favourites to repeat, expecting that the exact same plan that made them champions four years earlier will work again, that whatever other teams have done in response, they’ll be good enough to beat it.
Mexico put paid to that notion, and in all too predictable a way.
The loss bore far too many similarities to Spain’s against the Netherlands from four years ago, notably in how easily Germany were torn apart on the counter, but also in how shellshocked a champion team were by what was happening to them. It was as if they couldn’t believe that they were losing, or that they weren’t able to turn things around.
Spain would follow up their 5-1 reverse to the Dutch with a 2-0 loss to Chile that knocked them out – which offers another parallel that Germany won’t find comforting.
Their next opponents are Sweden, a side with a sense of unity and a battling spirit that harks back to Chile’s from 2014. The Swedes may not have the sprinkling of stardust that Alexis Sanchez provided for Chile – although in Emil Forsberg, they certainly have a player capable of doing Germany damage – but their path to the World Cup should be enough of an indication that they will not be easy to beat.
They beat Italy to qualify for this summer’s tournament – and beating a side of the Azzurri’s pedigree over a two-legged playoff, not just a one-off knockout game, is a sign that this team has what it takes to beat Germany.
Thomas Muller has urged Germany to stop losing the ball: "They often come from being over-motivated and thinking too well. The mix of patience and determination is extremely important. Against Sweden we expect a defensive block. We must not get too impatient." #GER #SWE— Ronan Murphy (@swearimnotpaul) June 20, 2018
Manager Joachim Low has a lot to do to ensure his champions avoid that fate, starting with getting the players who make his side such a feared squad on paper to step up. Foremost among them is Toni Kroos, who against Mexico was not the player who ran Germany’s midfield in 2014, nor the star who has been such a crucial part of Real Madrid‘s recent successes.
Perhaps bringing in Ilkay Gundogan in for Sami Khedira, who offered nothing in attack and was poor defensively, would add more incisiveness to the side as a whole, as well as bringing the best out of Kroos, similar to how Croatia’s Luka Modric does at Madrid.
Playing Muller as a striker ahead of Timo Werner, who looked out of his depth on his World Cup debut, is another potential solution. Up front, Muller can pull defenders out of position in a way that he can’t when deployed as a winger. That in turn will lead to more space for Marco Reus, who could come in for Werner, Mesut Ozil, Julian Draxler – who at times was the only player who looked like making an impact against Mexico.
Ozil is the other player who needs to find his best. Some of the criticism the Arsenal man receives is unfair – it went unnoticed, for example, that he was the only attacking player who got back to help defend during Mexico’s goal, even if he was then beaten too easily by goalscorer Hirving Lozano. But there’s no arguing that it has been far too long since he dazzled in a high-stakes game. There have even been calls for him to be dropped.
It’s unlikely that Low heeds those calls. But he needs his star players to live up to their billing on Saturday against Sweden.
Otherwise, like Spain and Italy before them, Germany are close to bidding an unexpectedly early farewell to their World Cup.