Fiorentina still interested in Tonali

Fiorentina are having a good start to the season. After signing Franck Ribery, they have had some performances that are still talked about, mostly their 3-0 win over AC Milan. But now the stories around the club are getting even more interesting, as the Viola are being rumoured with a couple of very talented players.

After they were bought by an Italo-American businessman, Fiorentina’s appetites are growing and Corriere dello Sport are suggesting the club are set to reignite their interest in Brescia midfielder Sandro Tonali. The race for the 19-year-old midfielder is heating up.

Juventus, Inter, Milan and Napoli have all been reportedly linked with the Italian midfielder, who is seen as one of the most promising young players in Serie A. According to the same report, Fiorentina made a bid for Tonali over the summer, but then there was no way for Brescia to let him go. Now, they could return with an offer of around the €40m at the end of the season.

Wales 1-1 Croatia: A Share of the Spoils in a Hard Game for Both Teams

Wales welcomed Croatia to the Cardiff City stadium on Sunday evening as the qualification process for Euro 2020 approaches its end.

Wales entered the match in fourth place with seven points, but with two games in hand over second-place Hungary and one over third-place Slovakia. Croatia top the group and had been topping it even before this game, with 13 points from six games.

Team News

Wales manager Ryan Giggs was without the services of Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey and Bournemouth defender Chris Mepham through injury.

Wayne Hennessey was in goal. Giggs was criticized for giving a chance to Tom Lockyer over Ashley Williams in Mepham’s absence, but he stuck to his guns and chose Lockyer beside Joe Rodon again. Ben Davies and Connor Roberts covered the defensive flanks, while Joe Allen and Ethan Ampadu played in deeper midfield roles. Gareth Bale and Daniel James provided pace on the attacking flanks, and Jonathan Williams started behind striker Kieffer Moore.

Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic apparently isn’t counting on Mario Mandzukic anymore, while goalkeeper Danijel Subasic hadn’t joined the team due to a hamstring injury.

Dominik Livakovic stood between the posts. Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida paired up at the back, flanked by Borna Barisic and Tin Jedvaj. Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic acted as the double pivot in midfield, with Nikola Vlasic more advanced. Striker Bruno Petkovic was supported by Josip Brekalo and Ivan Perisic from wide positions.

The First Half

Eight minutes of tame football preceded some great work by Brekalo who broke from the left and his pass, intended for Petkovic, was extended to Vlasic whose trickling shot from the edge of the box grazed the post on its way into the net.

0-1.

Brekalo almost set up another within four minutes as his cross and movement of Perisic broke the Welsh offside trap. The Bayern man headed accurately to the bottom corner, but Hennessey produced a spectacular save.

Another minute later, another worry for the home side. A rash challenge by Vida resulted in James staying on the ground in need of medical assistance and the Besiktas defender getting booked. Fortunately, the Manchester United winger continued playing.

In the 20th minute, Modric gave his Real Madrid teammate a chance to equalize from a free-kick by tripping Moore around 20 yards out, but Bale’s effort hit the wall. But from that moment on, the game burst into life.

Wales took control of the proceedings and charged forward, while the Croats defended with grit and determination. Even striker Petkovic was seen doing some defensive work inside his own box and not only on set-pieces. But after a while, the visitors succeeded in taking the ball and slowing the game down, before moving their lines forward.

Though initially set in a 4-2-3-1 shape, Croatia frequently switched to 4-4-2 with Vlasic joining Petkovic upfront and Modric and Kovacic stepping into line with Brekalo and Perisic. In fact, all of their midfielders often changed positions, and every one of them found himself as the furthest man up on more than one occasion.

On the other hand, the Welsh were rather rigid in their approach, with every player rarely leaving his default position. Ampadu and Allen were ever present between the defence and the attack, and they did reasonably well against the confusion Croatia tried to inflict them with. But the visitors had the lead, and there was very little Wales were doing to change that fact.

Quite apart from that, there were a few question marks concerning individual performances of the home players. Giggs’s faith in Lockyer proved even more questionable than before – it was him who allowed Brekalo to get past him before creating the chance that resulted in the opening goal, and it was him that failed to step out and allowed Perisic to stay onside for the chance that followed. Bale wore the captain’s armband, but he was doing very little to inspire his teammates. Both he and James on the other flank were being stopped with ease by Jedvaj and Barisic. Williams and Moore worked hard, but the Croatian players they were facing seemed too clever for them.

However, halfway into the first-half injury time, Davies charged forward, played a one-two with Bale and employed his captain again. Bale was this time facing the goal inside the box. His pace took him one step ahead of Lovren and he used the advantage he had gained to slot past Livakovic, to the dismay of the Croatian players who believed Davies had fouled Kovacic in the buildup. Lovren was the loudest in protest and received a yellow card for his effort, but on second viewing, it was quite obvious that Davies reacted really well and punished Kovacic for a lazy piece of play.

1-1.

The Second Half

Kovacic was left in the dressing room after the break and maybe he had injured himself in the duel that preceded the equalizer, but it seemed more likely that Dalic felt he needed the services of Ivan Rakitic on the pitch.

Less than a minute into the second period, a clash with Petkovic left Ampadu on the ground in a situation similar to the one James faced in the first half. Petkovic was booked, but unlike James, Ampadu wasn’t able to stay on the pitch. Joseff Morrell came on in his place.

Croatia seemed to have caught some kind of a bug from that moment on. Wales were dominating the ball more easily than before, and even the visitors’ defending seemed far from level-headed on a few occasions. They could have, however, retaken the lead in the 56th minute as their counterattack got Jedvaj in a surprisingly advanced position as he was targeted by Perisic’s cross inside the box, but he was stopped by the joint efforts of Lockyer and Rodon.

Wales continued attacking, and Bale had a terrific run after selling a dummy to Rakitic and charging into the box on the hour-mark, but he was tripped slightly by Barisic and lost his balance just enough to lose the ball. Referee Bjorn Kuipers saw no reason to award a penalty.

A few minutes later, Dalic withdrew Petkovic and sent Ante Rebic into the fray, and within a minute the newcomer combined well with Perisic on the right and helped him create a chance, but the Welsh defence reacted well.

As time went on, it became obvious that the home side lacked a bit of creative spark. Croatia found it easier by the minute to absorb their attacks and turn defence into attack, and Giggs decided to replace the ineffective Williams with Harry Wilson. Another notable change was that Bale and James had switched places, with the captain now on the left and the youngster on the right.

Bale was now trying to take matters into his own hands, sensing perhaps that a moment of inspiration might come his way. He asked for the ball as often as possible, charged forward, cut inside, tried dribbling and shooting, but all to no avail.

Croatia were now turning the volume up, trying to swing the game in their favour. They reclaimed the initiative and started pushing the Welsh lines back towards Hennessey, pressing high when off the ball and keeping their heads in possession. Vlasic and Rakitic were winning battles in the middle, and Brekalo got involved on the ball more, trying to run past an opponent to create an extra man. Modric was in the holding role; the playmaker was pulling the strings from deep, using his vast experience to do the job.

Towards the end, it looked as if both teams were satisfied with the prospect of winning a point. Giggs replaced Moore with Tyler Roberts for the last three minutes which should have signaled a different attacking approach and Wales had a chance straight away. Wilson broke down the right and as he employed Roberts, Modric took him out. The referee played advantage but Roberts failed to make it count.

With plenty of stoppage to be made up for, Kuipers added eight minutes of injury time, through which Bale limped injured but Giggs had no substitutions left. Wales was therefore playing practically with 10 men, but Croatia never looked like giving a real go at winning the game late.

The Afterthought

The game was very fierce, with eight names in the referee’s book as a good indicator of just how fierce, but with very little creativity. Both sides had their moments of domination, but apart from the two goals and a superb save from Hennessey, there were no clear-cut chances. In the end, the result is fair, though it’ll be Croatia who feel good about it as it gets them very close to confirming a place at the tournament next year.

For Wales, it’s an uphill battle but they still have a shot at qualifying. They have two games to play (Azerbaijan away and Hungary at home) and must win both. On top of that, they will need Croatia to get the job done in style and beat Slovakia in Zagreb next month in a game where Dalic won’t be able to call upon his preferred centre-back pairing. Both Vida and Lovren are suspended after picking up yellow cards in Wales.

Match Report

WALES: Hennessey 8, Lockyer 6, Rodon 7.5, Davies 7.5, C. Roberts 7, Ampadu 6.5 (50′ Morrell 5.5), Allen 7, Williams 5 (68′ Wilson 7.5), James 7.5, Bale 7, Moore 6 (87′ T. Roberts N/A).

CROATIA: Livakovic 7, Lovren 7, Vida 7, Barisic 7.5, Jedvaj 7, Modric 7.5 (90′ Badelj), Kovacic 6 (46′ Rakitic 7), Brekalo 7.5, Perisic 7.5, Vlasic 7.5, Petkovic 7.

GOALS: Vlasic 9′, Bale 45’+3.

YELLOW CARDS: Vida 15′, Lovren 45’+3, Petkovic 46′, Moore 57′, Rakitic 85′, Allen 86′, Modric 89′, James 90’+6.

REFEREE: Bjorn Kuipers (Netherlands).

DATE & VENUE: October 13, 2019, Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff, Wales.

Dalic hopeful of swift Modric recovery

Zlatko Dalic played down initial concerns over Luka Modric’s fitness after the Real Madrid midfielder was injured in Croatia’s 1-1 Euro 2020 qualifying draw with Wales.

Modric had to be helped off the field by Croatia’s medical staff with a minute of normal time remaining, having taken a knock as he fouled Harry Wilson and earned a booking in Cardiff on Sunday.

However, head coach Dalic soon explained the issue and hoped Modric would be able to make a swift recovery, with key matches to come for both Croatia – still chasing Euro 2020 qualification – and LaLiga leaders Madrid.

“[Modric] got hit in the muscle, which is awkward and quite painful, so he had to go off,” said Dalic, as reported by Gol.hr.

“He will certainly need a two to three-day break, but I hope he will be alright.”

Croatia would have qualified for next year’s European Championships by beating Wales away from home, yet Gareth Bale’s strike late in the first half cancelled out Nikola Vlasic’s opener.

Vlasic conceded he was a little surprised by Wales’ lack of ambition after equalising, given they are fourth in Group E and progress is now no longer in their hands.

Only a half-chance for Daniel James saw either goalkeeper worked in the second period.

“I think [Wales] did well in defence,” Vlasic said. “They were very compact – they knew what we were doing. They clearly analysed our match in Slovakia [a 4-0 Croatia win].

“We retreated a little after taking the lead because we knew this was an important match for them. They had to go forward, so we expected that they would open up more.

“But they closed everything pretty well. We didn’t manage to create five or six chances after half-time as in the first half.

“They didn’t want to play with us because they know we’re a better team and this is a big point for them.”

Georginio Wijnaldum’s Booming Strike for Netherlands Against Belarus (Video)

Netherlands beat Belarus away in their Euro 2020 qualifier on Sunday thanks to a first-half brace from Georginio Wijnaldum. Stanislav Dragun later scored what turned out to be a consolation goal in a 1-2 defeat for the hosts.

The second goal the Liverpool midfielder scored was a superb strike indeed. He was allowed a bit of space just over 20 yards from the goal and he made it count.

Tite ekes positives out of Brazil´s draw against Nigeria

Tite commended Brazil’s second-half improvement against Nigeria despite being left with a disappointing 1-1 draw and four-match winless streak from Sunday’s friendly in Singapore.

Casemiro’s scrambled equaliser three minutes into the second half earned the Selecao a share of the spoils following Joe Aribo’s opener.

The Copa America winners had already suffered one blow prior to falling behind, losing star forward Neymar to a suspected hamstring problem in the 12th minute.

His replacement, Philippe Coutinho, squandered a late chance and Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro rattled the crossbar with a header as Brazil failed to improve on the 1-1 draw they registered against Senegal on Thursday.

“The result was insufficient,” Tite told reporters at the National Stadium.

“In terms of results, the Brazilian team always wants to win and seeks to win.

“But especially in the second half, we had a great performance. We had ball possession and creativity.

“It’s no use having possession of the ball without creating, but we did. It was not effective [enough] to score.”

Though the superior side after a sloppy first half, Brazil have now failed to overcome any of Colombia, Peru, Senegal and Nigeria since being crowned South American champions on home soil in July.

Tite’s men would have had less work to do had defender Marquinhos made a better effort to block Rangers midfielder Aribo’s path to goal in the 35th minute.

The Paris Saint-Germain centre-back put the onus on the entire team to break free of their funk.

“As soon as possible we need to rediscover our game pattern,” Marquinhos said.

“We have conceded goals in each of these four games. We have to improve collectively, then the individual [personalities] will appear.”

Brazil face bitter rivals Argentina in Riyadh on November 15 before rounding out their 2019 schedule with a friendly against South Korea in Abu Dhabi four days later.

Ecuador 1-6 Argentina: Acuna the inspiration as Scaloni´s men cruise

Argentina built on their promising second-half display against Germany by crushing Ecuador 6-1 in a friendly on Sunday, with Marcos Acuna playing a starring role.

Lionel Scaloni suggested the team produced their best performance of his tenure when fighting back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Die Mannschaft on Wednesday and they looked sharp again in Spain, albeit against more modest opposition.

As soon as Argentina took the lead through Lucas Alario’s header, it never looked like being anything other than a comfortable win for La Albiceleste, who went into half-time three up thanks to a Jhon Espinoza own goal and Leandro Paredes’ penalty – Acuna playing a role in each of the goals.

Angel Mena pulled one back early in the second half thanks to some woeful goalkeeping from Agustin Marchesin, but it was not the start of sensational comeback, as Argentina romped to victory with German Pezzella, Nicolas Dominguez and Lucas Ocampos getting in on the act.

But for an early Michael Estrada free-kick that flew just over, Argentina dominated the first half and were good value for the lead when Alario scored for the second game running, heading Acuna’s corner in with 20 minutes played.

Acuna played a decisive role again seven minutes later, Pedro Ortiz failing to keep his left-wing cross out after it took a deflection off Espinoza.

It was 3-0 soon after thanks to Paredes’ spot-kick – Dario Aimar penalised for fouling Lautaro Martinez following another teasing Acuna’s delivery.

Ecuador made four half-time changes and one of those introduced took just three minutes to make his mark, as Mena found the top-right corner with a 30-yard free-kick from the inside-left channel to embarrass Marchesin, who seemingly thought it was going over.

Argentina stepped things up again, however, with Pezzella re-establishing the three-goal cushion 24 minutes from time with a header from Paulo Dybala’s left-wing free-kick.

Dominguez then drilled a fine drive into the bottom-left corner and Ocampos rounded off an emphatic win from a tight angle after Ortiz had parried Matias Vargas’ curler.

 

What does it mean? La Albiceleste starting to click

There were hints of it in the second half against Germany, but Sunday’s display provided more comprehensive proof that Argentina are beginning to find their groove once again.

While Ecuador are going through a difficult moment, Scaloni’s side highlighted their technical qualities while working hard in a thoroughly professional showing.

Acuna stakes his claim

Nicolas Tagliafico’s stranglehold on the left-back spot has frustrated some fans in recent times, particularly after a difficult outing against Germany. Acuna came in on Sunday and showed why many are calling for him to get a run in the side. Even if it was only against Ecuador, he was a constant threat on the left and his deliveries were exceptionally consistent.

Marchesin loses his bearings

Several Ecuador defenders produced unimpressive displays, but Argentina’s Marchesin will go down as the flop of the match after his suspect goalkeeping for Mena’s goal – the Porto man inexplicably letting it float over his head and into the net.

What’s next?

Scaloni’s men return to action next month in another friendly, as they face Paraguay in Bangladesh. Ecuador are yet to schedule any fixtures for the November international break.

Juventus great Buffon not blaming ´extraordinary´ Conte for taking Inter job

Juventus and Inter could well wage a title battle this season but Gianluigi Buffon holds no animosity towards former boss Antonio Conte for crossing the Derby d’Italia divide.

Conte took charge of Inter in May and guided the Nerazzurri to six straight victories in a blistering start to the new Serie A season.

The winning streak came to an end in a sobering 2-1 defeat to Juve, the team the former Italy boss captained and coached with distinction for a combined period of more than 15 years.

Ahead of the meeting, Conte hit out at the “ignorant” Juve fans who campaigned for his star on the club’s Walk of Fame to be removed as a result of his switch to their bitter rivals.

“He was my team-mate and my captain at Juventus and then he was my manager for Juve and Italy,” Buffon said at the Festival dello Sport.

“I know what type of person and professional he is, that’s why I cannot blame him for any decision he takes in his career.

“He is an extremely passionate professional and he is always fair to the team and the players he works with.

“He is an extraordinary football teacher and puts all of himself into what he does. He cannot sleep at night if his team doesn’t perform as well as he wants them to.”

Juve’s victory over Conte’s side at San Siro saw the champions reclaim top spot going into the international break.

The match was billed as a test of Inter’s title credentials and while Maurizio Sarri’s men succeeded in restating their authority, veteran goalkeeper Buffon believes the manner of the win was worth more than three points.

“I don’t think the victory over Inter had a huge importance [in terms of the title race] but I believe instead it was massively significant for the way we got the result,” he said.

“In this case, we can say the way we played to win the game was more important than the victory itself.”

Juve have attempted to cultivate a more fluid, positive approach since Sarri replaced Massimiliano Allegri, resulting in six wins and a draw from their opening seven Serie A matches.

It´s all talk – Rice dismisses Man United links

Declan Rice has dismissed speculation he could leave West Ham for Manchester United as “all talk”.

Rice has broken into the England team on the back of his mature Premier League performances at London Stadium.

West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini said in March the club could be forced to cash in on the 20-year-old if the price was right.

United, struggling in the league’s bottom half, are reportedly ready to make a £70million offer for Rice when the January transfer window opens.

But the midfielder is unconcerned about rumours over his future, having committed to the Hammers by agreeing a long-term deal.

“I signed a five-year contract with West Ham last year, which will keep me at the club till I’m 24,” Rice told the Daily Mail.

“And for me this is the best place to be right now. I am playing for a manager who has given me my chance and played me week in, week out.

“It’s all talk until something happens – and nothing has – so I’m just focused on West Ham, doing my best and making the fans happy.”

Muller transfer unimaginable for Bayern Munich chief Rummenigge

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge expects Thomas Muller to stay at Bayern Munich beyond January despite his frustration with a lack of playing time.

Attacking midfielder Muller, 30, expressed dissatisfaction with his marginalised role in an interview earlier this month, telling Kicker he was “too ambitious” to settle for a place among the substitutes.

The 2014 World Cup winner started none of the club’s final five games leading into the international break.

Reports have suggested Muller will ask for a move when the window reopens but Bayern CEO Rummenigge would be surprised to receive a transfer request.

“I cannot imagine that,” Rummenigge told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag.

“The relationship between Thomas and Bayern is totally intact and he will remain an important part of our club.”

Muller has spent his entire professional career at Allianz Arena, winning eight Bundesliga titles.

He made 28 league starts under Niko Kovac last season but the arrival of Philippe Coutinho on loan from Barcelona has increased the competition for places in Muller’s favoured position behind the striker.

Rummenigge accepted the 100-cap Germany international’s decision to speak out about his concerns.

He said: “If Thomas would sit contentedly on the bench, he would be at the wrong club.

“That’s the reaction we want, but he still has to deal with the situation seriously. He does that perfectly.”