Month: May 2019

France seek perfect blend to topple Ukraine

Les Bleus slumped to a 2-0 defeat in Kiev and face the prospect of missing out on a major tournament for the first time since they failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup.

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“We don’t have time to dwell on the frustration, we need to move on,” Deschamps told a news conference at the Stade de France on Monday.

“The risk is there but we must play an outstanding game. We must surpass ourselves but keep control of the match.”

Captain Hugo Lloris said the team were feeling “serene” despite the two-goal deficit.

“There is not much to change in preparation,” he said. “We’ve go our backs against the wall with a two-goal deficit. We’re well aware of that.”

To overturn the situation, France must produce something out of the ordinary.

“Without madness there will be no success,” said Lloris.

“But we’re going to have to show that we’re able to play cleverly, not just go all out.

“We want revenge after the slap on the face we got in Ukraine. We’ll have to leave the pitch with our heads held high knowing we gave everything. If that’s the case it will mean that we’re qualified,” Lloris added.

One of the keys could be Franck Ribery who was very closely marked in Kiev and Deschamps urged his team to play close to the Bayern Munich winger.

“If he is closely marked, it means that there is freedom for two or three other players. So they have to be close to him,” Deschamps said.

Ukraine are also expecting a frenetic game.

“I don’t think it will be a calm match, it will be difficult for both sides,” Ukraine coach Mikhail Fomenko told a news conference.

“How we play depends on our opponent. If they’re aggressive then we will be,” he added.

France will have the advantage of playing at home, although the Stade de France crowd has never been among the most enthusiastic in the country.

“We must put ourselves in the position of expecting something from them. It is our determination that will prompt them to be behind us,” said Deschamps, who has not decided who will take the penalties if the tie is decided by a shootout.

Ukraine, who will be without the suspended Oleksandr Kucher and Artem Fedetskiy, will also have to make do without second-choice goalkeeper Maxym Koval who has a fever.

France will be without centre back Laurent Koscielny after the Arsenal player picked up a red card in Kiev and Deschamps gave no indication as to who will play in central defence.

He is expected to pick two players from Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho, Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane, who has had a knee injury, and Monaco’s Eric Abidal, who struggled during the first leg.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

Mexico face NZ with one foot in World Cup finals

‘El Tri’, who only qualified for the playoff when the United States scored two late goals to beat Panama, ran rampant against a defensive All Whites’ side at the Azteca last week to record a 5-1 victory in the first leg.

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While New Zealand must score at least four goals to give themselves any hope of advancing to their second successive finals, the visitors are not prepared to accept they have booked their place in Brazil just yet.

“We’re here to win the match, to convince that we’ve done things right,” coach Miguel Herrera told reporters in Wellington. “We can’t make the mistake of overconfidence or triumphalism, at this moment our principal enemy could be Mexico (itself).

“We’ll go out with the same attitude, as determined or more so than in the first leg.”

Mexico exploited New Zealand’s defensive tactics in the first leg when the All Whites had nine players behind the ball at times, which allowed the hosts the space to dictate play.

They also exploited a makeshift All Whites defence with three goals coming from set-pieces.

New Zealand felt the result flattered Mexico.

“I don’t think the Mexican team were worthy of five goals,” All Whites midfielder Chris James told reporters.

“I think we handed it to them, they’re a good team and everyone can see that but I think … we gave them the chance to score five goals and they took them.”

TOUGH TALKING

The All Whites have adopted a siege mentality in the build-up to the clash, trying to convince themselves and the New Zealand public they can overturn the deficit.

Much of the feeling at home, however, is that qualification is beyond New Zealand.

Instead, the focus has shifted to the future of coach Ricki Herbert, who delivered a bizarre outburst after the game in Mexico, and whether he will give younger players an opportunity to prove themselves.

The 52-year-old’s contract is to expire at the end of the current campaign, and short of a miraculous turnaround at Wellington Regional Stadium, Herbert is expected to be out of work by the end of the week.

New Zealand Football Chairman Frank van Hattum told local media they expected to call for applications for the job and Herbert was welcome to express his interest.

Herbert will be forced to shake up his defence on Wednesday with Ivan Vicelich and Leo Bertos both suspended after picking up yellow cards in Mexico City.

The biggest question will be whether he embraces calls to introduce younger players to help build a team for the future, with pundits suggesting defenders Bill Tuiloma and Storm Roux should be given an opportunity.

A more attacking mindset has also been forced upon him with calls for James to start alongside Michael McGlinchey in the midfield while VfB Stuttgart’s Marco Rojas and Shane Smeltz should also come in after striker Chris Wood was suspended.

“We need to score four goals, so we have to be attacking,” James said. “We felt that we let the country down a bit with the performance last week.

“We are going to take it to them, the same way they did to us in Mexico.”

(Additional reporting by Rex Gowar in Buenos Aires; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

No more gifts for the Greeks, says Romania coach

The Greeks won the first leg 3-1 and Piturca said his players committed too many defensive blunders, describing their Balkan opponents’ third goal as “something that happens in a school playground”.

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“At this level, it’s very difficult to recover if you make such gifts,” Piturca told a news conference on Monday.

“We were not at the desired level both physically and mentally and we have to do much better.

“We’re well-prepared and we have nothing to lose, given the circumstances, and I hope we can succeed.”

Piturca said first-choice keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu, who missed the first leg due to back injury, was fit to play but he has yet to decide if he will start the game at the National Arena.

The 57-year-old, however, will have captain Vlad Chiriches, who missed the match in Athens after suffering a broken nose, back in his starting lineup.

“I feel OK, I trained very well and I’m not afraid,” said Chiriches who will play wearing a face mask.

“It was disappointing to lose the match in Piraeus (Athens) but now we have to overcome the emotions as I know we can qualify.

“It’ll be very difficult if we concede a goal, so we must be careful. They were very strong at set pieces and I hope we’ll fix our problems.”

Greece coach Fernando Santos again sounded a note of caution ahead of the game in Bucharest.

“It will be a different match,” the 59-year-old Portuguese said. “We have an advantage but we know the Romanians have the ability to recover two goals.

“We must protect our advantage but that doesn’t mean we will defend during the whole game. We want to play a better match than in Piraeus and to qualify.

“Romania will play offensively but I don’t want to allow them to control the match. We want to control it and if we score a goal, this will be a huge relief for us.”

The Romanian players practised penalties during training on Monday but Santos said he does not expect the playoff to be decided by a shootout.

(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov, editing by Ed Osmond)

Parker making most of his RLWC chance

A single moment in Australia’s demolition of the United States summed up the confidence and comfort with which Corey Parker has embraced his World Cup opportunity.

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Only a player at the peak of his powers and at home in his surroundings would have even dared attempt such a bold, no-look, backhanded flick pass – let alone pull it off.

The veteran backrower’s miracle ball, which set up Jarryd Hayne’s fourth and final try, was one of the highlights in Saturday’s 62-0 quarter-final win at Wrexham.

It was also indicative of how 31-year-old Parker is making the most of his first World Cup and his chance to build on his previous sole appearance for the Kangaroos in 2011.

“There’s a lot of things you do at training that you just don’t think in a game are going to happen and looking back on it, it (the pass) just unfolded that way,” Parker told AAP.

“The group that we’ve got here is a very tight-knit group.

“We have a lot of fun, but on the field we put in for each other and I felt comfortable enough to do it and I felt comfortable that Hayney was going to be there.

“I guess at 56-0 up, you can probably afford to throw one of those, but it’s certainly something I’ll keep on my highlight reel.”

Parker’s only previous appearance for Australia came against Wales as part of the 2011 Four Nations but his remarkable consistency at NRL and State of Origin level earned him a deserved call-up to Sheens’ World Cup squad.

After being handed a spot on the bench in the tournament opener against England, Parker’s continued strong performances look to have secured his place in Sheens’ first-choice team and he will likely line up again in Saturday’s semi-final against Fiji at Wembley.

“When you get an opportunity to play for Australia, regardless of where it is, you try and put your best foot forward and that’s been my approach from day one,” Parker said.

“It’s been great and now there’s a semi-final at Wembley – it’s an amazing stadium and I’d love to be there.”

An injury to Billy Slater has left Sheens with several selection headaches ahead of Saturday’s match, with Michael Jennings, Josh Morris and Brent Tate all in the frame for a recall.

Slater was with his teammates in London on Monday and continuing treatment after a suffering a recurrence of a left knee injury, but he’s next to no chance of facing Fiji.

But the Melbourne Storm star and Sheens still hold hope he could return for the final, depending on how he recovers in the next few days.

All Blacks lineout woes long forgotten

Once decried as a gaping weakness, the All Blacks reckon their lineout has transformed into a genuine weapon this year.

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A change of approach has seen New Zealand get the better of their opponents’ lineout in most of their 13 Test victories this year.

The set piece was at its best in Saturday’s 30-22 win over England at Twickenham.

While the All Blacks cleanly won all 10 of their throw-ins, delivering slick two-handed ball to halfback Aaron Smith, England stuttered when the late heat was applied.

They lost three throw-ins under pressure which All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says was critical over the final quarter after trailing 22-20.

The improvement is particularly satisfying for Hansen, who oversaw the New Zealand lineout for several years as assistant coach to Graham Henry.

He was harshly criticised when it faltered – most notably against a Springboks pack led by spring-heeled lock Victor Matfield in 2009.

Hansen praised the work this season of two players who didn’t even start at Twickenham – backup locks Luke Romano and Jeremy Thrush.

Their job has been to analyse opposition lineouts, which has helped the All Blacks win an average of three opposition throws each Test this year.

“There is a change in philosophy that we really want to compete,” Hansen said.

“We probably know the opposition lineouts as well as our own so when we get out there, it becomes easy.

“What we’ve got good at is being able to read and adjust and still get in the air.”

Hansen says the loose forwards are more viable options this year, along with the locks.

No.8 Keiran Read has been their chief lineout winner, with 41. Lock Sam Whitelock isn’t far behind with 38, including a team-high five off opposition throws.

They were part of the Crusaders pack who boasted the best lineout in Super Rugby this year.