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Ivan Perisic’s Star Rising to New Heights at Euro 2016



PARIS — Few people cared when Ivan Perisic scored two years ago at Arena Amazonia. The match wasn’t in question. Croatia was in full control. Cameroon was a joke.

We were in Manaus, a Brazilian outpost in the Amazon, batting away palm-sized moths while wondering if a World Cup match between the two sides had been fixed.

Cameroon’s Alex Song was sent off after inexplicably punching Mario Mandzukic. The African side’s goalkeeper seemingly moved aside for Perisic to score past him.

The 25-year-old winger’s only other goal at that World Cup — late in a 3-1 loss to Mexico — was meaningless. Croatia exited that World Cup in disappointing fashion. Perisic was just another player.

Two summers later, the moths here in France are much smaller. Perisic, though, is growing bigger and bigger with every performance. He’ll be front and centre in Lens on Saturday in a Round of 16 meeting against Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal.

He was impossible to ignore in Croatia’s Euro-opening win over Turkey. His pace and presence on the pitch were noticeable compared to two years ago in Brazil. Back then, Perisic was a bit part who’d recently been cast aside by Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp.

Now he’s arguably the third-best winger at this tournament, trailing only Ronaldo and Welsh attacker Gareth Bale, both of whom are playing at a super elite, untouchable level somewhere above world class. Not the worst company.

Don’t believe the hype? Rumours of Barcelona’s interest have popped up this week. That’s how good Perisic, 27, has been at this tournament, tormenting fullbacks whenever he’s given time and space on the left flank.

Turkey’s Gokhan Gonul couldn’t stop him and the Czech Republic’s Pavel Kaderabek and Roman Hubnik were shredded. Against Spain, he showed what happens when teams are more concerned with attacking than containing.

Portugal would be wise not to play with that same attacking arrogance. Leaving Perisic with loads of space in front of Pepe won’t end well for Portugal. It hasn’t ended well for anyone at this tournament.

Perisic is like Ronaldo five years ago — the kind of player whose top speed doesn’t change despite having the ball at his feet. He’s most dangerous when he collects along the left touch line and immediately targets a defender.

A right-footed stopover is followed by a quick burst to the left before an attempt on goal or a cross. Portugal’s Joao Mario or Vieirinha — whomever starts — know it’s coming. They just won’t be aloe to stop Perisic one-on-one.

The unstoppable is what truly separates Bale and Ronaldo and, now, Perisic from everyone else. That the Croatian playmaker wasn’t even mentioned pre-tournament by UEFA as one of “100 Euro footballers watch for” tells you something about his meteoric rise.

It also says something about what he has left to prove if he keeps going. Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool are reportedly interested in Perisic, whose transfer value from Internazionale has skyrocketed to around $45 million since settling in Milan last year.

It could rise further if his performances here in France continue in a similar manner. His only criticism in recent years has been his inconsistency — something he has shown no risk of at Euro 2016.

Instead, this could be the moment where Perisic becomes a household name throughout Europe and, perhaps, the world. Outshining Ronaldo is a feat usually reserved for Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.

If he can lift Croatia to a quarterfinal berth, people will be forced to pay attention. If he does it in style, he might not be an Inter Milan player by the end of this tournament.

The world is waiting for a new top footballer to emerge. While we were told to watch out for Portugal’s Renato Sanches and France’s Kingsley Coman and England’s Dele Alli, none of them have excited in the way Perisic or Dimitri Payet have.

That’s not to say they won’t. Rather, it’s to say almost every pundit was clueless to this hidden gem, who heads into the biggest match of his career knowing another performance will bring offers from all corners of Europe.

A lot has changed since Perisic bagged his first World Cup goal. But the scoresheet that night might as well have read “anonymous.”

Now he’s front and centre ahead of a do-or-die match against Ronaldo’s Portugal.

It’s going to take something special — more than we’ve seen — to take the spotlight away from the king.


Two managers with different philosophies, both from the United Kingdom.

Ahead of Saturday’s Round of 16 derby match here in Paris, Welsh manager Chris Coleman said he’d asked his players to take the emotion out the upcoming fixture.

Moments later, Northern Ireland’s Michael O’Neill sat in the same seat, preaching the opposite.

“I want them to play with loads of emotion,” O’Neill said of his players. “I don’t believe you can play without emotion. I don’t expect my team to play without it and it will be a big part in the game.”

Coleman hopes it won’t be — likely because the Welsh have a marginally better roster with two top class players in Gareth Bale and Aron Ramsey.

“We can’t afford to look past the next game,” Coleman said at Parc des Princes. “We can take some confidence from our last performance (against Russia), but that was yesterday so to speak.”

Northern Ireland takes some solace from being familiar with the ground. The Green and White Army lost 1-0 to Germany here earlier this week in a match that saw them scratch and claw their way to a required result.

What the Irish lack in quality they make up for in spirit — which, again, is why Coleman wants to remove that as a factor.

“They’re very strong and physical,” Coleman added. “They’re very well organized and are dangerous on set pieces. It will be a tough game for us.

“Both teams find themselves in a position where they’ve earned respect and they’ve earned attention. It will be about who handles that pressure the best.”

One manager wants a controlled game. The other wants a revved up affair.

Truth be told, this might be the most winnable fixture either side could have expected pre-tournament.

“We won’t get a tougher game than we got three nights ago,” O’Neill added.


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Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020



Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.

Theo Bair (MLS)

This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.

Source: Pixabay

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)

Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

Connor McDavid (NHL)

McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.

Chuba Hubbard (College Football)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.

2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.

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Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo



Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.

Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.

Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.

“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”

Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.

“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”

Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”

Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”

After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.

“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”

None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.

“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.

Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.

“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”

That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.

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Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month



NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.

The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.

Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.

“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.

“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”

It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.

For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.

Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.

A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.

It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.

Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.

“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.

“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.

“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.

“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”

And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.

“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”

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