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Portugal comes out on top at European Championship



We all laughed at Eder before this tournament. Now he’ll long be remembered for scoring the only goal at this European Championship final.

The Portuguese striker, fourth on Fernando Santos’ depth chart, previously joked he’d claim the Golden Boot at this competition. He laughed at the media’s perplexed expressions.

He wasn’t expected to feature prominently for the newly crowned Euro champs — not with Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani and Ricardo Quaresma claiming every attacking role imaginable.

But Sunday night’s final was a result of the unimaginable. When Ronaldo was replaced due to a knee injury midway through the first half at Stade de France, the hosts were in full control.

“When you lose the best player in the world, you try and figure out how to turn things around,” Santos said. “I had set up a strategy around him because he’s the best scorer in the world.”

Plans changed when French midfielder Dimitri Payet plowed into Ronaldo’s left knee, bending it awkwardly. It gave the hosts an added boost to see the opponent’s biggest threat stretchered out of the game.

So they poured bodies forward and dominated the possession battle in a match they looked destined to win on home soil — especially after surviving a massive semifinal meeting with Germany last week in Marseille.

But when Golden Boot winner Antoine Griezmann and Andre-Pierre Gignac both squandered late sitters, you could feel the momentum turning in the Portugal’s favour. The French tightened up. Their touches became heavy. If only they had a Ronaldo, a difference-maker, to capitalize.

Santos tossed on Quaresma first, leaving Eder as the only other option late in the proceedings. He gave the humorist his opportunity as regular time finished goalless, leading to extra time that, again, seemed unimaginable given the French were heavily favoured.

When Eder turned with possession from beyond the half-circle in the second half of extra time, the French defence didn’t sense danger. Samuel Umtiti backed off, giving the Portuguese bench-warmer enough time to hit a skipping shot that Hugo Lloris couldn’t keep out.

The explosion from the Portuguese bench was that of complete pandemonium as the entire federation sprinted on to the field. Donning a knee brace, Ronaldo hobbled as fast as could. Then he acted as an assistant coach the rest of the way.

The same player who’s often targeted for his anti-team mentality was among the most active people on Portugal’s bench as time ticked away, imploring his exhausted teammates to waste time and defend. He appeared to advise Pepe to fake a cramp.

Still, Les Bleus had plenty of time to conjure up an equalizer. But as the minutes wore on, the French became entirely too frantic. They weren’t combining and creating around the box, opting for hopeful crosses that were cut out by Portugal’s defence.

French manager Didier Deschamps will shoulder much of the blame. Bringing off Payet with a half-hour remaining failed miserably. The French needed experience and someone crafty by the end, not a speedy, inexperienced winger in Kingsley Coman.

Regardless, the French created the chances they needed in regulation. But Gignac didn’t have the class to pick up his head and finish past Rui Patricio. On another night, Griezmann might have finished that point-blank header. He’d likely trade his Golden Boot for that moment.

As for Eder, he wouldn’t trade his game-winning goal for anything. Until Sunday night, he wasn’t even the most known Eder here in France, given the Italian Eder’s positive showing at this European Championship.

Now he’s the man who lifted Portugal to its first major championship, the man who scored the goal that, at full-time, saw Ronaldo limp on to the field in tears. This was the last thing missing from his illustrious career. It didn’t matter that he didn’t feature prominently.

For the first time at this tournament, Ronaldo relied entirely on everyone around him. He had to. After either scoring or helping create 75% of the goals that got Portugal here, Ronaldo could only watch as his teammates soldiered on without him.

“We scored and France didn’t,” added Santos. “France had more possession but we knew that would happen because they’re at home.

“We did well defensively and cancelled out their strengths. That’s the secret of winning … They tried everything but we were very strong. We played on the counter-attack and that was the big difference.”

Maybe the biggest contribution came from Ronaldo’s Real Madrid teammate. An injury doubt all last week, Pepe was a menace to whichever French attacker approached his space. He was dominant in almost every aspect, limiting the hosts to but a few clear-cut chances at home.

That said, this was a tournament fueled by overmatched underdogs limiting chances to better teams everyone presumed would win with ease. It’s a testament to what sides with less quality can accomplish with a sturdy defence if they take the few chances they create.

“We had to be a great team,” Santos added “We had to fight more than our opponents. We have to be more organized and be more concentrated. If we could do that, maybe we’d be champions. We knew Portugal would be hard to beat.”


“Small margins” was the theme throughout French manager Didier Deschamps’ press conference after Les Bleus blew Sunday night’s Euro final.

This after striking the post in stoppage-time before a 1-0 extra time loss as Portugal a European title despite having won just one of its seven games in regulation at this tournament.

“It’s cruel to lose the final like that,” Deschamps said. “But you have to accept it. I congratulate them. They’re the new champions. Clearly we had our chances. We had the last opportunity.

“We weren’t clinical enough. We weren’t cool-headed enough. Perhaps we lost freshness. It came down to really fine margins and, unfortunately, we lacked what’s essential. We’ll have to accept it and all of us will have to digest this.”

It’s going to fester in their stomachs for some time, though. They lost to a Portugal side that, although deserving of an appearance here Sunday night, wasn’t regarded as one of the top teams in this event.

Portugal limped through all three of its Group F games, finishing third behind Hungary and Iceland. They escaped knockout phase games against Croatia and Poland before dispatching Wales in last week’s semis.

The French, meanwhile, looked destined to win Sunday night’s championship after stunning the Germans last week in Marseille. That match was viewed, by many, as the final before the final. Most thought the eventual champion would emerge from that side of the bracket.

“There’s no way of playing down my players’ disappointment,” Deschamps added. “We must not forget the run we went on and the enthusiasm for millions of French people. It’s very hard for the fans. We wanted to win this trophy for them. It’s hard to look at the positives now.”

It was the best we’ve seen Portugal defend all tournament. They remained compact from back to front, offering the French space on the flanks while attempting to limit the room Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud had centrally.

William Carvalho, Pepe and Jose Fonte formed a stingy defensive triangle that forced everything to the wings — away from where most of the France’s attacking success has developed in recent weeks.

“As the game wore on we pushed and kept pushing. Perhaps we left too much space. We didn’t play a bad game by any means. We went for it..”

On the game’s only goal, Eder was given too much respect considering he was Portugal’s furthest man forward. He should have been closed down by French centreback Samuel Umtiti.

“When you get to extra time you don’t want to wait for the penalties because it’s a lottery,” he said. “We gave them a bit more space and they were able to punish us.”

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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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