Matthijs de Ligt

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Going to EURO: Netherlands qualify to first EURO since 2012

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It was far from a convincing performance, but with a 0-0 draw against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park on Saturday, the Netherlands clinched a major tournament berth for the first time since the 2014 World Cup and a first EURO since 2012.

Needing a sole point to qualify for next summer’s big-stage European competition, Ronald Koeman and company clinched wit luck and tight, defensive work on their side. Throughout the final 45 minutes, the Northern Ireland’s possession of the ball was a mere 29 percent, while recording a lone shot off target.

A big reason for the defensive solidity was contingent on the Netherland’s center back tandem composed of Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk and Juventus’ Matthijs de Ligt. The two defenders combined for three clearances, one blocked shot, one tackle and eight ariels won.

With the attack lacking in the finishing department despite accumulating 14 shots (three on target), the 28-year-old captain recognizes it was a tough, yet meaningful game for the team and for all of Netherlands, who failed to qualify for the 2016 EURO and 2018 World Cup.

“It was a tough game,” van Dijk said. “Unlucky for him (Davis), good for us! The lads are very happy in the dressing room. We’re back at a major tournament. It means a lot for us as players. Hopefully it means so much to the Dutch people.”

“We have to make sure we prepare very well for a big tournament,” he added. “We missed the last two. We want to perform well.”

With one game left against Estonia midweek, the Netherlands trails Group C leaders, Germany, by two points. Northern Ireland, on the other hand, qualified for the playoff round, with their opponent still to be determined.

Early Euro qualifiers: Belgium, Netherlands, Russia all win

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In the early slate of Sunday’s Euro 2020 qualifiers, there were little surprises as Belgium, Russia, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Scotland all found the winner’s column.

Liverpool midfielder Giorginio Wijnaldum bagged a first-half brace, including an absolute rocket, as the Netherlands held on for a 2-1 win over Belarus. BATE Borisov midfielder Stanislav Dragun grabbed one back for Belarus soon after halftime, but the visitors held on in Minsk.

[ WATCH: Wijnaldum scores ripper for Netherlands ]

Virgil Van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt partnered in defense yet again, as they have for 17 of the last 19 Netherlands games, conceding just 17 goals in those 17 matches. Thanks in part to that stellar partnership, Jasper Cillessen had little to do, with Dragun’s headed goal the only shot on target for Belarus in the match, while the Netherlands put seven of their 21 shots on frame.

Michy Batshuayi and Thomas Meunier both found the back of the net as Belgium topped Kazakhstan 2-0 in Astana to remain perfect in qualifying action and keep pace with Russia in Group I. Batshuayi was filling in for an injured Romelu Lukaku, and he latched onto a low back-post cross from Dennis Praet for the opener 21 minutes in. Meunier’s 53rd minute poke came off an absolutely stunning long delivery from Eden Hazard to the far post placed perfectly over the head of the defender. Belgium held 66% possession throughout the match, and while they were only able to put three shots on target, they scored on two of them and held the hosts to just one. Belgium has now scored 30 goals in Euro qualification while conceding just one.

Russia also continued to surge ahead in Group I play one game back of Belgium with a 5-0 demolition of Cyprus in Nicosia. Denis Cheryshev struck nine minutes in to put Russia ahead as he pilfered the ball off the Cyprus back line. The hosts lost Standard Liege defender Konstantinos Laifis to a straight red card, and the rest was elementary. Magomed Ozdoev, Artem Dzyuba, and Aleksandr Golovin all found the back of the net before Cheryshev finished it off with his second of the game in stoppage time. Russia and Belgium have both qualified for the finals, with Russia sitting in second three points behind the perfect group leaders.

Hungary scored 10 minutes in and hung on for a 1-0 victory at home over Azerbaijan. 30-year-old Mihaly Korhut struck a long-distance ripper from well outside the box that appeared to catch goalkeeper Emil Balayev off guard, and the Hungary defense did the rest. RB Leipzig captain Willi Orban and Sporting Kansas City defender Botond Barath held Azerbaijan to just four total shots, including two on target. Meanwhile, despite splitting the possession nearly halfway, Hungary ripped off 23 shots, putting six on target.

Scotland hammered San Marino at home 6-0 behind a first-half hat-trick from Aston Villa midfielder John McGinn. In the pouring rain in Glasgow, McGinn opened the scoring 12 minutes in for his second international goal on a simple cutback and shot from Ryan Christie which clipped McGinn on its way inside the far post. He hit for a second just before the half-hour mark as he poked home a cross by Scott McTominay that was saved into no-man’s land by a diving San Marino goalkeeper Aldo Junior Simoncini. The third featured the highest degree of difficulty as a set-piece delivery into the box was headed by Stuart Findlay towards the far post and McGinn ripped it home on the doorstep under pressure. Lawrence Shankland, Findlay, and Stuart Armstrong finished off the scoreline in the second half, although Scotland has still long been eliminated from qualification in the top-heavy Group I.

Chiellini tears ACL, de Ligt next man up

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Juventus confirmed on Friday that captain and veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini has suffered a torn ACL in his right knee and will undergo surgery, leaving his status for the rest of the season in serious doubt.

The injury took place in training earlier in the day, and the club did not give any official timeline for the 35-year-old’s recovery. ACL tears usually take 6-8 months for a full recovery to match fitness, although his advanced age could contribute to a potentially longer recovery time.

Chiellini’s injury is a stunning one, given that the stalwort defender has not missed significant time in his entire 12-year Juventus career. He joined in 2005 from Fiorentina, appearing in 17 games his first season in Turin has he broke into the squad, and he has not looked back, registering at least 21 league appearances in every single season since, although he has tapered off a bit, failing to reach 30 league appearances in any of the last five campaigns.

The 35-year-old started and played the full 90 minutes in Juve’s Serie A season opener last weekend against Parma, starting at center-back alongside fellow veteran Leonardo Bonucci. 20-year-old Matthijs de Ligt, whom Juventus signed this summer for a whopping $97 million, was on the bench and is likely the next man up to take Chiellini’s place, meaning he will play a significant role in his first season with the Italian giants.

While serious injuries such as ACL tears do strike any and all demographic of athlete, Juventus was smart to bring in de Ligt as long-term cover for Chiellini as they rely on both he and the 32-year-old Bonucci in the starting lineup, with older players more at risk for injury. Behind de Ligt, the cover at center-back is extremely thin at Juventus. 21-year-old Merih Demiral made the matchday squad and rode the bench alongside de Ligt for Juve’s season opener, while 25-year-old Daniele Rugani is rumored to be headed out of the club after making just 15 appearances last season, although that could now change after Chiellini’s serious injury.

There could be some growing pains for de Ligt as he is thrust into the spotlight, but the Dutch kid is as experienced as they come for someone so young, having captained Ajax to the Champions League semifinals last season and seeing time with the senior international squad as well, already the owner of 15 international caps.

Shortlist for FIFA’s Best Player of the Year announced

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The 10-man shortlist for FIFA’s Best Player of the Year award has been announced, with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Neymar and Luis Suarez missing out.

[ MORE: Coach of Year shortlist ]

Four current Premier League stars feature in the top 10, with Eden Hazard who moved from Chelsea to Real Madrid over the summer also named among the nominees.

Tottenham’s Harry Kane is joined by Liverpool trio Virgil Van Dijk, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane with VVD the favorite to be crowned the top player on the planet as his dominant displays led Liverpool to UEFA Champions League glory and within one point of Manchester City in the Premier League. Van Dijk also captained the Netherlands to reach the UEFA Nations League final and led their resrurgence from central defense.

Dutch duo Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt, who have both left Ajax this summer for Barcelona and Juventus respectively, are included after their breakout years for club and country, while superstars Kylian Mbappe, Cristiano Ronaldo (who has won the award twice in the past three seasons) and Lionel Messi make up the top 10 based on performances for club and country from 16 July 2018 to 19 July 2019.

Who is the favorite to win this award?

Van Dijk is up there, while Mbappe, Messi and Ronaldo will be among the leading contenders once again. The winner from last year, Luka Modric, isn’t included in the nominees this year and the absence of any players from Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid (not counting Hazard) proves just how difficult it is to narrow this list down to 10 players.

Below is the list in full, as the winner will be announced on Sept. 23 at FIFA’s ceremony in Milan.

Eden Hazard – Chelsea (now Real Madrid) and Belgium
Harry Kane – Tottenham and England
Frenkie de Jong – Ajax (now Barcelona) and Holland
Matthijs de Ligt – Ajax (now Juventus) and Holland
Sadio Mane – Liverpool and Senegal
Kylian Mbappe – PSG and France
Lionel Messi – Barcelona and Argentina
Cristiano Ronaldo – Juventus and Portugal
Mohamed Salah – Liverpool and Egypt
Virgil van Dijk – Liverpool and Holland

Kane scores from midfield to beat Juve

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Harry Kane lobbed Wojciech Szczesny from nearly 50 yards to send Tottenham Hotspur past Juventus early Sunday morning.

Maybe he wanted to embarrass a former North London Derby rival, or perhaps he just wanted to avoid penalties.

The goal was made more remarkable by Kane’s blast radius including two men marking him near the Juve part of the center circle.

[ MORE: Where will Bale go? ]

It was an entertaining International Champions Cup match on Sunday morning, with goalkeepers Hugo Lloris and Gianluigi Buffon plenty busy.

Tanguy Ndombele came off the bench to assist and impress for Spurs and Matthijs de Ligt making his Juve debut as a sub.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain scored for Juve, and the latter probably should’ve won it with a dragged shot in the 83rd minute.

Spurs goals came courtesy of Erik Lamela, who tapped in a rebound of a bullet shot from 17-year-old Ryan Parrott, and Moura.

The Brazilian was fed into the box by a sweet Ndombele pass moments after the new Spurs midfielder subbed into the match.

Here is Ronaldo’s goal.