The Chelsea captain came in for Atletico Madrid’s Marcos Llorente at right-back as La Roja faced a crucial test in Seville, needing to record their first win of the tournament to ensure progress to the last 16.
It had been a laboured start to the Euros for Spain with back-to-back draws and some criticism over their lack of penetration in the final third.
Azpilicueta’s inclusion in the team was surely not designed to solve that particular problem but the defender forced one of the first saves of the contest early on, advancing into the box to strike a low effort that Martin Dubravka, the Newcastle goalkeeper, managed to keep out. It was to prove just the start of an eventful first half for the Magpies custodian.
However, the Chelsea centre-forward isn’t ready to wind down his international career just yet, and is still eager to make his mark for France at Euro 2020, and beyond. While admitting he is advancing in years, Giroud dismissed suggestions his age is a factor and insisted pundits write him off at their peril.
‘I’m not finished, far from it,’ said Giroud, ahead of tonight’s final group fixture against Portugal. ‘Count on me, grandpa is not dead! I’m almost 35 but have the hunger of a 20-year-old guy.’
Giroud does acknowledge the fierce competition for places in the France squad as they attempt to follow up their World Cup success by adding a third Euros title to their list of honours. The squad is mostly full of fast and tricky forwards, though, with a very different skillset to the more traditional target man Giroud.
He feels that ability to add something different, with boss Deschamps frequently stating his admiration for what Giroud brings to the team, means he still has plenty to contribute for France.
His set-piece prowess was proving a useful threat for the Blues, with Kurt Zouma the beneficiary of two perfect corners in victories against Burnley and Leeds United.
Meanwhile, there was more spontaneous craft behind an assist for Callum Hudson-Odoi away at Rennes as Mount fought for possession and then floated a delightful ball over the top for his Cobham comrade to tuck away. The midfielder’s contribution offered yet more evidence of both sides of his developing game.
Taking the armband
The winter months were more difficult as points were dropped on the road and we slipped down the Premier League table, though it was Mount’s late strike away at Fulham that provided some punch and fight to a struggling side in mid-January. It proved to be our final league victory under Lampard.
The FA Cup provided some respite early in the calendar year and the midfielder opened the scoring in our third-round victory against Morecambe just a day after his 22nd birthday, before he was named captain in round four against Luton Town. Aged 22 years and 14 days, he became our youngest skipper since John Terry, and took the armband once again before the season’s end, in the Cup quarter-final against Sheffield United.
Even without Gilmour in their ranks, it was Scotland who did much of the early running in front of their own fans, forcing several corners and a couple of saves from Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic. They didn’t make it count, though, and just after the 15-minute mark the visitors took the lead.
It came at the end of a long period of possession, with Kovacic heavily involved, before Josip Juranovic’s cross was headed down by Ivan Perisic and Nikola Vlasic swept the ball into the back of the net from near the penalty spot.
They nearly extended their lead soon afterwards when Kovacic did well to recover a loose ball on the edge of the box and lay off the ball for Luka Modric, but the Real Madrid midfielder’s shot was tipped over the crossbar by Scottish keeper David Marshall.
With their lead secured, Croatia relaxed and Kovacic, Modric and Marcelo Brozovic started to dictate the game from midfield. However, before half-time the scores were level again. Centre-backs Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida both failed to clear convincingly, allowing Callum McGregor to collect the ball on the edge of the box and fire a powerful shot into the bottom corner.
Brown made his senior Chelsea debut as a substitute against his former club West Brom in the penultimate Premier League game of the 2014/15 campaign, before heading out on loan, initially with Vitesse Arnhem in the Netherlands.
After a successful spell with Rotherham, Brown helped Huddersfield earn promotion to the Premier League, but a knee injury marred his top-flight loan at Brighton and continued to trouble him during subsequent stays at Leeds, Luton and Sheffield Wednesday.
He now joins Preston, who finished 13th in last season’s Championship table and have former Chelsea winger Scott Sinclair in their squad, on a permanent basis.
All at Chelsea wish Izzy well for the season ahead with Preston and his future career.
‘We tried to start strong, as we did against Belgium, but we knew very well that because they might take a draw, they would be difficult to open up,’ explained Christensen.
‘It was about having patience without playing slowly. It was maybe a little too slow in the first half but as soon as it opened up, we showed our quality. In the end, the right team won.’
The 25-year-old’s own stunning strike was his first goal in three-and-a-half years, a rising effort from over 30 yards out that flew through the air and crashed into the back of the net.
‘I don’t think the keeper could see anything because he didn’t really manage to react,’ he claimed. ‘I was just trying to keep the ball down and it worked so it looks really good! Of course, I’m incredibly happy with the goal and happy that I could contribute to the team’s victory.’
Explaining the celebration that followed, which involved team-mates pulling their ears to mimic the Champions League trophy, Christensen said: ‘It’s an inside joke that runs a bit with me because I won the trophy with the big ears.’
With the Euros fully underway now, we have started to get a feel for which teams are standing out amongst the rest and who are going on to get far into the tournament. However, there have been a few teams this year who have stood out amongst the rest of the competitors, but they we’re supposed to, as many had them as underdogs at the beginning of the tournament and have gone on to surprise a lot of people, but which of these teams have the best chance.
Before the tournament started, Italy was discounted as one of the top seeded teams and that they would potentially be one of the flops of the tournament. However, since everyone has now seen how the Italian are playing, they have gone from 16/1 to 6/1 to win the tournament and have quite clearly played the best football during the tournament so far. The midfield trio of the Italians is what has been so impressive so far and if they continue playing how they have been, they certainly have a chance.
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Germany is another nation in which were discounted at the beginning of the tournament, mainly because they found themselves in the ‘Group of Death’ but have since showed that they are a force to be reckoned with. Although they lost 1-0 to France on the first day, they played incredibly again one of the favourite Portugal the other day, and the system in which they play in suits their style down to the ground with many now having a punt on the Germans at 11/2.
And finally, the real outsider on this list is the Netherlands, who have won 3 out of 3 games in the tournament so far, and although they opened the tournament slightly shaky start, they have gone on to play some of the best football of the tournament yet. The spine of this team is what makes them dangerous, De Ligt, Wijnaldum, de Jong and goalscoring machine Depay are the type of players that they will be relying on if they are going to win the tournament at 10/1.
It follows a statement earlier in the day from the Scotland national team announcing Billy Gilmour has tested positive for COVID-19 and is self-isolating for 10 days.
The England statement says:
‘As a precaution at this time and in consultation with Public Health England, Ben Chilwell and Mason Mount are isolating after interaction with Scotland player Billy Gilmour at Friday’s match.
‘The pair will be kept away from the rest of the England players and wider support team, pending further discussions with Public Health England.
‘The entire squad had lateral flow tests on Monday afternoon and were all again negative, as was the case with Sunday’s UEFA pre-match PCR tests.
‘We will continue to follow all COVID-19 protocols and the UEFA testing regime, while remaining in close contact with Public Health England.’
Mount was due to appear with England manager Gareth Southgate at the pre-match media conference. Instead Southgate spoke alone and was asked if the two players are unavailable for Tuesday night’s game against Czech Republic.
‘We don’t know at the moment,’ Southgate said:
‘There’s obviously got to be quite a doubt but there’s still a lot of discussions and investigations going on behind the scenes.
‘We don’t really know at this point whether they might be okay for tomorrow or they could be out for 10 days. So there’s a lot of unknowns, frankly, at this moment in time.’
Over 462,000 fans around the globe put their powers of prediction to the test with Play Predictor over the last season, as 21-year-old Ferdinand from Berlin, Germany beat the competition with an outstanding 1,698 points, winning a VIP matchday experience at Stamford Bridge on top of a VIP merchandise bundle for him and a friend. So how did he do it?
‘I would make sure I wouldn’t submit my predictions too early, to ensure if there were any changes to the team, or last minute injury news, I was prepared and on top of it,’ he explains.
‘I would always be looking at Chelsea’s next opponents and their statistics, how many goals they had conceded and shots they’d had. So that I could make the best prediction possible.
Atletico Madrid’s Marcos Llorente has started both Spain matches at right-back, keeping Azpilicueta out of the side, but the 31-year-old’s renowned team ethic means he is only focused on the collective ahead of Wednesday’s big game against Slovakia.
‘I came with the aim of contributing as much as possible to the team,’ he continued. ‘We have a coaching staff that seeks the best for the team.
‘Like Marcos Llorente, I have also had to play in positions other than my usual one. From my position, I can only encourage him, support him and always be on the side of the coach’s decisions.
‘The dressing room is really looking forward to the game. We would have liked the situation to be better but we have it in our hands. The best thing about football is depending on yourself and this is what we have. It will be like a knockout match.’