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MARTINEZ A DOUBT FOR BARCELONA, SAYS INTER’S INZAGHI

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Lautaro Martinez is a doubt for Inter Milan’s crucial Champions League visit of Barcelona, coach Simone Inzaghi said on Monday.

Already without big summer signing Romelu Lukaku, Inzaghi may now have to do without Argentina forward Martinez for the first of two Group C matches with La Liga’s joint leaders.

Martinez, who has scored three times this season, ended Saturday’s 2-1 home defeat by Roma in poor condition but Inzaghi said that tests on Monday morning “revealed nothing”.

“He was tired at the end of the match, today he’ll do some light training and we’ll see what kind of shape he’s in,” Inzaghi told reporters.

Another Argentinian Joaquin Correa will start up front alongside Edin Dzeko should Martinez not make the starting line-up.

Inzaghi, 46, also said Andre Onana would start in goal ahead of Samir Handanovic as in Inter’s first two group fixtures, and midfield lynchpin Marcelo Brozovic would miss the match injured.

The two sides sit three points behind group leaders Bayern Munich after both were beaten 2-0 by the German champions in the opening two rounds of the competition.

Inter have lost five of their 10 fixtures in Serie A and Europe and the pressure is on both Inzaghi and the team to not fall further behind.

However they have a daunting task ahead of them as Barca have kept a clean sheet in each of their last five league matches.

Barcelona also have one of the world’s most deadly strikers in Robert Lewandowski ready to pounce on any errors.

“Barcelona are very good, they play some of the best football in Europe. We know how important this match is,” said Inzaghi.

“They’re a complete team, they can do everything.

“They’re well organised, they recover the ball better than any team in Europe, they know what to do in and out of possession and now they’ve even got Lewandowski.”

Inter travel to the Camp Nou for the return fixture next Wednesday.

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JAPAN, SPAIN INTO W’CUP LAST 16, GERMANY CRASH OUT

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Spain's teammates react at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group E football match between Japan and Spain at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on December 1, 2022. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

Spain staggered through to the World Cup last 16 on Thursday despite a 2-1 defeat by Japan, who remarkably won Group E on a rollercoaster night which saw four-time champions Germany eliminated.

Japan secured another incredible triumph after beating Germany in their opening game, with their progression from the “group of death” one of the greatest achievements in the country’s footballing history.

For a few heart-stopping minutes Spain were poised to head out when Costa Rica were leading in the other game, but the 2010 champions squeezed through after Germany did them a favour by coming back to beat Los Ticos.

Spain and Germany ended on four points each, but La Roja progressed on goal difference.

Alvaro Morata sent Spain ahead early on with a towering header, but Japan dramatically struck back at the start of the second half.

Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka’s goals saw them mount a sensational comeback, just as they did against Germany.

Tanaka’s goal was highly controversial after the officials relied on VAR to decide Kaoru Mitoma had kept the ball in play by a hair’s breadth to set him up.

Spain struggled to create chances against a staunch Japanese defence in the final stages, with the Asian side aware that conceding another goal would see them eliminated.

Japanese players collapsed at full-time in celebration, exhausted and elated, while the substitutes raced on to celebrate.

Spain face Morocco in the last 16, while Japan play Croatia.

– Rollercoaster night –

Both sides made five changes, with Luis Enrique bringing in Morata to lead the line, and handing Alejandro Balde and Nico Williams their full debuts.

Japan started with five at the back, hoping to keep Spain at bay, but pressed high in attack to try and capitalise on any mistakes.

Spain are sometimes guilty of glaring defensive errors and Pau Torres exemplified that with a sloppy touch which led to Japan’s first chance, fired into the side-netting by Junya Ito.

Morata sent La Roja ahead in the 12th minute with a towering header from Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross, rekindling the connection which occasionally worked at Chelsea after the striker’s arrival in 2017.

Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu replaced the ineffective Takefuso Kubo and Yuto Nagatomo at the break with Mitoma and Doan, and it paid instant dividends.

Balde lost the ball under pressure and from the edge of the box winger Doan hammered past Unai Simon, who might have done more to keep it out.

Three minutes later and Japan had turned the game on its head, Tanaka bundling home from on the goalline after Mitoma had miraculously kept the ball in play as he crossed it — according to VAR.

Spain were shellshocked and struggled to react, with Luis Enrique making a raft of substitutions to try and regain control.

The coach, alone and perched on the edge of his technical area, was unaware that for a few moments his team faced elimination, when Costa Rica took the lead against Germany in the other game to go 2-1 ahead.

Spain survived, progressing thanks to their superior goal difference, on a night that was far more terrifying than they had anticipated — and Japan secured a hugely unlikely achievement.

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AL HILAL MAY REPLACE IGHALO WITH RONALDO

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Portugal Striker, Cristiano Ronaldo

Saudi Arabian champions, Al Hilal, are not keen to extend the contract of Odion Ighalo as they explore the options of landing former Manchester United forward Cristiano Ronaldo in January, PUNCH Sports Extra reports.

Al Hilal Striker, Odion Ighalo

Ighalo arrived Al Hilal from rivals Al Shabab in January for a fee in the region of €2.9m and his contract with the club ends June 30, 2023.

According to Sky Sports, Al Hilal are preparing to make the first mega offer to Ronaldo barely a week after the 37-year-old became a free agent.

Ronaldo and Manchester United parted ways after the Portuguese icon launched a scathing attack on the club, manager Erik Ten Haag and some of the club’s players in an explosive interview with journalist Piers Morgan.

Al Hilal are big admirers of Ronaldo and reports suggest the Saudi Arabian giants made a proposal for the former Real Madrid star’s signature during the summer transfer market. Manchester United, however, turned down their multi-million euros approach and that could change, though, with Ronaldo free to negotiate his transfer.

“He is one player Al Hilal is looking to sign but that depends on some departures,” the Sky Sports report stated.

Spanish newspaper outlet Marca, also revealed that Ronaldo sensationally agreed a two-and-a-half year deal with Al Nassr worth an eye-watering £172.9m per year, that will see him play until the age of 40.

Should Ighalo chooses to stay at Al Hilal despite Ronaldo’s arrival, the Nigerian will go head-to-head with the Portuguese superstar.

The Nigerian striker fired the goals that powered the team to win the Saudi Premier League title on the season’s final day last year.

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MOROCCO SEND CANADA OUT OF W’CUP, SECURE KNOCKOUT SPOT

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Hakim Ziyech Celebrates his goal against Canada

Morocco on Thursday secured a spot in the World Cup knockout stage after they beat Canada 2-1

For the first time in 36 years, Morocco march on to the last 16 as they finished top of Group F.

The celebrations at the final whistle on the pitch showed how the African side cherish the win.

In a group supposed to be filled with the best of Europe, Morocco emerged top of Group F with Ziyech and En-Nesyri locating the back of the net in a phenomenal display.

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