First Team 20/06/2019

Internationals: Pereyra & Lukebakio Play

Roberto Pereyra played the first half as Argentina drew 1-1 with Paraguay in the Copa América thanks to a second-half penalty from Lionel Messi.

With Argentina looking to force a win after their opening game defeat to Colombia, Pereyra was taken off at half-time to make way for Sergio Agüero, after Richard Sánchez had put Paraguay ahead in the 37th minute.

Paraguay had a penalty of their own in the second half, but missed, giving Argentina some hope of making it through to the quarter-finals if they win and other results go their way.

Belgium lost their second Under-21 European Championship game 2-1 against Spain, with Dodi Lukebakio playing the full game as a central striker.

The Hornets' forward - who spent last season on-loan at Fortuna Düsseldorf - thought he had scored in the sixth minute, but it was ruled out for offside.

Spain then went on to take the lead through Dani Olmo just one minute later, and while Sebastiaan Bornauw scored to make things level heading into the break, an 89th-minute goal by new West Ham United signing Pablo Fornals left the Belgians with no points after two matches.

The result means they will exit the competition after their final group stage match against Italy, unless they win by three or more goals and Poland beat Spain.

First Team 19/06/2019

Cathcart: “It’s An Honour”

Having endured one of his most difficult seasons to-date during an injury-hit 2017/18, Craig Cathcart bounced back in some style to excel for both club and country in a 2018/19 campaign he’s already described as the best he’s ever had.

Fitting then that a stand-out season in which he played 50 times in domestic and international competition concluded last week with not only the award of a new four-year deal at Watford, but also the presentation of Northern Ireland’s Football Writers’ International Personality of the Year prize.

Speaking after collecting the trophy following Euro 2020 qualifying wins over Estonia and Belarus, the defender said his hard work and patience during the best part of a year on the sidelines had paid off.

“It’s an honour to receive this award, especially as if you look at the [Northern Ireland] squad now – we’ve got so many good players and we’ve done so well over the last few years – so to get a bit of recognition is really nice,” said Cathcart, who succeeded Jonny Evans in receiving the award.

“Coming back from the knee injury was tough. I injured it at the end of the previous season [2016/17], came back fit and did it again in the first game back. It was disappointing, but once we knew what the problem was I got the surgery and then was in Dublin for six weeks doing rehab.

“I wanted to get back as quick as I could and I managed to get back and play the last seven games of the season. I got a good summer and pre-season under my belt which I think made a big difference. I managed to stay fit all year, played a lot of games and it’s gone really well.”

After playing his part in a perfect start to Euro 2020 qualifying, with four wins from four leaving Michael O’Neill’s men top of their group, Cathcart is now looking forward to home ties against Luxembourg and Germany in September before October trips to Holland and Czech Republic. 

“If we’ve another successful season we won’t be far away from playing in the Euros. We go into the games in September and October and they will be great nights at Windsor Park again,” said the 30-year-old.

“We know the games are going to be tougher against high-quality teams, but we have to take confidence from the results that we’ve had so far and the way we have been playing.

“We might have to adapt a few things tactically because we’re not going to see as much of the ball. We know they will be different games, but we’ve seen before that anything can happen at Windsor Park and we’re confident that we can get results at home and we’re tough to play against even away from home too.”