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LONDON — England reached the 2018 World Cup semifinals by scoring just three goals from open play. Gareth Southgate and his coaching staff offset this issue by developing a sustained and inventive threat from set pieces, chiefly through mastering the adaptation to VAR quicker than most other countries.

The rich array of attacking talent England have developed in the intervening three years demanded much more of them at Euro 2020, but Friday’s 0-0 draw at Wembley highlights just how much work there is still to do.

Scotland were well organised, disciplined and carried a tangible threat when the opportunities arose, cheered on by 2,500 members of the Tartan Army whose noise far exceeded their number. None of that will have been a surprise to Southgate, mindful of the history of the world’s oldest international fixture — this is the 115th instalment dating back 149 years (the first also ended 0-0) — and wary of the gulf in expectations possibly creating a misguided sense of entitlement.

Perhaps it spoke to the conservative streak within him. There was certainly a measure of caution in England’s passing, lacking risk or penetration, particularly in central midfield where they continue to miss a playmaker able to inject the requisite tempo to unsettle a team as defensively resilient as the Scots were here.

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Southgate is acutely aware of the idiosyncrasies of tournament football and England undeniably remain on track for their first target: qualifying for the knockout rounds from Group D.

“We didn’t do enough to win the game or create enough clear-cut chances,” he said. “I thought they defended extremely well. We couldn’t find the solutions. We had moments down the sides, which is where the spaces were against them, but we weren’t able to exploit the spaces.

“In the end, not enough to win but this is a tournament and it is critical when you can’t win, not to lose. That of course feels difficult in the last 15 minutes of a game like tonight where fans are desperate for you to go forward and abandon all shape because it is Scotland, it feels like a unique occasion. But we have to still approach it in the context that a point is an important step towards qualification and that is the first objective for us.”

Yet if they are to justify the pre-tournament hype that this young side could genuinely rival Europe’s heavyweights and launch a prolonged run into the latter stages, they need to offer more going forward than this.

Harry Kane encapsulates the problem at present. Kane won the Golden Boot in Russia three years ago, but he made the absolute maximum of the limited service he received, including a fortuitous goal against Panama when the ball flew in off his heel while he ran in the opposite direction.

Only five teams created fewer chances from open play at the last World Cup. No team had more shots on target from set pieces — an average of six per 90 minutes.

Among Southgate’s principal aims was to increase England’s potency in normal play yet here they mustered one shot on target all evening. Kane’s 19 touches are the fewest he has ever had in an England game when playing more than 45 minutes.

England’s captain looks some way off his best yet it is rare sight indeed to witness the 27-year-old taken off when his team — Tottenham Hotspur or England — need a goal, but Southgate did just that with 16 minutes remaining. It was a logical decision, as was introducing Marcus Rashford in some capacity and, of course, he is fully capable playing through the middle. But the Manchester United forward did not start any qualifying games there and is, generally speaking, more convincing off the left flank. Dominic Calvert-Lewin seemed more obviously suited to the physical battle Scotland made this but he remained an unused substitute. Southgate must get these calls right when the stakes increase as the tournament progresses.

Typically, he sought to generalise when the focus shifted to Kane’s two underwhelming individual displays so far this summer.

“We have got to look at the whole performance, our use of the ball and review where we could be better,” he said. “That is right across the board. It is not about one person. Scotland marked him extremely well. With the back five there isn’t a lot of space. Anything that is played up, they’re aggressive and defended well. We couldn’t find the answers.”

This was structurally a similar performance to the one that managed to see off Croatia, but caution in their approach was more understandable in those circumstances. England were always going to have more of the ball here yet it followed almost the exact same pattern as the previous Sunday: start well, hit the post early, then gradually lose their way as the opposition settles into a rhythm.

Early in the second half against Croatia, the England fans began calling for Jack Grealish. It was a sentiment rendered redundant minutes later as Raheem Sterling broke the deadlock, but it should not be forgotten that goal came during a spell in which England looked most vulnerable.

The goal did not come this time. Grealish’s involvement was demanded once more and this time Southgate yielded, taking off Phil Foden, who is yet to set this tournament alight in the manner many hoped.

Grealish briefly threatened to breathe life into England but the collective malaise soon engulfed him too. Southgate opted not to change the team’s 4-3-3 shape, yet the patterns of play still looked disjointed.

England worked the ball into crossing positions for the full-backs — Reece James and Luke Shaw were the two changes to the starting lineup due to “their technical ability with the ball,” according to Southgate — only for those players to often turn down the chance to cross. Players ran down cul-de-sacs or played straight passes that were easy for Scotland’s tireless back five to deal with.

“The timing of our movement, our rotation patterns could have been better,” admitted Southgate. “We didn’t hit the level we wanted to or need to. Tonight we have to accept whatever comes our way. What I would say is I totally understand anything that comes my way as the manager. What we need to do is make sure we get behind the players. There are a lot of young players who need the support of everybody.”

The clamour to include some fresh faces will grow after this. Jadon Sancho, for example, did not even make the 23, nor did Bukayo Saka. These were always likely to be decisions that would go a long way in determining England’s tournament hopes. Southgate has plenty of thinking to do.

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How Jacob deGrom decided to ditch New York and become a Texas Ranger

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How Jacob deGrom decided to ditch New York and become a Texas Ranger

Chris Young, the head of baseball operations for the Texas Rangers, called Bruce Bochy on Thursday with news that stunned the new manager. “Jacob wants to come with us,” Young said.

Bochy’s response: “Are you kidding me?”

Bochy knew the Rangers were going to be aggressive in their negotiations with Jacob deGrom, and he had been impressed by the pitcher in a Zoom meeting with deGrom and his wife, Stacey Harris, in the days before Thanksgiving. But Bochy had assumed that the process would play out for days and perhaps weeks to come as deGrom considered the possibility of leaving the New York Mets, the organization that had drafted him in 2010.

Instead, deGrom made his decision quickly, agreeing to terms on a five-year, $185 million million contract without even giving the Mets an opportunity to present a final offer, based on interviews with a dozen sources involved in deGrom’s free agency. According to sources, Mets general manager Billy Eppler learned about deGrom’s deal with the Rangers on Friday evening, just minutes before the news broke — and more than a day after deGrom had closed his deal with Texas.

For some in the Mets’ organization, that last bit of silent treatment from deGrom was confirmation of what they had suspected even during the season: that deGrom, the Cy Young Award-winning pitcher who warmed up to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” before his starts, probably preferred to pitch somewhere other than New York City.

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CFP preview: First look at Georgia-Ohio State, Michigan-TCU

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CFP preview: First look at Georgia-Ohio State, Michigan-TCU

Nick Saban tried. Alabama‘s coach found whatever megaphone was available to him Saturday night to publicly plead the Crimson Tide’s case to make the College Football Playoff.

He suggested looking at the top four through the lens of, “How are they playing at the present?” He asked, “If we played these teams in question, would we be underdogs in the game or not?”

But the committee didn’t budge. Betting lines aren’t part of their criteria, after all. They meet in Grapevine, Texas, not Las Vegas.

There would be no leapfrogging Ohio State or TCU. In the end, the math was simple: The top three of Georgia, Michigan and TCU remained the same, out went USC by virtue of a second loss in the Pac-12 championship game, and in slipped the Buckeyes, who moved up one spot to No. 4. Which means, for just the second time since the CFP began in 2014, Alabama will not be part of the semifinal round.

So we have new blood: The Horned Frogs become the first team from the Big 12 not named Oklahoma to reach the playoff.

And we have an old rivalry: The Buckeyes and Wolverines will play their respective semifinal games for a chance to meet for the national championship.

And we have a chance for some more history: Georgia is seeking to become the first repeat champion of the CFP era.

Here’s a first look at the semifinal games.

No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 4 Ohio State
CFP Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
When: Saturday, Dec. 31 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
How to watch: ESPN and ESPN App
Opening line via Caesars Sportsbook: Georgia by 7

Georgia

Key player: Georgia’s defense shouldn’t be this good again. Repeating last season’s success would have been hard enough, even if it had not lost five first-round draft picks to the NFL. But maybe the most talented player on that defense from a year ago — Jalen Carter — did come back. And after dealing with nagging injuries the first half of the season, he has showed what a game-wrecker he can be of late. In his past six games, he had 24 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles. Big and strong enough to plug the running lanes, and quick and agile enough to rush the passer, Carter must be accounted for.

X factor: Georgia’s offense is effective, of course. It has a three-headed monster at running back with Kenny McIntosh, Kendall Milton and Daijun Edwards. And quarterback Stetson Bennett is a threat whether he’s throwing from the pocket or scrambling for yards. What’s more, he has mismatches at tight end in Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington to lean on. But who’s the go-to receiver? Who’s the deep threat? Ladd McConkey is solid with 51 receptions and five touchdowns, but those aren’t exactly eye-popping numbers, and he’s undersized at 6-foot. Fellow receivers Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint and Dillon Bell have only two touchdowns apiece.

How Georgia wins: The formula isn’t terribly complicated. Kirby Smart built the Bulldogs to win the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. So start from the inside out. Carter and the defensive line suffocate the running game (2.97 yards per rush during the regular season, sixth lowest in the FBS) and get in the face of the quarterback (31% pressure rate). Meanwhile, the offensive line powers a strong running game (5.5 yards per rush, eighth best among Power 5 teams) and protects the quarterback (seven sacks, tied for second fewest in the FBS). Throw in a savvy veteran quarterback (Bennett) and an All-America tight end (Bowers), and all the ingredients to reach the national championship game are there. — Alex Scarborough

Ohio State

Key player: Quarterback C.J. Stroud had a Heisman-type season going until the Michigan game, with 3,330 passing yards, 37 touchdowns and six interceptions on the year. Stroud threw for 349 yards and two touchdowns against the Wolverines but also had two interceptions. The Buckeyes were dealing with injuries to running back TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams, while freshman Dallan Hayden had just two carries. With converted linebacker Chip Trayanum getting most of the carries, Stroud becomes that much more important if Ohio State isn’t fully healthy at running back. He has been the leader of the offense this season, and while the loss to rival Michigan was a big setback, he can make up for it in the playoffs.

X factor: Wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. is one of the best receivers in the country. He has continuously made ridiculous catches throughout the season and makes plays most receivers can’t. The Buckeyes are dealing with injuries to the ground game and have also been without receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, so Harrison is vital to the offense on this stage. If he can provide a reliable target for Stroud and get in the end zone, Ohio State should be able to hang with any of the other semifinalists.

How Ohio State wins: The defense needs to limit big plays. It has done a good job of limiting explosive plays all season but showed some weaknesses against the Wolverines, who were able to score multiple long touchdowns through the air and on the ground. The offense has proved that it can put points on the board, but now the defense has to meet the challenge of playing a top-notch offense and have its best game yet. — Tom VanHaaren


No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 TCU
CFP Semifinal at the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl
When: Saturday, Dec. 31 at 4 p.m. ET
Where: State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
How to watch: ESPN and ESPN App
Opening line via Caesars Sportsbook: Michigan by 9

Michigan

Key player: Running back Donovan Edwards had 216 rushing yards and two touchdowns in Michigan’s win against Ohio State. With Blake Corum out, Edwards’ performance will be key for the Wolverines. The run game is critical to the Michigan offense, and Edwards’ ability to establish the run and open up the passing game will be a key for the Wolverines.

X factor: Michigan has been a second-half team all season, with a plus-186 point differential after halftime. That is the second-highest margin for any FBS team through 12 games over the past 10 years. The Wolverines have been able to wear out their opponents in every game and have not shown any signs that they will slow down after outscoring Ohio State 28-3 in the final regular-season game and Purdue 29-9 in the Big Ten championship game. Coach Jim Harbaugh has praised strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert for those second-half surges, which have been a signature for Michigan all season.

How Michigan wins: If the Wolverines can establish their running game and control the clock as they have all season, plus mix in some big plays through the air from quarterback J.J. McCarthy, they should have a good shot. McCarthy has continuously called this a “smashfest” team, and the Wolverines relish beating their opponents up front. Michigan showed it can strike through the air if it has to against Ohio State, but its ideal scenario is having success on the ground first. — Tom VanHaaren

TCU

Key player: Max Duggan attempted another wild comeback Saturday against Kansas State, but the Frogs came up just short for the first time in six of those scratch-and-claw games this season. But Duggan has been unflappable, never more so than in a late comeback win on the road at Baylor, when he led two fourth-quarter scoring drives without TCU’s best running back (Kendre Miller, who has 1,342 rushing yards this season, the most at TCU since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2000), top two receivers (Quentin Johnston and Derius Davis) and no timeouts. Duggan has thrown for 3,321 yards and 30 touchdowns to just four interceptions, and his 25 career rushing touchdowns are in the top 10 in school history. Duggan calmly piloted the Frogs to victory after falling behind by 17 to Oklahoma State and 18 to Kansas State in the regular season. That’s why he’s a leading contender for the Heisman Trophy.

X factor: Quentin Johnston. The 6-4, 215-pound junior receiver is a big-play threat with first-round draft potential but has been hobbled for much of the season. When TCU has turned to him, he has been huge, including a key third-down catch with the game on the line in the fourth quarter at Texas, and a 55-yard touchdown catch down late against Kansas State. The Horned Frogs were able to rest him against Iowa State to get him ready for the postseason. When he was healthy, Johnston showed his potential with a two-game stretch against Oklahoma State and on the road against Kansas, when he combined for 22 catches for 386 yards and two touchdowns. On Saturday against Kansas State, he caught four passes for 139 yards. A return to that type of threat would be a huge boost for TCU.

How TCU wins: The Frogs have employed a mix of thunder and lightning to keep opponents on the ropes, particularly in the second half. TCU had 17 plays of at least 50 yards this season, second only to Tennessee in the FBS. Duggan ranks third nationally in completion percentage on passes of 20 or more yards downfield at a 54.7% clip with 12 touchdowns on such plays, tops in the country. And Miller rushed for more than 1,000 yards between the tackles and is tough to bring down, ranking third in the Big 12 with 650 yards after contact. If the Frogs can remain patient and pound away with Miller, they’ll be able to open up the field for their playmakers and a roster loaded with speed. — Dave Wilson

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Georgia, Michigan, TCU, Ohio St. picked for CFP

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CFP preview: First look at Georgia-Ohio State, Michigan-TCU

Georgia, Michigan, TCU and Ohio State will play for the national championship after being chosen for the College Football Playoff on Sunday.

After not playing in a conference championship game, the Buckeyes (11-1) moved up one spot following USC‘s loss in the Pac-12 title game Friday to give the Big Ten two playoff teams for the first time in the format’s nine-year history.

No. 4 Ohio State will face No. 1 Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, and No. 2 Michigan will face No. 3 TCU in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31.

The CFP National Championship presented by AT&T will be played Jan. 9 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.

Georgia opened as a 7-point favorite over Ohio State at Caesars Sportsbook, and Michigan is a 9-point favorite over TCU.

TCU (12-1) held on to its No. 3 ranking after losing in overtime in the Big 12 championship game to Kansas State. The Horned Frogs and Buckeyes are the fifth and sixth teams to make the College Football Playoff without winning a conference title.

Horned Frogs coach Sonny Dykes said he was concerned about his team’s playoff status after the loss but added that he had faith in the selection committee.

“I think we’re certainly deserving,” Dykes said.

At a watch party for TCU players and staffers at its Fort Worth, Texas, campus, cheers broke out when the Frogs landed in the bracket during the announcement show.

Alabama (10-2) had hoped to make a jump into the top four following USC’s and TCU’s losses, with coach Nick Saban lobbying for his team Saturday.

“If we played any of those teams that are on the edge of getting in, would we be the underdogs or the favorite?” Saban said on Fox at halftime of the Big Ten championship.

The Crimson Tide were ranked fifth by the selection committee.

Committee chairman Boo Corrigan, the athletic director at NC State, said Ohio State’s big wins over Penn State and Notre Dame helped push the Buckeyes in over Alabama.

“As we looked at the total body of work, the committee was comfortable with Ohio State at No. 4 and Alabama at 5,” Corrigan said in an interview on ESPN.

Georgia (13-0) and Michigan (13-0) are in the playoff for the second straight year. They won their respective conference title games handily Saturday and will look to become the fourth team to win the CFP with an undefeated record.

The only time Georgia and Ohio State have previously played was in the 1992 Citrus Bowl, a 21-14 Bulldogs victory. TCU, whose only national title came in 1938, has never played Michigan.

Corrigan said the committee did not make any special effort to avoid having a rematch of Ohio State and Michigan in a semifinal. The Buckeyes and Wolverines have never played outside of their annual regular-season game in a rivalry that dates back to 1902.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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