Zlatan Ibrahimovic insists he is deserving of his place in the Sweden squad, even if he is no longer the same player he was when last representing his national side in 2016.

The Milan striker was recalled by Janne Andersson for this month's World Cup qualifiers against Kosovo and Georgia, plus the friendly with Estonia, paving the way for him to potentially play at Euro 2020.

He celebrated his first call-up in nearly five years by posting a picture on Twitter of himself in a Sweden shirt with the caption: "The return of the God."

Ibrahimovic, who turns 40 in October, is Sweden's all-time leading scorer with 62 international goals, the last of those coming against Denmark in November 2015. 

And having also impressed in Serie A this term with 14 goals in as many matches, the ex-Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain striker believes he can still make an impact.

"I don't want to be considered and called up for what I did before, but for what I can give now," he told the Swedish Football Association's official YouTube channel.

"I can't be the player I was five, 10, 15 or 20 yeas ago. Now, I have a completely different physique and a completely different game.

"But I keep a very high level. You don't have to worry. I'm not on the squad list because my name is Zlatan and I'm Ibrahimovic.

"It's because of what I add to the squad and what I have achieved. I think I deserve it."

Andersson previously ruled out a recall for Ibrahimovic, but his stance changed following a "great conversation" with the 116-cap ace in November.

Asked about those discussions with Andersson, Ibrahimovic said: "It was very positive. We examined everything and drew a line on everything that is the past. 

"We spoke with respect among ourselves. We were able to talk to each other.

"I recognise that mentality in myself. When you're a footballer at a certain level and you've the chance to represent your country it's the greatest joy there is to be able to do so. 

"It is with pride and honour that I will wear the national team jersey."

Ibrahimovic returned to Italian football in December 2019 after a two-season spell in MLS with LA Galaxy and has scored 27 goals in 41 games in all competitions.

Twenty-four of those goals have come in 32 Serie A appearances since returning to San Siro, a tally bettered only by Romelu Lukaku (30 goals in 45 games), Ciro Immobile (31 goals in 44 games) and Cristiano Ronaldo (44 goals in 42 games).

Sweden's players are due to gather on Monday ahead of their home qualifier against Georgia on March 25.

Luke Shaw and Jesse Lingard have been recalled to the England squad for this month's World Cup qualifiers.

There are also first call-ups for Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins and West Brom goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, who are the only uncapped players in the group.

Reece James, Phil Foden and Jude Bellingham have all been added after being left out of the Under-21 squad for the European Championship, along with Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka.

Bellingham was chosen despite concerns from Borussia Dortmund that he would be forced to quarantine upon his return to Germany.

Wolves defender Conor Coady keeps his place, as does Chelsea left-back Ben Chilwell, despite having recently struggled for game time under Thomas Tuchel.

Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse is selected but there is no place for Leeds United's Patrick Bamford, who had been tipped to earn a spot. Team-mate Kalvin Phillips, who made his debut last September, will be involved.

Gareth Southgate's side face San Marino on March 25 before a game with Albania three days later. They then take on Poland on March 31.

 

England squad:

Dean Henderson (Manchester United), Sam Johnstone (West Brom), Nick Pope (Burnley); Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Conor Coady (Wolves), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Reece James (Chelsea), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Atletico Madrid), Kyle Walker (Manchester City); Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jesse Lingard (West Ham), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Kalvin Phillips (Leeds United), Declan Rice (West Ham), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton); Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa).

Portugal coach Fernando Santos has defended his decision to call up Rui Patricio for this month's World Cup qualifiers.

The Wolves goalkeeper suffered a sickening blow to the head after colliding with team-mate Conor Coady during Monday's 1-0 Premier League loss to Liverpool.

He was taken off on a stretcher after a lengthy delay to the match, but Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo confirmed after the match that Patricio had avoided serious injury.

The 33-year-old was named as part of the Portugal squad on Tuesday ahead of the upcoming games against Azerbaijan, Serbia and Luxembourg.

Santos told reporters: "He's been called up because, from the moment it happened, we tried to find out everything that was going on.

"We talked to him and the medical department. He's stable. He has a protocol to follow but they said there was no hindrance."

Alongside established stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Joao Felix, Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes and Ruben Dias, Santos granted recalls to striker Andre Silva and Arsenal full-back Cedric Soares.

There were also debut call-ups to Sporting CP full-back Nuno Mendes and his midfield team-mate Joao Palhinha.

Santos said he had given Palhinha "a positive assessment, otherwise he wouldn't be here", adding: "There were other options.

"He's had very positive form. It's important for him to come at this moment because there isn't a very long international break and it's important for me to evaluate him more closely."

Portugal squad:

Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Rui Patricio (Wolves), Rui Silva (Granada); Joao Cancelo (Manchester City), Cedric Soares (Arsenal), Domingos Duarte (Granada), Pepe (Porto), Jose Fonte (Lille), Ruben Dias (Manchester City), Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund), Nuno Mendes (Sporting CP); Danilo Pereira (Paris Saint-Germain), Joao Palhinha (Sporting CP), Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho (both Wolves), Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United), Renato Sanches (Lille), Sergio Oliveira (Porto); Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Pedro Neto (Wolves), Diogo Jota (Liverpool), Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus), Rafa Silva (Benfica), Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid), Andre Silva (Eintracht Frankfurt).

Jordan Pickford has been ruled out of England's World Cup qualifiers this month due to an abdominal injury.

Pickford was forced off shortly before half-time during Everton's 2-1 Premier League defeat to Burnley last weekend.

Everton confirmed the 27-year-old had undergone a scan that revealed damage to his oblique abdominal muscle.

Pickford will also miss Everton's FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester City at Goodison Park ion Saturday.

England face San Marino, Albania and Poland as their campaign to reach Qatar 2022 gets underway.

Manager Gareth Southgate has kept faith with Pickford as his first-choice goalkeeper, the former Sunderland man having impressed during the Three Lions' run to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals in Russia.

Burnley's Nick Pope and Manchester United's Dean Henderson are the most likely replacements for Pickford.

In all competitions this season, Pope has made 105 saves compared to Pickford's 73 and boasts a better save percentage of 75.9 to 69.5

Pickford has made four errors leading to goals this season, compared to two from Pope, while only Aaron Ramsdale (11) has conceded more than his 10 goals from outside the box among all Premier League goalkeepers.

Pope and Henderson have each been beaten twice from beyond their 18-yard box.

Henderson has enjoyed a recent run in the United first team but is usually back-up to David de Gea and has made a total of 17 appearances this season.

However, the former Sheffield United loanee's save percentage of 81.13 is the highest of any goalkeeper from the English top flight to have played 10 or more games this season.

Sam Johnstone, like Henderson a product of the Manchester United youth set-up, could now push for a place in Southgate's squad.

Johnstone has made more saves than any Premier League keeper (115) but also conceded the most goals (55) for relegation-threatened West Brom.

Joachim Low has dropped a heavy hint that Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz will earn their maiden Germany call-ups for this month's World Cup qualifiers.

Musiala has enjoyed a breakthrough campaign at Bayern Munich and last month the 18-year-old attacking midfielder pledged his allegiance to Germany, having also represented England at youth level.

Having become the youngest goalscorer in Bundesliga history when he netted for Bayer Leverkusen in June last year, Wirtz has scored seven times in 30 appearances across all competitions this season.

His participation in Germany's games against Iceland, Romania and North Macedonia will depend upon him recovering from a positive coronavirus test at the start of this month, but Low is keen to involve both highly rated youngsters.

"I think it is safe to say already that both players are in our plans," he told ntv.

"[It will be] good that I can see them for a few days with us, [to see how] they appear in our group."

Low will step down after Euro 2020 after 15 years at the helm.

The 2014 World Cup winner believes the overhaul of Germany's football system – ultimately leading an environment for the likes of Wirtz and Musiala to develop and thrive in – is the achievement he will look back upon most fondly.

"The greatest achievement was the development over the entire period," he said.

"Our football had technical and tactical problems. We've gotten a lot better when it comes to football culture and play, and that makes me very happy."

Wirtz and Musiala's addition could bolster a Germany squad without Premier League stars such as Ilkay Gundogan, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz.

Quarantine requirements for travellers from the United Kingdom to Germany could hinder the capacity for players from England's top-flight to play a full part in the international break.

Regulations in Romania, where Germany have an away game, are more lenient, but Low said naming a different squad for different games "is not the solution we want".

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been called up by Sweden for the World Cup qualifiers against Kosovo and Georgia, paving the way for him to play at Euro 2020 this year.

Pedri and Bryan Gil are among four players to have been called up to the Spain squad for the first time for March's World Cup qualifiers.

Barcelona midfielder Pedri and winger Gil, on loan at Eibar from Sevilla, have been rewarded for their performances in breakthrough seasons in LaLiga.

Head coach Luis Enrique has also called up Brighton and Hove Albion goalkeeper Robert Sanchez and Sporting CP defender Pedro Porro for the first time.

There is a return for Barca left-back Jordi Alba, who last played for La Roja in September 2019 in a Euro 2020 qualifying win over Romania.

Leeds United's Diego Llorente and Liverpool midfielder Thiago Alcantara are also back in the 24-man squad.

Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga has been left out, along with Tottenham left-back Sergio Reguilon and Wolves winger Adama Traore.

Villarreal defender Pau Torres, Jesus Navas of Sevilla and Real Sociedad's Mikel Merino are omitted along with Barca duo Sergi Roberto and Ansu Fati, who are recovering from injury.

Spain face Greece in Granada on March 25 before taking on Georgia in Tbilisi three days later. They then host Kosovo in Seville on March 31.

Spain squad:

David de Gea (Manchester United), Unai Simon (Athletic Bilbao), Robert Sanchez (Brighton and Hove Albion); Pedro Porro (Sporting CP), Eric Garcia (Manchester City), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Diego Llorente (Leeds United), Inigo Martinez (Athletic Bilbao), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Jose Gaya (Valencia); Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Rodrigo (Manchester City), Thiago Alcantara (Liverpool), Pedri (Barcelona), Marcos Llorente (Atletico Madrid), Sergio Canales (Real Betis), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Fabian Ruiz (Napoli); Gerard Moreno (Villarreal), Ferran Torres (Manchester City), Mikel Oyarzabal (Real Sociedad), Alvaro Morata (Juventus), Bryan Gil (Eibar), Dani Olmo (RB Leipzig).

Ryan Giggs' absence from the Wales dugout will continue at the start of their 2022 World Cup qualification campaign following his November arrest for an alleged assault.

Giggs, who denies any wrongdoing, stepped aside temporarily for Wales' previous fixtures in late 2020 but the legal matter is yet to be resolved, with his bail extended in February to May 1.

The Football Association of Wales (FAW) confirmed on Wednesday that it and Giggs "mutually agreed" he should stay away for their three matches later this month.

As he did for the November internationals, Giggs' assistant Robert Page will take charge of fixtures with Belgium, Mexico and Czech Republic.

Therefore, Giggs will miss the start of Wales' qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup, with the Belgium and Czech Republic games falling into that category.

An FAW statement read: "The Football Association of Wales (FAW) and Ryan Giggs have mutually agreed that he will not be involved in the upcoming international camp.

"Robert Page will take charge for the next three matches against Belgium, Mexico and the Czech Republic and will be supported by Albert Stuivenberg as was the case during the last international window in November.

"The squad for these upcoming matches will be announced on Monday March 15."

Giggs, who was appointed as Chris Coleman's successor in January 2018, was arrested on November 1, 2020 after police were called following reports of a disturbance. A woman in her thirties had sustained "minor injuries", a Greater Manchester Police spokesperson said at the time.

The former Manchester United player denied the allegations and was released on bail, which has since been extended twice.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp admitted the faltering Premier League holders will struggle to "excite" potential signings without Champions League football.

Klopp helped end Liverpool's 30-year wait for an English league title last season, but the defending champions are struggling to replicate that form this season.

Liverpool are not only 22 points behind runaway leaders Manchester City, but they are also sixth and two points adrift of the top four in the race for a Champions League berth.

The Reds have been linked with the likes of Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, but Klopp issued a transfer warning ahead of Thursday's blockbuster clash against fifth-placed Chelsea.

"The main reason for qualifying for the Champions League is always financial," Klopp said. "It is a great competition to play in but for the club it's about [finances].

"Sure, you want to excite some players. In the beginning we were sitting with some players who had offers from clubs who played in the Champions League and it was like 'ok, sorry, we can only offer nothing or Europa League!'

"But apart from that it's always about finances. This year there is no difference, I would say. I hope people still see we do our absolute best and try everything to make it happen, but we will see how it will end up.

"It is not that the owners called me and said 'if you don't qualify for the Champions League then this or that will happen', because we are all together. We all understand the situation. They know we try absolutely everything to qualify for the Champions League again, that's clear."

Klopp, meanwhile, is ready to block his players from representing their countries during the international break due to quarantine protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic.

World Cup qualifiers are set to take place this month but under current COVID-19 guidelines, arrivals from countries the United Kingdom regards as high risk are subject to 10 days of hotel quarantine.

"I think all the clubs agree that with the same problems, we cannot just let the boys go and then sort the situation when they come back by placing our players in a 10-day quarantine in a hotel. It is just not possible," Klopp said.

"I understand the needs of the different FAs but this is a time where we cannot make everyone happy and we have to admit the players are paid by the clubs so it means we have to be first priority."

Klopp added: "We just deal with what other people decided so we got kind of used to it. But I think everyone agrees we cannot let the players go and play for their country and come back and quarantine for 10 days in a hotel."

Liverpool have lost each of their last four Premier League home games, as many as they had in their first 100 at Anfield under Klopp. The Reds have never lost five consecutive home games in their history, either in the league or all competitions.

Meanwhile, Liverpool have won each of their last four Premier League meetings with Chelsea, netting 11 goals and conceding four. The only team to win five in a row against Chelsea in the Premier League is Blackburn (seven between February 1993 and May 1996).

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is weighing up whether to block Manchester United star Bruno Fernandes from travelling with Portugal during the international break due to COVID-19 quarantine.

Portugal are scheduled to play three World Cup qualifiers this month – at home to Azerbaijan (March 24), away to Serbia (March 27) and on the road against Luxembourg (March 30).

Linking up with Portugal would mean Fernandes would be subject to a 10-day quarantine in a government-approved hotel upon his return to the United Kingdom amid the coronavirus pandemic.

It would also leave Solskjaer without the services of Fernandes against Brighton and Hove Albion (April 3) and Tottenham (April 10).

Asked about the situation following Wednesday's goalless draw away to Crystal Palace, United manager Solskjaer told reporters: "We have not sat down and made a proper call on that one but it doesn't make sense if you lose your player for 10 days' isolation.

"We are the ones paying the players, from what I understand, that [being allowed to ban players travelling] is the rule. 

"FIFA have given the rule that they don't have to be released, so it is going to be a hard call to make to let them play in red-list countries.

"I want Bruno ready for Brighton and hopefully we will be through in Europe and against Tottenham after that break, of course I do."

United were held to their third successive scoreless draw across all competitions after firing another blank against Palace midweek.

Solskjaer's faltering United produced another toothless display at Selhurst Park, where the Red Devils slipped 14 points adrift of runaway leaders Manchester City ahead of Sunday's derby.

United registered their sixth goalless Premier League draw of the season – the club's joint-most ever in a campaign, along with 2004-05 and 2016-17.

The Premier League giants have also drawn three consecutive matches 0-0 in all competitions for the first time since October 2015 under Louis van Gaal.

"Of course we're not happy when you don't create chances enough to win a game," Solskjaer said. "Of course, it's been a week with no goals, and sometimes three games sounds a lot without scoring.

"It was not considered either but a week in a season like this sometimes is... yeah, you just don't hit the form that you normally had, that you have had for many, many months, so it's a bit of a worry. Of course it is.

"But, I know that the boys are given everything. And that's the thing with we play every three days, and I know they given everything they've got so attitude and approach I'm very happy with the quality. We need to get back to what we know we can do."

Things are moving very quickly for Pedri.

This time last year he was 17 years old and preparing for a Copa del Rey clash against Badajoz with Las Palmas, now he is playing for Barcelona and his coach is fielding questions about the possibility of him representing Spain at the delayed Euro 2020.

Calls for him to be considered by Luis Enrique intensified after he produced a fine display in Barca's 3-2 victory over Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday, becoming the youngest player in LaLiga history to score and assist in a single game.

At 18 years and 42 days old he headed home an equaliser after Inaki Williams' opener at San Mames and then produced a lovely backheel that Messi steered home to put the Blaugrana on the path to a 3-2 win.

Asked on Friday if Pedri is deserving of a first call-up to the senior Spain squad, Barca boss Ronald Koeman said: "It's not my decision.

"We can say a lot of positive things about Pedri's career so far. Nobody expected a boy of his age to play almost every game. He deserves it.

"It seems like he's been at the club for years, but young players always have ups and downs, you have to see how he continues to evolve, but I have no doubts that he will continue to improve.

"He has to show this level for a longer time, but you don't have to rush."

But how does Pedri stack up against the other options available to Luis Enrique?

A FINE PLAYMAKER

Among Spanish midfielders and attackers playing in the top five European leagues to have featured in at least 10 games in all competitions this season, Pedri ranks sixth in terms of chances created with 26 – 11 shy of Iago Aspas at the top of the list.

Only Isco (31.4) and Cesc Fabregas (30.9) have attempted more passes ending in the final third per 90 minutes than Pedri (30.6), though the Barca star averages more successful ones (24.6) than Fabregas (21.2). Isco leads the way with 25.6 successful passes ending in the final third each game.

AT THE HEART OF THINGS

When looking at the performances of Spanish midfielders in the top five European leagues, only Napoli's Fabian Ruiz (93) has been involved in more unique open play sequences ending with a shot than Pedri (79). Nine of the sequences featuring Pedri have ended in a goal, a tally that only Denis Suarez (10) and Marcos Llorente (13) can better.

The overall expected goals value of the open play sequences ending with a shot or goal that Pedri has been involved in is 10.5, putting him top of the list. It means that not only is the 18-year-old involved in a many passages of play compared to his contemporaries, he is involved in dangerous ones.

Pedri has initiated 16 open play sequences that ended with a shot this season, enough for joint-fourth alongside Dani Parejo. Rodri is top on 22 but his role at Manchester City means he is relied upon to regain possession and start moves from there. Barca would not expect breaking up the opposition's play to be a huge part of Pedri's game, but he is still able to get them moving forward.

Of the shot-ending sequences in open play that Pedri has been involved in, he created the chance and was also involved in the build-up on eight occasions. Luis Alberto (9) of Lazio is the only player with more multi chance involvements.

VERDICT

Spain have an abundance of attacking midfield options, but Pedri is already showing a level of involvement in Barca's build-up play that must surely put him in Luis Enrique's thinking. He has also proved versatile, with Koeman using him out wide, behind the striker and also in a deeper midfield role at times this season. Regardless of where he plays, Pedri is regularly involved in sequences that lead to goalscoring opportunities and looks set to continue doing so for years to come.

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