A Germany player has tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of their World Cup qualifying clash with Iceland on Thursday. 

The individual - whose identity has not been revealed - did not have any symptoms and was immediately sent into isolation, the German Football Association (DFB) confirmed. 

Germany's bid to reach the 2022 World Cup kicks off against Iceland in Duisburg, followed by clashes with Romania and North Macedonia on Sunday and Wednesday respectively.  

A statement from the DFB read: "The strict hygiene concept of the DFB is aimed at avoiding category 1 contacts. The measures that are being implemented include the permanent wearing of FFP2 masks, except when eating at the table.  

"[Also] Staying in closed rooms in fixed, narrow time windows, keeping a distance in all functional rooms in the hotel, using two team buses and several vans for trips to the training ground, as well as close-knit testing.

"Since the meeting of the national team on Monday, two PCR and one antigen rapid tests have taken place in the team hotel." 

National team director Oliver Bierhoff added: "Of course, this news is bitter so shortly before the game – for the coach and the entire team. 

"But we are confident that this will remain the case, as we have taken all hygiene measures so far and have been very disciplined. Of course, we will implement all the requirements of the authorities."

 

Gareth Southgate is set to bring up 50 games in charge when England start their qualifying campaign for the 2022 World Cup.

San Marino are the visitors to Wembley Stadium for the milestone match, with Southgate the seventh to make it to a half-century at the helm for England.

His record so far is impressive: 29 wins, 10 draws and 10 defeats. He has also introduced some notable names to international football, many of which will form the backbone for the Three Lions in this year's delayed Euro 2020 tournament. 

In total, 42 players have made their senior debuts under the current boss. Plenty have made an impact, though some have fallen by the wayside since getting a taste of the senior team. 

HITS 

Jesse Lingard 

Lingard is the only member of the current England squad to have made his debut in Southgate's first match in charge, a 2-0 win over Malta in October 2016. The 28-year-old was a key member of the 2018 World Cup squad but has not featured for his country since the Nations League Finals nearly two years ago, having struggled for minutes at Manchester United. 

However, a January loan move to West Ham has paid off. No player has been involved in more goals – Lingard has scored five while also providing two assists – since his debut for the Hammers in February. Southgate – who advised the player to remain in the Premier League – has duly taken note, handing him a recall. 

Harry Maguire 

Maguire made his first England appearance against Lithuania in October 2017, when he was playing for Leicester City. The centre-back quickly established himself in Southgate's side for the World Cup semi-final run, while he has continued to be a mainstay since for the national side.  

Indeed, the Manchester United defender has missed just 14 possible outings for club and country since that maiden outing, starting 28 out of England's 30 matches. 

Kieran Trippier 

Paris was the setting for Trippier's bow, the full-back handed a chance in a 3-2 friendly defeat against France that saw him start alongside then-Tottenham team-mates Eric Dier, Dele Alli and Harry Kane. 

Now playing his club football in Spain with Atletico Madrid, the 30-year-old continues to be a key attacking outlet for Southgate's teams. His total of 55 chances created since June 2017 is comfortably the highest for England, with striker Kane second on the list with 37. 

Jordan Pickford 

No player has both played and started more games for England under Southgate than Pickford, whose debut came in November 2017.  With 30 appearances, he sits one ahead of Maguire.

The Everton goalkeeper will not be involved as his manager celebrates his 50th match at the helm, though, as an abdominal muscle injury sees him missing for March's World Cup qualifiers. His absence also offers some of his rivals for the starting job an opportunity to stake their claim to be considered number one, with Pickford's form having been somewhat unconvincing for a while.

Declan Rice 

Rice's introduction to action for England came via a substitute appearance during a 5-0 win over the Czech Republic two years ago, replacing Alli just after the hour mark. 

The midfielder started all six of the Nations League qualifiers in 2020-21, including scoring his first international goal in a 4-0 triumph over Iceland. As for his club career, only Rio Ferdinand and Joe Cole played more minutes in the Premier League for West Ham than Rice before the age of 22.


MISSES 

Nathaniel Chalobah 

Having represented England through the youth levels from under-16s upwards, Chalobah has so far played one solitary minute for the senior team, with his late, late opportunity coming against Spain in October 2018.  

Since then, the former Chelsea midfielder has started just 42 league games for Watford. This season he is plying his trade in the Championship, contributing three goals and an assist as the Hornets aim for an immediate return to the top flight. 

Dominic Solanke 

Solanke was part of the England squad that won the 2014 European Under-17 Championship, including scoring in a final against the Netherlands that was eventually settled by a penalty shoot-out. 

His senior debut came against Brazil in November 2017, but he has not been involved since. The striker signed for Bournemouth in January 2019 but failed to score in his first 38 Premier League appearances for the club, a barren run finally ended with a brace against Leicester in July 2020. He has been far more prolific in the Championship, getting 11 goals.

Lewis Cook 

Cook had success with England at youth level, captaining the squad that went all the way at the Under-20 World Cup. Solanke was also involved in that tournament, along with full internationals Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Dean Henderson - who was not first choice in goal - and Fikayo Tomori. 

The midfielder's maiden appearance for the senior side earned his grandfather a tidy windfall through a winning bet, but that outing as a substitute against Italy at Wembley remains his only cap. Since then, he has started 58 games for Bournemouth, scoring once. 

Jack Cork 

Another to be handed a late cameo by Southgate, Cork featured for all of four minutes in a friendly with Germany in November 2017. A young line-up that included new faces Pickford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek managed a 0-0 draw at Wembley. 

The midfielder – who was part of the Great Britain squad coached by Stuart Pearce at the 2012 Olympic Games in London – was a regular at Burnley before injuries hampered him in the current season, restricting him to just nine league outings for Sean Dyche's team in the 2020-21 campaign. 

Lewis Dunk 

Dunk has helped Brighton and Hove Albion rise from League One to the Premier League, with his performances earning him an England opportunity against the United States in November 2018. He started in a 3-0 win that saw Wayne Rooney make his 120th and final appearance for the Three Lions. 

The centre-back has not featured since, however, despite remaining a mainstay for his club. Since August 2018, Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk (10) is the only defender to have scored more Premier League goals than Dunk's impressive total of nine.  

Mason Mount is relishing the battle for places in the England team, particularly with Jack Grealish and Phil Foden in the long term. 

England manager Gareth Southgate has something of an embarrassment of riches in the attacking positions at the moment, with a host of players thriving at club level. 

Mount has been a key man for Chelsea this term, playing more minutes (2,231) than any of his team-mates, while his 69 chances created is 41 more than anyone else. 

He has been a creative pillar for the Blues, as further evidenced by his 168 passes into the box being by far the most among Chelsea players, while the fact he quickly won his place back after being left out for Thomas Tuchel's first game in charge speaks to his impressive mentality. 

That attitude will surely stand him in good stead not only at club level but also for England, whose creative options seem to be improving with each international window.

 

The advantage that Mount believes he has, however, is his versatility. 

"I am always trying to improve," he told reporters ahead of England's opening 2022 World Cup qualifier against San Marino on Thursday. "I feel like I am versatile and can play in a deeper role and obviously in a more forward role. I'm always learning. I'm still young and I'm still learning. 

"In terms of the formation, we are versatile as a team. In the modern game, you have to be ready to change if the other team are tactically different to what you have prepared for. 

"We are ready for that, definitely. I feel like I can play in any position and I just want to understand, more and more, different positions." 

Elaborating on England's strength in depth, Mount added: "There are so many good players in this team. 

"I've seen Jack and Phil do brilliant things. It motivates me to want to do the same. We all have ambitions to win major trophies, at England and at club level we're all competing to want to do that." 

Of course, Mount's comments help pose the question: can he line up alongside Grealish and Foden in the same team? 

Well, they have done once already – against Iceland in November 2020, as all three started and England won 4-0. 

Mount, occupying a deeper role, did catch the eye as he got the Three Lions' second goal, though Foden and Grealish were arguably more impressive. 

 

Playing from the left, Grealish – whose 75 key passes in the Premier League this season is bettered by only Bruno Fernandes – was lively and created three chances, while also winning 81.8 per cent of his 11 duels. 

Of those involved in three duels or more, only Harry Maguire (15, 86.7 per cent) produced a stronger display, highlighting Grealish's competitive streak in the final third. 

Foden's performance had a similar relentlessness to it, his record in duels identical to the numbers for Grealish, though he was more decisive in attack when on the ball. 

The Manchester City talent scored twice, got an assist and laid on three chances, behind only Harry Kane on four. 

As such, Mount's display could be considered a little less impactful for England going forward. Sure, his 87.8 per cent pass completion rate in the opposing half was good, but none were considered key passes. 

It suggests that, while certainly possible to get all three into the line-up, if Southgate is to persist with his 3-4-3 formation, Mount will be the one shoe-horned into the team. 

With that in mind, it seems likely Mount's greatest strength – his creativity – could become stifled. 

However, with Grealish absent through injury, Mount has another opportunity to stake his claim as a key player in this team – succeeding in that respect will surely be reflected by an elevated status, with England's central midfield often crying out for more creativity in recent years. 

Roberto Martinez praised the "incredible personality" of his Belgium players after a 3-1 win over Wales on Wednesday.

Belgium fell behind in the World Cup qualifier in Leuven after Harry Wilson's 10th-minute opener in Group E.

But they responded and were ahead at the break thanks to Kevin De Bruyne and Thorgan Hazard, before Romelu Lukaku's 73rd-minute penalty.

Belgium coach Martinez was pleased with the character his side showed after falling behind as the nation picked up their first victory against Wales since September 2012.

"We knew that it was going to be a tough game. That's nothing different, but I think it became even harder than we expected," he told a news conference.

"The moment that we conceded the first goal I thought Wales adapted to the game better than us. It was made for the perfect away team performance.

"The conditions, the lack of fans and in the first action that Wales had they showed a great move where it shows the quality that they have in individuals. We then had two choices, either accept it and then allow the performance to go away from you and it becomes an away game. Or you show personality and bravery and that's what the team did. They never accepted that the game would go away from us.

"We scored two very good goals from open play in the first half and then in the second half even though we didn't create many opportunities, every time we were in front of goal it looked like we had a chance to score. So very pleased by the incredible personality that the players showed today."

Belgium continue their qualifying campaign away to the Czech Republic on Saturday.

France coach Didier Deschamps lamented his side's lack of energy in the second half of Wednesday's 1-1 draw with Ukraine but says they should have put the game to bed in the first half.

The reigning world champions started their road to Qatar 2022 in unconvincing fashion in Paris, although they seemed on track for three points in the first half.

Antoine Griezmann fired in a 19th-minute opener before multiple chances were spurned including Olivier Giroud's close-range header which sailed over.

Ukraine found a fortunate way back into the match via Presnel Kimpembe's 57th-minute own goal from Serhiy Sydorchuk tame shot.

"We should have secured the win in the first half, we had the opportunities, it was more difficult in the second half," Deschamps told TF1 post-game.

"There was certainly less juice, the goal that we conceded was avoidable, we pushed to the end.

"I had decided to have a team focused on the offensive but this was not the case. It was not necessarily a match where we got the most chances. We needed more precision and movement.

"We are obviously disappointed, the ideal result would have been to win. It proves that Ukraine is a good nation."

Les Bleus captain Hugo Lloris agreed they should have been more than one goal up at the break.

"We missed this second goal. We should have done a lot more to get it; we came back with a lack of intensity," the Tottenham goalkeeper told TF1.

"We were faced with a lower block and we struggled. We had good intentions but, at half-time, we should have been 2-0 and secured the win. It is insufficient for this first match."

France return to action on Sunday away to Kazakhstan before another trip on Wednesday to face Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"We have two other matches which will not be easy," Deschamps said. "We lacked energy in the second half. We can do better."

Portugal boss Fernando Santos hailed the impact made by Joao Felix against Azerbaijan and said no conclusions can be made following his side's unconvincing 1-0 win.

Santos claimed his 50th victory in charge of Portugal in his 80th match thanks to Maksim Medvedev's first-half own goal in Wednesday's World Cup 2022 qualifying fixture at the Allianz Stadium in Turin.

The European champions managed 14 shots on target - compared to none for Azerbaijan - but struggled to find a way past inspired goalkeeper Sahruddin Mahammadaliyev.

Despite the slender nature of the scoreline against a side ranked 108th in the world, Santos insisted picking up three points in the Group A opener is all that counts.

"We won, which was the most important thing," he told RTP. "These games can be difficult.

"I expected to win more comfortably, but we must not draw conclusions. We can see what went well and didn't.

"In the first half we controlled things, though sometimes we could have built attacks better 

"I think that in the first half Azerbaijan didn't even pass the midfield mark. The team was well organised, compact, reacted well to losing the ball.

"The game was controlled, but we lacked when it came to creating certain chances.

"Azerbaijan started playing in the second half. At that moment we were not so strong in the recovery and we allowed three or four attacks." 

Joao Felix was brought on for Andre Silva 15 minutes from time and completed 12 of his 14 passes, 11 of those attempted passes in the opposition half.

Santos felt the Atletico Madrid forward made a telling impact on the game, even if it was a familiar tale for Portugal as Mahammadaliyev made a string of late saves.

"The team improved with the entry of Joao," Santos said. "There was more circulation to our play and he played a part in one of our best moves - it was brilliant."

Portugal have now won five games in a row against Azerbaijan without conceding and have lost just two of their last 25 matches since the last World Cup.

The Selecao turns their focus to Saturday's trip to second seeds Serbia, who beat the Republic of Ireland 3-2 to join Portugal on three points at the top of Group A.

Santos added: "Entering that game with victory was essential and now we are going to talk as a group and analyse the game. 

"The Serbia match will be different [to the Azerbaijan one], but I always maintain confidence in my players."

Azerbaijan had drawn their previous four games by the same 0-0 scoreline and head coach Giovanni De Biasi is taking confidence from the narrow loss to Portugal.

"I am happy and disappointed," he told UEFA.com "We tried to play our football only in the second half. Never say never, football is made of dreams and we can qualify."

England boss Gareth Southgate has left it up to his players to decide whether they will take a knee prior to kick-off against San Marino.

The Three Lions start their qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup with a fixture against the European minnows on Thursday at Wembley.

Since Project Restart last June, teams across Britain have taken a knee prior to the start of matches in a show of unity against racial abuse and discrimination.

However, with fans still unable to attend matches, the abuse received by players of ethnic minorities has not been stemmed, with several England stars having been the victims of abuse on social media.

Jude Bellingham – Borussia Dortmund's 17-year-old midfielder – has been the latest recipient. 

Several club sides have now stopped taking a knee before matches, while Crystal Palace star Wilfried Zaha recently claimed the symbol was nothing but a token gesture which does not go far enough to tackle the problem.

Last week, former England midfielder and current Rangers manager Steven Gerrard demanded UEFA take action after Glen Kamara alleged to have been abused by Slavia Prague's Ondrej Kudela, who played as the Czech Republic thrashed Estonia on Wednesday.

When asked if England would be taking a knee, Southgate told a news conference: "I've spoken with the leadership team about this last night and I've asked them to talk with the other players.

"I think it's a good process to hear each others' views first and foremost and that's part of how we educate ourselves in all of these different matters and issues.

"The one thing we're very clear on is that we'll be unified in whatever we do and if there's any doubt then I think we'll take the knee.

"I'm hugely respectful of everybody's individual opinions on that. I think there's still an impact from it but I listened to Wilfried Zaha's comments on it, for example, and I thought he spoke really well that it wasn't enough and it seemed to now be just part of the background.

"It's complicated, the debate around whether we should take the knee or not, or walk off the pitch. The core problems are with racism and discrimination – they're the deeper conversations that need to happen.

"The protests help put those conversations on the table but we've got to address the much deeper issues as much as we have to make a symbolic gesture."

Southgate was also asked if players would be best advised to delete social media channels to avoid abuse, though the England manager does not believe that to be a solution.

"The first thing is that clearly it's unacceptable for anybody to be receiving this sort of abuse," he said.

"It's a very complex situation for what action the players might take because [social media] is a brilliant tool for communicating with the fans. With no fans in the stadiums, to lose all contact with the fans is not something we want.

"Equally if that interaction is bringing that negativity and abuse into your life, nobody wants to put up with that.

"We need stricter legislation around the control of those sites. I know that's a complex issue because of people in countries not to have a freedom of speech is a restriction. It's not an easy thing to police because it can be worldwide. We just need to make a stand on everything to say racism is not acceptable."

World champions France kicked off their Qatar 2022 qualifying campaign with a disappointing 1-1 draw against Ukraine at the Stade de France.

Les Bleus, winners of the previous World Cup three years ago, had looked as though they might make light work of Wednesday's visitors when Antoine Griezmann scored in stunning fashion less than halfway through the first period.

But Ukraine regrouped at the interval and equalised through a fortuitous Presnel Kimpembe own goal before protecting a precious first point.

It was a far cry from their 7-1 friendly defeat to Didier Deschamps' men when the sides last met in October, even if the first half hinted at a similarly one-sided affair.

France were on the front foot from the outset and might have led before their 19th-minute opener as Olivier Giroud's first-time finish was deflected agonisingly off target by Mykola Matvyenko.

There was no stopping Griezmann's stunning effort, though, curling inside the far post from the right corner of the penalty area.

The hosts had opportunities to add to their advantage heading into half-time, too, but Kylian Mbappe and Giroud each sent efforts over - the latter from a brilliant Benjamin Pavard cross - either side of a Kingsley Coman penalty appeal that saw Georgi Bushchan escape censure.

A huge slice of misfortune then saw France punished 12 minutes after the restart when Serhiy Sydorchuk's wayward shot earned a huge deflection off Kimpembe and crept into the net.

Les Bleus reclaimed complete control over the remaining minutes but could not forge a second goal or even a chance of note in an underwhelming start to their world title defence.

Belgium got their World Cup qualification campaign up and running as Kevin De Bruyne inspired them to a 3-1 comeback win over Wales.

In the first meeting of the teams since Wales' memorable 3-1 triumph in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, the world's number one ranked side fell behind to Harry Wilson's 10th-minute opener.

Gareth Bale was central to Wales' opener, though Belgium's star player subsequently stepped up, levelling proceedings with a stunning effort.

Thorgan Hazard completed the turnaround six minutes later and, after a bright second-half performance from Wales, Roberto Martinez's team sealed a strong start to Group E through Romelu Lukaku's penalty.

Wales suffered a blow when Joe Allen hobbled off injured in the eighth minute, yet the visitors were celebrating a wonderfully worked goal moments later.

Bale was the heart of the 17-pass move, threading a perfect first-time throughball into the path of Wilson, who calmly slotted home.

De Bruyne's sensational right-wing cross handed Lukaku a golden chance to restore parity, only for the Inter forward to blaze over.

Wales' luck did not last, though, with De Bruyne taking full advantage of being given space and time 25 yards out – the Manchester City star's strike clipping in off the right-hand upright.

Wearing the number 10 shirt typically taken by his older brother Eden, Hazard got the assist for De Bruyne's equaliser, and the Borussia Dortmund playmaker turned scorer when he steered Thomas Meunier's cross home.

No stranger to magnificent overhead kicks, Bale could have equalised early in the second half, but failed to make full contact with an acrobatic attempt.

Lukaku saw a shot well blocked with 24 minutes remaining and De Bruyne sliced wide on the rebound.

But Wales' lingering hopes were quashed when Chris Mepham flung a boot at Dries Mertens and Lukaku drilled in from 12 yards to make sure of the victory.

Portugal required an own goal from Maksim Medvedev to help them to an unconvincing 1-0 victory over Azerbaijan in their opening World Cup 2022 qualifying fixture in Turin.

The reigning European and Nations League champions dominated possession against Group A's bottom seeds on Wednesday but struggled to create many clear-cut chances.

Azerbaijan skipper Medvedev put into his own net eight minutes before half-time following a mix-up with keeper Sahruddin Mahammadaliyev and that proved to be the only goal.

Cristiano Ronaldo fired a third successive blank for Portugal at Juventus' Allianz Stadium, where the game was being staged due to coronavirus travel restrictions, but Fernando Santos' men ultimately picked up the win.

Azerbaijan, the designated away side, had drawn their last four matches by the same 0-0 scoreline and kept Portugal's attacking talents quiet for large swathes of the first half.

Mahammadaliyev denied Ruben Neves and Joao Cancelo in quick succession, while Domingos Duarte fired wide from five yards after bringing down a chipped pass from Ronaldo. 

But Portugal's pressure told 37 minutes in when Mahammadaliyev raced off his line and punched a cross into Medvedev, the ball flying off the Azerbaijan skipper and trickling into the net.

Despite the introduction of Bruno Fernandes from the bench at half-time, the Selecao continued to toil in the final third against a side ranked 108th in the FIFA rankings.

Ronaldo was kept out by Mahammadaliyev on the volley and Bernardo Silva also tested the Azerbaijan keeper, but Portugal could not add a killer second goal.

That nearly proved costly 19 minutes from time as Anatolii Nuriev blazed over with plenty of the goal to aim for after stand-in keeper Anthony Lopes failed to deal with a ball into the box.

Harry Kane will not be allowed to pick and choose when he plays for England, Gareth Southgate has said.

Southgate became embroiled in something of a verbal tussle with Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho earlier this season over the England manager's use of talisman Kane.

The Three Lions captain started twice in the Nations League in November, playing the entire game in a 2-0 loss to Belgium before going off in the 76th minute during a 4-0 rout of Iceland.

Kane is on 32 international goals, 21 shy of Wayne Rooney's all-time record of 53 strikes for the Three Lions.

At 27, Kane has Rooney's record well in his sights, but asked if he will let his skipper choose when he plays over the course of the three World Cup qualifiers coming up for England, Southgate laid down the law.

"If I allowed Harry to make that decision, he'd play every minute!" said Southgate, who will celebrate his 50th match in charge of England when his team host minnows San Marino on Thursday.

"So that won't be happening. It's brilliant we've got a captain who wants to play every minute of every game.

"We've got to be mindful he had extra-time last Thursday and another high-intensity game on Sunday. We've got that situation with a lot of the players really.

"We've got to make sure we manage the fixtures correctly, we've got to manage training this week as well.

"And of course we've got to be just as fresh for the games with Albania and Poland as we do tomorrow night so that's not an unusual challenge for us and our coaching team, and for our medical team and physical performance team.

"But we always communicate well with the players and I think we're in a good place going into the game tomorrow."

Kane has scored 20 goals in 19 appearances in qualifiers for major tournaments, with only Rooney (30) netting more in these games in England's history. 

Southgate, meanwhile, will be the seventh manager to reach the 50th game milestone for the Three Lions.

He has won 29 of his 49 games so far (D10 L10), and a win would see him equal Ron Greenwood and Roy Hodgson's 30 wins in their first 50, but three behind the record of 33 set by Alf Ramsey and Walter Winterbottom.

While Kane will no doubt be a key figure for England this month, two players who may not be involved are Marcus Rashford and Arsenal youngster Bukayo Saka.

Rashford is at St George's Park but is struggling with an injury, while Saka is yet to join up with the squad.

"They're both doubtful," Southgate confirmed. "Marcus is more doubtful than Bukayo at the moment but we're going to assess them.

"Marcus has been very keen to be with us. He wasn't with us so much in the autumn so he's been keen to be part of the group.

"Bukayo has been getting assessed at the club but he'll be with us in the next couple of days."

Burak Yilmaz rolled back the years to score a brilliant hat-trick as Turkey withstood a fightback and consigned the Netherlands to a 4-2 defeat in their 2022 World Cup qualifying opener.

Veteran striker Yilmaz had not scored an international goal in two years prior to a first-half brace that had Turkey in control by half-time of the Group G contest at the Ataturk Stadium.

Hakan Calhanoglu's fine effort 31 seconds into the second half left the Dutch reeling but quickfire goals from substitutes Davy Klaassen and Luuk de Jong offered hope of an unlikely point with 15 minutes to go.

But 35-year-old Yilmaz wrapped up the points and made sure he was leaving with the matchball with an outstanding free-kick nine minutes from time, the visitors' miserable outing consigned by Memphis Depay's late penalty miss.

England will be without Bukayo Saka for their opening 2022 World Cup qualifier against San Marino due to a hamstring injury.

Saka has stayed with Arsenal to continue his rehabilitation and a tweet from England's official account said it was hoped the 19-year-old would join up with the squad "later this week".

England host minnows San Marino at Wembley in Gareth Southgate's 50th game at the helm on Thursday.

Marcus Rashford also sat out training on Wednesday as he continues to recover from the foot injury he sustained during Manchester United's Europa League triumph at Milan.

Rashford was absent as United were knocked out of the FA Cup by Leicester City last weekend but he joined up with England despite club boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer saying he "wasn't close" to playing at the King Power Stadium.

The 23-year-old, who was laid low by a stress fracture to his back last term, recently dismissed fears over an excessive workload, but he has played more minutes than any forward in Europe's top five leagues this season across all competitions.

Rashford's 3,328 minutes on the field place him ahead of Lionel Messi (3,292), Mohamed Salah (3,257), Harry Kane (3,172) and the England captain's Tottenham colleague Son Heung-min (3,138) among the five most used attacking players.

Saka made his international breakthrough earlier this season and has won all four of his caps playing as a left wing-back.

However, he has truly excelled since switching to a right-wing role at Arsenal.

Since being deployed there in a 3-1 Boxing Day win over Chelsea, Saka has four goals and two assists in 13 Premier League appearances, creating 17 chances during that time.

Jesse Lingard has revealed Gareth Southgate pointed him down the path towards an England recall.

Southgate will take charge of his 50th game when England begin their World Cup qualifying campaign against San Marino at Wembley on Thursday.

His first, against Malta in October 2016, was also Lingard's international debut and the attacking midfielder became one of Southgate's key performers as England charted a surprise run to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup.

However, struggles for form and fitness at Manchester United, along with difficulties in his private life, saw Lingard fall out of the Three Lions picture.

In January he joined West Ham on loan and has been a player revitalised.

Five goals in seven Premier League appearances for David Moyes' men earned an England recall for the 28-year-old, who thanked Southgate for his counsel and his influence over the Hammers move.

"He's shown a lot of support and belief in me, he gave me my England debut, which I'm proud of," Lingard told talkSPORT.

"I still kept in contact with him even though I wasn't playing, just to get his advice on what I should do.

"It was just about the right move, whether it was going out to Europe or staying in the Premier League.

"He said, 'If I was you, I would stay in the Premier League'. After that, it was about finding a Premier League side and West Ham fitted in perfectly."

Since his West Ham debut against Aston Villa on February 3, only Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho (six) has more Premier League goals than Lingard (five), while he is level with England captain Harry Kane and Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan over the period in question.

His 12 shots on target are a joint Premier League best along with Kane, giving him a shot conversion rate of 23.8.

Lingard also has two assists for the Hammers and has created eight opportunities for team-mates overall.

 

Another man in from the cold, although less dramatically, is Manchester City centre-back John Stones.

Like Lingard, Stones was a mainstay at Russia 2018 but last played for England in November 2019 after his club form dwindled.

However, a supreme centre-back alliance with Ruben Dias for Premier League leaders City made a recall for the 26-year-old a virtual formality – not that he necessarily viewed it that way.

"It was difficult watching from home," Stones told reporters, having also acknowledged Southgate "texted now and then" when he was out of favour.

"You feel a bit helpless that you can't contribute and be a part of the squad, but I used it as a motivation to strive to be better.

"When I got the text the other day, it was a great feeling to be back involved and see all the faces I've got some great memories with.

"I was very nervous. I had worked so hard and I was hearing people say, 'you should be in'.

"But I didn't take any of that in until the text arrived. I wanted to hear from the source. I was absolutely made up."

City remaining in contention for four major honours shows how impressive their overall performances have been this season, but with Stones in the team their record verges on the absurd.

In 20 games where the former Everton defender has not played, Pep Guardiola's men have won 13, drawn five and lost two for a 65 per cent win rate. In these games they conceded 19 times.

Out of Stones' 26 appearances, City have won 24 alongside a draw and a loss and have conceded only seven times. This tallies to 0.3 goals against and 2.8 points per game and a win percentage of 92.3.

The international break might bring respite from the packed club calendar, but with Qatar 2022 now just 20 months away, top players have little chance for rest.

Still, the start of the European World Cup qualifiers brings an opportunity for the new names on the international scene to impress, particularly with more established stars unlikely to be involved in every minute of matches over these two weeks.

Several of the continent's top teams have offered first-time call-ups to those enjoying fine form and, while some were anticipated, others have left even the players themselves surprised.

We have picked through a selection of the new faces to look out for, with a sprinkling of Opta data to highlight why they deserve a chance to impress for their country.

 

Belgium: Orel Mangala and Albert Sambi Lokonga

Stuttgart's Orel Mangala has been linked with Arsenal and RB Leipzig due to his performances for Stuttgart this season. Only three midfielders have regained possession more often in the Bundesliga than the 23-year-old (166).

Also hoping to make his senior Belgium debut at the heart of midfield is Albert Sambi Lokonga, who assumed the captain's armband at Anderlecht less than a month after turning 21.

Lokonga, who could get a chance in place of the injured Axel Witsel, has regained possession 35 more times than any team-mate this season (157) and is also fourth for chances created (22).

Croatia: Kristijan Lovric

With Ante Rebic and Bruno Petkovic injured, the coming matches could offer a real chance to impress for Kristijan Lovric.

The HNK Gorica star is second in the top scorer standings in Croatia's top flight, with 15 goals in 24 appearances. With four assists also to his name, Lovric is behind only Tottenham's Europa League slayer Mislav Orsic and Ramon Mierez (both on 20) for direct goal involvements this season.

It's a seriously impressive return for the 25-year-old, particularly as he plays predominantly wide on the left of the Gorica attack.

England: Ollie Watkins

West Brom goalkeeper Sam Johnstone may get the chance to win a first senior England cap, but a man almost certain to be given a chance in attack is Ollie Watkins.

The Aston Villa forward became the 10th Premier League player to score a hat-trick against Liverpool, and the first in a decade, in October's extraordinary 7-2 win over the reigning champions.

He has 10 in the top flight this term, while only captain Jack Grealish (17) has had more direct goal involvements than Watkins (15) in all competitions for Villa this season. Not bad for a man who was playing in England's sixth tier just six years ago.

 

Germany: Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala

Rising Bayern Munich star Jamal Musiala was expected to be named in Joachim Low's squad after he pledged his international future to Germany rather than England.

The 18-year-old, who only signed his first professional contract this month, is Bayern's youngest ever Champions League goalscorer and has already played 18 times in the Bundesliga this season.

Bayer Leverkusen's Florian Wirtz has also earned the right to shine on the senior stage. He is one of just two players under the age of 20 to be directly involved in at least eight goals across the top-five European leagues this season.

Italy: Rafael Toloi and Matteo Ricci

Brazilian-born Rafael Toloi has made it to the age of 30 without a senior international appearance, but his performances for Gian Piero Gasperini's outstanding Atalanta side made him hard to overlook.

Toloi averages seven possession regains per match for Atalanta this season and is comfortable when using the ball, completing 493 passes in the opposition half, the most of any Atalanta defender barring Berat Djimsiti.

Spezia midfielder Matteo Ricci, meanwhile, boasts 19 chances created in Serie A this season as well as 151 times winning back the ball, by far the highest tally for his team.

Netherlands: Jeremiah St Juste

Jeremiah St Juste has impressed at the back for Mainz this season, despite their involvement in a tense battle to avoid the drop.

There are only five Bundesliga defenders to win more tackles and duels combined than the 24-year-old this season (he has managed 165).

Previously a full-back with Feyenoord, St Juste brings a vital commodity to modern central defending: speed. Last season, he clocked a sprint of 22.1 miles per hour, bettered only at the time by Bayern winger Kingsley Coman.

Poland: Kacper Kozlowski

A relative unknown outside Poland, even Kacper Kozlowski himself was shocked to be called up to Paulo Sousa's squad this month.

Clearly, though, he has caught the eye for some all-action displays in the top flight for Pogon Szczecin. The 17-year-old averages 8.3 duels won and 17 passes ending in the final third per 90 minutes, each the most of any teenage midfielder in the competition.

Kozlowski, who is also renowned for a fierce long-range shot, has been linked with some of the world's biggest clubs since making his senior debut at just 15, with Manchester United said to be among them.

 

Portugal: Joao Palhinha and Nuno Mendes

Linked with Manchester City (among others), Sporting CP full-back Nuno Mendes has been described as the standout young talent in Portugal's top flight.

Only Wilson Manafa (49) has completed more dribbles among defenders this season than Mendes (29), who has played in all but four of the unbeaten leaders' league matches.

The 18-year-old is joined in the Portugal squad by team-mate Joao Palhinha, a robust midfielder who has won 208 duels in the Primeira Liga in 2020-21 – no player in his position has won more.

Spain: Bryan Gil and Pedri

Pedri has been a revelation for Barcelona in his first season at Camp Nou, establishing himself as a key part of Ronald Koeman's midfield despite only turning 18 last November.

He has played 42 times already in 2020-21, the most of anyone at the club, and became the youngest player to record 100 touches in a single LaLiga game for at least 15 years against Osasuna this month.

Bryan Gil, meanwhile, has been thriving on loan at Eibar from Sevilla and in January became the second player born this century to score twice in the same LaLiga match, following in the footsteps of Ansu Fati.

 

Page 6 of 8
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.