Cristiano Ronaldo has not been affected by Juventus' recent struggles, insists Portugal head coach Fernando Santos. 

The Bianconeri were eliminated from the Champions League in the last-16 stage by Porto a fortnight ago, going out on away goals after the tie finished 4-4 on aggregate after extra time at the Allianz Stadium.

Former Juve boss Fabio Capello singled out Ronaldo for criticism, while ex-president Giovanni Cobolli Gigli suggested the club should never have spent €100million to sign the forward in 2018.

Andrea Pirlo's side bounced back from that defeat with a 3-1 win over Cagliari in Serie A, but their hopes of securing a 10th consecutive Scudetto were left in tatters at the weekend following a shock 1-0 home loss to Benevento. 

Ronaldo, who has been linked with moves to former clubs Real Madrid and Manchester United, has since joined up with the Portugal squad for their World Cup qualifiers against Azerbaijan, Serbia and Luxembourg.

And Santos says has no concerns over the 36-year-old's morale. 

"We've always been close to each other, very good friends, we don't really have a coach-player relationship," Santos told a media conference.

"Ronaldo certainly represents great quality; he always shows great happiness and joy when he's with the team.

"He's an important player, probably the best in the world. I don't think he has any problem in terms of mentality at the moment."

Portugal are red-hot favourites to progress from Group A, which also contains the Republic of Ireland, but Santos insists they will not be complacent as they bid to book their place in Qatar in search of a first-ever World Cup triumph. 

“We mustn't underestimate anyone," he added. “We know Azerbaijan can be quite dangerous on the counter-attack.

"We know Ronaldo always wants to conquer new trophies, but all the players want to win the World Cup. We can fight to become world champions."

The understanding between Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud will be key to a successful World Cup qualifying campaign for France, according to boss Didier Deschamps. 

Reigning world champions France start their Group D campaign against Ukraine on Thursday before taking on Kazakhstan and Bosnia-Herzegovina on Sunday and Wednesday respectively. 

Les Bleus are expected to comfortably book their place in Qatar next year and Deschamps expects his forward trio to shine again after their heroics won the 2018 tournament. 

"I'm not going to separate them from the rest of the team, but when you look at the number of goals and assists that the three provide, that's what allowed the France team to be world champions," he told a media conference.

"They know each other; it is automatic. The experience they have is something important. It is up to them to maintain this level of performance."

Mbappe has enjoyed another fine season for Paris Saint-Germain and is Ligue 1's top scorer with 20 goals in 21 starts.

He has also laid on six goals for his team-mates – second behind only Angel Di Maria (eight) for Mauricio Pochettino's side. 

Mbappe largely plays on the left of a front three for his club and Deschamps revealed he has spoken to the 22-year-old to ensure his position for France brings out the best in him.

"Kylian has the ability to play in all offensive positions," Deschamps said. "In his club, he is mainly used in a position on the left, even if he has a lot of freedom. 

"Sometimes he plays in the middle, where he is also efficient. On the right, he plays less. I discuss it with him to make sure he is happy [where he plays]."

Trying to force his way into Deschamps' forward line will be Ousmane Dembele, who has not featured for France since November 2018.

Deschamps handed the Barcelona man his full debut back in September 2016 and, after injuries wiped out the vast majority of the 2019-20 season, he has returned to form this term. 

Captain Hugo Lloris is pleased to see the 23-year-old back on the international scene and is hopeful he is in the right condition to make a positive impact. 

"He has a fairly strong history with the France team as he was part of the World Cup group in Russia," the Tottenham goalkeeper said. 

"He was held back by injuries, but we know all his qualities. We hope that his injuries are behind him and that he can look ahead. 

"He is doing very good things with Barca. We know what he can bring and what he is capable of doing."

Wales captain Gareth Bale insists he is not distracted by uncertainty over his future and expects to return to Real Madrid at the end of the season as planned.

The 31-year-old rejoined Tottenham on a season-long loan from Madrid last September after falling out of favour at the Santiago Bernabeu under Zinedine Zidane.

Bale has had a mixed time of things since returning to north London, the forward having scored 10 goals and assisted three more in 25 appearances.

There had recently been talk of Bale staying on at Spurs after hitting form, but he was criticised by Jose Mourinho last week and played no part in Sunday's win at Aston Villa.

And with a year still to run on his Madrid contract, the forward believes he will be back in the Spanish capital after representing Wales at the rescheduled Euro 2020 tournament.

"It's no distraction," he said at a news conference on Tuesday previewing Wales' opening World Cup 2022 qualifier against Belgium.

"The main reason I obviously came to Spurs was I wanted to play football, I wanted to be match fit. The original plan was only to do a season.

"After the Euros, I have a year left at Real Madrid. My plan is to go back."

Wales' preparations for Wednesday's clash with Belgium, the world's number one ranked nation, have been disrupted by a number of injury withdrawals.

Having already lost Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey from their initial 31-man squad, Tottenham's Ben Davies and fellow defender Tom Lockyer pulled out on Tuesday.

It is a big blow for Rob Page as he once again takes caretaker charge of Wales in the absence of Ryan Giggs, who remains under investigation due to an allegation of assault, which he denies.

"It's not great news for us, two defenders getting injured prior to camp," Page said. "We've assessed them and they're no good. It's not ideal preparation. We’ve got to react to that and pick a team that we think will win us the game.

"I think they're quite significant injuries. It's a shame. But we have to deal with it."

Page also took charge of Wales' three fixtures in November – a friendly draw against the United States, followed by Nations League wins against the Republic of Ireland and Finland.

Skipper Bale has been impressed by Page's work in the last two camps but is eager for the situation regarding Giggs to be resolved before the Euro 2020 finals.

"Pagey has done an incredible job. He's addressed the situation amazingly well and kept the consistency," Bale said.  "There are no excuses. We've had another good couple of days and we're fully focused. We're ready to go.

"I think my influence has been the same. We're just trying to keep it the same. Nothing has changed. Going into the Euros, ideally things are sorted, but we understand the situation. The FAW [Football Association of Wales] will be in charge of that, not the players."

Asked about his fitness, having been benched against Dinamo Zagreb and not used at all versus Villa three days later, Bale said: "I didn't play Sunday but I've had a couple of days' training. 

"It's been a quick turnaround. Same for every country. Everyone is in the same boat – we're ready to go.

"It's probably the most match fitness I've had. I'm feeling fresh and ready to go."

Wales have won their opening group match in just five of their 18 World Cup qualifying campaigns, although they have done so in two of the previous three.

The Dragons are unbeaten in four games against Belgium, famously beating their next opponents 3-1 in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals.

But Belgium enter the match in Leuven in great form, winning 23 of their past 24 qualifying matches since going down 1-0 to Wales in June 2015, and Bale is predicting a tough opening Group E test.

"We know Belgium is a great team and we know we're going to be the underdogs," he said. "But you don't need to be the best team to win a game.

"This is why football is so great. What we showed that night [at Euro 2016] was more heart, desire, belief. When we pull on the Welsh shirt, we believe we have more passion than anyone.

"I think beating a big nation in a qualifier gives us confidence to grow. When you enjoy winning, it breeds more."

Luke Shaw has thanked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for "managing me right" after earning an England recall.

Shaw has been one of United's standout performers this term and is back in the international fold for the first time in two years, as Gareth Southgate's squad prepare for World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland.

Those matches will be the Three Lions' last before Southgate names his squad for the rescheduled Euro 2020, with former Southampton youngster Shaw looking set to contest a starting berth with Chelsea left-back Ben Chilwell.

It is a far cry from the 25-year-old's time under Jose Mourinho at OId Trafford, where public criticism from his manager appeared to do more harm than good as he struggled for form, fitness and confidence.

"[Solskjaer's] man-management is second to none. The way he conducts himself in terms of how he speaks to the players, it gets the best out of them," Shaw told Sky Sports.

"You can see that. He deals with situations perfectly in terms of what is needed, especially at a big club like Manchester United.

"He takes the pressure off the lads and takes it all himself.

"Sometimes it is not fair because we are the ones on the pitch and we need to take our fair share too.

"For me, especially, from what I had before Ole came in, it is a total difference. It has pushed me to a new level."

Mourinho infamously decried an apparently promising Shaw performance versus Everton in April 2017 as "his body and my brain", telling reporters his constant instructions from the sidelines were a big factor in the defender impressing.

"I had no confidence at that time. I was losing my belief," Shaw said.

"I think that is what changed with Ole. He managed me right and I got my confidence back and I am really enjoying it at the moment."

Confidence is certainly not an issue for Shaw right now, as he contributes for United in all aspects of the game.

His 52 chances created are the most by any defender in the Premier League this season.

In open play, he has delivered 67 crosses and has five assists this season – crediting the arrival of experienced striker Edinson Cavani at Old Trafford with encouraging him to take a more active role as a creator in the team.

"I never used to cross it as much as I should have done," he said.

"It helps to have Edi and that threat in the box. It means that if you do deliver a ball he will be there to fight for it and give everything he can to win it.

"Since he came in, the lads up front have seen how he works and what he does. They are trying to copy what he does in the box so there is definitely more movement.

"It means that you don't have to hit a man, you just have to hit a space and someone will be in there."

Ben Chilwell believes the competition between himself and Luke Shaw to be England's first choice on the left-hand side of defence can only benefit Gareth Southgate's team.

Southgate named right-back Kieran Tripper at left wing-back earlier this season as Chilwell worked his way back to form following a foot injury.

If that suggested a dearth of options, the pieces now appear to be falling into place ahead of the rescheduled Euro 2020 for the Three Lions.

Chilwell has settled into life at Chelsea and is thriving under Thomas Tuchel, while Shaw has arguably been Manchester United's most consistent performer this term, putting years of injury torment behind him.

"At Chelsea you've got two or three good players in each position and at England you should expect the same thing," said the former Leicester City player.

"Going into the Euros, if me and Luke are battling it out and trying to prove who's having the best club form going into the tournament, that's only a positive.

"That means if everybody in each position's doing that, going into the tournament everyone should be sharp and ready to play and confident.

"Then whoever plays is ready and that's important."

Chilwell believes it could be advantageous for himself and club colleague Reece James if Southgate sticks with the 3-4-3 setup he used during the recent Nations League campaign, given Tuchel has employed the system to fine effect at Stamford Bridge

"We've spoken about that, me and Reece particularly, because it affects us the most," he said ahead of England's triple-header of World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland.

"If you look at the formation England are playing, the formation we're playing here at the moment gives us the best possible chance to get used to playing in the positions that England want us to play in.

"Hopefully that gives us a good chance going into the summer – that we can be used."

Shaw generally operates as a more conventional full-back at United, even though Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has periodically reverted to a back five for big games.

Nevertheless, that has done little to quell his attacking output.

The former Southampton youngster's 52 chances created in the Premier League this season, more than any other defender in England's top flight and far in excess of Chilwell's 21.

Shaw has five assists to Chilwell's four, with his solitary goal in the recent Manchester derby victory set against two for the Chelsea man.

Chilwell (79) has attempted more crosses than Shaw (67) but fewer have been successful – 11 compared to 18.

Shaw has attempted 39 dribbles and his 21 completed are two more than Chilwell has attempted overall.

In terms of tackles and interceptions, they are fairly evenly matched, with Shaw up 36-32 on the former metric, while the latter falls 19-15 in Chilwell's favour.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic broke down in tears at a media conference on Monday after revealing his return to the Sweden squad has not been easy for his family.

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. 

Speaking at a media conference on Monday, an emotional Ibrahimovic revealed the difficulty of leaving his family to join up with the national team. 

"I had Vincent [his son] here, who was actually crying when I left him. But it's okay...," he said, before breaking off in tears.

"This takes time away from my family and it's not an easy thing. If you have two kids crying every time you leave them, it's a bit hard. I'm human, even though I'm Superman.

"They are very proud."

Ibrahimovic has impressed in Serie A this term with 15 goals in as many matches, and the ex-Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain striker believes he can still make an impact on the international stage.

"I'm just a piece of the puzzle, among many pieces. I'm here to do better, if Janne thinks I can,” he added.

"If you ask me, I'm the best in the world, but that doesn't help me much here. I've promised to decide matches, so now it's up to me!

"I'm just glad I'm here. I'm proud, I'm not demanding anything and I want nothing. I just want to contribute what I can. If Janne felt I cannot contribute or do what I have to do, then we wouldn't be here.

"As of today, I want to keep going as long as I can. I don't want to regret anything when I stop. That thought came into my head after the injury [in 2017].

"You should continue as long as you can with what you love. Football is what I want to do; that's what I love.

"I am who I am. But I'm not here to have my own show."

Didier Deschamps believes Ousmane Dembele can still become a more consistent contributor after recalling the forward for the start of France's World Cup qualifying campaign. 

Dembele has not played an international game since November 2018, when he came on as a substitute in a 2-0 Nations League defeat to the Netherlands. 

However, his form this season for Barcelona has led to the 23-year-old being included in Les Bleus’ squad for games against Group D rivals Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Bosnia-Herzegovina 

Deschamps handed the player his full debut back in September 2016 and, after injuries wiped out the vast majority of the 2019-20 season, is pleased to see Dembele back performing again. 

Still, the France boss sees further room for improvement, pinpointing the need to have an even greater impact on games.

"He is a player who showed his qualities very early. He is still young," Deschamps told the media on Monday. 

"If we haven't seen him for a while, it's because he's not been spared from injuries. By the time he recovered he was injured again. 

"Now he is able to play again, he is able to make the difference and score goals. He could score more and be more effective. 

"It is not a question of changing him. He has been playing at the highest level for a long time. He is young. It would be good for him, for his club and for us if he could become more efficient.  

"Of course, this is something that needs to be worked on. As you mature, you may make better choices. All forwards have moments when they are less efficient than others."

Dembele has scored nine goals and provided four assists for Barca in all competitions this season, his fourth at Camp Nou.  

His tally of 78 shots is already his highest for a campaign since arriving from Borussia Dortmund, with his conversion rate sitting at 11.54 per cent.   

He barely featured last term but was more clinical in 2018-19, when he had 14 goals and eight assists in 42 appearances. That season, he converted shots at a rate of 20.29 per cent, with 45.45 per cent success from 'big chances', where Opta expects a player to score.  

Dembele has had 15 'big chances' and created a further seven under Ronald Koeman for Barca, who made it five wins on the spin in LaLiga at the weekend with a 6-1 thrashing of Real Sociedad, in which the Frenchman one of the goals.  

"Ousmane has and always had this ability to create chances and make the difference. He is not always decisive in the area. That's where it's most difficult," Deschamps continued.  

"The important thing is his ability to make the difference.  Yes, he can be more consistent from the beginning to the end of the game. 

"I'm not saying he can't progress or improve. I prefer to look at the qualities anyway. They all have little flaws that can be erased with time.   

"Sometimes they don't, but that doesn't stop them from being good. We are talking about a player who has been at the top level for several years and he is still very young."

Germany team director Oliver Bierhoff had no issue with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge's comments on Hansi Flick's future, insisting the DFB would not have approached the coach while he remained at Bayern Munich.

The 2014 world champions are searching for a new coach to succeed Joachim Low, who will leave his role after the Euro 2020 finals later this year.

Flick, Low's former assistant, was predictably mooted as a potential replacement having enjoyed great success as Bayern boss.

The Bavarian giants won the treble last season and have already added the Club World Cup title in 2020-21, while defences of their Bundesliga and Champions League crowns remain on track.

Flick, who turned Bayern's fortunes around, is under contract until 2023, although club CEO Rummenigge will depart at the end of the year.

That will not spell the end of Flick's tenure, though, Rummenigge insisted last week, saying: "We are well advised to finish what we have agreed in the contract."

But this does not clash with Germany's plans either, as Bierhoff says the new man will not be poached from another job. Ralf Rangnick, who turned down a role at Schalke, has been linked.

"Nothing has changed for us," the team director said on Monday. "We always said we won't approach a coach who is currently under contract.

"I interpreted it in the way that [Rummenigge] wanted to back Hansi Flick and he did. That is the right thing to do as CEO of a club."

Bierhoff was facing the media at the start of the first international break of 2021, with the clock now ticking on Germany's recruitment process.

"We don't have limitless time, but we are not under pressure either," he said. "We have to appoint a new coach for the time after the Euros. We are going to take our time.

"The DFB delegation will be in the team hotel in the coming days. President Fritz Keller, Peter Peters, Rainer Koch and Friedrich Curtius will be there and we will discuss the situation.

"Obviously we will analyse, discuss and have long talks, and then we'll see."

Marcus Rashford will likely link up with the England squad next week despite a foot injury keeping him out of the FA Cup quarter-final on Sunday, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said.

The forward was hurt during Manchester United's 1-0 win over Milan in the Europa League last-16 second leg at San Siro on Thursday.

Rashford struggled to walk on Saturday and United manager Solskjaer confirmed scans showed he has sustained damage, meaning he was unavailable for the clash with Leicester City at the King Power Stadium.

Anthony Martial returned from a hip injury to take Rashford's place in attack, while Paul Pogba and Donny van de Beek were also recalled to the starting line-up after only recently regaining full fitness.

Solskjaer said Rashford was never likely to feature against Leicester, but he will not stop the 23-year-old from joining up with Gareth Southgate's Three Lions squad for this month's World Cup qualifiers.

"No, he wasn't close [to playing]," Solskjaer told BBC Sport. "We took him off [against Milan] and he thought he'd be ready but, yesterday, he had no chance of walking on his foot.

"The scans show there's an injury there but, of course, we've got players coming back – Anthony and Donny are back in, so there are positives as well.

"The doctor will speak to the English [national team] but I think he'll travel and report [for international duty]. Maybe he'll be fit for them."

England face San Marino next Thursday before further matches against Albania on March 28 and Poland on March 31.

 

 

Italy boss Roberto Mancini handed first call-ups to Atalanta captain Rafael Toloi and Spezia midfielder Matteo Ricci as he selected a 38-man squad for the three upcoming World Cup qualifiers. 

Brazilian-born Toloi has been residing in Italy since leaving Sao Paulo to join Atalanta in 2015 and has received the citizenship that makes him eligible to represent the Azzurri. 

The 30-year-old has been summoned at the first opportunity by head coach Mancini, who has observed the centre-back as a prominent member of the Atalanta team that has caught the eye in Serie A and the Champions League. 

Ricci, 26, joined Spezia from Roma in July 2018 and helped the team win promotion to Serie A last season. 

He has yet to score in the top flight for Spezia this term but has had two assists and created 16 chances, while winning possession 139 times, a team-high mark. 

Italy face Northern Ireland in Parma in their Group C qualifying opener next Thursday, then tackle Bulgaria in Sofia on March 28 before playing Lithuania three days later in Vilnius. 

The Inter trio of Alessandro Bastoni, Nicolo Barella and Stefano Sensi will only be involved if they have the all-clear from health authorities, given they are currently subject to COVID-19 restrictions after positive tests at the club. 

Inter's Stefan de Vrij and Matias Vecino tested positive for coronavirus, and the Nerazzurri said on Thursday all players would be prevented from joining up with their international teams, although that may change if they return negative test results on Monday. 

The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) said Ricci must also be similarly cleared to join up. 

Italy are unbeaten in 22 games and have qualified for both Euro 2020, which takes place in June and July, and the Nations League Finals in October. 

Italy squad: Alessio Cragno (Cagliari), Gianluigi Donnarumma (Milan), Alex Meret (Napoli), Salvatore Sirigu (Torino); Francesco Acerbi (Lazio), Alessandro Bastoni (Inter), Cristiano Biraghi (Fiorentina), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Giovanni Di Lorenzo (Napoli), Emerson Palmieri (Chelsea), Gian Marco Ferrari (Sassuolo), Alessandro Florenzi (Paris Saint-Germain), Manuel Lazzari (Lazio), Gianluca Mancini (Roma), Leonardo Spinazzola (Roma), Rafael Toloi (Atalanta); Nicolo Barella (Inter), Gaetano Castrovilli (Fiorentina), Bryan Cristante (Roma), Manuel Locatelli (Sassuolo), Rolando Mandragora (Torino), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma), Matteo Pessina (Atalanta), Matteo Ricci (Spezia), Stefano Sensi (Inter), Roberto Soriano (Bologna), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain); Andrea Belotti (Torino), Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), Federico Bernardeschi (Juventus), Francesco Caputo (Sassuolo), Federico Chiesa (Juventus), Stephan El Shaarawy (Roma), Vincenzo Grifo (Friburgo), Ciro Immobile (Lazio), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Moise Kean (Paris Saint-Germain).

Stefan de Vrij's positive coronavirus test has ruled him out of the latest Netherlands squad, with Mainz centre-back Jeremiah St Juste included for the first time in his place.

Dutch coach Frank de Boer named a final 24-man squad on Friday, picking from an initial 31-man group selected earlier this month.

Inter defender De Vrij was among those to make way, having contracted COVID-19, prompting a lockdown of the Nerazzurri camp.

Their international players have been banned from joining their national teams, although Belgium still called up Romelu Lukaku while De Boer suggested a delayed arrival was possible for De Vrij.

But that complication has created an opportunity for St Juste, a former youth international.

"For Stefan de Vrij, it is of course annoying that he tested positive for corona," De Boer said. "That's why we can't summon him.

"We need to see how that develops and whether Stefan can possibly join later. We'll really have to wait and see.

"With Jeremiah St Juste, who can play at right-back and right-centre, I now have a good replacement. It's nice for him to be able to make his debut in the squad."

Although St Juste's passing accuracy of 79.6 per cent pales next to De Vrij's (93.5 per cent), he has had far more practice in a defensive sense this season at Bundesliga strugglers Mainz.

The 24-year-old contests more duels (9.8, winning 58 per cent), aerial duels (3.9) and tackles (1.9) per 90 minutes than De Vrij, while also contributing more interceptions (2.1) and blocks (0.9).

Goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, last in a Netherlands squad in October 2017, has also been handed a chance.

Wout Weghorst misses out, his 26 goal involvements in 32 Wolfsburg games not enough, as does Quincy Promes, who was arrested in December in connection to a stabbing earlier last year. The player denied his alleged involvement.

"We are now close to the European Championships," De Boer said. "That means that all players from the provisional squad remain in our picture, even if they are not in the final group now.

"This applies, for example, to Quincy Promes, who I have not selected now. The competition in his position is great and I choose others at the moment.

"Of course I know the stories around him, but for me only one thing applies: you are innocent in the Netherlands until proven guilty. So I treat him just like everyone else."

Netherlands squad in full:

Jasper Cillessen (Valencia), Tim Krul (Norwich City), Maarten Stekelenburg (Ajax); Daley Blind (Ajax), Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus), Denzel Dumfries (PSV), Jeremiah St Juste (Mainz), Kenny Tete (Fulham), Patrick van Aanholt (Crystal Palace), Joel Veltman (Brighton and Hove Albion), Owen Wijndal (AZ); Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona), Ryan Gravenberch (Ajax), Davy Klaassen (Ajax), Marten de Roon (Atalanta), Donny van de Beek (Manchester United), Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool); Ryan Babel (Galatasaray), Steven Berghuis (Feyenoord), Steven Bergwijn (Tottenham), Calvin Stengs (AZ), Memphis Depay (Lyon), Luuk de Jong (Sevilla), Donyell Malen (PSV).

Jamal Musiala should not change his approach while away with Germany, Hansi Flick insisted after the Bayern Munich teenager was handed his first senior international call-up. 

Having elected to represent Germany ahead of England, whom he played for at youth level, Musiala was selected by Joachim Low for Die Mannschaft's upcoming World Cup qualifiers with Iceland, Romania and North Macedonia. 

Musiala has made 18 Bundesliga appearances in 2020-21 – only four players who are younger than him (18 years, 21 days) have played in more matches across the top five European leagues this term. 

On target in a 4-1 win over Lazio in the Champions League last month, Musiala has demonstrated impressive composure for someone of his tender years. 

And Flick believes displaying the same level-headed attitude will be the key for Musiala in his international career. 

"He should approach it the same way he does things with us, by staying calm. He's an exceptional player," Flick told a media conference ahead of Bayern's Bundesliga clash with Stuttgart. 

Bayern have been pitted against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League quarter-finals having eased past Lazio 6-2 on aggregate in the last 16. 

It is a rematch of last year's final, with the reward for winning the tie a semi-final meeting with either Manchester City or Borussia Dortmund.

But the renewal of acquaintances with PSG is not in Flick's immediate focus.

"My focus is on the game against Stuttgart, first and foremost," he said about the draw. "This will be our 18th game in 11 weeks.

"The team has, in this short time, delivered many strong performances once again, including in the most recent games.

"Now comes first Stuttgart, then the important game in Leipzig. We have enough time to prepare for Paris.

"Manchester City is currently one of the most consistent teams in Europe, so it is a challenge for us and Dortmund. We play the Champions League for that. 

"But we and Dortmund have the opportunity to go one round further.

"It's important to play two games at the highest level. Of course, it's a tough opponent, as you saw in the final. But we also have tremendous quality."

Teenagers Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz have been called up to Germany's senior squad for the first time, but there is still no place for Thomas Muller, Mats Hummels or Jerome Boateng. 

Musiala, 18, pledged his allegiance to Germany last month having previously represented England at every level from Under-15 to Under-21. 

The versatile attacker played in the Chelsea academy from 2011 until 2019 before opting to move back to Germany, where the Stuttgart-born youngster has since made quite the impression at Bayern Munich. 

He has made 18 Bundesliga appearances this term – only four players who are younger than him (18 years, 21 days) have played in more matches across the top five European leagues this term. 

One of those is Wirtz, who has shown immense promise at Bayer Leverkusen since making his debut shortly after his 17th birthday in May last year. 

With four goals and as many assists in 21 Bundesliga games, Wirtz – a technically gifted attacking midfielder – is one of only two players under the age of 20 (along with Arnaud Kalimuendo) across the top European leagues to be involved in eight league goals. 

Similarly, across those same leagues, Adil Aouchiche (46) is the only individual yet to turn 20 with more key passes than Wirtz's tally of 37.

Joachim Low, who earlier this month confirmed he will leave his post later this year, is urging both players to relax despite the added pressures that come with international recognition. 

"We are excited to get to know Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz even better," he told the German Football Association (DFB). "They earned the nomination with their recent good performances. 

"But especially with such young players, our responsibility is to be careful with them and lead them step by step to the highest level. 

"Both have huge potential, and I am sure that we will have a lot of fun with them in the next few years, but at the moment it is important not to rush into anything, they should take it easy and develop carefree. I think the next few days will be a good experience for Jamal and Florian." 

Amin Younes, who has been impressing with Eintracht Frankfurt this term, has earned his first call-up since October 2017, while Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Emre Can, Lukas Klostermann and Kai Havertz all return after missing the November internationals, which included a 6-0 humiliation by Spain. 

However, there is still no recall for Bayern duo Muller and Boateng, nor Borussia Dortmund centre-back Hummels. 

All three World Cup winners were cast aside by Low in March last year as he looked to refresh the squad in the wake of the 2018 World Cup failure. 

Earlier this month, Low did not rule out potentially bringing them back into the fold given their solid form at club level, yet he has ignored them again on this occasion as Germany begin their World Cup qualification campaign with games against Iceland, Romania and North Macedonia.

Roberto Martinez remains "very positive" Eden Hazard will be fit and firing in time for Euro 2020 despite missing out on Belgium's latest squad.

And the Red Devils coach called on club side Real Madrid to join the national team in taking "responsibility" for Hazard's recovery.

The winger returned from a six-game absence in LaLiga to appear as a second-half substitute in Madrid's win against Elche last weekend.

However, Hazard had to miss training on Monday due to a damaged hip flexor and could not face Atalanta in the Champions League the following day.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane fumed at the repeated "inexplicable" issues that have restricted Hazard to just 36 appearances and 29 starts since his €100million transfer in June 2019.

Hazard has scored only four times for Los Blancos, providing five assists from 38 chances created.

But he remains a key man for Belgium, with five goals, seven assists and 34 chances created in eight European Championship qualifying outings and is set to captain the side at the finals, if he can recover in time.

Martinez is staying patient, revealing the player - in "good spirits" - will not undergo surgery and explaining: "I think there is still a long, long, long, long way to go [to the Euros].

"Rather than setting a timeline, all that matters is to measure every day and to see that Eden is on the right path to get back to full fitness.

"It would be wrong and it would be gambling, by anyone, to imagine if Eden will be fully fit or not.

"I feel this situation can be solved a lot earlier than the Euros, but only when Eden goes from day to day will we see the final answer.

"Knowing Eden, what we're dealing with is a player that has never been injured in his career. This is a real shock, something new. There is a lot of uncertainty around that.

"But in terms of the injury, I feel very positive that we can get to see the best Eden Hazard well before the Euros."

While Zidane had no explanation for Hazard's woes, Martinez added: "This is a situation with Eden Hazard. We're dealing with the same problem. There's been a lot of different niggles and different problems, but everything comes from the same previous problem.

"Now is the moment to forget about any deadlines, any times, it's about Eden Hazard, giving him what he needs and getting him fully recovered and making sure he's back on the football pitch.

"We all need to take that responsibility, between the Belgian federation and the club where he's playing his football."

While Hazard will play no part in Belgium's March World Cup qualifiers against Wales, Czech Republic and Belarus, Romelu Lukaku has been included, despite a coronavirus breakout at Inter.

There are also first senior nods for midfielders Albert Sambi Lokonga and Orel Mangala.


Belgium squad in full:

Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid), Thomas Kaminski (Blackburn Rovers), Simon Mignolet (Club Brugge); Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Dedryck Boyata (Hertha Berlin), Timothy Castagne (Leicester City), Jason Denayer (Lyon), Leander Dendoncker (Wolves), Thomas Foket (Reims), Brandon Mechele (Club Brugge), Thomas Meunier (Borussia Dortmund), Thomas Vermaelen (Vissel Kobe), Jan Vertonghen (Benfica); Yannick Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Nacer Chadli (Istanbul Basaksehir), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Dortmund), Albert Sambi Lokonga (Anderlecht), Orel Mangala (Stuttgart), Dennis Praet (Leicester City), Alexis Saelemaekers (Milan), Youri Tielemans (Leicester City), Hans Vanaken (Club Brugge); Michy Batshuayi (Crystal Palace), Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace), Charles De Ketelaere (Club Brugge), Jeremy Doku (Rennes), Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad), Romelu Lukaku (Inter), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Leandro Trossard (Brighton and Hove Albion), Yari Verschaeren (Anderlecht).

Trent Alexander-Arnold has not made the cut for England despite being one of the few Liverpool players to deliver high standards during the Reds' poor run.

Gareth Southgate named a 26-man squad for this month's upcoming World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland.

Five full-backs were included in the selection, but Alexander-Arnold, a Champions League and Premier League winner in the past two years, was not among them, casting doubt over his participation in Euro 2020.

Manchester City's Kyle Walker, Chelsea's Reece James and Atletico Madrid's Kieran Trippier were preferred to Alexander-Arnold at right-back, while left-backs Ben Chilwell and Luke Shaw were also selected.

Trippier has just returned from a ban imposed by the Football Association for a breach of betting rules.

Alexander-Arnold and his Liverpool team-mates have endured a tough time in the Premier League since the turn of the year, picking up just four wins.

The reigning champions have lost eight league games in 2021, though 22-year-old Alexander-Arnold has kept his performance levels high.

Manchester United full-back Shaw is the only defender to have created more chances (52) than Alexander-Arnold (47) so far this season, while the Liverpool man ranks highest of any player in the competition for passes played into the box (315).

Alexander-Arnold's accuracy from crosses and corners tallies at 18.81 per cent, which does represent a dip compared to 21.41 last season, and 29.21 in 2018-19.

His efforts this season have resulted in one goal and three assists – he teed up 13 goals last term – though Liverpool's misfiring strike force have to shoulder much of that responsibility, with only club-mate Andrew Robertson and West Ham's Aaron Cresswell (both nine) having crafted more big chances among Premier League defenders than Alexander-Arnold (eight).

Alexander-Arnold also boasts an impressive 69.05 per cent tackle success rate, from a total of 42 attempted tackles, higher than James (68.42) and Walker (65.38), though slightly lower than Trippier's rate of 69.23 per cent from 39 attempted tackles in LaLiga. Alexander-Arnold had a 61.82 per cent success rate last term, so there has been a marked improvement.

The youngster's set-piece delivery could also be a miss for England, with Alexander-Arnold having created 21 goalscoring opportunities from corners or free-kicks in the league this term – only four players have managed more in the top flight.

A SUPER TALENT

Explaining his decision, Southgate conceded Alexander-Arnold was "unfortunate" to miss out, though he singled out Matty Cash of Aston Villa and Luke Ayling of Leeds United as examples of the strength in depth England possess at right-back, while Aaron Wan-Bissaka was not even mentioned.

Wan-Bissaka's international future is up in the air, with reports the Manchester United defender may choose to represent DR Congo having been consistently overlooked by Southgate, but the England boss has no doubt over Alexander-Arnold's long-term importance to the Three Lions.

"There's some areas of the pitch where we've got incredible competition for places," Southgate told a news conference.

"Trent has been very unfortunate. The last few weeks he's definitely taken steps in the right direction. Reece and Trippier have had exceptional seasons. Kyle is in great form.

"Matty at Aston Villa, Luke at Leeds. It's a remarkable position of strength. What I said to Trent – I've made that same call to Kyle and Kieran in the past, their response was a good one.

"Trent is a super talent and I'm certain he'll play a big part with England in the future. We could be sat here [for the Euros] and he's with us."

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