Jack Grealish's future at Manchester City has been the subject of speculation lately despite being only 18 months into a six-year contract.

The 27-year-old England attacking midfielder has not quite met expectations since his big-money switch from Aston Villa.

Grealish has scored one goal in 16 appearances this season, after netting five times in 33 games in his maiden season at City.

 

TOP STORY - MILAN PLOT SHOCK MOVE FOR GREALISH

Serie A champions Milan are set to launch a shock transfer bid for Grealish, according to Calciomercato.

City are open to selling the playmaker, who they signed from Villa last year for £100 million, the most expensive transfer of an English player.

The Premier League champions are willing to let Grealish go to fund their bid for Borussia Dortmund's England international Jude Bellingham. Milan would likely make a move for Grealish at the end of the season.

ROUND-UP

Bellingham's management have informed Real Madrid that Liverpool are ahead in the race for the Dortmund midfielder's signature, according to Bild.

Liverpool have joined the pursuit of Valencia's United States international Yunus Musah, competing with Premier League rivals Arsenal and Chelsea, reports Calciomercato.

– 90min claims both Tottenham and Liverpool are considering a move for Fiorentina's Morocco international midfielder Sofyan Amrabat in January.

Milan may be interested in Barcelona target Gabriel Martinelli, should the Italian giants sell Rafael Leao in January, claims Calciomercato. Martinelli is contracted with Arsenal until 2024.

Marseille are interested in a move for Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha when his contract is up at the end of the season, reports 90min.

– Bild reports that Bayern Munich are close to agreeing a new deal for 19-year-old whizzkid Jamal Musiala.

Borussia Dortmund assistant coach Peter Hermann has stepped down from his position and called time on his lengthy career for health reasons.

The much-respected 70-year-old was appointed by Dortmund in June as part of Edin Terzic's backroom staff.

Hermann has spent more than three decades coaching in German football, appearing on the touchline for over 1,000 games in the Bundesliga, 2.Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal.

He previously had two spells as assistant at Bayern Munich, where he played a part in the club's famous treble alongside Jupp Heynckes in the 2012-13 season.

Dortmund announced in a statement on their official website on Wednesday that Hermann has left his role with immediate effect.

"Peter has asked us for his release for health reasons. It goes without saying that we have complied with his wish," Dortmund sporting director Sebastian Kehl said. 

"We were incredibly happy last summer that Peter – although his personal life plans didn't include it at the time – decided to spend another year in professional football for BVB. 

"In him we are not only losing an experienced, technically excellent coach, but also a great person."

Hermann also enjoyed spells in the dugout with Bayer Leverkusen, Schalke, Hamburg, Nurnberg and Fortuna Dusseldorf. 

"My time at BVB was short and yet very intense," Hermann said. "I've come to appreciate this club, the team and the entire environment over the past few months.

"I've enjoyed working for a club that loves and lives football so much. Unfortunately, I'm not allowed to work longer for Dortmund, because of course health always comes first."

Dortmund, who are sixth in the Bundesliga after 15 matches, confirmed they are searching for Hermann's successor and a decision will be made in the coming weeks.

Bayern Munich CEO Oliver Kahn believes Jamal Musiala will be an "important cornerstone" in the club's future, with the Bavarian giants eager to secure the teenager's long-term services.

Musiala has enjoyed an impressive start to the Bundesliga season, scoring nine goals and providing six assists, with his 15 goal involvements the most registered by any teenager across Europe's top five leagues.

The Germany international, whose tally is also just two shy of Paris Saint-Germain's Lionel Messi (17 - seven goals, 10 assists), is under contract with Bayern until 2026, though Kahn does not want the 19-year-old to be tempted away from the Allianz Arena.

"Jamal has enormous qualities that he's showing consistently at a high level at 19," the former goalkeeper said. "He's also very ambitious and always wants to improve. We're glad we have him. Jamal will be an important cornerstone in the future of Bayern."

 

Musiala's performances provided a rare positive during Germany's disappointing World Cup campaign, with Die Nationalmannschaft exiting in the group stage for the second successive finals.

Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic believes the experience will benefit the youngster, with whom he soon hopes to open discussions regarding his future.

"Jamal was one of Germany's bright spots at the World Cup," he said. "Watching him play is simply fun.

"Playing at a World Cup was a valuable experience for him. Although the elimination is bitter, Jamal is 19 and still has many tournaments to play for Germany.

"Of course, we told Jamal's mother Carolin and his management before the World Cup that we're very happy with Jamal, and we let them know that we want to sit down with them after the tournament to talk about Jamal's further future at Bayern.

"We saw that he could transfer his performances at Bayern to the national team. We at Bayern will do everything to continue supporting him in his development."

Thomas Muller needs time to decide his international future after Germany's early World Cup exit, the Bayern Munich star said on Sunday.

A surprise defeat to Japan in Germany's opening game in Qatar was followed by a 1-1 draw with Spain, with elimination confirmed despite a 4-2 victory over Costa Rice in their final group match.

It represented the second group-stage elimination in a row for Germany at the World Cup, having fallen at the same hurdle when defending their title in Russia four years ago.

Muller heavily hinted at retirement from Germany duty after the team's latest elimination, and he has now stated he has begun the process of dealing with the events.

Muller posted a lengthy message on Instagram that read: "The sting is brutally deep, felt deeper than usual.

"It was a wave of emotions. Anticipation, ambition, politics, rejection, opening defeat, hope and recognition after game 2, then with our first tournament victory at the same time the elimination and therefore the complete disaster."

Muller, now 33, was a World Cup winner with Germany in 2014 and has scored 44 goals in 121 appearances for the national team.

He said of this World Cup disappointment: "It's more opaque than usual, there are more contradictions. It's more difficult at this World Cup to filter and interpret what you've experienced correctly. How to evaluate the achievements and results?

"The big question in life: what happened? Despite all the experience with great successes and also crushing defeats, I will need some time this time to organise everything.

"A big thank-you goes out to everyone who has supported us as a team and myself personally over the last few weeks – even in difficult moments! See you soon."

Matthijs de Ligt has no issues with being left out of Louis van Gaal's starting line-up for the Netherlands' past three games as he "expected to play nothing" at this World Cup.

De Ligt came on as a 93rd-minute substitute in the Netherlands' 3-1 win over the United States in Saturday's last-16 encounter.

That marked the 23-year-old's first appearance for the Oranje since starting in their World Cup opener, the 2-0 win over Senegal, having been demoted to the bench by Van Gaal for the ensuing three games.

"It's not so frustrating, honestly," De Ligt told The Athletic. "Every player wants to play but we are a group of 26 players.

"Honestly, I have played more than I expected to play at this World Cup. I expected to play nothing. I'm quite okay. We won together and we are in a quarter-final."

The defender, who has established himself at Bayern Munich since his off-season switch from Juventus, has seen Ajax 21-year-old Jurrien Timber take his place alongside Nathan Ake and Virgil van Dijk in Van Gaal's back three.

"No, it's just the way of playing," De Ligt replied when asked if injury was behind his non-selection. "Maybe the coach doesn't put me in the team and I am okay with that. I expected it.

"So for me it's fine. I know my role and I train hard every day to be important for the team."

Meanwhile, Van Dijk backed 23-year-old Netherlands team-mate Cody Gakpo to take the next step in his career.

Gakpo, who scored in all three of the Dutch's World Cup group-stage wins, has been linked with Manchester United and Real Madrid.

"Are Manchester United and Real Madrid the same level at this moment? No disrespect, not at all," Liverpool defender Van Dijk told The Athletic.

"I think he definitely has a next step in him. I definitely feel like it could happen. Whether it happens in the winter or next year, time will tell.

"But he's a great boy. Works hard, is very talented and there's definitely more in him. We are very pleased he's doing so well and long may it continue."

Gakpo would not be drawn on his future after the win over USA, while United defender Tyrell Malacia backed him to step up should an opportunity arise.

"He's good enough for the top, there's no doubt," Malacia said.

Once every four years players from across the globe get a chance to perform on the world stage and force their way into the football zeitgeist.

Whether it is a young midfielder from Ghana who has been battling injuries the past couple of seasons, or a mercurial Dutch forward trying to push his way out of the Eredivisie, it is the perfect launchpad to alter the course of a player's career.

Stats Perform has identified four players who have lit up Qatar and, in turn, have seen their profile and transfer stock skyrocket, opening the door to a new world of possibilities come the January transfer window.

Take a look at these young leading lights...

Cody Gakpo, the Netherlands

Cody Gakpo has perhaps been the breakout star of the tournament, finding the back of the net in all three of the Netherlands' group matches.

Having spent his entire career with PSV, the 23-year-old six-foot-four forward took a huge step forward in the 2021-22 season when he shattered his best goal return, following up his 11 goals in the 2020-21 campaign with 21 last time out.

While those in the Netherlands set-up were waiting to see if he could replicate his terrific 12 months, he has taken another leap, with 12 goals and 14 assists in 19 combined Eredivisie and Europa League contests this term.

There were rumours in the most recent transfer window that Leeds United were among the clubs looking to lure Gakpo away from PSV for a fee in the range of €30million, but he opted to reject their contract offer in the hope of landing at one of Europe's biggest clubs.

That bet on himself has proven to be a masterstroke, with his performances on the Qatar stage well and truly putting him on the radar of Champions League sides including Real Madrid, Liverpool and Bayern Munich, per Dutch journalist Marco Timmer.

He became the first player from any European nation since 2002 to score in each group match, while he also became only the second player to put his side 1-0 up in all three group fixtures.

Enzo Fernandez, Argentina

Just over six months ago, Enzo Fernandez was playing for River Plate back in Argentina, but just half a season after arriving at Benfica for a deal worth up to €18m, the attacking midfielder could be moving on to greener pastures.

Fernandez, 21, broke into the Argentina squad while still with River Plate, but did not receive his senior debut until September 24 this year.

His lead-up to the World Cup was strong enough to book his ticket to Qatar, and after coming off the bench in Argentina's first group-stage loss to Saudi Arabia, he came on and scored against Mexico, forcing his way into the starting XI before contributing an assist against Poland.

His rapid rise has not gone unnoticed, and Marca is reporting Benfica have slapped a €100m fee on their new star if any team wants to pry him away while his contract still has another four seasons locked in.

Real Madrid are one side said to be accepting of that figure, with Marca claiming they now view him as an alternative option to Borussia Dortmund and England prodigy Jude Bellingham.

Mohammed Kudus, Ghana

Ajax's Mohammed Kudus had begun to break out at the club level this season heading into the World Cup.

The 22-year-old central midfielder scored four goals – including one each against Liverpool and Napoli – while adding two assists in six Champions League fixtures.

After being awarded his first senior international cap for Ghana back in 2019, he was spotted at Danish side Nordsjaelland and brought over to Ajax for a €9m fee in 2020.

He missed extended stretches of both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 campaigns through injuries, and still has not been used as a guaranteed starter this season, but his emergence on the World Cup stage has been undeniable.

Against South Korea, Kudus delivered Ghana their only win of the group as he found the back of the net twice in a 3-2 triumph, and it was a performance that is said to have caught the eye of European powerhouses.

Fichajes named Liverpool, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain as interested parties, and Sports Illustrated believe his price will be around £90m.

 

Harry Souttar, Australia

Australia have now qualified for five World Cups in a row, but after not winning a game at both the 2014 and 2018 editions, they had centre-back Harry Souttar to thank for finally taking three points against Tunisia.

Souttar, 24, stands at a towering six-foot-six and showed off an impressive ability to cover ground in a hurry when he was called upon for a potentially game-saving, last-man challenge to defend Australia's 1-0 lead.

It was one of the most spectacular defensive efforts of the tournament so far and one that will go down in Australian football folklore, and it is even more significant when taking into account his recent history.

Tipped as a potential £20m transfer target late in 2021, Souttar then tore his ACL and missed 12 months of action, returning to the field in time to get three games under his belt with Stoke City before jetting off to the World Cup.

While he could be forgiven for needing time to work his way into form, he has instead started all three group games and been the Socceroos' top performer, including his stellar efforts in a second clean sheet against Denmark to help his side through to the knockout stage.

Clearly back to the player he was before his injury – at least – Souttar's showings on the world stage have been the kind that can take a career to a new level.

Atletico Madrid are reportedly ready to part ways with their club-record signing, setting a €100million asking price for Portuguese forward Joao Felix.

Felix, 23, was purchased from Benfica back in 2019 for a fee of €126m – shattering their transfer record by more than €50m.

He helped Atletico to a LaLiga title in the 2020-21 season, before being named the club's Player of the Season for the 2021-22 campaign, but he has now fallen out of favour, starting just five of his side's 14 league games.

Felix has been able to put himself in the shop window during his two starts to begin Portugal's World Cup group stage, including a goal against Ghana, and now Champions League contenders are expected to come calling in January.

 

TOP STORY – PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN NAMED AS ONE OF THREE SUITORS FOR FELIX

Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and Manchester United have been named the main interested parties by Spanish publication AS.

The report states Felix's relationship with head coach Diego Simeone has become too strained to continue persisting, and includes a claim that Atletico rejected a €130m offer from United before the season.

With his contract tying him to the club until 2026, there will be no need to settle for an offer deemed unsatisfactory, but AS believes anything approaching that €100m figure – including bonuses – will be enough to get a deal done.

 

ROUND-UP

– Sport is reporting Barcelona view 32-year-old Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan as a potential replacement for Sergio Busquets when the German international's contract expires after the season.

– According to Express, Saudi Arabian clubs Al Hilal and Al-Nassr are considered the leading candidates to fight it out for ex-United superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

Paris Saint-Germain will offer Lionel Messi a new contract at the conclusion of the World Cup, according to Goal.

Chelsea and Newcastle United are competing to land 18-year-old Vasco da Gama midfielder Andrey Santos, per 90min.

– Gazzetta dello Sport is reporting Milan would like to bring in Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech on a loan deal with the option to make it permanent, but the Moroccan's contract demands could be too expensive.

Real Madrid have reportedly pivoted away from Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham and are now treating Benfica's Enzo Fernandez as their top transfer target.

Bellingham, 19, was considered the top priority for the Spanish giants, but a report from Marca claims they now believe he is destined for the Premier League and will instead focus their resources on 21-year-old Fernandez.

Fernandez arrived at Benfica in June after they were able to pry him away from River Plate for a deal worth up to €18million including add-ons, but his exploits on the Champions League stage – including assists against Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus – have that price looking like a steal.

 

TOP STORY – REAL MADRID SET THEIR SIGHTS ON ARGENTINA'S NEW STAR

Fernandez was handed his international debut as a 20-year-old back in November 2021, and his continued growth on the European stage earned his spot in Argentina's World Cup squad.

Not content to purely come along for the ride, Fernandez was brought on as a substitute in each of his side's first two group games, and against Mexico he became Argentina's youngest goalscorer at a World Cup since Lionel Messi in 2006.

His ability to both break into and perform for such a quality international side – entering the tournament on a 35-match unbeaten streak before falling to Saudi Arabia – has reportedly sent Fernandez's transfer value through the roof.

Marca's report claims he is now viewed as a €100m talent by Benfica, and they expect to field offers in that neighbourhood soon.

 

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– According to Relevo, Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag views the Netherlands' World Cup hero Cody Gakpo as his ideal replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo.

– Fichajes is reporting Liverpool, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain are all showing interest in 22-year-old Ajax midfielder Mohammed Kudus amid his excellent performances for Ghana.

Bayern Munich remain interested in Tottenham's Harry Kane and are working on an offer between €80-100m, per Sky Sports Germany.

– The Sun is reporting Chelsea are not happy with both Edouard Mendy and Kepa Arrizabalaga and will look to bring in a new first-choice goalkeeper.

– With Rafael Leao likely leaving Milan at the end of the season, Gazzetta dello Sport claims they will try to fill the void with RB Salzburg's 22-year-old Swiss international Noah Okafor.

Free agent Cristiano Ronaldo will not be joining Bayern Munich, says chief executive officer Oliver Kahn, despite acknowledging "we all love" the forward.

Portugal captain Ronaldo will be on the hunt for a new club after his exit from Manchester United, which has come less than 18 months after his return to Old Trafford.

With the attacker's focus firmly on the World Cup, his next steps are not yet known, though that has not stopped him from being linked to a slew of leading sides across the globe.

One club he will not be headed to, however, is Bayern, with Kahn reiterating there is no place for Ronaldo in the make-up of Julian Nagelsmann's team.

"We have already dealt with this [speculation]," Kahn told Sky Sport Germany. "We have a clear idea, a clear philosophy of how our squad should be put together.

"We all appreciate him, there's no discussion. We all love Cristiano Ronaldo, but that's something that doesn't fit into our idea."

Kahn sidestepped speculation over Bayern's reported long-term interest in England captain Harry Kane, with the Tottenham forward frequently mooted as a target.

"Of course he's a very good player, but there are also many other very good players," Kahn said. "I've read that everywhere, Oliver Kahn and Harry Kane.

"We deal with many, many players, and it is not okay to talk about players who are signed to other clubs. We have a very good squad that is doing an excellent job at the moment."

Bayern sit four points clear at the top of the Bundesliga, ahead of Freiburg, and topped their Champions League group earlier this season with a perfect record of six wins from six matches.

Christopher Nkunku has long been inked with Chelsea, with reports he had undergone a medical in September.

The 25-year-old Frenchman netted 20 goals in the Bundesliga last season and already has 12 this term.

The Blues are undergoing a period of change under owner Todd Boehly and new head coach Graham Potter – and could be about to land a big-name target.

 

TOP STORY - NKUNKU'S CHELSEA DEAL SET TO BE SIGNED

Chelsea are on the cusp of finalising the deal for RB Leipzig forward Nkunku with contracts set to be signed, reports Fabrizio Romano.

The Blues have reached an agreement with Nkunku's German club Leipzig for more than £52million (€60m).

Nkunku, who was ruled out of the World Cup earlier this month due to a knee injury, will apparently pen a long-term deal starting from June 2023.

ROUND-UP

- ESPN has reported that  Lionel Messi has not agreed to a deal to join Inter Miami from Paris Saint-Germain following reports that he is on the verge of a deal with the Major League Soccer club.

Chelsea are reportedly not willing to let Christian Pulisic depart on loan in January, amid links with Premier League trio Manchester United, Newcastle United and Arsenal. The Blues would prefer a permanent deal for the United States international.

- Sky Sport's Florian Plettenberg claims RB Leipzig's Konrad Laimer has reached a verbal agreement to join Bayern Munich at the end of this season, with a view to a long-term deal until 2027.

Edin Dzeko is set to earn a new one-year deal with Inter, according to Gazzetta. But the 36-year-old must accept a pay cut, from about €5.5m to €3m per season (plus bonuses).

- Ecuador international midfielder Moises Caicedo, who is currently on Brighton and Hove Albion's books, is drawing interest from Manchester United, claims Sky Germany.

- Fabrizio Romano reports Brighton are in talks with Molde to sign 19-year-old Ivorian striker David Datro Fofana. The Norwegian club want more than €10m (£8.6m) for him.

Cristiano Ronaldo became a free agent earlier this week after mutually agreeing with Manchester United to terminate his contract.

Ronaldo's availability has prompted numerous clubs to weigh up moves for the five-time Ballon d'Or winner.

Brazilian giants Flamengo and Saudi Arabian powerhouse Al Hilal have been linked with Ronaldo in recent days.

AL NASSR OFFER LUCRATIVE DEAL TO FREE AGENT RONALDO

CBS claims Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr have offered Cristiano Ronaldo a three-year deal worth £186m.

The deal would see Ronaldo play into his 40s, with Al Nassr having resumed talks with his representatives having initiated them in the close season.

An unnamed Saudi Arabian club reportedly made an offer for the 37-year-old Portuguese prior to the start of this campaign.

Al Nassr are nine-time Saudi Arabian champions and ex-Lyon and Roma boss Rudi Garcia is their head coach.

ROUND-UP

Cody Gakpo and Milan's Rafael Leao are top of Erik ten Hag's wish list to replace Ronaldo at Manchester United in January, claims ESPN.

- Arsenal are set to beat Newcastle United to sign Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Mykhailo Mudryk for approximately £40 million, reports The Mirror.

- Bayern Munich are the latest club to enter the race to sign West Ham's England international Declan Rice, according to El Nacional.

- Juventus are planning a move for Athletic Bilbao winger Nico Williams, reports AS. Williams is contracted with Athletic until 2024.

- Milan are keen on Salzburg forward Noah Okafor, with the Austrian club asking €35m for him, according to Calciomercato.

PSV's Cody Gakpo has become one of the early breakout stars at the World Cup, and will reportedly be courted by some of the world's biggest clubs in January.

Gakpo, 23, has spent his entire career with PSV after arriving at their youth academy back in 2007, and has risen through the ranks to become one of the Netherlands' top attacking options.

He has racked up nine goals and 12 assists in his side's first 14 Eredivisie fixtures, and has started his World Cup campaign with goals in each of the first two group stage matches against Senegal and Ecuador.

Having been linked to Leeds United before the season, he reportedly opted to remain with PSV to secure a move to an even bigger club – and now Champions League teams are said to be calling.


TOP STORY – EUROPEAN POWERHOUSES SET SIGHTS ON GAKPO

According to Dutch journalist Marco Timmer, the clubs who will make an attempt to sign the Dutch talent include Liverpool, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Manchester United.

Having previously said he would be happy to remain in the Netherlands until the end of the season before exploring a move to the Premier League, Gakpo's value is said to have soared past the £50million mark.

There were reports early in the season that PSV's financial situation would force them to accept any further bids around £30m, so if a team with deep pockets comes with a serious offer in January, it will likely be hard to turn down.
 

ROUND-UP

– According to Fichajes, United have added 23-year-old Bayer Leverkusen winger Moussa Diaby to their list of forward targets. 

– 90min is reporting Milan are considering another bid for Chelsea's Hakim Ziyech in January after testing the waters in the previous transfer window.

Memphis Depay could return to former club United in January as Barcelona are considering terminating the 28-year-old's contract to get him off their books.

– According to Sky Sports Germany, United are not considered a realistic destination for Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham.

– CBS is reporting multiple Premier League clubs, including Everton, Leeds and West Ham, are interested in 26-year-old Senegal forward Boulaye Dia, with the Villarreal-contracted player scoring against Qatar on Friday.

Lucas Hernandez has successfully undergone surgery after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in France's 4-1 World Cup opening win against Australia on Tuesday.

Hernandez's club Bayern Munich confirmed he had the operation in Innsbruck on Thursday, with his rehabilitation to commence in Munich in the coming days.

The defender was ruled out of the remainder of the World Cup due to the injury that saw him replaced after only 13 minutes.

Bayern did not provide a timeframe on Hernandez's recovery but it is expected he will miss the rest of the 2022-23 season.

Hernandez is the latest injury blow for the world champions, who saw Paul Pogba, N'Golo Kante, Karim Benzema and Christopher Nkunku all ruled out before the tournament started.

France head coach Didier Deschamps said after Tuesday's game: "Like the whole group, players and staff, I am extremely sorry for Lucas.

"We are losing an important element. Lucas is a warrior and I have no doubt that he will do everything possible to return to the game.

"I know him well. Courage, he will have it, that's for sure. On behalf of the group, I wish him the best possible recovery."

Hernandez has made 11 appearances, including 10 starts, for Bayern this season, having missed six weeks with an adductor injury sustained in September.

Joshua Kimmich's "childhood dream" has been somewhat ruined by Qatar hosting the World Cup, with "no real joy" for Germany in the build-up to the tournament.

Bayern Munich's Kimmich made three appearances at right-back as Germany crashed to a group-stage exit at Russia 2018, with Qatar 2022 proving his first real opportunity since making a name as a midfielder.

But the 27-year-old has been left wanting with the ongoing concerns surrounding the human rights record in Qatar, where same-sex relationships are prohibited and homosexuality is illegal.

Kimmich remains underwhelmed due to the ongoing off-field distractions, though he assured Germany are firing on all fronts ahead of Wednesday's Group E opener against Japan.

"I would like to be able to look forward to a World Cup, even if it takes place here," Kimmich said on Tuesday.

"It's a huge dream for all of us, we're all on fire. We all want to play a good tournament, we all want to win tomorrow and yes, it's not our fault where the World Cup takes place."

Germany have made their dissatisfaction with the hosts known as Die Mannschaft supporters have repeatedly voiced their opposition to the tournament in the Middle East.

"I don't feel like there's any real joy there," added Kimmich on the lack of interest in the tournament back home.

Kimmich, like many other big-name footballing stars, promised to speak out where he sees fit, though he suggested the backlash to FIFA's 2010 decision on Qatar has come too late.

He continued: "We've talked a lot about the fact the World Cup was awarded here.

"That was 12 years ago, when I was 15, and now I somehow always have to comment on it. I don't know if it's always justified.

"But we also have to manage this balancing act of focusing on the sporting side. I mean regardless of where the World Cup is taking place, it's a World Cup, it's the biggest competition for us footballers there is.

"It's a huge childhood dream to play tomorrow, and yet somehow I have the feeling that it's always being talked down a bit or that you can't really look forward to it."

Japan will mark coach Flick's first game at FIFA's top tournament, too, and the German acknowledged a tough task awaits at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.

"I have to out myself as a bit of a fan of Japanese football. They are really doing it well," Flick said. 

"We see the quality they have in the Bundesliga with Eintracht Frankfurt's [Daichi] Kamada playing a great season or [Wataru] Endo, who is one of the best midfielders in the Bundesliga.

"It is a very big task but we go into the match prepared and look forward to it."

Cameroon forward Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is sad for Senegal, Africa and Sadio Mane after his Bayern Munich team-mate was ruled out of the World Cup.

African player of the year Mane was initially expected to feature in Qatar and was named in Senegal's 26-man squad, despite sustaining a leg injury in Bayern's 6-1 win over Werder Bremen on November 8.

But the former Liverpool forward saw his World Cup dreams shattered last Thursday as Senegal confirmed surgery would be required for the 30-year-old's fibula issue, thus ruling him out of the tournament.

Choupo-Moting and Cameroon face Switzerland in Thursday's Group G opener but much of the striker's focus appeared to be with team-mate Mane.

"I'm very sad for him, and for both Senegal and for Africa. He's a great player and a great person as well," Choupo-Moting said on Tuesday.

"I'm very happy that he joined us at Bayern. I'm very, very upset and sad for him that this injury came just before the World Cup.

"Injuries are always part of the game, unfortunately, I don't know why it came at the wrong moment but we are all with him. 

"He's a positive guy who will keep his positive energy. I hope he will come back stronger."

Cameroon have lost their last seven games at the World Cup (between 2002 and 2014), with only Mexico losing more consecutive outings at FIFA's top tournament, nine from 1930 to 1958.

But Rigobert Song's side impressed with 14 goals at the Africa Cup of Nations, five more than any other team, and the most at the competition since Egypt in 2010 (15).

Choupo-Moting has also managed a talismanic nine goals in 14 games for Bayern and he expects his hard work to pay dividends for Cameroon in Qatar.

"There's no secret, it's work; you have to work and believe in yourself," he added. "I know my qualities. I know I have a lot of qualities and with my team-mates, each one can make a difference. 

"There is always this pressure, every game is important and Cameroon expects us to win every game. We concentrate game after game. First, it's Switzerland and then we'll see."

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