Denmark became just the second team to qualify for the 2022 World Cup after defeating Austria 1-0 in Group F.

Joakim Maehle's second-half strike proved enough to edge past Franco Foda's side on Tuesday and claim an unassailable seven-point lead over Scotland with two matches left to play.

The narrow win meant Kasper Hjulmand's team also maintain their perfect record in 2022 World Cup qualifying matches, having won all eight games without conceding a single goal.

Denmark, while remaining resolute at the back, have mustered 27 unanswered goals, with thrashings of Moldova, Israel and Austria in the reverse fixture capping a perfect campaign for the Scandinavian outfit.

Hjulmand's men head to Qatar in 13 months' time with major tournament experience under their belt as well after making it to the semi-finals of Euro 2020 before suffering extra-time heartbreak against England.

Indeed, Denmark – who dealt with the hospitalisation of Christian Eriksen during the opening stages of the competition – started with consecutive losses but defied the odds to reach the last four.

They became just the fifth side in the history of the World Cup and European Championships to both win three games and lose three games in the same edition.

However, Denmark will look to use that experience after exiting at the last-16 stage in the previous World Cup to chase further success in 2022.

Aside from Denmark, Germany are the only other team to have earned qualification so far to join hosts Qatar at the tournament.

Mason Mount says going through the experience of missing part of England's run to the Euro 2020 final after being forced to isolate played a part in his decision to get the COVID-19 vaccination.

The 22-year-old and team-mate Ben Chilwell were deemed close contacts of Scotland's Billy Gilmour, who tested positive for coronavirus after a stalemate with England at Wembley and had to sit out the Three Lions' final group game with the Czech Republic.

He was back on the bench for the last-16 tie with Germany, but Gareth Southgate did not feel the Chelsea playmaker was fit enough to play a part and he was an unused substitute in a famous 2-0 win.

Under current coronavirus protocols, which have changed since June and July, those who have been fully vaccinated no longer have to isolate after coming into contact with somebody that has tested positive for the virus.

And amid fresh scrutiny about the vaccination rates within football, with a number of England players unwilling to disclose their status, Mount has confirmed he has received both doses.

"Going through that experience, missing the game, a top, top game kind of did have an effect on my decision," he told reporters ahead of England's World Cup qualifier with Hungary on Tuesday.

"But I think for players, personally it's down to someone and it is down to their decision how they feel about it.

"I don't think you can force anyone to get it but, for me, going through that experience, it did make me want to get it and get it quite quickly."

Mount started five games for beaten finalists England at Euro 2020 and has already featured eight times for Chelsea this campaign.

He did take some time to get up to full speed, which he puts down to a hangover on the back of England's memorable Euros run.

"After an experience like that and how far we got, it does take some time to get over it and reflect," said Mount, who has been included on the 30-man shortlist for the 2021 Ballon d'Or award.

"But as soon as the next season starts, that's go to be behind you. Maybe physically there can still be a toll, even though you've had a break.

"So it's natural that happens and after playing many games in the normal season, then to go to the Euros and play games, and then after a short break go straight into pre-season, it can take a toll. 

"Maybe I've felt that a bit this season. I missed a week with a little injury at Chelsea but to get back and be in the England squad, that little break makes you feel more energetic and gives you that little boost. 

"I don't want to miss any game but it does help sometimes to take a step back and let yourself recover."

Roberto Mancini has insisted Italy "have to improve" ahead of their Nations League semi-final with Spain, despite the Azzurri winning Euro 2020 in July.

Italy are also unbeaten in their last 37 games - a world record - with 30 wins and seven draws across all competitions and friendlies since October 2018.

Mancini's men bested Spain in a penalty shoot-out in the last four of the European Championships after a 1-1 draw in regular time in a fixture that Spain dominated, enjoying 71 per cent possession.

The former Manchester City and Inter head coach believes Spain remain the superior side in terms of keeping the ball and feels his team can still get better in that department.

"We suffered in that [Euro 2020 semi-final against Spain]," Mancini said. "Spain put us in trouble in possession, they have been doing it for 20 years and on this, they are ahead of us.

"We have to improve this game situation, be faster. We have to improve, we also have young players who have to play important competitions. We have 14 important months and we have to play better and better, offensive and balanced.

"[The Nations League] is an important competition. It is clear that it comes after a European Championship and preparing in such a short time is not easy but they are two matches among the four best in Europe and we want to improve, that's for sure."

Mancini also responded to Luis Enrique's claim that the Azzurri's unbeaten streak would end eventually, agreeing with his counterpart.

"We always want to win, then we know it will depend on us," Mancini continued. "[Enrique's] right, sooner or later [we will lose]. We would like to go on like this until December 2022, but we know it won't be that simple."

If Italy best Spain again on October 6, they will face one of Belgium or France in the Nations League final at San Siro on October 10.

Kylian Mbappe revealed he considered taking a break from playing for France after their disappointment at Euro 2020.

Mbappe endured a frustrating campaign at the European Championship, culminating in him missing the decisive spot-kick against Switzerland as Les Bleus succumbed to a shock last-16 exit.

The 22-year-old left the major tournament without a goal to his name, despite attempting 14 shots across 390 minutes of action, before returning to Paris Saint-Germain, where reports swirled of a potential move to Real Madrid.

The France international was also embroiled in a pre-tournament public war of words with fellow striker Olivier Giroud, who claimed members of Didier Deschamps' side were not passing to him before their opener against Germany.

With the poor performances and the early exit for the 2018 World Cup winners, reports emerged that Mbappe was a disruptive figure within the France setup, leading to the superstar contemplating a hiatus from the national team.

"I have always placed the French national team above everything and I will always put it above everything," Mbappe told French outlet L’Equipe ahead of the Nations League semi-final against Belgium.

"I have never taken a single Euro to play for the French national team and I will always play for my national team for free. 

"Above all, I never wanted to be a problem. But from the moment where I felt like that I was starting to become a problem and that people felt I was a problem - the most important thing is the French national team.

"And if the French national team is happier without me... that is what I was made to feel and that is what I felt.

"I received the message, that my ego was what made us lose, that I wanted to take up too much space, and that without me, therefore, we might have won. 

"I met with the [FFF] president, [Noel] Le Graet, and we had exchanges."

 

Deschamps' world champions seemingly had their Euro 2020 quarter-final berth in their grasp, leading 3-1 with just over 10 minutes remaining.

However, two late goals for Switzerland marked a remarkable comeback, which peaked when Yann Sommer guessed the right way against Mbappe in the shoot-out.

Along with the failure from 12 yards, Mbappe did not muster a shot on target despite firing in six attempts against Vladimir Petkovic's side but the barrage of abuse, including racist comments, is what left the former Monaco forward considering his future.

"I have so much love for the French national team that I abstract from it all," he continued. "What shocked me, again, was being called a monkey for the penalty.

"That is what I wanted support around, not because I took my penalty to the left and Sommer stopped it: that is on me, that is my foot that did that.

"I was booed in all of the stadiums in France! Aside from that, there was not just that, there was also the transfer, but the reality is that I was booed in all the stadiums, yes.

"But I understand everything around the sporting world now: if you are not good, you accept what people say, there you go.

"You just have to look at yourself in the mirror: I was not as good as I should have been, I accept it, and I live with this failure because it will serve me well."

After 15 years without success on the international stage, Italy could win a second title in three months this week as the 2021 Nations League concludes.

That may come as a surprise to some – after all, given how recent Euro 2020 was and the fact the Nations League Finals are taking place amid a busy World Cup qualification period, it wouldn't be unsurprising if most people had completely forgotten about UEFA's secondary competition.

But here we are, it's Finals week and hosts Italy have themselves a wonderful opportunity to clinch another trophy, with Portugal winning the inaugural competition – also in front of home crowds – two years ago.

France and Belgium will contest the second semi-final, with Italy going up against Spain first on Wednesday in a repeat of their Euro 2020 last-four clash, which Roberto Mancini's men won on penalties.

Italy head into the tournament amid a world-record 37-match unbeaten run, last month's draw with Switzerland and the subsequent 5-0 win over Lithuania taking them clear of Brazil and La Roja.

Of course, the Spain team that had previously equalled Brazil's world record back in 2009 were in the throes of their most successful period ever, and Italy will hope that's a sign of things to come for them.

 

Spain's semi-final hurdle

That legendary Spain side saw their 35-match unbeaten streak – a run that included Euro 2008 success – ended in 2009 by the United States.

While the Confederations Cup was never really seen as a hugely important title, hence FIFA pulling the plug on it in 2019, the USA's 2-0 win in the semi-finals 12 years ago was a fairly big deal.

Jozy Altidore's opener was the first goal Spain had conceded in 451 minutes of play and only their third concession in 17 matches, and it was added to by Clint Dempsey.

On the 10th anniversary, Spanish publication AS referred to it as "one of the biggest upsets in football history". A little hyperbolic? Sure, but it certainly was a shock.

For starters, it remains Spain's sole defeat in five meetings with the USA, while it's still their only loss to a CONCACAF nation in 23 matches.

But perhaps the key fact from Spain's perspective was coach Vicente del Bosque's assertion of it only being a "little step backward" stood the test of time – a little over a year later, Spain were World champions for the first time and then they followed that up with Euro 2012 success.

 

That made them the first team since the foundation of the World Cup in 1930 to win three successive major international titles.

It was an iconic side that was routinely filled with players who'll always be remembered as all-time greats for La Roja.

The foundation of their ascension to greatness lay in that unbeaten run, and Italy will a similar status awaits them, regardless of how long they stay undefeated for.

Star quality

Many took for granted just how many remarkable players that Spain squad contained – it's unlikely they'll ever produce the same collective greatness in such a small period.

Xavi was the metronome and, as such, a key component. He played in all but two of the 35 matches in that unbeaten run, with Sergio Ramos (31), David Villa and Iker Casillas (both 29) next on the list.

But when it came to goalscoring, one man above all was the crucial cog: Villa.

A lethal striker for Valencia, Barcelona and – to a slightly lesser extent – Atletico Madrid at the peak of his powers, Villa scored 23 goals during La Roja's famous run, almost three times as many as anyone else. Fernando Torres was next with eight.

 

Luis Enrique's current team could do with a player of Villa's skillset, given the dearth of quality available to him in that position. After all, his squad for this week has no recognised centre-forward in it, with Ferran Torres arguably the closest to fitting the bill.

Cesc Fabregas was the man supplying the best service for Spain's goals in that period, with his 12 assists the most impressive return, while Xavi and Andres Iniesta had seven apiece.

Spain's incredible run compromised of 32 wins and just three draws, while they scored 73 times and conceded only 11.

A team, no superstars

Of course, Italy's world-record effort has already proven successful, with the 37-match run including their Euro 2020 triumph.

And in certain ways, it has actually been more fruitful than Spain's, with the Azzurri scoring 93 goals and letting in just 12, though nine of those matches were drawn.

While Spain spent 174 minutes trailing, Italy have had even less time behind in matches, just 109 minutes, and 65 of those were in one match – the Euro 2020 final against England.

Italy have been much less reliant on a single goalscoring outlet as well, which is perhaps explained by the theory they are less a collection of superstars but instead a tremendous team unit.

Ciro Immobile is their top scorer over the past 37 matches, his haul of eight insignificant compared to Villa's 23, whereas Lorenzo Insigne has been their most reliable source of creativity with seven assists.

But 10 players have scored at least four times for Italy, compared to only five in that Spain team.

Roberto Mancini's comfort with rotating and being able to adapt to different groups of players has really shone through.

 

While the Spain side of Luis Aragones and then Del Bosque had 11 players feature 24 or more times, only five Italians have played that often in Mancini's run, while the most he has used any single starting XI is twice – Spain's most-used line-up was put out four times.

But the important thing most people remember when looking back at that Spain squad is not any specific unbeaten run in itself, but the wider context and history that streak was a part of.

Similarly with Italy, the vast majority of people in 10 or 15 years arguably won't give much thought to their world-record unbeaten run because winning Euro 2020 is a bigger deal.

But Mancini and Italy will surely be hoping that was just the start of a period of domination, one that Spain's unbeaten streak seemingly foretold.

 

While Nations League success isn't going to elevate them to iconic status, it does provide another opportunity to continue building on a winning mentality ahead of next year's World Cup, and the fact they are unbeaten in 61 competitive matches on home soil since 1999 is a good omen.

Succeed in Qatar and then we can start to talk about Italy's legacy.

Raheem Sterling has praised the "fantastic job" done by Gareth Southgate in helping to change the perception of the England team, both with the national media and the supporters.

After a spell as interim boss, Southgate was appointed on a permanent basis in November 2016. Since then, he has steered England to a World Cup semi-final and the Euro 2020 final, where the Three Lions lost on penalties to Italy.

Sterling has been a key member of the squad during the current reign, having made his international debut under Rory Hodgson back in 2012.

"I feel like when I first went into the camp, it was very much them versus us, the media versus the players," Sterling, who has won 70 international caps and scored 18 goals, said in an interview with Sky Sports.

"When Gareth came in, he made it very clear what his intentions were, they were to make England challenge on all fronts, make us challenge at Euros and World Cups.

"If we were to do that, we had to change the perception in the media, public and us the players – we all had to be one if we wanted to achieve something with the national team.

"From the moment he [Southgate] came in, he really tried to work on building that relationship with the media and the fans and I think he's done a fantastic job at doing that."

The Manchester City forward scored three goals in the European Championship run, with the team as a whole embracing the opportunity to play on home soil in all bar one of their fixtures.

England have shown few signs of suffering a Euros hangover since the agonising defeat to Italy at Wembley Stadium; they sit top of their group in World Cup qualifying, despite a late equaliser by Poland last month ending their 100 per cent record.

Ahead of games against Andorra and Hungary, Sterling made clear how much the players appreciate the support they receive when representing their country.

"I think the fans are reconnected with the players again and you can see it when you go into the games, the players feel loved," Sterling added.

"Going into the games, even in the summer, you didn't feel any pressure. People might say 'you played every game at Wembley', but that's huge pressure as you're at home and people expect things from you."

Roberto Mancini admitted trying to win the Nations League is a daunting task despite succeeding at Euro 2020 with Italy.

Italy, who failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, underwent a transformative period under Mancini, culminating in them winning Euro 2020 – their first European Championship since 1968.

The Azzurri, led by experienced campaigners such as Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, are on a 37-game unbeaten run as they prepare for their Nations League semi-final with Spain on Wednesday.

Indeed, Mancini's side required penalties to edge past Spain in the semi-finals at Euro 2020 and the 56-year-old is expecting another tough task against Luis Enrique's men at San Siro.

"Spain were the team we struggled against most during Euro 2020. They are a good team with good players," Mancini told UEFA's official website.

"It will be a good match. [Passing the ball on the ground is] something they are the best at. We didn’t have the time to master it at their level. It will be different this time.

"It would be amazing to win [the Nations League straight] after the European Championship and it would be amazing to qualify for the World Cup early, but it won't be that easy."

 

Italy were at a low ebb when Mancini was appointed and he immediately recalled familiar faces, settling on a more attacking mindset as he attempted to instil pride back in the team.

His side subsequently achieved glory – their first triumph since the 2006 World Cup – and the former Manchester City manager expressed his delight at delivering success for Italian football.

"It was great because we made many people happy, both young and old," Mancini continued. 

"So it was something for everybody. Something that made a lot of people happy, maybe also because of these times we have been living through. The fans have been enthusiastic, and we play to entertain people. It was a wonderful time.

"The best things about the Euro's? Probably the relationship we created within the team. It was a group that worked together for 50 days and that's not easy. 

"They were hard, tiring [days], but there weren't any issues. It was the chemistry and the love, that isn't something easy to obtain.

"[The perception of the Italy team] has changed, but we can't forget that Italy is a country that has won four World Cups. [We] are the European champions and have a significant history."

Manchester United target Kalvin Phillips was "born and belongs" at Leeds United, according to the Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa.

Phillips, who came through the academy at Leeds and has developed tenfold under Bielsa, has repeatedly been linked with a move away from Elland Road after impressing in his debut Premier League campaign.

A subsequent call-up for England's Euro 2020 squad followed and the midfielder received praise once more, forming a remarkable partnership with Declan Rice as Gareth Southgate's side marched to their first major final in 55 years.

Indeed, Phillips recovered possession a team-high 45 times, while only three team-mates completed more than his 293 successful passes at the tournament.

And Bielsa, who transformed the 25-year-old into a holding midfielder after his appointment, expressed how valuable Phillips is to his side as reports of a move to Old Trafford continue to swirl.

"That's a question Kalvin [Phillips] needs to answer," Bielsa said on Thursday when asked about his midfielder's future.

"Of course, he's a very valuable player. I have seen in him the conduct I have very rarely seen in a player.

"In how football is right now, for a player to decline a team above the level where he is at, due to love of a club he is at, is not frequent.

"Loved definitively in the place he was born and belongs. When you go for the money, or for the evolution, you resolve a moment in your sporting career, but when you opt for the affection of those of people, you resolve in your life forever.

"When you're loved where you're from, the possibilities to be happy increase. The moment [if he leaves] and the way he does it will convert him as an idol forever.

"I'm sure he will only leave if it's guaranteed the link to the place he was born remains intact. He will know how to do it."

Phillips has picked up where he left off last term, ranking second among club charts for both recoveries (49) and successful opposition-half passes (109) despite playing one top-flight game fewer than most of his colleagues.

He also sits third for completed passes (236) and fifth for duels won (22) and Bielsa believes his development deserves leadership status in the team with opponents now targeting to neutralise him.

"Kalvin's passage for the national team and evaluation of his game clearly allows him to have leadership within the team," the head coach continued.

"When a player performs, that improvement in his performance is perceived by everybody. One of the consequences is, to do what you did before requires more effort. The opponent sees he's shining, they do their utmost to neutralise him."

However, despite the links away to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side, Phillips' agent Kevin Sharp insisted that his client was content with life at Leeds.

"I can only see a positive outcome," Sharp told the Telegraph. "Kalvin's desire is to stay at Leeds and there is a real willingness from all sides to make it happen."

Leonardo Bonucci has continued to rub salt into the wounds of England after Italy's success in the Euro 2020 final, saying Declan Rice played a part in motivating the tournament winners.

West Ham midfielder Rice said ahead of the final in July that England would be 10 times more ready than their opponents for the Wembley showpiece.

Those words, and the repetitive playing of England's Three Lions song after the country's semi-final win over Denmark, fuelled Bonucci and his team-mates, who ultimately won the competition on penalties after a 1-1 draw.

"We didn't pay much attention to it [the Three Lions song] until the Spain game," Bonucci, who ridiculed England's 'It's Coming Home' catchphrase on the pitch after Italy's win, said in an interview with The Athletic.

"Then the anger inside of us began to mount. We wanted to show them that the final hadn't already been decided. That they hadn't already won. 

"Hearing that song on repeat and the comment from Declan Rice saying England were 10 times more motivated to win than us – well, they're the kind of mistakes young players make. 

"You don't say that. You should never say you want something more than somebody else, or you're better than somebody else.

"You should always put yourself on the same level as your opponent, keep a low profile and strike at the right moment. That's what we did."

 

Italy also won their semi-final against Spain on penalties, and Bonucci felt Roberto Mancini's men had the right mix of confidence and humility.

The Juventus defender added: "We never said we were going to win, just that we were an inch away from going all the way and getting the right result.

"We were never presumptuous about it. We stayed humble and that's what made the difference.

"We had a great team, a great coach and a great staff behind us. To give our country and ourselves that kind of joy was something truly special."

Giorgio Chiellini is urging Juventus not to focus all of their attention on Romelu Lukaku when they face Chelsea on Wednesday, also highlighting the qualities of Jorginho, who he is backing to win this year's Ballon d'Or.

Juve made a winning start to their Champions League campaign two weeks ago with a 3-0 victory over Malmo, though they will expect a rather trickier challenge as Chelsea visit Turin on matchday two.

The contest will see Chiellini renew hostilities with Lukaku, their pair having enjoyed some bruising tussles during the Belgian's time in Serie A with Inter.

But the Chelsea player Chiellini seems to hold in the highest regard is Jorginho, a player he featured alongside as Italy won Euro 2020 earlier this year.

That success coupled with Chelsea's Champions League win in 2020-21 saw Jorginho win the UEFA Men's Player of the Year award in August, and Chiellini believes he deserves to add the Ballon d'Or to his collection as well.

Asked about the prospect of going up against Lukaku again, Chiellini said: "Lukaku is a great player, we will have to be careful.

"It will be important not to allow the qualities of champions like Lukaku to come out. He's a great player, whom they paid a lot for. He's not there by chance, but maybe it's a bit diminishing to talk about just the meeting of me and Lukaku – it's not just Lukaku.

"Chelsea have many champions: let's think of our great friend Jorginho, who is the 'lighthouse' of this team.

"I truly hope he can win the Ballon d'or because he's a good friend of mine and it's also an award that would feel like it's mine as an Italian and a player who was involved in the [Euro 2020] win."

Jorginho has not always had it easy at Chelsea, with many critics sceptical of his suitability to the club and English football in general, but Chiellini believes the fact he has outlasted both Maurizio Sarri and Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge is telling.

"I always thought he was a good player but after two or three sessions in the national team under [Roberto] Mancini, I realised just how good he is," Chiellini continued.

"What a top player he is. He maybe doesn't have great physical qualities, but the real difference is in his head, his mentality, and I was really happy because many said he could only play with Sarri.

"Instead, two other coaches arrived at Chelsea and then in the national team. Wherever he goes he plays as a regular, so I'm happy for him and he definitely deserves an award, so I truly hope he wins the Ballon d'Or."

Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri was questioned on the form of his own midfielders, specifically Adrien Rabiot.

The Frenchman has only impressed in spells since joining from Paris Saint-Germain two years ago and Allegri clearly wants more – though he is adamant Rabiot has the capacity to improve.

"It's similar to [Federico] Bernardeschi," Allegri said. "The difference among players is when they come to Juve – if a big club chooses them, there's obviously a reason, but the difference in their career depends on mentality, their specific objective in helping the team and the capacity to improve, being determined in training sessions, scoring, defending.

"These are the elements that make the difference. How many good, technical players haven't been able to explode in their careers because maybe there was something missing?

"Rabiot is a player, if I was him, I'd be very angry with myself because he's a player who's been here two years, how many goals he scored? Ten [six] in two seasons? That's not acceptable. He needs to improve in order to get much better and I'm pretty sure he'll be able to do that this year."

Chelsea and England defender Reece James has revealed he had his Champions League winners' medal and Euro 2020 runners-up medal stolen during a burglary at his home.

The break-in happened while the 21-year-old was playing for the Blues in Tuesday's 1-0 Champions League win over Zenit.

James played a full part in Chelsea's 1-0 victory over Manchester City in last season's final and was used once for England in their run to the European Championship final, where they lost to Italy.

He took to social media on Thursday to appeal for help finding the culprits, who took a safe that also contained his Super Cup winners' medal.

"These medals were won representing Chelsea and England – honours that can never be taken away from me whether or not I have the physical medals to prove it," James posted alongside four CCTV clips of the incident.

"Nevertheless, I am appealing to all my Chelsea and England fans to help identify and turn in these low life individuals who will never be able to rest easy as the evidence is mounting against them.

"The police, my advisers and Chelsea FC (and many others) are all behind me as we have firm leads on who the perpetrators are. We are closing in on them. 

"Luckily, no one was present during the break in but I want to let all of you know I am safe and well. 

"I really do appreciate having the platform to tell you all about my misfortune and I hope together we can catch these individuals and deliver justice where it is due."

Academy product James has featured regularly for Chelsea over the past two seasons and has already made four appearances this campaign under Thomas Tuchel.

European champions Italy are on a world record 37-game unbeaten streak, but they remain lodged at number five in the FIFA rankings.

The world governing body published its new list on Thursday and the only change in the top five saw England jump to third, nudging France down to fourth.

England were runners-up to Italy in the Euro 2020 final, losing on penalties at Wembley after a 1-1 draw, and two wins and a draw from World Cup qualifiers in September have seen Gareth Southgate's team edge ahead of Les Bleus.

It is the first time since 2012 that England have reached the top three, and third place remains the highest position they have achieved in the rankings.

Didier Deschamps' France could only manage two draws and a win in this month's international break, while Italy were held by Bulgaria and Switzerland before landing a 5-0 victory over Lithuania.

Italy have been a roaring success under the leadership of Roberto Mancini, who inherited a team that failed to qualify for the last World Cup and had plummeted to 21st in FIFA's rankings.

They set the record for the most games unbeaten at international level during their run of September games, staying in control as leaders of World Cup European qualifying Group C.

With FIFA's rankings offering significant weighting to World Cup tournament performance, Italy could make a significant leap should their strong form under coach Mancini continue into the Qatar 2022 finals.

Belgium remain top of the FIFA list, with Brazil in second. Copa America winners Argentina stay sixth.

 

Roberto Mancini is wary about the prospect of the World Cup taking place every two years, with Italy's Euro 2020 winning boss calling for talks to weigh up the FIFA proposal.

The current men's international match calendar ends in 2024 and former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is seeking to shape a new schedule in his role as FIFA's chief of global football development.

However's, the plans being pushed by Wenger have been met with opposition, with CONMEBOL and UEFA both coming out vehemently against his core idea.

The World Cup has traditionally been a tournament that has been held once every four years, and there are worries players could be overburdened and the competition devalued if it switches to a biennial event.

Mancini has not outright come out against the idea, but he wants it thoroughly examined.

"The World Cup every two years is something to be evaluated," Mancini said, quoted widely in the Italian media.

"The World Cup is fascinating because it comes once every four years. If you play every two, it would mean a World Cup, a European Championship, a World Cup, a European Championship. I don't know, we need to talk about it."

For now, Mancini is looking to build on his team's success in the recent European Championship, when they beat England on penalties in the final to be crowned kings of the continent.

The success put former Inter and Manchester City boss Mancini in the spotlight, and he has affirmed his commitment to Italy ahead of next year's World Cup in Qatar, ruling out a return to club management before that tournament.

Italy are closing in on a place in the finals, leading the way in Group C with four wins and two draws, extending their unbeaten record to an all-time record of 37 matches.

"Going back to coaching a club? Now there is the World Cup and then let's see," Mancini said. "We have to stay focused on the World Cup, we have to quickly secure qualification and we have to try to win the Nations League.

"I don't think about clubs and I am concentrated on the national team. Coaching the national team is the best thing."

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp paid tribute to Simon Kjaer ahead of Wednesday's clash with Milan, saluting the defender for his composure and humanity in response to Christian Eriksen collapsing at Euro 2020.

Eriksen collapsed during Denmark's European Championship opener against Finland in June, with Kjaer the first on the scene to place his team-mate in the recovery position before leading the rest of the team in the formation of a protective shield around the Inter man as he received treatment.

The 29-year-old midfielder was subsequently taken to hospital and it was later confirmed he had suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch, but medics were able to resuscitate him.

Eriksen was fitted with a pacemaker before returning home, though it remains unclear if he will ever play again.

Kjaer received widespread praise for his quick-thinking at such a crucial juncture, with he and the eight medics involved hailed the "true heroes of Euro 2020" and presented with the 2021 UEFA President's Award by UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin last month.

Kjaer is expected to be in the Milan team that will play the club's first Champions League match in seven-and-a-half years at Anfield, and Klopp hopes Liverpool fans recognise the defender's exploits.

"I am usually more keen to focus on my own players rather than an opponent, but tonight I must make an exception," Klopp wrote in his programme notes.

"This evening it is possible that Simon Kjaer will line up against us and this is a person who I think has the respect of the entire football and sporting world.

"You recognise true leadership in a crisis. I think the world acknowledges this now more than ever with everything that goes on around us.

"Like millions of others, I was rocked by the scenes that unfolded at the European Championship in the summer when Christian Eriksen fell ill during Denmark's opening group game.

"There were many heroes that night, not least of all the remarkable medical professionals for the Danish national team, in the stadium and subsequently at the hospital. But Simon shone that traumatic day for his own conduct.

"The image of the Danish players shielding their team-mate as he was cared for will, in my opinion, forever be one of the most iconic in sporting history. It showed the best of humanity. Compassion, care and love for their friend.

"Honestly, I have no idea how he managed to not only keep his own composure in that situation, but to have the clarity of mind to make the decisions he did in that moment. His conduct humbles us all.

"I'm told that Simon's dad is an LFC fan – and if that is the case, he must be bursting with pride that his boy is now recognised worldwide as the epitome of our anthem, 'You'll Never Walk Alone'.

"I know our supporters are knowledgeable and generous of spirit and therefore I am sure Simon will feel the gratitude of the home crowd tonight, but for the 90-plus minutes of the game he is again the opponent."

Wednesday's contest will be Liverpool's first Champions League match in front of a home crowd since March 11, 2020, when the Reds lost 3-2 to Atletico Madrid after extra-time and were dumped out of the competition at the last-16 stage.

Klopp feels Liverpool were always lacking something in the absence of supporters through the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, but in his opinion that was always exemplified during Champions League games.

"It will be so cool just before kick-off to hear that Champions League anthem and see the players lined up in front of a full Anfield," he continued. "We missed supporters for every second of every game during the pandemic, but I must admit it was most acute on the European nights.

"Let's have all the noise, all the colour, all the positive energy and all the passion and intensity that is our trademark. Let's give this fixture the stage it deserves. I honestly cannot wait."

Wednesday's match will be the first meeting between the two historic clubs that is not a European final, with their only prior clashes being in the Champions League deciders in 2005 and 2007, winning once each.

Fabio Capello claimed former side England have a "monkey on their back and then fail" when it comes to finals.

Gareth Southgate's men reached their first major final in 55 years at Euro 2020, but lost on penalties as Italy claimed their first European Championship since 1968.

England have enjoyed relative success in September's World Cup qualifiers, crushing Hungary and Andorra 4-0 before conceding a late equaliser to draw 1-1 with Poland.

In the latter game, Southgate opted to not make any substitutions – the first time the Three Lions have done so since the Euro 1996 semi-final against Germany.

And Capello believes there is a reason for the England manager's lack of substitutes in Warsaw after heartbreak in the Euro 2020 final two months ago.

"If [Southgate] doesn't make subs it means he wants this group to be convinced to be strong, as the results proved," Capello, who managed England for five years until 2012, told reporters.

"Bear in mind, they have just botched half a match versus Italy in the final, when they were overwhelmed by fear and stopped playing.

"I know England and their problems. They have that monkey on their back to get to the final and then they fail."

England are unbeaten in their last 16 international matches (W13 D3) – their longest streak without defeat since a 16-game run between September 1995 and November 1996.

While international teams pursue qualification for Qatar 2022, FIFA's chief of global football development, Arsene Wenger, is pushing a biennial plan for future World Cups.

The former Arsenal manager's proposition, which was put to FIFA in May, would see global football's most important tournament switch to a two-year cycle.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin greeted the suggestions with disdain, but Capello revealed he would support the proposed changes as a player.

"As a player, I would like the World Cup to be played every two years," the 75-year-old Italian continued.

"Four years is a long time and sometimes you are at the top of your game but when the World Cup comes you are not and you have no chance to shine.

"At the same time, waiting four years makes that trophy more coveted and important, it is bigger.

"Every two years, this value would decrease but again, as a player, I played the World Cup just once, and the second time I missed it for the width of a hair, so I would [play every two years]."

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