Liverpool forwards Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane will do battle for a place at the 2022 Qatar World Cup after their nations were drawn together in African qualifying.

Salah and Mane, who are both currently at the Africa Cup of Nations, have been an integral part of Liverpool's success over the past few years, and are considered to be two of the world's best forwards.

However, just one of them will be at the World Cup later this year after Salah's Egypt were paired with Mane's Senegal in the African qualifying play-off round.

The remaining 10 teams in African qualifying will face off in two-legged play-offs for the continent's five spots at the tournament.

Algeria will play Cameroon, Nigeria were paired with Ghana, while Morocco have been drawn against DR Congo.

The final tie will see Tunisia face Mali, with all fixtures taking place in March.

Former FIFA boss Sepp Blatter says incumbent Gianni Infantino "is not a good president" and has criticised his successor for his decision to live in Qatar ahead of the 2202 World Cup.

Football's world governing body confirmed on Thursday that Infantino has moved from Zurich to Doha on a temporary basis to oversee the build-up to the World Cup in December.

Blatter called that decision "incomprehensible" and "outrageous" on French radio on Thursday.

"He is not a good president, and I must say it. He is not doing his job properly," Zurich told Europe 1 Sport.

"I would never have thought of going to live in the capital where we play the World Cup.

"The place of the president of FIFA is the place where FIFA has its headquarters, in Zurich."

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has suggested the European Championship would follow suit and become a biennial event should the proposed World Cup plans succeed.

Led by chief of global football development Arsene Wenger, FIFA has been promoting the idea for the World Cup to shift format and take place every two years - an idea strongly opposed by both UEFA and CONMEBOL.

FIFA claimed to its member associations at their global summit in December that the alterations would make football $4.4billion richer over the initial four-year cycle.

Infantino, faced with strong opposition in Europe and South America, has now added further fuel to the fire by suggesting the Euros would happen more often if the biennial World Cup plans come to fruition.

Asked by Italian outlet Radio Anch'io what would happen to European football's premier international tournament in the wake of the World Cup proposals, Infantino responded: "The Euros would also take place every two years.

"In Europe, there is resistance because there is a World Cup every week with the leagues and the best players in the world, but that isn't the case for the rest of the world: It's a month a year, and we need to find a way to truly include the whole world in football."

Last month, UEFA published a contrasting independent survey that called the suggested changes "alarming" just hours before FIFA released a study that reported there is a "majority" in favour of a World Cup every two years.

Infantino again claimed that FIFA's prior findings suggested the change would be both feasible and accepted.

He added: "The presumptions are clear: 88 per cent of countries, including the majority of those in Europe, have asked for the study and the study tells us that from a sporting point of view, a World Cup every two years would work. 

"There would be fewer international matches but with a greater impact."

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is also part of a growing list of opposition, which includes Kylian Mbappe and Robert Lewandowski, fearing the impact of the changes on the world's sporting calendar.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has reiterated his opposition to FIFA's biennial World Cup plans as he believes the proposal will fail as "it's simply a bad idea".

FIFA, led by chief of global football development Arsene Wenger, has been promoting the idea for the World Cup to shift format and take place every two years.

FIFA reported to its member associations at their global summit on 20 December that the changes would make football $4.4billion richer over the first four-year cycle.

That figure would then climb to $6.6billion, according to FIFA president Gianni Infantino, if each confederation also switches its regional competition to become biennial, while FIFA claimed its members were largely in support of the plans.

But UEFA, along with South America's CONMEBOL, continue in their staunch opposition to the proposed alterations to world football's showpiece event.

"Europe and South America are against [the plan] and those are the only [continents with] World Cup winners in history," Ceferin told reporters at the Expo 2020 Dubai Fair on Thursday.

"The problem is that the World Cup has to be every four years to be interesting.

"Second, if it would be every two years, it would cannibalise women's football because it would be at the same year as the women's football [World Cup', other sports, the Olympic Games - many mistakes.

"It's simply a bad idea and it will not happen because it is a bad idea, not because we are opposing it."

Ceferin's comments come after the two governing bodies clashed ahead of FIFA holding its global summit with national associations earlier in December.

FIFA published results from a study that claimed the majority of football fans would like to see more frequent World Cups. UEFA, however, said an independent survey called proposals "alarming" just hours before.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is also part of a  growing list of opposition, which includes Kylian Mbappe and Robert Lewandowski after the pair raised concerns earlier in the week, all of whom fear the impact of the changes on the world's sporting calendar.

"Why are the Olympic Games every four years? Because it's an event that you have to look forward [to], that you have to wait [for], and you have to enjoy it," Ceferin added.

Kylian Mbappe and Robert Lewandowski have expressed concerns about the lack of rest players will get if plans for a biennial World Cup come to fruition.

FIFA's proposal to host the tournament every two years instead of four has largely been met with scepticism.

Both Paris Saint-Germain forward Mbappe and Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski are not in favour of the change, with the former suggesting that the quality of the spectacle would suffer if the health of players is not taken into account. 

"We like to play but it's too much," Mbappe said in Dubai, where he was named men's player of the year at the Globe Soccer Awards. "If people want to see quality, we have to take a break.

"Playing the World Cup every two years would make this competition 'normal' and that shouldn't be the case. The World Cup, the Nations League... we love to play but it's too much.

"If people want to see quality, I think we have to take a break."

Lewandowski echoed the France international's sentiments, stating that the schedule is already congested even without the added burden of an increased number of World Cups.

"We have a lot of games in the year, very dense weeks," Lewandowski said at the same event. "If you want to give the fans something different, you need a break.

"We have to look into the future, if we want to play a World Cup every two years, the level will drop. It's impossible for the body and the mind to perform at the same level."

Brazil great Pele has been discharged from hospital but his treatment for a colon tumour is set to continue.

The three-time World Cup winner required an operation to remove the tumour in September and subsequently started chemotherapy as part of the rehabilitation process.

He was re-admitted to the Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulo on December 8, his condition at the time described as "stable".

The following day he moved to calm fears over his health as he wrote on Instagram that he was simply back in hospital for "the last [chemotherapy] session of 2021" and that he was taking the "chance to do a new battery of exams, so I'm going to stay here for a few days".

Pele insisted fans had no need to "worry" and the Santos legend confirmed on Thursday that he has been released in time for Christmas.

Writing on Instagram, he said: "The smiling photo is not for nothing.

"As I promised you, I will spend Christmas with my family. I'm coming back home. Thanks for all the kind messages."

According to Globo Esporte, a statement from the hospital read: "Edson Arantes do Nascimento was discharged from Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein this Thursday, December 23, 2021.

"The patient is stable and will continue treatment for the colon tumour, identified in September this year."

The former New York Cosmos striker is the only player to hold three World Cup winner's medals, helping Brazil land the trophy in 1958, 1962 and 1970.

Pele, 81, is also one of just four players to score in four different World Cups, while he remains Brazil's all-time leading goalscorer, having found the back of the net 77 times in 92 appearances for the Selecao.

Gianni Infantino believes FIFA currently has majority support among national associations for its plans to stage World Cup tournaments every two years.

The FIFA president gave that verdict at the world governing body's global summit on Monday, where FIFA-commissioned studies said the game would receive a significant financial boost if the plans are approved.

The overall boost would amount to $4.4billion in the first four-year cycle of a new international calendar, it was claimed, and that would climb to $6.6billion if each confederation also switches its regional competition to become biennial.

Currently, the men's and women's World Cups take place every four years, but dramatic change could be coming.

"Not only is it feasible from a sporting point of view, but the economic return is very strong," said Infantino, "meaning more money can be invested, re-invested, into football development all over the world.

"This is quite an important project to bridge the gap between those who have and those who don't have. At the end of the day, everyone will benefit. Everyone will have additional possibilities to play and additional revenue as well."

The powerful European and South American confederations, UEFA and CONMEBOL, have refused to support FIFA's plans, but there is support from within Asia, Africa and the CONCACAF region that covers North and Central America, plus the Caribbean.

FIFA issued studies that showed solidarity funding for each of its 211 national associations rise from $6million to "potentially" $25million for the first four-year cycle of an era of biennial World Cups.

Such a rise holds clear appeal to many associations, given its potential to be transformative, and Infantino said in a news conference: "If I was going to a vote tomorrow, probably the majority would vote in favour of World Cups every two years."

He has declined to say when such a vote might take place, at this stage.

FIFA's plans have been driven in part by former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, now the head of global development and Infantino's right-hand man on this matter.

Wenger said there was "fear" within the football establishment about the proposals and called for that to be banished.

"We face opposition," said Wenger, "but what I regret is that 90 per cent of this opposition is emotional and not facts and not analysis. And we have to get over this fear because most of the emotions we face are based on fears: fear to lose control of your own competition. There is a demand from the young fans; there is a demand in society for meaningful events.

"If we don't create them, another sport will create them. We have an opportunity to give countries an opportunity to improve, and I think it's worth it to fight for it. It is 211 countries that make that decision. We will accept that decision."

Infantino, sharing the stage with Wenger, also said he had encountered "a lot of opposition" but spoke too of "a lot of voices in favour".

"FIFA is a global organising body and for this reason we have to combine these points of view," the FIFA president said.

Europe's big-money leagues have expressed strong opposition to the prospect of international football becoming a bigger presence on the calendar, with concerns for player burnout being raised by a number of top managers.

Infantino made a curious attempt to allay fears the Olympics might be affected by pointing to there being Olympic Games every two years already – winter and summer editions.

Of those, the summer Olympics secures by far the biggest audiences, and the prospect of any clash with international football for that multisport showcase would be unwelcome.

Infantino stressed that FIFA is confident the appeal of the World Cup would stand up, even if the tournament comes around more often in future. The men's tournament has been staged every four years since 1930, except in 1942 and 1946 due to the Second World War.

The FIFA chief said: "The prestige of a competition like the World Cup will not be undermined by playing more frequently."

FIFA has published results from a study that claims "the majority" of football fans would like to see more frequent World Cups just hours after UEFA said an independent survey called proposals "alarming".

Earlier on Friday, UEFA warned of "a deeply negative outlook" for international football in Europe if FIFA gets the green light to stage the World Cup every two years.

The messages from the two governing bodies came ahead of FIFA holding its global summit with national associations on Monday.

FIFA will lay out its plans to stage World Cups, both men's and women's, every two years in the future, in what could lead to the biggest shake-up in the game for many years.

The "independent" study that was commissioned by UEFA, which has been vehemently against the idea of biennial World Cups ever since proposals gained mainstream traction, said European national associations could see a drop in revenues of up to €3billion over four years and that 30 per cent of fans would watch less domestic and European Championship football.

Additionally, it suggested 60 per cent of fans believe the World Cup's prestige would fall and 65 per cent think it would lead to a bloated international football calendar.

But FIFA's own study says fans are in favour of watching "the FIFA World Cup more frequently, for example every two years, provided that player workload does not increase".

According to FIFA, of the 30,390 people involved in the study who said football was their favourite sport, 63.7 per cent were in favour of more men's World Cups, with the 25-34 age category apparently the "most supportive", and 52.4 per cent want to see the women's tournament more often.

The results were split between continents and suggest there is more backing among the lesser-established international teams.

It is claimed Africa (76 per cent), Asia (66), North, Central America and the Caribbean (53), South America (54) and Oceania (55) all have majorities in favour of more men's World Cups, however less than half (48 per cent) of Europeans are.

Opposition is said to be especially strong in some of the leading European nations, with England's disapproval percentage at 53, Germany's at 50 and France's at 42. Those three were also considered the most disapproving of more women's World Cups.

UEFA has warned of "a deeply negative outlook" for international football in Europe if FIFA gets the green light to stage the World Cup every two years.

The message from Europe's governing body comes ahead of FIFA holding its global summit with national associations on Monday.

FIFA will lay out its plans to stage World Cups, both men's and women's, every two years in the future, in what could lead to the biggest shake-up in the game for many years.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino recently suggested football's elite who opposed a revamping of the game were "afraid" of what change would mean for them, given their positions of power.

A study commissioned by UEFA points to a steep slide in revenues stemming from its own international competitions. It forecasts European national associations could see a drop by between €2.5billion and €3billion in a four-year cycle, also warning of a major decline in UEFA income for the women's game if more men's tournaments are to be staged.

UEFA, which was already firmly opposed to FIFA's plan, said the findings of the study by consultancy firm Oliver and Ohlbaum were "alarming" and raise "severe concerns".

The study contended that broadcast revenue will fall for each event, with advertising rates "likely to hold up" but viewing set to "likely decline".

It said research showed that around 30 per cent of fans would watch less of the European Championship and domestic football, while 60 per cent think the World Cup's prestige would fall and 65 per cent think a change would lead to a bloated international football calendar.

The study warned of "lower broadcaster and sponsor willingness to pay for further tournaments, even if they deliver eyeballs", and said for the four years from 2026 to 2030, with World Cups happening every two years, the impact "would be strongly negative", even if UEFA's European Championship also shifted to become biennial.

It forecast UEFA revenues would be reduced from €4.6billion to €4.2billion if qualification took place in two blocks of games, and to €4.0billion if all qualifiers took place in a single block, with a knock-on effect on distributions to national associations.

Women's football has been on an upward growth curve in recent years, helped by the exposure its tournaments have had at times when there has been no corresponding men's event.

But the study predicted that viewership "would fall significantly" if men's events take place in the same year as women's showpieces, reducing their prospects of being in the media and public spotlight. It said income from the Women's European Championship would slide from €102m to €44m if that tournament continues to take place once every four years, or to €78m should it also become a biennial competition.

FIFA has found some support for its proposals, which have been pushed by former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, now head of global football at the governing body. Africa has given its backing, while there has also been positive interest from Asia and those from the CONCACAF region. Like UEFA, however, South America's powerful CONMEBOL confederation has come out firmly against FIFA's idea.

UEFA warned again on Friday of the prospect of "increasing mental and physical exhaustion of players", and of intruding on spaces in the calendar currently occupied by other sports.

"In this dark sporting context, the research conducted by Oliver and Ohlbaum projects a deeply negative outlook for European national team football, should the FIFA plan be implemented," UEFA said in a statement.

Uruguay appointed former Inter Miami boss Diego Alonso as head coach of the CONMEBOL nation, it was announced on Tuesday.

Former Uruguay international Alonso replaces Oscar Tabarez after the legendary coach was sacked last month following a 15-year tenure.

Uruguay parted with Tabarez amid the country's woes after four consecutive defeats in 2022 World Cup qualifying left them seventh in the 10-team standings, but just one point adrift of fourth-placed Colombia and the final automatic qualification berth.

The Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) made no further comment upon confirming Alonso as the new coach.

River Plate's Marcelo Gallardo was reportedly the AUF's number one target before the Argentine coach re-signed with the champions.

Uruguay then turned to Alonso, who was available after his departure from David Beckham's MLS outfit Inter Miami in January.

Alonso – an eight-time international – has also coached Monterrey, Pachuca, Olimpia, Penarol, Guarani and Bella Vista.

The 46-year-old guided both Monterrey and Pachuca to CONCACAF Champions League glory in 2019 and 2017 respectively.

Alonso's first match in charge of Uruguay will be against ninth-placed Paraguay on January 27.

Mario Balotelli believes he can earn a dramatic Italy recall in time for the World Cup play-offs, according to his club boss Vincenzo Montella.

The former Inter, Manchester City and Liverpool striker scored 14 goals in 36 games for the Azzurri before his international career ground to a halt in 2018.

Despite his long-time ally Roberto Mancini being head coach of the Azzurri, there has been little hint of a return to Italy duty since Mancini gave him three caps early in his reign.

Those three appearances were Balotelli's first for Italy since the 2014 World Cup, and he has not been called into a squad since September 2018, with his club career taking him in the meantime from Nice onwards to Marseille, Brescia, Monza and currently Adana Demirspor in Turkey.

Balotelli has scored five Super Lig goals this season for a team who sit eighth in the table after 16 games.

Former Roma frontman Montella, who also played for Italy, has floated the idea that there could yet be another chapter in the story of Balotelli's Azzurri career.

"Balotelli has extraordinary technical qualities. He is a good guy who sometimes goes off a little. But I found him very motivated, and I believe that in his career he has never been as concentrated as this year with us," Montella told Italia 1's Tiki Taka programme.

"He is growing a lot, it is a pleasure to coach him. He has the obsession to return to the national team. He is motivated, he believes in it, he knows he has to work hard, but he knows he has three months to convince Mancini that he knows everything about him, his strengths and weaknesses."

 

Italy won Euro 2020 just five months ago but face a battle to get to the World Cup, knowing they must beat North Macedonia on March 24 to set up a decider against Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal or Turkey.

This is because, despite remaining unbeaten in qualifying so far, they finished only second to Switzerland in the group stage. Italy missed out on the 2018 World Cup, so to do so for a second successive time would be a major blow.

Montella said: "Mancini has done an extraordinary job since the beginning of his Azzurri adventure and winning the European Championship was a great thing. Getting to the World Cup will be difficult but Italy, in difficulties, always manage to bring out the best of its potential. I wish and hope that we will be able to qualify."

Pele has moved to calm fears over his health as the Brazil great spoke positively about the colon tumour treatment he is undergoing in Sao Paulo.

In a message to his followers on Instagram, the 81-year-old showed a clenched fist and smiled from his hospital bed.

The three-time World Cup winner required an operation to remove a colon tumour in September and has since continued having chemotherapy as part of the rehabilitation process.

Hospital Albert Einstein confirmed on Wednesday that Pele had been hospitalised again, stating he was in a stable condition and on course to go home within days.

Pele confirmed that is his intention, as he wrote: "Friends, since September 30th, when I left the hospital, you know that I have been having small chemotherapy sessions as part of my treatment.

"Today I'm at Albert Einstein doing the last session of 2021. I wanted to share this achievement with you. After all, every little victory is a reason to celebrate, don't you think?

"I'm going to take this chance to do a new battery of exams, so I'm going to stay here for a few days. Don't worry, I'm just getting ready for the holiday season!"

Responding to Pele's message, Manchester United and Portugal striker Cristiano Ronaldo wrote: "Strength, friend."

Pele had prostate surgery in 2015 after being admitted to hospital twice in six months, and he was hospitalised again for a urinary infection in 2019.

The former Santos and New York Cosmos striker is the only player to hold three World Cup winner's medals, helping Brazil land the trophy in 1958, 1962 and 1970.

The 81-year-old is also one of just four players to score in four different World Cups, while he remains Brazil's all-time leading goalscorer, having found the back of the net 77 times in 92 appearances for the Selecao.

Brazil legend Pele has been admitted to hospital to undergo treatment for a colon tumour, but is in a stable condition.

The three-time World Cup winner required an operation to remove a colon tumour in September and has since continued undergoing chemotherapy as part of the rehabilitation process.

Sao Paulo's Hospital Albert Einstein confirmed on Wednesday that Pele had been hospitalised again, adding he is in stable condition and should be discharged in the next few days.

"The patient is stable, and the forecast is that he will be released in the coming days," the statement said.

The legendary striker has suffered from ill health in recent years, having prostate surgery in 2015 after being admitted to hospital twice in six months, and he was hospitalised again for a urinary infection in 2019.

Pele is the only player to hold three World Cup winner's medals, lifting the trophy in 1958, 1962 and 1970.

The 81-year-old is also one of just four players to score in four different World Cups, while he remains Brazil's all-time leading goalscorer - having found the back of the net 77 times in 92 appearances for the Selecao.

Roberto Mancini admitted Italy would rather not have to do battle with Portugal for a place in the 2022 World Cup if they get past North Macedonia.

The European champions were on Friday drawn to face North Macedonia in a semi-final next March after missing out on automatic qualification for the tournament in Qatar.

Italy will come up against either Portugal or Turkey in a decisive showdown if they avoid a semi-final upset.

Euro 2016 champions Portugal were consigned to a play-off spot in dramatic fashion as Aleksandar Mitrovic's last-gasp strike saw Serbia through as Group A winners.

Italy boss Mancini is confident his side will qualify, but gave an honest reaction to the prospect of trying to deny Cristiano Ronaldo what could be his last trip to a World Cup.

He said: "We are always confident and positive. Macedonia had a good qualifying group, we will have to play a great match. Then we will see what happens in the final.

Asked about the prospect of coming up against Portugal, he said: "We would have liked to avoid them, in the same way Portugal would have gladly avoided Italy."

The draw also threw up the possibility of Wales going up against Scotland for a place in the finals, should they overcome Austria and Ukraine.

Russia will host Poland, with the winners playing either Sweden or the Czech Republic. 

African nations threw their support behind FIFA's proposal for a biennial World Cup as Gianni Infantino claimed elite-level opponents of the plan are objecting out of fear.

FIFA president Infantino made a personal appearance at African federation CAF's extraordinary general assembly in Cairo on Friday, along with Arsene Wenger.

Former Arsenal boss Wenger is the head of global development at FIFA, with the world governing body employing the Frenchman as a figurehead for the World Cup overhaul.

It is far from a fait accompli that FIFA will get its way – UEFA and CONMEBOL are firmly against the switch – but CAF members overwhelmingly backed the plan, having been told by Infantino that it provided a route towards more opportunities on the world stage.

"Obviously as well, it's natural and understandable, those who are against it are those at the top," Infantino told CAF members.

"It happens in every sector of life when there are reforms and changes; those who are at the top, they don't want anything to change because they are at the top, and they are afraid maybe that if something changes, their leadership position is at risk.

"We understand that, and we compliment and applaud them for having been so successful in reaching the top. This is fantastic, and they are an example for everyone.

"But at the same time, we cannot close the door, we need to keep the door open, we need to give hope, and we need to give opportunities to the entire world.

"We need to give more opportunities to all the teams to play with each other - will it be with the World Cup or will it be in another way? We have to study of course all of this.

"We continue to consult, we continue to speak, we thank you for your views and your input."

Infantino has been telling African nations of the prospect for development long before FIFA put forward its World Cup proposal, and it is clear he has strong support on the continent.

Wenger gave a presentation in which he expressed his belief that biennial World Cups for men's and women's football and also spoke of the prospect of more chances to compete for African nations.

"I only defend the project because it is to make football better and more competitive," Wenger said.

A resolution was announced during the general assembly, in which it was stated: "CAF welcomes the FIFA congress decision to conduct the feasibility study on having men's and women's World Cup every two years.

"If the FIFA study concludes that it is feasible, CAF will fully support hosting the men's and women's World Cup every two years."

CAF president Patrice Motsepe conducted a show of hands and, with no objections to the resolution, declared it a unanimous vote in favour of backing FIFA.

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