Antonio Rudiger admits it would come as a "surprise" if Germany win the World Cup in Qatar, as the Real Madrid defender gears up to play a key role for his nation.

A member of the squad four years ago, Rudiger has been elevated into a starting berth for the 2014 champions and is one of the more experienced players within Hansi Flick's side.

Germany fell flat as defending champions in Russia, exiting at the group stage, and are not ranked among the favourites to go all the way in Qatar, with that honour falling to Brazil, Argentina and France.

While Rudiger is keen to go all the way in the tournament, he has conceded it would be a shock outcome if Germany were to end victorious for a fifth time in their history.

"It's exciting. In 2018 I was in the team, but always on the bench. I was young. Now I enjoy a different role, the role of leader," he told AS.

"I've worked all my life for this and it's something that makes me very happy. I'm ready.

"It's a new era. In 2014 there was an excellent generation, people like [Toni] Kroos, [Mario] Gotze, [Phillip] Lahm, [Bastian] Schweinsteiger.

"But I think now there is also a great generation of players capable of achieving something important.

"You can never get Germany out of the potential winners. But if we look at what we have done in recent months, it may be a surprise [if] we win.

"We haven't managed to do a good stage lately. In good shape, for me, is for example Brazil."

Germany have little room for mistakes in Group E as they sit alongside fellow European juggernauts Spain, along with Costa Rica and Japan, with Rudiger aware of the threat La Roja pose.

"It's a World Cup. If you want to win it you have to also beat the best, and it doesn't matter when you face them," he added.

"Spain is very, very high. Now, playing in Spain, I can see how many good players there are.

"Like Germany, it is a new generation. In football, it's hard to give things time. But I think they have a good team, a young team that may need time."

Germany's World Cup campaign begins against Japan on November 23, before then facing Spain four days later and closing the group stage against Costa Rica.

Mauricio Pochettino wants his next coaching job to be with a club capable of winning the Champions League after his experience of working with Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar at Paris Saint-Germain.

Pochettino departed PSG in July, having won the Ligue 1 title last season having failed to recover their title bid the previous year.

The former Tottenham boss paid the price for another lacklustre campaign in Europe, however, with his star-studded squad eliminated by Real Madrid across a dramatic last-16 encounter.

Pochettino has been out of work since despite offers, and he has now outlined exactly what he is looking for in a new project.

"Talking about projects in football is very difficult," he reflected. "There are [a] few lucky ones who can be involved in a project in the medium or long term.

"[But] there is more and more demand and less patience in the clubs. The main objective is to win and at the same time create a structure that gives you a livelihood to maintain it.

"After being at a club with Mbappe, Messi, Neymar, it is normal that I would seek to maintain that level. A club that gives the chance to aim for the biggest, like winning the Champions League [would be ideal]."

On countryman Messi, who is likely to have his final shot at winning a World Cup with Argentina at Qatar 2022 later this month, Pochettino feels his narrative helps La Albiceleste sit among the favourites.

"You always have to count on Argentina," he added."[But there is also] Brazil, [and] I would include England, France, Spain and Germany.

"Argentina is more favoured than four years ago, especially having won the Copa America. When you have Messi, and everyone understands they have to play for him, dreams can come true."

Success for Messi would see him follow Diego Maradona – another of the sport's all-time greats – in leading Argentina to glory.

Pochettino would not be drawn into any discussion around how the two compare as players, as he added: "For me, that debate never existed.

"They are the best in their respective contexts. How do we measure it?

"According to results? If he won the World Cup? Ballon d'Or? Both are in the same place, and it is in the first position."

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp labelled the decision to leave Roberto Firmino out of the Brazil World Cup as "madness" before netting in Saturday's 3-1 win over Southampton.

Firmino missed the cut for Tite's 26-man Brazilian squad in midweek despite being in their squad for friendlies against Ghana and Tunisia in September.

The Brazilian put aside that disappointment to open the scoring against the Saints with a crafty header - his 18th headed goal in the Premier League.

But Klopp revealed prior to the game that the decision had impacted Firmino and taken the German by surprise too.

"A blow, definitely," Klopp said. "You couldn't see it in training, but definitely.

"It was [a blow] for me to be honest. I'm happy we have Bobby, but he deserves it. I think he deserves everything, to be honest.

"It just shows how incredibly good and talented this Brazilian squad is if you can leave a player like Bobby Firmino out. Madness.

"Of course, we will talk; we did already, and will maybe do again. He's fine but, as everyone can imagine, very disappointed."

Firmino has netted nine goals and provided four assists for the Reds this season including seven strikes in the Premier League.

Klopp also confirmed the club and 31-year-old Firmino are in talks to discuss a new deal, with the Brazilian's current contract expiring in June 2023.

"Normal conversations are happening as well so we will see what happens there," Klopp said.

James Maddison eased fears of him missing England's World Cup campaign after limping off in his final club game before joining up with the squad.

Despite only picking up one previous cap three years ago, Maddison's impressive form was enough to earn him a place in Gareth Southgate's squad for Qatar.

But that spot looked to be in serious peril when, in his final game for Leicester City ahead of the World Cup, Maddison limped off in the 25th minute having put the Foxes 1-0 up.

Clutching at his hamstring, there was immediate concern for the 25-year-old, but he alleviated those fears after the game.

"It should be fine," Maddison said as he left the London Stadium after the match with West Ham, which his side went on to win 2-0.

"Injury isn't too bad! A small problem that was causing a bit of soreness. Can't wait to meet up with the lads Monday," Maddison tweeted after the game.

Maddison's Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers confirmed that there should not be any problem with the midfielder's fitness for Qatar, telling reporters: "I’ve just spoken to the doctor, he said he’s fine.

"He just felt a little knock on the knee. We didn’t want to risk it for him or the team."

The news will come as a big relief to Maddison and Southgate with England's World Cup campaign scheduled to get underway against Iran on November 21.

Bayern Munich coach Julian Nagelsmann backed Jamal Musiala to shine for Germany at the World Cup after he produced a scintillating display in Saturday's 2-0 win at Schalke.

On the day he became the youngest player to make 100 Bayern appearances since the Bundesliga was founded (aged 19 years and 259 days old), Musiala laid on goals for Serge Gnabry and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting in a routine victory.

Musiala has now contributed to 21 goals this season (12 goals, nine assists) – more than any other German playing in one of Europe's top five leagues has managed. 

The teenager was also denied a goal of his own by the offside flag after claiming his second assist on Saturday and Nagelsmann believes Germany fans should be excited by his presence in Qatar. 

"Jamal played an outstanding first half of the season," Nagelsmann told Sky Sports after the win.

"Hopefully, he will play the World Cup and the second half of the season even better. He has extremely lively feet."

Musiala's Bayern and Germany team-mate Manuel Neuer, meanwhile, sees him as possessing a crucial role in both teams. 

"He is a very important key player," Neuer said. "We are happy that he is with Bayern and also with the national team."

Musiala's total of 15 Bundesliga goal contributions this campaign (nine goals, six assists) is the highest in the competition, and four more than the next best tally by a Bayern player (Gnabry with 11).

Dusan Vlahovic will sit out Juventus' Serie A game against Lazio on Sunday with the Serbia striker struggling for fitness ahead of the World Cup, head coach Massimiliano Allegri said.

The 22-year-old has not featured for Juventus since they suffered a 4-3 Champions League defeat to Benfica last month, missing their last four games after sustaining a groin injury.

Vlahovic – who is Juventus' top scorer this season with seven goals – has been named in Serbia's 26-man squad for the upcoming tournament in Qatar but is yet to fully recover.

Despite Vlahovic participating in recent training sessions, Allegri is unwilling to risk him against Lazio, though he remains adamant the striker is not hesitant about returning before the World Cup.

"Vlahovic, no. He doesn't feel like it, he's not well, he'll stay out. [Federico] Chiesa is available tomorrow," Allegri said at Saturday's pre-match press conference.

"You have to be fatalistic. In general, maybe at the first training session with the national team, a player stops and misses the World Cup. 

"Vlahovic was part of training both yesterday and today, it is normal for a player to feel he has to help the team. He's not in optimal physical condition right now."

However, Juventus will be able to call upon Angel Di Maria against Maurizio Sarri's men, with the Argentina international having appeared as a substitute in each of the Bianconeri's last two games after recovering from a thigh problem.

Allegri will make a late decision on whether to start Di Maria ahead of Sunday's match and will not be swayed by his imminent appearance at a fourth World Cup.

"It is not a question of the World Cup. The other times he played half an hour and did well," Allegri said.

"I have to decide whether to let him play for a while or to start him from the beginning. It is clear that when he enters, he raises the level of the team. Tomorrow is about the team. 

"In the last match, it will be difficult. It is like the first of the championship, since then there will be a long break. It is a dangerous match already, because of the quality of Lazio."

Neymar is unsure whether he will get the opportunity to represent Brazil at another World Cup after this year's tournament in Qatar.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward will appear at his third World Cup later this month, where he will be looking to lead Brazil to their first triumph at the tournament for 20 years. 

Neymar will be 34 years old by the time the 2026 World Cup begins, and with little certainty whether he will feature in that tournament, he hopes to cement a place in football history by leading Brazil to glory in Qatar.

"I'll play like it's the last," Neymar told Globo. "I talk to my father, we always talk. [I'll] play each game as if it were the last because you don't know what will happen tomorrow.

"I can't guarantee that I'll play another [World] Cup. I honestly don't know. I'll play like it's the last. 

"Maybe I'll play another one, maybe not. It depends. There's going to be a coaching change [when Tite steps down after the World Cup] and I don't know if that coach will like me.

"I've already built a long history in the national team and, for sure, I want to finish it well.

"I'm happy. I like to play football and I like to win. I like to be better than I am every day. I like helping my team-mates, which is the main thing. I hope my name is engraved in football history."

 

Asked about Brazil's chances of glory in Qatar, Neymar added: "I want to play this cup, dedicate myself to it, because I'm sure we have the potential to go very far. 

"Although a lot of people don't believe in us, we will prove otherwise. I see that this national team has a lot of good things, and I see that we can go very far."

Since making his World Cup debut on home soil in 2014, Neymar has been directly involved in 42 per cent of Brazil's 19 goals in the tournament (six goals, two assists).

Meanwhile, the 30-year-old has scored 75 times in 121 appearances for Brazil, putting him just two goals short of Pele's Selecao record of 77.

While Neymar will be expected to trouble that record when Brazil face Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon in their Group G campaign in Qatar, he says he is not driven by the desire to better Pele's feats.

"It's more than I imagined, than I dreamed. I never thought about numbers, I never wanted to overtake anyone, to break a record. I always just wanted to play football," Neymar said.

"Pele is the reference. Pele is football. Pele is practically everything for our country. The respect and admiration I have for him is enormous."

James Maddison limped off injured in his final club game before joining up with England's squad for the World Cup in Qatar.

Thursday's announcement saw him included in Gareth Southgate's squad for the tournament having previously picked up just one cap, three years ago.

But after scoring a superb strike to put Leicester City 1-0 up away at West Ham, Maddison was then forced off through injury in the 25th minute, clutching at his hamstring.

The news will come as a big blow to Southgate, who said Maddison had "earned the right" to be included after registering the second most Premier League goal involvements among England players in 2022 behind Harry Kane.

With the Three Lions' opening group game against Iran just nine days away, Maddison faces a nervy wait to find out the extent of his injury.

If Maddison is ruled out, Southgate could call on Ivan Toney in his place, with the Brentford striker responding to missing out on Southgate's squad by scoring both of his team's goals in a shock 2-1 victory at Manchester City.

Christian Eriksen has described his comeback as "amazing" as he gears up to represent Denmark at the World Cup in Qatar.

The Manchester United midfielder suffered a cardiac arrest in June 2021 during his nation's opening Euro 2020 match against Finland but, fewer than 18 months later, is travelling to Qatar for the mid-season tournament.

It was initially unclear whether he would be able to return to football and Eriksen was released by Inter as he was unable to play competitive football in Italy.

A subsequent return to the Premier League with Brentford caught the eye and earned a transfer to Manchester United, while on the international stage the bond within the team has become "very tight".

"The first thing that I said publicly was that I wanted to be back and having a chance to be at a World Cup and the time that's happened between then has been really amazing," he told Sky Sports.

"The bond the team has is very tight, I mean, it's always been tight but definitely after what happened it's been even tighter. As a group, even without me the whole group really grew together, together with the country.

"I remember days where there was no fans in stadiums and now it's sold out even before the game has been announced. So, it's just amazing to be part of it, the whole group is in a good place.

"Denmark has changed compared to the last tournament [Euro 2020], because the last tournament that we went to we went through to the semi-finals. Now the pressure is on to even get that better than the semi-finals at the Euros. So, I think it's just go as far as possible.

"I think that's changed compared to before where before even the last World Cup in 2018, we had to go through the group and then we take it from there. But I think now we're looking at trying to go as far as possible."

Denmark begin their World Cup campaign against Tunisia on November 22, then facing France and Australia in Group D.

Brentford head coach Thomas Frank struggled to find the words to describe Ivan Toney after he fired Brentford to a dramatic 2-1 win at Manchester City, declaring: 'what a striker!'

Toney was overlooked when Gareth Southgate named England's World Cup squad this week, but he responded in outstanding fashion by scoring twice in a famous win for the Bees. 

Having latched onto Josh Dasilva's cross to score a dramatic winner eight minutes into stoppage time, Toney has reached double figures for Premier League goals this season, scoring two or more goals in three separate games. 

Speaking to BT Sport after masterminding Brentford's victory, Frank hailed Toney's performance and praised his side for keeping City talisman Erling Haaland quiet.

"He's fantastic," Frank said of Toney. "I can't praise him enough. What I would say is the most important thing is how good a person he is, how emotionally intelligent he is around his team-mates.

"Then of course, what a player, what a striker! Scoring two goals, he should probably have had one more. Imagine having a hat-trick here at the Etihad, I thought that was only for Haaland!

"We spoke before the game about how to eliminate Haaland, but I think we did it perfectly. We tried to stop the sources into him, then when the ball came into the box, we defended it brilliantly."

Toney has now scored 22 Premier League goals for Brentford, more than double the tally recorded by any other player for the club (Yoane Wissa is second with 10). 

Having fired Brentford to their first win at City since 1937, Toney said he would not let his disappointment at missing the World Cup affect his displays.

"Listen, the only thing is to keep doing well, keep doing my best for the team and who knows what can happen," Toney said.

"I mean, obviously it's a disappointment but I know what I'm capable of, I won't let it put me down, I'll just keep going and keep doing well for Brentford.

"The motivation is the boys in the dressing room and the fans, as you can see. When you work hard, it's all you can do."

Lionel Messi sees similarities between this Argentina side and the one that agonisingly missed out on World Cup glory in 2014.

Argentina will head to Qatar this month looking to lift the trophy for the first time since 1986.

Former Barcelona star Messi, who now plays for Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain, has said it is likely to be his final World Cup.

He has yet to win the biggest prize in international football, though he helped La Albiceleste to the Copa America title in 2021, finishing as joint-top scorer with four goals.

Messi won the Golden Ball in 2014 after inspiring Argentina to the final, only to be left watching Germany celebrate following Mario Gotze's extra-time winner.

But, speaking ahead of the 2022 competition, Messi appeared to suggest this Argentina squad has the unity to go as far as the 2014 team.

He told Ole: "At the 2014 World Cup, we performed very well. It was an unforgettable experience.

"I enjoyed it a lot and where it became clear to me more than ever that the main and most important thing is to be a strong and united group.

"That ultimately leads you to the important goal. Today I feel a lot of similarities between this group and the one from 2014."

Argentina are second favourites behind rivals Brazil to win the 2022 World Cup.

Lionel Scaloni's men have not lost since their 2-0 Copa America defeat to Brazil in the 2019 Copa America final, a run of 35 games unbeaten.

They begin their World Cup campaign against Saudi Arabia on November 22, before facing Mexico and Poland in their other Group C matches.

Aleksandar Mitrovic remains a fitness doubt for the World Cup despite being named in Serbia's 26-man squad, according to Fulham head coach Marco Silva.

The prolific striker has nine goals in 12 Premier League matches for Fulham this season, but he missed last week's 2-1 loss to Manchester City through injury.

That foot issue is expected to rule Mitrovic out of Sunday's home match against Manchester United, with that Fulham's final outing ahead of the World Cup break.

Mitrovic was included in Dragan Stojkovic's squad on Friday, but Silva revealed the 28-year-old still requires more medical checks before being cleared to take part in Qatar.  

"What I can tell you is that it will be a decision made probably in the first days of next week, between the [Serbia] medical staff and our medical staff," Silva told reporters.

"That will help decide what is the best decision for him, and for us as a club as well because he is really important. 

"I'm not the right person to say now whether he will be fit or not to be there. 

"What I know right now is that he wasn’t ready for the last match and will not be ready for the next one, unfortunately for us.

"What I can also tell you is that he cannot be harmed. He cannot be harmed for something that will come from the decision."

Mitrovic has scored 50 goals in 76 appearances for Fulham, including eight in five in his country's successful World Cup qualifying campaign.

Asked what would happen if Fulham recommended to Serbia that Mitrovic should not play, Silva said: "We don't know what will happen. 

"Mitro wants to be at the World Cup. He wanted to be available for Sunday here against Man United, and he wanted to play against City. 

"This is the thing, it is not just because he wanted to be there. You have to wait for the decision from the medical staff. After, together, we'll take a decision."

Serbia are competing at their third World Cup as an independent nation and are in Group G alongside Brazil, Cameroon and Switzerland.

Dusan Tadic will captain the side in Qatar, while the likes of Dusan Vlahovic, Luka Jovic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic have also been included in Stojkovic's squad.

Noel Le Graet, president of the French Football Federation, does not want France captain Hugo Lloris to wear a rainbow armband at the Qatar World Cup in support of LGBTQ+ rights.

The 'One Love' campaign was announced in September in which 10 European nations declared they wanted to "send a message" against discrimination, including captains wearing an armband featuring a heart containing multi colours to represent all backgrounds during the 2022 World Cup.

The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, England and Wales each signed up to the initiative, aimed to take place at the tournament and beyond.

However, Le Graet has now said he will "discuss it" with Lloris, admitting he would "rather" the defending world champions not take part.

"We're going to discuss it. But I'd rather [Lloris] doesn't do it," Le Graet said in an interview with L'Equipe. "We're playing in a country which we must respect. But if we have to wear it, we'll wear it.

"It's not that I'm not in favour of this armband, but sometimes I think we want to lecture others so much that we should also look at what's happening in our country."

Concerns have been raised about the World Cup being held in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal and was described earlier this week as "damage in the mind" by tournament ambassador Khalid Salman on German television.

FIFA recently wrote to all competing nations to remind them to "focus on football" during the tournament, which starts on November 20.

Achraf Hakimi has described Sergio Ramos as the "best defender in the world" after the latter was left out of the Spain squad for the 2022 World Cup.

Spain head coach Luis Enrique announced his 26-man selection for the upcoming tournament in Qatar on Friday, with Ramos a notable absentee after being a part of the provisional 55-man list.

The former Real Madrid centre-back has 180 caps for Spain, and was a part of the team that won the 2010 World Cup, as well as the 2008 and 2012 European Championships.

After an injury-troubled debut season at Paris Saint-Germain following his move from the Santiago Bernabeu in 2021, Ramos has made 19 appearances this campaign already, and recently became the first PSG player to remain undefeated in his first 30 games for the club in all competitions.

However, following the news that the 36-year-old will not be heading to Qatar, his club team-mate Hakimi – who will be representing Morocco at the tournament – posted on Twitter: "Sergio Ramos. Best defend[er] in the world", with an applause emoji.

Ramos was previously left out of the Spain squad for Euro 2020 after an injury-hit final season in Madrid, with his most recent international cap coming against Kosovo in March 2021 in qualifying for Qatar 2022.

Other high-profile names left out of the squad included Manchester United's David De Gea, Athletic Bilbao defender Inigo Martinez and Thiago Alcantara of Liverpool.

At his squad announcement press conference on Friday, Luis Enrique explained: "I have a rule not to talk about absences. This happens to all coaches.

"I will not judge those who are not on the list. I thank all those who played. The most important are the 26 who are there. The absentees, I prefer not to comment. I leave it to you."

Netherlands boss Louis van Gaal said he saw several of his players "naked" when he called them to inform them of his World Cup squad selections.

The Oranje have named their 26-man party for Qatar 2022, with a string of surprise selections and omissions in Friday's announcement.

Uncapped trio Xavi Simons, Jeremie Frimpong and Andries Noppert have been included, but there is no place for Bayern Munich's Ryan Gravenberch or Newcastle United's Sven Botman.

Speaking on the calls to inform prospective squad members ahead of the announcement, Van Gaal reflected on the difficulty of his selections, while revealing he caught several players unawares.

"It was really tough," he said at a press conference. "I even took the time difference into account for the people in England. I saw naked players, because they were still in bed!

"I've said a hundred times I think this group is fantastic. But this is about the vision of the national coach. I discovered that this morning when I told a player he would not attend a World Cup. It is not easy."

Other major names missing from the Netherlands' first World Cup squad for eight years – they famously missed Russia 2018 – include Villarreal's Arnaut Danjuma and NEC goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen.

Having missed their return to tournament football at Euro 2020 through injury, Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk will skipper the side, where he will wear the OneLove armband in support of LGBTQ+ rights.

FIFA has already warned against such political action in Qatar, but Van Gaal says he is not interested in the governing body's stance, instead preferring his captain's opinion.

"I think it's not important what FIFA thinks," he added. "It's about what our association thinks, how the national manager thinks about but mostly what Virgil van Dijk thinks.

"I can say something about the situation, that doesn't make a difference. [Liverpool manager Jurgen] Klopp said it the right way, and I totally back him on his opinion.

"We are going to play there, and we won't often think about the fact that things aren't done the right way. There are so many things that are not okay, even in our country."

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