Gianluca Vialli told Roberto Mancini Italy must triumph at the 2026 World Cup the last twice the two great friends were together.

Former Sampdoria, Juventus and Chelsea striker Vialli died aged 58 last Friday, having been re-diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2021.

Vialli served as head of delegation for the Azzurri until last month, working closely with his long-time friend Mancini – his strike partner during a hugely successful spell at Sampdoria – as they won Euro 2020.

Following Vialli's passing, Mancini described him as his "little brother" and pledged to dedicate any future successes with Italy to him.

On Tuesday, Mancini revealed Vialli demanded he leads the Azzurri to glory in the United States, Mexico and Canada in three years' time.

"I went to visit Luca in London in December, and I'll be honest, I was a little scared," Mancini said during an appearance on RAI 1 show Porta a Porta.

"He woke up, we laughed, joked around, we called [former Sampdoria team-mate] Attilio Lombardo on the phone. He told me, 'I am relaxed, don't worry'. He was the one trying to raise my spirits.

"Gianluca told me we have to win the World Cup in 2026 and that he'll be there with us. He certainly will be right there, and we hope to dedicate a great victory to him very soon."

Lionel Scaloni has told Lionel Messi "the door will always be open" for the Argentina captain to play in the 2026 World Cup.

Messi last month got his hands on the trophy he so desperately wanted, lifting the World Cup in Qatar following a victory over France in a thrilling final.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward scored twice in a 3-3 draw to take his tally for the tournament to seven and was also on target in a penalty shootout as Argentina dethroned Les Bleus.

Messi, 35, also became the first man to win two Golden Balls as he inspired his team in what he said would be his last World Cup.

The mercurial Messi will be nearing 40 when Argentina look to defend their title in a tournament that will be staged in the United States, Canada and Mexico in 2026, but head coach Scaloni has not given up hope of being able to call upon the forward.

"I think Messi can get to the next World Cup," he told Radio Calvia. "It will depend a lot on what he wants, on whether he feels good.

"The door will always be open. He is happy on the pitch and it would be very nice for us."

Scaloni does not think Argentina's World Cup success was essential to secure Messi's place among the best players of all time.

"I don't think it was necessary to be one of the greatest or the greatest. You always ask for more. I don't know what else you are going to ask for now," he continued.

"I am happy for him and for the country. For the joy we gave him and we gave ourselves. The days we spent in Argentina were full of euphoria and affection. It was worth it."

Speculation has continued over Scaloni's future despite the 44-year-old becoming just the third boss to win both the World Cup and Copa America, after Mario Zagallo and Carlos Alberto Parreira achieved that feat for Brazil.

Argentinian Football Association president Claudio Tapia rubbished talk that Scaloni may not stay on and the head coach stated: "Today I am happy where I am."

Gareth Bale's decision to retire from professional football comes at the "right time", according to Wales manager Rob Page.

Bale announced on Monday he had decided to call time on a glorious career, having finally been able to represent his country at the World Cup.

Once the most expensive player of all time when he made the move to Real Madrid from Tottenham, Bale won everything possible during his time at the Santiago Bernabeu, including five Champions League titles – only Paco Gento (six) has more (Champions League/European Cup).

While some might have been surprised by Bale's decision given he is still only 33, his decline over the past few years – partly due to injuries – has been significant, as evidenced by his MLS struggles with Los Angeles FC and a lack of impact for Wales at Qatar 2022.

Page was not among those caught off guard by the news.

"Gareth messaged to say he needed a conversation," Page told BBC Radio Wales.

"I knew it was something significant, but when he announced it to me, it didn't come as a complete surprise.

"I told him I think it's the right time to bow out. You've just scored in a World Cup and got everything on your CV, what you've done for this country is unbelievable."

Wales' next fixtures are at the end of March when they face Croatia and Latvia to begin their Euro 2024 qualification campaign.

Page had planned to include Bale in his squad, though he recognised the World Cup did highlight certain inadequacies.

"He would have had a part to play," Page continued. "The roles might have changed slightly. Would he be able to play 90 minutes back to back?

"Lessons have been learned from Qatar, the athleticism every team had out there. It's too big an ask probably for him, he might have been an impact player coming off the bench.

"There's a mixture of emotions for me. I'm excited now because it's an opportunity to get some of the young ones through – players like Brennan Johnson to take the opportunity and step up to the plate – and get the next Gareth Bale.

"But there's also a hint of sadness because it's the last time we'll see Gareth Bale putting a pair of boots on for Wales."

But that is not to say Bale will be gone for good.

It remains to be seen what he goes on to do now he is not playing, but Page is eager to get Bale involved in the Wales setup again.

"I would love him still to be involved in some capacity, what that role is don't know yet," he said.

"It's a big adjustment for him, going into a normalish life, but we'll have another conversation with him in a few weeks.

"We'll make a plan moving forward because he's got so much to offer in a changing room and hotel environment.

"His presence is something I would be really keen on, to keep him involved, but I'll leave it up to Gareth and what suits him and his family.

"You've seen Belgium do it with Thierry Henry. Ex-players stepping up, whether it's a coaching role, an ambassadorial role, or being part of a committee making decisions.

"I'm sure the FAW [Football Association of Wales] would also be keen to keep Gareth involved in some capacity."

Hugo Lloris has retired from international football after leading France to a second consecutive World Cup final.

Goalkeeper Lloris is Les Bleus' most-capped player and has captained the team since 2012.

The Tottenham man skippered his country at six major tournaments, including three World Cups.

Lloris was the man between the posts as France won their second world title in 2018, having lost in the final of their home Euro 2016 two years earlier.

With Lloris still in goal, France returned to the World Cup final at Qatar 2022, only to lose on penalties to Argentina.

Having taken time to announce a decision following that defeat, Lloris confirmed his retirement in an interview with L'Equipe on Monday.

"There comes a time when you have to know how to hand over," he said, before referencing deputy Mike Maignan.

"I don't want to own [the position]. I've always said and repeated that the France team doesn't belong to anyone, and we all have to make sure that this is the case, me first.

"I think that there remains a team ready to continue, and there is also a goalkeeper who is ready."

Maignan appeared set to push Lloris for the number one shirt in Qatar, only to join a long list of France stars who missed the tournament through injury.

Lloris kept only a single clean sheet at the finals, although that came in the semi-final against Morocco.

He retires with eight World Cup clean sheets, behind only countryman Fabien Barthez and Peter Shilton (both 10) since 1966.

"I'd rather go out at the top than wait for a decline or [face] too much competition," Lloris added. "There is also a family choice;I feel the need to spend more time with my wife and children."

Gareth Bale has brought an end to an illustrious playing career after announcing his retirement at the age of 33.

The forward hangs up his boots with a record of 226 goals in 664 games from spells with Southampton, Tottenham, Real Madrid, Los Angeles FC and on the international stage with Wales.

Initially a left-back, Bale was utilised further forward by Harry Redknapp at Spurs which sparked the start of an incredible transformation of the player – who would go on to make a significant impression at both club and international level.

Here, we've taken a look back at some of the finest moments from Bale's career.

San Siro statement

On October 20, 2010, Bale gave Tottenham fans memories to last a lifetime with a stunning hat-trick in a Champions League group stage fixture against Inter at San Siro in a year that marked Spurs' first-ever involvement in the competition.

Four goals down at half-time and down to 10 men, Bale enjoyed a meteoric display in the second period that, despite Spurs losing 4-3, still stands as one of the greatest individual performances in the competition's history.

A hat-trick saw the then 21-year-old display his raw pace and strength, tormenting opposing players Maicon and Javier Zanetti, propelling him into stardom and setting the path for a remarkable career.

World record transfer & Copa del Rey Clasico

A six-year spell in north London came to a close in 2013, when Real Madrid splashed a then world record fee of €100.8 million (£85.1m), a figure that surpassed the previous record set by Cristiano Ronaldo's move to Santiago Bernabeu from Manchester United.

Scoring on his debut against Villarreal, the first half of Bale's inaugural season in Spain was plagued by injuries and came alongside some media criticism – something that he would have to endure throughout the majority of his spell with Los Blancos.

A starring moment came in the 2014 Copa del Rey final against Barcelona, however, outsprinting Marc Barta and even exiting the field on his way to goal before tucking home his first El Clasico strike.

Champions League glories

Just over a month after scoring in the Copa del Rey final, Bale was at it again in the Champions League final against Atletico Madrid – putting his team ahead in the 110th minute of an eventual 4-1 victory to seal Madrid's 10th European Cup, the fabled La Decima.

In 2015-16, Bale won the Champions League for a second time, Atletico on the receiving end yet again, retaining the trophy the following season against Juventus in his home city of Cardiff, and winning a third in a row in 2017-18, where Bale added to his incredible highlight reel.

Against Liverpool in Kyiv, Bale scored an overhead kick from the edge of the 18-yard box to give Madrid a 2-1 advantage, then doubling his tally for the game with a speculative 30-yard effort that goalkeeper Loris Karius fumbled into the net.

Euro semi-finalists

While criticism at club level with Madrid was rife, Bale continued to be the leading man on the international stage for Wales and excelled for his nation at Euro 2016, the first time they had featured at the tournament.

Bale scored in all three of Wales' group-stage matches against Slovakia, England and Russia as Chris Coleman's side topped the group, with victories against Northern Ireland and Belgium to follow in the knockout stage.

An incredible tournament came to a close in the semi-finals with a 2-0 defeat to eventual champions Portugal but Wales returned five years later at the rearranged Euro 2020, where they reached the last 16.

MLS Cup victory

Bale's Madrid career ended in June 2022, fresh from picking up a fifth Champions League victory, as he completed a move to Major League Soccer to join Los Angeles FC.

LAFC won the Supporter's Shield in the regular season, though Bale was mostly unused, but he made his impact in the MLS Cup as his side won the title for the first time, having joined the league in 2017.

Bale came off the bench to score in the 128th minute against Philadelphia Union, sending the contest to a penalty shoot-out that LAFC subsequently won.

World Cup

After a 64-year absence, Wales returned to the World Cup stage after qualifying for the 2022 tournament in Qatar – which would prove to be Bale's last involvement as a player for either club or country.

An 82nd-minute penalty against the United States saw Bale score on his tournament debut as Wales begun the group stage with a point, but two stoppage-time goals in the second game gave Iran a shock victory.

Wales' campaign came to an early end with a 3-0 defeat to England in the final group match, marking a disappointing end to Bale's international career.  

When Fernando Santos called time on his eight-year stint as Portugal head coach after their 2022 World Cup quarter-final elimination, few would have correctly predicted his replacement.

Roberto Martinez also left his national team role after the tournament in Qatar, with Belgium disappointingly falling at the group stage.

The former Everton and Wigan Athletic boss took the Red Devils to the World Cup semi-finals in 2018, before reaching the last eight of Euro 2020, being eliminated by the eventual winners in both.

Martinez finds himself in charge of A Selecao now after his appointment was confirmed on Monday, and there is plenty of work to be done.

Qualifiers for the 2024 European Championships get underway in March and with the talent at their disposal, Portugal must be fancied to be among the favourites for the tournament in Germany.

Stats Perform has taken a look at five things in Martinez's in-tray that he will need to consider if he is to find success with his new team.

Solve the Ronaldo conundrum

"Decisions have to be made on the pitch. I won't rush into decisions. I want to meet everyone, and from today I want to talk and meet all the players," Martinez said at his first press conference as Portugal coach.

"Cristiano [Ronaldo] is part of that list. He's had 19 years in the national team and deserves respect, let's talk. From there, it's up to me to make the best list for the European Championships."

Ronaldo has 118 goals in 196 caps for Portugal, undeniably an international record to be proud of, but he will be 38 years old when Martinez takes charge of his first game.

One of the new boss' biggest issues with Belgium was getting the best out of ageing stars, and with Portugal arguably looking far sharper when Ronaldo was benched in Qatar – hat-trick hero v Switzerland Goncalo Ramos in particular – perhaps now is the perfect time to allow the former Real Madrid and Juventus man to fully focus on his new adventure in Saudi Arabia and call time on his international career.

Getting the best out of Joao Felix

This is a problem Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone is all too familiar with, hence why Joao Felix is being linked with a loan move to the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal instead of lighting up LaLiga on a weekly basis.

The 23-year-old has plenty of talent, but a lack of consistency belies the nine-figure fee Atletico paid Benfica for him back in 2019.

If Martinez chooses to move on from Ronaldo though, Joao Felix could find the space and responsibility to thrive at international level as part of a team where everyone would be expected to chip in.

Of players to have featured in at least 14 LaLiga games this season, only Mikel Merino, Antoine Griezmann, Ansu Fati and Ousmane Dembele average more than Joao Felix's 0.42 assists per 90.

Utilise Dias to build solid foundation

Arguably Martinez's main struggle by the end of his time with Belgium was managing a defence filled with players who were several years past their prime.

He will need to make sure that Portugal maintain freshness there as a good defence will always give you a chance in international competitions, such as when Portugal conceded just once in four knockout games on their way to winning Euro 2016.

One key decision could be taken out of his hands, with Pepe expected to announce his retirement from international football, but in Ruben Dias, Martinez has the perfect figure to build his defence around.

The Manchester City centre-back is one of the best in Europe and has shown under Pep Guardiola he can also be relied upon in a backline that pushes high to close space and allow the attack to press from the front, something Martinez has often favoured when he has had the tools to do so.

Build around Bruno

Since his move to Man Utd in January 2020, Bruno Fernandes has proven himself to be one of the premier midfielders in Europe, and at the World Cup, he began to show that he can lead for his national team as well.

Only Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi (both 10) had more goal involvements than Fernandes' five (two goals, three assists) in Qatar, while no-one produced more than his three assists.

In the Premier League this season, only Kevin De Bruyne (41) has created more chances from open play than his 40, with the Manchester City man having played a game more, and with plenty of attacking firepower to aim for with Portugal, Fernandes can in theory fill his assist boots over the coming years under Martinez.

Make the most of Leao

One of those talents Fernandes should be working with is Rafael Leao, one of the most exciting attackers in Europe right now.

While Santos had plenty of other fine players to choose from, it was surprising to see Leao reduced to just substitute appearances in all five games at the World Cup, though he still produced two goals before Portugal were eventually eliminated by Morocco in the quarter-finals.

The Milan forward should really be Martinez's primary weapon on the left of the attack, especially if he can replicate the form that saw him win Serie A's player of the season award as the Rossoneri claimed the Scudetto in 2021-22.

Portugal have appointed Roberto Martinez as their new head coach.

Fernando Santos called time on his eight-year stint at the helm last month, a decision which followed Portugal's surprise World Cup defeat to Morocco.

Santos led Portugal to the quarter-finals in Qatar, where he benched Cristiano Ronaldo for the Selecao's two knockout games – a comprehensive 6-1 win over Switzerland and the 1-0 loss to the Atlas Lions.

Martinez, who was presented as Portugal's new coach on Monday and has reportedly signed a four-year deal, became a free agent shortly before Santos' exit, leaving his role as Belgium coach after the Red Devils slumped to a dismal group-stage exit in Qatar.

Former Wigan Athletic and Everton boss Martinez led Belgium to their best World Cup campaign when they clinched third place at Russia 2018, though his failure to deliver silverware with a crop of players said to be the country's "golden generation" has attracted criticism.

Martinez oversaw 61 games during his six-year spell in charge of Belgium, winning 47 (77 per cent).

Belgium beat Canada in their opening match in Qatar but a defeat to Morocco and draw with Croatia saw them slump eliminated from a World Cup group for the first time since 1998.

They entered the World Cup second in FIFA's world rankings, but dropped to fourth after their failure to reach the knockout round.

Upon taking the job, one of Martinez's foremost challenges will be to make a decision on the international future of Ronaldo, who has joined Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia following the termination of his contract with Manchester United.

Though Ronaldo recognised his "most ambitious dream" was over after failing to inspire Portugal to glory at his fifth World Cup, the 37-year-old is yet to retire from international football.

Portugal will begin their qualification campaign for Euro 2024 at home to Liechtenstein on March 23, having been drawn into a group also containing Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Slovakia and Luxembourg.

Portugal have appointed Roberto Martinez as their new head coach.

Fernando Santos called time on his eight-year stint at the helm last month, a decision which followed Portugal's surprise World Cup defeat to Morocco.

Santos led Portugal to the quarter-finals in Qatar, where he benched Cristiano Ronaldo for the Selecao's two knockout games – a comprehensive 6-1 win over Switzerland and the 1-0 loss to the Atlas Lions.

Martinez, who was presented as Portugal's new coach on Monday and has reportedly signed a four-year deal, became a free agent shortly before Santos' exit, leaving his role as Belgium coach after the Red Devils slumped to a dismal group-stage exit in Qatar.

Former Wigan Athletic and Everton boss Martinez led Belgium to their best World Cup campaign when they clinched third place at Russia 2018, though his failure to deliver silverware with a crop of players said to be the country's "golden generation" has attracted criticism.

Martinez oversaw 61 games during his six-year spell in charge of Belgium, winning 47 (77 per cent).

Belgium beat Canada in their opening match in Qatar but a defeat to Morocco and draw with Croatia saw them slump eliminated from a World Cup group for the first time since 1998.

They entered the World Cup second in FIFA's world rankings, but dropped to fourth after their failure to reach the knockout round.

Upon taking the job, one of Martinez's foremost challenges will be to make a decision on the international future of Ronaldo, who has joined Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia following the termination of his contract with Manchester United.

Though Ronaldo recognised his "most ambitious dream" was over after failing to inspire Portugal to glory at his fifth World Cup, the 37-year-old is yet to retire from international football.

Portugal will begin their qualification campaign for Euro 2024 at home to Liechtenstein on March 23, having been drawn into a group also containing Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Slovakia and Luxembourg.

Kylian Mbappe has accused Noel Le Graet of disrespecting Zinedine Zidane after the French Football Federation president's dismissive response to suggestions the former Real Madrid coach could join Brazil.

On Saturday, it was announced Didier Deschamps had signed a new four-year contract as France head coach, allowing him to lead Les Bleus at a fourth World Cup in 2026.

Former France talisman Zidane had been linked with his country's top job on several occasions, including in the aftermath of their World Cup final defeat against Argentina last month.

However, with that position set to be occupied for the foreseeable future, Zidane has been suggested as a potential candidate to succeed Tite as Brazil's head coach.

Asked about speculation linking Zidane with the Selecao on Sunday, Le Graet told RMC he did not "give a toss" where the 1998 World Cup winner went and added he would not answer the phone to the former midfielder.

Those comments attracted criticism from star player Mbappe, who wrote on Twitter: "Zidane is France, we don't disrespect the legend like that..."

Zidane has been out of work since leaving Madrid in 2021, having led Los Blancos to three Champions League triumphs and two LaLiga titles across two spells at the Santiago Bernabeu. 

Julian Nagelsmann has elected against discussing Germany's poor World Cup with his Bayern Munich players.

Seven Bayern players featured in Germany's World Cup squad, as Hansi Flick's side failed to progress from the group stage in Qatar.

A defeat to Japan in their Group E opener was followed by a 1-1 draw with Spain, and a 4-2 victory over Costa Rica was not enough to send Germany through.

It is the second successive World Cup that Germany have failed to make the knockout stage, but Nagelsmann – who succeeded Flick at Bayern and has taken his squad to Doha for a training camp – does not believe it is his job to discuss the tournament with his players.

""I thought a lot about how we would address it during the break. I decided on very little," he told reporters.

"The players have the opportunity to come to me. I deliberately left them alone.

"I'm not much of a comforter. It's always a matter of choice. I can talk for half an hour about the bad, sad World Cup. Or I just leave it out.

"Focus on what they can influence – in the present and in the future. I tried to limit myself to that."

Indeed, Nagelsmann hopes the Bayern players instead turn their disappointment into motivation for the rest of the season.

"I can imagine what it means when you are eliminated from a World Cup," he said.

"But sometimes it's night, then it's usually day again. It's day now and there's a lot of light.

"You have it in your own hands to be more successful than you were at the World Cup.

"We, as the coaching staff, need to create the foundation for the players to perform at their best.

"Frustration and disappointment can also be the biggest motivating factor. I sense they are in a good place, they're training well and are fit."

While Thomas Muller, Joshua Kimmich and the rest of Bayern's Germany players endured a difficult World Cup, Dayot Upamecano established himself as a key part of France's defence.

Upamecano made a spectacular block as France drew 3-3 with Argentina in a thrilling final, only for Les Bleus to lose on penalties, but Nagelsmann has been impressed with the 24-year-old's development over the course of the campaign.

"Upamecano has been solid, as he was in the first half of the season, when he developed well," Nagelsmann said.

"He was also on top form in training. He had a good World Cup and he was one of the best defenders. We need him in top form."

Bayern Munich ruled out rushing through a deal for a new goalkeeper as Yann Sommer emerged as a prime target to replace the injured Manuel Neuer.

The 34-year-old Sommer has a contract with Borussia Monchengladbach that runs to the end of this season.

Bayern are weighing up a bid before the January transfer window closes, but they are away in Doha at a training camp for now, so nothing appears imminent.

Sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic spoke at a press conference in the Qatari city on Saturday, where he said efforts were under way to resolve the problem that arose when Neuer suffered a broken leg on a post-World Cup skiing holiday.

Having confirmed Bayern's interest in Switzerland international Sommer on Friday, Salihamidzic has now stressed a deal is not yet in place.

"As I said yesterday, I don't like to talk about other clubs' players," said the former Bayern defender. "The topic of the goalkeeper is of course one where we're thinking about it, but we're working on everything.

"Of course, Manuel's injury is a big blow for us. We're going to continue our work, check options, and then make a decision.

"We have until January 31 and until then we'll either do something or not."

The prospect of the goalkeeper issue going to the wire still appears unlikely, given Bayern resume their Bundesliga campaign on January 20 after the extended winter break.

Coach Julian Nagelsmann would ideally want the situation resolved by then, with there being seemingly little prospect of Alexander Nubel returning from his loan at Monaco.

Nubel has indicated a reluctance to come back, having become a regular in the Monaco team, and Salihamidzic says Bayern are aware of his stance.

"We have had very good communication between us, him and his management. We know exactly what the situation is," said the sporting director.

Bayern will be without defender Noussair Mazraoui for several weeks after announcing on Friday that medical tests had showed up an inflammation issue relating to his heart.

The Morocco international tested positive for COVID-19 at the World Cup, before recovering in time to face France in the semi-finals.

Subsequent tests have shown Mazraoui has a mild inflammation of the pericardium, which is the fluid-filled fibrous sac surrounding the heart.

Salihamidzic said it was unclear whether Mazraoui had been brought back too soon by Morocco.

"It's hard to tell if it was too early or not. He talked to [Morocco] medical staff, he talked to our medical staff, and he had tests. The tests were okay," Salihamidzic said.

"We don't know how it is with post-COVID. It's quite a blow for us that we have to be without him now.

"We'll talk about why this has happened to us. He's an important player for us, so we'll have to try to replace him.

"Of course he will be able to take all the time that he needs to recover. We'll have a test every week and see how he feels from week to week, but for now we're without him."

Zinedine Zidane saw an obvious route back into coaching blocked off when France elected to stick with Didier Deschamps, raising the question of where the former Real Madrid boss could end up.

News came through on Saturday of a new deal for Deschamps that keeps him with France through to the 2026 World Cup.

Had Deschamps been unable to agree terms with the French Football Federation, or elected to walk away after his team's World Cup final penalty shoot-out defeat to Argentina, it seemed Zidane would have been the obvious choice as his successor.

Now, however, he must wait for the chance to coach his country, if it ever arrives, but Zidane should not give up hope of working at the top level in international football.

According to former Brazil playmaker Juninho Pernambucano, coaching the Selecao would be a "perfect" role for the 50-year-old former Ballon d'Or winner.

It has been a long-standing tradition for only Brazilians to be head coach of their national team, but ex-Lyon star Juninho thinks an exception should be made for Zidane.

Tite stepped down after Brazil's World Cup quarter-final exit, creating the current vacancy.

"Football is a democratic sport. Everyone can participate, although the priority will always be a coach from your country, who knows the local football," Juninho told French broadcaster RMC.

"But if today you don't have a name that is unanimous in Brazil, why not look outside? But you can't take someone outside because you're going to propose a huge contract."

Juninho floated the name of Fernando Diniz, who is head coach of Fluminense and "makes his team play in an incredible way".

Unlike Zidane, however, Diniz has yet to win major silverware as a coach.

"I see Zidane as the perfect coach for Brazil," Juninho added.

Speaking in October, Zidane, who has won three Champions League titles as a coach, said he was looking to get back into work.

He had been linked with Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain, and club opportunities may be presented now it is clear he will not be stepping into the France job.

"Do I miss the coaching suit? No, I'm not far away," Zidane said. "We're waiting, we're waiting a little bit. Soon, soon."

Josko Gvardiol named Liverpool as his "dream" destination as the RB Leipzig defender continues to attract interest from a host of Europe's biggest clubs.

Gvardiol has been linked with the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Real Madrid after enjoying an outstanding World Cup campaign with Croatia, starting all seven of his country's games as they clinched the bronze medal.

The 20-year-old led all defenders for interceptions (11) and clearances (37) at the tournament, also scoring with a brilliant diving header in his team's third-place play-off against Morocco.

Gvardiol partnered former Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren at the heart of Croatia's defence in Qatar, and he is enthusiastic about the prospect of following in his footsteps by moving to Anfield. 

"My dream club? That would definitely be Liverpool," he told RTLDanas. 

"Since I was little, I watched a lot of their matches with my dad. We covered every season in detail. It is a club that has remained in my heart."

However, Gvardiol is in no rush to leave Leipzig – who sit third in the Bundesliga during the competition's mid-season break – before the end of the campaign. 

"I'm not in a hurry," he said. "I'm at Leipzig and we still have six months to finish the season and to win something. Then we will look further to the future."

Chelsea were strongly linked with a move for Gvardiol in the last transfer window before signing fellow defenders Kalidou Koulibaly and Wesley Fofana, and the Leipzig man revealed he was close to moving to Stamford Bridge. 

"Last summer a transfer was close and [Leipzig] simply kept me. I hope to spend these six months with [Leipzig]," he added. 

"Chelsea did not give up, but it was agreed that we would go for the winter. Winter has come, so we need to see what and how to proceed, but it's okay, there's still plenty of time, so we'll see.

"Nobody presented anything to me. But I'm not in a hurry, we have time, let them arrange the plan and we'll see."

Didier Deschamps has agreed to stay on as France coach until June 2026.

The French Football Federation (FFF) confirmed the news on Saturday.

France reached the World Cup final in Qatar, losing to Argentina on penalties following a remarkable 3-3 draw at Lusail Stadium.

Deschamps was appointed France coach in July 2012, succeeding Laurent Blanc.

The 2022 World Cup was unique for many reasons.

It was the first World Cup to be played in the Middle East, and the first one to take place in the middle of the season, as far as Europe's top clubs are concerned.

One thing that did not change, of course, was players being able to use the tournament as a platform to show what they can do on the biggest stage, and perhaps get big moves on the back of it.

While Josko Gvardiol, Enzo Fernandez, Alexis Mac Allister and Jude Bellingham are among the players to possibly fall into that category, Antoine Griezmann is different.

Griezmann is not the youngster making his name, but he did shine in Qatar as, in the space of seven games, he arguably redefined his own position.

That is not to say Griezmann had not been impressive this season prior to the World Cup. Before the tournament he had directly contributed to 10 goals for Atletico Madrid, scoring five and creating as many.

Griezmann's form has come during a season in which he had to settle for a substitute role up until September 18, due to Atleti attempting to navigate a financial clause in their loan agreement with Barcelona, which would have kicked in had the 31-year-old played a certain amount of minutes.

Had that clause been activated, Atleti would have had to pay €40million to re-sign Griezmann. As it was, they paid under half of that to bring him back to the club permanently in October.

It's Barca up next for Atleti in the highlight fixture of this weekend's LaLiga matches. Going into that match, Griezmann is a player reimagined.

 

The creator in chief

Griezmann has returned from the World Cup with a vigour and verve to his play perhaps not seen since his prime years at Atleti back in 2017 to 2019.

His goal contributions stand at 13 (five more than any of his team-mates) after three assists across two appearances since Atleti's campaign restarted – one game in LaLiga and one in the Copa del Rey.

Griezmann leads the club's scoring charts along with Alvaro Morata while his tally of seven assists is four clear of next-best Joao Felix, who seems destined to leave the club this month. None of his team-mates come close to matching Griezmann's 42 chances created, and 35 of those have come from open play.

But it's Griezmann's positioning that is the truly interesting aspect of his fine form.

Didier Deschamps has often utilised Griezmann as a second striker in international football. That was the position he played in at Euro 2016, and during France's successful run at the 2018 World Cup.

Yet in Qatar, Griezmann was deployed as the most advanced of a midfield trio, and there he showed his ability to not only find space in the final third, but run games altogether.

 

Only Kylian Mbappe (49) was involved in more shot-ending attacking sequences for France at the tournament than Griezmann (30).

However, of Griezmann's 361 open-play touches, just 14 came in the opposition box, with the vast majority clustered in the middle of the park.

Not that it prevented Griezmann from wielding his influence. He provided three assists, leading the competition alongside Harry Kane, Bruno Fernandes, Ivan Perisic and Lionel Messi. Unlike all of those players, however, Griezmann's expected assists (xA) of 3.6 was actually slightly underperformed. Essentially, he was creating higher quality chances for those assists than his counterparts.

 

That quality was evidenced with a sublime cross into Olivier Giroud for France's second goal in the 2-1 quarter-final victory over England, having earlier teed up Aurelien Tchouameni's strike to move ahead of Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry in terms of the most assists for Les Bleus. Griezmann's 28 assists rank as the most by any France player for his country in the last 50 years.

Griezmann's 22 chances created were the most at the tournament, albeit only nine of those came from open play. When it came to creativity, Griezmann was at the top of his game.

From poacher to playmaker

It was certainly a case of picking up where he left off for Griezmann when Atleti took on Elche in LaLiga on December 29. Diego Simeone's side won 2-0, and Griezmann was superb.

He set up both goals and created four chances. No player attempted more passes in the opposition half (37), or played in more crosses (five).

Despite Atleti having lined up in a 3-4-3, with Griezmann nominally positioned on the right flank, his average position was just ahead of the halfway line.

It was a similar story against Real Oviedo on Wednesday in the Copa del Rey. While he was supposedly playing in a front two alongside Alvaro Morata, Griezmann's touches were centred around the halfway line, with only two coming in the opposition box.

Dovetailing with Morata in a forward line, or indeed playing as an inside forward in a 3-4-3, is in principle ideal for Griezmann to drop into a similar role as to the one he thrived in during the World Cup.

Barca best be wary

It would seem the two-man attack would provide the perfect platform for Griezmann to show what Barca never managed to unlock on a consistent basis during his two years at the club.

Not that his time at Barca was a complete failure. Griezmann scored 35 goals and assisted a further 16 across 102 appearances. But he looks like he has his mojo back now. In fact, no LaLiga player has assisted more goals in all competitions.

Morata should provide the pace and work rate to stretch Barca's backline, handing Griezmann the space to drop between the lines and pull the strings.

Griezmann is averaging 73.4 touches per 90 minutes for Atleti this term, but only 4.8 in the opposition's box. His role has been gradually developing over the course of the campaign and the World Cup proved just how effective he can be.

Barca twice gave away the lead against Intercity Sant Joan d'Alacant in their Copa del Rey tie, and as Inter and Bayern Munich displayed in the Champions League, the Blaugrana's defence can be got at, even if in LaLiga Xavi's side have conceded just six times.

If Griezmann, who at least might be easier to spot, what with his bright pink hair, can replicate the influence he had in Qatar, Barca will be hard-pressed to stop him.

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