Wherever you stand on football's GOAT debate, you can't deny the legacy of Diego Maradona.

Some would place him behind Lionel Messi as Argentina's greatest ever footballer, and short of Pele in the sport's pantheon of the mighty; others would say Maradona eclipses them all. It's a debate that has raged for decades, and one that is not likely to be settled for some time.

But nobody can argue that Maradona – who died a year ago to the day at the age of 60 – produced a string of performances to rival anything the World Cup has ever witnessed in Mexico in 1986.

From the group stage to the final with West Germany, via the 'Goal of the Century' and a brazen moment of cheating, Maradona was so far above his contemporaries that the sheer idea of anyone else winning the Golden Ball was laughable.

Argentina beat South Korea, drew with Italy and defeated Bulgaria in their group, then saw off Uruguay, England and Belgium in the knockouts before a 3-2 final defeat of West Germany. 

As Opta data shows, Maradona was the beating heart of the Albiceleste's second World Cup triumph.

TAKE MY BREATH AWAY

Gary Lineker was the only player to score more goals (six) at the 1986 World Cup than Maradona (five). That's about the only category where he did not come out on top.

He added five assists to those five goals in his seven appearances, giving him the most goal involvements (10) of any player, ahead of the USSR's Igor Belanov (eight), and Lineker, Careca and Preben Elkjaer Larsen (six).

It stands to reason that Maradona also created more goalscoring chances (27) than any other player. Next on the list was France's Alain Giresse (24), then Klaus Allofs (23), Michel Platini (19) and Careca (17).

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH

Everyone, most famously West Germany, tried to man-mark Maradona out of the equation. None succeeded.

He completed 53 dribbles across the tournament, a tally that puts the rest of the competition to shame. The next highest number was recorded by USSR's Ivan Yaremchuk, who managed 16.

Of course, that kind of dazzling play will always attract a more prosaic approach from the opposition. Maradona was fouled 53 times, more than double the number of anyone else (Enzo Francescoli was next on 27 fouls won).

EDGE OF HEAVEN

Maradona's all-round impact on proceedings could only come from a player given freedom to drop deeper and seize the ball from lesser men. It's incredible, then, that he managed 44 touches in the opposition box, eight more than the next-highest on the list, Brazil's Careca. Lineker, winner of the Golden Boot, had 31 such touches.

Lineker and England have, of course, never forgotten Maradona's impact on their 2-1 quarter-final defeat in Mexico City. It was the scene of his greatest goal – a mazy, miraculous waltz through the heart of the opposition that ended with the bamboozling of goalkeeper Peter Shilton – and his crowning moment of infamy, when 'The Hand of God' punched Argentina into the lead.

Perhaps that wasn't such a one-off, though. Since 1966, no player has committed as many handballs at the World Cup as Maradona (seven) – and they're just the ones the referees spotted.

Diego Maradona dragged Argentina to World Cup glory, triumphed in Italy and Europe with Napoli and won countless individual honours.

Along the way, the footballing great – who died at the age of 60 on November 25, 2020 – scored some of the greatest goals the game has ever seen.

No matter the occasion, or indeed the opponent, Maradona was often unplayable – as can be seen from our selection of his five greatest ever goals.

 

Argentina v England (June 22, 1986)

Hailed by many as the greatest goal of all time, Maradona picked up the ball inside his own half and dribbled past four England players before calmly rounding Peter Shilton.

The moment of magic arrived four minutes after the notorious 'Hand of God' goal and helped Argentina into the semi-finals of the 1986 World Cup, a tournament which they went on to win.

Peter Reid, one of the England players that Maradona sauntered past, described the mesmerising second goal as an example of "an artist at work, at the best of his ability".

 

Argentina v Belgium (June 25, 1986)

The goal scored by Maradona three days later, this time in the semi-finals, was not too dissimilar in that he had four opposition players between himself and the goal.

He slalomed between two of them, jinked past another – in the process taking out a fourth – and fired past Jean-Marie Pfaff for his second goal of the contest.

Napoli v Juventus (November 3, 1985)

Napoli ended their 12-year wait for a league victory over rivals Juventus thanks to Maradona's brilliance of a different kind. If the previous goals were all about neat footwork and clinical finishing, this was more to do with sheer audacity.

A large wall, set five metres from the ball, was not enough to stop the Argentine maestro delicately lifting the indirect free-kick, rolled short into his path, into the one spot Stefano Tacconi could not reach.

Napoli v Hellas Verona (October 20, 1985)

This one was all about the technique - and the confidence to even think about taking it on. Maradona brought down the ball with his first touch, turned and sent a long-range drive flying over Giuliano Giuliani from a good 40 yards out.

What made it all the more special is that this strike came in a 5-0 thrashing of Hellas Verona, who were the reigning Serie A champions at the time.

Boca Juniors v River Plate (April 10, 1981)

Maradona spent a season with Boca Juniors before arriving in Europe, and it soon became clear what a talent he would become.

His first spell at the club may have been short, but he left behind plenty of memories, including a famous goal against bitter rivals River Plate. Intricate footwork in the penalty area left River helplessly bamboozled before Maradona converted from close range.

To many it still sounds absurd, but on November 21, 2022, the 22nd FIFA World Cup will get under way in Qatar.

Twelve years will have slipped by since Sepp Blatter pulled a card from an envelope and declared Qatar the hosts, giving the Arab world its first crack at putting on the tournament.

When the announcement came at FIFA HQ in Zurich, former US president Bill Clinton wrestled to mask his disappointment and offered a congratulatory handshake as the Qatari delegation celebrated on the row behind him. Clinton was the US bid committee's honorary chairman. It was reported he smashed a mirror in fury after returning to his hotel suite.

The USA, Australia, South Korea and Japan had been the rival candidates to Qatar, and many in the game believed the Americans would be awarded the tournament.

Chuck Blazer, the crooked FIFA executive who was also CONCACAF general secretary at the time, smiled along as the triumphant Qataris took to the stage.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thani, chairman of the Qatar bid team, said: "Thank you for believing in change, thank you for believing in expanding the game, thank you for giving Qatar a chance. We will not let you down. You will be proud of us; you will be proud of the Middle East and I promise you this."

Within a fortnight, Blatter said any gay fans planning on travelling to Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal, should "refrain from sexual activity". He faced a swift backlash for that remark, which was supposedly made in jest.

He added: "I think there is too much concern for a competition that will be done only in 12 years."

That sounded almost like a polite way of saying "not my problem", and as the FIFA gravy train soon hit the rails, with widespread corruption being exposed, the World Cup was indeed taken out of Blatter's hands.

Where then do we stand, with 12 months to go? Is this really a World Cup at the wrong time, in the wrong place?

Stats Perform has looked at the state of play, and the concerns that Blatter so flippantly dismissed continue to linger. Others have since sprung up and remain active worries; but at the same time, perhaps there is still cause for a little cautious optimism.

 


Can Qatar now be considered a fit and proper host for a World Cup?

May Romanos is a Gulf researcher for Amnesty International, the human rights organisation. She hails from Lebanon and lives in London.

When Qatar was handed the rights to the 2022 World Cup, Amnesty jumped at the chance to turn the spotlight on human rights concerns in the country and lobby for positive change that might spread throughout the Middle East. Over 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since the country was awarded the tournament, according to a Guardian investigation. Amnesty says that around 70 per cent of those deaths have not been satisfactorily explained.

Romanos says Amnesty harboured worries about "major labour abuse and exploitation".

It is not known exactly how many of those who have died were involved in the World Cup building project, given that over 90 per cent of Qatar's workforce are thought to be migrants, but staging the World Cup has been a major project for the country and it has been reported a significant proportion would have been involved in creating the infrastructure for the event.

These are the workers who built the stadiums, the roads and the hotels. Amnesty has been pushing for these workers to be afforded rights they could reasonably expect elsewhere in the world.

"In the first few years, the calls fell a bit on deaf ears and Qatar didn't really respond to the pressure, the criticism," Romanos told Stats Perform.

"Eventually in 2018 they signed this agreement with the International Labour Organization, which definitely indicates a higher political will to commit to reform the system and make this World Cup a driving force for change and leave a positive legacy for human rights."

Qatar has managed to introduce "important legal reforms to change the system to introduce better access to justice for migrant workers, introduced the minimum wage, [and] a mechanism to monitor the payment of wages", says Romanos.

"But what we are finding is that although the laws are there, their implementation and enforcement remain very weak, meaning that many migrant workers continue to be victim of labour abuses and exploitation."

The Qatari government has rejected claims of a spike in migrant worker deaths, stating that the mortality rate sits "within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population".

Qatar's World Cup Supreme Committee, through its Workers' Welfare legacy programme, says it is "achieving long-term tangible changes that now serve as benchmarks across the country and the region".

There have been new and improved laws introduced, directed at improving worker welfare, and Amnesty is optimistic these will make a telling difference.

"I think the political will is still there," says Romanos. "There is, I think, the need to get into action quickly and urgently because the window of opportunity is closing.

"We are 12 months away from this World Cup and I think it's very crucial that they take urgent action now to address the shortcomings and ensure the next few months will be very vital to deliver a World Cup that is not going to be tainted by labour abuses and exploitation or human rights concerns in general."


What can football do to help?

A UEFA working group visited Qatar in August, to take a first-hand look at work on the ground, amid concerns for the workers.

Gijs de Jong, general secretary of the Royal Netherlands Football Association, was among the delegation and spoke afterwards to praise Qatar's "significant positive progress with human rights legislation in the last three years", stressing he had "no doubt" this was hastened by the award of the World Cup. De Jong underlined, however, that the legislation was "not yet universally adopted".

According to Amnesty, there is a need for pressure to be applied to the Qatari authorities by all parties concerned with the World Cup.

Stats Perform pointed to the UEFA working group, and to David Beckham's reported big-money deal to be a tournament ambassador, questioning what role such figures can play in pressing for a better human rights situation.

"We want them, and we urge them, to take our concerns seriously," Romanos said. "Because they do have responsibility towards taking part in this tournament; they have responsibility to ensure their participation is not going to lead to further human rights violations.

"They have to use their leverage they have over FIFA and therefore over Qatar to push for further changes, and I think while we all agree there has been some legal progress, some of it remains ink on paper. The time is to recognise this but also to push further, to use the leverage they have to push Qatar and push FIFA to implement these reforms, so at least teams can go there confident in the knowledge their operation there is not going to lead to further human rights abuses."
 

What about the players? Won't they have enough to focus on without searching their consciences?

There is a tournament to win, and doubtless Qatar will put on a tremendous show in their space-age stadiums.

But politics will never be far from the surface, and players might be wise to at least be aware of the fundamentals of the human rights issues, which include oppression of LGBTQ+ people and discriminatory laws affecting women.

Lewis Hamilton, the Formula One superstar, used his platform ahead of the Qatar Grand Prix to highlight inequality and abuses.

"When we see a statement like this, we welcome it," said Romanos, "and we welcome players who decide to speak out about the human rights situation. We urge everyone to educate themselves and be ready to use their leverage or their voice to push for further changes.

"Obviously, the obligation of players is different to the obligation of the football association who actually have legal obligation and responsibility to ensure they use their leverage, push for change but also do their due diligence to ensure the teams they send are not going to be linked to any human rights violations.

"For the players, we would welcome and we would love to see this happening more often, using this platform, using the leverage you have to shed the light on a very important issue and ensure this World Cup will actually leave a positive legacy, or any sporting event will leave actually a positive legacy."

FIFPro, the global players' union, has already gathered together a number of footballers for discussions with the Building and Wood Workers International organisation, which has campaigned for better and more rights for those who have literally shed blood, sweat and tears for the sake of building a futuristic World Cup landscape. Players have spoken directly to such workers and this dialogue is expected to continue over the months ahead.

Although FIFPro would not take sides on such matters, it is providing the pathways for such important discourse to take place. Then it falls to the players to choose their next course of action.

FIFPro general secretary Jonas Baer Hoffmann said earlier this year: "Let's not forget that, while footballers have no say in the decision to pick tournament host countries, they inevitably become the face of those events when they run onto the pitch to compete. They feel a responsibility to foster human rights in those countries."

FIFA and UEFA are among the football authorities that have allowed players to take the knee before games, in support of the Black Lives Matter anti-discrimination movement. Whether FIFA will be quite so lenient if players are actively speaking out against the Qatari authorities while at Qatar 2022 remains to be seen.

The world governing body has rules for that sort of thing, to keep politics out of football. It has financial interests to protect – sponsors, TV, supreme committees – but it is understood there are significant voices within the game that would urge FIFA to allow players to speak and express themselves freely on rights abuses next year. FIFA would also be risking global contempt by blocking such discussion. The clock is ticking for Qatar.

"This World Cup has brought the spotlight and has pushed the authorities to commit maybe at a faster pace to reform these processes. Probably they had this in mind, but the World Cup accelerated this," said Romanos.

There are countries "with equally if not even worse troubling human rights records [that] are also eyeing to host mega sporting events", Romanos added, without naming names, promising "more scrutiny" for those that get to stage such international jamborees.

"We are still hopeful," she added. "We really think that if anyone can pull this together and deliver their commitments and deliver a World Cup that will have a positive legacy, Qatar can do it."


What can fans, including LGBTQ+ fans, expect from Qatar, and should they even travel?

The comedian and football presenter Elis James spoke on the Guardian Football Weekly podcast of the quandary of wanting to follow Wales to a World Cup, but being wary of being part of a showcase event in a country where deep injustices have been called out.

He said he had "reservations about Qatar, but we haven't qualified for a World Cup since 1958, so the head and the heart are saying two very different things".

"And I actually don't like myself for being in that position," James added, "because I wish I could have more moral certainty about this."

He is far from alone, and Amnesty is not calling for anybody to boycott the tournament, although there have been others who have gone down that route. There was a strong movement in Norway calling for the national team of that country to give the tournament a miss. Ultimately, missing out on qualification meant Norway sealed their own fate in that regard, while the nation's football federation had already voted against the prospect of a boycott.

"Obviously it's a personal choice," said Romanos. "At Amnesty, our role as a human rights watchdog is to inform about the human rights situation and invite people to educate themselves before going and know what will happen there and expect what will happen."

 

Qatar is considered unlikely by many observers to impose its strictest rules on visitors during World Cup time, which may mean LGBTQ+ fans of the game will not face any persecution. Rainbow flags are expected to fly in fan zones and inside stadiums, but whether this has any influence on Qatari daily life beyond the tournament remains to be seen.

Fan power for four weeks in November and December is one thing, but changing the way of life in Qatar is likely to involve gradual shifts rather than overnight change.

"I think it’s up to the individual to decide how they want to use the platform they have to push for greater changes," Romanos said.

"As a person coming from the Middle East myself, the moment I learned that Qatar was awarded the right to host the World Cup I was genuinely very happy because I felt like our region deserves to be mentioned with some mega sporting event.

"We love football, but we don't have great football teams; but football is huge in the Middle East, and I felt for once it’s good for us not to be connected with terrorism, wars.

"But when you look at the human rights situation of migrant workers and the abuses that happen, you would say, okay, let's do a World Cup that we are proud of as the first World Cup in the Middle East. That's why we believe there is still this window of opportunity."

The 2022 World Cup is now just 12 months away, with qualifying entering its closing stages following a series of crunch November clashes.

Difficulties still await Italy and Portugal – the past two European champions – in the play-offs, but most of the other big names are well on their way if they have not already confirmed their place in Qatar.

So, how are the expected contenders shaping up? Stats Perform investigates.

Argentina

Having finally ended his long wait for a senior international honour at this year's Copa America, Qatar looks like Lionel Messi's last realistic chance to guide Argentina to World Cup glory. They last triumphed in 1986, in the days of Diego Maradona.

But the brilliant Barcelona form that has been the bedrock of Messi's outstanding career is no more. Since clinching the Copa, the forward has left Camp Nou for Paris Saint-Germain and played just 595 minutes across eight games at club level, scoring three goals and assisting none. Heading into this weekend, he had yet to net in Ligue 1.

At odds with the rest of his career, Messi has briefly become one of those players who performs better for country than for club, scoring four goals in seven games for Argentina in the same period, even allowing for the minutes spent regaining fitness in November. But the national team must be concerned Messi's unconvincing displays and shaky recent fitness record hint at a decline that could continue for another year before he gets an opportunity to lead a global title charge.

Although Argentina undoubtedly have other highly talented players – Messi was one of four to make the Team of the Tournament as they become South American champions – it is tough to imagine a successful Albiceleste side without the great number 10 at the heart of it.

 

Belgium

Roberto Martinez's Belgium remain the world's top-ranked team, but it feels like their window for a first major title might now have passed.

Martinez took charge after Euro 2016, where a stacked squad lost to Wales in the last eight, yet he has found a glass ceiling, finishing third at the 2018 World Cup and fourth at the 2020-21 Nations League either side of another quarter-final exit at Euro 2020. Since a disappointing performance at the Nations League Finals, Martinez has been linked to a host of club roles – albeit he is expected to stay put until Qatar.

Although Belgium's 'Golden Generation' have maintained their position at the top of the game despite an ageing defence, there are worrying signs their key attacking players could also be on the wane.

Through a combination of injuries and poor form, Eden Hazard has not looked the same player since he left Chelsea for Real Madrid. Kevin De Bruyne, also beset by fitness issues and below-par outings of late, will hope not to follow the same path. Both he and Romelu Lukaku must still be at their peak to give the Red Devils a chance.

Brazil

Brazil were outclassed by Belgium in the quarter-finals in Russia but have lost just three matches since then. One of those was in this year's Copa final against Argentina, although the Selecao also won the competition in 2019.

Unlike previous Brazil teams, Tite's side are built on the strength of their defensive record. They have kept 28 clean sheets since the 2018 World Cup, conceding just 16 times in 42 games, with 11 shutouts in 2021 alone.

However, that solidity comes at a price. Brazil are scoring at a relatively unspectacular rate of 2.0 goals per game, including netting only two in their three Copa knockout games in July and just one across two November qualifiers.

Neymar will have a key role in producing those timely moments of magic and should not be short of motivation heading to Qatar, having suggested this will be his last World Cup. The forward has excelled on the world stage before without taking Brazil all the way.

England

As so often, England have qualified with relative ease, benefiting from a kind draw, but will not face a true test until the tournament comes around.

That means a wait to see if Gareth Southgate can make the necessary tweaks to turn the Three Lions from nearly men into champions, with the midfield a key area of focus having ceded 65.4 per cent of the possession to Italy in the Euro 2020 final, 53.2 per cent to the Netherlands in the 2018-19 Nations League semi-finals and 55.5 per cent to Croatia in the 2018 World Cup semis. The continued development of Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham should encourage optimism.

But England also find themselves in a position, like Argentina, where the performances of their talismanic captain are suddenly a concern – at least at club level.

Harry Kane has so far this season used the international breaks as sweet relief, quickly closing on Wayne Rooney's record goals tally by scoring in 15 consecutive qualifiers up to September and notching seven in November alone, but there is a break now before March's fixtures and the forward simply must rediscover some sort of form for Tottenham and add to his single Premier League goal in order to return to the England fold in good nick.

 

France

Welcoming Karim Benzema back into a frightening front line, France appear to have an even more impressive line-up than at the previous World Cup, where they emerged as champions.

Benzema has already directly combined for five goals with Kylian Mbappe and one with Antoine Griezmann, who has in turn linked up once with Mbappe. The trio netted nine of France's 10 goals this month, while Mbappe had assists for each of Benzema's strikes at the Nations League Finals as both players scored in both matches and Les Bleus twice came from behind to take the title.

Yet those prior deficits and the six goals conceded at the Euros hinted at the weaknesses in this France side, as Didier Deschamps is still working on his new 3-4-1-2 formation.

The composition of the midfield in that team is crucial, and N'Golo Kante was missing against Belgium and Spain before Paul Pogba suffered an injury prior to the November fixtures. France have no shortage of quality but may not head to Qatar as the most settled unit.

Germany

It was clear Joachim Low's Germany tenure was reaching its natural conclusion before he announced his departure plans in March. That the team followed up a group-stage exit at the World Cup by stumbling through their pool at the Euros before exiting to England only further illustrated that this was the right decision.

But Germany know all about recovering quickly from such setbacks; they seemed to reach rock bottom at Euro 2000 and were in the World Cup final two years later.

Now Hansi Flick, having set Bayern Munich back on course, is excelling again with the national team, becoming the first Germany coach to win his first six matches in charge – a sequence that now stands at seven and counting. The team's last longer winning run ended at 12 games in 1980.

Germany were the most aggressive pressing side in Europe during qualifying, this despite naming their oldest XI in more than 21 years in a recent qualifier against Liechtenstein. Striking this same balance between energy and experience will be key in Qatar.

Spain

Spain have come a long way since the last World Cup, where they appeared to be in crisis from start to finish, eventually exiting to hosts Russia on penalties.

Luis Enrique's subsequent work across two spells has made them contenders again, reaching the last four at the Euros – only to again fall foul of a shoot-out – and briefly leading France in the Nations League final. The emergence of Ansu Fati, Pedri and Gavi over the course of these campaigns provides a major cause for long-term optimism, too.

However, injury issues have kept that trio from ever featuring together for their country; in fact, Fati, Pedri and Gavi are yet to play a single minute together for Barcelona.

They were three of 39 players to appear for Spain in qualifying, showing the depth of talent at Luis Enrique's disposal. Within that group, however, there is not a prolific goalscorer – a major concern with 12 months to go.

Oscar Tabarez has been sacked as Uruguay coach, ending his 15-year reign at the helm of the national team.

The 74-year-old returned for his second spell in charge of Uruguay in 2006 – having also been in the role between 1988-1990 – after La Celeste's failure to reach the World Cup that year.

He led them to fourth place at the 2010 World Cup and presided over success in the 2011 Copa America.

However, after losing their past four games in World Cup 2022 qualifying, including a 3-0 defeat in Bolivia on Tuesday, Tabarez has been dismissed with Uruguay sitting in seventh place with four wins from their 14 games (D4 L6).

With four games remaining, they are just one point off Colombia in the fourth and final automatic qualification spot, but the Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) has taken the decision to act now.

A statement released by the AUF on Friday said: "[This is] a difficult decision due to present circumstances, in a commitment to the future and the achievement of the results we all want.

"We express our respect and acknowledgment to [Tabarez's] professionalism and dedication for such a long process."

Tabarez boasts the records for most games (74, including play-offs) and most wins (31) as head coach in the history of South American World Cup qualifying.

During his first stint in charge of the national team, Tabarez took Uruguay to the 1990 World Cup, being eliminated in the round of 16 by hosts Italy.

After his re-appointment in 2006, the former Boca Juniors and Milan boss took his nation to a further three World Cups (2010, 2014 and 2018).

And so, the countdown begins…

The 2022 World Cup is just over a year away, with Qatar set to begin the tournament against a still-to-be-decided opponent on November 21, 2022.

Even writing it feels strange. A World Cup… starting in November. But that is the reality, with Qatar's controversial – to put it kindly – hosting of the competition effectively rendering a tournament in June/July impossible due to the conditions.

With only a year to go, 13 of the competing nations (including Qatar) have confirmed their qualification, including record five-time winners Brazil and defending champions France.

Of course, most countries will have a fairly settled group of players, but a year is a long time in football, and a few newcomers will make the breakthrough.

As such, Stats Perform has identified 11 uncapped players who could break into their respective national teams by this time in 2022, and those players' progress will be tracked over the next 12 months in follow-up features.

Without any further ado, here are the chosen players...

Luis Maximiano (Portugal) – 22, goalkeeper, Granada

Yes, yes, Maximiano's inclusion here already implies a massive assumption that Portugal will even make it to Qatar, given their 2-1 home defeat by Serbia left them needing to go through the play-offs.

Nevertheless, it's reasonable to expect them to make it, and if they do, Maximiano may fancy himself as being in with a shot, particularly after a strong start to 2021-22.

He replaced compatriot Rui Silva – who left for Real Betis – between the posts at Granada after falling out of favour at Sporting CP, and he's showing his quality.

 

According to Opta's xGOT (expected goals on target) conceded data, Maximiano has already prevented 3.7 goals in LaLiga this season, the second-most in the division.

Of course, such metrics are weighted in favour of goalkeepers in teams are that kept defensively busy, and Granada are 17th in LaLiga, but we can create a fairer comparison by standardising for the number of shots each keeper faced by looking at their 'goals prevented rate'.

Maximiano's goals prevented rate of 1.37 means he was expected to concede 1.37 goals for every goal actually conceded, and again this is the second best in the league this season.

His shot-stopping abilities have reportedly caught the attention of Barcelona, and given Portugal's lack of a standout goalkeeper (and that's including first-choice Rui Patricio), Maximiano certainly isn't out of the running for Qatar 2022.

Jonathan Clauss (France) – 29, right-back, Lens

Football loves a late bloomer; maybe it's because they convince some of us we can still make it as a professional player. Lens star Clauss is a fascinating embodiment of the phenomenon.

Now 29, Clauss did not make his top-flight debut until the start of 2020-21, but it's fair to say he's been a revelation in a Lens side who have truly captured the imagination since they were promoted back to Ligue 1 in 2019-20 – 13 games into the current campaign, they're second to PSG.

A year out from Qatar 2022, Clauss is being mentioned in France media conferences, with Didier Deschamps last week asked why he wasn't called up. Of course, the coach's decision to go with options he knows when qualification wasn't assured is fair enough, but the Lens man is seemingly now in contention.

He has already had a hand in eight Ligue 1 goals this season, with six assists the joint-most in the division. His positivity on the flank as a wing-back is proving a massive asset to Lens, for whom he also set up six goals last term.

Of course, his greater comfort as a wing-back rather than an orthodox full-back may in the long run count against him, but Clauss is demonstrably effective going forward – usual France right-back options Benjamin Pavard and Leo Dubois aren't, and that may be his 'in'.

 

Bremer (Brazil) – 24, centre-back, Torino

Playing in a generally poor team can go one of two ways for a centre-back: you're either considered a big part of the problem, or you thrive because you're given more opportunities to show your strengths.

For Bremer in a Torino team that have finished 16th and 17th in the past two seasons, it's definitely been the latter.

The 24-year-old has reportedly attracted the interest of numerous Premier League clubs, with Liverpool seemingly the team that are most keen.

While he's not a particularly great progressor of the ball, his 4.9 passes into the final third per 90 minutes since the start of last season being almost half the figures of the highest-ranking Serie A defenders, Bremer is a reliable centre-back first and foremost.

His four clearances per game is up there with the best (only one player averages more than 4.7), while Bremer's positional sense is highlighted by 2.6 interceptions every 90 minutes, a figure bettered by only five defenders (min. 1,000 minutes played since 2020-21 started).

Similarly, the centre-back wins 3.2 aerial duels per 90 minutes, which again is the sixth-highest among that group of defenders.

Brazil don't have outstanding depth at centre-back, all the more reason why Bremer is in with a shot – a move to Liverpool or another 'giant' would only help his cause.

Sven Botman (Netherlands) – 21, centre-back, Lille

Ball-playing centre-backs grow on trees in the Netherlands, or so you'd think. Botman is another off the very reliable production line, having come through the esteemed ranks at Ajax.

Lille signed him for roughly €9million in July 2020 after he enjoyed a promising loan spell with Heerenveen, and he went on to play in all but one Ligue 1 match as Les Dogues won the title.

Life's been a little tougher for Lille this term following the loss of coach Christophe Galtier to Nice, but Botman remains a key player and retains a fine reputation from 2020-21.

Since the start of last season, his 1,295 forward passes is the second most in the division and he ranks 11th for the most ball carries (635).

He's a progressive centre-back who offers plenty of forward-thinking but is also reliable when it comes to getting stuck in.

Over the same period, he's come out on top in 67.8 per cent of his duels, which is the second-best success rate among players to have engaged in at least 150.

Granted, the Netherlands' centre-back options are deep, but Botman's been in the squad before and there's little doubt he would be a good fit for them stylistically.

Angelino (Spain) – 24, left-back, RB Leipzig

It may surprise a few people to learn Angelino has never played for Spain. In fact, he's never even received a call-up to the senior side.

Let's not forget, Spain are blessed with a lot of quality in left-back and wing-back roles. Currently, Jordi Alba, Marcos Alonso, Jose Gaya and Sergio Reguilon are the favoured options, but Angelino is arguably in better form than any of them.

All five players are probably at their best as wing-backs rather than full-backs, and Luis Enrique's current system does allow for such players, which is another reason for Angelino's suitability. Then it comes down to effectiveness on the pitch.

Since the start of last season, in league competition Angelino tops a host of attacking metrics among the aforementioned players. He creates 2.2 chances per 90 minutes on average, with Alonso and Alba next on 1.6.

While Angelino's 0.16 assists every 90 minutes is lower than Alba's 0.22, the Leipzig man is seemingly being let down by poor finishing as his expected assists each game is 0.31 – again, this is the highest.

On a per-90-minute basis, Angelino creates the most chances from open play (1.6), plays the most crosses (5.5) and passes into the box (9.9) most frequently among this group.

Of course, this is partly explained by him playing slightly further forward than his counterparts, but Spain spend most of the time on the ball anyway – having someone as effective as Angelino in attack must be a consideration for Luis Enrique.

 

Riqui Puig (Spain) – 22, midfielder, Barcelona

It feels like Puig has been around for a long time, because even before he was around the first-team squad, Barca fans were singing his praises.

He had been considered as potentially their next legendary midfielder, such was his blend of technical excellence and fine passing skills, two staples of Barca's La Masia academy.

But it's not quite worked out that way.

In the past three seasons, he's only played more than 300 minutes over the course of a LaLiga campaign once, under Quique Setien in 2019-20. While he did feature in 14 league games for Ronald Koeman last term, that amounted to 283 minutes at an average of 20.2 mins in each appearance, and that did not improve this term prior to the Dutchman's sacking.

So, why is he even on this list?

Well, as much as anything because his progress will be intriguing to watch once again now that Xavi is at the helm. If there's anyone who can appreciate Puig's qualities, it'll surely be him.

Christopher Nkunku (France) – 24, midfielder, RB Leipzig

While Nkunku has generally been considered a versatile central midfielder for much of his career, he's excelled in a slightly different role since Jesse Marsch's introduction as Leipzig coach.

He's operated more from the flanks and is getting into the opposition's penalty area with greater frequency, his touches in the box up from 5.2 per 90 minutes to 7.7 this season.

As such, he's getting more shots away in the area (2.2 every 90 minutes, up from 1.7) and that's unsurprisingly led to an increased xG average of 0.45 each game.

He's already got 11 goals across all competitions, four more than he managed in 2020-21, suggesting the change in role is paying dividends, though he remains an able option in the middle such is his quality on the ball and ability to break forward.

In each of the past two seasons, Nkunku didn't manage to start more than 21 league games, but he's already on 11 this term. He's maturing and seemingly found his niche – now all he needs is that elusive first call-up.

 

Alan Velasco (Argentina) – 19, winger, Independiente

Lionel Scaloni has restored a significant amount of respect for Argentina's national team, guiding them to Copa America success earlier this year – that was their first international title at senior level in 28 years.

During his three years in charge, Scaloni has used 75 different players in matches, which shows both the wealth of options he has but also how willing he is to give individuals a chance.

In attack is arguably where Argentina's depth is greatest, but Independiente talent Velasco is surely one of the likeliest to earn a first cap over the next 12 months.

A positive and direct left-winger who likes to cut inside onto his right foot, Velasco has been enjoying something of a breakthrough season in Argentina's Primera Division, particularly during the second stage.

 

He has five goal involvements (one goal, four assists) since mid-July, with no one in the division managing to set up more than five in the entire year, and he has unsurprisingly become a bit of a target for opponents, as highlighted by his 2.9 fouls suffered every 90 minutes being the third-most among players with at least five appearances.

But that doesn't deter him. His 41 chances created is the third highest in the division, and the most among under-21 players, while his 91 dribbles completed and 4.8 per 90 minutes are both league highs.

Velasco also works hard off the ball, making 47 recoveries in the opposition's half, which is fifth among all players. The teenager is a big talent who also boasts strong work ethic – Scaloni will surely have him earmarked as one to watch.

Cade Cowell (United States) – 18, forward, San Jose Earthquakes

There aren't many countries in the world producing more exciting young talent than the United States at the moment, with their squads for the next few World Cups shaping up to be very promising.

While 2022 will probably come too soon for Cowell – arguably the wildcard of this list – he certainly shouldn't be written off, given he has already spent time training with the senior squad before.

A dynamic, quick and strong attacker who play out wide as well, Cowell is the third-youngest player in MLS history to reach 50 appearances, having reached that landmark at 18 years and 16 days old. Only Freddy Adu (16y, 2m, 25d) and Alphonso Davies (17y, 7m) got there quicker.

 

This season, despite only starting for 14 of his 33 MLS appearances, Cowell has amassed 11 goal involvements (five goals, six assists), which only Jesus Ferreira (17 – 8g, 9a) and Ricardo Pepi (16 – 13g, 3a) can better among under-21 players.

There's no mistaking Cowell is very much a rough diamond. He doesn't create a huge amount of chances (1.3 per 90 mins), his duels (32.2 per cent) and dribble (47.6 per cent) success rates aren't great, but he's young and raw. Improvements here should come naturally, and a big 2022 might just propel him into a national side that's not afraid to give youngsters a chance.

 

Amine Gouiri (France) – 21, forward, Nice

If there's one team in international football that would be the toughest to break into as a forward, it's probably France, but Gouiri looks special.

It now looks utterly astonishing that Nice managed to get him for as little as an initial €7million from Lyon in 2020, and the versatile forward – who is comfortable on the left or through the middle – is enjoying the kind of consistency not always associated with young players.

The 2020-21 season was his first as a regular starter in top-flight football and he went on to score a highly respectable 12 goals. While that failed to match his 14.6 expected goals (xG), perhaps showing a degree of inexperience, he did also lay on seven assists.

 

Once again, Gouiri's goals haul of six is a little behind his xG (8.1), suggesting a hint of wastefulness, but only three players are providing greater service than him, with his 3.3 expected assists (xA) ranking high.

Technically, Gouiri is exceptional and explosive, and this undoubtedly helps him create openings and space in the final third, with his combined average of 0.97 expected goals and assists every 90 minutes this season the second-highest in Ligue 1.

Gouiri is too good to never play for France – it's only a matter of time until he gets the call-up, and if he carries on his current trajectory for the next 12 months, Qatar will beckon.

 

Matias Arezo (Uruguay) – 18, forward, River Plate (URU)

Uruguay has produced some truly great strikers down the years. After more of a barren spell in that regard since Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez came through, there is once again a cause for optimism with Darwin Nunez, Agustin Alvarez and, arguably chief among them, Arezo.

The teenager turns 19 this November, so he's still got lots to learn and much room for growth, but the early signs are hugely promising – his stocky appearance, powerful style of play and feistiness (13 yellow cards over 2020 and 2021) have earned him the nickname 'Buffalo', and he's already a reliable source of goals despite his youth.

Arezo scored 13 times in 35 Uruguayan Primera appearances last term – he's matched that haul from 26 outings this year. For comparison's sake, Suarez got 10 in 27 in his first full season in the division with Nacional, while Cavani recorded nine in 25 appearances for Danubio before moving to Europe.

Qatar 2022 will almost certainly be the last World Cup for Suarez and Cavani if Uruguay make it, so they are likely to be involved – but otherwise, La Celeste's forward options are up in the air.

Arezo has been coping well in the physical competitiveness of South America's domestic football and must be in with a great shout of forcing his way into contention for the mission to Qatar.

Brazil head coach Tite blasted the video assistant referee (VAR) and labelled it "inconceivable" that Nicolas Otamendi was not sent off for an elbow in Tuesday's 0-0 2022 World Cup qualifier draw with Argentina.

Raphinha was floored and left bloodied after the 34th-minute incident where Otamendi flailed his arm into the Brazilian midfielder's face.

Otamendi lifted Raphinha to his feet with no sanction from referee Andres Cunha, nor any VAR intervention in the aftermath leaving Tite flabbergasted.

"It's impossible not to see the elbow. Was it decisive in the result? I do not know," Tite said during the post-game news conference.

"Was it a great match for both teams? It was. Great game between them. Tradition, technical quality. Now, there's a component that has to be equal, for those who have the discernment to see.

"But a high-level VAR referee cannot work like this. It is inconceivable, and that is not the term I want to use, but I use it because I am educated."

The result in San Juan leaves already-qualified Brazil six points clear of second-placed Argentina in the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying standings.

Argentina officially earned their spot in Qatar one hour after full-time when Chile were beaten 2-0 at home by Ecuador.

Brazil return to action away to Ecuador in late January when CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying resumes.

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni celebrated a "magnificent year" after the Copa America champions qualified for the 2022 World Cup.

Despite a goalless draw at home to already-qualified rivals Brazil, Argentina booked their spot at Qatar 2022 after Colombia, Uruguay and Chile all failed to win in CONMEBOL on Tuesday.

It caps a successful 2021 for two-time world champions Argentina, who ended their 28-year wait for silverware by dethroning Brazil in July's Copa America final.

"This was a magnificent year," Scaloni – who matched Alejandro Sabella for the country's second longest undefeated run in CONMEBOL qualifying amid a 13-game streak, said. "Winning the Copa, qualifying for the World Cup unbeaten. It was a dream."

"We got four points against two very difficult rivals. We all like to win of course but these games help a team to mature. Without a doubt, the balance is positive.

"Having qualified so far in advance, in a really difficult qualifying section, is something we should be proud of."

Lionel Messi returned to the line-up but was unable to inspire Argentina, who played out a stalemate with Brazil in San Juan to extend their unbeaten streak to 27 matches across all competitions.

That underwhelming performance left Argentina waiting to discover their World Cup fate, though La Albiceleste only had to wait less than an hour following 10-man Chile's 2-0 loss at home to Ecuador.

Argentina – searching for their first world crown since 1986 – are second in the CONMEBOL standings with five matches remaining, six points behind leaders Brazil and six clear of third-placed Ecuador.

Eliminated in the last-16 stage at Russia 2018, Argentina and Brazil have both played a game less following September's qualifier in Sao Paulo, which was sensationally abandoned after Scaloni's men left the field as Brazilian health officials tried to detain visiting players due to coronavirus regulations.

After his subdued performance, superstar captain Messi – who missed Paris Saint-Germain's two matches prior to the international break – allayed his fitness concerns.

"I'm fine otherwise I wouldn't have played," Messi said before learning Argentina had qualified after the South American powerhouse made it six games without conceding – their longest streak in qualifying.

"I've been standing for a long time and it's not easy to play a game with as much pace as this one.

"Luckily I'm fine and I know that little by little I'm going to pick up the pace. I hope I can finish the year well."

Australia were forced to settle for a point in their World Cup qualifier against China after a 1-1 draw in the UAE.

After winning 11 games in a row, including a 3-0 victory against China in the reverse fixture in September, the Socceroos are now winless in three – their worst such run since June 2018.

Australia led in this match, though, following a quiet start, as Martin Boyle's cross was headed in emphatically by Mitch Duke seven minutes before the break.

Despite creating little for the first hour, China were level on 70 minutes when James Jeggo was adjudged by a VAR review to have handled in the penalty area, allowing Wu Lei to send Mat Ryan the wrong way from the spot.

Both sides pushed for a winner in the closing stages, but neither came particularly close to getting it, forced instead to make do with a point apiece.

The draw sees Australia move on to 11 points in Group B in the third round of AFC World Cup qualifying, five behind leaders Saudi Arabia, while China have five points.

Gareth Southgate joked he would have come under pressure from Wayne Rooney's family if he left Harry Kane on to add to his England tally in the 10-0 thrashing of San Marino. 

Kane scored four first-half goals in San Marino on Monday, making him the first England player to achieve that since Ian Wright in 1993 and setting a Three Lions record with 16 goals in a single calendar year. 

The Tottenham striker had equalled the previous benchmark of 12 with a hat-trick against Albania last week, with his efforts at Stadio Olimpico di Serravalle making him just the fourth Three Lions player to register trebles in consecutive games. 

Kane drew level with Gary Lineker in third on England's all-time scoring list with 48 goals, just five shy of Rooney's record, but made way for Reece James in the 63rd minute. 

"If we'd have left him another half an hour … we'd have had Wayne Rooney's family on the phone telling us to get him off," Southgate joked to ITV. 

"He's a phenomenal goalscorer. He's obviously not had the opportunity in some of those games where there have been a lot of goals available. We wanted to give him that chance tonight, and he took it really well." 

With England having secured qualification for the 2022 World Cup with the win, Kane could surpass Rooney's record on the biggest stage of them all in Qatar. 

Asked for his feelings after drawing level with Lineker, he said: "It's fantastic again. Every time I wear an England shirt, I am proud, and whenever I can score goals, it is one of the greatest feelings I can have in my career. It's nice to be among those names, and hopefully we can keep them coming." 

The victory was England's biggest in a competitive away match and means that in 2021 they have won more games (15), scored more goals (52) and kept more clean sheets (14) than in any other calendar year in their history. 

Southgate said: "I've got to credit all our players and staff on a really good year. Even in a game like tonight, you can't do anything about the level of the opposition, but the mentality, the way they played, the way they applied themselves was terrific." 

European champions Italy missed out on automatic qualification for the 2022 World Cup as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Northern Ireland.

Jorginho's last-gasp penalty miss against Switzerland last time out meant Italy headed into their final Group C game at Windsor Park level on points with the Swiss, ahead only on goal difference.

And while Switzerland managed to beat Bulgaria on Monday, Italy were frustrated by Ian Baraclough's side in Belfast.

A star of the Euro 2020 success, Federico Chiesa went closest to breaking the deadlock for Roberto Mancini's side as Italy – who failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup – had to settle for a place in the play-offs.

Lorenzo Insigne's sublime pass put Giovanni Di Lorenzo through inside the opening 10 minutes, though from a tight angle, the full-back's effort was caught between a cross and a shot, with Bailey Peacock-Farrell able to parry away.

That set the tone for Italy, who had plenty of possession and territory but lacked a cutting edge. Matters would have been made more difficult early in the second half if not for Gianluigi Donnarumma.

With Insigne having dragged wide from a presentable chance, Northern Ireland almost took the lead at the other end – Donnarumma making a superb stop to deny George Saville.

Peacock-Farrell judged a difficult Domenico Berardi free-kick, though was beaten by Chiesa's curling attempt soon after. Unfortunately for Italy, it sailed the wrong side of the upright.

Despite Mancini throwing on the cavalry, Chiesa's chance was the closest Italy went, and they were fortunate Leonardo Bonucci was on hand to clear Conor Washington's late shot off the line.

The Azzurri now face two play-off games in March to try and qualify for the tournament in Qatar.

 

What does it mean? Back down to Earth

Italy’s Euro 2020 euphoria will have been replaced by a real concern history could be set to repeat itself. Since their penalty shoot-out triumph over England at Wembley, Mancini’s side have won just two of their seven fixtures, with only one of those coming in qualifying.

The Azzurri lost to Sweden in the play-offs for Russia 2018. This time, they will have to win two games to progress (a semi-final and a final). They will go into pot two in the draw, alongside the Czech Republic, Scotland, Sweden, Wales and the runners-up from Groups D, G and I.

Baraclough’s brilliant defence

Northern Ireland boss Baraclough had a tough ask taking over from Michael O'Neill, but he has retained the resilience and spirit within the squad.

They were out of the qualification picture before Monday’s game, but have gone the entire campaign without conceding a goal at home. Indeed, they have now kept a clean sheet in their past five home qualifiers. It should have been an even more jubilant night, but Washington fluffed his lines late on.

Toothless Italy fall short

Italy have not conceded a single goal in any of their past nine away games in all competitions, but it was at the other end they fell short.

While Switzerland cruised to a 4-0 victory, Mancini must find a way to get his attacking talents firing as they did in the Euros. Only against Sweden (eight), have Italy played more away matches without winning than in Northern Ireland - drawing three and losing once in four games.

What's next?

Neither team will be in action until March, with Italy waiting to see who they will face in the play-offs.

Harry Kane made history as England booked their place at the 2022 World Cup with a dominant 10-0 qualifying victory over San Marino, who finished with 10 men on Monday.

England only needed a point to be guaranteed of finishing top of Group I and booking their place in Qatar, but a win never looked in doubt, with Harry Maguire's header and Filippo Fabbri's own goal preceding a four-goal salvo from Kane. 

The Tottenham striker became the first England player to score more than 12 goals in a calendar year with the first of two penalties, and by the end of the half he had gone from matching Jimmy Greaves' 44 international goals to drawing level with Gary Lineker (48) in third on the Three Lions' all-time scoring list. 

Emile Smith Rowe marked his full debut with a goal before Dante Rossi saw red for San Marino, with Tyrone Mings, Tammy Abraham and Bukayo Saka compounding San Marino's misery in a non-competitive game.

Maguire scored the opening goal for the second game running when he headed Phil Foden's corner home, and in the 15th minute Saka's scuffed shot was inadvertently poked inside the near post by Fabbri. 

Kane converted from the penalty spot after referee Rade Obrenovic penalised Rossi for handling Foden's acrobatic effort in the box, and the Tottenham striker doubled his tally with a volley from Smith Rowe's delivery. 

Kane completed a 12-minute hat-trick by drilling another spot-kick – awarded after Alessandro D'Addario handled his header – into the top-left corner, and he made it four before half-time with a cool finish at the end of a mazy run. 

Abraham was sent on as one of three half-time substitutes and teed up Smith Rowe in the 57th minute, with Mings looping a first England goal home after Rossi was shown a second yellow card for tripping debutant Conor Gallagher.

Jude Bellingham had a maiden England strike of his own chalked off following a VAR review two minutes later, but Abraham steered in a majestic half-volley and Saka nodded in a 10th to complete the scoring in the 79th minute.

What does it mean? Records tumble for Kane and England 

The new record for England goals in a calendar year now stands at 16 after Kane moved clear of George Hilsdon (in 1908) and Dixie Dean (in 1927) with a clinical first-half display. 

He became just the fourth player to hit a hat-trick in consecutive Three Lions appearances and the first to score four goals in a single game since Ian Wright in November 1993 – also against San Marino. 

England racked up six in the first half for the first time since an 8-2 win over Netherlands in 1946 and finished with 10 for the first time since beating the United States by the same scoreline in 1964.

Southgate brings in more fresh blood 

By handing Aaron Ramsdale and Gallagher their first England caps against San Marino, Gareth Southgate has now given 50 players their senior international debut. The last Three Lions manager to do that was Bobby Robson (64). 

Smith Rowe at home

Smith Rowe became the first Arsenal player to score on his first start for England since Paul Merson in March 1992. He was also the 18th different England goalscorer in 2021 – the most the Three Lions have ever had in a single calendar year.

What's next? 

There is nothing in the schedule for either team in the next international break, though the focus will be friendly matches to build up to the World Cup. 

England captain Harry Kane has set a new record for Three Lions goals in a calendar year by netting his 13th of 2021 against San Marino.

George Hilsdon (in 1908) and Dixie Dean (in 1927) for a long time stood alone with a benchmark dozen in a single year before Kane also tallied 12 in England colours in 2019.

The Tottenham forward reached that mark again at home to Albania on Friday as he netted his fourth international hat-trick.

The 5-0 Wembley win meant England needed only a point at minnows San Marino to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, but Kane was keen to feature and add to his total.

"[Kane] is quick to let me know that he hasn't played in those games [against Andorra and San Marino]," manager Gareth Southgate said at the weekend.

In an otherwise experimental line-up on Monday, featuring Emile Smith Rowe from the start for the first time, Kane led the line and got on the scoresheet.

 

Kane netted the visitors' third from the penalty spot in the 27th minute after Harry Maguire's opener and a Filippo Fabbri own goal.

It was England's 45th goal of 2021, also extending a team record at the end of a year that began with a 5-0 home success against San Marino.

Serbia head coach Dragan Stojkovic insisted there is no limit to what the country can achieve after they qualified for the 2022 World Cup in dramatic fashion.

Aleksandar Mitrovic scored in the 90th minute to break Portugal's hearts as Serbia reached next year's showpiece tournament in Qatar thanks to a last-gasp 2-1 victory in Group A on Sunday.

Portugal only required a draw to earn automatic qualification and Cristiano Ronaldo's men were on track after Renato Sanches and Dusan Tadic traded first-half goals in Lisbon.

However, Serbia dominated and were rewarded when substitute Mitrovic headed home late as Portugal were relegated to the play-offs.

"We have no limit, we will analyse everything after this, and we did everything we did perfectly," Stojkovic said post-game.

"We showed in the end that we are better. We have the potential for much bigger things."

Serbia failed to qualify for Euro 2020 following a disappointing play-off defeat to Scotland.

Mitrovic – Serbia's all-time leading scorer – said: "I don't know what to say. I would cry and laugh at the same time. 

"Great victory, we came to Portugal to play football, to win. We were better, outplayed the opponent and deservedly celebrated."

Serbia captain Tadic, who equalised in the 33rd minute to cancel out Sanches' early opener, praised the impact of Stojkovic.

Stojkovic was appointed in March, replacing under-fire boss Mladen Krstajic.

"There are a lot of emotions at the moment and everyone is very happy and satisfied," Tadic added. "Since [Stojkovic] came, I think that a smile has returned and that we are playing beautiful football, which we showed today. 

"We showed that we can come to Portugal to dominate and win. I think that everyone who wears this coat of arms and who is a citizen of this country should be very happy and proud."

"Serbia should go to the World and European Championships continuously," Tadic said. "I hope that [Stojkovic] will stay for a long time and that Serbia will go to big competitions all the time."

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