Memphis Depay scored twice and had a penalty saved as the Netherlands maintained their hold on World Cup qualifying Group G with a comfortable 6-0 win over Gibraltar.

Virgil van Dijk's early header got the ball rolling, with Depay responding to Bradley Banda saving his spot-kick by finishing off a neat team move and scoring a second penalty as the Oranje went in at half-time with a commanding lead.

Denzel Dumfries wasted no time in adding to the scoreline in the second half, before substitutes Arnaut Danjuma and Donny Malen completed the scoring to condemn Gibraltar to an eighth defeat from eight.

The Netherlands can ill afford to slip up, with Norway two points behind them, but that was never likely here as Van Dijk opened the scoring inside nine minutes, losing his marker with ease and nodding Depay's corner in at the near post.

Stefan de Vrij's header was blocked in the box by the arm of Graeme Torrilla, with a penalty awarded following a VAR review, yet Depay's spot-kick was at a nice height for Banda to make a convincing save.

The Gibraltar goalkeeper could do little two minutes later, however, as Noa Lang's superb pass carved the visiting defence open and Davy Klaassen squared for Depay to tap in.

Banda made fine saves from Georginio Wijnaldum and De Vrij, but another handball – this time Julian Valarino blocking Steven Berghuis' right-wing cross – gave Depay a second opportunity from the spot he would not pass up.

Dumfries made it 4-0 shortly after the restart, finding himself in the centre of the box to head in Lang's left-wing cross, and a lull in the scoring was brought to an end 15 minutes from time when Wout Weghorst flicked on to Danjuma, who steered the ball into the bottom-left corner on the stretch.

Weghorst thought he had got his name on the scoresheet when he nodded over Banda but Roy Chipolina hacked off the line, with the sixth instead belonging to Malen after slick interplay involving Depay.

England manager Gareth Southgate is unconvinced by the idea of having the World Cup every two years, questioning the feasibility of continuously adding to the football calendar.

The idea of a biennial World Cup had been floated in the past, but in recent months it seems to have become a much more likely next step for the competition.

Former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger publicly backed the idea back in July and, as FIFA's head of global football development, the Frenchman has argued a revamp of the international football calendar is both "what the fans want" and a necessity for the improvement of player wellbeing.

FIFA has been carrying out a feasibility study on the prospect of a World Cup every two years and last month held an online summit to discuss plans.

But FIFA's Wenger-backed proposals have been met with antipathy from many key stakeholders, such as confederations, officials, leagues, players and clubs.

UEFA has been particularly scathing in its response to the idea, with president Aleksander Ceferin openly in opposition and vice-president Zbigniew Boniek rather callously questioning the mental sanity of such a proposal.

Southgate was less forthright but still expressed a hint of disagreement.

"I don't know how far things have progressed. There seemed to be a lot of things not in the original proposal I was shown; it is hard to keep track," he told reporters on Monday ahead of England's World Cup qualifier against Hungary.

"We all want high-level games; the Nations League showed the quality and that is exactly what we want to be involved in, but you can't just keep adding to the calendar."

England midfielder Mason Mount was in attendance with Southgate and agreed with the idea that players should be consulted when such proposals are being drawn up, though he seemed to be open to playing a major tournament every year.

"I'd love that, but after the Euros and everything we went through, it [recovering mentally] probably did take longer than anything else," he said.

"You reflect on how it went – it was obviously such a big heartbreak to go all the way then fall at the last hurdle was difficult."

On player consultation, he added: "To have the players' input would be positive, I think.

"We want to play in as many top tournaments and games as possible, we want to be involved. To speak to us would be positive and help shape the future."

Brazil's 100 per cent record in qualifying for the 2022 World Cup was finally ended on Sunday as they were held to an underwhelming 0-0 draw away to Colombia.

Tite's men had won all of their first nine matches in the qualification group before coming unstuck in what was a bruising, albeit disappointing, contest in Barranquilla.

Both sides created chances during an even first half, but the finishing was of a low standard as the score remained goalless at the interval.

Even fewer clear-cut opportunities were created after the break

Yerry Mina wasted a glorious chance to give Colombia an early lead when heading just off target, though they had a lucky escape of their own soon after when Lucas Paqueta prodded agonisingly wide from Neymar's throughball.

Brazil's captain played a key role again just after the half-hour mark as he teed up Fred on the edge of the box, but the Manchester United midfielder's subsequent shot was dreadful.

The match became especially scrappy in the second half, with neither goalkeeper called into meaningful action again until the 68th minute when Allison had to push Juan Quintero's 30-yard effort away.

That attempt came as the hosts looked to up the ante in the final half-hour, but some substitutions provided a response from Brazil, with Raphinha and Paqueta both wasting reasonable chances.

Raphinha threatened again five minutes from time as his wonderful cross picked out fellow substitute Antony, and David Ospina produced a decisive save to deny the Ajax talent the winning goal.


What does it mean? Selecao still in control

Thankfully for Tite and Brazil, their excellent form in qualification prior to Sunday has bought them plenty of room for error – even if Argentina win their game in hand, the Selecao will still be six points clear at the top.

Tite might be a little concerned by the creative lull his team experienced for the middle third of the match, though the options he brought on from the bench were proof of that not being a squad-wide issue as Brazil finished the game well.
 
Raphinha sparkles off the bench

After being brought on for the anonymous Gabriel Barbosa just after the hour, Leeds United winger Raphinha was a real nuisance. He completed two of his three dribbles, picked out a wonderful cross for Antony and had more touches in the opposition's box than every other player, highlighting the positivity he brought. Tite might be wise to start him next time.
 
Quintero unable to brew anything special for Los Cafeteros

With James Rodriguez absent, Quintero was the creator Colombia looked to. While he was not exactly quiet, given his six shots was the most of anyone on the pitch, they were all hopeful – and unsuccessful – efforts from distance. That may have been less frustrating if he had been a creative influence as well, but he did not play a single key pass.
 
What's next?

Both teams still have one more match left of this international window. Brazil host Uruguay on Thursday, while Colombia are at home to Ecuador.

Gareth Southgate was not surprised by Phil Foden's outstanding England display against Andorra, while he backed Jadon Sancho to recover his best form at Manchester United.

Foden came into the international break having dazzled on the left wing for Manchester City in last week's 2-2 draw with Liverpool, scoring one goal and having a hand in the other.

The 21-year-old was not on the scoresheet in Saturday's 5-0 World Cup qualifying win, but he controlled the game from the centre of midfield.

Having played the pass that cut Andorra open for Ben Chilwell's opener, Foden got an assist for Bukayo Saka's second. The last England duo aged 21 or under to combine for a World Cup qualifying goal had been Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen against Germany in 2001.

Tammy Abraham, James Ward-Prowse and Jack Grealish added goals after half-time, but Foden remained the star.

Although there was one wild, wayward shot, he created three chances and completed 94.7 per cent of his 76 passes, including 93.1 per cent of 58 in the Andorra half.

England have been accused of lacking control in the centre of the pitch in their biggest games, so manager Southgate was intrigued by Foden's display – even if he expected the City man would thrive.

"The quality we know," Southgate told a news conference. "For us, it's really interesting the possibilities with him in terms of his positioning moving forward.

"Today was a perfect game, because the whole team had no need for defending, so you're only analysing one part of the game against a certain level of opponent.

"Nevertheless, to see the passes and to have the quality to hit the passes he did is apparent for everybody.

"Not just him, but as one or two others in that midfield get stronger, I think it's exciting to see how we might evolve as a team in certain matches and how that balance and creativity might continue to progress.

"I'm not surprised that his performance was the standout tonight. We half-expected it when we named the team, really.

"I think [identifying his best position] is difficult, because frankly he's one of those players that is effective across that front line, if you play him seven, 11, 10, eight.

"A traditional 4-3-3 formation, with a six, eight, 10, [he would be] the 10 within that but with the capability to drop lower and to build the play at times as he did tonight.

"I think part of that is as he gets stronger, and part of that is the balance of the type of player who might play as the other eight, as well, and their qualities.

"Look, it's fabulously exciting, isn't it, when you're trying to break down a defence as you are tonight and you've got a player who can see the passes that he sees and hit them and execute them in the way that he did.

"Towards the end of the game, there were some lovely bits of combination – Foden, Mount, Grealish, Saka – the type of play that our players are capable of producing is really exciting."

While Foden has two goals and two assists in six club games this term on one side of Manchester, new United signing Sancho has yet to register one of either in nine outings.

He got two assists on Saturday, though, including teeing up Chilwell after Foden's pass.

Southgate said: "It was not easy for a winger in the game tonight, because quite often you're receiving the ball with two, sometimes three defenders really close.

"You've got to pick the right moments to set the ball off and the right moments to back yourself to maybe take one or two of those players out. I thought he did that exceptionally well.

"It was important that he got the assist, because you've also got to have that productivity, and the right pass or the right cross at the end of those packages of play.

"When I've spoken to him this week, we shouldn't be surprised that for a young player to have such a big change in his life – new league, new club, different style of play, different training regime, back living in Manchester, moving house, everything that's involved in that – that's a lot to take in.

"It's going to need time, but he showed a lot of the qualities he has, and I know that will come with the club as well."

Belgium's Nations League hopes fell flat on Thursday, but Yannick Carrasco insists the squad still have faith they can achieve glory at the 2022 World Cup.

The world's number one ranked team squandered a two-goal lead as France came back to win 3-2 in their semi-final clash in Turin, Theo Hernandez scoring the crucial fifth goal of a thrilling contest in the 90th minute.

Instead of heading to San Siro to face Spain in the final, Belgium are instead back at the Allianz Stadium on Sunday, going up against European champions Italy in a third-place play-off.

It is the second such match during Roberto Martinez's tenure, the Barcelona-linked coach having previously guided Belgium to the semi-finals of World Cup 2018, where they also fell foul of France.

Belgium defeated England to claim third place in Russia, before reaching the quarter-finals at Euro 2020. Sunday's opponents Italy beat them there.

When asked if Belgium's squad still held belief in their ability to challenge at next year's World Cup in Qatar, Atletico Madrid winger Carrasco turned the tables on the media.

"Do we believe that we can win a prize in Qatar? We always believe in ourselves," he told a news conference.

"But do you still believe in us? Because we don't have that feeling. We know that we have a good team, that we can do something beautiful.

"On Friday, the coach showed what we did well and what we did badly.

"That is necessary to prepare for Qatar. A year is not long with the national team, we will use the match against France to get better."

 

Martinez, meanwhile, said a new cycle had now started for Belgium as they look to build towards the World Cup, which arguably presents the final chance for the Red Devils' 'golden generation' to claim a trophy.

He said: "A new cycle has started, that of preparing for the World Cup.

"Over the past five years we have created a style of play. Multiple players can bring what the team needs but our style of play goes beyond individuals. 

"We have been number one in the world for three years. Of course that is important. We want to remain number one. But our main motivation is to get better. The second half against France showed we are not the finished product."

Belgium will be out for revenge against the Azzurri, aiming to at least end their Nations League campaign on a high. However, they will be without Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, who have both been withdrawn due to what Martinez described as "muscle overload".

"I cannot say," Martinez said when asked if the duo would be fit for their clubs next week. "That is a question for the medical department. But it is definitely about overload and not injury."

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Spain's semi-final hurdle

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Star quality

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

A team, no superstars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Arsene Wenger is "ready to take that gamble" by attempting to push through plans for the World Cup to be staged every two years.

Wenger, now FIFA's chief of global football development, is the figurehead of a move to transform the game's calendar, with the Frenchman seeking influential support but also encountering serious opposition to the project.

The legendary Arsenal manager has proposed the World Cup is held every two years and that there are fewer international breaks throughout the year.

While FIFA claims the majority of supporters favour holding the tournament more frequently, the plans have been strongly criticised by other governing bodies.

CONMEBOL, which represents South American federations, argued a change "could distort the most important football competition on the planet".

European football governing body UEFA, meanwhile, fears players burning out – among a range of other negative factors – should the proposals get the go ahead.

However, Wenger is not backing down and believes his suggestion will only improve the sport in the long term.

"The risk is to make football better, and I'm ready to take that gamble," he told BBC Sport.

"The international match calendar is fixed until 2024. Until then, nothing can change. I've been guided by a few ideas to propose a plan to reshape the international calendar.

"The first one is to make football better all over the world. The second one is to have a more modern way and more simple way to organise the calendar. 

"Therefore, I want to reduce the number of qualifiers and to regroup the qualifying periods."

 

Wenger, who left Arsenal in 2018 after 22 years at the club, insisted he would have backed the plans even had he still been a club manager.

"I'd agree with what I propose because I think for the club it's much better," he said. "There's no interference during the season. I suffered a lot from interference during the season.

"It's not about me, it is about the proposal to make football better, clearer, more simple and more meaningful to the world.

"I am convinced that the clubs gain in it because they can focus completely, they have their players available for the whole season and the national teams benefit from it as well.

"There's no increase of number of games, there's a better rest period, less travelling and more quality competition. That's why I think this project is really defendable.

"Yesterday I was in a very long meeting with [players union] FIFPRO, we consult everybody. We are conscious that we need to talk to everybody. 

"I think I've convinced FIFPRO that in my programme the players were my first worry."

Wenger also rejected the argument that the World Cup will be devalued by being held every two years.

"The World Cup's such a huge event that I don't think it will diminish the prestige," he said. "You want to be the best in the world, and you want to be the best in the world every year.

"I'm not on an ego trip. I've been asked to help to shape the calendar of tomorrow, I consult the whole world."

UEFA has demanded further consultation with FIFA over their plans for a biennial World Cup.

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

Wenger's proposal would see a major final held every year, the former Arsenal manager previously suggesting players would be playing in another tournament if it was not the World Cup either way.

However, UEFA and CONMEBOL both argued against the suggestions due to scheduling concerns. Earlier this week, FIFA invited the member associations to a summit to discuss the proposals.

On Wednesday, however, UEFA released a statement criticising FIFA's lack of consultation on a "potential radical move".

"In May 2021, the FIFA Congress mandated the FIFA administration to conduct a study into the feasibility of a Men's and Women's World Cup every two years," UEFA's statement read.

"UEFA assumes that the word "feasibility" encompasses all effects and consequences and includes all issues relating to the calendar, formats and access of the final and preliminary competitions; the impact on existing club and national team competitions, their sporting and commercial opportunities; the impact on players' physical and mental health; the impact on fans, their desire to see more frequent tournaments of this standing, the sustainability for them of more frequent travelling and the impact on the broad football eco-system, by which we mean assessing the balance of opportunities that national teams from all 211 FIFA member associations would have to develop in such a radically changed scenario."

UEFA also expressed concern over women's competitions receiving the attention needed to grow the sport, the impact on youth players and the potential of undermining other sports.

The statement continued: "We are grateful for the attention reserved to the UEFA European Championship, with the proposed double frequency of its final event, but we prefer to address such a sensitive matter with a comprehensive rather than speculative approach.

"UEFA is disappointed with the methodology adopted, which has so far led to radical reform projects being communicated and openly promoted before having been given, together with other stakeholders, the chance to participate in any consultation meeting."

UEFA also believe the World Cup's prestige could be lessened by playing the tournament every two years.

However, European football's governing body acknowledged consultation is required to further refine the international calendar.

"UEFA is of the opinion that the future of the international calendar should be the subject of genuine consultation and exchange between FIFA, the confederations and key stakeholders of competitions, kicking off with an open discussion on perceived problems and considering a range of solutions that will be identified in the course of the debate, taking into account the interest of the game and the legitimate point of view of the different parties," the statement concluded.

"In this phase, the respect for a consultation process with the stakeholders - which should be unbiased - would suggest abstaining from promotional campaigns of unilaterally pre-determined concepts that nobody has been given the possibility to see in detail and which have wide-ranging, often unexpected, effects.

"On 14 September, UEFA and its 55 member associations asked FIFA to organise a special meeting with them to be able to voice their concerns on the impact of such plans. UEFA and its 55 member associations have to-date not yet received a reply from FIFA on this request."

FIFA has invited football's governing bodies to an online summit to discuss biennial World Cup plans and the international calendar on September 30.

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

Wenger's proposal would see a major final held every year, the former Arsenal manager previously suggesting players would be playing in another tournament if it was not the World Cup either way.

However, UEFA and CONMEBOL have both rubbished the suggestions due to scheduling concerns, with FIFA now inviting the pair - along with all other member associations and league representatives - to discuss matters further.

"There is a broad consensus within the game that the International Match Calendar should be reformed and improved," FIFA's statement on Monday said.

"Following invitations to stakeholders, including all confederations, at the beginning of September, discussions are being organised in the coming weeks.

"This is one of several opportunities to establish a constructive and open debate, at a global and regional level, over the coming months and FIFA is looking forward to it.

"As this is a football project, in which the global interests of football should come first, this process started with players and coaches from all over the world. The debate will also involve fans from around the globe.

"FIFA is committed to being a forum for meaningful debate by engaging with a wide range of stakeholders including fans and looks forward to discussions on the sustainable growth of football in all regions of the world, at all levels."

The men's World Cup has taken place every four years since 1930, aside from 1942 and 1946 due to the Second World War, while the women's World Cup has followed suit since its 1991 debut.

However, FIFA released results of fan surveys last week, which showed most favoured a two-year gap between World Cups, though in each age category the popular choice was to retain the current format.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FIFA has been urged not to push through a decision on holding the World Cup every two years by CONCACAF, which called for all nations to be given chance to weigh in on the matter.

The current men's FIFA international match calendar ends in 2024 and Arsene Wenger is seeking to shape a new schedule in his role as FIFA's chief of global football development, but his plans have been met with opposition.

CONMEBOL said on Friday that South American nations are firmly opposed to a biennial World Cup, and CONCACAF – which governs the sport in North and Central America and the Caribbean – underlined the importance of all voices being heard in the debate.

A CONCACAF statement read: "Meetings between FIFA officials and the Confederation and, separately, CONCACAF Member Associations, will take place in the coming weeks.

"Our initial analysis is that we recognise the merits of creating entirely new international men's, women's, and youth football calendars which are underpinned by fewer international windows, reduced travel for players, friendlies being replaced by meaningful matches, and a more balanced structure for the overall benefit of football development globally.

"We will continue to look at these proposals constructively, with an open mind, and in the spirit of positive engagement.

"CONCACAF welcomes the fact that FIFA's chief of [global] football development, Mr. Arsene Wenger, has been transparent in sharing his vision and we are currently studying how the proposed changes would impact football in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.

"While CONCACAF's immediate focus is on its own region, we also believe in the importance of being part of the global football family and we will listen to the views of football stakeholders in all parts of the world. It was in this spirit that CONCACAF was supportive of UEFA and its European football stakeholders when recent threats to their own club competitions structures were explored."

UEFA expressed strong opposition to the plans for a biennial World Cup, warning of a possible boycott if the plans go ahead.

While CONCACAF's statement did not show the level of clear opposition to the plans that came from UEFA and CONMEBOL, it urged caution nonetheless.

"Football in all parts of the world should be given an equal opportunity to play a part in the development of what is a FIFA international football calendar. Now is not the time for fearmongering and neither is it right that this process should be dominated by the interests of a few, or that more weight should be given to one particular region over others.  

"We encourage not only our fellow confederations but also all members of the global football family to come together and work collaboratively to create FIFA calendars and competitions that have benefits for the development of the game in all regions across the world."

South American nations are firmly opposed to FIFA staging the World Cup every two years, CONMEBOL said on Friday, warning that such a change "could distort the most important football competition on the planet".

The confederation indicated it had been wrong to advocate for a switch from the current format, after its president Alejandro Dominguez pushed in 2018 for the world governing body to consider holding the global tournament more frequently.

Arsene Wenger is the figurehead of a move to transform the game's calendar, with FIFA's chief of global football development seeking influential support but also encountering serious opposition to the project.

Europe's top leagues have said they are "firmly and unanimously" opposed to the plans, while UEFA has strongly expressed its opposition and warned of a possible World Cup boycott if the plans get the go-ahead, with its president Aleksander Ceferin saying European and South American national federations were "on the same page".

That point has now been underlined by a CONMEBOL takedown of FIFA's plans that concludes it would be "highly unviable" and that there was "no sporting justification" to change the World Cup from its current status as a tournament that is staged every four years.

CONMEBOL said it had consulted senior South American football officials before delivering its verdict.

It stated: "A World Cup every two years could distort the most important football competition on the planet, lowering its quality and undermining its exclusive character and its current demanding standards.

"The World Cup is an event that attracts the attention and expectations of billions of people because it represents the culmination of a process of elimination that lasts the entire four-year period and has its own dynamics and appeal.

"A World Cup every two years would represent an overload that is practically impossible to manage in the international competition calendar. In the current conditions, it is already complex to harmonise times, schedules, logistics, adequate preparation of equipment and commitments. The situation would be extremely difficult with the proposed change. It could even put the quality of other tournaments, both club and national, at risk.

"The idea of ​​the World Cup is to bring together the most talented footballers, the most outstanding coaches and the most trained referees to determine in a fair and fair competition which is the best team on the planet. This cannot be achieved without proper preparation, without teams developing their skills and technicians designing and implementing strategies. All of this translates into time, training sessions, planning, games.

"CONMEBOL defends the search for excellence in the field of play and is committed to increasingly competitive events of the highest quality. There is no sporting justification for shortening the period between World Cups."

 

The South American confederation said for any major change to take place, there must be "a frank debate, in which all opinions and criteria are considered".

FIFA's proposal is for the men's and women's World Cups to each take place every two years, along with international breaks for qualifying games during domestic seasons being fewer in number but longer in duration.

World Cup heavyweights Brazil and Argentina may be among South American nations concerned about the financial muscle within European football, and CONMEBOL is not closing its door to discussions with FIFA about developing the game.

It added that it was always "open to dialogue that seeks the best for football", but its opposition to the World Cup proposal appears inflexible, given the forthright terms in which it was delivered. Having performed one U-turn, a second would point to incompetence.

The upshot of Friday's development is that FIFA is facing stiff opposition from the two continental federations that have provided every men's World Cup winning team.

"Although at some point CONMEBOL supported the project in question, technical [analysis] showed that it is highly unviable," CONMEBOL's statement added.

"Therefore, under current conditions, it ratifies its support for the current World Cup model, with its terms and classification mechanisms, considering it consistent with the spirit that animated those who conceived and founded this competition."

Jurgen Klopp and Julian Nagelsmann have hit out at FIFA's plan to stage the World Cup every two years, saying such demands were too much for players.

Liverpool manager Klopp and Bayern Munich head coach Nagelsmann are considered two of Europe's top bosses, and their stance is directly contrary to the position taken by FIFA's Arsene Wenger.

Former Arsenal manager Wenger is chief of global football development with the world governing body, and he has said the proposals are "the right solution for the modern way to organise football".

As well as the biennial World Cup, qualifying games would take place in extended mid-season international breaks, which would mean time spent away from clubs is concentrated into one or two stints in a campaign.

Wenger may find support for various aspects of his reform plans, but shifting the World Cup from its long-standing tradition of happening every four years is a step too far for many senior figures in the game.

Klopp said in a Liverpool news conference on Friday: "There's no other sport in the world with such a relentless calendar. [There are] more demanding sports, but they don't run all year.

"We know why it's happening. Whatever people say ... it's all about money. That's fine. We do it because we love it and get lots of money as well.

"At one point, someone has to understand that without the players we cannot play this. No one is more important than the players. A World Cup every two years, then every two years there is the Euros too.

"So every year, a top-class player plays an international tournament. A three-week break every year?

"The ideas about reform are always about more games. There are too many 'meaningless games' [they say] but if you only have competitions under pressure that's difficult. We never have time for pre-season with key players. They play without a break. That's not right."

 

Nagelsmann's verdict reflected that of his fellow German Klopp.

"A World Cup every two years, I don't like that," Nagelsmann said in Bayern's pre-match news conference.

"I'm not a friend of that idea. On one hand it's the strain on all the players and of course it just diminishes a World Cup if it's every two years.

"We have such a flood of games, a schedule that's difficult to cope with, specifically here in Germany and here in Munich.

"We have to have proper finances, make sure that we have a good squad. We need bigger squads, that means you have bigger costs. You need 24 players because you have to compensate for all the injured players because of this busy schedule.

"At some point it doesn't make any more sense. The footballers are there to entertain the masses, and to thrill the masses. But of course these are people who have health and fitness issues every once in a while who need a day or two to regenerate.

"This incredibly busy schedule isn't good for the quality of the games.

"And if the quality of the games decreases then there's going to be less money in future – people will not watch as much football if it's slow, if the players are injured and can't run anymore."

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin this week claimed teams from Europe and South America may boycott the World Cup if FIFA presses ahead with its plan.

The Premier League, meanwhile, was among a group of major European leagues that came out "firmly and unanimously" against FIFA's proposals.

The men's World Cup has taken place every four years since the inaugural edition in 1930, aside from 1942 and 1946 due to the Second World War, while the women's World Cup has followed suit since it was first staged in 1991. The men's 2022 World Cup will take place in Qatar.

Arsene Wenger claimed there has been a "very positive" response to proposals for the World Cup to be staged every two years – as UEFA warned that its members could boycott the tournament.

The former Arsenal manager has become the figurehead for FIFA's mission to change the landscape of the world game, in plans that have been derided by UEFA and Europe's top leagues.

Wenger, 71, is FIFA's chief of global football development, and he has been at the forefront of promoting an idea that Saudi Arabia proposed to FIFA in May.

Frenchman Wenger said it would need to be a "democratic" decision by FIFA's members if global football's most important tournament is to shift from its current format, whereby it takes place every four years.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin told The Times: "We can decide not to play in it. As far as I know, the South Americans are on the same page. So good luck with a World Cup like that. I think it will never happen as it is so much against the basic principles of football. To play every summer a one-month tournament, for the players it's a killer."

Wenger sees it a different way, claiming the theory that players would be overworked is a misnomer as he argued they would be in demand for another tournament if they are not required for the World Cup.

Speaking in footage shown by Sky Sports News on Thursday, Wenger said: "Overall, I think I have got a very positive response, but this decision is a democratic decision and will be made certainly by the 211 countries that are affiliated with FIFA.

"We continue to consult people and that's an ongoing process that will happen until December. After that it's down to all the federations to decide what will happen."

 

Wenger is backing a restructuring of the professional game that would see one or two extended international breaks during the domestic season, to allow for national teams to play a large tranche of fixtures rather than have various breaks spread across the year. He sees that, and the World Cup plan, as offering a prospect that would benefit football.

"I believe if I was inside the club I would sign with two hands for that programme. It would give me time with the players, to get their focus on what is important for the club," Wenger said.

"Overall I would say a better situation between club and national team football would improve the quality of the concentration on both sides. If we create room and we do not play big competitions, you will play small competitions.

"Don't think you will not play. The target of the players and football to improve all over the world is to play top-level competitions.

"After that I'm not hesitant at all, I'm 100 per cent convinced that what I propose is the right solution for the modern way to organise football."

FIFA's plan applies to men's and women's World Cups, but the men's tournament is overwhelmingly the world governing body's biggest provider of revenue.

A host of star former players from FIFA's 'Legends' programme have gathered in Doha, Qatar, this week to hear Wenger explain the plans, with Brazil great Ronaldo among them, giving the expansion his support.

There has been scorn for FIFA's plans from outside football, with World Athletics president Sebastian Coe concerned about the impact on the Olympic Games.

Coe, who is a member of the International Olympic Committee, told The Guardian: "I can see no good reason for it. There may be vested interests here but the summer sports are protective about the landscape as it's hard enough for them as it is to grab space in the traditional or digital media.

"A biennial World Cup will inevitably start clashing with the Olympic Games too.

"I'm a big football fan, but I fear that you’re going to put a lot of players under some big physical stress. The clubs and leagues are all opposed to it. And my gut instinct is that you can keep cramming stuff into the calendar if you really want to, but less is more sometimes."

The Premier League was among a group of major European leagues that declared this week they are "firmly and unanimously" against FIFA's proposals.

The men's World Cup has taken place every four years since the inaugural edition in 1930, aside from 1942 and 1946 due to the Second World War, while the women's World Cup has followed suit since it was first staged in 1991.

The 2022 World Cup will take place in Qatar.

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