With his strike against Curacao on Tuesday, Lionel Messi reached another landmark by scoring 100 goals for Argentina.

The 35-year-old brought up the milestone in style, receiving a 20th-minute pass from Giovani Lo Celso before jinking past two Curacao defenders and rifling in a low right-foot finish.

The man considered by many to be the greatest footballer of all time had come in for some criticism over the years for his performances at international level.

That was until he led Argentina to Copa America success in 2021 and followed that up at last year's World Cup, starring as La Albiceleste recovered from a shock opening defeat to Saudi Arabia to beat defending champions France in the final on penalties.

Of course, the sheer volume of his goals has been breathtaking, with only Cristiano Ronaldo and Ali Daei scoring more in international men's football.

But Stats Perform picked out five individual strikes that were particularly memorable.

Argentina v Mexico (July 11, 2007)

Having only just turned 20, Messi was expected to win the Copa America for his country in 2007.

Ultimately, Argentina were beaten in the final by Brazil, but not before Messi had graced the stage with a sumptuous lob in their 3-0 win against Mexico in the semi-finals, being fed on the right of the penalty before an outrageous lob over Oswaldo Sanchez into the far corner.

Argentina v Brazil (June 9, 2012)

The two great rivals faced each other in New Jersey as they prepared for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and a topsy-turvy contest had already seen Messi score twice.

In the 84th minute and with the score tied at 3-3, Messi went as trademark as possible, picking up the ball on the right just into the Brazil half before dribbling for goal. He cut inside the nearest defender on the edge of the box and curled a shot into the top-left corner of the net.

Argentina v Paraguay (September 7, 2012)

Just a few months later, Messi was at it from distance again, this time even further out as he showed off his supreme free-kick taking ability.

With Argentina leading Paraguay 2-1 in their World Cup qualifier, Messi lined up a set-piece effort a little over 30 yards out, whipping the ball over the wall and in off the goalkeeper's left-hand post.

Argentina v Iran (June 21, 2014)

In their second group game of the 2014 World Cup, Argentina had struggled to break down a resolute Iran side who were on the verge of securing a famous 0-0 draw and valuable point.

That was until Messi picked up the ball on the right in the 91st minute in Belo Horizonte. He darted inside, as he so often does, and curled a sumptuous effort past Alireza Haghighi from some 25 yards, the ball nestling in the bottom-left corner.

Argentina v Mexico (November 26, 2022)

Having already lost to Saudi Arabia in their first game at the 2022 World Cup, Argentina could not find a way past Mexico in the first hour of their second encounter either.

Or, they couldn't until their captain stepped up.

With raucous fans urging them on at Lusail Stadium, Messi received a pass from Angel Di Maria before hitting a shot from outside the box low and hard to Guillermo Ochoa's left, lighting the touchpaper that would ultimately end with the trophy in his hands at the end of the campaign.

 

Argentina have honoured Lionel Messi's World Cup heroics by naming their training facility after their talismanic captain.

Casa de Ezeiza, in Buenos Aires, houses Argentina's national team set-up, but it will now be known as Lionel Andres Messi.

Chiqui Tapia, president of the Argentine Football Association (AFA), confirmed the news on Saturday, tweeting: "We lived a historic day in our Casa de Ezeiza, which from today will be renamed Lionel Andres Messi, in homage to the best player in the world.

"I want to thank all the managers, players and employees of @afa for having been with us."

Messi dragged Argentina to glory in Qatar last year, emulating the success of the late Diego Maradona as La Albiceleste claimed their third world title, and first since 1986.

"This recognition is one of the nicest I've ever received," Messi posted on Instagram. "A great honour, thank you very much!!!"

Messi scored the 800th goal of his stellar career in Argentina's 2-0 friendly win over Panama on Thursday. The 35-year-old's next goal on the international stage will be his 100th for his country.

Lionel Messi struck the 800th goal of his remarkable career and lifted the World Cup trophy one more time in Buenos Aires, telling all of Argentina to enjoy this footballing prosperity while it lasts.

His landmark strike came in a 2-0 friendly win against Panama on Thursday at El Monumental, as Argentina played their first game since triumphing at Qatar 2022.

They showed off their World Cup spoils after the final whistle, with Messi addressing the crowd and saying it was a moment he had dreamt of throughout his life.

Messi, who turns 36 in June, delivered another inspired performance for his country, hitting the crossbar with two free kicks before sending another into the top corner in the 89th minute.

That brought up the 800 for club and country and sealed Argentina's win, after Thiago Almada bagged the opener in the 78th minute. It was also Messi's 99th goal for Argentina.

With a microphone in his right hand, and his left placed on the trophy, Messi told the crowd: "I want to thank you for all the love we are receiving, not just for winning the World Cup but from before, when we won the Copa America.

"I always dreamed of this moment, being able to celebrate with you in this country. Let's enjoy it because we spent a long time to win it, and because you don't know how long it will take until we win it again. Let's enjoy the third star."

Paris Saint-Germain's former Barcelona star won the Golden Ball at the World Cup for his efforts in captaining Argentina to glory. That is the trophy awarded to the player of the tournament.

Argentina won the World Cup previously in 1978 and 1986, with a 36-year wait coming to an end when La Albiceleste beat France on penalties in the December 18 final, after a 3-3 draw.

Messi will almost certainly have retired from international duty by the time the next World Cup rolls around in 2026, marking the end of a storied era.

He was keen to spread the latest acclaim throughout the Argentina ranks.

"I know that today is our day, but I don't want to forget all those colleagues I had before, who also did everything possible to get this one, and unfortunately it didn't happen to us, we were very close," he said. "They also deserve respect and recognition.

"We were going to do everything we could for this. I always dreamed of this moment, being able to come to my country and lift the World Cup. It was shown that it is very difficult to achieve this, it depends on many things. Sometimes due to small details it gets away from you.”

Another week, another landmark for Lionel Messi as the Argentina superstar scored his 800th career goal in Thursday's friendly against Panama.

It's been an almighty journey for the all-time great, who has basically won everything on offer and claimed a record haul of seven Ballons d'Or along the way.

The player regarded by many as the greatest ever, Messi reached his latest milestone with a picture-perfect free kick in the 89th minute against Panama, curling one into the top corner after crashing two prior free kicks into the crossbar.

Although Messi hits new landmarks so frequently, at the age of 35 he is approaching a point where such achievements will become a little rarer.

With that in mind, it's worth celebrating Messi and his feats while we still can – therefore, Stats Perform has delved into the Opta data behind his latest accomplishment.

On the receiving end

It's nearly 18 years since Messi's first goal in professional football. Then a floppy-haired 17-year-old, he latched on to a Ronaldinho pass before lifting a clever lob over Albacete goalkeeper Raul Valbuena on May 1, 2005.

That goal has since become famous given its significance in marking the arrival of Messi – it also left a mark on the career of Valbuena.

"The press calls me every time he's broken a record or achieved something important, especially press from Catalonia," he told Marca nine years later. "To me, it's a funny anecdote in my career as a goalkeeper."

Well, it's all right for some. Many goalkeepers have had to contend with Messi smashing past them a few more times than Valbuena's single concession.

In total, 232 goalkeepers had let in a goal against Messi before Thursday. No one conceded more than Diego Alves, however, with the Brazilian beaten 21 times. Iker Casillas is a close second (19).

Returning the favour

Of course, over his career Messi has also become synonymous with creativity, routinely setting up goals for his team-mates.

But, given how many he's scored, he's also had to benefit from plenty of service from his colleagues as well – when he's not doing it all himself.

There are several players with whom he's struck up particularly effective on-pitch relationships.

For years, his combination with Dani Alves was unrivalled, the Brazilian setting up 42 of Messi's goals, but then along came Luis Suarez.

Suarez, Messi and Neymar were a revered and feared front three, their understanding on the pitch so deadly. The Uruguayan ended up assisting 47 goals for Messi across their six years together, with no one else teeing him up more often.

Messi also has his favourite clubs to score against. Impressively, Real Madrid (26) are right up there – but there are four teams he has punished more.

Athletic Bilbao (29), Valencia (31) and Atletico Madrid (32) all struggled against him, but if there has been one team who have resembled lambs to the slaughter when facing Messi, it's Sevilla (38).

Heights few have reached

The world of football numbers can be a little muddy. What constitutes an official goal? What's an official competition?

As such, there has been lots of confusion regarding the 'official' goals hauls of players down the years – we're looking at you, Pele and Romario.

The International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS) considers Cristiano Ronaldo to be the world record holder, stating in December 2021 that the Portugal forward was the first player to reach 800 official career goals.

This makes Messi the second to reach that figure, with Opta corroborating his career record. There remains a possibility he will eventually reach 1,000. No one is expecting him to get there soon, though.

After all, as good as he remains, achievements like scoring 91 times in a calendar year – as he managed in 2012 – appear to be beyond him these days.

That was his best ever year, which – perhaps unsurprisingly – coincided with his most prolific season (2011-12), when he scored 82 goals.

Still, the 35 goals he plundered in 2022 wasn't a bad return, especially given that haul included seven en route to World Cup success with Argentina.

Still to come?

There aren't many records at Barcelona that don't already belong to Messi. Top scorer? Done. Most appearances? Completed it. The most-photographed person at Camp Nou? Probably.

It seems unlikely Messi will be around at PSG long enough to have the same kind of impact there, but he certainly still has career targets in sight.

There's the aforementioned 1,000 goals landmark, though before then he will have his eyes on more international achievements.

Messi's free kick to seal Thursday's 2-0 win left him just one from reaching 100 with Argentina, and after that he'll perhaps have designs on usurping both Ali Daei (109) and Ronaldo (120), the two highest-scoring players in men's international football.

Similarly, with Ronaldo now out of the way in Saudi Arabia, Messi could also take his record for the most Champions League goals (140) – Messi is on 129.

But regardless of what else he does or doesn't go on to achieve, Thursday's milestone is just another reminder of how fortunate we've been to witness Messi's truly remarkable career.

Lionel Messi reached the latest major milestone of his storied career on Thursday as he moved on to 800 goals with a stunning free kick for to seal Argentina's 2-0 friendly win against Panama on Thursday.

The reigning World Cup champions returned to Buenos Aires where they received a thunderous reception from their loyal supporters, but they would have to wait until the final moments for their favourite son to get on the scoresheet.

Messi had hit the crossbar with a free kick in the first half, and after a second free kick was saved by inspired Panama goalkeeper Jose Guerra, he struck the woodwork again with a third free kick, although this one led to the opening goal as Thiago Almada tapped in the rebound.

But his fourth free kick finally curled under the bar and into the top-right corner, sending the stadium into raptures.

Of course, it was not so long ago that Messi hit another goals landmark.

His tap-in from Kylian Mbappe's inch-perfect cross against Marseille on February 26 was the 700th club goal of Messi's career – the strike against Panama was only his second for club or country since then.

Messi's stunner at El Monumental on Thursday was his 99th on the international stage.

Only his old nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo (120) and Iran legend Ali Daei (109) have scored more goals in international men's football than Messi, who looks set to continue playing for Argentina for a little while yet.

As such, his 100th goal for the Albiceleste is seemingly just around the corner.

But much like with that international milestone, Messi is not the first player to reach 800 across a full career.

Data can get a little murkier when you go deep into the past, with historical inconsistencies making it a little tricky to classify "official goals" or "official competitions".

The likes of Brazilian greats Romario and Pele are among a group of players deemed by some to have scored over 1,000 goals over their careers, but many of those were netted in friendlies or "unofficial" games.

The International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS) considered Cristiano Ronaldo to be the first player to ever reach 800 official goals in December 2021.

With that in mind, Thursday's goal makes Messi the second to reach the landmark, and he is still going strong.

He has scored 18 for the season (all competitions) with PSG, though he also netted seven in as many games at Qatar 2022 as Argentina won the World Cup.

Of course, the vast majority of his 800 goals have been scored in the colours of Barcelona.

During 17 years with Barca's first team, Messi scored 672 times. That is 440 more than any other player in the club's history, while he also holds their record for most appearances (778).

And with his future at PSG in doubt, he could yet extend those records at Camp Nou.

It's fair to say Harry Kane was something of a late bloomer on the international stage, at least in comparison to the man he has surpassed as England's all-time leading goalscorer.

While Wayne Rooney was named in Euro 2004's Team of the Tournament at the age of 18, Kane was 22 by the time he first appeared at a major international competition.

Despite Rooney's head start, the prospect of Kane beating his record of 53 England goals has seemed inevitable for some time after the Tottenham striker took on a talismanic role for Gareth Southgate's side. 

Kane could have broken the record at last the 2022 World Cup. He had already scored one penalty in the quarter-final against France and, with England 2-1 down, he stepped up to take another at Al Bayt Stadium.

Yet his effort soared over, England's chances of World Cup success crashing down around their captain.

Fitting, then, that it was from the penalty spot that Kane broke Rooney's record by netting his 54th England goal, as he put the Three Lions 2-0 up ahead Italy in their first match of 2023.

He has now cemented his place in the pantheon of England greats.

With Kane assuming his place as the country's greatest goalscorer, Stats Perform looks at the legacy he has built on the international stage.

Stepping out of Rooney's shadow and repaying Southgate's faith

Kane wasted no time in introducing himself on the international stage.

Having replaced Rooney as a substitute against Lithuania in March 2015, the Tottenham striker needed just 79 seconds to net in a 4-0 win.

Since 1872, Kane is one of just six players to score inside two minutes on his England debut, while that strike made him the first to do so since Gerry Hitchens in 1961.

 

However, after England's dismal Euro 2016 exit at the hands of Iceland, Kane had scored only five goals in 17 international appearances. Retrospectively, it wasn't quite the flying start one may have expected from a future great.

While Kane entered that tournament having won the Premier League's Golden Boot, he was uninspired as Roy Hodgson sought to find space for both Rooney and Daniel Sturridge in an unbalanced team. 

That stunning defeat in Nice, as well as a corruption scandal that later led to the departure of Sam Allardyce after just one game at the helm, made 2016 a year to forget for England.

However, the appointment of Southgate that November, coupled with the new manager's decision to drop a declining Rooney the following March, set the stage for a dramatic improvement from the Three Lions' new talisman.  

All but five of Kane's 54 international goals have been scored under Southgate, the highest tally scored by any England player under a particular manager by some distance – Gary Lineker is second with 35 goals under Bobby Robson.

The man for the big occasion 

The idea that the England shirt can weigh heavily upon those who regularly star at club level has been a common theme for decades.

Of Rooney's 53 international goals, for instance, only one was scored at a World Cup – an ultimately inconsequential effort in 2014's decisive 2-1 loss to Uruguay in Sao Paulo.

The Manchester United great may have hit the net seven times across his six major tournaments, but four came in his remarkable breakout campaign at Euro 2004, and he was continually criticised for failing to carry his club form onto the international stage.

Rooney is not the only England star to suffer that fate. Frank Lampard scored three times at Euro 2004 but did not net at another major tournament. Fellow midfielder Steven Gerrard hit 21 goals for Three Lions, but just three came at tournaments. 

Despite arriving at the 2018 World Cup having plundered 30 goals across the 2017-18 Premier League season – his most prolific campaign in the competition – Kane was seemingly open to the same criticisms, but a Golden Boot-winning tournament changed perceptions.

 

Kane as England's tournament specialist

While defeats to Croatia in the 2018 World Cup semi-finals and Italy in the Euro 2020 final have left Southgate battling accusations of underachievement, England's very presence in some of the biggest international fixtures has owed much to Kane.

Kane's total of six goals in Russia was enough to see off the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Kylian Mbappe for the Golden Boot, and only Cristiano Ronaldo and Patrik Schick (both five) bettered his tally of four strikes as England went agonisingly close to Euro 2020 glory.

Having netted against Senegal and France at Qatar 2022, Kane's tally of 12 goals at major tournaments is an outright England record, beating Lineker's total of 10, which came exclusively at World Cups.

With Kane now having eight World Cup goals to his name and looking likely to participate in at least one more edition, the 29-year-old could also claim Lineker's status as England's top marksman in FIFA's flagship tournament.

Nevertheless, some might accuse him of "stat padding" against weak opponents. After all, Kane has scored more international goals against San Marino (five) than any other nation.

However, he has also often been the scourge of the world's elite, as England's old rivals Germany – the opponents for four of Kane's England goals – will attest. 

 

Cementing Kane's legacy: Does more history await in 2026? 

Brazil great Ronaldo, Miroslav Klose, Mario Kempes, Gerd Muller and Eusebio are among the legends to have claimed the honour of top-scoring at a World Cup. None of them – nor any other player – has done so at two separate tournaments.

Kane ultimately could not repeat his 2018 exploits in Qatar. But in terms of other records and future success, age is – just about – on his side. The Spurs striker will be 33 when the 2026 World Cup rolls around. He will likely have set a daunting target for any future England strikers to chase.

Troubling Klose's all-time record of 16 World Cup goals may be unrealistic but claiming a spot in the top five of that list – and beating Pele's tally of 12 – appears a plausible target. 

While Kane's England legacy may be chiefly judged on whether he can inspire the team to bring football home for the first time since 1966, his international goalscoring feats are worthy of lofty praise regardless.

If Kane wins a major trophy during his England career or not, his contribution on the big stage means he should be remembered as one of his country's best ever.

Luis Enrique had no 'plan B' and Spain suffered a premature World Cup exit as a consequence, according to Iago Aspas.

Veteran striker Aspas missed out on the squad for Qatar 2022 but has been recalled by Luis Enrique's successor, Luis de la Fuente, for Euro 2024 qualifiers against Norway and Scotland.

The 35-year-old Celta Vigo player was powerless to prevent Spain losing to Morocco on penalties after a goalless stalemate at the last-16 stage of the World Cup.

"I was wishing Spain to score," Aspas said on Thursday, looking back at that game.

"With Luis Enrique we had a very defined game style. For me, who in future could become a coach, we did not have plan B, and when plan A was stuck there wasn't plan B or other types of footballers to try to revert that situation. From my point of view."

Aspas knowingly added: "Now the headline is easy, of course."

Luis Enrique felt Aspas did not contribute sufficiently from a defensive perspective for Spain.

De la Fuente has chosen to see for himself what the former Liverpool player might be able to achieve for the national team in the twilight of his playing career.

Reflecting on Luis Enrique's reasoning, Aspas said: "I didn't agree really, but didn't have a chat with Luis Enrique to talk about this. I do not know if he said that referring to me specifically, but in my team I run like anyone else.

"Data is there and anyone can see how I can make 10 kilometres per game each weekend. We [at Celta] are a team that cannot leave one player without defending because other teams could then destroy you.

"I was an important footballer in my [club] team, but when I have come to the national team in other occasions I think that I have demonstrated that I am a versatile player who can play on different positions: behind the striker or as a striker, or on the side. So I am here to help and for what the coach needs."

Spain lost an attacking option on Thursday when Bryan Gil pulled out of the squad ahead of Saturday's clash with Norway due to "discomfort that has prevented him from exercising normally".

De la Fuente does not plan to call in a replacement for the player who is on loan to Sevilla from Tottenham.

Harry Kane his World Cup disappointment behind him, England manager Gareth Southgate believes.

The Three Lions captain missed a decisive penalty in the quarter-final defeat to France in Qatar, continuing the nation's long wait for international glory.

Kane would have broken Wayne Rooney's international record had he scored the penalty, as well as potentially guiding England into the last four, but he fired his attempt over the bar and the Three Lions lost 2-1.

He is not alone in penalty heartache for England, however, with team-mates Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho all missing spot-kicks in the shoot-out defeat to Italy at Wembley in the Euro 2020 final.

Going back further, Southgate himself missed from the spot in England's semi-final defeat to Germany at Euro 1996, meaning Kane is only the latest in a series of stars to suffer penalty heartache.

However, Southgate feels that will not hold back the Tottenham striker and backs him as one of the all-time greats.

"We've seen that with his performances and goals for his club that he has put it behind him," he said.

"He knows he's going to have added motivation tomorrow [Wednesday] night to come back and show everybody what he is about again in an England shirt. For us that is a good position.

"It's always difficult to compare across ages, there a lot who I didn't see because I wasn't alive. But because of his goalscoring alone, that puts him in the upper echelons of that group.

"He provides so much more for the team than that, his quality of passing, his vision, his touch, he's an outstanding player and we're very fortunate to have him."

The honour of being England's leading goalscorer is almost certain to fall to Kane, who is tied with Rooney on 53 for the Three Lions, and Declan Rice feels it would be a just reward.

"I think you can see every time he scores a goal how much it means to him. Every goal, every training session, everything he does is at such a high level," the midfielder added.

"If he does break the record tomorrow, it will be thoroughly deserved. He is a real leader and a lot of us will be very happy for him if he breaks the record tomorrow night."

Leandro Trossard is delighted by his fast start in an Arsenal shirt and is optimistic of his new club's chances of winning the Premier League.

Trossard was a January signing for Mikel Arteta's side after the Belgium forward impressed in the first half of the season at Brighton and Hove Albion, scoring seven goals in 16 league games.

Since joining the league leaders, Trossard has only scored once but provided six assists in just 10 league games to help Arsenal rebuild an eight-point gap to Manchester City in second.

And the former Brighton has been surprised at how quickly he has settled.

"I maybe didn't expect to make that many minutes, but injuries helped me a bit. I’m however more than convinced of my own capabilities," Trossard said, speaking at a national team press conference on Wednesday. 

"I arrived in a great group, filled with great players. That also makes it easier for new players to adapt and reach their levels.

"It was a very busy and weird period for me, but I'm very happy that I have been able to join Arsenal. I think it's been a great step for me.

"We all know how difficult it is to win the league, looking at Man City and Liverpool in recent years, but I think we have a great squad and that we have proven time and time again that we're doing well. 

"There are 10 matches left, we'll see where we end once the season finishes."

The 28-year-old is set to feature heavily for Belgium after the retirement of fellow forward and former captain Eden Hazard.

City's Kevin De Bruyne has taken the armband, and Trossard is confident the midfielder and new head coach Domenico Tedesco will prove the difference as Belgium look to rally following their group-stage exit at the 2022 World Cup.

"[De Bruyne] has a lot of experience at the highest level," Trossard said. "He knows everybody here, since he's been here for a while already. 

"A lot of the younger guys look up to him – I think that's a really big advantage for a national team captain if people look up to you.

"We have a new manager, a new staff, and I'm excited to make this new start as well.

"We're looking sharp, everybody wants to prove themselves. We also have a lot of youngsters, there's a lot of renewed competition, and it's clear everybody wants to give it their all."

Cristiano Ronaldo has revealed he considered international retirement following the World Cup in Qatar.

Portugal crashed out at the quarter-final stage after defeat against Morocco, with Ronaldo losing his spot in the starting line-up for the knockout stages.

Fernando Santos dropped Ronaldo to the bench for the last-16 tie against Switzerland, with his replacement Goncalo Guedes scoring a hat-trick in a dominant 6-1 victory.

Ronaldo would continue as a substitute for the clash with Morocco, which almost spelled the end of his Portugal career.

"I'm not going to lie. In our life, we have to put everything on the scale," Ronaldo said ahead of a Euro 2024 qualifier against Liechtenstein.

"We thought, we reflected, me and my family, but then we came to the conclusion that, despite the difficulties, we cannot throw in the towel. I was able to see situations at different angles. I learned a lot from that.

"I'm glad to be back. Roberto Martinez showed that he counted on me. I've always wanted to play. As you know, he talked to everyone and to me, too. And I was able to realise that I have a lot to give to the national team.

"I feel it, I want it, and my desire is to take Portugal to the highest level. I will always give my contribution when they need me."

Mesut Ozil's retirement brings to an end the career of one of modern football's great, traditional number 10s.

The former Arsenal and Real Madrid playmaker announced on social media that he was terminating his contract with Turkish side Istanbul Basaksehir due to continuing injury issues.

Ex-Germany international Ozil won the World Cup in 2014 and also played for Schalke, Werder Bremen and Fenerbahce during his club career.

Having garnered a big move to Spanish giants Real Madrid in 2010 following his superb displays in that year's World Cup, Ozil won a LaLiga title, a Copa del Rey and the Supercopa de Espana.

A move to Arsenal in 2013 saw Ozil flourish into one of the Premier League's greatest creative forces, while he won the FA Cup four times during his stay in north London.

Stints at Fenerbahce and Basaksehir were hampered by injury with Ozil having played just four times this season, but the 34-year-old leaves behind an unforgettable legacy.

Stats Perform takes a look at some of the key numbers behind Ozil's memorable career.

 

Creator in chief

The 2015-16 campaign was arguably Ozil's finest in an Arsenal shirt, with his tally of 146 chances created in the Premier League the most of any player in a single season in the competition. 

Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne has come closest to breaking that record when the Belgian crafted 136 goalscoring opportunities for team-mates in the 2019-20 campaign.

Ozil managed six league goals in the 2015-16 campaign but laid on a further 19. That was the only time he registered double figures for assists in a top-flight season while at Arsenal, something he managed in each of his three seasons in LaLiga.

Assist machine

Ozil is one of just four Arsenal players to have registered more than 50 Premier League assists for the club.

His total of 54 is bested by Denis Bergkamp (94), Thierry Henry (74) and Cesc Fabregas (70).

Ozil's prolific record as a creator began well before his move to north London.

His 122 assists across a ten-season stretch between 2008 and 2018 was only eclipsed by Lionel Messi (133).

Starting in 2008, Ozil recorded more than 12 assists for five consecutive seasons. At Werder Bremen, he set up 25 goals two seasons in the Bundesliga before joining Madrid.

His numbers would only improve in the Spanish capital as he created 47 goals between 2010 and 2013.

Eye for goal

While Ozil's creative talents caught the eye, he had a penchant for scoring goals as well as setting them up.

His 33 top-flight goals in an Arsenal shirt stands as the second-best tally of any German in the Premier League, behind City's Ilkay Gundogan (39). Uwe Rosler, Jurgen Klinsmann, and Leroy Sane make up the top five with 29, 29 and 25 respectively.

Ozil's best Premier League goalscoring season was the 2016-17 campaign when he netted eight times.

 

Galactico

It was at the 2010 World Cup where Ozil truly made his name, starring in a youthful Germany side that reached the semi-finals.

Ozil appeared at three World Cup finals, and is one of only five players to have created at least 10 chances from open play in three different World Cups (since 1966), along with Messi, Diego Maradona, Wolfgang Overath and former Germany team-mate Thomas Muller.

Madrid signed him after his leading role in South Africa and Ozil went on to make 159 appearances for Los Blancos. Only three German players have played more matches with the club – Toni Kroos (402), Uli Stielike (308) and Sami Khedira (161). 

Jack Grealish was "buzzing" when Gareth Southgate decided to remain as England manager after the World Cup, and believes that call will reap rewards at next year's Euros.

England start their qualifying campaign for Euro 2024 on Thursday when they face Italy, who beat the Three Lions in the Euro 2020 final, before hosting Ukraine three days later.

It will be England's first encounter since their World Cup quarter-final defeat to France in December.

Southgate was considering his future ahead of England's campaign in Qatar, but elected to stay on, sticking with a contract that expires next year.

The decision proved to be a popular one among the England squad, with many of the players having been given their debut by Southgate, who has been in charge since 2016.

"I was buzzing," Grealish told reporters. "Gareth called me up to my first squad, he gave me my debut and he has given me chances to play for my country – it's the best thing that can happen to you as a player.

"Go and ask anyone in that changing room what they think of Gareth and they would all say the same. He is a brilliant manager and a brilliant person as well.

"I can't speak highly enough of him for what he has done for me."

Euro 2024, hosted by Germany, will be Southgate's fourth major tournament as England manager and Grealish thinks that experience will help the Three Lions go all the way after their heartbreak in 2021.

"We have come close so many times," said the Manchester City star. "The last three tournaments have been a semi-final, a final and then the quarters.

"I think it is obvious what we want to do and I think we are getting better and better. Players are coming through and playing with so much confidence.

"I feel like the next one really could be our one. Everyone will be in their prime. I actually feel old at the moment but when I think about it, I will only be 28 at the Euros.

"It's no secret that we all want to win a tournament – and I do think it is there to be done."

 

After impressing at the delayed Euro 2020, Grealish became the most expensive English player when he joined City from boyhood club Aston Villa for £100million.

Having struggled to hit his best form during his debut season, his sophomore year has seen much improvement. Grealish has scored three goals, set up a further seven and created 61 chances for team-mates from 36 appearances, 28 of which have been starts.

He added: "I feel I am in the best form since I moved to City. I feel a bit like I did when I was at Aston Villa.

"I feel like one of the main players and it is the fittest I've been. That comes down to playing a lot of games on the bounce and playing in big games and making an impact, like scoring against Arsenal and [Manchester] United and getting assists at Chelsea away and Arsenal in the cup.

"I'm really confident at the moment. [Pep Guardiola] is trusting me in big games and I do feel I have repaid him, played my part, done well."

England full-back Ben Chilwell revealed how tough he found missing last year's World Cup through injury.

A hamstring problem saw Chilwell watching his national team colleagues from home rather than playing alongside them in Qatar last year.

The Chelsea defender argued that there is too much of a stigma around discussing mental health, in men's football especially.

Chilwell, who disclosed he has been "talking to someone" to benefit his mental well-being, is now back in the England squad as the Three Lions hope for a strong start to their Euro 2024 qualification campaign.

Reflecting on his injury, Chilwell said: "Of course mentally it was very challenging.

"I've been talking to someone for a few years now.

"I think the stigma around it is silly really, especially with men and men in football in particular.

"The way it has helped me, it can definitely help everyone. The stigma around it is something that needs to go.

"All footballers go through periods of their career where things are mentally challenging.

"You have got to be resilient, be strong and try to come through it. That is the way I have tried to look at injuries I have had, spin them into positive situations where I can better myself mentally and physically."

Chilwell's Chelsea team-mate Reece James also missed the World Cup through injury.

For Chilwell, that was something of a blessing in disguise.

He added: "In a weird way it was nice we had each other during that time because it was someone you could share the pain of missing a World Cup with.

"We helped each other a lot through that experience."

The pair returned to Gareth Southgate's latest squad for matches against Italy and Ukraine, and after England went winless in their last Nations League campaign, Chilwell insists qualification is not being taken for granted.

"We're confident that we will qualify and with the talent we have in the squad we're going to do everything to do that," he said.

"But we know we have to work hard to do that. I don't think that sort of mentality really needs to be told.

"The senior players don't need to be telling the younger players that we need to qualify."

England face Italy in Naples at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on Thursday before hosting Ukraine three days later.

What Zlatan Ibrahimovic likes most about Qatar is everything.

He made that point in a Sweden press conference on Tuesday, giving 10/10 ratings to all aspects of the World Cup experience and saluting the country's lack of crime and drug problems.

The 41-year-old Milan striker had no part to play in the Qatar 2022 finals, owing to Sweden's failure to qualify, but he was a guest at the final, being pictured at the Argentina versus France showpiece game along with tennis superstar Novak Djokovic.

Asked for his impressions of the tournament and the country as a whole, Ibrahimovic said: "It was fantastic. As awesome as it gets. I was there for two days with the family."

He gave a rundown of his ratings for all aspects he encountered, saying: "The organisation: 10 points. The experience: 10 points. The match: 10 points. Crowd: 10 points. The food: 10 points. The journey: 10 points. Everything was 10 points."

When it was pointed out to Ibrahimovic that Qatar has faced criticism over alleged human rights abuses, Ibrahimovic stuck to his theme and gave a final mark to the country.

"Ten points," he said.

Pressure groups have claimed women and people from LGBTQ+ communities are particularly badly treated in Qatar, along with migrant workers.

Amnesty International said ahead of the World Cup that hundreds of thousands of such workers had been exploited, pointing to thousands dying suddenly or unexpectedly.

The same organisation said last week that "many thousands of workers have been unable to obtain compensation for horrific abuses linked to the World Cup", calling on football's world governing body FIFA to ensure this is rectified.

Qatar has been accused by its critics of attempting to 'sportswash' its reputation by putting on a successful major event that runs smoothly and paints the country in a positive light internationally.

Ibrahimovic will not be levelling such an accusation at Qatar's door, though, because he had a 10/10 time during his stay.

Speaking in a further interview with broadcaster SVT, the former Barcelona, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain striker added: "I think they have given opportunities to get a job. Then how they treated them, I haven't been there and seen, so I can't judge and answer those questions."

Ibrahimovic played for PSG during the early years of the Qatar Sports Investments era at the Parc des Princes, and Qatari club chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi joined him and Djokovic in their World Cup final photo.

The veteran Swede therefore has that close connection, and Ibrahimovic said: "Qatar as a country, I think it is a system that works. Are there drugs? No. Is there crime? No. Is there crime in Sweden? Yes, very much. Drugs? Yes.

"Qatar's system works. The Swedish system? It works, but if it works 100 per cent, I don't know."

Didier Deschamps wants to put a lid on the public spat with Karim Benzema that has rumbled on since the World Cup.

France head coach Deschamps lost Benzema from his Qatar 2022 squad on the eve of the tournament when the Ballon d'Or winner and Real Madrid captain suffered a thigh injury.

According to Deschamps, Benzema said he would not be able to return to the France camp to take part in the latter stages of the tournament.

As it turned out, Benzema was back in training with Madrid in early December, and that led to speculation he might make a dramatic return for Les Bleus, as they chased a successful trophy defence.

That did not happen, with Benzema absent as France lost on penalties to Argentina in the final on December 18.

Deschamps told Le Parisien this month that he had spoken with Benzema after the striker had an MRI scan after his injury blow, and the then 34-year-old declared his World Cup hopes to be over.

According to Deschamps, the coach told Benzema there was no need to rush his departure, but the next day he made an early exit.

"When I wake up, I learn that he is gone," Deschamps said in the newspaper interview. "It's his decision, he won't tell you otherwise, I understand and respect it."

Benzema, who announced his international retirement on the day after the World Cup final, also his 35th birthday, swiftly attempted to counter Deschamps' version of events.

He responded in a series of posts on his Instagram stories, posting a clown emoji alongside the comment: "What audacity."

In another message, he posted "Sacred Didier" alongside a video of a well-known French social media figure repeatedly accusing someone of being a "liar".

Speaking on TF1 show Telefoot on Sunday, Deschamps refused to nudge the saga along.

Deschamps said: "I am not in the controversy. I needed to speak to say what had happened. But that is a thing of the past for me."

Benzema was set to be involved for Real Madrid against Barcelona in Sunday's LaLiga Clasico at Camp Nou, and he will then have a break while internationals take place over the coming fortnight.

It was claimed by RMC Sport on Sunday that Benzema will play no part when France mark a number of international retirements on Friday, when Les Blues host the Netherlands in a Euro 2024 qualifier.

Those whose careers for Les Bleus are expected to be celebrated include Hugo Lloris, Raphael Varane and Steve Mandanda.

Meanwhile, France have lost two players for the Netherlands game and a trip to face the Republic of Ireland on the following Monday, with Arsenal's William Saliba and Chelsea's Wesley Fofana pulling out of the squad due to injury.

Monaco's Axel Disasi and Nice's Jean-Clair Todibo have been called up as replacements.

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