Just Fontaine has been hailed as an "eternal goalscorer" whose mark on football "will forever be remembered" following his death at the age of 89.

The French Football Federation (FFF) confirmed on Wednesday that Fontaine had passed away overnight in Toulouse.

A minute's applause will be held in tribute to Fontaine at all French football grounds this week, starting with Wednesday's Coupe de France ties.

In a statement on their official website, the FFF described Fontaine as "the eternal goalscorer" and "a legend of world football".

FFF interim president Philippe Diallo added: "The death of Just Fontaine plunges French football into deep emotion and immense sadness.

"He wrote one of the most beautiful pages in the history of the French team."

Fontaine's greatest achievement came in 1958 when scoring 13 goals in just six matches for France at the World Cup as Les Blues went on to finish third.

That remains the highest number of goals scored in a single edition of the tournament, while his tally of 13 goals overall has been bettered by only three players in history.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said: "Just was a footballing icon and his tremendous performance in 1958 cemented his legacy as one of the greatest World Cup players ever.

"Scoring 13 goals in a single World Cup is a record which, to this day, has never been equalled. 

"The mark he left on world football will forever be remembered, and this record will probably never be beaten. My deepest condolences to Just's loved ones at this difficult time."

Fontaine scored 30 goals in 21 appearances for France between 1953 and 1960 in a career that was cut short by injury at the age of 28.

Current France head coach Didier Deschamps said: "The loss of Just Fontaine saddens me, as it will inevitably sadden all those who love football and our national team. 

"'Justo' is and will remain a legend of the France team.

"As a player and then coach, I had the chance to meet him on several occasions.

"In particular at his home, in Toulouse, in September 2017. He was a man of great kindness, very respectful of generations that succeeded his with Les Bleus. 

"His attachment to the France team was strong and sincere."

At club level, Fontaine won the Coupe de France and Ligue 1 with Nice before joining Reims.

He won three more league titles with Reims, the Coupe de France and was twice victorious in the Trophee des Champions, while also reaching the 1958-59 European Cup final.

"A star of French football, an outstanding striker, a legendary Reims player," his former club said in a statement.

Fontaine scored 164 goals in 200 Ligue 1 matches.

He reached the 100-goal mark in the competition by the age of 24 years and eight months, which only Herve Revelli (23y 5m) and Kylian Mbappe (22y 3m) have bettered.

Fontaine later moved into coaching and took charge of Paris Saint-Germain, Toulouse and the Morocco national side.

During his time with PSG, he guided the club to their only promotion to Ligue 1 – they have not been relegated since.

"A thought for Just Fontaine. An icon of French football who has left us," PSG tweeted.

French football icon Just Fontaine has died at the age of 89.

The forward holds the record for the most goals scored in a single edition of a World Cup, hitting a haul of 13 in just six matches of the 1958 tournament as France reached the semi-finals for the first time.

Fontaine's flurry of goals included a hat-trick in his tournament debut against Paraguay and four in the third-place play-off win against West Germany, which ensured he had scored in every game.

Despite just featuring at one World Cup, only three players have scored more in the competition – Gerd Muller (14), Brazil great Ronaldo (15) and Miroslav Klose (16). Lionel Messi tied Fontaine's tally of 13 in Qatar in his fifth participation.

Forced to retire at the age of 28 due to injury, Fontaine's international record stands at 30 goals from 21 caps.

At club level, Fontaine won the Coupe de France and Ligue 1 with Nice before joining Reims, where he won a further three league titles, the Coupe de France and was twice victorious in the Trophee des Champions.

The striker was also part of the side that reached the European Cup final in 1958-59, losing to Real Madrid.

He later moved into management and took charge of Paris Saint-Germain, Tolouse and the Morocco national side.

PSG were among the clubs to send their condolences to Fontaine following confirmation of his passing on Wednesday.

Zlatko Dalic accused FIFA of showing "a lack of respect" for Croatia's World Cup heroes and revealed he refused to vote in the world body's The Best awards.

Croatia playmaker Luka Modric was a nominee in the men's player category, but Dalic did not make the five-man list for coach of the year.

In a fiery blast to Gianni Infantino's FIFA, Dalic argued Mateo Kovacic, Josko Gvardiol and Dominic Livakovic deserved recognition, suggesting all would have been in the frame for nominations if they belonged to a more fashionable footballing nation.

Dalic's team beat Brazil in the Qatar 2022 quarter-finals before falling to Argentina in the semi-finals. They then rebounded to beat Morocco in the third-place play-off, following their runner-up finish at the 2018 World Cup.

Scornful of Croatian players being left off voting lists, Dalic said: "If English, Brazilian, Spanish, German or Italian players and coaches had the kind of results that we do, they'd be on the shortlist for every possible football award.

"I want more respect for us, for our national team, for our players, and for myself, because with two medals, we more than deserve it. FIFA should promote the fact that a tiny country such as Croatia can play against the biggest nations in the world because that's the most beautiful message for the whole football world."

In a contemptuous statement issued through the Croatian FA, Dalic said: "I am disappointed with FIFA's attitude towards the Croatian national team because I strongly maintain that, based on everything we've achieved as a national team, we deserve more respect from the head governing body of world football than we have received.

"We are the only national team that was among the top four teams at both the World Cup in Qatar and in the current UEFA Nations League cycle.

"We made the front pages worldwide by winning a match against the world's greatest team Brazil, and along with France, we are the only team to have won two medals at the two most recent World Cups.

"This year, we beat France in Paris and Denmark in Copenhagen, we took Brazil and Belgium out of the World Cup. In the 23 matches we've played since Euro 2020, we've only lost twice. And yet even after all of that, look at the list of the 14 candidates for The Best FIFA Men's player – aside from the great Luka Modric, where are other Croatian players?"

He asked: "Was there really no place for Mateo Kovacic on that list, even though he's won the FIFA Club World Cup and played a brilliant World Cup in Qatar? Where is Josko Gvardiol's name? After all, he was listed among the Top 11 for both the World Cup and for the Bundesliga by most sources. And did Dominik Livakovic not deserve to be one of the five finalists for the Best FIFA Men's Goalkeeper after everything he did in Qatar?"

Contenders for the coach award were Real Madrid's Carlo Ancelotti, France boss Didier Deschamps, Pep Guardiola of Manchester City, Morocco's Walid Regragui and Lionel Scaloni, whose Argentina won the World Cup. Scaloni took the honour.

Dalic said: "With all due respect for Morocco's head coach and their success at the World Cup, in the two matches we played against them, we tied once and Croatia won the bronze medal the second time."

The 56-year-old Dalic claimed this was not the first instance of feeling a lack of recognition.

He said: "I feel that we have not been extended the respect we deserve, and both the time slots of our matches at the World Cup and the quality of refereeing – especially at the semi-final match – made me feel that there was a lack of respect towards the Croatian team. I fully believe that our national team's performance on the pitch and conduct off of it has made us deserving of the very same respect that we show our opponents at every match."

Kylian Mbappe congratulated Lionel Messi after his Paris Saint-Germain team-mate beat him to the FIFA Best Men's Player award.

Superstar Messi earned the prestigious individual accolade for the second time in his career, with the announcement made at Monday's ceremony in Paris.

The award spanned from the start of the 2021-22 season through to the end of the World Cup in Qatar, where Messi captained Argentina to victory over Mbappe's France in a memorable final in December.

Messi scored seven goals and provided three assists at the tournament to scoop the Golden Ball prize, while Mbappe also had 10 goal involvements and finished as top scorer.

Additionally, Messi scored 11 goals and claimed three assists from 18 games for PSG at the start of this campaign.

Mbappe was second in the voting ahead of Real Madrid star Karim Benzema.

Posting on Instagram after the ceremony, Mbappe wrote: "Another trophy at home. Big congratulations to @leomessi you are #TheBest."

Messi and Mbappe combined for all three goals as PSG defeated Marseille 3-0 in Ligue 1 last time out. The duo now have 10 goal combinations this season, the most in Europe's top-five leagues.

PSG, who are eight points clear at the top of Ligue 1, host Nantes next before travelling to Bayern Munich for the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie where they are aiming to overturn a 1-0 deficit.

Lionel Messi thanked his Argentina team-mates for a "dream" year after winning the Best FIFA Men's Player award for a second time.

The Paris Saint-Germain superstar pipped club-mate Kylian Mbappe and Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema to the top accolade at Monday's ceremony in Paris.

Messi played a starring role in Argentina's 2022 World Cup triumph, finishing as Golden Ball winner after scoring seven goals and assisting three more.

He also impressed at club level in the first half of the 2022-23 season, which was taken into account in the voting, after scoring 11 goals and assisting 14 more in 18 games.

That equalled the 35-year-old's tally in both categories across 34 matches in his maiden campaign at the Parc des Princes. 

Upon collecting his Best FIFA award, which he previously won in 2019, Messi said: "Wow, this is amazing. It's been a tremendous year and it's an honour to win this award.

"Without my team-mates, I wouldn't be here. I achieved the dream I had been hoping for so long. Very few people can achieve that and I have been lucky to do so.

"It's the most wonderful thing that's happened to me in my career."

Messi joins Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski as two-time winners of the trophy, with Luka Modric the only other winner since the award was first handed out in 2016.

Lionel Scaloni was crowned the Best FIFA Men's Coach, meanwhile, and Emiliano Martinez ensured it was a clean sweep for Argentina by taking the Best FIFA Men's Goalkeeper award.

In the women's prizes, Sarina Wiegman took the Best FIFA Women's Coach award for a third time and Alexia Putellas pipped Beth Mead to the Best FIFA Women's Player accolade.

England and Manchester United goalkeeper Mary Earps was named the Best FIFA Women's Goalkeeper.

Lionel Messi, Lionel Scaloni and Emiliano Martinez made it a clean sweep for Argentina in Monday's glitzy ceremony for the Best FIFA Awards in Paris.

Paris Saint-Germain forward Messi was crowned the Best FIFA Men's Player, Scaloni took the the Best FIFA Men's Coach and Martinez the Best FIFA Men's Goalkeeper.

The award period spans between the start of the 2021-22 season through to the end of the 2022 World Cup, which saw Argentina end their 36-year wait to win the competition.

Martinez, who plies his club trade for Aston Villa, finished ahead of Thibaut Courtois and Yassine Bounou of Real Madrid and Sevilla respectively in the voting – although Courtois made the cut for the FIFPro Men's World 11.

Scaloni was next to pick up an award after seeing off competition from Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola and Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti, who won a LaLiga and Champions League double last season.

La Albiceleste have lost just one of their 23 games since the start of last season, with their solitary loss coming in their opening Qatar 2022 group game against Saudi Arabia.

Messi made it three from three for Argentina by claiming the top prize at the ceremony in the French capital, which started with a poignant tribute to Brazil great Pele.

Madrid striker Karim Benzema and Messi's PSG team-mate Kylian Mbappe had also been in the running for the award.

Argentina's fans also claimed the FIFA Fan Award.

Their domination on the men's side was not quite matched by European champions England in the women's prizes.

While Argentina dominated the men's side of the voting, it was a clean sweep for England in the women's side of things.

Mary Earps was named the Best FIFA Women's Goalkeeper and Sarina Wiegman took the Best FIFA Women's Coach award for a third time.

But Beth Mead was pipped to the Best FIFA Women's Player accolade by Alexia Putellas, last year's winner.

Other winners included Luka Lochoshvili, then of Austrian side Wolfsberger, in the FIFA Fair Play Award category for potentially saving the life of opponent Georg Teigl during a game after the Austria Vienna player fell unconscious mid-match.

Polish amputee footballer Marcin Oleksy won the FIFA Puskas Award for the best goal for his perfectly executed bicycle kick for Warta Poznan against Stal Rzeszow.

Paris Saint-Germain and Argentina forward Lionel Messi has won the Best FIFA Men's Player award for a second time.

Messi saw off competition from club-mate Kylian Mbappe and Real Madrid's Karim Benzema to collect the award at Monday's ceremony in Paris.

The award spans the period between the start of the 2021-22 season through to the end of the World Cup, which saw Messi end Argentina's 36-year wait to win the competition.

Former Barcelona superstar Messi claimed the Golden Ball award in Qatar – given to the best player of the tournament – after scoring seven goals and assisting three more.

Those 10 direct goal involvements were matched by Mbappe, who finished as top scorer, but that was not enough to see the France forward win his first Best FIFA award.

 

Messi made a slow start to life at PSG by his own personal high standards, scoring 11 goals and assisting 14 in 34 games in his maiden campaign at the Parc des Princes.

However, the 35-year-old – who has also won a record seven Ballons d'Or – matched those figures in his first 18 games this season ahead of the World Cup.

Messi, who previously won the Best FIFA award in 2019, joins Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski as two-time winners, having also finished as a runner-up three times.

Lionel Messi has been named the Best FIFA Men's Player.

The Paris Saint-Germain superstar and Barcelona great won the award for the second time, beating club-mate Kylian Mbappe and last year's Ballon d'Or winner Karim Benzema to the prize.

With the award spanning the time between August 8, 2021 and December 18 last year – from the start of last season to the end of the World Cup – Messi's success in Qatar ultimately gave him the edge.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform looks at Messi's crowning year.

 

Starting slow in Paris

It has not all been rosy for Messi over the course of the last 18 months. 

Barca's inability to renew his contract led to Messi swapping Camp Nou for the Parc des Princes and forming a mouth-watering front trio with Mbappe and Neymar.

Yet it took some time for him to click into gear in France.

Messi finished the 2021-22 Ligue 1 season with six goals, his lowest tally in a league campaign since his breakthrough at Barcelona in the 2005-06 season.

He underperformed his expected goals total of 10.1 by just over four, suggesting he was not finishing chances he would have been expected to, while he only netted once in his first 12 Ligue 1 matches. He was also slightly unfortunate, hitting the woodwork on 11 occasions.

Yet Messi did create – he tallied 14 assists in Ligue 1 alone, creating 63 chances. Having Mbappe and Neymar alongside him no doubt helped (his xA was 9.0), but he ultimately finished with 20 goal contributions in France's top tier.

 

Messi had more luck in the Champions League, scoring five goals in seven appearances, slightly outperforming his non-penalty xG (three goals from 2.4 npxG).

Back at his best

Any teething issues Messi experienced last season have been swiftly forgotten this term.

Indeed, in the run-up to the World Cup, Messi had already contributed to 25 goals (11 goals, 14 assists) in 18 appearances for PSG across all competitions.

None of Messi's goals came from the penalty spot, topping his npxG of 9.5.

Heading to Qatar, Messi had contributed to more PSG goals than either Mbappe or Neymar (24 each) in fewer matches.

Messi's shot conversion rate (14.9 per cent) was lower than Mbappe's 23.5 and Neymar's 27.1, but he had completed more dribbles (55) and created chances with a greater combined xA (8.6) than either.

It took time, but the signs were scary for Argentina's opponents heading into the World Cup, and it's that tournament that has inevitably given him the edge for these awards.

On top of the world... at last

The one criticism that could have been levelled at Messi previously was that the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner had not managed to transfer his form to the international stage.

After winning the Copa America in 2021, Messi ended that argument in emphatic fashion in Qatar, channelling his inner Diego Maradona as, like the great man in 1986, he dragged Argentina to glory at a World Cup.

The 35-year-old scored seven goals, including two in the final, and provided three assists to claim the Golden Ball award, although of course it is the main prize that will matter the most to him.

 

Messi became the first player to net in the group stage, the last 16, the quarter-finals, the semi-finals and the final – albeit Jairzinho scored in every game Brazil played in 1970 before the introduction of the round of 16.

Messi and Jairzinho are two of five players in World Cup history to have found the net in six separate games at one finals, with the other three (Just Fontaine, Salvatore Schillaci and Davor Suker) boosting their numbers in the third-place play-off.

He also matched Schillaci in scoring the first goal in five different matches.

Messi topped the charts for shots attempted (32), chances created from open play (17) and fouls won (22).

Lionel Scaloni is set to lead Argentina into the 2026 World Cup after signing a new deal with La Albiceleste.

Scaloni, with more than a helping hand from Lionel Messi, guided Argentina to World Cup glory in Qatar last year.

It was Argentina's third world title but their first since 1986, when Diego Maradona starred in Mexico.

Messi, with seven goals and three assists, was the driving force in 2022, as Scaloni scooped his second prize as Argentina coach, after winning the Copa America in 2021.

Scaloni's contract had expired, but he always outlined his intention to stay on and news of his new deal was confirmed on Monday.

It means Scaloni is set to take charge of Argentina at next year's Copa America and at the next World Cup.

The United States will stage both the Copa America and the 2026 World Cup, though Mexico and Canada are also co-hosts for the latter tournament.

Scaloni, who counted Newell's Old Boys, West Ham, Lazio and Atalanta among his clubs across a 20-year playing career, took charge of Argentina in 2018 following a stint as the nation's under-20 coach.

He has been nominated for the FIFA Best Men's Coach for 2022, alongside Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.

Enzo Fernandez has urged Chelsea fans to trust the players, staff and head coach Graham Potter amid a poor run of form.

Chelsea have won just four of their last 19 games and are without a win in their last five after losing 1-0 at home to Southampton last weekend.

That is despite a significant outlay on new players in the last two transfer windows, including a record £106.8million (€121m) on bringing World Cup winner Fernandez in from Benfica in January.

The Blues sit 10th in the Premier League ahead of Sunday's trip to Tottenham, and Fernandez has called on the fans to back them.

"My message to the fans would be never forget that we are representing you," the 22-year-old told The Times. "Trust us. Trust the players, trust the backroom staff, trust the manager. Because we are all moving in the same direction.

"It is a restructuring of the club. We are going to be trying to win games, starting on Sunday. Then we can start to turn things around."

Fernandez became the most expensive signing in British football history when he arrived at Stamford Bridge, but he insists that does not factor into his thinking on the pitch.

"These figures are nothing to do with me," he said. "It's part of football. My job is to go out and give my best."

Fernandez was one of several new faces brought in by Chelsea, along with Mykhaylo Mudryk, Benoit Badiashile, Noni Madueke, David Datro Fofana and Joao Felix, who signed on loan from Atletico Madrid, and Fernandez would like the Portuguese attacker to sign permanently at the end of the season. 

"He called me when I got here to ask if he could be any help," Fernandez said of Joao Felix. "When you get on with someone it helps on the field. He's a great player, isn't he? Let's hope that Chelsea can do all they can to keep hold of him."

The former River Plate midfielder also enjoyed a breakout World Cup last year, helping captain Lionel Messi and Argentina to success in Qatar in December, and Fernandez described what it was like to play alongside his idol.

"He's one of those leaders who are really positive all the time, both in the example he sets in his play but also on a human level in the dressing room," he said. "He's down to earth and kind to everyone. He offers support to everyone within the squad, from the biggest stars through to the youngsters.

"I felt very conscious that he was with me all the way, giving me a lot of moral support. It was my biggest dream ever – to play with Messi. To then go on in that team to win the World Cup, it's almost like God has given me a huge gift... What can I take from that time with him? Energy. It was a special dressing room, a lively dressing room.

"Energy, positivity and a real will to win, but also keeping humble. I know I'm still young and I need to keep learning but maybe tomorrow, maybe at some point in the future, I want to really demonstrate that I'm a leader."

Giorgio Chiellini feels "sad and hurt" by Juventus' points deduction that dented their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.

The Bianconeri were punished for alleged irregularities regarding historic transfer dealings by having 15 points struck off their Serie A total in January, although the club intend to appeal.

Chiellini, who now plays for Major League Soccer side Los Angeles FC, was a part of the Juve team who were stripped of titles and relegated due to the Calciopoli scandal in 2006.

Massimiliano Allegri's side are seventh in Serie A, 12 points off the top four and Champions League qualification with 15 games remaining, though they are through to the Europa League last 16 after beating Nantes 4-1 on aggregate in the playoff round.

"For me, it's painful," Chiellini told The Athletic. "I feel sad and hurt by what's happening to Juventus. It's hard not to be in Turin, and it's not easy for everyone who loves the club. Now, the fans need to be patient because the club is fighting for everyone, and I hope everything finishes in the best way possible."

The 38-year-old former Juve and Italy defender revealed he barely watched any of the World Cup in Qatar, after the Azzurri failed to qualify.

"The World Cup was weird, to be honest," he said. "I didn't watch very much – it wasn't nice. I caught up on some of the highlights but almost never the live matches, outside of the final [Argentina v France] and the United States' first game against Wales, because I was still here for that.

"It was tough not to be there for it because going to the World Cup is a big goal. It would have been a great experience, but I try to change the bad things and look at them more positively. Failing at World Cup qualification meant I decided to come to Los Angeles for a new challenge, and it has been an unforgettable experience for me."

Chiellini made 13 appearances for LAFC after joining last season, helping them to win the MLS Cup, and he is starting to feel more at home since leaving his native Italy.

"After the Christmas holiday, I feel more settled, I understand the city better now," he said. "Los Angeles is so big. When I arrived, I didn’t quite understand what it was like to live here."

He added: "Leaving Italy and coming here has allowed me to discover many new cultures and a different way of life outside of football. I like it. I'm a curious guy, and I'm very lucky to have found an amazing club that has welcomed my family and me in the best way possible."

Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Raphael Varane were among those to pay tribute to Sergio Ramos following his retirement from international football.

The veteran defender, a World Cup winner and Spain's most-capped men's player, called time on his La Roja career on Thursday.

Ramos' decision came after new head coach Luis de la Fuente informed him he would not be part of his plans, after his absence at both Euro 2020 and Qatar 2022.

The news sparked an outpouring of support from team-mates past and present, with several taking to social media to congratulate him on a storied international career.

PSG forward Mbappe and Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos both called him: "The best."

Manchester United defender Varane, who played with Ramos at the Santiago Bernabeu, referred to him as a "legend", while current Los Blancos forward Vinicius Junior posted a crown emoji.

Neymar, another PSG team-mate, offered a trio of applause icons while Achraf Hakimi, whose Morocco side ended Spain's run at Qatar 2022, said: "Respect to you."

Ramos, who also won a pair of European Championships in 2008 and 2012 either side of his World Cup triumph at South Africa 2010, won 180 caps for Spain.

He made his international debut in 2005, in a friendly victory over China, and would go on to score 23 goals, ranking him ninth on the country's all-time scorer list.

After last featuring as a substitute against Kosovo in 2021, Ramos was subsequently overlooked by former head coach Luis Enrique for Euro 2020 and Qatar 2022.

John Motson has died at the age of 77, the BBC has confirmed.

Over a 50-year career with BBC Sport, Motson provided commentary for a plethora of iconic moments, most notably in football.

Motson covered 10 European Championships and as many World Cups for BBC Sport. He retired in 2018.

He had worked on BBC Sport's flagship Match of the Day programme since 1971 and commentated on close to 2,500 televised matches. 

Tributes to Motson from across British football followed after news of his death was confirmed on Thursday.

Former Leicester City, Everton, Barcelona, Tottenham and England striker Gary Lineker, the host of Match of the Day, tweeted: "Deeply saddened to hear that John Motson has died.

"A quite brilliant commentator and the voice of football in this country for generations. He'll be very much missed. RIP Motty."

Kevin Campbell, who has worked alongside Motson, said: "Rest in Peace John "Motty" Motson an absolute legend and gentleman."

Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher posted: "RIP John Motson. An absolute Legend of the game. So many of us grew up listening to this man describe the action and goals on MOTD & cup finals. Sad loss."

"RIP John Motson," tweeted Gary Neville.

Everton, Fulham, Bournemouth and Brentford were among the first Premier League teams to pay tribute to Motson.

The lasting image of Josko Gvardiol's campaign in Qatar isn't one that his performances warranted.

Gvardiol enjoyed a fine World Cup as Croatia reached the semi-finals, but like so many defenders before him, the 21-year-old came unstuck against Lionel Messi.

If one were to fall on British footballing parlance to describe how Messi turned Gvardiol one way, then the other, and then back again en route to teeing up Argentina's third goal in a 3-0 win, then the term "sent to the shops" would probably be fitting.

Gvardiol might be stronger, more athletic and 14 years younger than Messi, but the latter is considered by many to be the best player of all time, and his nimble feet and speed of thought left Croatia's star defender clutching at thin air on that night at Lusail Stadium.

Yet that incident shouldn't mar what was a stellar tournament for Gvardiol, who will be tasked with keeping more superstars on a tight leash when RB Leipzig host Manchester City in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Gvardiol has been heavily linked with Chelsea in the past. It remains to be seen whether the big-spending Blues will be back in for the centre-back, or will it be City – who might well be in need of a versatile, left-footed defender in the wake of Joao Cancelo's seemingly impending permanent departure and with speculation over Aymeric Laporte's future.

Real Madrid have also been mooted as having an interest, but Gvardiol has his eyes on a move to England.

"I want to play in the Premier League," he told The Times, while reflecting on his decision to join Leipzig over Leeds United in 2020. "Chelsea were really interested, but Leipzig told me they didn't want to sell me. My dream is to get to the Premier League one day."

This meeting with City could just be the audition Gvardiol needs to pass for that dream to come true.

The crown jewel of Croatia's next generation

Luka Modric might have been the driving force in Croatia's semi-final charge, and ultimate third-place finish, but Gvardiol was arguably just as integral.

On the ball, Gvardiol was superb, and that's something that will certainly be of interest to potential suitors. The composure and passing ability he has shown at Leipzig transitioned onto the international stage and by the end of the competition he had made 21 progressive passes – only 14 players managed more.

 

Gvardiol topped the charts for carry distance and ball carries, with his stature and pace making him difficult to stop as he moved out of defence while in possession, giving Croatia a different dimension when attacking.

He made 202 carries for a distance of 1,985.3 metres, an average of 28.8 carries per game and 283.6 metres per match, with Gvardiol playing every minute of Croatia's campaign.

Gvardiol completed 24 long balls in Qatar, behind only four other defenders, while only Argentina's Nicolas Otamendi attempted and completed more passes.

His only goal at the tournament came in Croatia's win over Morocco in the third-place play-off, though it was not just on the ball that Gvardiol impressed.

The youngster made more clearances (37) than any other player and won possession back 48 times, the most of any defender.

 

Leipzig the ideal fit

"Here in Germany I feel good, I'm in a good club and I play almost all matches," Gvardiol said in his interview with The Times.

Since he made the switch from Dinamo Zagreb, Gvardiol has made 48 appearances for Leipzig, starting 42 times. He has scored two goals, both coming this season and at home, and teed up a further two as well. For such a young player, Gvardiol boasts an impressive disciplinary record, picking up just eight bookings.

Leipzig have won 25 of the 48 matches he has played in, losing 12 and drawing the other 11. 

This season, Gvardiol, slotting in alongside Willi Orban, has played a part in keeping five clean sheets, and ranks second out of Leipzig's defenders behind the Hungary international in that regard.

Of his fellow Leipzig defenders, Orban is the only one to have won possession back on more occasions (173) than Gvardiol (132), with 65 of those regains coming in the defensive third.

When assessing Gvardiol's statistics per 90 minutes, he betters his centre-back partner for interceptions (1.44 to 1.39) and possession won (6.6 to 5.9), while he has a defensive-unit high 77.4 successful passes.

Orban is more of a stopper, evidenced by his 4.1 clearances, 2.5 headed clearances, 1.6 tackles, 8.6 duels and 4.6 aerial duels per 90 minutes. Gvardiol is an ideal folly with his progressive, accurate passing, though he averages only one tackle per game, while his tackle success rate of 57.1 is the joint-lowest out of Leipzig's defensive options.

 

Breaking the lines is a key facet of Gvardiol's play, and though Orban betters his total number of carries in the Bundesliga this season, the Croatian has taken the ball further than any of his team-mates in the competition (3,334 metres), averaging 10.23 metres each time.

Leipzig have provided Gvardiol with an ideal environment in which to thrive and develop, though he is about to face a stern test in the form of Europe's deadliest striker.

Much ado about Erling?

Erling Haaland has scored 32 goals in 31 appearances since joining City from Leipzig's Bundesliga rivals Borussia Dortmund last year.

Such has been his rich form, that one or two games without a goal for Haaland results in speculation as to whether City actually know how to get the very best out of their striker, or if he is suited to Pep Guardiola's approach.

This will not be the first time Gvardiol has gone up against the Norwegian, having done so previously in April last year.

On that occasion, Gvardiol formed part of a three-man defence that helped Leipzig to a stunning 4-1 win at Signal Iduna Park, with Haaland kept quiet.

 

Haaland had 27 touches, but only four of those came in Leipzig's area, while his only shot was off target (he was only limited to zero shots in a game on one occasion in the Bundesliga last term) and he finished with an expected goals of 0.15. 

Leipzig will have more than just Haaland to worry about on Wednesday, of course. Gvardiol will likely have Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez bearing down on him at some stage, but an elite performance against this calibre of opposition might just get him that dream move to England.

It could even be with City, and the two legs of this last-16 tie could go a long way to convincing Guardiola.

Thierry Henry is interested in taking the United States head coach vacancy if he is given every chance of making them a force in the next World Cup on home soil.

The USA are in the market for a new boss after Gregg Berhalter's contract expired at the end of last year.

Henry finished a second spell with Belgium as assistant to Roberto Martinez following the World Cup in Qatar, with the Spaniard having since left that role to take charge of Portugal.

Former Montreal Impact boss Henry would welcome the challenge of leading the 2026 World Cup co-hosts, provided plans are made to give them the best possible opportunity to go far in three years' time.

The France legend told CBS Sports: "Do I know the players? Yes, I know the players. Do I know the league? Yes, I know the league. Do I want to be a manager at any level? Yes, of course that is something I would like to do.

"To go back to the US in general, what is the plan? What is the philosophy? What do you want to be? When you ask this question, you're going to find those answers out eventually. It isn't because you're going to host the competition you're going to go far automatically, we've seen that with some big teams.

"Big teams cannot win it sometimes at home, and small teams often don't do well. I remember South Korea getting to the semi-final [in 2002]. I remember South Korea stopping their league and going into a camp for eight months to try to perform and people were wondering why they were so fit and they got to the semi-final.

"So what is going to be the plan? I'm not talking about me here, I'm talking about the national team."

Henry believes he has done his time as an assistant.

He added: "Being number two is not something I would like to do anymore. Massive respect to Roberto Martinez. He gave me an opportunity when no one else did, but I would like to have another chance."

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