Real Madrid playmaker Luka Modric does not think it will be crucial for Carlo Ancelotti to manage his minutes this season, despite the upcoming World Cup.

The 2022 edition of FIFA's showpiece tournament takes place in Qatar across November and December, with Modric's Croatia having qualified.

Croatia reached the final of the 2018 tournament in Russia, with Modric starring. He subsequently won the Ballon d'Or, and is the only player not named Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi to scoop that award since 2007, when Kaka took it.

While Ivan Rakitic, the other mainstay of Croatia's midfield over the past decade, and Mario Mandzukic - who led the line in 2018 - have retired from international football (and in the latter's case, from playing altogether), Modric is set to lead his country once again.

Modric will be 37 by the time the World Cup rolls around, with Croatia drawn against Belgium, Canada and Morocco in Group F, but ahead of Wednesday's Super Cup clash with Eintracht Frankfurt, explained that he has not felt the need to talk to Ancelotti about managing how much he plays this campaign.

He told a news conference in Helsinki: "Not at all, I don't see it being different, as I've always said, age doesn't matter. What matters is what you show on the pitch, you don't need to look at your age.

"I speak to the coach every day, but not about that. The coach knows I like playing and I feel better when I play.

"I'm feeling good, available to the team to give my all to help the team in every way. The World Cup doesn't change anything for me, I just have to be ready, train well and be at the coach's disposal."

 

Perhaps to prove a point, Modric, who will have additional competition from new arrival Aurelien Tchouameni this season, was leading the press in a training game between two 11s made up of Madrid's superstar-littered squad at the Olympic Stadium after the media duties had been fulfilled.

Modric, as well as Karim Benzema, was also asked how Madrid could improve on last season, when they won a LaLiga and Champions League double.

"To be at this level you have to work hard and be committed on and off the pitch, that's what we're doing," he added. 

"We have a very good group of players here, we are ready for a good season, we are going to give everything as we do every year."

The equally evergreen Benzema, citing his coach, said: "I think we all agree, if that's what Carlo said!

"Age doesn't come into it, it's true that we're no longer young but we're all working hard, on and off the pitch, resting well between and are able to keep going and performing at a high standard. We have a good squad here, better than last year. We're going to compete for everything."

Cristiano Ronaldo helped Karim Benzema "on and off the pitch" while at Real Madrid, but Los Blancos' current talisman knew he could do more when his former team-mate departed.

Ronaldo is Madrid's all-time leading goalscorer, having netted 450 times in all competitions between 2009 and 2018, when he joined Juventus.

Benzema has since picked up the mantle, however, scoring a remarkable 131 goals in the past four seasons. While Ronaldo's Manchester United future is in doubt, his old strike partner is thriving.

Of players in Europe's top five leagues last term, only Robert Lewandowski (50) – who will go up against Benzema in LaLiga after his switch from Bayern Munich to Barcelona – scored more goals in all competitions than the France forward, who averaged a goal every 88 minutes.

Asked ahead of the Super Cup clash with Eintracht Frankfurt whether Ronaldo's exit had directly benefited his own form, Benzema told a news conference: "It's true I've scored more goals but when Cristiano was here we had a different style, I provided more assists and he helped me on and off the pitch.

"I knew I could do more [at the time] and when he left it was the time to change my game and ambitions, I'm doing that at the moment."

 

Benzema's form has seen him emerge as a favourite to win this year's Ballon d'Or, a bid only strengthened by Madrid's success in LaLiga and the Champions League last campaign.

But the striker is simply focused on his team's exploits, adding: "I'm not like that in terms of whether I'm the best or not, I always give my all for this club, the best club in the world.

"I have to give more and more every year, it's true I had a very good season, but other people can comment on if I'm the best in the world. I'm focused on helping my team in matches, that's all I can say.

"I'm not thinking about [the Ballon d'Or], there's trophies to win every year, that's very important. I always stress the importance of success for the team that leads to individual success."

For Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, there is little doubt that he has the best forward in world football at his disposal.

Asked if Madrid, who wanted to sign Kylian Mbappe before Benzema's compatriot signed a new deal with Paris Saint-Germain, needed to bring in a back-up striker before the transfer window closes, Ancelotti replied: "We have strikers, plenty of them. Benzema, Mariano [Diaz], [Eden] Hazard, Rodrygo, Vinicius [Junior], have I forgotten any?

"When you're missing the best striker in the world, there are alternatives, but it's impossible to replace Benzema, no player in the world can replace Karim. If anything happens, we will adapt."

Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri hailed Real Madrid as "the strongest team in Europe" after the Spanish giants beat the Bianconeri 2-0 in a friendly in the United States.

A first-half penalty from Karim Benzema was followed by a second-half Marco Asensio tap-in, which was enough to secure the win for LaLiga and Champions League holders Madrid at the Rose Bowl in California in front of a crowd of 93,702.

It was the final game for both teams on their tours of the USA, and Allegri was left upbeat despite the loss.

Speaking to Juventus' official website, Allegri said: "A good match that concluded a good 10 days' work in the United States. We were up against the strongest team in Europe, and as long as it was possible to play, we did, trying to manage possession and not give the ball away.

"I am satisfied with the effort from the boys. We can still grow a lot, though, and there are players who have still to return. Tonight there were chances for both sides, and we should have managed ours with a little more patience.

"Now we have a couple of days' rest and then back to work because the season is approaching."

Madrid head coach and former Juve boss Carlo Ancelotti was pleased with his own team's work and believes they are ready for the UEFA Super Cup clash with Europa League winners Eintracht Frankfurt, which takes place on August 10 in Helsinki.

"[The tour] has been very positive because we haven't picked up any injuries, aside from a small sprain for [Dani] Carvajal," Ancelotti told Madrid's official website. 

"The team has worked really well, and we've had no issues. It's been a well-executed pre-season, and now we have the confidence to go and win the European Super Cup".

Real Madrid treated the 93,702 fans at the sold-out Rose Bowl to a strong performance in their 2-0 friendly win against Juventus, thoroughly outplaying the Italian side by every statistical measure.

It was almost the best possible start for the Spanish giants, finding the back of the net just 14 seconds in, but the celebrations were cut short by the offside flag. 

Juventus were the next side to threaten, but Denis Zakaria's hit from the edge of the area found only the woodwork in the 13th minute to keep things tied.

Madrid fans did not have to wait long for the lead, earning a penalty in the 19th minute, and Karim Benzema made no mistake, giving his side a 1-0 advantage.

That score would hold until the 69th minute, when substitutes combined as Jesus Vallejo fired a ball across the six-yard box after some tricky interplay, finding Marco Asensio unmarked for the tap-in.

Madrid did not allow a single shot on target, and controlled 58 per cent of the possession, resulting in an expected goals advantage of 1.7 to 0.47.

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti says Eden Hazard is a "great player" who the Spanish champions need after netting in Tuesday's 2-2 friendly draw with Club America.

Hazard has struggled for impact at Madrid since his switch from Chelsea in 2019 amid a string of injuries, making only 66 appearances and scoring six goals across three seasons.

The 31-year-old Belgian midfielder is fit again and vowed earlier this week to show his best with Los Blancos this season.

Hazard was on the scoresheet from the penalty spot against the Mexican side in San Francisco, with Ancelotti hoping to set him up for a big campaign.

"We need these games to try to give Hazard minutes because Hazard is a great player that we need," Ancelotti told reporters.

"So I use these games to give him minutes. He improved his game compared to the first game."

Los Blancos have one more game in their US tour against Juventus in Pasadena on Saturday prior to the new LaLiga campaign commencing on August 14.

Ancelotti continues to learn about his squad during pre-season, in particular new additions Antonio Rudiger and Aurelien Tchouameni.

On Tchouameni, the Italian said: "He's a different six than Casemiro, who stays more in his position. Tchouameni has the ability and quality to play more in attack. He has also improved on the ball."

Karim Benzema was Madrid's other scorer, equalising for 1-1 with an excellent low strike from outside the box in the 22nd minute.

Benzema, who scored 44 goals in all club competitions last term, had not played any competitive games since May, enjoying a longer break with the World Cup later this year in mind.

"Benzema is in good shape, even if he hasn't done a lot of training sessions," Ancelotti said.

"It's clear that he still needs to improve his physical form. But we are on schedule, working a lot.

"After the game against Juventus we will reduce the pressure a bit to be in good shape for the Super Cup."

Karim Benzema appeared to allay fears that he suffered an injury during Real Madrid training on Monday. 

France international Benzema twice required treatment on his ankle following a challenge from Vinicius Tobias ahead of Tuesday's friendly against Club America in San Francisco. 

The 34-year-old, who only returned to training on Wednesday and missed the Clasico defeat to Barcelona in Las Vegas on Saturday, was able to complete the session but it still led to doubts about his fitness. 

Benzema seemed to ease any concerns supporters may have been developing by tweeting: "See you tom[orrow]..." 

Ferland Mendy is reportedly set to miss the game against America while Dani Carvajal did not train with the team as he continues to recover from an ankle problem. 

Madrid wrap up their tour of the United States against Juventus at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. 

Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior has underlined his partnership with Karim Benzema as an important part of his team's success last season.

The two were vital to Los Blancos as they won LaLiga and became European champions once again, with Vinicius scoring the winner to beat Liverpool to earn the club's 14th Champions League.

Benzema scored 44 goals in the 2021-22 campaign, second only to Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski (50), who has now joined Real Madrid's fierce rivals Barcelona.

Vinicius was keen to emphasise the importance of his relationship with the France international, telling UEFA Media: "It's always important to have influence in games and Karim always tells me to be brave.

"You have to shoot to score or pass to assist. If not, keep the ball.

"Our connection has been very good and we have been able to win many games together."

 

In LaLiga last season Benzema and Vinicius combined for 66 goal involvements, with the latter contributing to 21 more goals than he had in the previous campaign.

Benzema's goal involvements in the league won his team 29 points, more than any other player in Europe's top five leagues while he scored 0.98 goals per game, better than any other season in his career.

Since he made his top-flight debut, Benzema's goal tally has been bettered by only five other players, with some calling for him to win his first ever Ballon d'Or after only Kylian Mbappe (60) had more goal involvements than him (59) in Europe's top five leagues last season.

Benzema and Vinicius were part of some remarkable Champions League comebacks in their run to lifting the trophy, namely against Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City.

And the 22-year-old believes the determination and never-say-die attitude is inherent to Real Madrid.

"It's the DNA of this club and of this shirt and it always shows up in big games," he added.

"Some games become an emotional roller coaster. We have players who know how to approach Champions League games."

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti has declared his squad as "better than last year", and suggested there will be no more arrivals at the Santiago Bernabeu in this transfer window.

Los Blancos won LaLiga and the Champions League in 2021-22, and have since added Antonio Rudiger from Chelsea and Aurelien Tchouameni from Monaco.

However, questions have been asked about a perceived lack of attacking options, with Luka Jovic having left for Fiorentina and doubts about the immediate future of Marco Asensio.

Madrid faced El Clasico rivals Barcelona on Saturday as part of their pre-season preparations in Las Vegas, losing 1-0 to a stunning Raphinha strike.

As well as the former Leeds United man, Barca have signed Robert Lewandowski from Bayern Munich to complete a formidable looking set of forward options ahead of the new campaign.

Madrid's star striker Karim Benzema was not involved, though Ancelotti confirmed the France international will return in their next outing against Club America.

When asked by reporters following the defeat to Barca if he needed another striker, Ancelotti replied: "The squad is closed and it is better than last year. Our two new arrivals are going to contribute a lot. 

"There are 27 players, a lot of them, and training them is not easy, but the ones I have are intelligent and understand the difficulty I have."

On the futures of Asensio and midfielder Dani Ceballos, Ancelotti simply said it was "up to them" and "up to the club".

Eden Hazard started the game at Allegiant Stadium playing as a false nine in between Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo, and Ancelotti hinted that could be where the Belgian predominantly features in the coming season.

"He can play in several positions, it was seen last year," he said. "He has the quality to be false nine, but he has to get used to it."

Vinicius Junior says he faces "a long road" to compete for the Ballon d'Or, as he tipped team-mate Karim Benzema to be named the world's best player this year.

Vinicius scored the only goal of the game as Real Madrid beat Liverpool to win their 14th Champions League title in May, having also played a key role in Los Blancos' dominant La Liga triumph.

The Brazilian scored 22 goals and recorded 16 assists in all competitions during the 2021-22 season, the latter figure representing a team-high total and one bettered only by Thomas Muller (22), Kylian Mbappe (21) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (18) among players in Europe's top five leagues.

Brazil's 2002 World Cup winner Rivaldo recently tipped Vinicius to challenge for the title of the world's best as early as next year, but the winger believes the examples set by fellow Madrid stars Benzema and Luka Modric show he has a long way to go.  

"It's [the Ballon d'Or] something that has to come naturally," Vinicius told YouTube channel Que Papinho. 

"Karim is 35 years old and now he will win it, Modric won it at 33 [in 2018].

"I have many years to evolve, a very long road for me if God wants me to win it one day."

Benzema's total of 59 goal contributions (44 goals, 15 assists) was only bettered by Mbappe (39 goals, 21 assists) in Europe's top five leagues last term, and Vinicius says his fellow Blancos attacker is the perfect role model. 

"I'm only 21 years old. I want to follow players like Karim, Modric, Marcelo, who won five Champions League titles," he added.

"I want to get as close to them as possible. That's when someone can call me that [a role model].

"Benzema repays the affection I have for him. He was a player I followed for a long time. I'm a big fan and being able to play with him today is incredible.

"He recently in an interview put me in his top five in the world, so I'm really happy."

Angel Di Maria would be a great signing for Juventus who can emulate former Real Madrid team-mates Karim Benzema and Luka Modric by playing at an elite level in his mid-30s.

That is the view of Iker Casillas, who played alongside Di Maria when Madrid won their 10th Champions League title in 2013-14.

Casillas feels the Argentine will be keen to feature regularly for the Bianconeri to cement his place at what could be his fourth World Cup later this year.

Di Maria is departing Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer after spending seven years in Ligue 1, and is widely expected to join Massimiliano Allegri's Juventus in the coming days.

The 34-year-old's agent revealed this week that only the "final details" of his contract in Turin remain outstanding, and Casillas believes his former team-mate will thrive in Italy.

"Di Maria is a great move," the 2010 World Cup winner told La Gazzetta dello Sport. 

"Angel with [Federico] Chiesa, [Dusan] Vlahovic and [Paul] Pogba... what a great team! And he will want to prepare well for the World Cup.

"He is a very cautious guy who has always taken great care of himself physically. He has never suffered serious injuries. I think he is in great shape. 

"Here in Europe, he has always played at a high level, in big clubs. Di Maria will give Juve a new step.

"There is a World Cup in November and it is clear that he is looking for a team where he can play regularly and prepare in the best possible way for the challenge in Qatar.

"Even at 34 years old he is a great player. Age counts only relatively now, careers have lengthened. 

"Without reaching the 44 years of my friend [Gianluigi] Buffon, there are other examples of players over 30 who are doing very well and playing to the fullest level. You just have to think about Benzema and Modric."

Di Maria won six trophies during a four-year spell with Madrid, which he ended in spectacular fashion with a man-of-the-match performance in Los Blancos' Champions League final win over Atletico Madrid in 2014.

Recalling Di Maria's performance as a central midfielder in that 2014 match, Casillas argued his versatility would be a great asset for Juve.

"Juventus bets on a player who knows how to do a lot of things in different areas of the pitch," he added. 

"When we won 'the Decima', [Carlo] Ancelotti changed his position in the middle of the season and he played very well.

"He can play both up front and in the centre of the field, he is an intelligent guy who knows football well. Angel has impressive shots and can decide games by himself."

Vinicius Junior will be one of the leading candidates for the Ballon d'Or in 2023, according to Rivaldo. 

Brazil international Vinicius was a key part of the Real Madrid side that won LaLiga and the Champions League in 2021-22, scoring the only goal of the game as Los Blancos beat Liverpool in the European final. 

The 21-year-old scored 22 goals and supplied 16 assists – more than he managed across the previous three campaigns combined – in 52 games in all competitions. Only Kylian Mbappe (60), Karim Benzema (59), Christopher Nkunku (51) and Mohamed Salah (46) were involved in more goals in all competitions among players in the top five European leagues. 

Benzema is the favourite for the 2022 Ballon d'Or, which will be awarded in October, but World Cup-winning former attacker Rivaldo believes next year could be Vinicius' time. 

"After a fantastic season with Real Madrid, in which he scored the goal that won the Champions League, I can only hope the young Brazilian attacker continues to develop in this way," Rivaldo told Betfair. 

"He has improved a lot in front of goal and if he continues like this he can claim to be the star of Real Madrid, because Karim Benzema will retire one day. 

"It's hard to name favourites [for the Ballon d'Or] when the season hasn't started, but I don't seem him behind Kylian Mbappe, Kevin De Bruyne and others. 

"The titles that each club wins will be very important in the final choice." 

Kylian Mbappe could fulfil his "dream" of playing for Real Madrid in the future and chose to remain at Paris Saint-Germain due to "political issues", according to former Los Blancos forward Hugo Sanchez.

Mbappe had been widely expected to join Madrid on a free transfer before the 2018 World Cup winner elected to sign a blockbuster three-year extension to remain with PSG last month.

That decision irked senior figures at Madrid, with president Florentino Perez telling El Chiringuito the striker was "already forgotten" after Carlo Ancelotti's men won a 14th Champions League title last month.

LaLiga have also gotten involved in the saga, with the league's president Javier Tebas lodging a complaint about PSG's spending with UEFA, accusing the Parisians of seeking to "destroy the ecosystem of European football".

But Sanchez, who scored 208 goals in 283 appearances for Madrid between 1985 and 1992, winning five LaLiga titles and finishing as the league's top goalscorer on five occasions, thinks Mbappe could still end up at the Bernabeu in the future.   

"It's very difficult to answer you, because I'm not in his head, in his brain, nor am I him," he told Marca.

"But I sense that he didn't say no to Real Madrid, but he told Real Madrid to 'wait for me a little bit'.

"He has so many pressures, so many external situations, and maybe even family members have pressured him and influenced his decision to [not] choose Real Madrid. It was his wish [to join Madrid], it was his illusion, it was his dream, but that dream, as he said, well, the dream can wait a little while.

"I think he is showing signs that he wants to go to Real Madrid, but now, because of political issues, social issues… economic issues I don't think they are, because he was going to earn a lot of money at Real Madrid, as he is going to earn a lot of money at PSG, so it is not because of money.

"Rather, he has not said no to Real Madrid, rather he said, 'I cannot betray other types of situations that are stronger than money'. You have to understand that."

 

Sanchez was also asked how his own talents compared to those of Madrid striker Karim Benzema, who has been widely tipped to win the Ballon d'Or after recording 59 goal involvements (44 goals, 15 assists) in 46 games last season.

But he refused to engage in such a debate, only saying that true footballing greats would shine in any era and that Brazilian legend Pele was his first idol.

"It is very difficult, these are answers that you must answer first and not me, because I am very respectful in terms of eras and times," he said.

"What I am sure is that players like Pele and [Franz] Beckenbauer, who are older than me, would succeed in today's soccer, and so would all the great players who have been participating in this wonderful sport.

"I feel that because of the physical conditions and the training and preparation that we have today, we can say that people nowadays, like Cristiano Ronaldo or [Lionel] Messi, if they had been born in the time of Pele, Beckenbauer, in our time, would be shining exactly the same way.

"The great talents and the great footballers, the successful people, I believe that they would succeed in any period.

"On my side, my reference was Pele, apart from other Mexican players who were playing professionally when I was a kid."

Mohamed Salah wants to emulate George Weah as only the second-ever African to win the Ballon d'Or, and was "shocked" by his seventh-place finish last year.

The Egypt international posted sixth and fifth-place finishes in 2018 and 2019 in the annual awards ceremony to crown the best men's footballer in the world.

But he saw his standing slip two years later after a 2020 cancellation, placing outside the top six as Lionel Messi extended his record haul.

Since then, Salah has helped fire Liverpool to a domestic cup double, plus a second-place Premier League finish and another Champions League final during 2022 as he recorded 46 goal involvements in 2021-22 (31 goals, 15 assists).

In addition, he has already picked up a slew of individual prizes, including another Premier League Golden Boot, the FWA Footballer of the Year and - most recently - the PFA Player of the Year.

But it may not be enough for the forward to emulate Liberia star Weah, who is the only African to previously lift the Ballon d'Or.

"I want to win it to join George Weah, the only African [in 1995]," Salah told L'Equipe.

"It's true that I was shocked by my ranking in 2021 (seventh). For this year, the defeat against Real Madrid is a disadvantage, even if I played a good game in the final.

"But it doesn't cancel out everything I've achieved for months. Let's wait for the vote. And if I'm not Ballon d'Or in 2022, I'll do everything I can to be the next one."

Salah's disappointment at losing in the Champions League final to Madrid last month has not dimmed his appreciation for fellow attacker and Ballon d'Or frontrunner Karim Benzema.

Salah admits he sees himself in the France forward, and feels a kinship in his approach to how he imposes himself upon the wider team.

"I understand what Benzema says. He doesn't just see himself as a goalscorer, he knows he influences every aspect of Real Madrid's game," he added.

"Like others, I want to be seen as the best player in the world.

"At Liverpool, everyone runs for everyone else. If I don't fight for the defence, they won't fight for me.

"I have to be an example, to be the first to press, to sacrifice myself for the team."

Karim Benzema deserves to win the Ballon d'Or, according to Real Madrid great Roberto Carlos. 

A stellar season with Madrid has made Benzema one of the favourites for the accolade. He scored 44 goals and supplied 15 assists in 46 games in all competitions, helping Los Blancos win LaLiga, the Champions League and the Supercopa de Espana. 

The 34-year-old scored a joint-record 10 goals in the knockout stages of the Champions League, earning the competition's Player of the Season award. 

Luka Modric is the only player other than Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to have won the Ballon d'Or since 2008, but Roberto Carlos thinks now is Benzema's time. 

"We hope that this year it can be given to him because he has had a great season and we are all eager for Karim to win the Ballon d'Or for what he has done on the pitch," he told Stats Perform ahead of his participation in Sunday's Soccer Aid match. 

"He has scored goals, he is a leader and captain of Real Madrid, and it is time for him to win the Ballon d'Or." 

Madrid had been linked with a move for Benfica striker Darwin Nunez, but the Uruguayan is reportedly set for a €100million switch to Liverpool. 

"I think Benzema has done so many things for Real Madrid that today everyone wants a striker like him. Darwin has shown in Portugal to be a great striker and I wish him the best if he ends up at Liverpool," said Roberto Carlos. 

Madrid's success against Liverpool in Paris made Carlo Ancelotti the first coach to win the Champions League on four separate occasions. 

He has now won 23 titles during his coaching career and Roberto Carlos anticipates there will be more in the 2022-23 campaign. 

"The coach is fantastic, he's fantastic. That is why he has won so many Champions Leagues and so many leagues," said Roberto Carlos. 

"He is an amazing person. Real Madrid has had a great season in LaLiga, the Supercopa and the Champions League. Now they have to rest to have the same titles next season as this year." 

Karim Benzema has decided to drop his appeal against a one-year suspended sentence handed out after he was found guilty of complicity in the attempted blackmail of Mathieu Valbuena, his lawyer has said.

The Real Madrid striker was handed the sentence along with a €75,000 fine back in November over an extortion case that dated back to 2015 in relation to a sex tape, and saw him exiled from the France national team until his recall last year.

Benzema, who has consistently denied the accusations, was one of five people who stood trial in a case that rocked French football, and it was initially reported he would appeal against the verdict with the hearing set to have taken place over June 30 and July 1.

The 34-year-old's lawyer, Hugues Vigier, told L'Equipe that his client will withdraw the appeal but will continue to maintain his innocence.

"My client is worn out by this process,” he said. "This withdrawal endorses a ruling of condemnation and apparently guilt. It is a judicial truth. 

"But this is not the reality. Karim Benzema will always claim his innocence in this case and he never wanted to participate in a blackmail operation against Mathieu Valbuena."

Benzema had been accused of helping the four other men blackmail former Les Bleus team-mate Valbuena over an intimate video that had been taken from Valbuena's mobile phone.

He had originally been expected to attend the Versailles court himself at the appeal. French agency AFP reported that the Versailles court of appeal will notify the relevant parties of the withdrawal order on Tuesday.

Benzema was on target as France were beaten 2-1 by Denmark in the Nations League on Friday.

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