Pep Guardiola has no intention of selling Ilkay Gundogan, even if "all the great Twitter accounts" have suggested he could leave Manchester City.

Gundogan has been at the centre of online debate following claims he had held talks with Real Madrid, seemingly focused around a reported image of the midfielder heading to the Spanish capital on a private flight.

Model Sara Benamira revealed on her Instagram she and Gundogan had actually been married in Copenhagen during his time out of the country.

Guardiola was aware of that private ceremony but had no knowledge of any desire on the part of either Gundogan or the club for a transfer.

The former Borussia Dortmund man has a year remaining on his City contract.

"He asked me permission to go to Denmark or I don't know [where] to get married," Guardiola told reporters. "I congratulate him.

"If you ask me personally, the club, I want Ilkay next season here. There is no idea, no intention that next season he cannot be here.

"After, if he wants to leave – because... I don't know, he's getting married, a new experience or whatever – as a club we don't know it.

"All the great Twitter accounts, the guys like you, said he's going to leave, so congratulations, but I didn't know it. Maybe you have more info than me or the club, but this is the situation right now."

In the more immediate future, Guardiola has been boosted by the potential return of defenders Kyle Walker and John Stones for Sunday's Premier League match against Aston Villa, where City will win the title with three points.

The England pair had previously been ruled out for the rest of the season but could now feature after a "partial" training session on Thursday.

"I have incredible doctors," a smiling Guardiola said on Friday.

Pep Guardiola revealed Manchester City will be without three key defenders for the Premier League title run-in and joked Phil Foden might have to step in at the back.

Kyle Walker, John Stones and Ruben Dias have been ruled out for the rest of the season due to injury, with Dias forced off at half-time against Newcastle United on Sunday with a muscle problem.

City won 5-0 and were dominant against a sluggish Newcastle side, but there are testing away games at Wolves and West Ham to come for Guardiola's team, before they round off their campaign at home to Aston Villa.

A three-point lead over second-placed Liverpool could come under threat if the situation becomes any worse.

Aymeric Laporte was partnered in central defence by veteran Fernandinho for the second half of the one-sided Newcastle clash, after which Guardiola told a media conference the news about Walker, Stones and Dias.

"In this situation it is not a problem. If Rodri has to play in that position it is not a problem, or if it's someone from the academy," Guardiola said.

Guardiola had earlier told Sky Sports: "If Phil Foden has to play as a central defender, he will play as a central defender."

Asked if that could really happen, Guardiola replied: "No."

Foden the attacker would be an obvious misfit in the backline, and City will hope they do not have excessive defending to do over the closing fortnight of the campaign. Wolves away is the next test, at Molineux on Wednesday.

Guardiola said City were "outstanding" and delivered a "perfect" display against Newcastle, four days after their agonising Champions League exit at the hands of Real Madrid.

"With what this team have done, did you have any doubts?" Guardiola said.

"We've been five years doing this, every three days. If some people doubt us, it's because they still don't know this team and what it is able to do.

"I'm not talking about winning or losing. It's not about one afternoon or one night. How many years, being there every three days, every time."

City have scored five or more goals in a Premier League game 30 times in the Guardiola era now.

Newcastle, meanwhile, are winless in 32 away games in the competition against teams starting the day inside the top two places in the table (D4 L28) since beating second-placed Arsenal at Highbury in December 2001.

City chief Guardiola was unsure why critics, including former players, might question the character in his ranks.

"It's one of the best groups I've ever trained in my life," Guardiola said.

"We passed through two tough days, but today we spoke for the first time [since Madrid] and I said, 'You have a perfect life, in the perfect club'.

"We are three points up front, nine points to play for, goal difference four goals ahead. Another final on Wednesday."

Pep Guardiola acknowledged Manchester City have to improve defensively if they are to overcome Real Madrid and reach the Champions League final for the second successive year.

City take a 4-3 lead into Wednesday's semi-final second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu following a thrilling contest in Manchester last week.

Premier League leaders City held a two-goal lead on three separate occasions but, inspired by Karim Benzema, Madrid ensured the tie remains firmly alive.

City will be boosted at the back for the return fixture, however, as Joao Cancelo returns from suspension and Kyle Walker is expected to be fit to feature.

The England international has not played since injuring his ankle against Atletico Madrid last month, but he was back in training on Tuesday and is part of City's squad.

And Guardiola, who confirmed John Stones is injured, accepts that City must be stronger at the back if they are to see out the job.

"Probably, we have to be better but we can play much worse than we played and we can win," he told a news conference.

"Sometimes you get what you don't deserve, sometimes you don't get what you deserve. We have to perform incredibly well and win the game.

"Last week's game is in the past. The tie is 180 minutes. We try to do better than what we have done. We go there for that and everyone is ready to try to do it."

Pushed on whether he expects Walker to be ready to start, Guardiola added: "He trained, he'll travel and we decide tomorrow. I'm happy he's back."

City had registered clean sheets in their previous four knockout matches, keeping Sporting CP and Atletico quiet in the last 16 and quarter-finals respectively.

The 26 shutouts City have kept across 53 games this season is the third-most of any side from Europe's top five leagues, behind Chelsea (27) and Liverpool (31).

Reflecting on last week's tie, the joint-highest scoring first leg in Champions League semi-final history, Guardiola said: "It was a lovely open game.

"The fact the teams scored seven goals between them. We were happy, we could have maybe got a better result but also a lot worse. 

"You look at it, recover the next day, analyse it in the cold light of day. For better or worse we always knew this would be over two games. 

"The Etihad and the Bernabeu. To knock Madrid out you have to perform well over two games."

Guardiola has won four Champions League matches against Madrid – only Ottmar Hitzfeld has won more (seven) – with two of those wins for the Catalan coming at the Bernabeu.

In the opposite dugout is Carlo Ancelotti, who last week celebrated becoming the first manager to win each of Europe's top five leagues.

Guardiola praised Ancelotti for his achievement but insisted Madrid's players will not have lost focus.

"Congratulations to him for winning the Spanish league," said Guardiola, who won three LaLiga titles with Barcelona. "I did it, he did it last week. 

"I admire him. He's been all over the world, big football countries and fantastic teams. It's always incredibly tough, the football is really good. 

"Part of that is he's an exceptional person. Every time with him he's calm, controls his emotions perfectly."

Should City complete the job, they will become the fourth English side to reach consecutive European Cup or Champions League finals.

But Guardiola conceded the experience of competing regularly in the latter stages of the competition does not guarantee lessons have been learned.

"Experience... the question is what to learn from the experience," he said. "You could make the same mistakes. It's completely different, it's difficult to compare to last season. 

"How will the guys wake up tomorrow? The fact we've been there quite often in the last years, we've been here and done well and know how to handle the situation. 

"But it's not a guarantee to play good. They know we have to perform well and our best to reach the final."

Kyle Walker and Kevin De Bruyne lost their race to be fit to start for Manchester City in Saturday's FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool.

The duo were doubts after suffering knocks in the Champions League clash with Atletico Madrid in midweek.

While De Bruyne was named among the City substitutes for the meeting between the Premier League titles at Wembley – the second encounter between the sides in the space of six days – Walker missed out altogether.

Ruben Dias was also included on the City bench after being out since late February due to injury, with a pairing of John Stones and Nathan Ake tasked with stopping Liverpool's forward line of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Luis Diaz.

Zack Steffen replaced Ederson in goal, while there were also starts for Jack Grealish, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling.

Fernandinho took the captain's armband after replacing Rodri in midfield, just days after revealing he intends to leave City at the end of the season.

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson was left out of Jurgen Klopp's starting XI, with a midfield of Fabinho, Thiago Alcantara and Naby Keita.

Salah and Mane returned after being named on the bench in the Champions League against Benfica in midweek, while Ibrahima Konate was again preferred to Joel Matip in defence alongside Virgil van Dijk.

Kevin De Bruyne has had stitches in a lower-leg injury, Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola revealed on the eve of the FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool.

In-form playmaker De Bruyne and right-back Kyle Walker are doubtful for the Wembley game after both missed training on Friday.

Both De Bruyne and Walker hobbled out of City's 0-0 draw at Atletico Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday. Walker has a twisted ankle.

Guardiola said De Bruyne's injury was not a muscular issue and mentioned the midfielder's calf and foot when asked about the problem.

To lose him or Walker – or even both senior men – for such a major occasion would be a blow to City.

"We will see tomorrow. Apparently, it will be so close after what happened on Wednesday, but we will see," Guardiola said.

City are chasing a treble of Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League titles that has only been achieved once before, by Manchester United 23 years ago.

Walker's injury was described by Guardiola as "a big twist, but it's getting better".

"We will see in the next hours, the next days. In football these kinds of things happen. We will adapt, adjust and go from here," Guardiola said. "Kevin had stitches after he had contact – it's not a muscular injury."

City, who have been preparing for the Liverpool game at Millwall's training ground in south London, are feeling the strain at this stage of the season.

They have travelled from Madrid to London, rather than preparing in Manchester and then making another long journey, with Guardiola pointing to the demands of broadcasters as the reason his team must play such an important game less than 72 hours since their last huge assignment in Spain.

"We have to adapt," Guardiola added.

He said City could "dream to be in better conditions, but it's not going to happen", given the tight turnaround.

De Bruyne scored in last Sunday's 2-2 Premier League draw with Liverpool, who were also in Champions League action on Wednesday, reaching the semi-finals at Benfica's expense.

"We're going to perform well. Like I said to the players, I don't want any excuse," Guardiola said.

"It is what it is and for that we have to go there tomorrow in Wembley Stadium and try to do our game."

England boss Gareth Southgate said Marcus Rashford is "clearly not at his best" after dropping the out-of-form Manchester United forward.

The 24-year-old has registered just six goal involvements in 19 Premier League appearances in a frustrating campaign for the Red Devils, and will not feature in England's upcoming home friendlies against Switzerland and Ivory Coast.

Rashford has earned 46 caps for his country and scored 12 international goals, his last strike coming against Romania in a pre-Euro 2020 friendly last June.

But the forward has made just 10 league starts for United this season, leading to suggestions he could seek to leave Old Trafford in the summer, ahead of the World Cup at the end of the year.

"He is in the same position as everyone else, whether they are in the squad or not," Southgate said. "They've all got to play well towards the end of this season and, in particular, at the beginning of next season.

"It is a difficult time for him, he's clearly not at his best, but there is plenty of time. We know what Marcus can bring, and hopefully, he can rediscover the form he's capable of."

 Rashford was not the only United attacker to be left out of Southgate's squad, with Jadon Sancho remaining absent despite registering five goal involvements in his last six Premier League appearances, having recorded just one in his first 18.

Southgate acknowledged Sancho's club form has improved after the winger made a slow start to his United career, stating his absence was due to the competition provided by England's other attackers.

"You just have to look at the other attacking players in the squad: Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, Phil Foden," the England boss said. "Jadon's performances have improved at Manchester United, but it is an area where we have big competition for places."

Southgate also left Manchester City right-back Kyle Walker out of his latest group but was keen to emphasise the upcoming games represent an opportunity to look at other right-back options.

"I had a chat with Kyle; we felt this was an opportunity to have a look at the two younger full-backs," Southgate said.

"We know all there is to know about Kyle; he's a very important player, and he'll be back with us in June [for Nations League matches].

"We are very happy with what he's done. He's been a huge part of the progress we've made with this team, and you can see in the biggest matches with Manchester City this year, he's still been a key player for them.

"These young full-backs [Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James] are exciting."

The England boss also hit back at suggestions Manchester United defender Harry Maguire could have missed out on the squad, highlighting his importance to England despite there having been recent criticism of his displays at club level.

"There wasn't a chance we weren't going to call him up," Southgate said. "He's one of our best centre-backs."

Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford has been dropped from Gareth Southgate's England squad, while Crystal Palace defender Marc Guehi has been handed his first senior call-up.

Fellow Red Devils attacker Jadon Sancho has also been omitted from the 25-man squad, having also been left out of Southgate's last party in November 2021.

Rashford has endured an underwhelming season at Old Trafford, registering a paltry four goals and two assists in 19 Premier League appearances as his team fights for a top-four finish.

The 24-year-old's frustrating campaign has led to suggestions he could leave Old Trafford, and he described himself as "upset" and "disappointed" after being heckled by his own fans following Tuesday's Champions League defeat to Atletico Madrid.

Meanwhile, 21-year-old defender Guehi could make his Three Lions debut in the Wembley friendlies against Switzerland and Ivory Coast, having impressed for Patrick Viera's Eagles this season.

Guehi has made 28 Premier League appearances since leaving Chelsea for Selhurst Park in July, with the Eagles keeping eight league clean sheets this term, a tally betted by just seven Premier League sides.

Along with Rashford and Sancho, Manchester City defender Kyle Walker is another big-name absence, with Southgate favouring Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James in his right-back position.

Alexander-Arnold and James have been two of the Premier League's three most creative defenders this season, having recorded 11 and six assists so far this term, respectively (Liverpool's Andrew Robertson has registered 10).

England host Switzerland on March 26 and Ivory Coast three days later, as the Euro 2020 runners-up ramp up their preparations for this year's World Cup in Qatar.

Pep Guardiola is still "so angry" with Kyle Walker over the full-back's three-match Champions League suspension.

Walker was sent off for lashing out at Andre Silva in the 82nd minute of City's 2-1 defeat to RB Leipzig in the group stage, with the Premier League champions having already secured qualification into the last 16.

City appealed against the England international's suspension, but it was upheld, with Walker missing the last-16 tie against Sporting CP and the first leg of the quarter-finals, with Guardiola's side surely heading for the last eight after winning the first leg 5-0.

The Premier League leaders are short of options in defence for the second leg at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday. Ruben Dias is set to miss the next month due to a hamstring problem while Nathan Ake is not yet ready to return from injury, and Joao Cancelo is unwell.

John Stones and Aymeric Laporte are Guardiola's senior options at centre-back, while Oleksandr Zinchenko would seem the most viable option at left-back.

Guardiola said he does not know who will fill in at right-back, as he vented his frustration at Walker.

"He deserved it. Kyle Walker deserved the three," Guardiola said during a news conference when asked about City's failure to win their appeal.

"When one player does this stupid thing he deserves the three games, I'm sorry. I'm not so kind to Kyle in this kind of action.

"I'm still so angry with him, so angry. He knows it. It's not necessary to discuss that [with him].

"He's so important, Kyle for us. Did you see the game he played against United? But in Leipzig, we've qualified already, 75, 80 minutes to make this kind of action? So he deserves the three games.

"The club appealed, I did not agree. They had to do it because in other cases that were quite similar it was just two games but he deserved it. Hopefully he learns for the future."

One academy option who could be called upon is Luke Mbete, with the 18-year-old defender set to be included in City's squad.

"He's trained with us for a long time, the application is so high, a guy who wants to learn," Guardiola said.

"Still young but tomorrow he'll be with the squad and maybe we will need him, we will see."

Fernandinho, however, was namechecked as a possible option to slot into the defence, either at right-back or centre-back.

There has been talk of Fernandinho moving into a coaching role, yet Guardiola still wants to keep the Brazilian in his squad if possible.

"I would love [to offer him a new contract]," Guardiola said. 

"I'm so glad to have him he's an incredible captain and player. I have a feeling now at 36, 37, he struggled a little bit coming back from holidays but now he's getting his rhythm.

"For him he doesn't care, he will play against Peterborough. Other players his age wouldn't want to play there in cold weather, but he wants to help to give rest to Rodri. At the end of the season Txiki [Begiristain, City's director of football] and the club have to decide."

Kevin De Bruyne, meanwhile, is risking a suspension should he play and Guardiola may omit the midfielder.

"He's maybe not [going to start]," Guardiola said with a laugh. "We will see."

Pep Guardiola is unconcerned about Jack Grealish, Kyle Walker and Riyad Mahrez being spotted on a night out in Manchester, joking he was "upset" they did not invite him.

The City trio were filmed outside a bar in Manchester on Sunday night, with claims on social media suggesting Grealish was turned away for being inebriated.

City believe this to be false, according to the Manchester Evening News, with the club apparently indicating the players left the bar in question after a misunderstanding with staff.

Last month, Grealish and Phil Foden were warned about their conduct and dropped after a night out, The Times said at the time.

But Guardiola seemingly has no issue with Grealish, Walker and Mahrez this time, adamant all were "perfect" and none of them were drunk.

Speaking ahead of Tuesday's Premier League meeting with Brentford, Guardiola told reporters: "I'm so upset because they didn't invite me, and I don't like it.

"Next time, I hope they can invite me and have dinner correctly at eight o'clock.

"The video didn't show what did or didn't happen. Dinner together, sober, enjoying with mates and some of the backroom staff. So, the players know, they risk when they go out because of social media.

"All of them, they were perfect [not drunk], but they will be fined because they didn't invite me," he said with a grin.

Then asked if they had been unfairly treated, Guardiola replied: "In this case, yes."

Attention soon turned to talk of Guardiola's future, with the City boss into the final 18 months of his contract.

He appeared completely at peace with the situation, convinced that him staying longer is simply down to the results he gets.

"I'm here six years because we won a lot," he said. "I came because many people convinced me.

"It [staying beyond next year] depends on the results, nothing more than that.

"I have one and a half years left on my contract, which is a long time when you look around at world football."

Kyle Walker has been hit with a three-match ban by UEFA following his red card in Manchester City's loss to RB Leipzig last month.

The England full-back was dismissed for a crude hack on Andre Silva late in a game that City went on to lose 2-1.

Pep Guardiola's side had already qualified for the round of 16, but will now be without Walker for both legs against Sporting CP.

UEFA confirmed the sanction in a statement on Friday, with Walker's actions described as an "assault".

The 31-year-old will also miss the first leg of the quarter-finals, should City progress to that stage.

Walker became the second-oldest Englishman to be sent off in a Champions League game, after Paul Scholes for Manchester United against Roma in April 2007 (32 years, 139 days).


 

Pep Guardiola insisted he was more than satisfied with Manchester City's work in the Champions League group stages despite a 2-1 defeat to RB Leipzig.

City travelled to the Red Bull Arena on Tuesday on the back of a 14-game unbeaten run against German opposition in the competition but fell behind to Dominik Szoboszlai's first-half strike.

Andre Silva then doubled the hosts' advantage before Riyad Mahrez pulled a goal back for the visitors, who were hampered by the late dismissal of Kyle Walker for a reckless challenge on Leipzig's second scorer.

Guardiola's side were unable to mount a late comeback, though their place at the top of Group A was already confirmed before the final matchday.

City failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their six group stage games and have only recorded one shutout in their past 11 European outings, but Guardiola was pleased with his team's work.

"In the first half we lacked rhythm, we had problems connecting and they have a really good team – we knew from before the group stage," Guardiola told reporters.

"The second half was much better but unfortunately we made one or two mistakes and they punished us. 

"We played better in the second half. We were more aggressive, we played to win the game and we lost. Congratulations to Leipzig.

"We made an incredible group stage, we qualified with one game left from a tough group, so I am more than satisfied with the performance in every single game and in February hopefully we can arrive in the best condition possible."

Alongside Walker's needless dismissal, Guardiola also left Leipzig with two injury concerns, with Phil Foden – who became the youngest Englishman to reach 30 Champions League appearances – and Nathan Ake suffering knocks.

"Phil [Foden] had problems in the beginning with his ankle, as a precaution I decided to play Raheem [Sterling] in his position," he continued.

"Nathan [Ake] has a back problem, we'll see tomorrow [Wednesday]."

Premier League leaders City return to domestic action at home to Wolves on Saturday as they look to return to winning ways.

Pep Guardiola will take the mental health of his international stars into consideration as Manchester City prepare for a quick turnaround into the new season.

The Premier League champions went down to a 1-0 Community Shield defeat against Leicester City on Saturday, their former striker Kelechi Iheanacho coming off the bench to win and convert a late penalty at Wembley.

Guardiola remained without Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Ederson and Gabriel Jesus after their respective runs to the finals of Euro 2020 and the Copa America with England and Brazil.

The sextet will return to training on Monday, while Kevin De Bruyne is still on the mend after an ankle injury sustained during Belgium's progress to the quarter-finals of the European Championship.

Aymeric Laporte – a Euros semi-finalist with Spain – must self-isolate until the middle of next week because a passenger on his flight back to the United Kingdom after a vacation tested positive for COVID-19. The defender has tested negative.

It adds up to a far-from-ideal preparation for next weekend's league opener at Tottenham, a fixture likely to be lent a tempestuous edge by City's pursuit of Harry Kane.

Nevertheless, Guardiola knows a return to peak physical fitness will come in time, even though he again took aim at scheduling arrangements by UEFA and FIFA in his post-match comments at Wembley.

The former Barcelona boss is more concerned about the mental strain endured by players who have been on a near non-stop schedule since returning to action from the coronavirus lockdown last June.

Asked whether his England players would benefit from being afforded an extra week of rest, he replied: "It depends on their heads. They have to rest and now they can be ready, but it depends on here [the head].

On whether his returning internationals would be ready to play at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Guardiola replied: "A few players get the condition so quick, others need a little more time. We will see the weight, the body fat, how they arrive. And especially their heads.

"There are players who play three, four or five days and their mentality is positive and they are ready to fight and suffer in the bad conditions. Some of them take a little more time.

"We will try to discover which ones are ready immediately."

Foden is unlikely to be among that group, given he must still recover from the foot injury that ruled him out of England's penalty shoot-out loss to Italy.

Stones was an ever-present at centre-back for Gareth Southgate's side, while Sterling and Walker were each named in the UEFA Team of the Tournament.

"All of them, they played really well. I'm glad and happy for them. They have had many years together," Guardiola said.

"They made an incredible achievement. When you achieve a final in the Euro it's a big, big thing.

"They have to be so proud of what they have done with the national team. The benefits to the confidence will be there.

"But the past is the past. What you have done with the national team is for the memories. The challenge is ahead of us to do a good season."

Cristiano Ronaldo was the biggest omission as UEFA named the Euro 2020 Team of the Tournament.

Five players from competition winners Italy made the best XI announced on Tuesday, though there was no place for Golden Boot winner Ronaldo.

The Portugal forward scored five times, as did the Czech Republic's Patrik Schick, but Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku got the nod in a front three with Federico Chiesa and Raheem Sterling.

Kyle Walker and Harry Maguire were the other England representatives in the team.

But there was no place for fellow defender Luke Shaw, who scored in the final to cap a fine tournament, or his Manchester United team-mate Paul Pogba, one of the tournament's stars before France's elimination in the last 16.

Player of the tournament Gianluigi Donnarumma was joined by Italy quartet Leonardo Bonucci, Leonardo Spinazzola, Jorginho and Chiesa.

However, midfield star Marco Verratti missed out despite some influential performances in the knockout stages.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Pedri were the sole representatives for Denmark and Spain respectively, both teams having gone out in the semi-finals.

Lukaku also edged out Harry Kane, Karim Benzema and Emil Forsberg, who all ended up with the same goal tally (four) as the Inter forward.

 

The best players to miss out

Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer enjoyed an incredible tournament, saving a Kylian Mbappe penalty in his side's shoot-out win against France in the last 16.

He made a tournament-high 21 saves in total, 10 of those coming in the eventual defeat to Spain on penalties in the quarter-finals.

Denzel Dumfries saw his reputation enhanced during Euro 2020, even if the Netherlands were sent packing by the Czech Republic at the last-16 stage.

He became just the second ever Netherlands player, after Ruud van Nistelrooy, to score in his first two European Championship appearances, while also helping his side to a couple of clean sheets in his four outings.

Bonucci and Maguire earning selection meant their centre-back colleagues Giorgio Chiellini and John Stones narrowly missed out despite playing crucial roles.

England conceded just two goals all tournament, with only one of those coming in open play. A large part of that was down to ever-present defender Stones, who won 20 aerial challenges – the joint-second most of any defender in the competition, one behind Maguire.

Shaw was left out for England's opening game against Croatia, but the full-back soon made himself a consistent presence. He was even compared to the great Roberto Carlos after starring with two assists against Ukraine in the quarter-finals.

The Manchester United defender provided three assists in total and netted the fastest-ever goal in a European Championship final with his volley against Italy. Those four goal involvements were bettered only by Schick (five) and Ronaldo (six).

Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Verratti was a major fitness doubt for the tournament and sat out Italy's first two matches, but made an emormous impact in the following five games.

Since his first game against Wales on June 20, all-rounder Verratti ranked first among all midfielders at Euro 2020 for chances created (14), passes completed (388), progressive carries (59), tackles (18) and recoveries of possession (37).

 

Pogba likely paid the price for his team's exit rather than his own displays. 

He scored a stunning goal against Switzerland after getting two assists in the 2-2 group-stage draw with Portugal, and his supreme link-up play with Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Benzema was among the highlights of the early weeks of the tournament.

Schick not only scored the joint-most goals, but he was responsible for surely the most memorable one of the lot - a 49.7-yard lob against Scotland, the furthest ever distance a goal has been scored at a European Championships.

The Bayer Leverkusen forward found the net in all but one of his side's games, with three of his goals coming from open play, compared to just two for Ronaldo.

Even though it was far from a vintage tournament for Ronaldo and dethroned champions Portugal, the Juventus superstar still claimed the Golden Boot accolade thanks to having one assist more than fellow five-goal forward Schick.

Ronaldo's 72 minutes per goal was the best return of any player to have played at least three times in the tournament. 

His haul also moved him level with Iran great Ali Daei as the all-time leading goalscorer in men's international football with 109, a record that he will get a chance to break later this year.

 

UEFA's Euro 2020 Team of the Tournament: Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy); Kyle Walker (England), Leonardo Bonucci (Italy), Harry Maguire (England), Leonardo Spinazzola (Italy); Jorginho (Italy), Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Denmark), Pedri (Spain); Federico Chiesa (Italy), Romelu Lukaku (Belgium), Raheem Sterling (England).

Kyle Walker feels England have set the bar for future generations at Euro 2020 following decades of disappointment and is convinced a rediscovered sense of national pride in the team has inspired them.

England beat Denmark 2-1 after extra time on Wednesday to secure a first ever appearance in the European Championship final, having not reached the showpiece of any major international tournament since winning the World Cup in 1966.

That 55-year period is the longest gap between major finals for any European nation, and now only Italy stand between England and the trophy.

The closest England had ever got to winning the competition before 2021 was in 1996 when they fell at the semi-finals stage, with the so-called 'Golden Generation' that followed defined by their underachievement as they never got beyond a quarter-final at the World Cup or Euros.

But under Gareth Southgate there have been strong hints of change, as they finished fourth at Russia 2018 and then also reached the semi-finals of the inaugural Nations League, and Walker believes the team's mentality is finally becoming aligned with the expectations of supporters.

"I think when you put on an England shirt – definitely in the past four years – it means something now," Walker told the FA's YouTube channel.

 

"I have heard a lot of people talking about how England haven't won a knockout game, England haven't won a penalty shoot-out, England haven't got this, England haven't got that.

"This group of lads – with the manager and the coaching staff – we just keep knocking them down and we have set the bar now for the future youngsters that are coming through.

"This is what our country wants and expects of us."

England will, of course, be considered "hosts" for the final given it – like all but one of their previous Euro 2020 games – will be played at Wembley, and there are certain advantages attached to that.

Although the past two host-nation finalists (Portugal at Euro 2004 and France at Euro 2016) of a major tournament lost the decider, prior to 2004 only Sweden (1958 World Cup) had been beaten during a final on their own turf.

The omens are generally positive for the Three Lions, who have won 15 and lost just one of their previous 17 matches at Wembley. While Italy will likely pose a challenge greater than most of the opponents in that run, Walker feels it gives England an edge – and he will not entertain back-handed comments about their status as hosts.

"These emotions and these types of games grab hold of you," he said. "We want one more effort from the fans – because that 12th man is vital.

"I hear people complaining now that England have got an advantage playing at home. But we never complained when we played certain people in their back yard, it is just the rub of the green."

John Stones extended his arm and held up a palm. Stop. Breathe.

It was time for Jordan Pickford to calm down. No time for bedlam.

The Everton goalkeeper headed into Wednesday's Euro 2020 semi-final encounter with Denmark in superb form, yet to be beaten in the tournament.

In the 27th minute at Wembley, Pickford moved on to 720 minutes without conceding a goal for England, breaking a record set by the great Gordon Banks between May and July 1966. We all know how that tournament ended and how none have ended like it in the 55 years and four semi-final defeats since.

But by the time Pickford pouched that piece of history, events had already started to turn.

After Kalvin Phillips erred to allow a shot from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Pickford frantically sought to launch an attack - his distribution often such a plus for Gareth Southgate. He hurled the ball straight at Mikkel Damsgaard, who understandably seemed a little surprised by that.

A passage of gasping, pulse-quickening mistakes ended with Martin Braithwaite having a shot deflected behind for a corner. England emerged unscathed but robbed entirely of their early poise.

Damsgaard, Braithwaite and Kasper Dolberg were finding pockets of space all across the turf, with England's plan for snuffing out Denmark's lightning breaks apparently amounting to little more than Kyle Walker being terrifyingly fast. He's terrifyingly brilliant, too, but still...

Too much was passing England's defensive midfield block by. Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips did not make a tackle between them in the first half. Tottenham's Hojbjerg, patrolling central areas expertly alongside Thomas Delaney, snapped into five all by himself.

Rice was caught napping by Dolberg, who was brought down by Mason Mount. That's what friends are for.

A relatively unthreatening free-kick became a threatening one as Luke Shaw wrapped his arms around Andreas Christensen defending the initial set-piece. From 30 yards, Damsgaard creamed a delightful strike beyond Pickford, who will think he should have done better.

 

In calmer times, perhaps he would. Then there was further skittishness, prompting centre-back Stones to intervene.

Contrary to Pickford's need to slow down, England's best moments came when they dared Denmark to find a solution to Bukayo Saka's quicksilver pace and Raheem Sterling's restless, relentless, intelligent movement.

Sterling started the game tearing mercilessly after the right-hand side of the Danish defence. He should have done better after cutting inside Christensen and scuffing a shot too close to Kasper Schmeichel.

A scuff would have done the job in the 38th minute, when Sterling met Saka's low cross sweetly and Schmeichel saved improbably. But the seed was planted – more ice-cool work in behind from Saka, more scrambled brains as Sterling made a nuisance of himself, with the result an own goal for skipper Simon Kjaer.

The contest continued in that vein throughout the second half, when whichever side found themselves on the backfoot appeared to be operating in a state of anguish. The occasion simultaneously fuelled its protagonists and threatened to blow up in their faces. Pickford saved sharply from Dolberg, unaware of the offside flag

Into the final 20 minutes of normal time and the highest stakes elite football was operating under park rules: next goal wins. Southgate's team are gloriously unburdened by England's tragicomic history. But no footballer with a pulse would be unburdened by such a present.

Jack Grealish was on but Kasper Hjulmand used his bench more boldly, sending on Yussuf Poulsen and Christian Norgaard for the impressive Damsgaard and Dolberg. Or was it more desperately, as Rice and Phillips (95.2 and 90.2 per cent pass completion) emerged from choppy waters to gradually exert control and wrestle the opponents deeper.

Six minutes of stoppage time: would you even dare? Sterling still asked questions of defenders with no remaining appetite for such trivia. Fouls piled up, bodies were on the line. This was how England tended to conclude big knockout games but Denmark reached the sanctuary of full-time.

 

Still Southgate kept his talent-stacked bench sheathed. Harry Kane fired towards Schmeichel on the angle. No one was there for the rebound. Fresh legs might have been.

And so, they arrived. Phil Foden instantly schemed with bad intentions, briefly lifting kindred-spirit Grealish in the process.

Sterling still schemed with bad intentions and found himself lying at the feet of Jannik Vestergaard, which felt mocking because the hulking centre-back looked like the biggest, tiredest man in the whole world.

The Manchester City forward was on the floor due to some combination of contact from Joakim Maehle and Mathias Jensen. Danny Makkelie ruled it was enough for a penalty.

Stop. Breathe.

Saved? No problem. Harry Kane never needs to calm down with a loose ball and a goal in front of him.

2-1. It was time for bedlam.

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