England manager Gareth Southgate should take Ivan Toney to the World Cup, so says "biased" Brentford head coach Thomas Frank.

Toney has enjoyed a fine start to the season for Brentford, scoring five goals across eight Premier League appearances.

Indeed, since the start of last term, only five players have scored more goals in the competition than Toney (17), with Harry Kane (24) the sole English player to have netted more.

As well as being involved in seven of Brentford's 15 Premier League goals this season, Toney has had more shots (23) and created more chances from open play (10) than any other player for the Bees this term.

After scoring a hat-trick in a 5-2 rout of Leeds United on September 3, Toney received his first England call-up for last month's Nations League matches against Italy and Germany. While he did not make an appearance in either game, Frank believes he must be an option for Southgate in Qatar.

Ahead of Brentford's trip to Toney's former club Newcastle United, Frank said in a press conference: "I think for Ivan the most important thing is to perform every day at the training ground and then perform on Saturday against Newcastle, hopefully score a goal or two.

"Keep doing that and with his performances he needs to ask questions to Gareth Southgate.

"It is up to Gareth to take the decision over what he thinks is the best squad for the World Cup. I am sure he will take the best squad. Gareth wants to win the World Cup so he will bring the best and most competitive squad.

"If you ask me, I see Ivan every day and I am biassed but I think he should be there."

Brentford's trip to St James' Park comes a day after the one-year anniversary of the controversial Saudi Arabia-backed takeover of Newcastle.

At the time, the Magpies were languishing in the relegation zone under former boss Steve Bruce. Since then, Newcastle have taken 57 points in the top flight, with only the so called "big six" teams – Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham – winning more games (15).

For Frank, it would be a miraculous if Brentford manage to compete with Newcastle's financial strength over the coming seasons.

"If we have the money we have now, they have their money and we continue doing that, if we are the same level at the same time, it will be an even bigger miracle than it is now that we are competing," Frank said.

"Of course we know in football money talks. It is a very important part and that is one thing but the very good news is it is not only about money.

"Newcastle want to challenge that and there is no doubt they are aiming to be top six so maybe we need to start to talk about a top seven in the future. Put that aside, us being a bottom two budget club in the league, it is remarkable what we are doing."

Lothar Matthaus has urged England to start Jude Bellingham in every match at the World Cup in Qatar.

The Three Lions head to the tournament in poor form, failing to win any of their past six competitive matches, their worst sequence of results ever before a major tournament.

Questions regarding Gareth Southgate's first-choice XI remain, with the manager staying loyal to those who performed well in the 2018 World Cup and last year's European Championship.

However, Borussia Dortmund star Bellingham has worked his way into the side and started England's last three matches, with Bayern Munich and West Germany great Matthaus believing that streak should continue in the upcoming tournament.

"He's someone English football fans need to be hugely excited about," the 61-year-old Bundesliga television pundit told FourFourTwo.

"With his mentality, he's not somebody that needs to be treated as a young player who hopes for a few minutes here and there, he's a player who should be starting every match.

"He's becoming an important part of the national team and, in my opinion, he has the potential to be one of the best midfielders England have ever produced.

"I played against some pretty good ones myself and I see those qualities in him."

England begin their group stage campaign against Iran on November 21, then tackling the United States and Wales in Group B.

Argentina captain Lionel Messi has confirmed Qatar 2022 will be his last World Cup.

The mercurial Paris Saint-Germain forward will attempt to lift the trophy for the first time after helping his country win the Copa America last year.

Messi, 35, says he will not play in another World Cup following the showpiece in Qatar, which starts on November 20.

He told Star+: "This is my last World Cup, surely, yes."

The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner does not believe Argentina go into the tournament as the favourites to be crowned champions.

He added: "We are not the top favourites. I think there are other teams that are above us today.

"We arrived at a good moment because of how things turned out and with a very strong group. Afterwards, in a World Cup anything can happen, it's very difficult. The favourites are not always the ones who end up winning.

"I see similar things from the group with the one from 2014. We can't wait to get together."

The 2014 World Cup was the closest Messi has come to winning the tournament, with Argentina beaten by Germany in the final.

Brazil will be the number one side in the world when the Qatar 2022 World Cup starts next month, after strengthening their lead in the FIFA rankings.

The Selecao head into this year's tournament looking to break a two-decade hold by European nations on the sport's top prize, having been the last country from outside the continent to triumph at the South Korea and Japan 2002 finals.

Tite's side have slightly stretched their points advantage above second-placed Belgium, whom they displaced atop the list in March.

Brazil and Belgium head up an unchanged top five, with Argentina remaining at number three, World Cup holders France at four and England – who have endured a dismal 2022 – in fifth place.

The Three Lions will top the strongest group at Qatar 2022, Group B, when taken on points, with fellow nations the United States, Wales and Iran all ranked inside the top 20.

Italy, who are the highest-ranked nation not qualified for the World Cup, have forced the only move inside the FIFA top 10 as they head to sixth from seventh in a straight swap with Spain.

The Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark round out the top 10, with Germany just beyond them at number 11, ahead of 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia.

The lowest-ranked side at this year's tournament will be Ghana, who sit at 61st on the FIFA list, while hosts Qatar are in 50th place.

Gareth Southgate believes England have grown stronger as a result of their poor form ahead of the World Cup, as he pledged to stand firm on his selections.

England suffered a humiliating relegation from the top tier of the Nations League last month, finishing their campaign with three points – and no wins – from six games.

The Three Lions begin their World Cup campaign against Iran on November 21, and their six-match winless run is their longest such sequence going into a major tournament.  

Southgate was jeered by England supporters in the aftermath of a 1-0 defeat to Italy on September 23 and has been criticised for standing by Manchester United's struggling defender Harry Maguire.

Speaking at Monday's Legends of Football event in aid of Nordoff Robbins Music, Southgate accepted criticism of his decisions, but maintained he must sometimes resist "popular appeal".

"I think everybody in the country can see we're trying to accomplish extraordinary things," he said. "To accomplish extraordinary things is incredibly difficult. 

"This is a job where every decision, every selection is questioned, debated, ridiculed. That's just by my postman, by the way!

"Column inches are full, airwaves are filled. As a manager, you're not going to get every decision right.

"But I have to be strong enough to withstand popular appeal for something and do what I really believe gives us the best chance to win. 

"If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, and blaming it on you. If you can trust yourself, when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too. That doubting, that noise that surrounds us is because people care. They're passionate. 

"They just want to win, and I understand that. And if we don't win for six matches, then quite rightly, I have to accept that criticism. 

"That's what goes with our job. If nobody cared or commented, then it wouldn't be the great and incredible challenge that it is."

England failed to score an open-play goal in their first five Nations League games, before coming from 2-0 down to lead 3-2 in last week's thrilling draw with Germany, but Southgate believes the team's poor run could benefit them heading to Qatar.

"Milan was painful. I knew walking over to our fans that it wasn't going to end well. But I wasn't going to take a backward step," Southgate added.

"I've enjoyed the warmth and the adulation, so you've got to ride with the discomfort as well.

"Against Germany, I think we showed what we're capable of, good and bad. It showed there is character there. As a team, I think we'll be better for that challenging period we've just been through.

"You wouldn't choose to go into a World Cup with the run of results we've had, but I actually think we're stronger for that and the players have had to take some ownership. 

"Those moments, like coming back from to 2-0 down and hearing the roof lift off Wembley, are hard to describe."

With England reaching the World Cup semi-finals in 2018 and finishing as runners-up at Euro 2020, expectations surrounding the Three Lions have undoubtedly risen.

"In seven weeks' time, I get to lead my country to another World Cup. We have players I'm proud to lead, who give us everything," Southgate said.

"We want to bring people together, create memories and history. I've said before the last two tournaments: if we can make people proud, we'll have had an amazing time.

"I know that the bar of what might be deemed success is raised and getting higher for us. But as a team, we have to focus on performance, and the rest will fall into place.

Lautaro Martinez's agent Alejandro Camano is not surprised by reports linking the Inter forward with Bayern Munich, insisting the Argentine is one of the world's top 10 players.

Martinez scored 21 goals in 35 league outings as Inter finished as Serie A runners-up last season, and has begun the new campaign with three strikes in eight top-flight appearances.

With Bayern struggling in the Bundesliga after opting against signing a direct replacement for Robert Lewandowski in the recent transfer window, the Bavarian giants have been touted as potential suitors for Martinez.

Camano told TyC Sports such interest does not come as a surprise and revealed the 25-year-old rejected transfer offers in the latest window in order to focus on Inter.

"I wouldn't be surprised because there are always requests, but Lautaro has very clear ideas," he said about the Bayern reports.

"Today he thinks about Inter and the World Cup.

"In the last market there were possibilities to leave for impressive figures, but he has understood that it was better not to change.

"Lautaro is among the top 10 players in the world, and although I have many calls, he has two priorities by the end of the year: Inter and the national team. 

"He is mature, with a nice family to accompany him, with an atmosphere of tranquillity, which is always important. He feels loved by Italians and Argentines.

"He started the year with a beautiful project, with an Inter that was built in a powerful way. The truth is that winning the World Cup would be the icing on the cake for him."

Alongside the likes of Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria, Martinez has impressed in a fluid Argentina attack recently, with Lionel Scaloni leading his side to a 35-match unbeaten run.

Argentina are just two games short of matching Italy's record 37-match unbeaten run in international football, and Camano believes they will be serious contenders at the World Cup.

"Not only are Argentina a candidate, but those of us who know Lionel Scaloni know that he has the same leadership mentality he had when he played," he added. 

"Lautaro's hope is the same as the others - they want to make people happy.

"Winning a World Cup is not easy, but the team is ready to reach this goal."

Fikayo Tomori will recognise the bricks and mortar, but plenty has changed at Chelsea since he packed his bags and took a punt on an Italian odyssey.

While Milan have been in an ascent, the Roman empire has crumbled in west London, Russian oligarch Abramovich effectively becoming persona non grata in London following Vladimir Putin's decision to invade Ukraine.

Four days after Tomori went to Milan, Chelsea sacked head coach Frank Lampard, and last month his Champions League-winning successor, Thomas Tuchel, has been run out of town.

Boehly-ball is flavour of the day at Stamford Bridge, with long-term thinker Graham Potter entrusted by the new owners with delivering short-term improvements for the Blues.

On and off the pitch, it's been a dizzying 21 months in west London since Tomori, in the midst of the pandemic, said farewell to Chelsea and 'Ciao!' to the Rossoneri.

There will be familiar faces for Tomori to greet when Milan arrive at San Siro for Wednesday's Champions League game, but he is far from alone in having moved on. Kurt Zouma and Antonio Rudiger, erstwhile rivals to Tomori for a centre-back berth, have been among those to leave.

Born in Canada but raised in southern England, Tomori left Chelsea for Milan on January 22, 2021.

The deal, initially a loan, was struck in a week when the UK's home secretary Priti Patel announced an £800 fine for anyone attending a house party. A fortnight earlier, it was announced the Queen and Prince Philip had received their first COVID-19 jabs. They were very different times.

There's a new king in London town, these days, the first change of monarch for 70 years, but Chelsea kingpins come and go.

Tomori never reached that status, unlike Lampard, who as Derby County boss gave the young defender a leg up, taking him on loan from Chelsea before both were reunited in west London.

In this corresponding midweek four years ago, Tomori was lining up with Mason Mount for Lampard's Derby in a Championship game against Norwich City, the two Chelsea loanees helping the Rams to a 1-1 draw.

Now he is a major figure at the heart of Milan's title-winning backline, trusted by coach Stefano Pioli and admired by that great Rossonero, Paolo Maldini.

Tomori's world?

Milan have kept 14 clean sheets in domestic league action since the turn of the year, the joint-fewest of all teams in Europe's top five leagues (Serie A, Premier League, LaLiga, Ligue 1, Bundesliga).

Only Barcelona can match that total, while Chelsea have managed a relatively modest eight shut-outs.

Milan's goals-against tally of 18 in 27 Serie A games this year is five better, or meaner, than any side who have been in the Italian top flight throughout 2022, with Napoli next on that list.

Tomori has not played every game, it should be pointed out. In his 22 appearances, Milan have had nine clean sheets and shipped 13 goals.

Milan are stronger for his presence. Taking all competitions into account, and working on the basis of three points for a win in every game, Milan have averaged 2.0 points when Tomori has started, and 1.5 when he has not, since his debut.

Their average goals-against is 0.9 when he plays, and 1.3 when he does not, and the win percentage stands at 58.2 per cent with the 24-year-old in their XI, up from 46.7 per cent when he is either absent or a substitute.

Tomori only played 17 games for Chelsea, starting 15 of those, before the Premier League club decided his services were expendable.

World Cup in his sights

Perhaps he will have something to prove to Chelsea on Wednesday, but Tomori has arguably moved beyond that point. He is a Serie A champion, recently signed a contract that runs through to 2027 at San Siro, and could hardly be happier in Italy.

He has learned the language and is a starter with a long-standing giant of European football.

Tomori netted against Liverpool in the group stage last season, becoming only the third English player to score a Champions League goal against an English opponent while playing for a non-English side. How he'd love to put one past Chelsea on Wednesday, too.

If there is anyone Tomori might want to impress, it could be Gareth Southgate. He looks to rank among the possibles rather than the probables in terms of Southgate's England World Cup squad plans, having won just three senior caps so far.

Tomori has been "excited" by the trip to London, saying: "It's obviously an important game in this round of the Champions League, and going back to Chelsea and Stamford Bridge is going to be a great game for me."

He added: "It's just another chance for me, seeing some familiar faces, to show how I've developed. Seeing everyone will be nice. It will be a nice reunion of sorts, but I'm trying to think of it as just another game."

Tomori watches Chelsea games whenever he can, but not with any sense of envy, telling Milan's website: "The Premier League is, as people say, the best league in the world; but for me right now, being in Milan, playing in Serie A, learning the trade of nasty defending, per se, is where I'm comfortable at right now."

There it is, the Milan culture seeping into Tomori, the new guy in town learning from the cunning of that sly dog Zlatan Ibrahimovic, aching to pick up the tricks of the past masters.

So, Chelsea will recognise the returning familiar figure, but plenty has changed with Fikayo Tomori since he packed his bags and took his punt on this Italian odyssey.

Milan took his eye; he's been a hell of a buy. That's Tomori.

Gary Neville's in-depth analysis of Trent Alexander-Arnold on Sky Sports' Monday Night Football gained plenty of traction.

It might have been mistaken for criticism, had the former Manchester United defender not put so much onus on making it clear just how highly he rates Liverpool's right-back.

"No full-back that I've ever seen in this country can do what he can do," said Neville, after animatedly laying out where he believes Alexander-Arnold, who has been questioned amid Liverpool's underwhelming start to the season and was left out of Gareth Southgate's matchday squad for England's Nations League match against Germany last month, can improve.

"If he can get those consistency elements, we won't just have one of the best attacking right-backs this country has ever produced, we'll have probably the best right-back the world has ever produced, because this is a Cafu," Neville continued. "This is that level of full-back. This is something unbelievably special."

Special. It's a word used frequently when it comes to youngsters, especially those in England, often propelled to stardom not long after making their first-team debuts, only to be a target of overly harsh criticism if they fail to live up to spectacular heights every time they take to the field. In relation to Alexander-Arnold, however, "special" is a suitable adjective, and he showed why in Tuesday's all-British Champions League clash with Rangers.

Work to do...

Before the game, the 23-year-old – nurtured under Jurgen Klopp since making his debut in October 2016 – had created 467 chances, provided 60 assists and scored 14 goals in all competitions. The numbers, as Neville said, are "absolutely obscene".

Of course, it is not Alexander-Arnold's attacking that has ever been cast into doubt, but his work going the other way. Indeed, with Southgate a more conservative and, arguably, pragmatic, manager than Klopp, it is perhaps no real surprise why many see Alexander-Arnold's defending as the factor holding him back on the international stage.

Alexander-Arnold hardly helped his cause when the Premier League returned following the international break. He was arguably at least partly at fault for two of Leandro Trossard's three goals in Liverpool's 3-3 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday.

It is hard to argue a case, too, for his defending when stacked up against his competitors (primarily Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier and Reece James) for a place in England's side. 

He had been dribbled past on 218 occasions in his 236 Liverpool games before the Rangers fixture, a figure way clear of Trippier's 157, for example. 

Prior to Tuesday's game, Alexander-Arnold's duel success rate (47.3) failed to match the other three, who vary between 56.4 (James) and 58.8 (Trippier). He does boast a better tackle success percentage of 60.6, though it only ranks third out of the four (above Trippier).

But Alexander-Arnold, it must be remembered, has played a pivotal role in a side that has won every trophy available to them over the course of Klopp's tenure, as well as reaching two Champions League finals they lost.

Liverpool did not get where they are by leaking goals, and Alexander-Arnold has helped the Reds to 80 clean sheets (following Tuesday's match), a figure bettered only by Walker (91) since the youngster made his senior debut.

Unique selling point...

Perhaps, though, there is simply too much scrutiny on the defensive side of his game after all? Perhaps, despite Neville's warning of a "juncture" in Alexander-Arnold's career, it is time to simply enjoy the player he is, not what he should be or could be, especially when he is so far from what would be considered peak age.

It was Alexander-Arnold who, after an early barrage from the hosts at Anfield following a raucous welcome for two of Britain's biggest clubs, delivered a moment of quality few other players – never mind defenders, albeit Trippier is no stranger to a fine free-kick – are capable of on such a reliable basis.

When he stepped up to take a free-kick, just under 25 yards out from Rangers' goal, in the seventh minute, there was an air of expectation. Seconds later, the ball was nestling right in the left-hand corner, giving Allan McGregor – who went on to keep the scoreline respectable for the visitors – no chance. 

Curling in a sublime strike, his sixth direct free-kick goal for Liverpool, more than any other player in the Reds squad since the start of the 2016-17 season, might not answer questions about his defending, but was a timely reminder of the talent at Alexander-Arnold's disposal. It was his second Champions League goal, his first at Anfield in almost five years.

He was a menace throughout a first half Liverpool dominated with ease, teeing up a chance for Virgil van Dijk to head in a second with a sumptuous inswinging corner in the 28th minute and keeping fellow Liverpool academy graduate Ryan Kent quiet.

One loose pass into midfield did see him exposed just after the half-hour, though Rangers never looked likely to punish the mistake.

Seven minutes into the second half, Alexander-Arnold was on hand to recover a loose ball and feed Jordan Henderson, whose raking pass found Luis Diaz. The Colombian was bundled over in the box and Mohamed Salah made no mistake from the penalty spot. Game over, with Alexander-Arnold having played his part in both goals.

Liverpool could have made it more comfortable, Darwin Nunez particularly unfortunate, but bar a late run from Junior Fashion Sakala, Alexander-Arnold was not tested.

Alexander-Arnold finished with the most touches (96), a game-high 40 passes in the opposition half and joint-most tackles (four). A stoppage-time booking before he made way to a standing ovation from the Liverpool faithful was the only blemish on an otherwise spotless copybook.

He might not be perfect, and will face harder opponents than Rangers, especially when Liverpool visit the Etihad Stadium later this month, but is exceptional at what he excels at.

That, surely, is enough for now.

Former England captain David Beckham has backed the Three Lions to go all the way in Qatar, despite a woeful sequence of results this year.

Gareth Southgate's side head to the World Cup after failing to win any of their six Nations League matches and suffering relegation from the top tier of the UEFA competition.

That run is England's longest winless streak in almost 30 years, while it also marks the worst run of form the side has ever faced before a major international tournament.

Despite that and rising pressure on Southgate, Beckham believes England have the capability to win the World Cup for the first time since 1966.

"I will always say England. It's going to be difficult but the fact we are now going into a big competition like the World Cup, only playing 25 games in the season, player energy will be up, they won't be injured," he told Sky Sports.

"They've not played 60 games in a season, so I think they are going to be ready. We have a big opportunity.

"Gareth Southgate has done an incredible job with the players. The unity, which I think is a big part of it, we saw that in the Euros. My prediction is that, hopefully, England will go all the way, but it is not going to be easy."

England begin their campaign on November 21 against Iran, then facing the United States and Wales in Group B.

France midfielder Boubacar Kamara will be out of action until after the World Cup due to knee ligament damage, Aston Villa head coach Steven Gerrard has confirmed.

Kamara has been capped three times by France and was called up for their latest round of Nations League matches this month.

However, the 22-year-old had to withdraw from the squad after injuring his knee during Villa's 1-0 win against Southampton on September 16.

It was revealed last week Kamara had suffered ligament damage, and Gerrard announced on Friday the former Marseille player will not recover in time for Qatar 2022.

"Boubacar will be missing until after the World Cup, unfortunately, so that is a huge blow," Gerrard said at his pre-match press conference ahead of facing Leeds United.

"It's not ideal. We have had better days on the injury front."

Villa have also lost fellow marquee signing Diego Carlos, who ruptured his Achilles on just his second outing after joining from Sevilla.

Kamara's international team-mate Lucas Digne sustained a heel injury while away with his country and "will be unavailable in the coming weeks".

Barcelona boss Xavi has played down concerns over the future of captain Sergio Busquets, insisting the Spain international remains "key" to his plans at the club.

A difficult start to the season for the 34-year-old, including a red card against Rayo Vallecano, seems to have stoked further suggestions this campaign could be his last at Camp Nou.

With Barca still likely to need to cut their cloth accordingly amid their financial struggles, the Spain skipper could well be one key man to depart next year.

But the defensive midfielder has publicly downplayed a definitive answer on his future, and speaking ahead of his side's clash with Mallorca, Xavi reiterated that no decisions have yet been made.

"Busquets has said publicly that he hasn't decided anything," he stated. "He will make a decision at the end of the season and for me, he continues to be key."

With domestic and European concerns to field, Barca are set to enter a major period of fixture congestion, with a dozen games crunched into the month-and-a-half stretch ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

Several of Xavi's fellow coaches across the continent have voiced their displeasure at the intense calendar, but he is instead focusing on the need to take as many points as they can at home and abroad.

"We have 12 games until the break for the World Cup," he added. "It's a momentous stretch of the season. All games are going to be very important.

"Tomorrow we have to win and show our character. We have to show our strengths."

Barca will move into an enforced break this term thanks to the mid-season winter staging of the World Cup in Qatar, adding another tough dimension to an already gruelling campaign.

With FIFA having mooted plans in recent times to potentially expand the tournament to a biennial staging, Xavi feels there should be no further restructures or moves from its traditional off-season berth.

"FIFA plans to organise the World Cup every two years," he added. "Now we have the World Cup in Qatar during the winter period.

"I think it would be better if the tournament is compiled at a separate time. Then the other time is allocated to the clubs."

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has been urged to expel Iran from the World Cup because of the country's treatment of female football supporters.

The Open Stadiums campaign group claimed previous commitments by FIFA to encourage Iran to change its ways amounted to "empty words and promises".

The group said Iran has systemically kept women away from football stadiums "for over four decades", calling it a "gross human rights violation".

Pointing to "shameful scenes" of women being tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed when attempting to attend a World Cup qualifier against Lebanon in March, Open Stadiums said: "All this was happening, Mr Infantino, under your watch and, seemingly, with FIFA's protection and approval, judging by your organisation's inaction."

It labelled a commitment to allow women into the Azadi Stadium as "a short-term PR stunt" to boost the Iranian Football Association's image before the World Cup begins in November.

Iran are due to play England, Wales and the United States in the group stage, facing England in their opening Group B game on November 21.

The death of Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in custody in September after she allegedly refused to comply with hijab rules sparked outrage among Iranian women, followed by what Open Stadiums describes as a "brutal clampdown by the regime".

In its open letter to FIFA, the group also pointed to Sahar Khodayari, the woman known as 'Blue Girl', who attempted to attend a football game dressed as a man in 2019 but was spotted and arrested for flouting hijab rules. She died by suicide, reportedly because she expected to be sent to prison.

Open Stadiums said there was a clear ongoing case of "government interference", with a number of sports journalists and photographers "arrested and left in solitary confinement with no charges brought against them", and a footballer and fan group leader killed by Iranian authorities.

FIFA rules do not allow governments to wade into sporting matters. Open Stadiums claims the Iranian FA "remains untouched and seemingly beyond reproach by FIFA", and described the country's football authority as both "an accomplice of the crimes of the regime" and "a direct threat to the security of female fans in Iran and wherever our national team plays in the world".

The group fears Iranian women who travel to the Qatar 2022 finals will be kept "in check" by travelling undercover state agents, warning of possible revenge on women's rights activists and female football fans following the tournament.

"That is why, as Iranian football fans, it is with an extremely heavy heart that we have to raise our deepest concern about Iran's participation in the upcoming FIFA World Cup," the group said in its letter to Infantino.

"Why would FIFA give the Iranian state and its representatives a global stage, while it not only refuses to respect basic human rights and dignities, but is currently torturing and killing its own people? Where are the principles of FIFA's statutes in this regard?

"Therefore, we ask FIFA ... to immediately expel Iran from the World Cup 2022 in Qatar.

"The Islamic Republic's authorities and its football federation must not be given the honour of participating in football's finest tournament while it is killing its citizens on our streets.

"Mr Infantino, FIFA needs to act now to protect Iran's dedicated and passionate female football fans."

Giovanni Reyna is expected to return to action within 10 days despite suffering a muscle strain on international duty, handing the United States a welcome boost ahead of the World Cup.

Reyna was substituted during the first half of the USA's goalless draw with Saudi Arabia earlier this week, after which it was revealed he had suffered from "muscle tightness".

His exit from that match – his country's final friendly ahead of November's trip to Qatar – set alarm bells ringing, particularly given Reyna missed much of last season with similar muscle injuries.

But Borussia Dortmund head coach Edin Terzic moved to allay fears of another long-term absence on Thursday, stating: "Gio has a strain and will be out for seven to 10 days. We hope he is available to play following the Sevilla game on Wednesday."

Terzic was also able to offer a positive update on Marco Reus' fitness after the BVB captain was injured in a 1-0 win over local rivals Schalke earlier this month.

"In Marco Reus' case, the injury is fortunately not as bad as first feared," Terzic added. "We hope he will be able to slowly ease his way back into team training after the weekend." 

Dortmund have won five and lost two of their first seven Bundesliga games this campaign to trail surprise leaders Union Berlin by two points.

Italy coach Roberto Mancini is already targeting World Cup glory in 2026, as the Azzurri prepare to "suffer" through this year's tournament after failing to qualify.

The European champions will be the most high-profile side to miss the tournament in Qatar after slipping to a humiliating play-off defeat to North Macedonia in March.

Italy were also absent from Russia in 2018 following a play-off loss to Sweden, meaning their exile from football's most storied competition will stretch to a minimum of 12 years.

The Azzurri also suffered group-stage exits in 2010 and 2014, meaning their most recent World Cup knockout tie remains 2006's final victory over France.

Mancini, however, is determined to end Italy's World Cup woes when the tournament heads to the United States, Mexico and Canada in four years' time, and believes their failure to reach Qatar was unjust. 

"Winning with the national team is the best thing there can be," he said at an event in Rome. 

"Giving Italians such joy is incredible, now we have to wait four years. We will aim to win the next World Cup in America.

"We are working, unfortunately we will suffer until December - the disappointment of not qualifying for the World Cup does not pass me. 

"It was totally unfair, but the defeats must be faced. We did not deserve to stay out of the World Cup, but unfortunately, that's how it went."

Asked why he chose to continue as Italy coach following their play-off embarrassment, the former Manchester City boss added: "Honestly, I don't know, at that moment I just wanted to turn the page because it went badly. 

"But winning the European Championship gives an incredible joy. Now we have to wait a few years and then we want to try for those emotions again."

Italy have since salvaged some pride by winning their Nations League group, finishing above Hungary, Germany and England to reach next year's finals.

And Mancini was keen to emphasise the difficulty of that achievement, adding: "It wasn't easy, the boys put everything in. 

"England are a danger to win the World Cup, they have an incredible squad and Hungary are a very physical team."

Italy will contest friendlies against Albania and Austria when elite club football pauses for the World Cup in November. 

Declan Rice has described Jude Bellingham as "the future of English football", claiming his international midfield partner is the most talented 19-year-old he has ever seen.

Although England suffered relegation from the top tier of the Nations League last week, Bellingham has done no harm to his chances of starting at the upcoming World Cup during the international break. 

With Manchester City's Kalvin Phillips enduring an injury-blighted campaign, Bellingham started alongside Rice in matches against Italy and Germany, impressing in a box-to-box role.

In Monday's 3-3 draw with Germany, Bellingham led England's charts for passes completed (41), touches (67), touches in the opposition box (six), duels won (eight), tackles won, interceptions and fouls won (all three).

Rice believes the Borussia Dortmund star's all-round ability is unique for someone of his age, telling the Daily Mirror: "I don't think I've seen anyone as good as he is for 19.

"I look at a lot of 19-year-olds, whether it's at a club, around the world, around the country. To have the whole package is a hard thing and I feel like he's got that.

"He's 19 but he's got the body of a 28-year-old – he's a man. He thinks like a man, plays like a man and shows personality and character. 

"I've been around and played so many more games than he has in my career, but you can just tell as a 19-year-old what he brings to the team already, the energy he's got.

"He can play in a holding role, he can play as an eight, he can play as a 10.

"He's a man – you can see it when he plays for Dortmund. As a 19-year-old, you're normally scared to talk to the referee but he's in the referee's face demanding answers, demanding decisions and he leaves himself on the pitch constantly. 

"He really pushes you on the pitch. We push each other on and it's a privilege to play next to him.

"Every time I play with Jude, we're building that connection and I say to him; 'you go and bomb on and do your attacking stuff and I'll sit here and defend for you'. So we're getting that good connection, he's great to play with.

"Hopefully, he keeps flourishing. He's the future of English football to come for the next 15 years."

While Bellingham's individual displays have earned rave reviews, England will begin the World Cup – against Iran on November 21 – having gone six games without a win (D3 L3).

This is their longest such run going into a major tournament, but Rice believes the Three Lions were much improved against Germany, adding: "We're sticking with a formation that needs work and we're working on that in training all the time. 

"I feel like there's positive signs there. It's just a blip at the moment but that was a massive, positive step."

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