Bayern Munich have completed the signing of Sadio Mane from Liverpool after striking a deal worth up to €41million (£35.2m) to sign the Senegal forward.

Mane hinted at his desire to leave Liverpool after their Champions League final loss to Real Madrid last month, at the end of a season in which he scored 23 goals.

With Liverpool signing striker Darwin Nunez in a reported £64million (€75m) deal from Benfica last week and Mane having just 12 months left on his contract, the 30-year-old has been allowed to depart after six successful years at Anfield.

He has played a key role in Liverpool winning their first Premier League title in 2020, reaching three Champions League finals - and winning one of them - and triumphs in the EFL Cup and FA Cup in the 2021-22 season.

Mane has signed a three-year contract with the Bundesliga champions.

"I'm really happy to finally be at FC Bayern in Munich," Mane said after the transfer was completed on Wednesday.

"We spoke a lot and I felt big interest from this great club right from the beginning, so for me there were no doubts. 

"It's the right time for this challenge. I want to achieve a lot with this club, in Europe too. During my time in Salzburg I watched a lot of Bayern games - I really like this club!"

Stats Perform understands Bayern will pay Liverpool a guaranteed sum of €32million (£27.5m) plus €6m (£5.2m) based on appearances, while a further €3m (£2.5m) is dependent on the Bavarian club and Mane meeting performance-related objectives.

Mane scored 90 goals in 196 Premier League games for Liverpool after joining Jurgen Klopp's side from Southampton in 2016.

Only Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy (104), Mane's Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah (118) and Tottenham's Harry Kane (134) have managed more goals in the competition across that period.

 

As well as lifting both domestic cups during a successful final season with Liverpool, Mane played a key role as Senegal won the Africa Cup of Nations title in February and qualified for the World Cup a month later.

Mane also struck up a brilliant partnership with fellow forward Salah at Liverpool, and his sale marks something akin to the end of an era for the Reds.

It remains to be seen what Mane's arrival means for the future of Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski, who has been strongly linked with a move to Barcelona.

Bayern president Herbert Hainer said earlier this month he was "confident" Lewandowski will stay at the Allianz Arena, despite the Poland international declaring his time at the club is "over" and pushing for a move ahead of his contract expiring in 2023.

Bayern Munich have completed the signing of Sadio Mane from Liverpool after striking a deal worth up to €41million (£35.2m) to sign the Senegal forward.

Mane hinted at his desire to leave Liverpool after their Champions League final loss to Real Madrid last month, at the end of a season in which he scored 23 goals.

With Liverpool signing striker Darwin Nunez in a reported £64million (€75m) deal from Benfica last week and Mane having just 12 months left on his contract, the 30-year-old has been allowed to depart after six successful years at Anfield.

He has played a key role in Liverpool winning their first Premier League title in 2020, reaching three Champions League finals - and winning one of them - and triumphs in the EFL Cup and FA Cup in the 2021-22 season.

Mane has signed a three-year contract with the Bundesliga champions. Stats Perform understands Bayern will pay Liverpool a guaranteed sum of €32million (£27.5m) plus €6m (£5.2m) based on appearances, while a further €3m (£2.5m) is dependent on the Bavarian club and Mane meeting performance-related objectives.

Mane scored 90 goals in 196 Premier League games for Liverpool after joining Jurgen Klopp's side from Southampton in 2016.

Only Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy (104), Mane's Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah (118) and Tottenham's Harry Kane (134) have managed more goals in the competition across that period.

 

As well as lifting both domestic cups during a successful final season with Liverpool, Mane played a key role as Senegal won the Africa Cup of Nations title in February and qualified for the World Cup a month later.

Mane also struck up a brilliant partnership with fellow forward Salah at Liverpool, and his sale marks something akin to the end of an era for the Reds.

It remains to be seen what Mane's arrival means for the future of Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski, who has been strongly linked with a move to Barcelona.

Bayern president Herbert Hainer said earlier this month he was "confident" Lewandowski will stay at the Allianz Arena, despite the Poland international declaring his time at the club is "over" and pushing for a move ahead of his contract expiring in 2023.

Sadio Mane will join Bayern Munich in a €41million (£35.2million) deal after Liverpool agreed to sell the Senegal international to the Bundesliga champions.

Mane became a prime target for Julian Nagelsmann's side, with Liverpool rejecting early offers for the forward, who had just 12 months to run on his contract at Anfield.

When Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp brought in Benfica star Darwin Nunez for a reported fee of £64million (€75m), with a further £21.4m (€25m) in potential add-ons, it left the door open for Mane to depart.

Senegal coach Aliou Cisse encouraged Mane to join Bayern as "the best fit" for his career, and Nagelsmann's club have finally struck a deal to suit all parties.

Stats Perform understands Liverpool will receive an assured sum of €32million (£27.5m), plus €6million (£5.2m) based on appearances and a further €3million (£2.5m) depending on future success that Mane and Bayern achieve.

Bayern's opening offer to Liverpool is understood to have been €25million (£21.5m) plus €5million (£4.3m) in add-ons that were all tied in to Mane and Bayern's success.

Mane scored 90 goals in 196 Premier League games for Liverpool after joining from Southampton in 2016.

Only Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy (104), Mane's Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah (118) and Tottenham's Harry Kane (134) have managed more in the competition across that period.

 

Mane also played 51 games for Liverpool in the 2021-22 season – only 10 players across Europe's top five leagues appeared more often – finding the net 23 times and assisting two more.

That was not enough to help Klopp's side to Premier League or Champions League success, but Mane did manage to lift the EFL Cup and FA Cup trophies with the Reds in his final season at the club.

Mane won the Premier League and Champions League during his time with the Reds, as well as the Club World Cup and UEFA Super Cup.

His arrival in Bavaria leaves questions over the future of Bayern talisman Robert Lewandowski, who declared his story with Nagelsmann's side "over" as he pushes for a move to Barcelona.

Wantaway Liverpool forward Sadio Mane deserves to be in contention to win the Ballon d'Or, says Patrick Vieira. 

Mane, who has been widely linked with a move to German champions Bayern Munich after Liverpool announced the signing of Benfica attacker Darwin Nunez, scored 23 goals as the Reds won the EFL Cup and FA Cup last season.

He was also decisive as Senegal claimed their first Africa Cup of Nations title in February before leading his national team to World Cup qualification the following month. 

Those exploits have led to suggestions he could compete with Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema to be named the world's best player later this year, and Arsenal legend and Crystal Palace manager Vieira thinks his wide-ranging abilities put him in contention.

"Sadio Mane is part of the new generation of attackers who knows how to do everything," Vieira told the Diambars Institute, a football academy in Senegal.

"He scores goals, he knows how to defend, he knows how to run in depth. He is a hard worker in the field. 

"He is one of the modern attackers. For me, he should be considered for the Ballon d'Or.

"He is one of those great players who can win it. I saw him every weekend in the Premier League and for me, he is one of the great European strikers."

Having won six trophies in a six-year spell at Anfield, Mane is expected to move to Bayern in the current transfer window, perhaps as a replacement for Barcelona-linked striker Robert Lewandowski.

Asked about such rumours, Vieira said Mane will make the best decision for his career. 

"I think he has his head on his shoulders to make the best decision," the Frenchman added.

"Should he stay or go? It's up to him to make that decision. But he is a player that I admire in relation to his talent as a footballer, but also in relation to his talent as a man."

Liverpool forward Sadio Mane has been encouraged to sign for Bayern Munich by his Senegal coach Aliou Cisse.

Mane has been strongly linked with a move to the Bundesliga champions, with just 12 months left to run on his current contract at Anfield.

The Premier League club are said to have turned down two advances from Bayern for the 30-year-old, who has lifted six major trophies in as many seasons with the Reds.

The Senegal international hinted at wanting a move away when on international duty and Cisse believes Bayern represent the best option for Mane's career if he is to leave Liverpool.

"I tell my boys to try to work out the contract issues so that when their respective championships resume, they will have already found a base," Cisse told reporters.

"I heard about Sadio at Bayern. For me, it is a club that is of its standing. Bayern is intense, pressing football with a German coach.

"Sadio played in Salzburg in Austria, which is a border country, and that means he is not going into unknown territory.

"For me, the club where he will feel the best is Bayern."

 

Mane has scored 90 goals in 196 Premier League games for Liverpool since joining from Southampton in 2016.

Only Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy (104), team-mate Mohamed Salah (118) and Tottenham's Harry Kane (134) have managed more in the competition across that period.

Jurgen Klopp's side appear to be close to signing Benfica forward Darwin Nunez as a replacement for Mane.

But Bayern sports director Hasan Salihamidzic has suggested the German side are considering multiple options in the transfer market, with the Mane move far from a certainty.

Sadio Mane has become Senegal's record goalscorer after his hat-trick secured a 3-1 win over over Benin in their Africa Cup of Nations qualifier on Saturday.

The Liverpool forward scored twice from the penalty spot and netted another in Dakar to move onto 32 goals in 90 games for his country.

Mane's treble moved him beyond Henri Camara's tally of 31 for the champions of Africa.

The 30-year-old's record-breaking achievement comes amid intense speculation over his future following another outstanding season for Jurgen Klopp's side.

On Friday, the attacker quipped that he would do what the people of his Senegal want him to do, amid reports he could be on his way to Bayern Munich.

FIFA have ordered the Senegalese Football Federation to play a competitive match behind closed doors and fined them $180,000 after a series of incidents in March's World Cup qualifier against Egypt, including the use of laser pens to target Liverpool star Mohamed Salah.

After Egypt and Senegal each claimed 1-0 home wins in their two-legged play-off for World Cup qualification, Salah was targeted by a number of laser pens as he missed his penalty in the decisive shoot-out in Dakar, which Senegal went on to win.

Egypt lodged a complaint after their defeat, which came little over a month after the Pharaohs had lost the Africa Cup of Nations final on penalties to the same opponents, also claiming Salah was subject to racist abuse and their team bus targeted by missiles before the game.

Just as he did in February's Africa Cup of Nations final, Salah's Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mane netted the winning spot-kick to hand Senegal a place at the Qatar World Cup.

Now, FIFA's disciplinary committee has punished the African champions for a series of offences, including a "failure to implement existing safety rules and failure to ensure that law and order are maintained in the stadium."

Senegal have also been punished for an "invasion of the field of play, throwing of objects, lighting of fireworks, use of laser pointers and use of objects to transmit a message that is not appropriate for a sports event."

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Football Federation have also been ordered to play a match behind closed doors, and received a fine of $154,000, after a pitch invasion that followed their away-goals elimination against Ghana in Abuja.

Senegal will be making their third appearance at the FIFA World Cup later this year, and will kick the tournament off when they face the Netherlands in Group A on November 21 – the first time since 1954 where the tournament's opening match doesn’t involve either the hosts or the defending champions.

Jurgen Klopp is confident Liverpool forwards Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane will deal with their international rivalry "in the right way" after Senegal beat Egypt to World Cup qualification.

The Reds boss also condemned fans for targeting Salah with laser pens as he skied Egypt's first spot-kick in their penalty shoot-out loss, with Senegal qualifying for Qatar after a 1-1 aggregate draw in the African play-offs.

Tuesday's defeat represents the second time this season that Salah has been bested by his club team-mate on spot-kicks after Senegal accomplished the same feat to win the Africa Cup of Nations in February.

Salah and Mane have hit a combined 32 Premier League goals this season, with the Egyptian scoring 20 and the Senegalese forward netting 12.

Speaking ahead of Saturday's Premier League clash with Watford, Klopp, while condemning the laser pens, expressed his pride for Mane's achievement and backed the duo to move on in the correct manner.

"I'm obviously really happy for Sadio that he could make it, and I'm obviously very disappointed for Mo," Klopp said.

"I don't think that the situation around the penalty and the laser was particularly cool, so I feel for him [Salah]. But I'm happy for Sadio as well, that's football. 

"It's different when two mates are in such a big game, playing against each other, but they are both top professionals, very emotional people as well, but I'm pretty sure they will deal with it in the right way. 

"There's no doubt about it, at the moment, Senegal are the best team in Africa, and Egypt did really well to take them twice to the wire, twice to a penalty shoot-out.

"Senegal have an extremely talented squad and Egypt did really well. I'm not sure they can see it like this exactly, but from my point of view they should.

"They got unlucky with the draw, against pretty much all other [African] teams, Egypt would have qualified for the World Cup."

No player has scored the opening goal in more different Premier League games this season than Mane (six), while Salah has scored the joint-most winning goals in the competition this term (also six).

Salah has now faced penalty heartache twice this calendar year with Egypt, but Klopp claims the 29-year-old's international disappointment will simply spur him on at club level. 

"There's no doubt about it, Mo wants to win everything he can," Klopp added. "That's why he was very disappointed about the fact they couldn't win the [AFCON] tournament or qualify for the World Cup.  

"That's different competitions, his desire will be bigger now, and he's a very smart person who sees the difference between all these things. 

"We didn't speak about it in detail, to be honest, but he knows that Senegal are a tough team. Mo was unlucky in moments, especially with the penalty shoot-out, but nobody has to worry about him."

Salah has been directly involved in 11 goals in just seven Premier League games against Watford, scoring nine and assisting two.

He averages a goal or assist every 57 minutes against the Hornets, the fourth-best ratio any player has against a club in Premier League history having played a minimum of 600 minutes against that opponent.

Sadio Mane is proud to have helped Senegal overcome Egypt and qualify for the World Cup and says he was "luckier" to get the better of Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah.

Senegal beat Egypt on penalties in Tuesday's qualifying play-off in Dakar after winning 1-0 on the day to level the tie at 1-1 on aggregate.

Mane sunk the decisive spot-kick in a shoot-out overshadowed by the Egypt players – including Salah, who missed the opening kick – being targeted by lasers from the stands.

Senegal's triumph comes seven weeks on from beating the same opponents – again on penalties – in the Africa Cup of Nations final.

While happy at getting the better of Liverpool colleague Salah, Mane accepts the outcome of both games could have been a lot different.

"I won twice and he lost twice. I was luckier to come out on top," Mane told OnTime Sports.

"I am very proud that we won the Africa Cup of Nations and now qualified for the World Cup, it's a dream I had.

"It was a difficult game for both teams. Our fans pushed us to win and we didn't stop fighting. We knew the game wouldn't be easy but we pressed to score."

Senegal join Ghana, Tunisia, Morocco and Cameroon as Africa's representatives at Qatar 2022, with Nigeria, Mali, DR Congo and Algeria falling at the final hurdle.

Mane and Salah could reunite on the pitch next weekend, meanwhile, when Liverpool return to Premier League action against Watford.

Virgil van Dijk has backed Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah to "turn disappointment into success" after Egypt failed to qualify for this year's World Cup.

Salah, who had lasers directed at him from the crowd as he lined up his spot-kick, blazed over in the penalty shoot-out on Tuesday as it was Senegal – spearheaded by fellow Liverpool star Sadio Mane – who booked their spot in Qatar following a 1-1 aggregate draw across two legs.

It was the second time this year that Salah and Egypt have suffered shoot-out agony against Senegal, who triumphed in the same way in the Africa Cup of Nations final.

Salah has been one of the standout players in European football this season, yet will not get the chance to show his quality on the biggest international stage.

While Van Dijk is disappointed for Liverpool's talisman, he is confident the forward will use Egypt's failure to spur the Reds on to more success this season, with a quadruple still on the cards for Jurgen Klopp's team.

 

"Well obviously, I feel sorry for Mo and for Egypt, but football is sometimes like this," Van Dijk told reporters after featuring in the Netherlands' 1-1 friendly draw with Germany.

"I am sure he will turn the disappointment into success for the rest of the season.

"We still have everything to play for so there is a lot of things still to achieve for him."

While Salah will return to Liverpool disappointed, Mane will come back knowing he is set to lead Senegal, who exited in the group stage in Russia in 2018.

Van Dijk was thrilled for Mane, but could not resist firing a warning shot his team-mate's way.

"As for Sadio, I wish him all the best and if he is in our group, he is going to need that good luck," the defender added.

Egypt complained they suffered a bus attack and alleged Mohamed Salah faced racist abuse before their chaotic World Cup play-off defeat in Senegal.

The protest came before kick-off at Stade Abdoulaye Wade, where Senegal avenged a 1-0 first-leg defeat with victory by the same margin, before winning a controversial penalty shoot-out.

When it came down to spot-kicks, Egypt's players had lasers pointed towards them by home fans, a likely distraction as three visiting players, including Liverpool's Mohamed Salah, failed to convert.

That allowed Senegal to win 3-1 in the shoot-out, with Salah's club-mate Sadio Mane netting the winning strike.

It had been a challenging day for Egypt even before the game began, with pictures posted by their national football association indicating the team bus had been struck by missiles on its way to the stadium, which is situated a short distance outside Dakar.

One window was shattered, while evidence posted on social media by Egyptian authorities showed an apparently cracked windscreen and a rock that had been thrown into the vehicle.

The Egyptian FA (EFA) also posted a picture from inside the stadium of a banner reading "F*** YOU SALAH".

The EFA said in a statement: "Egypt files an official complaint against Senegal due to the attack and the racist banners.

"The Egyptian team was subjected to racism after offensive banners appeared in the stadium stands for the players, specifically Mohamed Salah, the team leader. This was documented with pictures and videos that were attached to the complaint."

Egyptian media said the complaint had been filed to CAF – the African confederation – and world governing body FIFA.

Furious Nigeria supporters stormed the pitch at the National Stadium in Lagos after rivals Ghana sealed a World Cup spot at the expense of the Super Eagles.

Arsenal's Thomas Partey opened the scoring in the 10th minute for Ghana, before William Troost-Ekong levelled from the penalty spot for the hosts midway through the first half.

Nigeria could not find a crucial second goal, however, with Otto Addo's Ghana side holding on for the 1-1 draw, to progress to Qatar 2022 via away goals after a 0-0 draw in the first leg.

The result sparked ugly scenes inside the stadium, with videos on social media showing supporters leaving their seats and smashing equipment at the side of the pitch.

There was heartbreak for Mohamed Salah and Egypt after they suffered another dramatic penalty shoot-out defeat to Senegal.

Hosts Senegan recovered from a 1-0 first-leg deficit to beat Egypt by the same margin at the Abdoulaye Wade Stadium, before Salah, with dozens of laser pens seemingly pointing at his face, fired Egypt's first penalty of the shoot-out over the bar.

Mostafa Mohamed later failed with the visitors' fourth kick, allowing Salah’s Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mane to slam his penalty past Mohamed El Shenawy and seal Senegal's progress, in a repeat of February's Africa Cup of Nations final triumph.

"We try our best but today was not enough," he wrote. "To all my players and my staff, [I give] my recognition and humble thank you.

"You will be always in my heart. It was my privilege to work and be helped by such dedicated and capable professionals and wonderful friends."

There was stunning late drama in Bilda as Karl Toko Ekambi scored late in extra time to seal a 2-1 win for visitors Cameroon against Algeria, the Indomitable Lions progressing to Qatar via away goals after a 2-2 aggregate draw.

Algeria thought they had sealed a place at the World Cup when Ahmed Touba cancelled out Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting's opener with two minutes remaining in extra time, but there was just enough time left for Ekambi to seal the most dramatic of victories.

Morocco also booked their place in Friday's World Cup draw with an emphatic 4-1 win over Democratic Republic of Congo. A brace from Azzedine Ounahi, as well as goals from Tarik Tissoudali and Achraf Hakimi, sealed a 5-2 aggregate win over DR Congo, who scored a late consolation through Ben Malango.

Meanwhile, a 0-0 draw for Tunisia against Mali was enough to see the former seal their own place in Qatar after they managed a 1-0 win in the first leg.

Sadio Mane fired Senegal to the World Cup as Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah suffered penalty shoot-out agony with Egypt after being targeted with lasers by fans.

Senegal recovered from a 1-0 first-leg deficit to land victory by the same margin at the Abdoulaye Wade Stadium on Tuesday.

That meant the play-off, tied at 1-1 after 120 minutes of the second leg, went down to a battle of spot-kicks to decide who would go to Qatar 2022, and Salah missed Egypt's first penalty when he fired over the bar.

Lasers flashed across the pitch and were directed at Egypt's star man, who could not find the focus to convert from 12 yards.

The first four penalties were missed, with Salah's the second of those, before both sides netted their third kicks.

Egypt's Mostafa Mohamed failed with the visitors' fourth penalty, seeing his shot blocked, and that allowed Mane to step up and crack a fierce spot-kick past Mohamed El Shenawy, booking a place in Friday's draw.

Will it be Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane? Italy or Portugal – or indeed neither? Can Canada end their long wait, and are the United States and Australia at risk of missing out?

Those questions and plenty more are set to be answered over the next week or so as World Cup qualifying concludes for many nations.

Just 15 of the 32 participants have so far been confirmed for Qatar 2022, leaving 48 teams battling for the 17 remaining spots.

Fourteen more countries will be assured of a finals berth come the end of next week in what is very much crunch time for those still in contention.

Stats Perform looks at the key talking points.

Egypt seeking revenge in AFCON final repeat

Less than two months on from meeting in the Africa Cup of Nations final, Egypt and Senegal face off over two legs for a place in Qatar.

Senegal prevailed in a penalty shoot-out to claim their first AFCON crown and, buoyed by that triumph, will consider themselves as favourites here.

While both teams boast an array of top-class talent, this fixture is being billed as a showdown between Liverpool team-mates Salah and Mane.

The two biggest stars in African football, only one of the pair will be part of the World Cup later this year – and neither will fancy watching it all unfold from home.

This is not the only grudge match taking place in the CAF section over the next week and a half, as fierce rivals Ghana and Nigeria will also face off in a two-legged play-off.

Cameroon are up against Algeria, Mali take on Tunisia and DR Congo meet Morocco in the other three ties, each of which will be concluded on March 29.

European heavyweights on collision course

Since the play-off draw in the UEFA section took place in November, all talk has centered around a potential meeting between Italy and Portugal for a place in the finals.

The winners of the past two European Championships, either the Azzurri or the Selecao will miss out on the biggest tournament of them all.

It should never have been this way, of course, as both teams were strong favourites to finish top of their groups and qualify automatically.

Italy finished second to Switzerland and Portugal were runners-up to Serbia, meaning the sides must now come through two qualifying ties.

First up for the reigning European champions is a meeting with North Macedonia in Palermo, while Portugal face Turkey in Porto, with the winners of both ties advancing.

Should, as expected, Italy and Portugal come through those semi-finals, the latter will have the advantage of staging the final on home soil five days later.

For Portugal skipper Cristiano Ronaldo, it presents what will surely be his last chance to play at a record-equalling fifth World Cup.

 

Pathways impacted by political events

Path C of UEFA qualifying is undoubtedly the most eye-catching, but there are also some tasty fixtures in the other two sections – not least a possible Home Nations derby.

Scotland and Wales were kept apart in the Path B semi-finals but could meet in the final should they overcome Ukraine and Austria respectively.

However, due to ongoing events in Ukraine, their game against Scotland has been pushed back – likely until June – as has the final involving either Wales or Austria.

In Path C, Russia had been due to face Poland, but the invasion of Ukraine forced FIFA and UEFA's hand and they have been banned from competing.

Poland have therefore been handed a bye to the qualifying play-off final, where either Sweden or the Czech Republic await. That match will be contested next week as planned.

Canada on verge of ending long wait, USA with work to do

The United States qualified for every World Cup between 1990 and 2014, but they missed out on a place at Russia 2018 after an embarrassing loss to Trinidad and Tobago.

Gregg Berhalter's side are by no means assured of one of the three automatic qualification spots in the CONCACAF section this time around, either.

USA sit second with three games to go, but they still have to travel to third-placed Mexico, as well as facing Panama and Costa Rica, who occupy fourth and fifth respectively.

Level on points with Mexico and four ahead of Costa Rica, it could be a tense finale to qualifying for the Stars and Stripes.

That should not be the case for Canada, who are eight points clear of fourth and are all but assured of ending their 36-year wait to make a second World Cup finals appearance.

Brazil and Argentina through, but who will join them?

The drawn-out South American qualifiers are nearing their conclusion and only four of the 10 sides know their fate at this juncture.

It has been plain sailing for Brazil and Argentina, who are assured of an automatic qualifying spot with three games to go, including a rescheduled meeting between the pair.

Behind those perennial World Cup representatives are Ecuador, who have been the surprise package in qualifying and can finish no lower than fifth.

Ecuador will not be content with anything other than a top-four finish, though, and they can make certain of that with victory over Paraguay.

Assuming Ecuador get over the line, that will leave Uruguay, Peru, Chile, Colombia and Bolivia battling it out for progression, which sets up some intriguing fixtures.

Uruguay occupy fourth place, meaning their qualifying aspirations are in their own hands, but they have Peru and Chile – the two sides behind them – still to face.

Socceroos sweating on finals spot

Only four teams advance automatically from the CONMEBOL section, with the team in fifth entering a play-off against the winner of the AFC fourth round in a one-off tie in June.

That may well turn out to be Australia as the Socceroos are five and four points behind top two Saudi Arabia and Japan in Group B with two games to go.

However, those remaining two fixtures are against those nations occupying automatic qualification places, so Australia may yet sneak through.

Iran and South Korea have already made certain of progression in Group A, meanwhile, leaving the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Iraq to compete for third place.

The two third-placed finishers – which, as it stands, are Australia and the UAE – will meet in a one-legged match ahead of that aforementioned play-off with a CONMEBOL side.

Chelsea and Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy is relishing a huge week for the Stamford Bridge outfit, saying he will have time to celebrate his recent trophy wins at the end of the season.

Mendy has enjoyed another strong campaign, lifting the Club World Cup with Thomas Tuchel's team after starring in his nation's first major trophy success at the Africa Cup of Nations.

He kept four clean sheets and was named the tournament's best goalkeeper as Senegal lifted the trophy.

But with the London outfit facing a crucial week on two fronts, hosting Lille in the Champions League last 16 on Tuesday before facing Liverpool in Sunday's EFL Cup final, the 29-year-old says he is simply taking each game as it comes without any time to celebrate just yet.

"A lot of good things have happened in the last weeks," Mendy said ahead of Chelsea's first-leg clash with Lille. "I am very happy and proud of my success with the national team and Chelsea.

"I don't have time to celebrate, because we have a lot of big games in the coming weeks, so I am just focused on the next game. I will have time to celebrate at the end of the season.

"It's an important week but like I said, when you play for Chelsea you play for this kind of week, with finals and big games.

"We just [have to] focus on ourselves and what we have done well this season. We don't need to do something new, just rely on our work and our game."

Mendy, who has kept nine clean sheets in 21 league appearances for Chelsea in the Premier League this season, was also keen to praise teammate Kepa Arrizabalaga, who deputised ably when he travelled to Africa.

"My relationship with Kepa is good since I came here, we have a good relationship on and off the pitch," he said.

"When you play for Chelsea, you have competition in every position, so you have to give your best and play at your highest level to be in the team at the weekend."

Mendy also warned of the challenge posed by Lille ahead of the Ligue 1 holders' trip to London, as Chelsea try to retain their Champions League title.

He added: "When it's the Champions League and this stage of the competition, there are no easy draws.

"Lille are a very good team. They've struggled a bit more this season in the league [sitting 11th in Ligue 1 after 25 games] but it's always difficult to be reigning champions.

"They will give everything to make it hard for us and get a result. It's up to us to be wary of that and play our best football."

Chelsea are the first Champions League holders to progress to the knockout stages without winning their group since Real Madrid in 2017-18, but the Spanish side did go on to retain their title that season.

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