Thibaut Courtois declared Vinicius Jr needs to be protected after he was on the receiving end of a horrendous challenge from Gabriel Paulista on Thursday.

The Brazilian defender kicked out at his compatriot, who had doubled Real Madrid's lead against Valencia to mark his 200th club appearance in style.

Los Blancos emerged 2-0 victors at Santiago Bernabeu to edge closer to leaders Barcelona, yet it was the challenge on Vinicius that left the biggest impression.

Courtois questioned why Vinicius was subject to such treatment, but praised the referee for taking the appropriate action.

"I don't know why he was kicked in that way, we need to protect him," he told LaLigaTV.

"He's a player who dribbles a lot, tries to go past defenders and defenders don't like it. It's the way he is as a player.

"We need him to be that way, we need him to be like that against defenders.

"He receives a lot of kicks and tonight I'm just happy the referee acted and had the bravery to give the red card. The ball is not there, there's no intent to get the ball.

"Even if it was one of us had made that challenge then I would have said yes, it has to be a red card."

Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe may have faced off against one another in the World Cup final in Qatar, but they line up in the same XI in FIFA 23's Team of the Year.

While Mbappe scored a hat-trick in the tournament's showpiece match, it was Messi's Argentina who lifted the World Cup for a third time with a penalty shoot-out victory following a 3-3 draw after extra-time.

The Paris Saint-Germain team-mates have both made FIFA 23's Team of the Year, though, with the selections made from over 10 million votes from fans.

Despite Argentina's World Cup win, Messi is the only player from Lionel Scaloni's team to be included, with Ballon d'Or winner Karim Benzema completing the front three after scoring 44 goals in 46 matches in the 2021-22 season to help Real Madrid to a LaLiga title and Champions League win.

Kevin De Bruyne finished third in the Ballon d'Or rankings and is part of the midfield, alongside the evergreen Madrid star Luka Modric and Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham, with the latter playing a key role for England at the World Cup at the age of just 19.

The Madrid theme running through the line-up continues at the back, with Thibaut Courtois between in goal and Eder Militao at the heart of the defence.

Virgil van Dijk joins Militao, while Theo Hernandez and Achraf Hakimi, who enjoyed excellent World Cups with France and Morocco respectively, fill the full-back roles.

Cristiano Ronaldo's move to join Al Nassr is proof of Saudi Arabia's ambition to improve as a football nation, says Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Portugal superstar Ronaldo had his contract with Manchester United terminated by mutual consent shortly before his country's World Cup opener, leaving him free to make a lucrative move to the Saudi Pro League.

The transfer marks the end of an illustrious career for Ronaldo in Europe, where he lifted the Champions League on five occasions and won the Ballon D'Or on five occasions.

With Ronaldo having reportedly attracted the interest of clubs in Europe and MLS, Courtois believes the addition is a statement of intent from Saudi Arabian football.

"The transfer of Cristiano makes it clear that the country wants to improve in sports," Courtois told reporters.

"Cristiano choosing to come here is his decision, but it shows that Arabia wants to improve. They've brought him in to win the league."

Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti had a similar view of the deal, saying: "Cristiano has been a fantastic signing. We wish him well. He's a legend of our club, like [Gareth] Bale, who retired yesterday. They remain in the hearts of all Madridistas."

Madrid are in Saudi Arabia for the Supercopa de Espana, where they face Valencia in the semi-finals on Wednesday, and Ancelotti wants to use the competition as a benchmark for success in the remainder of the campaign.

"Titles are always important for this club. Last year gave us a lot of confidence for that season. Hopefully the same thing will happen this year," he added.

"We have to fight for all the titles. We have one very close to try to win it. The goal is the Super Cup, for now."

Karim Benzema scored a late double as Real Madrid snatched a 2-0 victory at 10-man Real Valladolid on Friday to leapfrog Barcelona at the top of LaLiga.

Carlo Ancelotti's side looked set to be frustrated at the Jose Zorrilla Stadium in their first game after the World Cup, with Benzema squandering a gilt-edged first-half chance.

However, the France international – who missed Qatar 2022 through injury – made amends after the interval as he converted from the penalty spot with seven minutes remaining before sealing victory six minutes later.

Valladolid saw forward Sergio Leon sent off for dissent after the award of Benzema's penalty as Madrid dug deep to go one point clear of Barca, who play their game in hand at home to Espanyol on Saturday.

Thibaut Courtois says Belgium's current crop of players should not be considered the country's "golden generation" after their dire World Cup campaign in Qatar.

Belgium finished third at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2020 despite a series of underwhelming displays, leading to hopes of a renewed World Cup bid this year.

However, the world's number-two ranked side suffered a humiliating group-stage exit after following up a 1-0 win over Canada with a defeat to Morocco and a goalless draw with Croatia. 

The Red Devils' current squad – which includes a series of household names including Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard – has often been described as Belgium's "golden generation", but Courtois says that depiction is inaccurate.

"It's a little shameful they called us the golden generation of Belgium when we didn't win anything," Courtois told ESPN.

"We are not a golden generation; we are a generation that had a lot of talent and great players in several European clubs.

"In Russia, in 2018, we showed that we were a Belgium that played good football. In this World Cup and in the Euro [2020] we were not ourselves."

Courtois, a veteran of three World Cup campaigns, will be 34 when the next edition of the tournament begins, but he has no intention of calling time on his international career before then.

"We'll see what will happen, who will stay, who will end their career. I want to play in this [next] World Cup, yes," Courtois said.

"We still have good players and others will arrive. When they finish their career in the national team, it will be in a good phase, not like this."

Thibaut Courtois insists "too many lies are spread" as the Belgium goalkeeper dismissed reports of a rift in the Red Devils' camp.

The 2022 World Cup is regarded as the last shot at glory for Belgium's 'Golden Generation', who must avoid defeat against Croatia to stand any chance of reaching the last 16.

Following their shock 2-0 defeat to Morocco, Jan Vertonghen appeared to take a swipe at Kevin De Bruyne, who suggested the ageing Red Devils were "too old" to launch a genuine challenge in Qatar.

Meanwhile, Eden Hazard stated his belief Roberto Martinez's side had "greater chances" of glory in Russia four years ago, when they were narrowly beaten 1-0 by France in the semi-finals.

"I guess we attack badly because we are also too old up front," Vertonghen told reporters in the mixed zone after the loss against the Atlas Lions.

Courtois, who will earn his 100th cap should he play against Croatia, revealed there had been a discussion among the group on Monday, and that the rumours have spurred his team-mates on.

"The problem is that too many lies are spread," he said. "A situation is described that doesn't exist. As a group, we need to avoid that negativity.

"Everything was clarified yesterday. Everyone has openly expressed their opinion. Now, we have to take action on the field. It's good that we had a group conversation. We said what we thought to each other.

"We have to be honest with each other and fight for each other on the pitch."

Hazard also denied there was a confrontation in the dressing-room after the Morocco defeat, but the Red Devils captain admitted he had held a conversation with De Bruyne about his comments.

"Nothing happened in the dressing-room," he said. "Only the coach spoke. I spoke to Kevin De Bruyne, he does believe in the group.

"We had a good talk among the players. A lot has been said. We talked for an hour about good things and less good things. Now, we want to win against Croatia. We have to be ready."

Romelu Lukaku has been included in Belgium's 26-man squad for the Qatar World Cup, despite injury concerns.

Head coach Roberto Martinez warned that Lukaku had to prove his fitness for the group stage if he was to be named in the squad, which the striker appears to have done.

Belgium's record goalscorer Lukaku, on loan at Inter from Chelsea, made his comeback from a hamstring injury, coming off the bench to score against Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League on October 26.

However, that is one of just two appearances the 29-year-old has managed since August, with his last game coming on October 29 against Sampdoria.

There is no place for another forward plying his trade in Serie A, with Milan's Divock Origi left out, though his club team-mate Charles De Ketelaere does make it.

The Premier League has plenty of representation, with three players from Leicester City, including Youri Tielemans, along with Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne, Brighton and Hove Albion's in-form winger Leandro Trossard and midfielders from Everton and Aston Villa in the form of Amadou Onana and Leander Dendoncker.

Eden Hazard has started just two games for Real Madrid this season, but makes the cut among Martinez's forwards, while club-mate Thibaut Courtois will be hoping for another fine tournament on an individual level, after he won the Golden Glove at Russia 2018.

This could be what has been dubbed the "golden generation" of Belgian football's last chance to win a major tournament, with several of their star players now over or approaching the age of 30. They finished third in 2018, beating England in a play-off match after losing to eventual champions France in the semi-finals.

Belgium kick their tournament off against Canada on November 23, before playing Morocco and Croatia in their other Group F matches.

Belgium squad: Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid), Simon Mignolet (Club Brugge); Toby Alderweireld (Royal Antwerp), Timothy Castagne (Leicester City), Zeno Debast (Anderlecht), Leander Dendoncker (Aston Villa), Wout Faes (Leicester City), Thomas Meunier (Borussia Dortmund), Arthur Theate (Rennes), Jan Vertonghen (Anderlecht); Yannick Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Dortmund), Amadou Onana (Everton), Youri Tielemans (Leicester City), Hans Vanaken (Club Brugge), Axel Witsel (Borussia Dortmund); Michy Batshuayi (Fenerbahce), Charles De Ketelaere (Milan), Jeremy Doku (Rennes), Eden Hazard (Real Madrid), Romelu Lukaku (Inter), Dries Mertens (Galatasaray), Lois Openda (Lens), Leandro Trossard (Brighton and Hove Albion)

Thibaut Courtois expressed his frustration at Real Madrid conceding "too many silly goals" after falling to their first LaLiga defeat of the season in a 3-2 loss at Rayo Vallecano.

Santiago Comesana netted a fifth-minute opener on Monday against Madrid, who have kept just two clean sheets in their first 13 LaLiga games, their lowest tally at this stage of a season since 2013-14.

Luka Modric's penalty and Eder Militao's header gave Madrid the lead before Alvaro Garcia's first-half equaliser, and Carlo Ancelotti's side were left frustrated by a contentious Oscar Trejo winner after the interval.

Trejo scored a retaken penalty after Dani Carvajal was penalised for encroachment following Courtois' initial spot-kick save, but the Madrid goalkeeper acknowledged his side were far from their best after the defeat.

"Rayo are having a great season, we knew it was going to be difficult, and we weren't up to the task in the first half," the Belgium international said.

"We conceded too many silly goals, due to mistakes or not being 100 per cent in the match.

"Then the penalty, bad luck. The referee told me that because of Carvajal, that's what they told him in the VAR, that he gets into the area earlier.

"Then I wanted to stay in the centre, but I threw myself and I had a better corner than the one I stopped. It's a shame, I saved the penalty and in the end everything changes. I hope it's our only defeat in LaLiga.

"With so many games, it may be normal that we are tired. The draw against Girona was more bad luck. Today was not our best day and Rayo played well."

While Courtois refused to criticise referee Juan Martinez Munuera, Madrid team-mate Lucas Vazquez questioned why the VAR and officials have not been as "rigorous" in other games this season.

"It was a complicated game, they got ahead very quickly, and although we turned it around, they equalised again and that hurt us," Vazquez said.

"It was difficult for us to find our football, and Rayo is a complicated team that today has been very good.

"But they [the referee and the VAR] send Trejo to shoot again and in other games they don't, they should always be just as rigorous."

Madrid trail LaLiga leaders Barcelona by two points and host Cadiz on Thursday in their last game before the World Cup break.

Oscar Trejo scored the winner with a contentious second-half penalty as Real Madrid missed the chance to return to the LaLiga summit after falling to a 3-2 defeat at Rayo Vallecano.

Carlo Ancelotti's side trail leaders Barcelona by two points after losing at Vallecas, where referee Juan Martinez Munuera and the VAR played a significant part on Monday.

Luka Modric's penalty and an Eder Militao header had put Madrid into the lead after Santiago Comesana's opener, before Alvaro Garcia equalised during a breathless first half.

Yet there was to be more drama when Dani Carvajal was deemed to have encroached as Thibaut Courtois saved a 67th-minute penalty from Trejo, who converted the retake to secure victory.

Comesana fired Rayo into a fifth-minute lead after angling a first-time left-footed shot past Courtois following Fran Garcia's whipped left-wing cross.

Martínez Munuera gave a 37th-minute penalty to Madrid after consulting the touchline monitor following a tangle of legs that saw Marco Asensio felled by Fran Garcia, with Modric coolly converting down the middle from the spot.

Militao directed a header into the bottom-left corner from Asensio's inswinging corner to give Madrid the lead, only for Alvaro Garcia to power a left-footed strike past Courtois to equalise three minutes later.

Courtois saved Trejo's penalty after Carvajal was adjudged to have handled in the second half – again following a review of the touchline monitor – but the Madrid right-back was penalised for encroachment, allowing the Rayo midfielder to find the bottom-right corner at the second attempt.

That was to prove the winner, although Madrid almost salvaged a draw when Rodrygo spurned a glorious 89th-minute chance, turning over Asensio's centre.

What does it mean? Madrid slip up again

With Liverpool confirmed as their next Champions League opponents in the last 16, reigning European and Spanish champions Madrid will have to improve both domestically and on the continent after faltering in back-to-back LaLiga games.

A 1-1 draw against Girona coupled with only Rayo's second win against Madrid in 21 LaLiga attempts will leave Ancelotti much to ponder with a game to go before November's World Cup break.

Andoni Iraola will have much to celebrate, though, despite his second-half dismissal for dissent, after Rayo won three league games in a row for just a second time under his stewardship.

Classy Comesana

Comesana appeared to be everywhere for Rayo against Madrid, scoring the opening goal with a coolly taken finish that belied his defensive-midfield position.

The Rayo man was a dominant force in the middle of the park as well, though, creating three chances and regaining possession eight times – both game-leading figures in just 79 minutes.

Defensive issues for Madrid

Madrid often relied on late fightbacks on their way to Champions League and LaLiga glory last season, perhaps masking their defensive issues.

But Los Blancos have come unstuck this term after keeping just two clean sheets in their first 13 LaLiga games, their lowest tally at this stage of a season since 2013-14 – also under Ancelotti.

What's next?

Madrid host Cadiz on Thursday in their last game before the World Cup break, while Rayo are at home to Celta Vigo on the same day.

Carlo Ancelotti acknowledged "sooner or later" Real Madrid had to lose but Thibaut Courtois lamented Los Blancos' defensive concentration after a 3-2 defeat at RB Leipzig.

Madrid were without the injured Federico Valverde, Karim Benzema and Luka Modric and fell two goals behind after strikes from Josko Gvardiol and Christopher Nkunku on Tuesday.

That marked the first time Madrid conceded twice in the first 20 minutes of a Champions League in a group stage match and just the fourth time in the competition in total.

Vinicius Junior pulled one back and Rodrygo scored a late consolation, but Timo Werner's strike inflicted a fourth Champions League defeat on Madrid in 2022, only in 2001 (five) have they suffered more.

However, Ancelotti refused to criticise Los Blancos – who sit top of LaLiga and remain favourites to win Group F – as he suggested a defeat was expected at some point.

"I'm not angry. It's a defeat, annoying, but it doesn't do much damage," the Madrid coach told Movistar. "Sooner or later it had to happen. Go on, you can't look back.

"I can't criticise a team that has done very well. From defeats, you learn more than ten wins in a row. We are very forceful at set-pieces, but we were not tonight."

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was far less forgiving in his assessment, lamenting Ancelotti's visitors for failing to defend two early set-pieces that brought goals for Gvardiol and Nkunku.

"It is what sometimes happens to us. We went out asleep, without intensity and you pay for it," the Belgium international added to Movistar. "The coach warned us and it still happened.

"We can't go out like that. We put in before the break. But in the second half the same, we missed a lot of passes.

"As a goalkeeper, you are noticing that we are not in the game. In many duels, we did not win. That happens in both goals, due to lack of intensity. We have to wake up.

"A bad day can happen but intensity cannot be missing. There are many on the bench and if you can't do it any more, you can't do it any more."

Madrid host Celtic on the final matchday and only have to match Leipzig's result at Shakhtar Donetsk to progress to the knockout stages as group winners.

Thibaut Courtois suggested the Yashin Trophy had been "invented" to appease goalkeepers as he struggled to understand his seventh-placed Ballon d'Or finish – scepticism that was shared by Iker Casillas.

Keeper Courtois' Real Madrid team-mate Karim Benzema took the top award in Monday's Paris ceremony, named the best player in the world by France Football.

Benzema was a deserving winner, as Courtois himself acknowledged, having scored 44 goals in 46 games as Madrid won LaLiga and the Champions League in 2021-22. He netted two hat-tricks among a record-equalling 10 goals in the Champions League knockout stage.

But Courtois was also a part of those two triumphs and had an equally vital role in the European success, making nine saves in the final against Liverpool – a record since Opta data was first gathered in 2003-04 and worth 2.5 prevented goals, according to expected goals on target data.

The Belgium international beat Liverpool's Alisson to the Yashin Trophy, awarded to the world's best goalkeeper, yet he felt he should have fared better in the overall ranking.

"First of all, I want to say that I am very happy for Karim Benzema," Courtois told Cadena SER.

"It seems that it is better to score a goal than to stop one. It is a battle that remains to be won. Seeing the logic of the vote, I had no chance of finishing very high, nor of winning it of course.

"I'm not saying I had to win it! But you win La Liga, the Champions League, your team wins thanks to your saves... and you only finish seventh. You're not even on the podium.

"In the top 10, there wasn't even a defender. At least this year they invented the trophy for the best goalkeeper."

Meanwhile, on Twitter, Courtois shared a post from former Madrid keeper Casillas, which read: "I'm happy for Thibaut Courtois! By far he is the best goalkeeper in the world.

"What I'm not happy about is not having put him on the final podium for the Ballon d'Or. I still don't understand what those who choose this award are based on."

Carlo Ancelotti challenged Karim Benzema to launch his bid for back-to-back Ballon d'Or awards when Real Madrid head to Elche in LaLiga on Wednesday.

French striker Benzema captured world football's most prestigious individual annual prize on Monday, finishing ahead of Sadio Mane and Kevin De Bruyne in the podium places.

He was the obviously outstanding candidate after starring – and often captaining – Madrid on their way to LaLiga and Champions League success last season.

The timeframe for the award has changed, shifting from a calendar year gong to one that celebrates achievement from August 1 to July 31.

The new system will continue, so early season efforts in 2022-23 will count towards next year's Ballon d'Or.

Benzema has made a steady start to this campaign, certainly not as eye-catching as Erling Haaland at Manchester City, whose goals could put him in the picture, despite Norway failing to qualify for the World Cup.

Now Ancelotti is urging Benzema to kick on, saying of his prize: "We are very happy. He said that he is very proud of this award and has thanked all his colleagues.

"We have to think about the next Ballon d'Or. He can start tomorrow."

Ancelotti said he felt "proud" of the 34-year-old and also Thibaut Courtois, who landed the prize for the best goalkeeper and finished seventh in the main vote.

Courtois questioned whether a goalkeeper stood any chance of taking the top prize. Lev Yashin, in 1963, is the only keeper to have laid his hands on the trophy.

Speaking after the awards, Courtois said: "It seems that it is better to score a goal than to save one. It is a battle that remains to be won. Seeing the logic of the vote, I had no chance of finishing very high, nor of winning it of course."

At least Courtois could join Benzema in celebrating individual prizes, with Madrid surprisingly pipped to the team award by Premier League champions Manchester City, who Madrid beat in the Champions League semi-finals.

Ancelotti, who will be without the injured Courtois at Elche, saluted Benzema's development into a talisman for the Spanish capital giants.

"He is a player who has much more responsibility and feels much more like a leader than he was eight years ago," said Ancelotti.

"Technically he hasn't changed much, because his technical quality is the same. What has changed is his responsibility and his attitude."

Madrid will hope to follow the individual success with another win on the road, having won all of their five away games so far in LaLiga this term.

They lead LaLiga by three points from Barcelona after winning Sunday's Clasico.

Elche, meanwhile, are winless in their last 12 matches against Madrid in LaLiga (D2 L10), since a 3-1 victory in March 1978.

Thibaut Courtois was named the world's best goalkeeper by France Football on Monday as he took home the 2022 Yashin Trophy.

The award, handed to the outstanding keeper of the 2021-22 season, went to Courtois ahead of Alisson, Ederson, Edouard Mendy and Mike Maignan.

Liverpool's Alisson finished second to Courtois, who inspired Real Madrid's Champions League final win over the Reds in Paris last term.

It was the Belgium international's performance in that match that surely earned him the top honour and helped him finish seventh in the Ballon d'Or voting.

Courtois made nine saves – a final record since Opta data was first gathered in 2003-04 – and prevented 2.5 goals, according to expected goals on target data, in a 1-0 victory.

Madrid also won LaLiga, capping the finest season of Courtois' career.

Gianluigi Donnarumma had won the Yashin Trophy in 2021, having similarly delivered glory for Italy at Euro 2020, but he did not make the top 10 this time.

Real Madrid will be without Thibaut Courtois for a Clasico clash that Carlo Ancelotti says is not "life or death".

Courtois has been sidelined with sciatica, but Ancelotti this week stated he hoped his goalkeeper would return against Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.

Los Blancos head coach Ancelotti on Saturday revealed the Belgium international will not feature in a mouthwatering battle between the top two in LaLiga.

"Courtois is quite well, he feels fine. [But] he has trained very little and is not comfortable," said the Italian. "He is out for tomorrow.

"He will train more continuously next week. W''ll see for next Wednesday or Sunday, he just needs training."

Andriy Lunin is set to deputise for the former Atletico Madrid and Chelsea keeper once again.

Meanwhile, centre-back Antonio Rudiger will face Barca wearing a mask after he required stitches due to the clash of heads he suffered while scoring a late equaliser in the midweek Champions League draw against Shakhtar Donetsk.

Madrid and fierce rivals Barca are level on points with seven wins from eight LaLiga matches, with Xavi's side top on goal difference.

The champions have won five of the past six Clasico showdowns, but the Catalan giants hammered them 4-0 in their last meeting in the capital in March.

Despite the fine margins in the league table, Ancelotti says it is not essential to come out on top when they lock horns for the first time this season.

He said: "I haven't shown the players any videos to motivate them. They know their opponents well and last year's game won't affect it. This is another competition and another year.

"We hope to play a game that the whole world is going to see, and we want to show a good image and try to win it for our fans.

"It's a special game, but not life or death. The season is very long. Although it's clear that we would like to win."

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti expects goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to return from injury in time for Sunday's Clasico clash with Barcelona.

Madrid ruled Courtois out for an undetermined period at the start of the month when they revealed he was suffering from sciatica.

That came shortly after the most recent international window, meaning Courtois has not played for Madrid since the 2-1 win at Atletico Madrid on September 18.

He has missed three games in all competitions and will also be absent when Madrid go to Warsaw to face Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on Tuesday.

But crucially, Ancelotti's first-choice goalkeeper is predicted to be ready for Sunday's top-of-the-table duel with Barca at the Santiago Bernabeu.

"Courtois is much better," Ancelotti said on Monday.

"The plan is for him to start training on Thursday and be ready for Sunday. We have spoken with him and he is much better."

While Courtois will not feature in Poland, Karim Benzema is set to start.

The Frenchman was out for three weeks after sustaining a thigh injury in the Champions League win over Celtic last month before returning in the 1-1 draw with Osasuna on October 2.

Ancelotti acknowledged prior to the 1-0 weekend win over Getafe that Benzema was "a bit tired" and proceeded to leave him out for the short trip, but he will be back on Tuesday.

"Karim is fine and it's clear that tomorrow he starts, with [Toni] Kroos and [Ferland] Mendy, who are fresh and are going to play," Ancelotti said.

But Vinicius Junior, who has started all of Madrid's 12 games in all competitions this season, could be due a rest.

"Vini is one of the players that I have to evaluate because he has played everything before this trip. We have to evaluate him."

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