World Cup Qualifiers - Europe

World Cup Qualifiers - Europe (225)

Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez has said that the country's "golden generation" of players should be appreciated more, even if they do not win a trophy.

Speaking ahead of the final round of European qualifiers for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, Martinez insisted that his Belgian side has proven how good they are by consistently being the number one ranked team by FIFA.

The Red Devils will seal qualification for Qatar if they beat Estonia at home on Saturday, or if Wales fail to beat Belarus in Cardiff on the same day.

Speaking to HLN, when asked about a lack of silverware, the former Wigan Athletic and Everton manager said: "This generation has changed Belgian football forever. They have twelve months until the next tournament. 

"I think we should be more attached to this generation. What this generation has given us is unique in Belgian football, and whatever happens, a generation with silverware or not, is not going to change what this generation has done.

"You will never find, or it will be very difficult to find, a generation with eight or nine players with over 100 caps that kept their number one ranking for such a long time, that have taken such a commitment to the national team.

"In the moment, they didn't need it. They could easily concentrate on their careers at club level, but the way that they want to develop the next generation, this generation goes a bit further than just wanting to have silverware.

"I think they teach us that we can challenge for silverware, we can challenge with the best national teams in the world, and that for me is more important because it will have an effect down the line.

"We need to enjoy it. This is a wonderful time for Belgian football. The consistency we had, we lost two games in the Nations League and were still number one in the world. Nobody gives you that status.

"It is because these players have been consistently winning in the last two years in a way that other national teams couldn't do.

"Of course, we cannot be happy with not winning, because that's not why you play football. You play football to try to win, but the reality is that the quality and commitment of this generation goes a bit further than winning silverware."

 

Questions have been raised in Belgium about Martinez being reluctant to bring in fresh faces, but the 48-year-old disagrees, believing that it makes sense to keep a consistent team together, while also defending his record of bringing new players in.

"My job is to try and create a team based on talented players who have been committed to the national team and who keep giving to the national team," he said.

"That's why we have eight players who have almost 100 caps, which is very rare. On the other side, we have had 24 debutants, which is a new squad completely.

"Of course, you can analyse it whichever way you want, but we have been really pleased with the balance. We don't have to change [for the sake of] change. 

"The opportunity of playing the Nations League, the European Championships and now the qualification for the World Cup all overlapping each other is giving us that smooth transition.

"It's a really good opportunity for the young players to show what they can do. It is not about the coach's decision. The generations can compete with each other, and football makes the decision.

"Any time there is an opportunity you need to show that you are ready as a youngster, and we have seen it. Jeremy Doku showed that he was ready and he started against Italy. This is not a specific coaching decision.

"This is a specific assessment of what happens in training, and we just promote that competition on the pitch.

"It is going to be a new opportunity for new faces, players who have been involved with us like Divock Origi, he hasn't played a lot at club level, he's got a good opportunity.

"We have a brand-new opportunity for a player like Dante Vanzeir, that he represents the great story of Union [SG]. You have the opportunity to see Charles De Ketelaere, confirming the good signs he showed against Italy.

"We are here to be a team, and I felt that every time we are here on the football pitch, we look like a group of players that have been together for a long time and that's the measurement that I always take into the teams."

Martinez also agreed with recent comments from Kevin De Bruyne that Belgium do not have the same depth as countries like France, adding “There are many aspects that makes our national team unique, and we always need to look at those.

"For example, we are a nation that represents 11 million people, that means that we cannot just select the players who are in good moments of form because we cannot afford to lose one talent.

"This golden generation has taken Belgium to a level that has never been seen before. To be over three years the number one team in the world, it shows we cannot treat our players as if we are going to have 100-200 at the same level that we can pick from.

"We have to work in a different way, go side-by-side with the talent through good moments, through difficult moments, and we cannot choose in that way, so it is the way that how we want to be successful is not the way that other national teams can do it, and that's the reality.

"The Nations League finals for us was the right place to be. We have to remember that, we were [part of] the best four national teams in Europe, and we had to beat Denmark and England to get there.

"I think that's something we need to appreciate. Okay, we lost a game against the world champions, and we were very very close, so it cannot be seen as a failure."

England manager Gareth Southgate has said he is confused by comments from Jurgen Klopp about his treatment of Liverpool players on international duty.

Klopp has previously raised concerns about Southgate's use of Trent Alexander-Arnold in midfield, as well as his justification for leaving Joe Gomez out of the England squad on the basis of a lack of game time at club level, while Manchester City's John Stones has continued to be picked despite spending much of the season on the bench.

Southgate has selected Liverpool duo Alexander-Arnold and Jordan Henderson in his squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Albania and San Marino.

"I don't quite know why he keeps having a swing, you'd have to ask him," Southgate told reporters.

"I think we've always got on reasonably well. I've noticed quite a few articles and quite a few comments, which is always interesting to see."

Olivier Giroud has questioned why Didier Deschamps did not give France's senior players any advance notice of Karim Benzema's return from international exile.

Real Madrid striker Benzema was named in France's Euro 2020 squad in May following an absence of nearly six years.

He had been frozen out by head coach Deschamps since 2015 after becoming embroiled in a blackmail scandal involving international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena. Benzema has strenuously denied he was complicit in attempted blackmail.

Looking to bolster his attacking options, Deschamps decided the time was right to bring back Benzema ahead of the European Championship, but Giroud believes the move proved unsettling to France's established way of playing.

Giroud has not featured for France since their last-16 elimination at Euro 2020, when the World Cup winners bowed out on penalties to Switzerland, and it remains to be seen whether the 35-year-old's international career is over.

Addressing Benzema's surprise return, Giroud told L'Equipe: "[It] created a tactical imbalance at the team level and in the way we play. I say this frankly, and without anything against Karim.

"The France team was able to overcome this problem of tactical adaptation much later. We have seen this, especially with the Nations League [which France won in October].

"But it took a long time. Karim quickly changed our way of playing which had been well established with certain offensive profiles for five years.

"The mix didn't work overnight, especially before a competition like the Euros."

Commenting on Deschamps' decision to seemingly spring the selection on the rest of the players, Giroud said: "It was the will of the coach to proceed like that.

"He preferred that it not be heard. I can understand it. Now who am I in his eyes for him to call me first? He is the sole decision-maker.

"But I would have appreciated being warned, that he warned certain senior figures."

Giroud is second on the list of France's all-time leading scorers, netting 46 goals, of which 45 have come during Deschamps' nine years at the helm.

Only Thierry Henry (51) has more goals for France than the former Chelsea and Arsenal forward, who is now at Milan.

He was absent from the squad that won the Nations League, when Benzema and Kylian Mbappe scored in the final against Spain.

"It was a weird feeling, even though I was happy for the guys in front of my TV," Giroud said. "It's hard not to experience that with this squad that I have known for a long time, and with whom I have shared so many beautiful things. Like any sensitive person, I had a twinge in my heart."

Sandro Tonali and Nicolo Zaniolo have returned to Italy's squad for their next World Cup qualifiers, while Torino midfielder Tommaso Pobega has earned a first call-up.

Roberto Mancini's men face Switzerland at Stadio Olimpico next Friday in a likely shootout for top spot in Group C, with the sides level on 14 points.

The Azzurri then round off their Qatar 2022 group qualifying campaign with a match in Northern Ireland three days later.

Milan midfielder Tonali is part of Mancini's 28-man squad for the double-header, a year on from the most recent of his four senior caps, with Paris Saint-Germain's Marco Verratti out injured.

Zaniolo is back involved after a shorter absence from the team, meanwhile, the Roma attacker having missed out on the squad for October's Nations League Finals games.

Pobega is the only new face in the Italy contingent after impressing for Torino, where he is on a season-long loan from Milan.

The 22-year-old, yet to make a senior appearance for the Rossoneri, has two goals and an assist in nine Serie A outings this term.

Elsewhere, Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile are back from injury, but this final international window of the year has come too soon for Moise Kean to return.

Italy are back in qualifying action after their hopes of Nations League success were ended with a 2-1 loss to Spain in last month's semi-finals.

That ended the European champions' world-record run of 37 games unbeaten, but they ​bounced back with a 2-1 victory over Belgium to clinch third place.


Italy squad: Cragno (Cagliari), Donnarumma (Paris Saint-Germain), Meret (Napoli), Sirigu (Genoa); Acerbi (Lazio), Bastoni (Inter), Biraghi (Fiorentina), Bonucci (Juventus), Calabria (Milan), Chiellini (Juventus), Di Lorenzo (Napoli), Palmieri (Lyon), Mancini (Roma); Barella (Inter), Cristante (Roma), Jorginho (Chelsea), Locatelli (Juventus), Pellegrini (Roma), Pobega (Torino), Tonali (Milan), Zaniolo (Roma); Belotti (Torino), Berardi (Sassuolo), Bernardeschi (Juventus), Chiesa (Juventus), Immobile (Lazio), Insigne (Napoli), Raspadori (Sassuolo).

Kevin De Bruyne has been backed to roar back to form by Belgium boss Roberto Martinez as the Manchester City playmaker looks to come through a sticky patch.

Ahead of Saturday's derby against Manchester United, De Bruyne is looking to improve on his unusually quiet start to the season.

In 13 appearances across all competitions, he has managed three goals but just one assist and has played a full 90 minutes only three times, with Pep Guardiola suggesting his chief creator is feeling a little fatigued.

Martinez has selected De Bruyne in his squad for World Cup qualifiers against Estonia and Wales later this month, and quelled concerns about the 30-year-old's performance levels.

He pointed to City's EFL Cup penalty shoot-out loss to West Ham, and the Premier League defeat to Crystal Palace, and suggested those results had turned up the heat.

"When you play in a team expected to win every game, you'll get that level of scrutiny when you don't," Martinez said.

"Man City have been playing their normal brand, they lost a shoot-out then a game at home. I saw Kevin against Brugge [in the Champions League] and his body language was good. I'm not worried at all. We feel that his best football is coming back."

De Bruyne managed 10 goals and 18 assists for City in all competitions last season, creating 28 big chances for others in all. He has carved out five big chances so far in 2021-22, with such opportunities defined by Opta as openings from which a player should reasonably be expected to score.

 

At his best, Eden Hazard was producing spectacular numbers for Chelsea – peaking with 21 goals and 17 assists in 2018-19 – but De Bruyne's Belgium team-mate is enduring a difficult run now he is at Real Madrid.

After four goals and two assists in 21 games last term, Hazard has just a single entry in the latter column for his efforts after 10 outings this term.

Hazard warmed up extensively but was unused by Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti in this week's Champions League game against Shakhtar Donetsk, prompting an apology from the coach.

"Getting upset is normal. I believe getting upset is the fair reaction to manage this situation," Ancelotti said after the game. "I am so sorry. I told the players: I am sorry, but I didn't want to make any substitutions."

Hazard can stake a claim for greater involvement at Madrid by hitting top gear with Belgium, says Martinez.

"Eden is not playing as many minutes as we all thought," the Belgium boss said. "We've got a close relationship with the Real Madrid physical department and he's fully fit.

"His focus and attitude has given us a positive feeling. I know he's doing extra work to stay in shape, but he needs to be on the pitch to pick up the pace of the match. Coming to the national team can help him in that sense.

"It's important for every player to be on the pitch and achieve what he wants to achieve. It's a difficult situation when you can't, and it has been a difficult two years, but the signs are positive that he can get himself ready for a strong finish in the campaign."

Didier Deschamps has told his France players to end their year of mixed fortunes on a high note as the World Cup holders attempt to seal their Qatar 2022 place.

A dismal Euro 2020 effort, where pre-tournaments favourites France were knocked out in round two by Switzerland, was followed in October by Les Bleus winning the Nations League.

Now they can make sure of a return to the biggest stage as the final internationals of the year loom. France have a home game against Kazakhstan on November 13 and go away to Finland three days later. If they beat Kazakhstan, their place in next year's finals will be secure.

Deschamps wants that put to bed as soon as possible, saying: "You know what happened this summer, with our early elimination at the Euros. That didn't stop us from doing good things with the joy of winning the Nations League.

"If you add in the qualifiers, that made it three goals for us in the same year, which is rare.

"Let's make sure we get two out of three to have the peace of mind to go into next year, which will be a special year with the World Cup in November."

There were no great surprises in Deschamps' 23-player squad, which was revealed on Thursday, with veteran striker Olivier Giroud not yet back in favour. The 35-year-old striker, who sits second on France's all-time list of leading scorers, last featured in the penalty shoot-out defeat to the Swiss in Bucharest back in June.

 

Deschamps said Giroud, who is building up his fitness at Milan, is "doing some interesting things" when he plays with the Rossoneri. He started against Porto in the Champions League on Wednesday evening.

"He is not there, but he is one of the serious candidates," Deschamps said. "I can only encourage him to keep doing what he does very well."

West Ham defender Kurt Zouma earns a recall after impressing since leaving Chelsea for their London rivals, and he was joined by Hammers goalkeeper Alphonse Areola, who is on loan from Paris Saint-Germain and has yet to feature in the Premier League this season. He comes in for the injured Mike Maignan.

Manchester United's Anthony Martial and Raphael Varane miss out, with the former coming back from injury and the latter newly sidelined with a hamstring problem.

 

France squad: Alphonse Areola (West Ham, on loan from Paris Saint-Germain), Benoit Costil (Bordeaux), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham); Lucas Digne (Everton), Leo Dubois (Lyon), Lucas Hernandez (Bayern Munich), Theo Hernandez (Milan), Presnel Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain), Jules Kounde (Sevilla), Benjamin Pavard (Bayern Munich), Dayot Upamecano (Bayern Munich), Kurt Zouma (West Ham); Matteo Guendouzi (Marseille, on loan from Arsenal), N'Golo Kante (Chelsea), Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Adrien Rabiot (Juventus), Aurelien Tchouameni (Monaco); Wissam Ben Yedder (Monaco), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), Moussa Diaby (Bayer Leverkusen), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain).

Marcus Rashford and Jude Bellingham have been recalled to Gareth Southgate's England squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, but Jadon Sancho and his Manchester United team-mate Jesse Lingard miss out.

England require just four points to qualify for Qatar 2022 from the visit of Albania on Friday November 12 and their final qualifier away to San Marino three days later.

It is Rashford's first call-up since his missed penalty in the Euro 2020 final shootout defeat to Italy as he has only recently recovered from shoulder surgery, while Bellingham comes back into the squad after being left out for previous games against Andorra and Hungary.

A lack of game time at club level appears to have cost Sancho and Lingard their places in the squad as the United duo miss out.

Speaking after making the squad announcement, Southgate said: "With Mason [Greenwood] I discussed the situation last time, with Jesse and Jadon they just aren't playing a lot of football compared to the other players in their positions.

"I know people will say I'm inconsistent, but I don't think I am. If you're playing regularly for your club you've got a much better chance of us assessing your level compared to the rest of the group."

Elsewhere, Harry Maguire, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Reece James and Kalvin Phillips also come back into the 25-man squad, while Kieran Trippier, Fikayo Tomori and Ollie Watkins are left out.

England squad in full:

Sam Johnstone (West Brom), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal); Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Conor Coady (Wolves), Reece James (Chelsea), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Kyle Walker (Manchester City); Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Kalvin Phillips (Leeds United), Declan Rice (West Ham), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton); Tammy Abraham (Roma), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City).

Cristiano Ronaldo said he promised to "always be looking for more and more and more" after scoring another hat-trick in Portugal's World Cup qualifying rout of Luxembourg.

Ronaldo netted his 58th career hat-trick – his 10th for Portugal – as the Selecao eased past minnows Luxembourg 5-0 on Tuesday.

The five-time Ballon d'Or, 36, winner scored two penalties within five minutes early in the first half before completing the treble three minutes from the end of the match after Bruno Fernandes and Joao Palhinha had also found the back of the net.

Portugal are one point behind Group A leaders Serbia, though they have a game in hand, heading into next month's crucial showdown on the road to Qatar 2022.

Ronaldo – who extended his all-time men's international goals record to 115 – wrote via Instagram: "Another victory, another step towards our goal, another historic night in defence of our colours!

"Everything becomes easier when we play at home and in front of an audience that cares for us from the first to the last minute…

"I had promised that I would always be looking for more and more and more!

"It's in my DNA and in our DNA, we're never content, we never lower our arms and we always go."

Portugal head coach Fernando Santos jumped to the defence of his experienced side after they cruised past Luxembourg 5-0 in their World Cup qualifier thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo's 58th career hat-trick and 10th international treble put hosts Portugal out of sight at the Estadio Algarve, where Joao Palhinha and Bruno Fernandes also got on the scoresheet on Tuesday.

The five-goal crushing left Portugal a point behind Group A leaders Serbia, albeit with a game in hand, with two matches remaining and the top two teams meet on the final matchday, in what is likely to be a winner-takes-all decider.

However, Santos' focus after the game was on the age of his squad as he quashed suggestions that his veterans were likely to let him down again, after exiting both the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020 at the last-16 stage.

"I hear a lot about it [the age of the squad], I even understand, but more changes than what we have been done over the past six years are difficult," Santos told reporters during his post-match his news conference, with set to be 37 heading into next year's World Cup.

"Just look at who was at the World [Cup], the European Championship and who is playing now. There are no age restrictions, it doesn't even make sense.

"Players do not have to stop playing for the national team because they are of more or less age, quality is what counts. 

"Fortunately, we have a lot of 30-year-old or 31-year-old players able to get here and play and the players have shown that [quality]."

Portugal will have to wait until November's international break to seal their fate and Santos appreciates the decisive nature of the Serbia clash while imploring his side to still improve.

"We managed to restrain the opponent and take advantage of every situation to transform them into goalscoring opportunities," he told RTP after the game.

"We did very well until the 25th minute, with how we played and what we had seen from Luxembourg.

"After that we also did well, but we started to want to do everything in a hurry, in one touch, two touches, and we even allowed Luxembourg to get ahead.

"The last game will be decisive, whatever happens in the next round, neither team will be out, although I believe we will win [against the Republic of Ireland] – it will be decisive."

Denmark became just the second team to qualify for the 2022 World Cup after defeating Austria 1-0 in Group F.

Joakim Maehle's second-half strike proved enough to edge past Franco Foda's side on Tuesday and claim an unassailable seven-point lead over Scotland with two matches left to play.

The narrow win meant Kasper Hjulmand's team also maintain their perfect record in 2022 World Cup qualifying matches, having won all eight games without conceding a single goal.

Denmark, while remaining resolute at the back, have mustered 27 unanswered goals, with thrashings of Moldova, Israel and Austria in the reverse fixture capping a perfect campaign for the Scandinavian outfit.

Hjulmand's men head to Qatar in 13 months' time with major tournament experience under their belt as well after making it to the semi-finals of Euro 2020 before suffering extra-time heartbreak against England.

Indeed, Denmark – who dealt with the hospitalisation of Christian Eriksen during the opening stages of the competition – started with consecutive losses but defied the odds to reach the last four.

They became just the fifth side in the history of the World Cup and European Championships to both win three games and lose three games in the same edition.

However, Denmark will look to use that experience after exiting at the last-16 stage in the previous World Cup to chase further success in 2022.

Aside from Denmark, Germany are the only other team to have earned qualification so far to join hosts Qatar at the tournament.

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