Roberto Mancini is wary about the prospect of the World Cup taking place every two years, with Italy's Euro 2020 winning boss calling for talks to weigh up the FIFA proposal.

The current men's international match calendar ends in 2024 and former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is seeking to shape a new schedule in his role as FIFA's chief of global football development.

However's, the plans being pushed by Wenger have been met with opposition, with CONMEBOL and UEFA both coming out vehemently against his core idea.

The World Cup has traditionally been a tournament that has been held once every four years, and there are worries players could be overburdened and the competition devalued if it switches to a biennial event.

Mancini has not outright come out against the idea, but he wants it thoroughly examined.

"The World Cup every two years is something to be evaluated," Mancini said, quoted widely in the Italian media.

"The World Cup is fascinating because it comes once every four years. If you play every two, it would mean a World Cup, a European Championship, a World Cup, a European Championship. I don't know, we need to talk about it."

For now, Mancini is looking to build on his team's success in the recent European Championship, when they beat England on penalties in the final to be crowned kings of the continent.

The success put former Inter and Manchester City boss Mancini in the spotlight, and he has affirmed his commitment to Italy ahead of next year's World Cup in Qatar, ruling out a return to club management before that tournament.

Italy are closing in on a place in the finals, leading the way in Group C with four wins and two draws, extending their unbeaten record to an all-time record of 37 matches.

"Going back to coaching a club? Now there is the World Cup and then let's see," Mancini said. "We have to stay focused on the World Cup, we have to quickly secure qualification and we have to try to win the Nations League.

"I don't think about clubs and I am concentrated on the national team. Coaching the national team is the best thing."

Guus Hiddink, the former Real Madrid, Chelsea and Netherlands head coach, announced his retirement at the age of 74.

Hiddink declared in a television interview that he had decided to quit as boss of Curacao and would not return to football.

The Dutch great told SBS 6: "Lately, with COVID, I haven't worked much. Coincidentally I was talking with the president of the Curacao federation and we came to the conclusion it was better that I stop for a while, because they are going in a new direction.

"But I'm going to stop totally. Am I going to do a Advocaat. No, no."

That was a reference to his fellow veteran coach Dick Advocaat, who was expected to retire after leaving Eredivisie giants Feyenoord last season but instead took on the job of coaching Asian nation Iraq.

Hiddink began his career at PSV and had two spells with the Eindhoven club, from 1987 to 1990 and 2002 to 2006, winning three Eredivisie titles in each successful stint.

His PSV side won the old European Cup in 1988, beating Benfica on penalties in Stuttgart following a goalless draw, clinching a treble after already landing the domestic league and cup titles.

He twice led teams to World Cup semi-finals – the Netherlands in 1998 and South Korea in 2002 – and helped Australia reach the second round of the 2006 tournament.

His Russia team reached the Euro 2008 semi-finals, where they lost 3-0 to Spain, and he had his first short spell as Chelsea interim manager while still in that national team job, helping the Blues win the 2009 FA Cup.

Hiddink was not a success at Madrid, failing to complete the 1998-99 season before he was sacked. He managed one trophy while at the Santiago Bernabeu, helping Madrid beat Vasco da Gama in the Intercontinental Cup.

A long career as a head coach also took in jobs at Valencia, Real Betis, Turkey, Fenerbahce and Anzhi Makhachkala.

Hiddink had a brief and unsuccessful second stint as Netherlands boss, then succeeded Jose Mourinho at Chelsea in December 2015 and helped the team recover from a shocking start to their title defence season, but that was just a half-season tenure.

A year as China Under-21 coach followed, and then the curtailed spell as Curacao boss, his final act, barring a change of heart.

Paul Pogba insists he and his fellow France players have no problem with head coach Didier Deschamps but were "disgusted" by the team's failure at Euro 2020

Draws against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Ukraine in World Cup qualifying have followed France's wretched European mission.

Despite going into Euro 2020 as many people's favourites, France were knocked out on penalties by Switzerland in the second round, with Pogba seen in a lively discussion with Deschamps after the game.

Deschamps has been boss of France since 2012 and is set to lead his reigning world champions into next year's World Cup, assuming they qualify.

Manchester United midfielder Pogba looks set to face Finland on Tuesday as France attempt to end a run of five successive draws – including the 3-3 thriller with the Swiss that was followed by the spot-kick sucker punch.

France had never before drawn five consecutive games, and they perhaps need a win to lift spirits.

Speaking about his post-Switzerland talks with Deschamps, Pogba told TF1 on Sunday: "It wasn't hard-nosed. It was a discussion with frustration. But it was just that. There is nothing at all. It's going very well with the coach."

Pogba added: "We were disgusted with the Euro. But we want to get over that and move on. It really hurt us. When you think back to that match against Switzerland, nobody would have imagined that. We are the ones who lost the game. It was not Switzerland that won it."

France led 3-1 against the Swiss but folded in the closing stages of normal time, and Pogba said: "If we replayed the game it wouldn't be the same. We would certainly have changed the way we entered the field."

Against Finland, Deschamps will be determined his team avoid another slow start.

France have surprisingly conceded the opening goal in each of their last five games, their longest such run since another run of five from November 2009 to June 2010, during Raymond Domenech's reign as national coach.

They sit top of Group D but Finland, four points behind in second place, have two games in hand, making Tuesday's clash in Lyon a significant game in how the campaign pans out.

Another record went tumbling on Wednesday as Cristiano Ronaldo became the leading goalscorer in the history of international men's football.

Ronaldo, who completed a remarkable move to Manchester United this week, surpassed the tally of 109 set by Iran great Ali Daei.

The 36-year-old pulled level with Daei during the recent Euro 2020 tournament, but he reached 111 with a dramatic late double during the World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland at Estadio Algarve.

To mark the Portuguese superstar’s latest record, Stats Perform looked back at some of the milestone goals of his incredible career...

 

GOAL 100 – MANCHESTER UNITED 3-1 Tottenham (FA Cup, January 2008)

The first century of goals was completed in somewhat fortuitous circumstances, with a 22-year-old Ronaldo doubling his tally for the match with a deflected effort that squirmed under the body of goalkeeper Radek Cerny.

GOAL 200 – REAL MADRID 2-0 Valencia (LaLiga, December 2010)

Again, Ronaldo was on target twice in this match but it was his first strike – a measured left-footed finish from Mesut Ozil's assist – that took him onto 200 career goals.  

GOAL 300 – Granada 1-2 REAL MADRID (LaLiga, May 2012)

Madrid were behind in this game with only five minutes gone but levelled late on when Ronaldo converted a penalty that he had won. There was still time for title-winning Madrid to seal all three points courtesy of an own goal.

GOAL 400 – REAL MADRID 3-0 Celta Vigo (LaLiga, January 2014)

At the double once more, it was his second goal in injury time that brought up a quadruple century for the irrepressible Ronaldo, who turned home a fine cross from Gareth Bale. 

GOAL 500 – Malmo 0-2 REAL MADRID (Champions League, September 2015)

The first of two goals on an otherwise uneventful night in Sweden was the one that took Ronaldo to a tally of 500. Through one-on-one, the outcome was never in doubt as he confidently chipped the ball over Johan Wiland.

GOAL 600 – REAL MADRID 4-1 Juventus (Champions League, June 2017)

What a stage on which to make history, the Champions League final. Having already opened the scoring, Ronaldo struck again when he turned in Luka Modric's near-post delivery on a glorious night in Wales for Madrid. 

GOAL 700 – Ukraine 2-1 PORTUGAL (Euro 2020 Qualifying, October 2019)

The first of his landmark goals that has failed to help his side to victory, but an astonishing personal achievement nonetheless, Ronaldo slotted home his penalty and probably started thinking about reaching 800 soon after.

Jorginho and Roberto Mancini could cap a golden year for Italy by landing UEFA honours after both were shortlisted for top awards on Thursday, though Manchester City duo Kevin De Bruyne and Pep Guardiola could spoil the Azzurri's party.

Azzurri midfielder Jorginho won the Champions League with Chelsea and followed that by helping his country to Euro 2020 glory, under the leadership of coach Mancini.

Jorginho, 29, is joined on the three-man shortlist for UEFA Men's Player of the Year by Chelsea team-mate N'Golo Kante, a standout in the Champions League final, and by City playmaker De Bruyne.

Kante played for France at Euro 2020 and De Bruyne featured for Belgium, but neither side made the progress many anticipated, with Les Bleus eliminated in the last 16 and the Red Devils bowing out to Italy in the quarter-finals.

The three players received the most votes from a panel consisting of the 24 head coaches at Euro 2020, the 80 coaches from the Champions League and Europa League group stages, and journalists from each of UEFA's 55 member associations.

The Men's Coach of the Year shortlist consists of the two coaches from the Champions League final, Chelsea's Thomas Tuchel and City's Guardiola, plus Italy boss Mancini.

It means there is no place for Gareth Southgate, who guided England to their first major men's final since the 1966 World Cup. He finished seventh in voting, UEFA announced, behind Villarreal's Europa League winning boss Unai Emery, Atletico Madrid's Diego Simeone and former Inter coach Antonio Conte.

Like Guardiola, both Simeone and Conte led their club sides to domestic league title success.

The winner of each award will be announced at UEFA's Champions League group stage draw on August 26 in Istanbul.

Barcelona had a clean sweep of the players shortlisted for the Women's Player of the Year prize, following their Spanish league and cup and Champions League treble.

The Spanish duo of Jennifer Hermoso and Alexia Putellas were joined on the list by Dutch club-mate Lieke Martens.

UEFA's women's awards stem from votes from each of the coaches in the Champions League last 16 and the leading 12 coaches according to UEFA's national team rankings, plus a pool of 20 journalists.

Former Barcelona boss Lluis Cortes is joined on that list by Chelsea's Emma Hayes and Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson.

Bayern Munich and Germany great Gerd Muller has died at the age of 75, leaving a remarkable legacy.

Muller spent 15 years at Bayern as a player and remains the club's all-time leading scorer.

He also led West Germany to a European Championship triumph in 1972 and World Cup glory two years later.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform looks at the remarkable career of one of European football's true giants.

BAYERN LEGEND

Muller made 607 appearances in all competitions for Bayern, helping the Bavarian club to four league titles, four DFB-Pokal triumphs and three European Cup successes in the process.

Renowned for his close-range finishing, Muller scored 566 goals, making him Bayern's all-time leading goalscorer.

Indeed, Muller spent his entire Bundesliga stint with Bayern, having come through the ranks at 1861 Nordlingen before moving on to the United States to bookend his playing career with Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

His best scoring season for Bayern came in 1972-73, when he netted 66 times in 49 appearances in total, averaging 1.34 goals per game.

Following the news of his death, Bayern CEO Oliver Kahn said: "The news of Gerd Muller's death affects us all deeply. He is one of the greatest legends in the history of FC Bayern, his achievements are unmatched to this day and will forever be part of the great history of FC Bayern and all of German football.

"As a player and as a person, Gerd Muller stands like no other for FC Bayern and its development into one of the largest clubs in the world. Gerd will be in our hearts forever."

KING OF THE BUNDESLIGA

Muller's tally of 365 goals from 427 appearances still leads the way in the Bundesliga. Across his time in the German top flight, he finished as the top scorer in a record seven seasons, scoring over 30 times on at least five occasions.

Current Bayern star Robert Lewandowski, with 278 strikes in 351 games, is Muller's nearest rival in that regard.

Only in May was one of Muller's long-standing Bundesliga records broken, as Lewandowski scored 41 goals in 2020-21. Muller had set the record for the most in a single campaign (40 from 34 matches) in 1971-72.

Muller also helped himself to 32 hat-tricks in the Bundesliga, with no player having scored more in the history of the competition. In fact, no one else has more than 14.

Another record that remains unbroken is Muller's feat of scoring in 16 consecutive Bundesliga games, which he achieved in 1969-70.

DER BOMBER

Muller did not save all of his scoring exploits for Bayern, of course. He was also Germany's record goalscorer until 2014 with a haul of 68 from 62 caps.

His tally – one that has only been surpassed by Miroslav Klose (71), who played more than twice as many matches (137) – spanned an eight-year career with Die Mannschaft, with Muller making his West Germany debut in 1966 and retiring from international football in 1974.

It was Muller who scored the winner for West Germany in the 1974 World Cup final against the Netherlands at his home ground in Munich – his fourth goal at the tournament.

Two years earlier, 'Der Bomber' had become the first player to score four times in a single European Championship tournament as he led West Germany to Euros glory – the striker netting twice in the semi-final against Belgium before also getting a double in a 3-0 win over the Soviet Union in the final.

To this day, only two other players have scored twice in a Euro final – both of those have been German (Horst Hrubesch in 1980 and Oliver Bierhoff in 1996).

While he tasted success in 1972 and 1974, Muller's finest individual performance at an international tournament came at the 1970 World Cup, as he won the golden boot with an extraordinary 10 goals in six games. Only Just Fontaine (13 in 1958) and Sandor Kocsis (11 in 1954) have plundered more in a single World Cup.

West Germany only managed to claim third place, however, with the famous, Pele-inspired Brazil team of that era going on to triumph in Mexico.

Though the four goals he added in 1974 ensured Muller was the World Cup's record scorer (14) until he was surpassed by Ronaldo (15) in 2006 and then Klose (16) in 2014.

Marcell Jacobs declared 2021 as "the year of Italy" following his second gold at Tokyo 2020 in the men's 4x100m relay on Friday.

Jacobs, 26, powered to a surprise gold in 9.80 seconds in the men's 100m final before combining with Lorenzo Patta, Eseosa Desalu and Filippo Tortu to win Italy's first medal in the relay since London 1948.

The relay win gave Italy a fifth athletics gold in Tokyo, tied with the United States for the most. They had never previously claimed more than three at a single Games.

Jacobs has become just the second Italian to win multiple athletics Olympic titles after Ugo Frigerio's three walking golds between 1920 and 1924.

An outstanding meet continues a remarkable year for Italy, in which the country also won Eurovision before ending a 53-year wait for a European Championship triumph at Euro 2020, beating England in July's Wembley final.

"This is the year of Italy, this is our year," Jacobs said. "We won the Eurovision, we won the football European Championship, we won five gold medals [in athletics]."

Tortu's superb final leg gave Italy victory ahead of Great Britain by only 0.01s. Canada, led by 200m champion Andre De Grasse, finished third.

It was another unexpected success for Jacobs, who added: "I would never expect this [a second gold] before leaving, nobody would have expected that.

"Thank you Italy. We really have worked well and we believed in it so much. I adore these guys.

"Before entering the track, we looked at each other and we were determined to win a medal."

UEFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against England's Football Association following an investigation into the chaotic scenes that marred the Euro 2020 final at Wembley.

Last month, UEFA confirmed an investigation had been launched into "events involving supporters which occurred inside and around the stadium".

An ethics and disciplinary inspector was appointed by UEFA to look into the events that took place around the 1-1 draw between England and Italy, who prevailed on penalties.

And a brief statement released on Tuesday confirmed proceedings had been opened against the FA for a "potential violation of Article 16(2)(h) of the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations for a lack of order or discipline by its supporters".

Damage was caused prior to the match as a number of supporters were seen clashing with security as they tried to enter the stadium in north London without tickets.

The FA launched its own independent review into what it described as "disgraceful scenes".

UEFA previously fined the FA €30,000 (£25,600) for three offences stemming from England's semi-final win over Denmark, which saw a laser pointer directed at Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel prior to a penalty for the hosts.

 

Andriy Shevchenko has left his role as head coach of Ukraine after a five-year spell in charge following the expiration of his contract.

The 44-year-old stepped up from his position as assistant to take over the Ukraine senior side in July 2016.

After missing out on qualification for the 2018 World Cup, Shevchenko guided his country to the delayed Euro 2020 finals, where they reached the last eight for the first time in their history.

However, the legendary former Milan striker announced on Sunday that he will not be extending his contract to stay on as Ukraine boss.

"Today, my contract with the Ukrainian Football Association came to the [sic] end," he posted on Instagram. "I spent five years with the national team. 

"It was hard work that proved that we are capable of playing modern football. I am grateful to the president and the executive committee of the UAF for the opportunity to work with the Ukrainian National team.

"I am thankful to every player, every person who helped and was involved in the team. Many thanks to all the fans for their support and criticism.

"Together, we managed to show that our football can be competitive, productive and exciting. With faith in Ukraine."

Ukraine advanced as one of the best third-placed finishers in the group stage of Euro 2020 and beat Sweden 2-1 after extra time in the last 16.

However, their campaign was ended in the next round with a resounding 4-0 defeat to eventual runners-up England.

Mesut Ozil says he felt the pain suffered by Bukayo Saka after missing a penalty in England's Euro 2020 final defeat and has urged the youngster to stay strong following the racist backlash he received.

The versatile winger was one of three England players to miss in the shoot-out loss to Italy on July 11, along with Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, who were also racially abused on social media.

Gianluigi Donnarumma's save from Saka's spot-kick was the decisive moment in the match, which finished 1-1 after extra time, as England fell to a 3-2 defeat on penalties at Wembley.

Ozil, who played alongside Saka for two seasons at Arsenal before joining Fenerbahce in January, believes the 19-year-old deserves praise for stepping up and taking a penalty in such a pressurised environment. 

"I felt very much for Bukayo," he told Sky Sports News. "I know from my own experience how it feels to miss a penalty.

"In a final, as the last one, to take on the responsibility of an entire nation as a young player – respect. Not many players would dare to do that."

Speaking last week, Saka said he will not be broken by his Euro 2020 final penalty miss and the subsequent vile messages as he called on social media bosses to do more to tackle problem users.

But former Arsenal playmaker Ozil fears that such abuse will never be completely eradicated.

"There will always be people who racially abuse and scapegoat people of different backgrounds and skin colour when they lose," he said.

"Unfortunately there will always be a small part of our community that racially insults and threatens players. We should focus much more on the positive messages that keep players strong."

Saka has featured regularly for Arsenal over the past two seasons and was used four times for runners-up England at Euro 2020, starting three matches.

"Bukayo is a modest young player," Ozil added. "I have gotten to know him as a very determined young man who works very hard for his dream and does everything he can to achieve it.

"Bukayo is blessed with a talent that not many have. If he remains as humble and determined as he already is, I am a hundred per cent convinced that he has a great future ahead of him and can become a great player.

"He's really a great talent, and I'm sure that there are going to be many more big matches for the English national team for him in the future."

Arguably England's best player in their last three knockout fixtures at Euro 2020, Luke Shaw reportedly struggled through games against Ukraine, Denmark and Italy with broken ribs.

The left-back was part of Gareth Southgate's side that suffered shoot-out heartbreak against Italy in the final, but it has become apparent that Shaw was playing through the pain for his country, after suffering a blow to his ribs against Germany in the last 16.

According to the Telegraph, Manchester United will now wait to assess the left-back, whose sole goal at the European Championship represented the fastest to be scored in a final since 1964, ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.

The former Southampton academy product was in scintillating form throughout Euro 2020 as he recorded three assists in six games to add to his final strike past Gianluigi Donnarumma.

 

His three assists, two against Ukraine and one against Germany, could only be bettered by Switzerland's Steven Zuber (four).

The 26-year-old (10) created two more chances than any other player for England and, amongst the defenders at the tournament, only Spain's Jordi Alba (12) provided more opportunities.

Shaw was as testing down the left flank for United throughout the domestic season, too, as he created 72 chances. Bruno Fernandes (95) was the sole United player with more to his name.

The Red Devils must now wait for news of Shaw's fitness - potential another post-Euros blow for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after Marcus Rashford underwent shoulder surgery.

Gianfranco Zola believes midfielder Jorginho would be a deserving winner of the Ballon d'Or despite Lionel Messi's claims on the award.

Jorginho finished the 2020-21 campaign as Chelsea's leading Premier League scorer with seven goals, albeit each of those came from the penalty spot.

He carried that form into Euro 2020, playing every game for Italy in their successful campaign that ended with a penalty shoot-out win over England at Wembley.

Jorginho actually missed from the spot in the final, but he otherwise enjoyed an impeccable tournament for the Azzurri.

The Brazilian-born player led the way in terms of interceptions at Euro 2020 with 25, substantially more than Chelsea team-mate N'Golo Kante (14), who was next best.

Meanwhile, Jorginho's 484 successful passes were bettered only by Spain's Aymeric Laporte (644), leading to seven chances being created for his team-mates. Only Azzurri colleague Lorenzo Insigne (40) was involved in more shot-ending sequences than his 38.

 

Barcelona's Messi, a six-time Ballon d'Or winner, finished as LaLiga's top scorer last season with 38 goals and 12 assists across all competitions before inspiring Argentina to glory in the Copa America.

Despite Messi's pedigree former Chelsea forward Zola – who earned 35 caps for Italy and scored 10 goals between 1991 and 1997 – backed Jorginho as a worthy challenger. 

"The Ballon d'Or is usually awarded to a striker or an offensive player who can score a lot," Zola told Stats Perform. 

"Now we are talking about a fantastic player like [Lionel] Messi who did extraordinary things for the first time with his national team – and this won’t go unnoticed. 

"Should they give it to Jorginho, it would be deserved. He gives concrete balance and pace to his teams. I was lucky to have him at Chelsea and I know what he does on the pitch.

"It would be deserved because not only were his performances at a high level, but the teams he played for have been outstanding. This must be taken into account."

The Football Association has commissioned an independent review into the "disgraceful scenes" that marred England's Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy at Wembley.

England suffered a 3-2 penalty shoot-out loss on home soil to Italy on July 11 following a 1-1 draw after extra time in their first major tournament final in 55 years.

The showpiece match was overshadowed by a security breach that saw a number of ticketless supporters enter the stadium and clash with fellow fans and stewards.

UEFA last week launched its own investigation and hit the FA with four charges relating to fan disorder, including the throwing of objects and the lighting of fireworks.

The unsavoury scenes prompted Julian Knight MP, the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS), to write to FA CEO Mark Bullingham demanding answers.

And in a statement released on Monday, the FA has vowed to identify those responsible for the trouble before, during and after the game.

"We are determined to fully understand what happened outside and then inside Wembley Stadium at the Euro 2020 final on July 11," the statement read.

"We informed DCMS at the weekend that an independent review led by Baroness Casey of Blackstock has been commissioned to report on the facts and circumstances involved. 

"It will speak to all parties concerned and include external experts.

"A key emphasis of the findings will be to ensure that lessons are learned and such disgraceful scenes are never able to be repeated. 

"We continue to work with the relevant authorities in support of their efforts to identify those responsible and hold them to account."

The FA was also previously fined €30,000 (£25,630) by UEFA for the behaviour of supporters during the semi-final win against Denmark, which included a laser being shone at Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

Gianluigi Donnarumma is Euro 2020 winners Italy's star player and will be the best goalkeeper in the world for the next 10 to 15 years, according to Fabio Cannavaro.

The 22-year-old was named UEFA's Player of the Tournament for his penalty shoot-out heroics in Italy's victory over England in last Sunday's final at Wembley.

Donnarumma kept out efforts from Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, after Marcus Rashford had earlier hit the post, as Italy ended their 53-year wait to win a second Euros crown.

He has won all five of the shoot-outs he has been involved in for club and country, having also made a crucial save in the semi-final shoot-out victory against Spain.

Italy legend Cannavaro believes Donnarumma answered any of his remaining critics with his displays at Euro 2020 and expects his compatriot to shine for at least the next decade. 

"Donnarumma is the real champion of this Azzurri side," Cannavaro told Tuttosport. "I am surprised that, before the Euros, some people thought he was an average goalkeeper. 

"There's nothing average about Gigio. Just think of the tranquillity he has at 22. He will be the best goalkeeper for the next 10 to 15 years."

Donnarumma played more minutes at Euro 2020 than any other player (719), missing only the closing stages of Italy's win against Wales in the group stage.

After spending time celebrating the Azzurri's triumph, the young keeper this week completed a free transfer from Milan to Paris Saint-Germain, where he will compete with Keylor Navas.

"At least we will enjoy him with the national team," Cannavaro added.

 

In his final season at San Siro, where he has spent his entire senior career to date, Donnarumma recorded a joint-high 14 Serie A clean sheets alongside Inter's Samir Handanovic.

While Italy ended a long wait for continental silverware last week, Argentina did likewise by claiming their first Copa America crown since 1993.

Lionel Messi was the star performer for Argentina, scoring four goals and assisting five more to win his first trophy at international level.

Despite Donnarumma's impressive displays for Italy, Cannavaro is backing Messi to win a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or crown later this year.

"He is the absolute number one and he was the protagonist of a great Copa America," Cannavaro said.

Italy are European champions and on a long unbeaten streak but should be even better by the time of the 2022 World Cup, according to former forward Gianfranco Zola.

The Azzurri have been transformed under Roberto Mancini since missing out on qualifying for the previous finals in Russia.

Mancini's men won the Euro 2020 final against England on penalties and are now undefeated in 34 matches, the longest run in the team's history.

However, Zola – who earned 35 caps and scored 10 goals between 1991 and 1997 – sees an even brighter future for Italian football.

Despite including 34-year-old Leonardo Bonucci (the oldest scorer in Euros final history) and 36-year-old captain Giorgio Chiellini (the third-oldest player in final history), Italy named only the 12th-oldest squad at the tournament.

"To get into Mancini's shoes and give him hints on how to improve this team is out of question and risky," Chelsea great Zola told Stats Perform.

"As it is, this squad will be even more competitive in the World Cup.

"They will grow in confidence and improve even further because most of the players are young. To me, they will get to an even higher level."

An already impressive Azzurri midfield could also be boosted by the return from injury of Nicolo Zaniolo, the 22-year-old who has not played since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in action against the Netherlands in September 2020.

That was the Roma man's second ACL tear in eight months – having suffered the same injury to his right knee – and checked the progress of a promising career.

 

In 69 appearances for Roma, Zaniolo has scored 14 goals and laid on six assists from 55 chances created. He has also netted twice in seven senior caps at international level.

"Then [in 2022] some players like Zaniolo will be available," Zola added. "If his injuries [have been] absorbed, he will be an important player to give the contribution needed to make this squad even better

"And, to me, some other youngsters will shine, because the long wave of enthusiasm given by this trophy will make many youngsters step up.

"Italy will be competitive at the World Cup – no hints needed for Mancini."

But Zola also anticipates another challenge from beaten Euro 2020 opponents England, who reached their first major tournament final in 55 years.

The average age Three Lions' line-up for the final (26y 328d) was almost two years younger than Italy's (28y 272d) and they also have room to grow.

"It is an extremely young and talented squad," Zola said. "England can only grow and this defeat won't be a problem.

"England, like Italy and Spain, boast many young lads with such room to improve. Let's not forget that England often kept out players like [Jadon] Sancho, [Marcus] Rashford and [Phil] Foden that are very important.

"I would be surprised if England weren't a team to beat in Qatar. They have a bright future."

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