Ralf Rangnick says his consultancy role at Manchester United will see him focus on recruitment and has highlighted the need for the Red Devils to target younger players in the upcoming transfer window.

Rangnick will step aside from his interim manager role at the end of this season, with Ajax boss Erik ten Hag taking over at the end of a difficult campaign in which United look certain to miss out on Champions League qualification.

It was confirmed on Friday that Rangnick is taking over as head coach of the Austrian national team, although he remains committed to his new role with the Red Devils.

Rangnick said his position will see him focus on recruiting young, talented players who can help Ten Hag's United develop into one of European football's leading sides.

The 63-year-old namechecked Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland, whom he helped bring to Salzburg, as an example of the profile of player the Red Devils must target, and stressed he is "positive" about the team's future under "one of the best coaches in Europe" in Ten Hag.

"For me the most important bit is recruitment now, this is, for me, the most vital point, that we bring in the best possible players," he said.

"It's not only about identifying those players, also meeting them, convincing them to join this club even though we will not be playing in the Champions League.

"This is what I see as the most important bit, also with regard to top talented players for the academy, identifying those players. This is for me, for the next one or two years, an important part. My personal opinion is the club should try to find future top star players and try to develop them. 

"Haaland is a young player, but on the other hand, he has developed in the last two years into one of the most expensive strikers in the world. He could be of one of those examples where the focus should be, to identify and find players who could be Manchester United players for the next couple of years.

"We just need to look at the other top clubs in England and in some other countries, what kind of players did they sign in the past? I think then you get the answer yourself.

"I'm positive. With Erik ten Hag, Manchester United will have one of the best coaches in Europe, and then it's about, together with him, recruitment. If those things come together, I'm very positive you can see a different kind of team with a different style of football."

Meanwhile, with a host of out-of-contract players likely to depart Old Trafford at the end of the campaign, including Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, and Edinson Cavani, Rangnick said the Red Devils will require "quite a few" new signings to compete next term, but insisted Old Trafford remains a desirable destination for players.

"It's obvious that the club and the team needs more players, some players are out of contract, some are not available anymore, and some might want to get more game time [elsewhere]," he added.

"The club needs quite a few new players. For me, it's important the club recruits those kind of players that can help Manchester United develop into one of the top teams again.

"As a club, with regard to the supporters, the stadium, the training ground, yes, it definitely is [still a club players would want to join]. 

"But we also have to be realistic, as soon as other clubs like Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City are involved, then you need some good reasons to explain to the players [why they should join]."

United play their final home game of the Premier League season against Brentford on Monday, their first home clash with the Bees in any competition since a 2-1 League Cup win in September 1975.

Ralf Rangnick has been confirmed as the head coach of Austria's national team.

Rangnick will continue in his role as the interim boss of Manchester United, a position he has held since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was dismissed in November, until the end of the season.

The 63-year-old will prepare Austria for Nations League fixtures against Croatia, Denmark and France at the start of May.

A statement from the Austrian Football Association (OFB) on Friday confirmed Rangnick's contract will initially last two years but, should they qualify for Euro 2024 in Germany, the deal will be extended through to the 2026 World Cup.

"It's an honor for me to take on the role of team boss," Rangnick said. "I'm particularly excited about the prospect of contesting the European Championships in Germany with a young team hungry for success."

Speculation Rangnick would take over as Austria boss increased on Thursday, leading to confusion as to whether he will continue in a consultancy role at Old Trafford next season.

The initial plan was for Rangnick to stay in the dugout until the end of the campaign, then move upstairs to a behind-the-scenes role.

Speaking after United's 1-1 draw with Chelsea on Thursday, Rangnick confirmed nothing has changed in that regard and he will be available to incoming boss Erik ten Hag.

"Let us speak tonight about Manchester United and our game, the rest of the season here – this is the issue," Rangnick told Sky Sports.

"I can also confirm I will also definitely continue at the end of the season with my consultancy role.

"I didn't say I would be a big part going forward, but we have definitely agreed now both on the content and the time of my consultancy role.

"So far we haven't spoken, Erik and I, but this will hopefully and probably happen in the future, but as I said, I'm more than happy and willing to help, to change things for the better.

"It would leave space for another job, but that's what we had agreed to start with back in November last year."

United have massively underperformed this term with the dismissal of Solskjaer and arrival of Rangnick failing to produce the upturn in fortunes expected.

Rumours of squad dissatisfaction have rumbled on in the background of a campaign that has seen United fall off the pace in the race for a top-four finish.

Indeed, victories in their final three matches will only see them equal their lowest-ever Premier League points return.

However, Rangnick has a high standing in the game and has a wealth of experience.

He helped Hoffenheim from the third tier to the Bundesliga in two seasons and led Schalke to DFB-Pokal glory in 2011.

Rangnick spent seven seasons at RB Leipzig from 2012 to 2019, mainly as sporting director but also two spells as coach in the 2015-16 and 2018-19 seasons as well.

Austria have been searching for a new coach since Franco Foda resigned from his position after a 2-1 defeat to Wales last month saw them fail to reach the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Foda had been in charge since 2017 and helped Austria qualify for Euro 2020.

"We are very pleased that we were able to [appoint] Ralf Rangnick, an outstanding expert in international football, as team boss," said OFB president President Gerhard Milletich.

"We are all convinced that he is the ideal man and that his vision will advance the national team and the OFB."

Ralf Rangnick has been confirmed as the head coach of Austria's national team.

Rangnick will continue in his role as the interim boss of Manchester United, a position he has held since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was dismissed in November, until the end of the season.

The 63-year-old will prepare Austria for Nations League fixtures against Croatia, Denmark and France at the start of May.

A statement from the Austrian Football Association (OFB) confirmed Rangnick's contract will initially last two years but, should they qualify for Euro 2024 in Germany, the deal will be extended through to the 2026 World Cup.

Ralf Rangnick has confirmed he will be staying on in a consultancy role at Manchester United into next season, though the position would allow him to take on a job elsewhere.

Rangnick joined United as interim manager in November following the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with the initial terms of the deal seeing him in charge until the end of the season before taking on a backroom role.

The exact criteria and expectations of that consultancy position were not confirmed at the time and, even until recent weeks there was a degree of uncertainty around whether the role would exist at all after the appointment of Erik ten Hag.

Rangnick's pre-match comments ahead of Thursday's 1-1 draw with Chelsea belied a certain confidence on the German's part that he would still be working with the club in some capacity next season.

Reports then began to circulate that Rangnick is set to become Austria's next head coach, but such a job would seemingly not prevent him from also assisting United.

"Let us speak tonight about Manchester United and our game, the rest of the season here – this is the issue," Rangnick told Sky Sports when asked about the Austria reports.

"I can also confirm I will also definitely continue at the end of the season with my consultancy role.

"I didn't say I would be a big part going forward, but we have definitely agreed now both on the content and the time of my consultancy role.

"So far we haven't spoken, Erik and I, but this will hopefully and probably happen in the future, but as I said, I'm more than happy and willing to help, to change things for the better.

"It would leave space for another job, but that's what we had agreed to start with back in November last year."

The qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup is all but over.

Some key matches still have to be played, with Wales yet to find out their fate as they wait to face the winner of Scotland's play-off with Ukraine, which has been postponed due to Russia's invasion of the country, while there are inter-confederation play-offs also to be decided.

In total, 28 nations have qualified already, and most of football's star names will be present.

That being said, while France's world champions will bid to defend their crown, Neymar will bring the Brazilian stardust, Lionel Messi will look to build on Argentina's Copa America triumph and Cristiano Ronaldo will feature at a record-equalling fifth tournament, some huge players - and indeed teams, in the case of Italy - will not be present in Qatar.

Stats Perform has looked at some of the star players who will be watching the tournament from home.

Mohamed Salah (Egypt)

Arguably the best player in the world this season, Salah will not be lighting up Qatar with any mazy runs or sensational strikes. Given the tournament is in the middle of next season, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp may secretly be pleased his talisman will not be risking injury or fatigue, but Salah – who blazed his penalty over in the decisive shoot-out against Senegal on Tuesday – will be a big miss.

 

James Rodriguez (Colombia)

A star of the 2014 World Cup, in which he won the golden boot, James Rodriguez scored Colombia's winner against Venezuela on Tuesday, yet Peru's victory over Paraguay meant the ex-Real Madrid playmaker and his team-mates will not appear in Qatar, where James currently plies his trade for Al-Rayyan.

Luis Diaz, who has made a flying start to life at Liverpool since joining from Porto in January, is another Colombian talent who will be watching on from the sidelines.

Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy)

The hero of Italy's Euro 2020 triumph with his saves in the penalty shoot-out victory over England last July, Donnarumma – one of Europe's best goalkeepers – will be watching on from afar along with the rest of Roberto Mancini's players. After his error in Paris Saint-Germain's capitulation against Madrid in the Champions League, March has been a sour month for the 23-year-old.

Georgio Chiellini (Italy)

While Donnarumma has time on his side to make it to the next World Cup, the same cannot be said for Giorgio Chiellini. The centre-back is 37 and will surely not be featuring at another major tournament for Italy now.

Defensive partner Leonardo Bonucci may also fall into that category, given he turns 35 in May, while 29-year-old playmaker Marco Verratti may also have seen his final chance of appearing at the World Cup for a second time dashed.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)

It was the battle of two of Europe's leading marksmen of the last decade on Tuesday, as Poland went head-to-head with Sweden, and it was Robert Lewandowski and Co. who came out on top, winning 2-0.

Bayern Munich star Lewandowski opened the scoring from the penalty spot, and though Ibrahimovic came on as a late substitute, he could not turn the tide in Sweden's favour. The Milan striker has suggested he wants to carry on playing for his country, but at 40, surely this was his last chance of appearing at a World Cup.

Erling Haaland (Norway)

Although Ibrahimovic may be approaching the tail-end of his career, Haaland is certainly not. Yet like the Swede, the Borussia Dortmund forward will not be playing in Qatar either.

Indeed, even if Norway had made it through their qualification group, it is uncertain as to whether or not the players would have chosen to boycott the tournament, having previously made their feelings on Qatar's human rights record clear. But they finished third in Group G anyway.

Arsenal playmaker Martin Odegaard is another bright Norweigian talent, though the Scandinavian nation may well fancy their chances heading towards Euro 2024 and the 2026 World Cup.

 

David Alaba (Austria)

Madrid defender Alaba could not inspire Austria to victory in their play-off clash with Wales, with Gareth Bale's double doing the damage. After a glittering career with Bayern, Alaba is on course to win LaLiga with Los Blancos, but any form of real, tangible success on the international stage looks set to avoid him.

Jan Oblak (Slovenia)

Oblak's form has dipped this season for Atletico Madrid but on his day he is still right up there among the world's best goalkeepers, though he could not help Slovenia finish higher than fourth in their qualification group, as their wait to qualify for a first World Cup since 2010 rolled on.

Gareth Bale took aim at the media again on Friday, responding to scathing recent coverage of him in Spain.

The Wales international was the hero for his country on Thursday after scoring two excellent goals to seal a 2-1 win against Austria and put them just one game away from qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar.

However, Bale has rarely featured for Real Madrid, his club side, this season, playing in just five of their 42 matches in all competitions, totalling 270 minutes on the field – the equivalent of three whole games.

Spanish outlet Marca has labelled the winger a "parasite", also accusing him of "sucking" money out of the club.

Bale had described the criticism as "disgusting" after the Austria win, and he took to Twitter on Friday to further express his exasperation, saying journalists needed to be held accountable for the impact of their reports on athletes.

"The Daily Mail shining a light on this piece of slanderous, derogatory and speculative journalism by Marca," he wrote.

"At a time where people are taking their own lives because of the callousness and relentlessness of the media, I want to know, who is holding these journalists and the news outlets that allow them to write articles like this, accountable?

"Fortunately I have developed thick skin during my time in the public spotlight, but that doesn't mean articles like these don't cause damage and upset personally and professionally to those at the receiving end of these malicious stories.

"I have witnessed the toll the media can take on people's mental and physical health."

Bale moved to the Santiago Bernabeu from Tottenham in 2013 and has won two LaLiga titles, a Copa del Rey, four Champions Leagues and three Club World Cups.

"The media expect superhuman performances from professional athletes, and will be the first to celebrate with them when they deliver," he continued. "Yet instead of commiserating with them when they show an ounce of human error, they are torn to shreds instead, encouraging anger and disappointment in their fans.

"The everyday pressures on athletes is immense, and it's as clear as day how negative media attention could easily send an already stressed athlete, or anybody in the public eye, over the edge.

"I hope that by the time our children are of an age where they are able to ingest news, that journalism ethics and standards will have been enforced more stringently.

"So I want to use my platform to encourage change in the way we publicly talk about, and criticise people, simply for the most part, not meeting the often unrealistic expectations that are projected onto them.

"We all know who the real Parasite is!"

Gareth Bale described the criticism he has been the subject of as a Real Madrid player as "disgusting" after leading Wales into a World Cup play-off final.

Bale has played in just five of Madrid's 42 matches in all competitions this season, totalling 270 minutes on the field – the equivalent of three whole games.

Once the most expensive player in world football, the winger was absent for Madrid's most recent match, a painful 4-0 defeat to bitter rivals Barcelona.

However, Bale was back and back to his best when Wales came calling on Thursday.

The 32-year-old captained his country to a 2-1 win against Austria in their play-off semi-final, scoring two sublime goals – the first a breathtaking free-kick.

Bale appeared to play through the pain barrier in a brilliant display, eventually making way while holding his groin.

The former Tottenham man appeared to enjoy the celebrations, but his tone shifted slightly when asked if he had a message for his critics in Spain.

"No," he told Sky Sports. "I don't need to send a message, honestly. It's a waste of my time.

"It's disgusting, they should all be ashamed of themselves. I'm not fussed. End of."

Bale has come into form at a great time for Wales, scoring five goals in his past four international appearances – more than in his previous 28 games for his country (four).

In European qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, only five players have been involved in more goals than Bale's eight (five goals, three assists).

Wales will play either Scotland or Ukraine for a place in Qatar, with that decider at home, where Bale and Co. are unbeaten in 17 games in all competitions.

Gareth Bale scored a pair of stunning goals to secure a home World Cup play-off final for Wales against either Scotland or Ukraine.

Wales have not qualified for a World Cup since 1958 and surely will not get a better opportunity than ahead of Qatar 2022.

Rob Page's side hosted Austria in their play-off semi-final on Thursday and once again relied on Real Madrid superstar Bale to prove the difference in a 2-1 win.

He netted the opener with a sublime first-half free-kick, then doubled Wales' lead with another brilliant effort, placed high past the Austria goalkeeper.

Only a Ben Davies own goal – deflecting Marcel Sabitzer's shot beyond Wayne Hennessey – threatened to spoil the Welsh party, as they held on despite Bale's withdrawal in stoppage time with an apparent groin injury.

Bale will at least have time to recover from that issue before the final, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine saw the former banned from FIFA competitions and the latter allowed to postpone their semi against Scotland.

No date has yet been set for the Scotland tie, with Steve Clarke's men instead facing Poland – Russia's planned play-off opponents – in a friendly they drew 1-1 on Thursday.

Krzysztof Piatek's 94th-minute penalty rescued a draw for Poland, albeit that goal came earlier than Sweden's decisive strike against Czech Republic.

Sweden will be Poland's final opponents after Robin Quaison finished off a smart team move with 10 minutes remaining in extra time following a goalless draw – that 1-0 victory teeing up the trip to Chorzow on Tuesday.

Gareth Bale has declared himself fit to start for Wales in Thursday's World Cup qualifying play-off semi-final against Austria, despite his limited playing time for Real Madrid.

The 32-year-old was not part of Madrid's squad for Sunday's 4-0 defeat to fierce rivals Barcelona, which head coach Carlo Ancelotti put down to illness.

Bale has played in just five of Madrid's 42 matches in all competitions this season, totalling 270 minutes on the field – the equivalent of three whole games.

Despite repeated setbacks, the former Tottenham star has played 233 minutes for Wales across four games this season, helping to keep his side's qualifying dreams alive.

And Bale insists he is capable of lasting the distance against Austria, with the winners going on to face either Scotland or the Czech Republic in June's rescheduled final.

"Obviously it's normal to have some [injury] niggles now and again," he said at Wednesday's pre-match news conference. 

"I've been good. I've been training for what, the last two and a half months. I got some minutes maybe three weeks ago or so. So now I'm in very good shape. 

"I'm obviously in a lot better shape than I was for the last camp, where I'd been out for about three months. I've been training now over the last couple of days. 

"I'm ready to play whatever's necessary. And yeah, we'll give it everything we can."

 

While Ancelotti implied Bale's most recent absence was down to illness, reports in Spain suggested the forward ruled himself out of contention because of a back strain.

Asked to clarify why he was not part of the squad to face Barcelona, Bale said: "I don't need to. I don't need to tell anyone what was up.

"I don't need to give anyone anything to use against me. Everything is fine now, I have no issue."

Bale earned cap number 100 for Wales in November's win over Belarus and has scored 36 goals and assisted 23 more over that period.

And after representing his country at Euro 2016 and Euro 2020, Bale is now fully focused on leading his side to a first World Cup finals since 1958.

"For sure, the Austria game will be one of biggest I've played in," he said. "Qualifying for a World Cup is something I want to achieve, as do the fans and the country. 

"We need to take it in our stride like we always do. Everyone will step up – it's what we do best.

"To get to the World Cup with Wales would be an incredible achievement. We'll fight for our country like we always do."

Poland have been awarded a bye through to the World Cup qualifying play-off final following the postponement of their clash with Russia.

FIFA confirmed the news on Tuesday, though Russia have indicated that they will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against a ban on its national teams from competing.

Should the decision be upheld, Poland will face either Sweden or the Czech Republic – with that semi-final on March 24 still set to go ahead – for a place at Qatar 2022.

That 'Path B' final will be held at the Silesian Stadium in Chorzow on March 29.

FIFA's decision comes on the back of Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic announcing last week they would each refuse to play Russia due to ongoing events in Ukraine.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday 24 following weeks of rising political tensions in the region, with more than two million citizens fleeing the country.

Meanwhile, FIFA has also confirmed that Ukraine's 'Path A' semi-final with Scotland at Hampden Park, scheduled for March 24, will now take place in June.

Ukraine requested that the game be pushed back due to "the impossibility of organising both the travel and training of a team under the current circumstances".

The other semi-final in that side of the draw, the clash between Wales and Austria in Cardiff on the same day, will go ahead as planned.

However, the final will be postponed until after the Scotland and Ukraine game is played.

Italy were drawn to face England and Germany in a tough 2022-23 Nations League group on Thursday.

The Azzurri beat England in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley in July and the two sides will do battle again in Group A3 of the Nations League.

They will also face Germany and Hungary home and away in matches that will take place next June and September 2022.

Holders France are in Group A1 along with Croatia, Denmark and Austria.

World champions France were crowned champions when they came from behind to beat Spain 2-1 at San Siro in October.

Spain were drawn in Group A2 and will come up against Portugal, Czech Republic and Switzerland in the third edition of the UEFA competition.

Belgium, who squandered a two-goal lead to lose against France at the semi-final stage of the Nations League two months ago, will take on Netherlands, Poland and Wales.

Scotland, Republic of Ireland, Ukraine and Armenia are in League B Group 1.

Russia, Iceland, Israel and Albania will do battle in Group B2, with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland and Romania in Group B3.

Group B4 will see Serbia, Sweden, Norway and Slovenia lock horns as they strive to secure promotion.

Four of the six matchdays will be in June due to the scheduling of the World Cup in Qatar later in 2022.

The four group winners in League A will advance to the Nations League Finals in June 2023. The group winners in the other three leagues will all be promoted for the 2024-25 edition.

Roberto Mancini admitted Italy would rather not have to do battle with Portugal for a place in the 2022 World Cup if they get past North Macedonia.

The European champions were on Friday drawn to face North Macedonia in a semi-final next March after missing out on automatic qualification for the tournament in Qatar.

Italy will come up against either Portugal or Turkey in a decisive showdown if they avoid a semi-final upset.

Euro 2016 champions Portugal were consigned to a play-off spot in dramatic fashion as Aleksandar Mitrovic's last-gasp strike saw Serbia through as Group A winners.

Italy boss Mancini is confident his side will qualify, but gave an honest reaction to the prospect of trying to deny Cristiano Ronaldo what could be his last trip to a World Cup.

He said: "We are always confident and positive. Macedonia had a good qualifying group, we will have to play a great match. Then we will see what happens in the final.

Asked about the prospect of coming up against Portugal, he said: "We would have liked to avoid them, in the same way Portugal would have gladly avoided Italy."

The draw also threw up the possibility of Wales going up against Scotland for a place in the finals, should they overcome Austria and Ukraine.

Russia will host Poland, with the winners playing either Sweden or the Czech Republic. 

Italy or Portugal will miss out on the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after the two most recent European champions were drawn in the same play-off path.

Roberto Mancini led Italy to a Euro 2020 triumph earlier this year, yet the Azzurri failed to qualify automatically for next year's World Cup, with Switzerland progressing instead.

Portugal, Euro 2016 winners, also fell short, finishing three points behind Serbia in Group A.

And now one of the heavyweights will fail to appear in Qatar, with both teams drawn together in Path C of the play-offs, which will take place in March.

Italy were drawn in a semi-final against minnows North Macedonia, who are aiming to make their first appearance at a World Cup, while Portugal will face Turkey.

Should they progress, Portugal will have home advantage in the Path C final to determine which team progresses to Qatar. While Cristiano Ronaldo could well be fighting to play in his final World Cup, the Azzurri will be aiming to avoid missing out on the tournament for a second successive time.

Path A threw up the possibility of Wales going up against Scotland for a place in the finals, should they overcome Austria and Ukraine, who went unbeaten in a qualifying group that also included reigning world champions France, respectively.

In Path B, Russia will host Poland and Sweden will play the Czech Republic. 

The winner of Russia v Poland will host the Path B final.

Play-offs draw in full

Path A

SF1 – Scotland v Ukraine

SF2 – Wales v Austria

F1 – Winner SF2 v Winner SF1

Path B

SF3 – Russia v Poland

SF4 – Sweden v Czech Republic

F2 – Winner SF3 v Winner SF4

Path C

SF5 – Italy v North Macedonia

SF6 – Portugal v Turkey

F3 – Winner SF6 v Winner SF5

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.

Italy head coach Roberto Mancini has hailed the impact of his substitutes who "changed the game" as the Azzurri won 2-1 over Austria in extra-time in their Euro 2020 last-16 clash.

Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina came off the bench to both score in extra-time, while 67th-minute substitute Manuel Locatelli helped turn the game too.

Mancini had weighed up starting Locatelli ahead of Marco Verratti, whom he replaced, and delighted in his subs' impact and their potential roles moving forward, with a quarter-final date confirmed.

"They were brilliant and that can be a huge advantage for us," Mancini said.

"The fact we have players that can step in and change the game because they are fresh, it was an excellent performance.

"The players wanted to win at all costs and with the subs they did a good job and we were able to win."

The win set a new national record as they extended their unbeaten run to 31 games, surpassing the 30-game streak posted under Vittorio Pozzo between 1935 and 1939.

However, Sasa Kalajdzic's 114th-minute header ended their 11-game run without conceding a goal, dating back to October 2020, ending a run of 19 hours and 28 minutes without conceding.

Mancini insisted Italy did not under-estimate Austria, claiming the match would be tougher than their quarter-final against either Belgium or Portugal on Friday.

"We knew there would be potential banana skins in this match and we thought it would be tougher than the quarter-final, they are not as good as teams in quarter-final, but they really make life tough for you, they cause problems," he said.

"We knew we scored in the first half it would have been a different game. We said it would be a match we would have to struggle through to get the win. We had to dig deep."

Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma said their quarter-final opponent held no fears for the Azzurri.

"It doesn’t matter who we face, we have to keep playing our football and keep going," he said.

"The emotions are extraordinary, we can’t wait until we can play in a packed stadium in front of these fans."

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