Tottenham are reportedly investigating a potential move for young Bayer Leverkusen centre-back Piero Hincapie, despite the hefty asking price for the Ecuador international.

Hincapie, 21, is in his second Bundesliga season after arriving from Argentinian side Talleres, and has forced his way into Leverkusen's starting XI, earning 13 starts among his 15 total league appearances this campaign.

He also has 24 senior international caps for Ecuador under his belt, playing every minute of his country's three group stage fixtures at the Qatar World Cup.

Hincapie's emergence has not gone unnoticed, and Leverkusen are said to be informing interested clubs that any sale of their talented youngster will come at a heavy price.

 

TOP STORY – SPURS KICK THE TYRES ON PRIZED LEVERKUSEN DEFENDER

According to the Sun, Spurs boss Antonio Conte is desperate to add a new central defender before the end of the month, but the club were knocked back by a massive £80million price tag.

The report indicates Hincapie would be in favour of a move to the Premier League, and to Tottenham specifically, but that it would be far more likely to occur at the end of the season.

Interestingly, the Sun believes Leverkusen would be open to accepting as little as £20m if it meant Hincapie could spend the rest of the season on loan with the German side, but with his contract tying him to Leverkusen until 2026, it is hard to believe they would budge so significantly from their lofty valuation.

It also mentions Tottenham's pursuit of Sporting right-back Pedro Porro is on the verge of falling through, but Portuguese publication Record is reporting that a verbal agreement is in place for a £42m (€48m) deal.

 

ROUND-UP

– GiveMeSport are reporting Chelsea will make a run at 23-year-old Juventus striker Dusan Vlahovic at the end of the season, while Calciomercato adds Juventus are anticipating the Serbian's departure and will seek to replace him with 25-year-old Atalanta forward Ademola Lookman.

– According to Sport, Barcelona are focusing on 25-year-old Wolves midfielder Ruben Neves as their long-term replacement for Sergio Busquets after failing to land Real Sociedad talent Martin Zubimendi.

Manchester United believe they are priced out of the Harry Kane sweepstakes, per the Daily Star.

– Mail on Sunday are reporting Arsenal have returned with a second offer for 21-year-old Brighton and Hove Albion midfielder Moises Caicedo, but their £70m bid is still below the £80m demand.

– The Telegraph adds that the outcome of Arsenal's push for Caicedo will not affect their desire to sign West Ham midfielder Declan Rice after the season, and they will try to secure both.

Chelsea's busy January is showing no signs of slowing down, despite landing five players already.

The Blues, who are 10th in the Premier League, have brought in Mykhaylo Mudryk, Noni Madueke, Andrey Santos, David Datro Fofana and Benoit Badiashile during this window.

Chelsea are 10 points behind fourth-placed Manchester United and desperate for a top-four finish to bring Champions League football back to Stamford Bridge.

And another signing is now imminent.


TOP STORY –  CHELSEA AGREE DEAL FOR LYON'S GUSTO

Fabrizio Romano claims Chelsea have agreed to a deal with Lyon to sign right-back Malo Gusto.

The 19-year-old will fly to London and undergo medical tests on Saturday, with the player to join the Blues in June 2023.

Lyon will receive €30million plus add-ons and retain the player on loan for the remainder of the season.

OL head coach Laurent Blanc had said the club's board guaranteed that he would remain with the club this season, with the loan solving that roadblock. 

ROUND-UP

Arsenal will make an improved offer for Brighton and Hove Albion midfielder Moises Caicedo , according to The Telegraph. The Seagulls turned down Arsenal's initial £60m bid for the Ecuadorian, who took to social media to plead with the club to let him go.

Atletico Madrid are back in for PSG defender Presnel Kimpembe , having been interested in him during the off-season, reports Le Parisien. Kimpembe, who is out of contract in mid-2024, may slip out of favour at PSG with the French champions pushing to sign Inter's Milan Skriniar.

Real Madrid have ruled out an off-season transfer for West Ham United midfielder Declan Rice , according to The Daily Mail. The report claims Rice has "given his word" to Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta that he will join the Gunners next season.

– Roma midfielder Nicolo Zaniolo has rejected a move to Premier League strugglers Bournemouth despite the club's board travelling to Italy, preferring Milan or Tottenham instead, claims Fabrizio Romano.

– FootMercato claims PSG are readying a bid for Lyon's 19-year-old winger Rayan Cherki. PSG have previously tabled two bids for him.

– Lyon are also set to lose 22-year-old Brazilian winger Tete who will join Leicester City until the end of the season, reports The Sun. West Ham, Brentford and Leeds United were also interested in Tete.

Declan Rice appears certain to leave West Ham at the end of this season, with the ambition to test himself in the Champions League.

The 24-year-old midfielder is contracted with the Hammers until 2024, with the Hammers having the option of an additional year.

West Ham reportedly want more than £100million for the England international, but may settle for around £80m.

 

TOP STORY – ARSENAL CONFIDENT OF WINNING RICE RACE

Arsenal are winning the chase to sign West Ham midfielder Declan Rice, who favours a move to the Gunners, according to The Guardian.

Rice has also drawn interest from Premier League heavyweights Chelsea and Manchester United.

The London-born defensive midfielder is excited by the prospect of working with Mikel Arteta, according to the report, and Arsenal's manager has plans to integrate Rice into his starting XI.

 

ROUND-UP

–  Milan are monitoring Nicolo Zaniolo's situation, with Fabrizio Romano claiming that Tottenham are only offering an initial loan with a buy option, with Roma wanting a €35/40m (£30.7m/35m) guaranteed fee. Zaniolo is keen to join Antonio Conte's Spurs.

– Football Insider claims that Tottenham have offered Spanish winger Bryan Gil to Roma as part of their proposed Zaniolo deal. The report claims he is one of three players Spurs have presented to the Italian club.

– The Sun reports Roma are also in talks with Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech about a move to the Italian capital. The Moroccan has also been linked with Barcelona.

Inter want to sign Roma's English centre-back Chris Smalling on a free transfer, according to Gazzetta dello Sport. Smalling's contract expires at the end of this season, although he has the option to extend for another year.

Marseille want to sign Hellas Verona defensive midfielder Ivan Ilic, according to Sky Sport Italia, though OM would leave the 21-year-old on loan at Verona for the rest of the season.

– The Daily Telegraph claims Everton have held talks on the future of manager Frank Lampard, following reports he would be sacked on Sunday.

Memphis Depay has been linked with a move away from Barcelona, having had a frustrating 2022-23 season.

The Dutchman has only made a handful of appearances for the Blaugrana, following an off-season of busy transfer activity at Camp Nou.

Depay had been linked with several clubs, including Premier League outfits Manchester United, Arsenal, Newcastle United and Tottenham.

TOP STORY – MEMPHIS TO EXIT BARCELONA FOR ATLETICO

Depay will leave Barcelona to join Atletico Madrid with an agreement reached on a fee of approximately €3-4million, reports Fabrizio Romano.

The Dutch forward is set to travel to Madrid to complete the formalities and medicals soon.

According to Romano, the 28-year-old will sign a two-and-a-half-year deal with Atleti.

 

ROUND-UP

– Fabrizio Romano claims Borussia Monchengladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer will undergo medical tests with Bayern Munich on Thursday, before signing his contract with the Bavarians with the deal done between the clubs.

– Sky Sport Italia claims Roma are willing to sell Nicolo Zaniolo in January at the right price, approximately €40m, as the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal, West Ham United  and Borussia Dortmund circle.

Real Madrid are interested in Manchester United's Alejandro Garnacho but the Red Devils have made an improved contract offer for the Argentinian, reports The Independent.

– Arsenal are happy to wait until the end of the season to pursue West Ham's Declan Rice, after missing out on Mykhaylo Mudryk, claims The Sun.

Tottenham have made a first bid for Sporting right-back Pedro Porro, which included a player plus guaranteed money, but the Portuguese club have turned this down, according to Fabrizio Romano. Sporting want €45m (£39m) with talks ongoing.

Chris Wood is on the cusp of joining Nottingham Forest on loan from Newcastle United, reports The Athletic. The deal would include an option to make the move permanent.

– West Ham tabled an offer for Aston Villa forward Danny Ings, reports The Telegraph.

Premier League heavyweights Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle United are reportedly preparing to target Napoli striker Victor Osimhen, who may leave the Serie A leaders at the end of the season.

Osimhen, 24, became Napoli's club-record signing when he arrived at the club for €70million in July 2020, and he has met all expectations.

After scoring 14 goals in 27 league appearances last season, Osimhen has raised the bar, finding the back of the net 12 times with four assists during his 14 league fixtures in 2022-23.

With Napoli nine points clear at the Serie A summit and seeking their first title since the 1989-90 season, a January sale is off the table, but talks are expected to heat up at the end of the campaign.

 

TOP STORY – NAPOLI SLAP €150M PRICE TAG ON PREMIER LEAGUE TARGET OSIMHEN

According to Il Mattino, Napoli believe that if Chelsea new-boy Mykhaylo Mudryk is worth €100m (£88.5m), then Osimhen is worth €150m (£133m).

The Nigerian international's contract ties him to the Italian side until 2025, giving I Partenopei enough leverage to hold firm at what they believe is a fair valuation, but they will be forced to listen to offers at the end of the season if he shows no indication of signing an extension.

The report states Arsenal, United and Newcastle have already made their interest clear, although Arsenal specifically appear to be weighing up a number of expensive options after opting against meeting Mudryk's asking price.

 

ROUND-UP

– The Times is reporting Arsenal have made 24-year-old West Ham midfielder Declan Rice their top priority in the post-season transfer window, and the England international could cost £80m.

– According to The Telegraph, Newcastle have enquired about Chelsea trio Conor Gallagher, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Hakim Ziyech.

Newcastle have also reportedly joined Leicester City in the pursuit of 24-year-old Fiorentina forward Nico Gonzalez, who will cost at least €45m (£40m), per TuttoMercatoWeb.

– 90min is reporting Leeds United have increased their bid for 22-year-old Angers midfielder and Morocco standout Azzedine Ounahi to £22.2m (€25m).

– The agent of 25-year-old Villarreal winger Arnaut Danjuma has reached out to Liverpool, Tottenham and West Ham in an effort to organise a move to the Premier League this month, per Relevo.

Chelsea have reportedly made Monaco centre-back Benoit Badiashile their top defensive target in the January transfer window.

They have been strongly linked with RB Leipzig and Croatia standout Josko Gvardiol, but Fabrizio Romano believes Chelsea will have to break the record for the most expensive transfer fee paid for a defender to get a deal done.

Instead, the Stamford Bridge club are said to have pivoted to 21-year-old Monaco powerhouse Badiashile, who stands at six-foot-four and has racked up 106 club appearances since debuting at the age of 17.

Badiashile also earned his first senior caps for France this year, playing a full 90 minutes in UEFA Nations League fixtures in September against Austria and Denmark before ultimately missing out on the World Cup squad.

With just over 18 months remaining on his contract, Monaco will need to decide if they can tie him down up long term, otherwise it may be time to cash-in.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA TARGET YOUNG MONACO TALENT

According to The Athletic, Badiashile is a player who has been on the Premier League radar for some time, noting a £22million bid from Manchester United back in 2020.

The report claims Badiashile was in no rush to leave back then as he was already a first-team regular, but he has since opened up to the idea of moving on to take the next step of his career.

Chelsea are said to be preparing a £35m offer for the man who has experience playing in a back-three, which would be less than half of the potential asking price for Gvardiol.

 

ROUND-UP

– Fichajes is reporting Aston Villa boss Unai Emery has no interest in retaining Argentinian World Cup hero Emiliano Martinez, and would prefer to replace him with Sevilla and Morocco star Yassine Bounou for a fee in the range of £40m.

Chelsea are in the best position to land 23-year-old West Ham midfielder Declan Rice as he enters the final 18 months of his contract, per The Athletic.

– Journalist Nicolo Schira is reporting Atletico Madrid have agreed to personal terms with 26-year-old Leicester City centre-back Caglar Soyuncu, and he could be allowed to join the club in January despite his contract not expiring until the end of the season.

– Atletico will allow Joao Felix to join a Premier League club on loan in January if their financial demands are met, per the Mirror.

– According to Teamtalk, Liverpool and Tottenham are included in the Premier League sides prepared to offer a contract to 27-year-old Inter centre-back Milan Skriniar for when he becomes a free agent at the end of the season.

Declan Rice gave his backing to England manager Gareth Southgate as his players took responsibility for Saturday's agonising World Cup quarter-final defeat to France.

England lost 2-1 to the world champions despite long periods in which they controlled the game at Al Bayt Stadium.

Harry Kane's penalty cancelled out Aurelien Tchouameni's opener, but a second spot-kick from the Three Lions captain sailed over the crossbar after Olivier Giroud had restored France's lead.

Rice felt England "handled the occasion well" and were undone by "two goals that you don't really see us concede".

For that reason, the midfielder felt it was unfair to place any blame at Southgate's door following another missed opportunity at a major tournament.

"I hope he stays. There's a lot of talk around that," Rice said. "I think he's been brilliant for us, and there's been a lot of criticism that's not deserved.

"He's taken us so, so far, further than what people would expect.

"Tonight, he got everything spot on. It's not on him. The tactics were spot on. We played the right way, we were aggressive, we stopped [Kylian] Mbappe – he was quiet – and it was two goals against the run of play.

"That isn't down to the manager, it's down to the players on the pitch. I really hope he stays."

Rice believed England's performance was evidence of their progress under Southgate, who is set to take some time to consider his future.

"We really believed that this year could be our year," he said. "We got to the Euros final, and we've really progressed as a team over the past few years.

"We weren't over-confident, but we were confident we could go out there tonight and beat France. That's the mentality switch England have not had over the years.

"I think we dominated the game. Other than their two goals, I don't really remember them creating much. We played some great football, and it's a game of small margins.

"We win together and we lose together; it's just obviously really hard to process it."

Declan Rice is fit to play for England against France in their World Cup quarter-final, Three Lions team-mate Kalvin Phillips confirmed.

Rice missed England's training session on Wednesday because of illness, sparking fears over his ability to play against the reigning world champions on Saturday.

But Phillips, who formed a vital partnership with Rice in England's route to the Euro 2020 final, allayed any worries over the West Ham midfielder's availability.

"I believe Dec [Rice] is fit," Phillips told reporters at his pre-match news conference. "He's back in training and he's fine."

After playing such a vital role at the European Champions last year, Phillips has played just 40 minutes off the bench in Qatar, in part due to only recently returning from shoulder surgery.

However, Phillips insists he is ready to fill in if Rice does experience any problems against France, saying: "If something goes wrong then I'll be there and I'll do my best to be fit for 90 minutes.

"I want to play as many minutes as possible. Regardless of whether Dec is playing or I am, we'll do our best."

Another reason for Phillips' limited time on the pitch has been the emergence of 19-year-old Jude Bellingham, who has been widely praised for his excellent tournament displays at such a young age.

Asked whether he is enjoying the tournament less because of his reduced minutes, the Manchester City man insisted he was still happy, and also praised those preferred to him.

"I am still enjoying it. I am still having loads of fun," Phillips explained. "I'm not playing as much, which can be frustrating, but if you look at the players playing ahead of me and how well they are doing, I can't really argue.

"I just need to keep working hard and getting fitter and fitter and then make an impact when I come on and be solid when I come on."

Much of the talk in the build-up to England's quarter-final clash has centred on how manager Gareth Southgate will combat the threat of tournament top goalscorer Kylian Mbappe.

Phillips' City team-mate Kyle Walker is the man many feel will be chosen to deal with Mbappe, though the defender only recently returned from injury.

While Phillips lauded Mbappe's abilities, he is confident Walker will be up to the task of defending against him, adding: "We know he [Mbappe] is an amazing player and he has been one of the top players for the last few years.

"But if there was anyone I would like to put up against Mbappe, it would be Kyle Walker because he is an unbelievable defender and probably the only one that is quicker than him as well."

England are not getting the credit they deserve for their World Cup performances, so says Declan Rice, who claimed other nations will fear the Three Lions.

Despite a sluggish start to Sunday's match at Al Bayt Stadium, Gareth Southgate's side eased through to the quarter-finals of the World Cup with a 3-0 victory over Senegal.

Jude Bellingham starred as Jordan Henderson, Harry Kane and Bukayo Saka scored to set up a tie with France on Saturday.

England have come under some criticism for their pragmatic approach to major tournaments under Southgate, yet after four games they are the top scorers in the competition with 12 goals, while they have conceded just twice at the other end.

"I'm delighted. It was a real top performance," Rice said.

"There was a lot of energy, some great goals. We knew Senegal posed a massive threat but we shut them down and now we march on.

"I've said it all along – we've not been getting the credit we deserve with our performances. If you look at other teams, like the Netherlands and Argentina, they win their games comfortably and it gets called a masterclass, but with us it always gets picked off.

"If you look at our last couple of games we've been faultless. Other countries should be fearing us now.

"I think we're starting to silence the critics. Going into the tournament there was always a lot of talk that we don't score enough goals - again, that's another one we've kept people quiet on. There was scrutiny around the defence and conceding goals but it's been solid so we're going to keep building and pushing."

Rice did add: "We're building a solid foundation and it's down to us now – there's no point being buzzing about tonight if we can't push on and beat France."

While Rice turned in a typically composed display at the base of England's midfield, Bellingham was the star of the show.

 

The Borussia Dortmund midfielder set up Henderson's opener and played a crucial role in Kane making it 2-0 on the stroke of half-time.

"He's thriving on the main stage," Rice said of the 19-year-old. "It makes me happy to see that, when you've got a player like that who is so strong and athletic, creating the chances he's creating.

"He's been doing it for Dortmund all season and is now doing it for us. It was a real collective team performance from us tonight all over the pitch, magnificent."

Of going up against France and the World Cup's leading goalscorer Kylian Mbappe, Rice said: "These are the game we want to play in. England versus France quarter-final – it doesn't get bigger than that. We've got six days now to prepare, we know the world will be watching and we want to progress."

Declan Rice and his England team-mates will never doubt Harry Kane, despite the Three Lions captain's failure to score in the World Cup group stage.

England scored nine goals en route to finishing top of Group B but Kane is yet to get off the mark in Qatar.

Kane, who won the Golden Boot in Russia four years ago and is just two behind Wayne Rooney's record haul of 53 Three Lions strikes, has created three of England's goals, becoming the first English player to provide three assists at a World Cup since David Beckham in 2002.

But Rice has full faith Kane will come up with the goods in the knockout stage.

"I don't think we should ever doubt Harry," the midfielder said at a press conference on Thursday. "His goalscoring record speaks for itself, what he's done for England.

"If you're looking, it's two assists now, against Iran for [Raheem] Sterling and the other night for Phil [Foden, against Wales].

"He's adapted his role now, where he likes to drop in a lot more, and link the play. I think that's where it's good, where we have fast runners.

"We're all rooting for him to score. He's our captain, that's what we need. I'm sure he will. He'll score in the knockout stages now."

Rice started his third game in a row at the tournament against Wales on Tuesday, but saw close friend Mason Mount dropped as part of a reshuffle.

The Chelsea playmaker has often come under fire on social media as a perceived favourite for Gareth Southgate, but Rice said Mount's achievements speak for themselves.

"I don't need to talk too much about Mase," Rice said. "You know he is one of the best players I've played with. I think that's why Gareth is so keen on him.

"He's just a team player. His numbers at Chelsea are incredible. He's won the Champions League, won the Super Cup, and for the rest of his career, he can go on and be whatever he wants to be.

"Let [him] go and do his thing. When he's doing that, it makes me happy seeing my good friend go and perform at the best level."

Declan Rice says performing on the biggest stage for England has only increased his desire to feature in the Champions League in the future, declaring: "you only get one career".

Rice has started all three of England's games at the World Cup in Qatar, helping the Three Lions top their group at the tournament for the first time since the 2006 edition in Germany. 

The West Ham midfielder has been linked with the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea in recent years, and his solid international displays will have done little to reduce interest in his services. 

Asked whether his desire to reach the top of the club game had increased as a result of his time with Gareth Southgate's side, Rice said: "Yeah, 100 per cent. 

"For the last two or three years I have been saying that. I have been playing consistently well for [my] club and I feel like I really want to keep pushing.

"I see my friends here who are playing in the Champions League and for big trophies. 

"You only get one career, and at the end of your career you want to look back at what you have won and the biggest games you have played in. I am really ambitious."

Rice has made seven interceptions at the World Cup so far – at least five more than any of his England team-mates, while only Jude Bellingham (18) and Luke Shaw (17) have recovered possession more often than he has for the Three Lions (14).

England take on Senegal for a place in the quarter-finals on Sunday, having progressed through five of their previous seven last-16 ties at the World Cup (failing to do so against Argentina in 1998 and Germany in 2010).

England have a good enough squad to win the World Cup and should be feared by other competing nations, according to Three Lions midfielder Declan Rice.

Gareth Southgate's side finished top of Group B with seven points after beating Iran 6-2 and Wales 3-0 either side of a goalless draw with the United States.

It is the first time since 2006 that England have finished top en route to the last 16, where Group A runners-up Senegal now await on Sunday.

Following shock defeats in the group phase already for France, Argentina, Belgium and Germany, Rice believes England's serene progress is a sign they mean business.

"I didn't see the France [loss to Tunisia] last night. I saw the result and there have been a lot of shocks in this tournament," he said at a press conference on Thursday. 

"You can't take anything for granted. That's why we're doing so well and maybe why we are not getting the credit we deserve.

"It could have been banana skins for us in any of the three games, but we've done well in all of them. 

"We've seen big nations lose but we have not put ourselves in a position where we've felt under pressure. We've always felt in control of the group.

"When you start to play better teams, your level goes up. These are the games you want to be involved in and get remembered forever. We'll be ready for those type of games.

"Other nations will always look at us and the quality that we have in the squad. Why should we not be feared?

"If you look at our attacking players, we have world-class, unbelievable talents across the board. Across the whole team, we have players who have won the biggest trophies."

 

England have not lifted the World Cup since 1966 and Rice accepts that partly explains why his side are perhaps not as fancied as others to go all the way in Qatar.

"We're one of the biggest teams here. It's down to us to prove it on the pitch," he said. "Teams like France have won World Cups and done it consistently. We want to change that.

"All those big nations, we want to show that we're here. We are not here for the round of 16; we want to go all the way."

The nine goals scored by England is the most they have ever managed in the group stage at a major tournament.

Rice is one of seven players to have started each of England's matches in Qatar and he was also a regular in their run to the Euro 2020 final, which they lost to Italy on penalties.

The West Ham midfielder is hoping to use that feel-good factor created last year to propel England to an even bigger achievement this time around. 

"It was obviously COVID back then so we couldn't see anyone, friends or family," he said. "But we saw videos of the fans back home and it brought all the fans together.

"We will try to keep going, try to lift everyone. It's obviously really close to Christmas now, so hopefully we'll give them the best Christmas present."

Cristiano Ronaldo became a free agent earlier this week after mutually agreeing with Manchester United to terminate his contract.

Ronaldo's availability has prompted numerous clubs to weigh up moves for the five-time Ballon d'Or winner.

Brazilian giants Flamengo and Saudi Arabian powerhouse Al Hilal have been linked with Ronaldo in recent days.

AL NASSR OFFER LUCRATIVE DEAL TO FREE AGENT RONALDO

CBS claims Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr have offered Cristiano Ronaldo a three-year deal worth £186m.

The deal would see Ronaldo play into his 40s, with Al Nassr having resumed talks with his representatives having initiated them in the close season.

An unnamed Saudi Arabian club reportedly made an offer for the 37-year-old Portuguese prior to the start of this campaign.

Al Nassr are nine-time Saudi Arabian champions and ex-Lyon and Roma boss Rudi Garcia is their head coach.

ROUND-UP

Cody Gakpo and Milan's Rafael Leao are top of Erik ten Hag's wish list to replace Ronaldo at Manchester United in January, claims ESPN.

- Arsenal are set to beat Newcastle United to sign Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Mykhailo Mudryk for approximately £40 million, reports The Mirror.

- Bayern Munich are the latest club to enter the race to sign West Ham's England international Declan Rice, according to El Nacional.

- Juventus are planning a move for Athletic Bilbao winger Nico Williams, reports AS. Williams is contracted with Athletic until 2024.

- Milan are keen on Salzburg forward Noah Okafor, with the Austrian club asking €35m for him, according to Calciomercato.

Declan Rice believes the stern criticism England received ahead of the World Cup allowed them to play with "fire in our bellies" in Monday's 6-2 thrashing of Iran.

Gareth Southgate's team faced heavy scrutiny following their humiliating Nations League relegation in September, having failed to win any of their six games in the competition.  

However, they cast aside any doubts over their form by recording England's biggest win in an opening match at any major tournament.

Jude Bellingham, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish scored and Bukayo Saka added a double at the Khalifa International Stadium.

"There were doubts about us before the tournament and we wanted to prove a lot of people wrong," Rice said.

"There has been a lot of talk about us not winning in our last six matches. By our standards, with the players we have got, we know that it hasn't been good enough.

"But this was a World Cup stage, and you could see there was a fire in our bellies.

"People will say, 'It's only Iran', but they have had some good results at past World Cups. In September, they beat Uruguay and drew with Senegal.

"It was a real positive performance, but we can't get too ahead of ourselves. It's the USA next and they are going to be another level up.

"First game, first win. We can't ask for any more."

England's next Group B contest sees them take on the United States – who they have never beaten in a World Cup match (D1 L1).

However, the Three Lions have won eight of their 11 meetings with the USA (D1 L2) in all competitions, with their last defeat to the Stars and Stripes coming in 1993.

Liverpool are reportedly keeping a close eye on Declan Rice's performances for England at the World Cup, and will prepare a move for the West Ham midfielder if they feel he handles the pressure of the big stage.

Rice, 23, played in all seven games for England in their run to the Euro 2020 final, and he has played in every minute of West Ham's 15 fixtures this Premier League season.

The defensive midfielder is a favourite of manager David Moyes, who declared in April that his price had risen to such an extent that "£150m just now would be minimum" – but his contract situation could force the club's hand.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL WATCHING IF RICE CAN RISE TO THE CHALLENGE

According to Football Insider, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp is a "huge admirer" of the man with 35 international caps already under his belt, but he still wants to see more.

The report claims Liverpool will be paying attention to "how Rice copes with the type of scrutiny and huge-game pressure he does not get at West Ham, who do not compete in the Champions League or challenge for trophies".

Rice's contract ties him to the club until 2024, although there is a club-option to extend the contract for an extra year.

He turned down a bumper new deal earlier this year that would have paid him £200,000 per week, indicating this will likely be his last contract with West Ham, and that factor will drive his price down the longer the club waits.

 

ROUND-UP

- Sport are reporting Manchester City are close to locking up Pep Guardiola on a new contract through 2025.

- According to 90min, Tottenham are eyeing Everton's Jordan Pickford, Brentford's David Raya and Brighton's Robert Sanchez as potential replacements for 35-year-old club captain Hugo Lloris.

- Chelsea's Christian Pulisic will likely be headed to the Serie A, per Fichajes, with Inter and Juventus said to be competing for his signature in January.

- AS are reporting Atletico Madrid will loan out Joao Felix in January after a lack of transfer interest.

- Newcastle United will make another run at 21-year-old Watford forward Joao Pedro, according to Football Insider, after having a £30m offer rejected before the season.

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