Kylian Mbappe hopes to avoid any hangover from World Cup disappointment as the France forward searches for his elusive final international crown at Euro 2024.

The Real Madrid-bound forward scored a hat-trick in the final of FIFA's global tournament in 2022, though that was not enough to stop Argentina from winning on penalties in Saudi Arabia.

Another major tournament is on the horizon as the European Championship awaits in Germany, where Didier Deschamps' side rank as the favourites alongside Gareth Southgate's England.

Euros success is the only glory missing from Mbappe's glittering resume, having won the World Cup in 2018 and the Nations League as well, though the 25-year-old hopes to end that this time around.

The former Paris Saint-Germain told CNN Sport: "I want to win the Euros. I have to be honest. I won the World Cup. I won the Nations League.

"That's the only one that missed me with the national team after I did everything with the national team. I really want to win this.

"My first competition as captain, so it's really important for me and it's always important for the country and we want them to be proud of us.

"[It's] another opportunity to write the history of my country."

Mbappe endured a woeful tournament at Euro 2020, failing to score from chances amounting to 1.7 xG in four games, before missing the vital penalty as France lost to Switzerland in a last-16 shoot-out.

Coming into this tournament on the back of a 44-goal season with PSG and with his long-term future decided, few would back a repeat from Madrid's newest Galactico. 

France open their group-stage campaign against Austria on Monday before facing the Netherlands and Austria in a testing pool.

Mbappe believes Les Bleus can take the learnings from the last World Cup into their next quest for the European crown.

"I think we have to move forward," the world-class forward added. "Of course, we were hurt, to see that you're close to something...

"Close to the back-to-back. Something amazing. Something historic. Everybody loved the game except for us.

"We didn't like that, but it's part of the game. Now, when I watch the video of the game, I watch with a smile because it's part of the history and we know what we have to do if we go again in the final.

"We have to play all the game and have no reaction."

Lionel Messi knows his illustrious career is running out of time as the Argentina great suggested his club playing days will end with Inter Miami.

The Barcelona legend completed a switch to MLS side Miami last year after two decades of European football with the Blaugrana and Paris Saint-Germain.

As Messi starts to prepare for Argentina's Copa America defence this month, retirement remains a pertinent question for the global superstar.

The 36-year-old, speaking to ESPN, acknowledged Miami will likely "be my last club" as the fear sets in over ending his playing career sooner rather than later.

"I've done this all of my life; I love playing ball," the eight-time Ballon d'Or winner said on Wednesday. 

"I enjoy the practices and the day-to-day, the games. There's a bit of fear that it's all ending. It's always there. It was a difficult step leaving Europe to come here [Miami].

"The fact we won the World Cup helped, it helped a lot, to see things in another way. But I try not to think about it, I try to enjoy it.

"I do that more now because I'm aware that there's not a lot of time left. So I have a good time with the club, being lucky to have good team-mates and friends at my side.

"I enjoy my time with the national team, where I also have good friends, too, and a lot. I enjoy those small details that I know I'll miss when I stop playing."

Messi is Barcelona's all-time top scorer with 672 goals, as well as lifting four Champions League trophies amid a glittering career.

Yet the ageing forward insists World Cup glory in 2022 remains his crowning moment, following in the footsteps of late Albiceleste great Diego Maradona.

"Obviously, I was sad that he couldn't experience what we experienced [winning the 2022 World Cup], because I know what he felt for the national team and what he would say about Argentina being world champion again," he added.

"We went through a World Cup together which aside from the result was an impressive experience, going through that day-to-day with him, how happy he was, seeing him enjoy being the manager.

"So I try to remember all the good times that we had together. I know that he loved me a lot, and I loved him, despite what was said in the media.

"The reality is we had a lot of affection for each other, and since he met me he was always supportive and wanted the best for me.

"It was a shame that he couldn't live to experience it like the rest of the country did."

Lionel Messi has cast doubt upon his chances of playing at a 13th major tournament for Argentina at the 2026 World Cup.

The Inter Miami star will turn 39 during that tournament, which takes place in the United States, Canada and Mexico in two years' time. 

The eight-time Ballon d'Or winner has seemingly left the door ajar to a final swansong at the world's biggest international tournament, though he admits his participation will be dependent on how he feels as he edges closer to the end of his glittering career. 

"It depends on how I feel, on how I am physically," Messi said in an interview with Infobae. 

"I have to be realistic with myself and know if I am up to the task of being able to compete and help the team-mates next to me. There is some time left, and I don't know how I will be at that moment. 

"Age is also a reality, although it is a number, and the games that I am going to play [at Inter Miami] are not the same as the ones I played when I was in Europe. 

"It will depend on how I feel, what I feel when I'm next to my team-mates, and I'll see if I'm still up to par or not."

Messi has 12 goals and nine assists in 12 MLS appearances this season, with the Argentina captain set to lead his country's bid to retain their Copa America title in the coming weeks.

La Albiceleste kick-off their campaign against Canada on June 20 at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, and Messi believes the competition at this year's tournament is as strong as it has ever been. 

"I think that Argentina is always favourite," he said. "When a tournament starts, be it a World Cup, Copa America or whatever, Argentina is a candidate just like Brazil and more so in this Copa America. 

"But I think that today the South American teams are very strong. Uruguay are very good, as are Colombia and Ecuador. I think it will be a very level Copa America."

Lionel Scaloni will take charge of Argentina at a fourth international tournament and will be hopeful his number 10 can lead them to glory once more. 

Amid talk it could be Messi's last competition with his country, Scaloni wants supporters to focus on the present, rather than looking to the future. 

"We Argentines are too melancholic. We are already thinking about the day when he is not there, when he is still playing," Scaloni told Telemundo Deportes.

"Let's enjoy it and we'll see tomorrow, because I think the present is so important, not only for Argentina, because, in the end, Leo plays for those who like football. Someday it will happen."

Jesse Marsch has been named the new head coach of the Canada national team with immediate effect.

The former Leeds United boss, who has been out of work since his departure from Elland Road 15 months ago, has signed a deal to take charge of the Maple Leafs until July 2026.

Marsch fills the vacancy held by Mauro Biello on an interim basis following John Herdman's departure to MLS side Toronto FC last October.

And the 50-year-old is excited to get down to work with the 2026 World Cup co-hosts.

"The combination of the new leadership inside of Canada Soccer coupled with the potential of this dynamic player pool has inspired me," he said.

"I am ready and eager to take on this massive responsibility. My excitement and anticipation to get started are immense.

"It is an absolute honour to represent and lead the Canadian men's national team in our preparation for a home World Cup.

"One of my main goals will be to help unite the soccer community in Canada to support our efforts to be successful on and off the pitch.

Marsch will begin his tenure with friendlies against the Netherlands and France next month ahead of Canada's Copa America campaign, which launches against Argentina on June 21.

Kevin Blue, Canada’s soccer’s chief executive officer and general secretary, added: "Jesse is a transformational leader who will drive progress for our men's national team – and for Canadian soccer more broadly – as we enter the most important time in the domestic history of our sport.

"He's been a successful manager at the highest levels of global football, and is an experienced builder who will make a significant impact on the landscape of our sport."

UK Sport’s deputy chief insists abandoning a potential joint UK and Ireland bid for the 2030 World Cup in favour of focusing on Euro 2028 was the “right decision”.

The 2030 tournament has now been awarded to Morocco, Portugal and Spain, with three South American nations staging the opening matches to mark the tournament’s centenary, while England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland will co-host the European Championships in four years’ time.

A Women’s World Cup was added to UK Sport’s latest list of 70 hosting  targets for events up to 2040, unveiled on Tuesday, and while the funding body executive acknowledged that there “is no stated aspiration” to secure the men’s equivalent within a specific time frame, he did not rule out the possibility of the competition landing on a future list.

UK Sport deputy CEO Simon Morton said: “I think when we think back to the bidding landscape over the last year or two in FIFA, one of the considerations that the FAs had to reflect on was whether the World Cup was winnable, and we had to think about every single event that we move forward with.

“I think it was the right decision, because we were quickly able to move those plans that had been built around the World Cup to secure, although it’s the Euros, a genuinely global tournament, and I think securing that for the UK and the unique partnership that sits alongside it, the four UK home countries and the Republic of Ireland, I think that was the big prize here.

“So I reflect on that and think it was a positive move.”

UK Sport invests both National Lottery and government funding to enable the bidding and staging of what it deems to be “strategically important” international sporting events hosted in the United Kingdom.

The most expensive and large-scale of their top event targets – like the Women’s World Cup – that exceed the organisation’s budget, also require additional financial support from the involved home nation governments. 

Many of the target events are initially classed in the commitment-free “opportunity” category,  which, for those deemed suitable to advance to the next phase, is followed by a feasibility study exploring factors such as venue selection, budget and chances of competitive success. 

Morton reiterated that a men’s World Cup is “not on our list at this (2024-2040) timeframe” and, when asked if the aspiration would be to host one in the 2040s, replied: “That’s not what we’re saying.

“There isn’t a stated aspiration to host the men’s World Cup in a specific year from our perspective, but as this programme evolves, as it moves into the next three or four years, perhaps that comes onto our list.

“I mean, that’s principally an issue for the football associations, who also need to decide on whether a bid goes ahead or not.”

The latest UK Sport update accompanies a new strategic framework for major events, which places a heavy emphasis on social impact and access.

The international hosting landscape has evolved and become more competitive, particularly in the case of Saudi Arabia, who look certain to host the 2034 World Cup after emerging as the sole bidder.

Morton added: “With the rise of Saudi money and what they are doing, it certainly feels as though the role of Saudi and its presence on the global competition circuit is becoming normalised, certainly over the last 12 to 24 months.

“This is why the UK needs to respond. This is part of the reason that we are setting out the plans that we are today.”

MetLife Stadium in New Jersey will host the 2026 World Cup final and the 39-day tournament will kick off at Mexico City’s Aztec Stadium.

Governing body FIFA confirmed the match schedule on Sunday for the showpiece event, which will be co-hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico, will involve 48 teams for the first time.

The MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford is home for NFL teams the New York Giants and New York Jets and has a capacity of around 82,500.

It was opened in 2010 and replaced Giants Stadium, which was one of the host venues for the 1994 World Cup held solely by the United States.

Mexico hosted the finals alone in both 1970, when Brazil lifted the trophy, and in 1986 – when Diego Maradona guided Argentina to success after scoring his ‘Hand of God’ goal against England in the quarter-finals.

The Aztec Stadium is set to host opening match for the third time and will become the first ground to do so.

The AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas – home of the Dallas Cowboys – will be one of the semi-final venues, along with the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, home to the city’s Major League Soccer club as well as the Falcons NFL franchise.

The third-place play-off will be hosted at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium.

The Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, the NRG Stadium in Houston, Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California are other US venues.

Dallas will host a total of nine matches – the most of any city at the tournament.

All of the co-hosts will play their three group-stage fixtures on home soil.

Canada’s first game will be held in Toronto on June 12, while the USA’s opening match will be played at the SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles on the same day.

The USA’s other group match will be at Lumen Field in Seattle on June 19 before playing again in Inglewood on June 25.

Mexico will play a fixture in Guadalajara on June 18 and then be back in Mexico City on June 24, while Monterrey will also host other games.

After playing in Toronto, Canada will head west to Vancouver for two games at BC Place.

The 2014 and 2018 finals lasted 32 days, as did France in 1998. FIFA had already said the 2026 tournament would have the same 56-day overall ‘footprint’ of rest, release and tournament days as the three most recent summer finals.

The 2026 World Cup will feature 12 four-team groups and a last-32 knockout round for the first time, while 104 matches will be played in total.

The remaining match details will be confirmed following the draw for the finals, which is expected to take place towards the end of 2025.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said: “The most inclusive and impactful World Cup ever is no longer a dream, but a reality that will take shape in the form of 104 matches in 16 state-of-the-art stadiums across Canada, Mexico and the USA.

“From the opening match at the iconic Estadio Azteca to the spectacular final in New York New Jersey, players and fans have been at the core of our extensive planning for this game-changing tournament.”

Giorgio Chiellini believes the Saudi Pro League deserves greater respect as the Gulf state aims to build a competition capable of shifting the global power dynamic in football.

The former Juventus defender, who announced his retirement on Monday, made a similarly unexpected move to the United States when joining MLS side Los Angeles FC in 2022.

Having admired from afar when Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Neymar all completed the switch to Saudi Arabia, Chiellini thinks world football must take note of the ongoings in Saudi Arabia.

Indeed, FIFA announced in October that Saudi Arabia was the only country to submit a bid to host the 2034 World Cup before the deadline, making a second tournament in the Gulf a formality following last year's World Cup in Qatar.

"I think that we have to respect this type of new league and new market," Chiellini, who confirmed his retirement on Monday, told Stats Perform.

"Saudi Arabia is trying to do a lot of new advertising ahead of the World Cup in 2034 to host a good tournament – not like what happened in Qatar. They were trying to do their best but weren't able to develop football in the culture.

"It maybe needs more time. They have just started to build a basis a little better than Qatar and they have a much bigger state than Qatar; that could help them reach this goal."

A host of world-class talent has been enticed to the Saudi Pro League, with players struggling to refuse lucrative contracts.

But Chiellini called for trust in Saudi Arabia's efforts.

"They are doing something unexpected and something so strong in this way," he added. "But I think that they are very trustworthy and it's not a fake moment that will finish.

"Then we'll see, I don't know how it will continue to develop and there are many directions [that it could go], but it's something that we have to respect.

"We have to accept and I think that we have to take advantage of all that, but also we could adapt that in both ways.

"[It is] something that could be good for everyone, from European football and Saudi, it depends on the way you want to see it but it's something that we could expect for years to come."

CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani believes next year's Copa America will serve as perfect preparation for the 2026 World Cup.

Joining the 10 South American teams in the 2024 Copa America, which will be held in the United States, will be six teams from CONCACAF.

The USA, Mexico, Jamaica and Panama are already assured of their places in the tournament, with Costa Rica or Honduras and Canada or Trinidad and Tobago to take the remaining two spots.

With the expanded, 48-team World Cup in 2026 also taking place in North America, CONCACAF president Montagliani hopes the Copa America presents the perfect opportunity for the federation's teams to prepare.

"It's evidence of when leadership and two very important confederations come together and put football first. The game is going to win here because you're going to have a great tournament next year," Montagliani told Concacaf.com.

"I think we realised early on that we needed to make sure that we made our own competitions better, like our Nations League, our Gold Cup.

"This was an opportunity, after speaking with my counterpart, Alejandro Dominguez, to come together and partner with them, not just on the men's side like we have now with Copa America, but also on the women's side with a Women's Gold Cup.

"This fits in well with our strategy to increase not only the quantity of competitions, but also the quality of competitions, and this will help our teams prepare for the World Cup in our backyard.

"FIFA is also going to have the Club World Cup here in 2025 and I think from a fan's perspective, I'm not sure we've ever had this, so it's a great time to be involved in the game, at whatever level you are.

"I think it's a bit of a coming out party for our region. Obviously, we've struggled in the past at many levels, but I think, as I said a long time ago, for the work we've done in the last six years, we deserve the right to think long-term.

"We also now deserve the right to enjoy the present and all the football that is coming our way."

Reigning Copa and world champions Argentina were placed in Group A in Thursday's draw, alongside Peru, Chile and Canada or Trinidad and Tobago. The USA will face Uruguay, Panama and Bolivia in Group C, while Brazil will go up against Colombia, Paraguay and Costa Rica or Honduras in Group D.

Two CONCACAF teams should also fancy their chances of progressing from Group B, with Mexico and Jamaica – who count the likes of Leon Bailey, Michail Antonio and Demarai Gray in their squad – going up against Venezuela and Ecuador.

The draw opened up as such that another Argentina-Brazil final could be on the cards.

Saudi Arabia's emergence as the sole bidder to host the 2034 FIFA World Cup is no surprise and could be part of a major power shift to affect football in the next few years.

That is the view of sports finance expert Dan Plumley, who also says FIFA will find it difficult to avoid political questions when Saudi oil company Aramco becomes the governing body's highest-paying sponsor.

FIFA confirmed in October that Saudi Arabia was the only country to submit a bid to host the 2034 World Cup before the deadline, making a second tournament in the Gulf a mere formality.

The announcement came less than a year after the 2022 tournament was held in Qatar, a decision which was roundly criticised due to the country's poor human rights record and criminalisation of same-sex relationships. 

Saudi Arabia's bid to host football's most iconic tournament comes after the state's Public Investment Fund took direct control of four Saudi Pro League clubs, attracting big names including Karim Benzema, Neymar and Sadio Mane to a league which already contained Cristiano Ronaldo.

Plumley foresees the country emerging as a football powerhouse over the next decade, with the World Cup playing a major role in that vision.

"I don't think it's a surprise, I think that you can see the power shift, the dynamics changing in world football," he told Stats Perform of the 2034 bid.

"We've obviously seen it off the back of the recent Qatar World Cup, and you could see the narrative of Saudi Arabia's direction of travel with what they're doing with the Saudi Pro League.

"[It's] linked to their Vision 2030 project as a country and how they're trying to pivot away from oil and look at other ways to generate revenue in the future, on top of the World Cup being – alongside the Olympics – the biggest sporting event on the planet. 

"It's quite clear that was always going to be in their sights. I don't see that as any real surprise.

"I think there's a long waiting time now: when you look at the plans they've got for the Saudi Pro League, and couple that with hosting a World Cup, there's a lot of ifs. 

"But we could be looking at a significant power shift in world football in six to 10 years' time."

Just a few weeks after Saudi Arabia emerged as the sole 2034 bidder, it was reported that the nation's state-owned petroleum company Aramco was set to become FIFA's largest single sponsor, which critics have suggested amounts to a conflict of interest.

Asked about the prospective deal, Plumley said: "This is a much wider question around the governance of the sport, and I think you can draw some parallels to the situation in English football with the independent regulator.

"Part of the reason for the independent regulator is because people have not been happy with the Premier League being self-governing, being judge, jury and executioner.

"But that same kind of conversation is happening at UEFA levels, and it's been happening at FIFA levels for a number of years. 

"They are the ultimate governing body of world football. In that regard, it's very difficult to do anything else within the governance framework, because that's where we stop. 

"People will always draw parallels to the companies connected with that, and the way in which event hosting is done, where the World Cups are going and who the sponsors are. 

"There's been numerous conversations about that throughout history, it's now just positioned in a slightly different way because we're in slightly different territory.

"You can't avoid the politics of it, whether we like to or not. It's much bigger now than football and I think that's what you keep coming back to, [the fact that] there's a lot going on in the market that transcends the game on the pitch."

A prospective Saudi Arabia World Cup is taking football back to a “dark time”, according to Human Rights Watch.

FIFA confirmed on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia is the sole bidder for the 2034 tournament after a process lasting less than a month and with only interest from Asian and Oceanian federations permitted.

While it still needs to be rubber-stamped, probably at FIFA’s Congress late next year, this appears little more than a formality.

In a statement to the PA news agency, Minky Worden, director of Global Initiatives at Human Rights Watch, said: “FIFA awarding the World Cup without any competition or transparent bidding and assessment process takes us back to the dark time for football that delivered the Qatar and Russia World Cups in a corrupt process that led to years of arrests.

“With more than 11 years until the 2034 World Cup, why were all other federations that had previously expressed an interest in bidding to host a World Cup discouraged or disallowed?”

In announcing the bids, FIFA stressed that its dialogue with Saudi Arabia prior to the Congress will include ensuring its human rights obligations are met, but Worden has low expectations.

“The previous due diligence process to assess bids and deal with predictable human rights problems wasn’t perfect – but it existed,” she said.

“FIFA’s human rights policy will be worth less than the paper it’s printed on if Saudi Arabia’s bid goes forward as planned.”

Saudi Arabia is set to stage the World Cup in 2034 after being confirmed as the sole bidder.

Australia was the only potential challenger but Football Australia announced hours before FIFA’s deadline on Tuesday that it would not be submitting a bid.

FIFA had already said the tournament would be held in Asia or Oceania, while Saudi Arabia had garnered immediate support from the Asian Football Confederation.

A Saudi World Cup, which may not be confirmed until a FIFA Congress late next year, is likely to be highly controversial given concerns over the country’s human rights record.

It would almost certainly mean another winter edition, as with last year’s tournament in Qatar, due to the extreme heat during the region’s summer.

A FIFA statement said: “The FIFA administration will conduct a targeted dialogue with bidders to ensure complete, comprehensive bids are received and evaluated against the minimum hosting requirements as also previously approved by the FIFA Council.

“This dialogue will focus on the defined priority areas of the event vision and key metrics, infrastructure, services, commercial, and sustainability and human rights.”

A statement from Football Australia said it had “explored the opportunity” of a bid but had decided against it.

“Having taken all factors into consideration, we have reached the conclusion not to do so for the 2034 competition,” the statement said.

“Football Australia is ambitious to bring more major tournaments to our shores. We believe we are in a strong position to host the Women’s Asian Cup in 2026 and then welcome the greatest teams in world football for the 2029 FIFA Club World Cup.”

It said hosting those events, in between the 2023 Women’s World Cup and 2032 Olympics in Brisbane, would complete a “truly golden decade for Australian football”.

CEO James Johnson added: “The reality is I don’t like to throw darts at a dartboard. When we weigh up these decisions, I like to bet on sure things. I realised we could have a shot but I think at the end the outcome was not going to be favourable to Australia.

“Saudi is a strong bid. They’ve got a lot of resources. They’re disrupting European club football at the moment. Their government are prioritising investment in football and I think that’s difficult to compete with.”

Saudi Arabia announced its declaration of interest within hours of FIFA outlining the process for hosting the 2034 tournament earlier this month.

With the 2026 finals heading to the United States, Canada and Mexico and the 2030 finals to Spain, Portugal and Morocco, including some matches in South America – subject to approval by FIFA’s congress – only bids from the Asian Football Confederation and the Oceania Football Confederation were being considered.

Saudi Arabia confirmed on October 4 that it would bid for the showpiece tournament in 2034.

Saudi minister of sport Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal said in a statement via the Saudi Press Agency: “Hosting a FIFA World Cup in 2034 would help us achieve our dream of becoming a leading nation in world sport and would mark a significant milestone in the country’s transformation.

“As an emerging and welcoming home for all sports, we believe that hosting a FIFA World Cup is a natural next step in our football journey.”

Last week Human Rights Watch complained that FIFA was failing to apply its own rules in regards to Saudi Arabia’s bid, specifically article seven of its human rights policy.

The article states: “FIFA will constructively engage with relevant authorities and other stakeholders and make every effort to uphold its international human rights responsibilities.”

Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, said: “The possibility that FIFA could award Saudi Arabia the 2034 World Cup despite its appalling human rights record and closed door to any monitoring exposes FIFA’s commitments to human rights as a sham.”

On Tuesday, Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s head of economic and social justice, urged FIFA not to rush into a decision, saying: “With only a single bid for each tournament on the table, FIFA may have scored an own goal.

“FIFA must now make clear how it expects hosts to comply with its human rights policies. It must also be prepared to halt the bidding process if serious human rights risks are not credibly addressed.

“The best chance for FIFA to obtain binding guarantees to protect workers’ rights, ensure freedom of expression and prevent discrimination linked to the World Cup is during the host selection process – not after the hosts have been confirmed and tournament preparation has begun.”

Confronting accusations of “sportswashing” in an interview with Fox News last month, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said: “If sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by way of one per cent, then I will continue doing sportwashing.

“I don’t care. One per cent growth of GDP from sport and I’m aiming for another one-and-a-half per cent. Call it whatever you want, we’re going to get that one-and-a-half per cent.”

Eddie Howe, manager of Saudi-backed Newcastle, was asked about the prospect of a Saudi Arabian World Cup at a press conference on Tuesday.

“Our trips out there to Riyadh and Jeddah were two different experiences,” Howe said. “Wherever we went was really well organised and we were well looked after. If that’s a sign of what a World Cup there might look like then you can rest assured that everything will be structurally really good.”

Jan Vertonghen does not believe there will be two players who dominate the Ballon d'Or during the next decade in the way Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have done.

Messi scooped his record-extending eighth Ballon d'Or on Monday in Paris.

The 36-year-old led Argentina to World Cup glory in Qatar last year, and also enjoyed a fine individual season with Paris Saint-Germain.

This Ballon d'Or will almost certainly be Messi's last. Since 2008, he or Ronaldo have won every edition of the award bar two, with Luka Modric taking it in 2018 and Karim Benzema in 2022.

Messi finished ahead of Erling Haaland – who scored 52 goals in his first season at Manchester City – and his former club-mate Kylian Mbappe, who played a direct part in 50 goals in all competitions for PSG and was the World Cup's leading scorer.

While Haaland and Mbappe have been tipped to fight it out for the award over the next decade, former Tottenham and Ajax defender Vertonghen thinks the days of two players dominating are over.

"I don't think it's going to be two guys dominating for the next 15 years," Vertonghen, an Athlete Partner for APEX, told Stats Perform.

"There are a lot of massive talents. Obviously, you've got Haaland and Mbappe already there for a couple of years, but then if you look at [Jude] Bellingham, what he's doing now, [Jamal] Musiala, I love him, Phil Foden, Vinicius [Junior].

"Those are the young guys. I hope one day a defender or even a goalkeeper [can win]. Thibaut Courtois was very close the year [Real Madrid] won the Champions League.

"I'm probably forgetting 10 or 15 more names. With Belgium, we have a great couple of young guys. There's so many, and I hope one day it could go to a Belgian one."

Bellingham enjoyed a strong season with Borussia Dortmund, though has taken his play up to an elite level since his move to Real Madrid.

The England midfielder finished 18th in the overall voting, with Bayern Munich star Jamal Musiala coming in 26th, 20 places behind Vinicius.

Kevin De Bruyne came fourth in the vote, and Vertonghen enthused over his compatriot's quality.

"Kevin, his passing ability is the one that stands out - you know that he is known for his assists and his vision, but he understands the game so well," he said.

"He knows how to use the space, where to run, he is very, very good in pressing which is something you don't really think of when you think of him, you think of assists, vision, scoring goals, but the way he is able to understand how a team builds up, he's just a genius of the pitch.

"Whenever I played against him with Tottenham, we would always try to build up on the other side because he's the one that will get the team going."

Lionel Messi's World Cup success with Argentina should be enough to win him the upcoming Ballon d'Or, says former England striker Jermain Defoe.

Messi finally achieved World Cup glory with La Albiceleste in Qatar last year as Argentina beat France on penalties in the final to win international football's top prize for a third time and the first since 1986.

Messi won the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player, finishing with seven goals and three assists from seven appearances, playing every single minute of Argentina's campaign to lead them to silverware.

Defoe believes Messi's talismanic displays in Qatar make him the rightful winner of the upcoming Ballon d'Or, having already claimed the coveted award seven times before, two more than any other player has managed.

Speaking to Stats Perform at the Legends of Football event, in aid of Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy, Defoe said: "Messi won a World Cup, so it's difficult to see past that.

"I think what he's done for the game – him and [Cristiano] Ronaldo, and other players as well – but because he's won a World Cup, and not only winning the World Cup but the way he performed in the tournament.

"Because the pressure was on, and it's probably his last, so to do that, go out the way he has, in terms of World Cups – I think you just have to give it to him."

 

Messi's World Cup heroics cap glittering career

Many felt Messi needed to win the World Cup to confirm his place as the best football player of all time, and he responded with a magnificent campaign in Qatar before Argentina ultimately took the crown.

Messi scored twice in the final, finishing just one goal behind Golden Boot winner Kylian Mbappe, who netted a hat-trick on the losing side as his side finished runners-up.

His extraordinary tournament saw him score in the group stage, round of 16, quarter-final, semi-final and final, the first player to ever achieve that feat at a World Cup, while his 26 appearances at the tournament is also a record, after he surpassed Lothar Matthaus.

Messi's goals made him the first ever South American player to score in both the World Cup and Champions League final, and he joined his idol Diego Maradona as the only two players to score five or more goals and create 20 or more chances in a single World Cup tournament.

 

The now-Inter Miami forward became the first player to win the Golden Ball at two World Cup editions, while his 26 goals for Argentina at major tournaments is the most of any South American player in history.

Whether all that will be enough for Messi to win the Ballon d'Or will be revealed on October 30 at a ceremony in Paris, with the likes of Manchester City's Erling Haaland and Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior expected to challenge.

Neymar needs to lift the World Cup with Brazil to etch his name as a Selecao great, so says Mauro Silva, who referenced Lionel Messi's global success with Argentina.

Messi powered Lionel Scaloni's Argentina to their first World Cup triumph in 36 years after lifting the coveted Jules Rimet trophy at the Qatar World Cup in 2022.

Neymar and his Brazil team-mates were eliminated from that edition of the world's top international tournament in a quarter-final defeat to Croatia on penalties.

The Selecao forward equalled Pele's scoring record for Brazil in the Croatia loss, and subsequently broke the landmark with two goals against Bolivia in Friday's World Cup qualifier.

But former Brazil and Deportivo midfielder Silva believes Neymar must achieve glory in the United States and Canada at the 2028 World Cup to fully write his name into national folklore.

The 59-cap Brazil international Silva told Stats Perform at the Thinking Football Summit: "Neymar is among the best. I would say among the five or 10 best in Brazil.

"There are very good footballers in there. Pele, there is Ronaldo, Romario, Bebeto – some very important people. But Neymar is undoubtedly among the best too.

"There is the expectation in Brazil that a player with Neymar's talent is capable of leading Brazil to a World Cup, just as happened with Messi and the Argentina team after so many years.

"Here in Brazil, people hope that a player with Neymar's talent can lead us to this important achievement.

"He is among the most important players in the history of Brazilian football, without a doubt, because of his numbers, for breaking Pele's record, for example.

"But he still has a lot to do.

"I hope he can achieve a World Cup for Brazil and this will undoubtedly consolidate him as one of the greats in the history of Brazilian football."

Since the World Cup Neymar has left Paris Saint-Germain, who he joined from Barcelona, to move to Al Hilal on a lucrative contract in Saudi Arabia.

While the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema have made similar transfers to the Saudi Pro League, Silva hopes Neymar can continue to play at his peak in what he feels is a less competitive competition.

Silva added: "It is a challenge because when you are in the best competitions, competing every day, every week with the best teams and players, the demands make you maintain a very high level of performance.

"Now as being in a competition of a level that is not so high, it is a challenge. But let's see what happens.

"Nor can it be said that he will not be able to maintain the level, but I am convinced that this will be a great challenge for Neymar.

"We are in 2023 and the World Cup is in 2026, so there are still three years ahead where despite his age, his years, [Neymar] is in a league that is not as competitive as the European leagues.

"So he will have to maintain this high level to lead Brazil to a conquest. Hopefully he will be able to maintain this level until 2026 at least."

Uruguay should be the front-runner to host the centennial World Cup in 2030, according to former Uruguayan international Gus Poyet.

The South American country hosted the inaugural edition of the tournament in 1930 and went on to win their first of two World Cups on that occasion.

In 2017, the Uruguayan and Argentine football associations announced their intentions to submit a joint bid to host the 2030 edition, with fellow South American countries Chile and Paraguay subsequently joining the proposal.

Spain, Portugal, Ukraine and Morocco have launched a rival bid to host the tournament but Poyet believes that the tournament’s history should be respected.

"I thought it was natural that Uruguay could be the perfect place to play the World Cup in 2030," Poyet told Stats Perform.

"Do we have the capacity as a country to hold the World Cup? No. So it needs to be shared with someone around – Argentina, Chile or Paraguay. 

"The problem is, I used to remember a long time ago when somebody told me that football without politics has gone; it had died. We depend so much on the politics of the country.

"Until the politicians agree, football is not coming together. So I think it would be a shame if it is not in Uruguay, at least one group, maybe two groups."

A proposal has also been put forward by former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger for the World Cup to be hosted every two years. The plan – backed by FIFA president Gianni Infantino – has received widespread criticism, with Poyet also opposed to the suggestion.

"I would keep it [as four years], I don't want World Cups every two years," Poyet said.

"I think becoming a world champion is difficult, it takes four years and if you don't [win it], you need to wait another four years. It is like the Olympic Games, it is not like you can have another chance in two years' time."

On the pitch, Uruguay continued their unbeaten start under new coach Marcelo Bielsa. Having won two friendlies against Nicaragua and Cuba back in June, La Celeste got their 2026 World Cup qualification campaign up and running with a convincing 3-1 defeat of Chile.

Uruguay last won the World Cup in 1950, recording three fourth-place finishes since then, but Poyet is excited by Bielsa's start and the prospects of the national team under the tutelage of the 68-year-old Argentine.

"In the first game, people went, 'Wow what is going on without the old group of players' and the second game it was a little bit more natural," Poyet said.

"Everybody is desperate to know the 25 players he is going to pick. People think they know but they don't because Marcelo Bielsa is unique and he is different, he is totally a unique case and they're going to be surprises and some deceptions as well, so I think everybody's excited and looking forward to seeing what he's going to bring to the national team."

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