Arsenal teenager Ethan Nwaneri has captured the imaginations of England's top clubs after becoming the youngest player in Premier League history, with Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool all reportedly interested.

Nwaneri broke the record when he came on as a substitute in stoppage time of Arsenal's 3-0 win against Brentford on Sunday, becoming the first 15-year-old to appear in the competition.

His appearance – and subsequent praise from manager Mikel Arteta – did not go unnoticed, and it seems he is set to become one of English football's most talked-about youngsters.

TOP STORY – 15-YEAR-OLD NWANERI CATCHES THE EYE OF CITY, UNITED AND LIVERPOOL

With Nwaneri still classified as a schoolboy and not set to receive a scholarship with Arsenal until he turns 16 in March, The Times says he is being tracked by United, City and Liverpool.

The report suggests the interest being shown towards him by the country's most decorated clubs may have had some bearing on Arsenal's decision to hand him his debut, although Arteta was adamant it was only due to injuries limiting his bench options.

Whether he remains with the first-team set-up when healthy reinforcements return is unknown, and Arteta's messages were mixed. 

As well as saying "we need to create as many scenarios as possible for him to put his talent to the service of the team", Arteta also added Nwaneri should not expect his meteoric rise to continue at the same pace, adding: "After this, maybe he needs three [steps] backwards to go another forward."

ROUND-UP

– Calciomercato is reporting Juventus officials will meet on Friday to discuss the future of Massimiliano Allegri, with the club sitting eighth in the Serie A table with two wins from seven matches.

– According to La Gazzetta Dello Sport, Chelsea target Rafael Leao would like to remain with Milan and is working on a contract extension. 

– Marseille loanee Arkadiusz Milik is impressing during his stint with Juventus, who are interested in activating a €7million buy option in his loan agreement, according to Calciomercato.

Nice are hoping to hire Mauricio Pochettino to replace coach Lucien Favre after two wins from their first eight games, per ESPN, although The Telegraph claims Pochettino has no interest in the role.

Everything appeared to be heading towards Barcelona and Ousmane Dembele parting on poor terms after a largely unsatisfactory association.

"Either he renews, or we look for an exit," Xavi said in January, fielding the latest in a series of questions about the winger.

With Dembele failing to agree to a new Barcelona contract at the start of 2022, director of football Mateu Alemany was even more forthright, declaring: "He must leave the club immediately."

Fast forward eight months, and the unpredictable attacker has emerged as a key cog in a revitalised Barca side, one tipped to compete with Real Madrid after making an unbeaten start in LaLiga.

Having been in the cold since Euro 2020, Dembele is also back in the France squad for their upcoming Nations League matches, with his sights set on claiming a spot in Didier Deschamps' party for the World Cup in Qatar.

Football loves a redemption arc, and that of Dembele in 2022 is up there with the very best in recent memory.

On the eve of his France return, Stats Perform looks at Dembele's journey from €105million flop to the creative hub of Xavi's side, asking whether a World Cup flourish is next for the winger.

Injury woes and the long shadow of Neymar

Barcelona's failings following Neymar's 2017 move to Paris Saint-Germain have been well-documented, with Dembele long viewed as the ultimate personification of the shambolic recruitment policy during Josep Maria Bartomeu's tenure.

The Blaugrana parted with an initial €105m for Dembele, who recorded 30 goal contributions (10 goals, 20 assists) and created 100 chances in his lone season with Borussia Dortmund.

That substantial fee saw Dembele, a talented yet raw 20-year-old, touted as a replacement for Neymar, a pressure that appeared to weigh heavily on the Frenchman; he needed over seven months to score his first goal in LaLiga, finally finding the net at Celta Vigo in April 2018.

While Ernesto Valverde led Barca to a domestic double in 2017-18, Dembele's own contribution was limited by a series of injury setbacks, which represented a sign of things to come.

 

Dembele made just 17 league appearances and 12 starts in his debut campaign, having been ruled out until January 2018 after suffering a serious hamstring injury within a month of his arrival.

In three of Dembele's first five campaigns at Barca, injuries ruled him out for 100 days or more. Between the beginning of 2017-18 and the end of 2020-21, meanwhile, he started just 36 per cent of the club's league games.

On the rare occasions Dembele did stay fit, meanwhile, his output was negligible in a side increasingly reliant on Lionel Messi's brilliance. Dembele's tally of 17 league goals and 14 assists in his first four seasons hardly represented value for Barcelona's mammoth investment, meaning the winger was considered ripe for a sale as the club's economic position worsened.

From contract rebel to key man: Spearheading the Xavi revival 

Even LaLiga's casual observers must have grown tired of discussions over the economic "levers" being pulled by Joan Laporta's regime. But before the sales of future TV rights and production companies, shifting Dembele was touted as a means by which to balance the books after the January arrival of Ferran Torres.

With a loan move for Adama Traore leaving Barcelona's forward line well-stocked, the message could not have been clearer; if Dembele would not agree to fresh terms, he was surplus to requirements.

But with Traore struggling on his return to Spain and Torres regularly deployed centrally, Xavi decided to utilise Dembele once the January transfer window closed. He was richly rewarded after reinstating him on the right of Barca's attack.

Since Xavi took charge in November 2021, Dembele's 17 assists in all competitions is bettered only by Messi (22) and Kevin De Bruyne (21) among players in Europe's top five leagues, while his 15 LaLiga assists during that time is a team-high.

Dembele also leads Barca's charts for chances created (63), chances created from open play (52) and touches in the opposing box (126) under Xavi in LaLiga, finally combining his menacing dribbling ability with genuine threat and creativity.

 

And Dembele's 68 dribbles completed in that time – also a team-high – show he has not sacrificed the individual skill that attracted Barcelona's attentions five years ago. 

Three months on from Dembele being booed by his own supporters during a Europa League clash with Napoli, Xavi said: "When he has not been involved, we have noticed."

The former midfield maestro was right. Barcelona won two-thirds of the league games Dembele started last season, and 47.8 per cent of those he didn't.

That impact meant Dembele's belated contract renewal, finalised in July, was received with enthusiasm by everyone at Camp Nou, with the winger subsequently going from strength to strength.

The tonic to Deschamps' blues?

If some thought the arrival of Raphinha might threaten Dembele's place in Xavi's side, he has made them eat their words at the start of the new campaign.

Having tallied the most assists (13) and expected assists (9.2 xA) in LaLiga last season, Dembele has recorded four league goal contributions since the August restart (two goals, two assists), forcing his way back into Deschamps' thoughts.

By the end of August, Dembele had been involved in more shots (15) as a consequence of ball carries than any other player in LaLiga, and his dynamic, unpredictable style may be just what Les Bleus require.

 

Dembele was used sparingly at Euro 2020, with Antoine Griezmann preferred alongside Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe as France won just once in four outings. However, it's easy to see why Dembele's ability to hug either touchline might appeal to Deschamps, offering him tactical flexibility when several other options appear compromised. 

Griezmann's lack of game-time at Atletico Madrid has been subject to much debate in recent weeks, while Kingsley Coman is out of France's latest squad through injury. Benzema's own injury scare, meanwhile, will no doubt have sharpened Deschamps' mind on the need for a plan B.

With France failing to win any of their first four Nations League games this time around, Dembele's Barcelona revival may have come at the perfect time.

Should Dembele carry his club form onto the international stage, potentially contributing to the first successful World Cup defence since Brazil's 1962 win, his 2022 will surely go down as one of football's most emphatic comebacks. 

Jamaica goalkeeper Andre Blake has once again been named to Major League Soccer’s Team of the Week.

The 31-year-old shot-stopper has been in inspired form for Major League Soccer (MLS) club Philadelphia Union so far this season and claimed his spot in goal for week 32’s best selection, with another inspired performance.

The custodian was at his very best in a draw at Atlanta United FC on the weekend and made at least 5 big saves to earn his team a share of the spoils.  In truth, the Union found themselves on the back foot for most of the encounter.

Perhaps his biggest and most important save came in second-half stoppage time as Atlanta found its all-time leading goalscorer alone at the back post but Blake was there for the close-range reaction stop to keep Josef Martinez from unlocking the tie.

On the back of another outstanding season, the Jamaican is firmly in the running for the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honours, an award that he won in both 2016 and 2020.  Earlier this month, the player achieved another significant milestone for the Philadelphia Union after reaching 200 appearances.

Tottenham centre-back Eric Dier heaped praise on coach Antonio Conte for helping to resurrect his international career ahead of the World Cup.

Dier, 28, has 45 senior caps for England since debuting in 2015, but it has been almost two years since he last represented his country in a UEFA Nations League win against Iceland in November 2020.

However, after tallying 35 Premier League appearances this past campaign, Dier has become a crucial part of Conte's three centre-back lineup, playing every minute of Tottenham's seven unbeaten matches this season (5W, 2D).

Speaking to the media about how he feels he has evolved since his last national call-up, Dier gave plenty of credit to Conte for changing the way he approaches his game.

"I don’t want to sound like a teacher’s pet but [Conte] has done a lot for me," he said. "In every way he has done a lot for me. 

"He has had a great effect on me in every aspect. Tactically, physically, mentally. My approach.

"Not just the manager but all his staff. He is very demanding, but I really enjoy that. Ever since he arrived, I have never learnt so much in this year. I don’t think I have learnt as much before as I have now with him.

"He is the godfather of that system so I feel like with him you’re constantly learning and evolving within that system, constantly adding new things – once we learn one thing we’re onto the next. 

"I think he probably gave me my belief back a little bit as well."

Dier took things a step further and said he does not just feel he has recaptured his previous form, but he has now reached a new level.

"I think it was my most difficult season when I did miss out on the Euros, [but] I don’t think it was as bad a season as it is made out to be," he said. "Nowhere near.

"But now I think I’ve reached my best level in my career, not just this season but last season as well. I think I’m getting better and I think I can get better."

With five matches required to bring up his half-century in an England shirt, Dier said he would be lying if it was not on his mind.

"I’ve seen they’ve got a board up now in the reception of the hotel of all the people who have made 50 and 100," he said. "It’s a dream to be able to reach that.

"It would mean a lot. It’s something that when I wasn’t in the squad it was playing on my mind that I was so close to it. That did annoy me. I would love to be able to get to that kind of milestone.

"I’m very happy… I’m very proud of making it back, I just don’t like dramatising it too much. I play football, you know?"

Pedri revealed Luis Enrique's Spain view themselves among the favourites to win the upcoming World Cup in Qatar. 

La Roja have endured two disappointing World Cup campaigns since winning the trophy in 2010, being dumped out in 2014's group stage before suffering a last-16 penalty shoot-out loss to hosts Russia four years later.

However, the emergence of several young talents – including Pedri and fellow Barcelona midfielder Gavi – has enabled Luis Enrique to reintroduce a possession-based style of play Spain became renowned for under Vicente del Bosque.

With Spain set to begin their World Cup campaign against Costa Rica in just over two months' time, Pedri sees no reason why the class of 2022 cannot deliver a second World Cup win.

"Perhaps people don't expect so much from us, they don't see us as favourites, but inside we do see ourselves as favourites," he told Sport.

"We will not wear the medal without doing anything. If we work as we should, the opportunity will come.

"There is always pressure at Barca and the national team. You have to try to escape, be calm and enjoy. 

"Here and at Barca we have a team for everything. We work so that at the end of the season we can win everything we play."

Pedri, who does not turn 20 until November, has already won 12 senior international caps and established himself as a key player for Barcelona.

Now, he is setting his sights on competing for football's greatest individual honour.  

Asked whether he saw himself as a future Ballon d'Or winner, Pedri said: "I hope I have the opportunity to be, it is a very complicated prize. 

"You must be the best in the world, I have a lot to learn and improve so that this day can come.

"I worked a lot on the physical side, I still have to improve, but little by little I am adding small things. You can't put so much day by day because of the busy schedule, but you can always improve."

At club level, Pedri has struck up a fine understanding with Barcelona's new signing Robert Lewandowski, whose return of eight goals in six matches has helped Xavi's side to an unbeaten start in LaLiga. 

"It's crazy, he contributes a lot of goals, assists, he's a machine in the area," Pedri said of the Poland international.

"It is spectacular to work with him, he helps young players, those who enter now or have been there for more years. He suits us very well."

Spain face Switzerland and Portugal in their final two matches in Group A2 of the Nations League this month, having built a one-point lead over Fernando Santos' men ahead of those fixtures.

Poland captain Robert Lewandowski will wear the colours of Ukraine at the World Cup in Qatar, after receiving a special armband from Andriy Shevchenko.

The Barcelona forward met Shevchenko at Warsaw's national stadium to collect the yellow and blue armband, which he will wear at the World Cup to represent Ukraine, who did not qualify.

Ukraine has been ravaged by Russia following February's invasion, with millions of citizens forced to flee the country and many have travelled to Poland, which has also hosted the Champions League matches of Shakhtar Donetsk this season.

While Ukraine will not play in Qatar, Lewandowski has pledged to display their colours when he takes to the field in a show of solidarity with those who are suffering, having met Shevchenko with Laureus Sport For Good.

"I will carry the colours of Ukraine to the World Cup. As a player and a man, I support peace and I believe such symbolic gestures matter," he said.

"I believe that as athletes we should use the power of sport for good. I'm going to take Andriy’s armband with me to the World Cup in November as a reminder that Ukrainian people are not alone and are not forgotten.

"It means a lot to me to stand here with Andriy, a footballer and a man who has used his voice and platform to influence positive change."

Shevchenko thanked Lewandowski for his pledge, saying: "For me, the captain’s armband is a symbol of leadership, strength and passion for your country. I want to pass this armband to Robert to thank him for his support, voice and platform in supporting my country and calling for peace."

Poland begin their World Cup campaign on November 18 against Mexico, then tackling Argentina and Saudi Arabia in Group C.

Atletico Madrid have condemned the racist abuse directed at Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior by supporters, promising the "immediate expulsion" of any members who were involved.

Sunday's LaLiga derby between the two capital clubs was marred by pre-match scenes of Atletico fans singing racist chants about the Brazilian forward.

The chants came less than a week after football agent Pedro Bravo urged the Real Madrid winger to "stop playing the monkey" in relation to the forward's customary dancing celebration. Bravo later apologised, insisting he did not mean to cause offence with the comments made on TV show El Chiringuito.

Vinicius vowed to continue celebrating in such a way and was met with a wave of support, including from compatriots Neymar, Pele and Gabriel Jesus, but he was still targeted by some Atletico fans ahead of Sunday's match.

Atletico have belatedly spoken out against the abuse suffered by the forward and offered their cooperation to the police.

"Our club has always been known for being an open and inclusive space for fans of different nationalities, cultures, races, and social classes, and a few cannot tarnish the image of thousands and thousands of Atleti fans who support their team with passion and respect for their opponents," the statement read.

"These chants provoke enormous repulsion and indignation. We will not allow any individual to hide behind our colours to utter insults of a racist or xenophobic nature. At Atletico Madrid, we have zero tolerance for racism, our commitment to the fight against this social scourge is total, and we will not stop until we eliminate it.

"To this end, we have contacted the authorities to offer them our full cooperation in the investigation of the events that took place outside the stadium. We ask them to identify the people who participated [and] to proceed with the immediate expulsion of those who are members of the club.

"We would also like to invite all professionals involved in the world of football to reflect deeply. Making clear once again our strongest condemnation of these events, which have no justification whatsoever, we believe that what has happened in the days leading up to the derby is unacceptable.

"Fans are asked for sanity and rationality, and during the week, professionals from different fields generated an artificial campaign, lighting the fuse of controversy without measuring the repercussions of their actions and manifestations.

"The pain felt by the red and white family for this event is enormous. We cannot allow anyone to link our fans with this behaviour and question our values because of a minority that does not represent us.

"Our decision is firm and emphatic. We will not stop until we expel those involved from the red and white family because they cannot be part of it."

The United Soccer League and the Caribbean Football Union last Wednesday announced a new long-term partnership that will help shape the future of the game across the Caribbean Football Union’s 31 member nations. The wide-ranging agreement will create more professional opportunities for Caribbean players, coaches, referees, and front office staff in the USL Championship and USL League One.

The two organizations will collaborate to increase and enhance player scouting across the Caribbean region including at events such as the Caribbean Club Championship and Caribbean Cup. Soon, the USL will create and announce details of a combine for select players from across the CFU member nations to compete in front of USL technical staffs.

The USL will support the CFU’s endeavour to build certification programs for coaches, sporting directors and executives designed to boost professional development and open the door to coaching opportunities in the USL. USL Sporting Director Mark Cartwright and club technical staff will share best practices on an ongoing basis with their counterparts in Caribbean professional leagues.

The USL and CFU will explore development opportunities for Caribbean referees within the USL ecosystem, from the youth to the professional ranks.

The USL will welcome CFU executives to league meetings where they will have the opportunity to participate in educational sessions and meet and interact with the owners and executives from USL’s league office and clubs. The CFU will provide USL executives the same opportunity at meetings or events it may conduct throughout the year.

“Caribbean football has made tremendous contributions to the USL over the years and this partnership creates an exciting opportunity to augment that legacy,” said USL President Jake Edwards. “We are thrilled to work with the Caribbean Football Union and its members to grow the sport throughout the region and impact our communities together.” 

Caribbean players have featured prominently in the USL’s history. In the Championship’s 11 seasons, three league MVPs have hailed from countries that are members of the CFU (Yordany Alvarez/Cuba, 2011; Kevin Molino/Trinidad and Tobago, 2012/2014; Dane Kelly/Jamaica, 2017), while Kelly and fellow Jamaican Kenardo Forbes are the current all-time leaders in Championship history in regular-season goals and assists respectively.

This past year, both Forbes and fellow Jamaican Neco Brett were voted to the Championship’s All-League Team, while 39 players from the Championship and League One were selected to compete by 14 countries within the CFU to play at the senior international level.

“We in the Caribbean Football Union are both pleased and excited by this partnership. Part of our role in the CFU is to lobby for our member associations in all spheres and to court opportunity for administrators, coaches, players and our referees. This agreement does just that, opening pathways for the CFU, and it brings to the USL a tangible benefit, because our people in the Caribbean have the ability to add value wherever they are placed. This collaboration marries talent with opportunity. Everyone wins,” said CFU President Randolph Harris.

The partnership will see the USL look to offer opportunities for training, exposure, and career development both at the USL’s league office and with the league’s clubs for students enrolled at CFU Knowledge Zone—an online training initiative of the CFU. 

 

UEFA has confirmed Russia will not be included in next month's qualifying draw for the 2024 European Championship.

Russia has been exiled by FIFA and UEFA following February's invasion of Ukraine, with the country's national teams and clubs banned from competing in any continental or international competitions.

UEFA confirmed ahead of the 2022-23 season that Russian clubs would be excluded from competing in their tournaments this season, although Euro 2024 was not mentioned in the previous update.

However, while confirming the procedure for the qualifying draw that will take place on October 9, UEFA has now confirmed Russia will not be among the 53 teams drawn.

"All Russian teams are currently suspended following the decision of the UEFA Executive Committee of February 28, 2022 which has further been confirmed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on July 15, 2022. Russia is therefore not included in the UEFA European Football Championship 2022-24 qualifying draw," a statement read.

Germany, hosts of Euro 2024 and automatic qualifiers, will also not be in next month's draw, which will produce seven groups of five teams and three groups of six teams.

The 53 participating teams are seeded according to the overall 2022-23 Nations League rankings and divided into seven pots, with the 10 group winners and runners-up qualifying for the tournament.

Playoffs will decide the final three qualification spots for Euro 2024, which is scheduled to begin on June 14, 2024.

Reggae Girlz forward Tiffany Cameron has been named the Player of the Year by the Hungarian Football Federation for the 2021-22 season.

Cameron, 30, was announced as the winner at the HLSZ Gala Dinner on Monday after scoring 23 goals and providing 10 assists to help her club Ferencvarosi TC win the Noi NB I, the premier women’s league in Hungary, by 14 points.

She joined Ferencvarosi in 2020 after a season in Norway with Staebek. Cameron has also played club football in Germany, Sweden, Cyprus and the USA in her career.

The Canadian-born striker, who can also play midfield, has made twelve appearances for the Reggae Girlz, scoring five goals.

Matthijs de Ligt believes he took a "step up" in his career by leaving Juventus to join Bayern Munich.

The Netherlands defender was one of football's most exciting prospects when he joined Juve from Ajax for a reported €75million, winning Serie A in his first season with the team before disappointment in the two subsequent league campaigns.

De Ligt then moved to Bayern ahead of the 2022-23 season for a reported €77m and believes the switch put him on an upward trajectory.

"Bayern Munich is closer to the philosophy of what the national coach wants on the pitch. You also have to take risks in football," he told NOS.

"For me, it's a step up in terms of team. Juventus is a very good team. Only I think Bayern has everything to win the Champions League in terms of selection and ambition. I had the feeling that it was just a little less at Juve.

"I had a great time, really enjoyed it, but I felt like it was time for a new challenge."

De Ligt has had to be patient for opportunities with Bayern, initially finding it difficult to break into the starting line-up, but has no concerns as he highlighted the amount he has played in recent matches.

"I'm not worried at all. I barely played the first three games, because I came in with a training deficit. That was what they had told me the first week," he added.

"Of the last eight games, I've played six all the way. So, I'm actually satisfied with my playing time and how the first two months have gone."

Joshua Kimmich has mixed feelings about playing a World Cup in Qatar but insisted players cannot be expected to boycott the finals at this late stage.

The Germany and Bayern Munich player says the time for action was 12 years ago, when Qatar was awarded the tournament, rather than now, two months out from the opening game.

Kimmich spoke at a Germany press conference on Tuesday, ahead of Nations League games against Hungary and England, the last get-together of Hansi Flick's squad before the coach chooses his players for the World Cup.

The November and December dates for the tournament are unusual, and all part of the package that has come since Qatar was surprisingly awarded hosting rights in December 2010.

Concern about the country's human rights record has persisted and is sure to continue into the tournament itself.

Kimmich said: "As a player, you're always extremely keen on a World Cup. There's a lot of discussion about it this year, and rightly so."

He stressed issues such as climate, which has forced the tournament to be shunted to late in the year, were known about before Qatar was handed the tournament.

He added: "At the end of the day, players are always asked for a boycott. We're 12 years too late. Something like that has to be taken into account beforehand.

"It's a balancing act. On the one hand, you're looking forward to the huge event; on the other hand, there are these grievances that we address again and again."

Midfielder Kimmich will have little time to step back and look closely at the Qatar situation because the demands on players this season are extreme.

As well as domestic league and European commitments being crammed tightly together ahead of the World Cup, there is also the Nations League, where Germany have won one game and drawn three so far.

"You have in mind that this is preparation for the World Cup," Kimmich said. "But after that we have a block of club football where we need to get our points. Of course, it's all preparation for the World Cup, but as a footballer you want to be in form every three days."

Germany head coach Hansi Flick has expressed firm opposition to Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup, just two months out from the opening game.

Former Bayern Munich boss Flick will lead Germany into a major tournament for the first time, having taken over from Joachim Low after Germany's last-16 exit to England at Euro 2020.

Germany will face Japan, Spain and Costa Rica in Group E, with their first game to be played against Japan on November 23, three days after Qatar take on Ecuador in the opener.

Flick said in a German newspaper interview on Tuesday that the question of Qatar's bid being accepted as a justified one "should have been answered much earlier – with a no!".

He told the Suddeutsche Zeitung: "It is obvious that a lot is wrong in Qatar when it comes to human rights and sustainability."

The Arab country has faced external criticism for its treatment of migrant workers, as well as its record on women's rights and treatment of LGBTQ people.

Human rights campaigner Amnesty has called for migrant workers to be compensated for "suffering endured" in Qatar during preparations for the World Cup, calling for FIFA to support a 'remediation programme' and warning of the prospect of the tournament being "indelibly tainted by human rights abuses".

Flick has also expressed concern about a Qatar World Cup in the past.

Speaking in August, Flick said the World Cup would not be a tournament "for fans", and would instead go against his belief that "football should be there for everyone".

Given Qatar's limited accommodation facilities, the high costs involved in making the trip, and the move to the middle of the European club season, the competition has presented issues for fans, clubs and players, even beyond the moral debates.

Flick told the Frankfurter Rundschau: "[I have friends] who would like to fly to Qatar, but choose not to for a variety of reasons. Football should be there for everyone. That is why I say it is not a World Cup for fans."

Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal team-mate Rafa Silva has retired from international football having made 25 appearances for his country.

Benfica forward Silva was part of the squads that won Euro 2016 and the 2018-19 Nations League, while he was also called up for the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2020.

An impressive start to the club season, in which he has scored four goals in seven league matches, earned him a call-up for Portugal's upcoming Nations League fixtures against Czech Republic and Spain.

But the 29-year-old has instead retired from international football, stating he was calling it quits for "personal reasons" and describing it as an "honest and right decision".

Silva went on to say: "The national team will continue to bring joy to the Portuguese, from the very beginning in the League of Nations and the 2022 World Cup."

The Portuguese Football Federation added: "The FPF Board respects the decision taken by Rafa, who with us lived the two biggest achievements of the national team, Euro 2016 and the League of Nations.

"Rafa will forever be one of ours and he deserves our recognition and thanks."

Iago Aspas says a "stubborn" streak means he has not given up hope of winning over Luis Enrique before the World Cup.

The Celta Vigo striker was left out of Enrique's latest Spain squad, meaning he will play no part in the upcoming Nations League games against Switzerland and Portugal.

Those are La Roja's final games before their World Cup squad is announced, and those that have missed out might naturally fear the worst.

Since the start of last season, Aspas has scored 23 goals and had seven assists in 43 LaLiga games for Celta, with that goals return only beaten by Real Madrid's Karim Benzema (30).

Those goals have come at a rate of one every 157.96 minutes, and from an expected goals tally of 16.42, with his return suggesting he is exceeding normal performance levels with his finishing.

The 35-year-old former Liverpool player had been hoping such form would push him into contention for a place in the squad for Qatar 2022, but he now faces a battle to rival the likes of Borja Iglesias and Ferran Torres.

Aspas told the Cadena Ser programme 'El Larguero' that now was not the time to give up on his ambition.

"Hope is the last thing you lose, but it is true that I haven't gone [with the national team] for a while," he said. "I finished last season quite well and now I have continuity in the league.

"Of course it hurts not to go, I'm stubborn and I'm not going to give up until the end. If I get on the final list, all the better. They pay me to play for Celta, but I have that prize just around the corner and I'll do everything possible."

Aspas, who has six goals from 19 caps for Spain, is convinced it is a footballing issue rather than anything personal with Enrique.

"If not, he would have told me because the coach is up front," Aspas added.

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