Australia's perfect record in World Cup 2022 qualifying was ended in a 2-1 defeat to Japan on Tuesday.

The Socceroos had won all 11 games on the road to Qatar – setting a record in the process – and each of their last 12 games stretching back into the last campaign.

But Ao Tanaka's early strike in Saitama and a late own goal from Aziz Behich, either side of Ajdin Hrustic's leveller, inflicted a first competitive defeat on Australia since January 2019.

Graham Arnold's side could now see top spot in Group B relinquished to Saudi Arabia, who play later on Thursday. Only the top two sides will qualify automatically for the World Cup.

Japan entered the game unbeaten in seven meetings with Australia and they were ahead inside eight minutes when Tanaka drilled a low shot into the bottom-left corner.

Australia went close to equalising before half-time as Adam Taggart's shot was tipped onto the upright and Aaron Mooy's effort was blocked in front of goal from the follow-up.

The visitors then had a penalty overturned as the officials felt Hidemasa Morita's challenge on Hrustic was outside the box, but the fouled player still made Japan pay as his powerful free-kick crashed in off the underside off the crossbar.

But it was Japan who snatched a winner with five minutes remaining.

Mat Ryan could only parry substitute Takuma Asano's deflected shot into the air and Behich, in an attempt to clear the ball from under the crossbar, turned it into his own net.

Robert Lewandowski is hopeful of landing a first Ballon d'Or, citing his remarkable achievements over the past two years.

Lewandowski was in incredible form as Bayern Munich won a treble in 2019-20, but the award was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the 33-year-old has maintained his incredible standards and was named on the 30-man shortlist for this year's prize.

Last season, the centre-forward broke Gerd Muller's long-standing record of Bundesliga goals in a single season, netting 41 times in the league and scoring seven more across all other club competitions, the most of any player in Europe's top five leagues. 

Lewandowski has not surrendered that position this season, with his 13 strikes in all competitions lifting him above second and third-placed Erling Haaland and Karim Benzema, on 11 and 10 goals respectively.

The Poland captain feels his astonishing level of production makes a good case for him to win the award, despite competition from the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Benzema and six-time winner Lionel Messi.

"The possibility of winning the Ballon d'Or means a lot to me, it makes me feel proud, if you look at everything I've achieved, not just this year, last year as well when they cancelled the ceremony, I've won a lot of titles, scored a lot of goals," Lewandowski told Marca.

"It would mean a lot to me to win it, having won the Champions League, the Super Cup, the Club World Cup. Breaking Gerd Muller's record of [40] Bundesliga goals [in a single season] was also a big achievement, one which made me very proud and happy.

"Everyone can see what I have done and keep doing. My achievements speak for themselves because my last two years have been a big achievement, not just for me but for any player in history."

 

Of his many achievements over the last two years, breaking revered goalscorer Muller's record is one of the most special to Lewandowski, who surpassed the late Bayern legend on the final day of the 2020-21 Bundesliga season with a 90th-minute strike in a 5-2 victory over Augsburg.

"I have to say that I couldn't sleep well [the night I broke Muller's record]," Lewandowski continued. "I remember the week before the game well, I heard I was on the verge of breaking the record. Until then the importance of breaking it hadn't really dawned on me, not just for the Bundesliga but in terms of football history.

"The day of the match I thought "this is mentally tough because it's all anyone is talking about". I knew I was so close, on the verge of making history, it was hard, but after scoring in the final seconds of the game I said to myself, "this is like a Hollywood movie."

"I was very proud of myself, of my team-mates, because they helped me a lot to break the record. To be honest, I still can't truly appreciate the magnitude of it, but I know what it means to people, they remember that record stood for [nearly] 50 years."

Roberto Martinez retains the full support of the Royal Belgian Football Association (RBFA) but has been told lessons must be learned from Belgium's disappointing Nations League Finals campaign.

Belgium let a two-goal half-time lead slip in last week's 3-2 defeat to France in the semi-finals and followed that up with a 2-1 loss at the hands of European champions Italy in the third-place play-off on Sunday.

The Red Devils are on course to finish the year as FIFA's top-ranked national side for the fourth time running, but their 'golden generation' of players have still yet to win any silverware.

Martinez could only guide Belgium to the quarter-finals of Euro 2020, having previously finished third at the 2018 World Cup (they were also beaten by Italy and France respectively in those tournaments), but the Spaniard – who has been strongly linked with replacing Ronald Koeman at Barcelona – is not at risk of being sacked.

However, RBFA chief executive Peter Bossaert accepts that the second-half display against France cannot be repeated if Belgium are to have any chance of ending their wait for a trophy.

"Roberto is still the right man for the job," Bossaert told La Derniere Heure. "We still support him 100 per cent. But we have to learn from the game against France, in which we played our best half of football and worst half in a long time.

"I'm going to ask some people for advice, but I'm not going to create a commission or a committee. I also don't want too many people giving their opinions because then there will be too many differing opinions."

Belgium are top of their World Cup 2022 qualifying group with 16 points from six matches and return to action on November 13 with a home game against Estonia.

Martinez agrees with Bossaert that Belgium were not good enough during the Nations League Finals, even if there were some positives to take away from the mini-tournament.

"We cannot concede five goals in two games and we cannot concede two penalties, even if the decisions were not correct," he said.

"But the way we reacted to going behind against Italy, after what had happened in the France game, I thought the team had a real strong personality to keep playing."

Steve Bruce's days at Newcastle appear to be numbered.

Rumours of possible replacements are swirling, with plenty of managers having been mentioned. 

Frank Lampard may well lead the race.

 

TOP STORY – LAMPARD FAVOURED TO REPLACE BRUCE

Frank Lampard is the leading candidate to step in once Steve Bruce is inevitably shown the door at Newcastle, The Sun reports. 

The Telegraph claims Lampard and former Borussia Dortmund boss Lucien Favre top the new owners' wish list.

The 43-year-old Lampard was sacked by Chelsea in January 2021, about six weeks after Favre, 63, left Dortmund. 

 

ROUND-UP

- Liverpool are keeping a close eye on Ousmane Dembele, who is out of contract at Barcelona at the end of the season, Mundo Deportivo reports.

- Dortmund and RB Leipzig are the top potential landing spots for 19-year-old Salzburg striker Karim Adeyemi, reports Sky Sport Germany.

- Feyenoord will make another effort to prise Amad Diallo from Manchester United in January, according to The Sun, after a potential loan move fell through due to injury during the last transfer window. 

- Club Brugge and Belgium midfielder Charles De Ketelaere is drawing interest from Milan and Napoli, says Calciomercato, with Everton and West Ham also monitoring the 20-year-old.

- Former Manchester United goalkeeper Sergio Romero is expected to finalise his deal with Venezia on Tuesday, reports Fabrizio Romano. 

Gareth Southgate expects talks over his future as England manager to resume after his side secures a spot at next year's World Cup. 

Southgate's current deal is due to expire after Qatar 2022, but it sounds as if he and Football Association officials would like to continue the union. 

In the meantime, though, Southgate said he is focused on qualification, which could be secured in mid-November fixtures against Albania and San Marino. 

England hold a four-point lead in Group I heading into Tuesday's game against Hungary at Wembley. 

"I think I said last month that I had asked to put that [contract talks] further back into the autumn as I just wanted to focus on these games and also to give the time to make the right decision," Southgate said.

"After the Euros there is a huge amount of emotion and feeling and fatigue from going through a tournament like that. I want to make sure that I am making the right decisions for the right reasons.

"We have happily parked that for the time being. The discussions are very much open and [FA chief executive] Mark Bullingham has been really, really supportive.

"But I have really felt this task of getting the country to the World Cup was the priority. We can look at everything in the next few weeks."

Hired as England manager in November 2016, Southgate signed a new four-year contract after leading his side to the semi-finals at Russia 2018 and has since added a trip to the final at Euro 2020. 

There has been speculation he could seek a return to club management after the World Cup.

Hansi Flick hailed Germany's attitude and their perfect start to his tenure after they confirmed their 2022 World Cup spot with a 4-0 win over North Macedonia on Monday.

Kai Havertz broke the deadlock at the Tose Proeski Arena and Chelsea colleague Timo Werner netted a quickfire brace, with Jamal Musiala adding the fourth goal to become his country's second-youngest scorer in history (18y 227d).

Flick subsequently becomes just the second Germany head coach – along with predecessor Joachim Low – to win all of his opening five games, while Die Mannschaft have now qualified for every World Cup since 1954, with only Brazil achieving the same feat.

And the former Bayern Munich head coach, whose side have scored 18 and conceded just one since his appointment, was delighted with their performance in Skopje.

"We now have five wins from five this season," Flick told RTL post-match. "The result was perfect.

"We wanted to qualify as quickly as possible. You have to compliment the team on their attitude.

"Of course the first half was a bit wild, but we can be happy that we won and qualified. We were very consistent after the first goal, so we can be satisfied."

Werner attempted a game-high nine shots – two more than the entire North Macedonia team combined – and Flick also found time to praise the striker as he looks ahead to Qatar in 2022.

"We now have time to develop and improve until November 2022," he continued. "I'm looking forward to the task. Timo Werner's second goal was the best today.

"He didn't have it easy. He had a few chances in the game and scored two great goals."

The Chelsea forward, who has scored 21 times for his country, added that his relationship with Flick is vital for his performances.

"If the coach counts on you, it helps every player," Werner said. "I need this trust from outside. He gives me 100 per cent. I'll try to pay that back."

Memphis Depay scored twice and had a penalty saved as the Netherlands maintained their hold on World Cup qualifying Group G with a comfortable 6-0 win over Gibraltar.

Virgil van Dijk's early header got the ball rolling, with Depay responding to Bradley Banda saving his spot-kick by finishing off a neat team move and scoring a second penalty as the Oranje went in at half-time with a commanding lead.

Denzel Dumfries wasted no time in adding to the scoreline in the second half, before substitutes Arnaut Danjuma and Donny Malen completed the scoring to condemn Gibraltar to an eighth defeat from eight.

The Netherlands can ill afford to slip up, with Norway two points behind them, but that was never likely here as Van Dijk opened the scoring inside nine minutes, losing his marker with ease and nodding Depay's corner in at the near post.

Stefan de Vrij's header was blocked in the box by the arm of Graeme Torrilla, with a penalty awarded following a VAR review, yet Depay's spot-kick was at a nice height for Banda to make a convincing save.

The Gibraltar goalkeeper could do little two minutes later, however, as Noa Lang's superb pass carved the visiting defence open and Davy Klaassen squared for Depay to tap in.

Banda made fine saves from Georginio Wijnaldum and De Vrij, but another handball – this time Julian Valarino blocking Steven Berghuis' right-wing cross – gave Depay a second opportunity from the spot he would not pass up.

Dumfries made it 4-0 shortly after the restart, finding himself in the centre of the box to head in Lang's left-wing cross, and a lull in the scoring was brought to an end 15 minutes from time when Wout Weghorst flicked on to Danjuma, who steered the ball into the bottom-left corner on the stretch.

Weghorst thought he had got his name on the scoresheet when he nodded over Banda but Roy Chipolina hacked off the line, with the sixth instead belonging to Malen after slick interplay involving Depay.

Timo Werner scored a double as Germany became the first team to qualify for the 2022 World Cup thanks to a 4-0 win over North Macedonia in Monday's Group J clash.

Hansi Flick's side – who have now won all five games under their new head coach – seized the early initiative at the Tose Proeski Arena, with Timo Werner denied by the woodwork as the visitors registered 15 first-half shots.

However, Kai Havertz broke the deadlock after 50 minutes before Werner added a quickfire double to put the game out of the hosts' reach.

Jamal Musiala then added a late fourth and, with Armenia dropping points against Romania, Germany claimed an unassailable eight-point lead at the summit to quality for Qatar 2022.

Havertz teed up both Joshua Kimmich and Thomas Muller in the opening stages but neither could beat Stole Dimitrievski with headers, before Darko Velkovski nodded wide at the other end.

Serge Gnabry then poked narrowly wide and Werner, who was earlier denied from point-blank range by Dimitrievski, struck the left-hand post as Germany failed to make their 76.5 per cent first-half possession pay.

Flick's team, however, opened the scoring after the interval as Muller raced onto Gnabry's throughball before squaring for Havertz to tap into an empty net.

Werner was unfortunate to not double the lead after a ricochet off the North Macedonia goalkeeper 10 minutes later, but the Chelsea forward made amends.

Muller collected his second assist as he slotted through for Werner, who rifled an unstoppable right-footed volley into the bottom-right corner before curling into the same corner three minutes later following Florian Wirtz's offload.

Gnabry should have added a fourth but he could only volley over from Muller's chipped pass, though Musiala latched onto fellow substitute Karim Adeyemi's ball to roll into the bottom-right corner and seal the victory.

Olivier Giroud hailed Zlatan Ibrahimovic as an inspiration to younger players in Serie A, while expressing his excitement to play with the Sweden forward at Milan.

Giroud joined Milan in a reported €2million (£1.7m) deal from Chelsea in July and opened his account with a double against Cagliari at the end of August.

With that brace, the France international became the first player to score multiple times in his first home league match for the Rossoneri since Mario Balotelli in February 2013.

However, after testing positive for COVID-19 the following month, the 34-year-old striker has amassed just 224 top-flight minutes for Stefano Pioli's side, with Rafael Leao and Ante Rebic leading the line so far.

Ibrahimovic is another of Milan's options and has scored once this term, despite playing just 30 minutes in Serie A as his new campaign has been hampered by injuries to this point.

And Giroud is keen to link up with the former Barcelona and Manchester United forward as he praised the impact his team-mate can have on future generations of footballers.

"I played against Zlatan a few times," Giroud said to Serie A's YouTube channel. "He still plays at 40 and that means he's an exceptional professional.

"He takes care of himself and his body, and I also try to do so to enjoy football as long as my body will allow it.

"I think he's a great example for the youngsters and he is one of the best strikers in Serie A. I can't wait to play alongside him and enjoy him in training.

"I think we will have fun and we want to win something with Milan. With Zlatan, it will be easier."

 

Before his recent injury, Ibrahimovic was one of Pioli's key players as he registered 25 goals in 37 Serie A games between his second debut for the club on January 6, 2020 and the end of last term.

That tally is bettered by just five players across that period — Duvan Zapata (27), Luis Muriel (30), Romelu Lukaku (35), Ciro Immobile (37) and Cristiano Ronaldo (50).

Having brought in the likes of Mike Maignan and Fikayo Tomori alongside Ibrahimovic's experience, Giroud is hoping Milan can compete for the top spot after setting the early pace with Napoli and neighbours Inter.

"I’m very proud to play for Milan and in Serie A," he continued.

"We play football for these emotions and pass them on to the fans, and that's why I can't wait to give everything for the team and for the Milan supporters.

"I don't want to put too much pressure on us, but we want to fight for the top spot in the standings."

England manager Gareth Southgate is unconvinced by the idea of having the World Cup every two years, questioning the feasibility of continuously adding to the football calendar.

The idea of a biennial World Cup had been floated in the past, but in recent months it seems to have become a much more likely next step for the competition.

Former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger publicly backed the idea back in July and, as FIFA's head of global football development, the Frenchman has argued a revamp of the international football calendar is both "what the fans want" and a necessity for the improvement of player wellbeing.

FIFA has been carrying out a feasibility study on the prospect of a World Cup every two years and last month held an online summit to discuss plans.

But FIFA's Wenger-backed proposals have been met with antipathy from many key stakeholders, such as confederations, officials, leagues, players and clubs.

UEFA has been particularly scathing in its response to the idea, with president Aleksander Ceferin openly in opposition and vice-president Zbigniew Boniek rather callously questioning the mental sanity of such a proposal.

Southgate was less forthright but still expressed a hint of disagreement.

"I don't know how far things have progressed. There seemed to be a lot of things not in the original proposal I was shown; it is hard to keep track," he told reporters on Monday ahead of England's World Cup qualifier against Hungary.

"We all want high-level games; the Nations League showed the quality and that is exactly what we want to be involved in, but you can't just keep adding to the calendar."

England midfielder Mason Mount was in attendance with Southgate and agreed with the idea that players should be consulted when such proposals are being drawn up, though he seemed to be open to playing a major tournament every year.

"I'd love that, but after the Euros and everything we went through, it [recovering mentally] probably did take longer than anything else," he said.

"You reflect on how it went – it was obviously such a big heartbreak to go all the way then fall at the last hurdle was difficult."

On player consultation, he added: "To have the players' input would be positive, I think.

"We want to play in as many top tournaments and games as possible, we want to be involved. To speak to us would be positive and help shape the future."

Kevin De Bruyne insists it is not realistic for Belgium to compete with heavyweights such as France and Italy after finishing fourth in the Nations League.

The Red Devils let a two-goal lead slip to lose 3-2 to France in last week's semi-final and were beaten 2-1 by Italy in Sunday's third-place play-off.

Despite being on course to end the year as FIFA's top-ranked national side for a fourth time running, De Bruyne has called for some perspective on the back of a difficult week.

"We did well at times against some top teams and had many new faces who did more than a decent job today," he told Belgian publication HLN.

"It's good experience for them to be able to play against opponents of this calibre, but unfortunately we lost twice. 

"With all due respect, playing against Estonia is not the same thing and these challenges are necessary for us to grow, both as individuals and as a team.

"We are 'just' Belgium. It's a new generation and we were missing Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard against Italy, so we have to be realistic about the team we have. 

"Italy, France and Spain have 22 top players to choose from and we do not."

Belgium's 'Golden Generation' of players have yet to win a major trophy, most recently finishing third at the 2018 World Cup, either side of quarter-final exits at Euro 2016 and 2020.

Roberto Martinez's side are top of their World Cup 2022 qualifying group with 16 points from six matches and return to action on November 13 with a home game against Estonia.

Barcelona-linked Martinez has acknowledged that his side have to improve when they take on some of the world's bigger nations.

"We cannot concede five goals in two games and we cannot concede two penalties, even if the decisions were not correct," he said following the loss to Italy.

"But the way we reacted to going behind against Italy, after what had happened in the France game, I thought the team had a real strong personality to keep playing."

Arrigo Sacchi is not surprised Gianluigi Donnarumma was jeered on his return to San Siro after suggesting the Italy goalkeeper "betrayed" Milan by joining Paris Saint-Germain.

Donnarumma arrived at the Ligue 1 giants on a free transfer in July after reaching the end of his Milan contract and failing to agree fresh terms with his boyhood club.

The 22-year-old made 251 appearances for Milan between emerging through their youth ranks in 2015 at the age of 16 and departing for PSG three months ago.

Donnarumma's reluctance to sign a new deal at San Siro, thus meaning Milan received no transfer fee, angered some supporters of his former club.

A section of Milan fans inside San Siro made that frustration known when whistling the young keeper every time he touched the ball for Italy in last week's Nations League semi-final loss to Spain.

Azzurri head coach Roberto Mancini criticised the supporters who booed their former hero, but Milan great Sacchi can understand the reaction.

"I have never jeered anyone in my life, but at times people do go looking for these insults," he said at the Festival dello Sport event in Trento.

"Evidently, there was a betrayal. In football and in everyday life, betrayal has to be repaid in kind. So let's not be shocked by a few jeers."

 

Despite his young age, Donnarumma has already appeared 218 times in Serie A and Ligue 1 combined since making his Milan debut in October 2015.

Only Samir Handanovic (219) and Inaki Williams (220) have featured more regularly in Europe's top five leagues across that period.

Donnarumma has kept 72 clean sheets in those 218 league games and has a save percentage of 72.72.

Eleven others to have played at least 100 times in that timeframe rank higher in that metric than Donnarumma, with Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak (78.87) leading the way.

He earned his 38th cap for Italy in Sunday's 2-1 win over Belgium as the Azzurri finished third in the Nations League.

Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois criticised UEFA and FIFA for their attitude towards player welfare due to the number of fixtures being crammed into the calendar.

The 29-year-old was speaking on the back of his national side's 2-1 loss to Italy in the Nations League third-place play-off on Sunday.

Both teams rested a number of players for the match at the Allianz Stadium, with Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard absent for Belgium due to muscular problems.

Courtois also played a full part in the semi-final defeat to France three days earlier and has questioned why his side had to face Italy in what he felt was a meaningless match.

"This game is just a money game and we have to be honest about it," he said in his post-match interview. "We just play it because for UEFA it's extra money.

"Look at how much both teams changed [line-ups]. If both teams would have been in the final, there would have been other players in the final playing.

"This just shows that we play too many games."

The international calendar is potentially facing further changes, with a biennial World Cup being proposed by FIFA's head of global development Arsene Wenger.

UEFA has already made clear it is against the plans and Courtois has added his name to a growing list of dissenters.

"They [UEFA] made an extra trophy [the Europa Conference League]… it is always the same," he said.

"They can be angry about other teams wanting a Super League, but they don't care about the players, they just care about their pockets.

"It's a bad thing that players are not spoken about. And now you hear about a European Championship and a World Cup every year, when will we get a rest? Never."

Courtois added: "In the end top players will get injured and injured and injured. It's something that should be much better and much more taken care of.

"We are not robots! It's just more and more games and less rest for us and nobody cares about us.

"Next year we have a World Cup in November, we have to play until the latter stages of June again. We will get injured! Nobody cares about the players anymore.

"Three weeks of holiday is not enough for players to be able to continue for 12 months at the highest level. If we never say anything it [will be] always the same."

Georginio Wijnaldum admitted he is "not completely happy" with a lack of playing time at Paris Saint-Germain but has vowed to fight for his place in the side.

The 30-year-old joined the Ligue 1 giants on a free transfer in June after failing to agree a new deal with Liverpool, where he had been a regular for the past five seasons.

Having started five of PSG's first seven games this term, Wijnaldum was named in the starting line-up just once in their five matches prior to the international break.

He has played a part in all but one of the French side's 12 fixtures in all competitions, but the midfielder is not pleased to be playing back-up to Marco Verratti, Idrissa Gueye and Ander Herrera.

"I can't say I'm completely happy," he said at a pre-match news conference ahead of the Netherlands' World Cup qualifier against Gibraltar.

"The situation is not what I wanted. I have played a lot in recent years, was always fit and also did very well. 

"This is something different and that takes getting used to. I was really looking forward to the new step and then this happens. It is very difficult.

"That's football and I'll have to learn to deal with that. I'm a fighter. I have to stay positive and work hard to turn it around."

 

Wijnaldum made 51 appearances for Liverpool in all competitions last season – his most in a single campaign since making his senior debut for Feyenoord in 2006-07.

The 502 minutes Wijnaldum has played this season is the 12th most among PSG players, behind the likes of Gueye (588) and Herrera (868).

Speaking last week, Netherlands head coach Louis van Gaal said he was "worried" by Wijnaldum's situation at the Parc des Princes.

"I already talked to him about that when he arrived here. But the alarm bells are not sounding just yet. I have lots of trust in certain players," Van Gaal added.

"You will remember I took him to the World Cup in 2014 when he was carrying an injury. I started with [Jonathan] De Guzman but Wijnaldum soon took over and did well."

Wijnaldum is in contention to start the Netherlands' home match with Gibraltar on Monday, with victory enough to guarantee a top-two finish in Group G should other results go their way.

Lionel Messi believes Argentina are continuing to improve on the back of their Copa America success, but the superstar forward was grateful to Emiliano Martinez for helping his side to victory against Uruguay.

Argentina's all-time leading scorer Messi was on the scoresheet alongside Rodrigo De Paul and Lautaro Martinez as the Albiceleste secured a 3-0 win in Sunday's World Cup qualifier to move within six points of group leaders Brazil.

Lionel Scaloni's men are now unbeaten in 24 games in all competitions, a run that includes a 1-0 win over Brazil in July's Copa America final and 10 games without defeat in their qualifying campaign on the road to Qatar 2022.

However, it may have been a different story against Uruguay had Emiliano Martinez not produced two big saves to keep out Luis Suarez with the game all square, the Aston Villa man going on to make six stops in total at El Monumental.

And Messi singled out the goalkeeper for particular praise after his side returned to winning ways on the back of Thursday's goalless draw with Paraguay.

"He is fundamental for us," Messi said. "When the pressure is on, he always responds. He did that again today. We know we have one of the best goalkeepers in the world and we are making the most of it. 

"Uruguay had clear opportunities to score, even though we were in control. That's the sort of team they are. They are able to create danger out of nothing."

 

Argentina are now unbeaten at home under Scaloni in seven games in all competitions and have yet to lose at home to Uruguay in World Cup qualifying in six matches, winning the last five of those.

They are on the verge of booking a place at Qatar 2022 and Messi, whose six goals is level with Neymar and behind Bolivia's Moreno Martinez (eight) in the CONMEBOL top-scorers chart, is pleased with the strides being taken by his side.

"I think we are improving a lot in terms of the way we are playing and the way we are keeping possession," he said. 

"We knew the results of the other qualifiers and that we needed to take six points from our next two home games. The fans here are great and it is beautiful to play here."

Argentina conclude their triple-header of October qualifiers with a home match against Peru on Thursday, before travelling to Uruguay on their return to action next month.

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