Nikola Milenkovic feels Fiorentina have "great ambition" after signing a new contract to end transfer speculation over his future.

The Serbia defender on Thursday signed a five-year deal with the Serie A club to remain at Stadio Artemio Franchi.

Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham are among the clubs who have been linked with Milenkovic, but the 24-year-old says he is happy to stay with the Viola.

"Talking to the club, I realised there is great ambition, the club is growing continuously, and it was very important for me that the coach was confirmed in his role," he said.

"I also thank the fans, who gave me so much affection over the years, especially recently. I feel loved here.

"The directors did great work to keep me here and give me the opportunity to continue my career here. I am very happy with the choices I made. I took some time to think carefully and I am very happy with my decision."

 

Sergio Aguero would be surprised if Bernardo Silva leaves Manchester City for Barcelona, but believes the midfielder could play a key role in Xavi's rebuild if a move goes through.

Barca have signed Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Jules Kounde, Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie during a busy transfer window.

With Frenkie de Jong expected to leave Camp Nou, reports have suggested Portugal international Silva is Xavi's next target.

Silva made 50 appearances for City in all competitions last season, a tally only bettered only by Joao Cancelo (52), scoring 13 goals and providing seven assists.

Only Kevin de Bruyne (129) and Jack Grealish (78) created more chances for City than Silva's 76 last term, but he could be on the moving after stating the Premier League champions "know what I want" this week.

 

Aguero – a team-mate of Silva's before leaving City for Barcelona in 2021 – is unsure whether a move will materialise but believes the 28-year-old would suit Xavi's new-look side perfectly. 

"Bernardo is a great player. He carries the ball, he sacrifices, has quality to assist and score goals and he can play in different positions," Aguero told Stake.

"It would surprise me if City let him go. He is a player who contributes a lot every season, but everything is possible.

"If he finally arrives at Barca, then he will be someone who can be key to the possession game that Xavi likes."

Morocco have sacked head coach Vahid Halilhodzic just three months before the start of the World Cup in Qatar.

The Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) confirmed the dismissal of the Bosnian on Thursday, ending months of speculation over his future.

It is the third time Halilhodzic has been fired after securing qualification for a World Cup before the tournament gets under way, having been dismissed by the Ivory Coast before South Africa 2010 and Japan prior to Russia 2018.

The 69-year-old, who played for Yugoslavia at Spain 1982, did take charge of Algeria at the World Cup in Brazil eight years ago, but will now miss yet another major tournament.

A feud with Hakim Ziyech saw the Chelsea winger omitted from the Africa Cup of Nations this year, after Halilhodzic claimed he had feigned an injury to miss friendly internationals.

Walid Regragui in expected to be named as Halilhodzic's successor ahead of their Group F encounters with 2018 finalists Croatia, Belgium and Canada.

Gleison Bremer revealed Juventus greats Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci have been invaluable sources of advice since he joined the Bianconeri, as he targeted a spot in Brazil's squad for the World Cup in Qatar.

Having been named Serie A's 2021-22 Defender of the Year while starring for Torino, Bremer joined Juve in a reported €40million move after Matthijs de Ligt was sold to Bayern Munich last month.

Bremer led the way across Europe's top five leagues for interceptions last season (105), as well as making more recoveries (284) and winning more aerial duels (132) than any other Serie A player.

The Brazilian has taken Chiellini's number three shirt after he departed for Los Angeles FC, and is doing his best to learn from both him and current Juve skipper Bonucci as the Bianconeri target a first Serie A title since 2019-20.

"I spoke with Giorgio Chiellini - he has been one of the best Italian defenders," Bremer told a news conference on Thursday. 

"He told me I could take his number three shirt, so I followed his suggestion. 

"Since I arrived, I have looked to Leonardo Bonucci for advice, and as captain he has certainly been helping me out.

"We are concentrating on starting the season strongly against Sassuolo on Monday. This year we are all focused on putting the club back on track. We want to win at Juventus - this is a club where I can compete for important titles.

"It's a club that aims to win, to be at the top, so it was the right thing to join Juve.

"Being at Juve means setting your sights high. We want to do well in the Champions League, but we must first focus on Serie A."

 

Despite his eye-catching performances in Italy, Bremer has yet to be handed a call-up by Brazil, who are looking to end a 20-year wait for World Cup success in Qatar later this year.

As the 25-year-old highlighted the role played by compatriots Danilo and Alex Sandro in advising him to join Juve, he set his sights on making a late bid for the Selecao's squad for the tournament.

"It won't be simple here because it's not easy to play for Juventus, but I knew there were Brazilians here and this helped me make my decision," he added.

"I spoke to Danilo and Alex Sandro and they were helpful in making up my mind, and they have helped me settle in straight away. 

"Also, playing for Juventus will help me aim for the World Cup."

Juventus begin their 2022-23 Serie A campaign at home to Sassuolo on Monday.

Paris Saint-Germain coach Christophe Galtier expressed his intention to sign a new forward before the close of the transfer window.

The Ligue 1 champions have signed Hugo Ekitike from Reims but saw Angel Di Maria depart on a free transfer, while Galtier confirmed Arnaud Kalimuendo is closing in on a move to Rennes.

PSG may still have Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi to lead the line, but a long and gruelling season – which is complicated by the World Cup in Qatar – has Galtier wanting to increase the depth in his attack.

"Yes, we would like to bring in another forward. We have a very busy schedule, so we would like to bring someone in," he told a news conference ahead of Saturday's Ligue 1 clash against Montpellier.

"The club is working hard on that. I am in constant contact with Luis Campos [PSG football advisor], the board and the president. We must not make any mistakes. We must not rush things. We have to do something realistic.

"There are no guarantees. I know the club won't sign anyone for the sake of it. It would need to be someone who can really bring something to the squad and that is what the club are working on."

Another forward edging towards the exit is Mauro Icardi, with Galtier adding that the club are exploring options for the Argentina international regarding a transfer. 

"It has not been easy. His absence from the squad last week was down to a sporting choice, I saw him at the start of the week to say that I am going to make the squad smaller. I am not going to work with 25 players," Galtier explained.

"Whether he has offers that he might like, I don't know. The club is working on that, we're working with Icardi to find the best possible solution. He had very little playing time last season and I think it is important for him to do that.

"Whether he wants to play in the Champions League specifically, I don't know. In the interest of the club, we want him to find the best solution, which is a club where he can show his quality.

"He has had a tough couple of years and with his experience playing somewhere different and having a better atmosphere, that might allow him to get his career going again."

Liverpool have announced Harvey Elliott has signed a fresh long-term contract with the club, reportedly running until 2027.

The 19-year-old only penned his previous deal last year and fresh terms come due to his continued development, which has seen him become established in Jurgen Klopp's first-team plans.

"It's always nice to know that I'm going to be here for many more years, which is always a great thing with it being my boyhood club and there is nothing in this world that makes me more happy and more excited than this," he told the club's official website.

Arriving at the club from Fulham in 2019, Elliott caught the eye during a loan spell with Blackburn Rovers in the 2020-21 season and begun to make an impact in the first team at the start of last season.

The teenager missed a large chunk of the campaign after sustaining an injury against Leeds United in September, marking his return with a goal in the FA Cup against Cardiff City in March.

Elliott came off the bench in the Carabao Cup final victory over Chelsea, scoring in the penalty shoot-out, and was introduced as a substitute in last weekend's 2-2 draw with his former club Fulham.

Serie A returns on Saturday, with Milan looking to retain their title after a first Scudetto triumph in 11 years.

The Rossoneri have brought in Belgium duo Charles De Ketelaere and Divock Origi to bolster Stefano Pioli's squad as they prepare to face another challenge from rivals Inter.

Simone Inzaghi will have his own Belgium international striker Romelu Lukaku to call on again after he was brought back on loan from Chelsea.

How will those clubs fare, who is likely to be their closest challengers, and who will be fearing the drop from Italy's top flight?

Stats Perform AI has predicted the outcome of the campaign, estimating the likelihood of teams finishing in each position informed by their expected results in each match.

These are calculated using betting odds and Stats Perform's team rankings – based on historical and recent team performances – and have thrown up some interesting results, with a heavy favourite for top spot.

INTER TO TAKE THEIR TITLE BACK WITH FAMILIAR FACE ON BOARD

In the end, there were just two points in it.

A fascinating battle between Milan and Inter last season saw Pioli's men edge the title with 86 points after a 3-0 win at Sassuolo on the final day.

Despite the impressive way Milan closed out that title, the data makes Inter 47.97 per cent favourites to regain it in 2022-23.

The return of Lukaku is likely to be a big reason for that, with the 29-year-old having scored 47 goals in 72 Serie A games prior to joining Chelsea last year, and he played a major part in Inter's Scudetto win in 2020-21.

Milan's chances are surprisingly not even second best, with the data suggesting there is a 16.43 per cent likelihood of them retaining their title, with Juventus judged to have a slightly better 17.93 per cent chance.

Napoli are deemed to have a 13.75 per cent chance, with no other team being considered to have any more than a two per cent chance, including Jose Mourinho's Roma at 1.99 per cent.

 

TOP FOUR FIGHT EXPECTED TO BE MORE OF THE SAME

There was very little drama in the race for the Champions League spots last season, with Napoli and Juventus well out of the title fight but clear of fifth place with multiple games to go.

Stats Perform AI expects the same four teams to take up those spots again, albeit in a different order, with Juve in second, Milan third and Napoli fourth.

The positive numbers for the Bianconeri are likely to be a result of Serbia striker Dusan Vlahovic having a full season to lead the line, along with big name additions of Paul Pogba and Angel Di Maria.

Napoli could be the most at risk after losing several key players since the end of last season, including Kalidou Koulibaly, Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens, but they are still given a 73.09 per cent chance of Champions League qualification.

In the chasing pack, Roma are given a 30.18 per cent chance of a top four spot and Stats Perform AI believes Mourinho's men are the likeliest team to finish in one of the two Europa League places, with no team given a greater chance than the Giallorossi's 19.58 per cent.

Atalanta have a 20.64 per cent chance of getting back into the top four, though are still deemed likely to improve on last season's eighth place as favourites for sixth and qualification for the Europa League (18.56 per cent).

That leaves Lazio with a 17.09 per cent chance of seventh and a Europa Conference League spot, though Fiorentina (11.10), Hellas Verona (8.45) and Sassuolo (8.34) are not counted out entirely.

 

CREMONESE UNLIKELY TO RISE TO THE TOP

It is not too much of a surprise to see the promoted teams are predicted to be facing a tough task to stay up.

Cremonese are the favourites for the drop at 63.41 per cent, with Lecce (47.10 per cent) also expected to head back to Serie B at the end of the campaign.

Second favourites for relegation, though, are last year's 17th place team Salernitana, who avoided relegation by a single point ahead of Cagliari. Davide Nicola's side are handed a 58.10 per cent chance of failing to escape this time.

Monza came up through the play-offs and have made a number of new signings, including former Inter players Andrea Ranocchia and Stefano Sensi, which could be why they are given just a 27.92 per cent chance of going back down, slightly ahead of Empoli at 25.17 per cent.

Only four teams are given a zero per cent chance of relegation, which unsurprisingly is last season's top four.

LaLiga, home to the European champions, returns on Friday for another season.

Real Madrid ended the previous campaign by winning the Champions League, the prize they covet most, but it was also a successful year in domestic action.

Carlo Ancelotti's men eased to a record-extending 35th league title by 13 points – that is the gap Barcelona have sought to bridge in the transfer market during the close season. So, just how successfully have they done that?

Stats Perform AI has predicted the outcome of the coming campaign, estimating the likelihood of teams finishing in each position informed by their expected results in each match.

These are calculated using betting odds and Stats Perform's team rankings – based on historical and recent team performances – and have thrown up some interesting results, with Barca seemingly left still with plenty to do.

MADRID MAINTAIN BUFFER TO BARCA

Given their 35 titles, given their 13-point gap, given their status as European champions, it is surely no surprise Madrid are considered the clear favourites to scoop Spanish football's top prize once again.

The data makes Ancelotti's side 58.75 per cent favourites to retain their crown.

Barca recovered from a dismal start last season to finish second, and they are forecast for the same result again after investing hugely in Robert Lewandowski and Co.

But there is only a 17.0 per cent chance of the title heading to Camp Nou, with Atletico Madrid a predictable third in the rankings and rated as a 12.3 per cent shot.

Those three clubs have accounted for the past 18 championships since Valencia finished top in 2003-04. Now, under Gennaro Gattuso, Valencia have a mere 0.08 per cent chance of returning to the summit, deemed ninth favourites among 11 teams with any hope at all.

Sevilla (4.74 per cent) and Villarreal (4.66 per cent) are the sides most likely to upset the established order.

 

PRECIOUS FOURTH PLACE UP FOR GRABS

There realistically remains only one of the four Champions League places on offer after taking into account Madrid (95.68 per cent), Barca (79.31 per cent) and Atletico (71.56 per cent). Last season, that belonged to Sevilla.

Yet despite Sevilla's high ceiling seeing them fourth favourites for the title, Stats Perform AI expects them to be pushed out of the top four.

After losing defensive duo Jules Kounde and Diego Carlos, Sevilla are given a 47.45 per cent of qualifying for the Champions League, just behind former coach Unai Emery's Villarreal (48.66 per cent), who were seventh last season but reached the semi-finals of Europe's elite club competition.

Real Sociedad (24.79 per cent) and Real Betis (20.39 per cent) are both firmly in the mix, too, although every team in the league have at least a 0.04 per cent hope of contending for Champions League glory.

Athletic Bilbao are expected to be on the outside looking in from eighth place (7.48 per cent for Champions League, 7.42 per cent for Europa League and 10.51 per cent for Europa Conference League).

 

NO ESCAPE THIS TIME FOR MALLORCA

The fight against the drop went right to the wire last term, with three teams still in the mix on the final day.

Granada were the surprise victims of a dramatic scrap, relegated just two weeks after winning 6-2 at Mallorca. Mallorca then earned seven points from their next three games to stay up alongside Cadiz at Granada's expense.

That late recovery may have rescued Mallorca for another year, but Stats Perform AI predicts their LaLiga stay will last no longer than that.

They are 41.27 per cent favourites to go down, even considered more likely for demotion than Girona (39.95), who were promoted via the play-offs.

Real Valladolid, another promoted side, are ranked as the third relegated team (32.74 per cent), yet there is very little to choose between a clutch of clubs, with Cadiz (31.8 per cent) again at risk alongside Elche (31.48 per cent), second-tier champions Almeria (28.86 per cent) and Rayo Vallecano (27.46 per cent).

Carlo Ancelotti's return to Real Madrid last year came as something of a surprise to most.

While the job he'd done at Everton was generally seen as fine, there was nothing about his time at Goodison Park that suggested the Italian would be back at the top of the game in his next job.

His appointment at the Santiago Bernabeu could've almost been interpreted as a pointed dig at Clasico rivals Barcelona, where managerial hirings tend to be based around 'philosophy' – few could say that about Ancelotti, a coach arguably regarded more for his motivational skills, tactical flexibility and winning than for sticking to one defined brand of football.

Regardless of how surprising Ancelotti's return was, he certainly got the job done. Madrid looked certainties for the title virtually all season and pulled off great escape after great escape to eventually win the Champions League, traversing one of the toughest routes to European Cup glory ever seen.

But let's not forget, Ancelotti's won the Champions League with Madrid before. Last time, in 2014, he lasted only another year and a day before he was discarded.

From Milan dynasty to short-term guarantee

Perhaps it shouldn't be a shock, given many of the clubs he's coached have been among the biggest – and that usually means impatient by extension – teams in Europe, but Ancelotti hasn't been in charge of a single club for more than two consecutive full seasons since leaving Milan in May 2009.

Granted, his spells at Paris Saint-Germain and Everton ended essentially because Madrid came calling, so who's to say how long he'd have been in charge. But clearly there has been a pattern in his working life since Milan.

Ancelotti will be acutely aware of the expectations upon him at Madrid as he's lived through them before and paid the price for failing to achieve his targets.

But you have to wonder if anything will be different this time around.

 

Ancelotti's dismissal in 2015 came down to the fact Madrid didn't win a (major) trophy in the 2014-15 season. Florentino Perez's decision at the time wasn't universally popular, though no one would've been surprised.

In the culture created by Perez at the club, a lack of success simply equates to failure, and clearly even the good will attained by winning La Decima – Madrid's 10th European crown – only lasts you so long.

Perez's statement to the media even seemed to admit there being a degree of not knowing what else to do, as he said: "It was a very difficult decision to make; the demands at this club are the utmost because Madrid always wants to win silverware.

"The affection that the players and the fans have for Carlo is the same as the affection I myself have for him. What did Ancelotti do wrong? I don't know. The demands here at Real Madrid are very high."

Essentially, since his Milan days, Ancelotti has been brought in by teams to achieve success quickly and, for the most part, he's done that almost everywhere he's been – but long-term success in one place has eluded him.

Presumably then, Ancelotti will have to again win at least one of LaLiga or the Champions League to stick around for a third season. That stands to reason at Real Madrid, and there's no reason they would be considered incapable on either front, but expecting everything to fall into place like last season is asking for trouble.

Tempting fate?

Who's to say Madrid won't cruise to the title again with Karim Benzema conquering every team in his path? It's entirely possible.

The key differences this time around are the fact Madrid are heading into the season without a defined back-up striker for Benzema, and Barcelona have strengthened significantly.

Firstly on Barca, if we assume they are able to register all of their new signings in time for the season's start, they'll have bolstered a team that finished the 2021-22 season very well. In fact, since the start of 2022, their 45 points was more than any other LaLiga team.

Granted, Madrid played one game less (19), but if they had contested a 20th match and won it, they'd still have been two points shy of Barca.

The change inspired by Xavi cannot be overstated and, as much of a mess as the club is off the pitch, there's every reason to expect them to be a force on it this season.

 

For Madrid and Ancelotti, again their hopes will be pinned on Benzema. Of course, on the face of it that's not an issue. He's scored at least 21 league goals in each of the past four seasons and never made fewer than 27 top-flight appearances for Los Blancos.

As a difference-maker and consistent presence, he's their Mr Reliable. But what if he does pick up a major injury: who will Madrid rely on to fill the Benzema void?

Vinicius Junior enjoyed a remarkable season but wouldn't be suited to the Benzema role, stylistically or as a leader. Again, when Eden Hazard is fit, he is not a central striker, while Mariano Diaz has started just 11 league games in four seasons.

Madrid's decision to get rid of Luka Jovic was probably the right one given how underwhelming the Serbian had been, and there's no guarantee anyone else brought in as a backup would've been more effective.

 

But it does seem an unnecessary risk for a club like Madrid to go into a season without a second striker – or without a second striker who's got a better track record than Diaz. That's the decision Florentino Perez has reportedly made.

Even if they were granted special dispensation to sign another LaLiga-based striker out of the transfer window, mid-season integration for that player would be tough in every way.

Yes, yes, yes, it's all hypothetical and no one likes to think about the worst-case scenario, but surely it's better to plan for that possibility than to leave it to chance? Perhaps Ancelotti has a master backup plan hidden up his sleeve in the event of losing Benzema for a while – we'll only find out if it happens.

But if it does and his answer is to rely on Diaz, there's little hope of Ancelotti reaching that elusive third season.

Chelsea are ready to make a splash in the transfer market with a series of signings on the cards.

The Blues have been heavily linked with Leicester City's Wesley Fofana as they seek replacements for the departed Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen in defence.

Chelsea are understood to be keen to bolster their forward options too, with Romelu Lukaku exiting for Inter.

TOP STORY – BLUES TO SWOOP FOR DE JONG AND AUBA

Chelsea are all set to sign Barcelona pair Frenkie de Jong and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should the Catalans permit the duo to exit the club, reports Sky Sports.

Manchester United have been involved in a drawn-out saga for De Jong this off-season, with the Dutchman reluctant to leave but the Blues are ready to match their £72million (€85m) bid, plus offer Champions League football.

Aubameyang only joined Barcelona in January but has previously worked with Thomas Tuchel at Borussia Dortmund.

ROUND-UP

– ESPN claims that Barcelona's off-season signings Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie could leave the Blaugrana for free if the club cannot register them due to LaLiga financial fair play rules in time for Saturday's league opener. Barca defender Gerard Pique has offered to play for free to help register the new players, according to AS.

– The Mail reports that Manchester City are set to finalise an £11m deal for 21-year-old Spanish left-back Sergio Gomez from Anderlecht on Thursday. Fabrizio Romano claims he may be loaned out to Girona.

– Rennes forward Arnaud Kalimuendo is on the cusp of joining Paris Saint-Germain for €25m, claims L'Equipe. Leeds United have shown an interest in the 20-year-old striker.

– Atalanta and Nottingham Forest have agreed terms for the transfer of Switzerland international midfielder Remo Freuler, reports Sky Sport Italia.

Carlos Vela and Raul Ruidiaz scored as the MLS All-Stars claimed victory over the Liga MX All Stars for the second straight year, winning 2-1 in Minnesota on Wednesday.

The MLS All-Stars appeared to be cruising to victory before Kevin Alvarez's spectacular late strike was followed up a decent penalty shout for a Deandre Yedlin handball which was declined.

The hosts had won last year's edition 3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw and they seemed destined for another triumph when former Mexico international Vela headed home early.

Diego Palacios jinked his way to the left side of the edge of the box before delivering an inch-perfect second-minute cross for LAFC teammate Vela to nod in.

Minnesota goalkeeper Dayne St Clair, one of numerous first-half substitutes, maintained the MLS All-Stars' lead from a 43rd-minute Juan Dinenno header.

The hosts added a second in the 73rd minute when Jesus Ferreira found Carles Gil inside the box, with his control bobbling up but drawing a poorly timed tackle from Jesus Angulo, with referee Joe Dickerson pointing to the spot.

Seattle Sounders striker Raul Ruidiaz stepped up and sent Liga MX All-Stars goalkeeper Carlos Acevedo the wrong way.

The visitors pulled a goal back in the 85th minute when Pachuca's Alvarez drove in a thunderbolt from outside the box.

A minute later, German Berterame stooped to head a cross but was bundled over under pressure from Yedlin, whose arm was raised near the ball, but Dickerson waved away any penalty claims.

Real Madrid were simply "on another level" to Eintracht Frankfurt, according to head coach Oliver Glasner, who nevertheless demanded his team find a way to improve further.

Glasner's Eintracht side were comfortably beaten 2-0 by the Champions League winners in the Super Cup on Wednesday.

David Alaba put Madrid ahead in the first half at Helsinki Olympic Stadium, before Karim Benzema netted midway through the second half to put the result to bed.

In the process, Benzema became Madrid's outright second-highest goalscorer, having scored 324 times for Los Blancos.

While Glasner did not believe his side delivered the "special" defensive performance he asked for before the game, he knows Madrid are a difficult team to match.

"I think we improved from the last game [a 6-1 defeat to Bayern Munich], but you can't give Madrid two chances," Glasner told a news conference.

"The team did it well most of the time. After that, it was difficult and, in the end, Real Madrid was the better team and they deserved the win."

He added: "I think you could see we had defensive stability for many periods today. The last ball, the last pass, did not come enough.

"We want to improve, we need to improve at this, but the performance today left me quite optimistic. We've seen at this level, this kind of opponent, it's not quite enough.

"It's nagging at me, but I have to accept it and it's important now to have that ambition, the whole team, club and staff to work really hard to make that one step closer to such teams. Real Madrid are on another level. We knew that beforehand, but I am not like that, I want to improve.

"I think all of us, the whole team, we played at our highest level. The fact is that it wasn't enough against Real Madrid. Now it's about pushing our personal level a little higher, as a team. That is the task that is presented to us right now. If all of my players are as motivated as I have seen, we will increase our level."

Eintracht were without Filip Kostic, with the wing-back on the verge of moving to Juventus. Nevertheless, they had some good opportunities, particularly early on, when Daichi Kamada forced a fine stop out of Thibaut Courtois, who has saved all 19 shots on goal he has faced from opposition players in his four finals with Madrid in domestic and UEFA competitions.

"It was a decisive situation. I don't know if it would have been enough but, of course, it would have been easier to lead the game at 1-0," Glasner said.

"Against teams like Real Madrid, Bayern, Barcelona, you have to create your chances when you get them. How early Courtois sees where Kamada would put the ball was really world class. He showed this in the Champions League final against Liverpool."

Brazil do not want to play the suspended World Cup qualifier against Argentina due to risks ahead of Qatar 2022, with the Court for Arbitration of Sport (CAS) to rule later in August.

The Selecao, along with the Albiceleste, both comfortably qualified for Qatar 2022 despite the September fixture in Sao Paulo being halted after six minutes when Brazilian health officials objected to the participation of four Argentinian players who they claimed broke quarantine rules.

The officials sensationally entered the pitch to remove those four players, with the Argentinian players subsequently walking off amid the chaos. The fixture was suspended.

FIFA fined both national bodies and insisted that the qualifier needed to be completed despite its irrelevance to qualifying.

The Brazil Football Confederation (CBF) and the Argentine Football Association (AFA) took the case to the CAS, who will rule later this month.

No date has been set by FIFA for the fixture, but it is anticipated it will be in September.

CBF president Ednaldo Rodrigues said the national team did not want to play the fixture two months out from the World Cup due to risks with injuries and suspensions along with a possible Argentinian boycott.

"We will reach out to FIFA so this match is not played," Rodrigues said in a statement.

"I will make every effort to answer to the request of our coaching staff.

"Our priority is to win a sixth World Cup in Qatar. If that match is not recommended by the coaching staff of the Selecao, we will work for it not to be played."

Casemiro has crowned team-mates Luka Modric and Toni Kroos as "possibly the best two midfielders in the world".

Madrid ran out 2-0 winners over Eintracht Frankfurt in the Super Cup on Wednesday, thanks to goals from David Alaba and Karim Benzema.

Carlo Ancelotti stuck with the same line-up that had started against Liverpool in May's Champions League final, and midfield trio Casemiro, Kroos and Modric turned in a supreme display.

Modric, the 2018 Ballon d'Or winner, completed 53 of 57 passes (93 per cent) and laid on two chances for team-mates in Helsinki, while Kroos enjoyed 120 touches, completed 97 passes and gained possession nine times.

Only UEFA's man of the match Casemiro (10) bettered that latter figure, and the Brazil international also went close to a spectacular goal when he rattled the crossbar from long range on his weaker left foot – that shot was teed up by Modric.

The trio's performances led Carlo Ancelotti to highlight Madrid's experience as a crucial factor in their victory after full-time, and Casemiro knows he is playing with two of the best in the business.

"We know each other just by looking at one another," he told a post-match news conference.

"I've got an easy job, we're talking about Kroos and Modric who are possibly the best two midfielders in the world. 

"There are things in football that cannot be explained, some things just happen in football. I hope we'll continue to be together for a long time to come."

 

While Madrid's thrilling 2021-22 Champions League triumph saw several energetic cameos by young midfielder Eduardo Camavinga, the 14-time European champions have further bolstered that area of the pitch with the recent acquisition of Aurelien Tchouameni from Monaco.

Casemiro welcomes the competition provided by the 22-year-old's arrival and has high hopes for the France international.

"It hasn't annoyed me, everyone knows about my character and loyalty for this club, I'll be working in the same way," Casemiro said.

"You only see the 90 minutes but I'll keep making sacrifices, including on the pitch and in training.

"I think Tchouameni is a top player, this club speaks for itself – everybody gives their all. All I can say to him is keep doing what he's doing, keep showing in training and do it out on the pitch."

Carlo Ancelotti had little hesitancy in hailing Real Madrid superstar Karim Benzema as the best player in world football.

Benzema scored Madrid's second goal in a 2-0 Super Cup triumph over Eintracht Frankfurt at the Helsinki Olympic Stadium.

In the process, he became the club's outright second-highest goalscorer, having netted for the 324th time for Madrid.

That nudged the 34-year-old – who has replaced the departed Marcelo as Madrid's club captain – ahead of Los Blancos great Raul, with only Cristiano Ronaldo (450) ahead of him in the record books.

Since the start of last season, Benzema has scored 45 goals in all competitions for Madrid. That is a tally bettered only by new Barcelona forward Robert Lewandowski (50), when it comes to players from Europe's top five leagues.

With this year's Ballon d'Or awards taking place prior to the World Cup, Benzema seems a certainty to be in the running for the prize.

In a pre-match media briefing on Tuesday, Benzema explained that it was not for him to say if he is the world's best, but instead he would leave it up to others to decide. 

Asked in his post-match news conference if Benzema – who had four shots and created three chances in Madrid's win on Wednesday - could be considered the best player on the planet, Ancelotti was effusive in his reply.

 

"I think [he is the best], yes," Ancelotti said. "He is our most important player right now, the most efficient player in the world at this moment.

"Karim was the most important in the Champions League, even though he did not score in the final, because of his [all-round] game and his goals got us to the final, against Manchester City and Chelsea, against Paris Saint-Germain.

"He's very important for us. There is no doubt, at the moment, that he is the best player in the world."

As well as hailing a standout individual in Benzema, Ancelotti - the first coach to win the Super Cup on four separate occasions - said this Madrid dressing room is the best he has worked with in his illustrious career.

"Yes, absolutely, no doubt about that," the Italian explained. "It is a pleasure to coach this group, it's a healthy atmosphere, good vibes between everyone, winning games and having success helps, but it all about the players."

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