Five-time World 100m Champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce ran a world-leading 10.66 for victory at the Silesia Diamond League meeting in Poland on Saturday.

Fraser-Pryce, who won her fifth world title in Eugene recently, got her usual bullet start before proceeding to step away from the field and register her fourth sub-10.7 time this season and sixth overall, more than any other woman in history. American Aleia Hobbs ran 10.94 for second while The Ivory Coast’s Marie-Josee Ta Lou was third in 11.00.

In the men’s equivalent, World Championship semi-finalist Ackeem Blake ran 10.00 for third behind Americans Trayvon Bromell (9.95) and Marvin Bracy (10.00) who won bronze and silver at the recently concluded World Championships in Eugene.

Shericka Jackson, who ran 21.45 to win gold at the World Championships and become the fastest woman alive in the event, won the 200m in 21.84 ahead of Bahamian World 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo (22.35) and American Jenna Prandini (22.39).

Meanwhile, in the Men's 400m Grenada's Kirani James ran a fast 44.55 but had to settle for the runner-up spot as Michael Norman, the 2022 World Champion, claimed victory in 44.11. Bryce Deadmon was third in 44.68.

The women's race was won by the incredible Dutch 400m hurdler Femke Bol, who clocked a personal best of 49.75, a new meet record and national record.

Poland's Natalia Kaczmarek finished second in a personal best time of 49.86. World Championships finalist Candice McLeod was third in 50.22 just ahead of compatriot Stephenie-Ann McPherson who ran 50.31 for fourth.

 

Poland have dropped Maciej Rybus and will not consider him for their World Cup squad following his transfer to Spartak Moscow.

The defender, who has 66 caps to his name, has spent the past five years in Russia with Lokomotiv Moscow and has moved to their city rivals on a free transfer.

While Rybus has decided to remain in Russia, compatriots Grzegorz Krychowiak and Sebastian Szymanski are both set to leave the nation – with the former joining AEK Athens in March on a short-term loan until the end of the season.

The decision comes following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February, which led Poland to refuse to play their scheduled World Cup play-off semi-final in March – with FIFA then booting Russia out of qualification altogether.

A statement from the Polish FA read: "The coach of the Polish national team, Czeslaw Michniewicz, talked to Maciej Rybus, who was staying in Poland, after the training camp of the national team ended last week.

"The coach informed the player that, due to his current club situation, he would not be called up for the September training camp of the national team and would not be considered for the team that would go to the World Cup in Qatar when determining the composition of the team."

Poland are in Group C for the World Cup later this year, opening their group stage campaign on November 22 against Mexico before facing off with Saudi Arabia and Argentina.

Roberto Martinez said his future as Belgium head coach will only be discussed after the World Cup later this year, having watching his side beat Poland 1-0 in the Nations League.

Michy Batshuayi's first-half header helped Belgium to their second win of this Nations League campaign, although they still trail the Netherlands by three points in Group A4 after being thrashed 4-1 by Louis van Gaal's men in their opening game earlier this month.

Results such as that one, as well as Belgium's failure to lift a major trophy despite producing a supposed 'golden generation' of talent, have led to suggestions Martinez's job could be under threat.

But the former Everton manager will only entertain questions over his future after leading the Red Devils to the World Cup in Qatar.

"That will be the right decision [to discuss the future after the tournament]," he said. "Not for me as a coach, but for Belgian football. 

"Everyone can be sure, my only will and wish is that we will see Belgium as strong as possible at the World Cup.

"I want to make the fans as proud as possible. All my work will go into this in the coming months.

"We'll see after the World Cup. In international football, it is logical that you look at it from major tournament to major tournament. There is nothing strange about that."

Belgium will face Canada, Morocco and Croatia in Group F in Qatar, having finished third in Russia in 2018.

Martinez's team were comfortable for long periods against Poland, limiting their hosts to just two shots on target and only allowing Robert Lewandowski one attempt throughout the game.

But Belgium almost conceded a dramatic equaliser when Karol Swiderski twice went close in the dying stages, and Martinez was delighted with the character his team displayed when clinging on for the win.

The Red Devils have claimed seven points from their first four Nations League games this month, and the coach believes the matches have proven valuable as they build towards their trip to Qatar.

"We defended well and showed a lot of personality," Martinez said. "It is even more satisfying to win like this than [if] it was a simple victory. 

"These matches were used to gather information for the World Cup, and we got it. 

"The results weren't always good, but perfection doesn't exist. Not in football and not in life. The reaction after Wales [a 1-1 draw last week] was there. I remember that."

Michy Batshuayi's first-half goal helped Belgium to a 1-0 win over Poland, keeping the Red Devils in with a chance of reaching the Nations League Finals.

Less than a week after scoring five second-half goals in a 6-1 thrashing of Poland, Roberto Martinez's side were without several star names including Thibaut Courtois, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku for the return fixture.

But Belgium were mostly comfortable after Batshuayi nodded them into an early lead, with Nicola Zalewski and Karol Swiderski squandering Poland's best chances to equalise.

Martinez's team trail the Netherlands by three points with two group-stage contests remaining, meaning the two rivals could be set for a straight shoot-out for qualification when they meet in September.

Wojciech Szczesny raced off his line to deny Thorgan Hazard early on, but he was helpless when Batshuayi headed Belgium into a 16th-minute lead, the Chelsea man stooping to divert Youri Tielemans' cross into bottom-right corner.

Sebastian Szymanski sent a wild volley over from a good position after half an hour, before Eden Hazard was flagged offside having beaten Szczesny with a deft chip after racing onto Batshuayi's pass.

Although Belgium dominated much of the opening period, Zalewski went agonisingly close to levelling shortly before the break when he volleyed Robert Lewandowski's right-wing cross narrowly wide.

Thorgan Hazard almost doubled Belgium's lead when he sent a low strike wide of the left-hand post after 52 minutes, before Jan Vertonghen saw a driven cross deflected just wide of the bottom-left corner.

Swiderski twice went close to a dramatic equaliser when he forced Simon Mignolet into an acrobatic save before clipping the post with a deft header, but Belgium held on for their second Nations League win of the campaign.

What does it mean? Belgium keep Netherlands in their sights

Having been thrashed 4-1 by the Netherlands during their Nations League opener earlier this month and dropped points in a 1-1 draw with Wales last week, Martinez's men needed a victory to stay in touch with their neighbours at the top of Group A4.

Having prevented Poland from mustering a shot on target until the 87th minute, Belgium deserved a victory which keeps them in with a chance of overhauling Louis van Gaal's men to qualify for next year's finals.

Brilliant Batshuayi maintains hot streak

While Batshuayi - who has been sent out on loan five times since joining Chelsea in 2016 - has struggled for consistency at club level, the Nations League is quickly becoming his favourite competition.

Batshuayi has now contributed to eight goals in the Nations League overall, a tally only bettered by Lukaku (11), and has registered two goals and two assists in his four appearances in the 2022-23 edition.  

Lacklustre Lewandowski struggles 

Despite missing several of their star players, Belgium produced a disciplined defensive performance to complete a double over Czeslaw Michniewicz's team, keeping Lewandowski's influence to a minimum.

The wantaway Bayern Munich man managed the joint-fewest touches of any player the pitch in the first half (13), and over the course of the match, attempted just one shot.

What's next?

Belgium's next outing is a home Nations League clash with Wales on September 22, while Poland host the Netherlands on the same day.

The Netherlands' draw with Poland felt like a defeat for Memphis Depay after he missed a potentially game-winning penalty in second-half stoppage time. 

Poland left Robert Lewandowski on the bench but went ahead in the first half through Matty Cash, and extended their lead via Piotr Zielinski four minutes after the restart at De Kuip.

Goals from Davy Klaassen and Denzel Dumfries restored parity just five minutes later and Cash's handball gave Depay a chance to secure all three points in the Nations League Group A4 game. 

However, the Barcelona attacker's spot-kick hit the post, making him the first Netherlands player to miss three penalties. 

"I missed it and unfortunately that can happen. I had the winner on my foot but I didn't score it," Depay told NOS. 

"I practice penalties and score them often enough. It just has to go in, because then we win the match. Now it feels like a defeat. 

"They sat back, especially in the first half, and then the spaces are small. They also took the lead when they hadn't really had a chance before it and they were then 10 [players] behind the ball. 

"We said at half-time that we had to stay calm. It was a blow [Poland going 2-0 up]. We fought, continue to play football and always believed in ourselves, but it was difficult."

Depay denied that wearing the captain's armband added any pressure after he failed to net the goal he needs to draw level with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in second place on the Netherlands' all-time scoring list.

"I don't think one has to do with the other," he said. "Captain or not, I always want to play well. This time it wasn't the case, but that can happen."

The Netherlands retained their three-point lead at the top of the group because Belgium were held to a 1-1 draw by Wales. 

Louis van Gaal admitted the mood in the dressing room was downcast, but was pleased with the character his team showed to mount a comeback.

"Memphis didn't play his best game. He should've scored the winner at the end. Luckily it's happening now. At the World Cup he will get them in," said Van Gaal.

"The guys sat in the dressing room afterwards as if they had lost, but we came back from 2-0 down. This was the first time we played against a team that was defending with 10 men.

"I'm very proud of my team for the resilience, the spirit and the way we played in the second half."

Memphis Depay missed a stoppage-time penalty that would have completed a sensational turnaround for the Netherlands, who consequently drew 2-2 with Poland. 

Despite leaving Robert Lewandowski on the bench for the entire Nations League Group A4 match, Poland put themselves in a commanding position through goals from Matty Cash and Piotr Zielinski. 

However, Davy Klaassen equalised two minutes later and within five the Netherlands were level thanks to Denzel Dumfries. 

A handball by Cash gifted Depay a chance to score the winner from the penalty spot, but the Barcelona attacker hit the upright and the spoils were shared. 

Poland took the lead when Cash picked up the ball on the right and drilled his first international goal into the bottom-left corner with a fine finish. 

Netherlands responded well but were two behind when Zielinski was teed up for a simple finish by Przemyslaw Frankowski following an excellent ball in behind by Krzysztof Piatek – though VAR was required to overturn an offside decision in the build-up. 

Klaassen quickly reduced the arrears when he volleyed Daley Blind's cross home and Louis van Gaal's men were soon level as Dumfries' deflected effort was permitted by VAR after the offside flag initially went up. 

Cash handled the ball after Lukasz Skorupski kept Depay at bay and referee Halil Umut Meler pointed to the spot having reviewed footage of the incident. 

Depay was unable to take advantage of the opportunity and he also had a header tipped over by Skorupski as Netherlands ended up missing out on the win. 

Belgium bounced back from their thumping by the Netherlands with an emphatic 6-1 Nations League win over Poland on Wednesday.

Roberto Martinez's side suffered a resounding 4-1 defeat to the Oranje on Friday, but a much-improved display at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels saw them return to winning ways in Group A4.

They fell behind to Robert Lewandowski's 28th-minute strike, yet pulled level before half-time thanks to Axel Witsel's superb effort from outside the penalty area.

Kevin De Bruyne then put them ahead after the interval, before a double from substitute Leandro Trossard, a long-range strike from Leander Dendoncker and a late sixth from Lois Openda put the seal on a convincing win.

Despite a bright start, Belgium fell behind shortly before the half-hour mark when Lewandowski controlled Sebastian Szymanski's pass before clipping past the onrushing Simon Mignolet.

However, the Red Devils pulled level three minutes before the interval, Witsel superbly whipping in from 20 yards after Bartlomiej Dragowski had kept out De Bruyne's close-range effort.

Dragowski made an excellent double stop after the break, first pawing away Dendoncker's header and then getting down well to repel Eden Hazard's drive. 

He was powerless to stop De Bruyne in the 59th minute, though, as the Manchester City man rolled past him after being played in by Hazard. 

Trossard made it three with a cool finish after cutting in from the right, before the Brighton and Hove Albion forward added a second with a looping strike from the edge of the penalty area. 

Dendoncker added a fifth with a sublime strike from 25 yards that flashed past Dragowksi, before substitute Openda wrapped up the scoring with almost the last kick of the game.

Bayern Munich and Robert Lewandowski should not have any bad blood between them if the striker moves on, says Holger Badstuber.

The Poland captain has made it clear he wants to leave the Bundesliga champions, with Barcelona eager to bring him to Camp Nou.

But with a year left on his contract and no obvious successor to the two-time European Golden Shoe winner, Bayern are playing hardball.

That has led to a particularly testy war of words between Lewandowski and the club - but former Bayern man Badstuber believes there should be no animosity if he departs.

"I think that the mutual appreciation should be here," Badstuber told Stats Perform.

"Bayern did a lot for Robert Lewandowski and Lewandowski did his job, which is scoring goals and he always represented Bayern well.

"So, in this case there should not be bad blood if Lewandowski decides to choose another path again."

Badstuber is intrigued to see who the Bavarian grants would bring in if the prolific Lewandowski leaves.

"It’s clear that Bayern must find an heir, an interesting candidate," he added. "Who knows who’s already on the radar or who they already have an eye on.

"It for sure is going to be interesting what comes, whenever that will be.

"For Hasan Salihamidzic it again is a task which he must solve with his team, and I think also with the coach."

Robert Lewandowski says "something has died" within him at Bayern Munich, as the striker continues to push for an anticipated exit to Barcelona.

The Poland international, who has a year left on his contract with the Bundesliga champions, has repeatedly signalled his intent to leave Allianz Arena this summer.

Though no official confirmation has been made by the player, it appears Lewandowski is fixated upon a switch to Camp Nou in the next step of his decorated career.

A myriad of issues, from Bayern's reluctance to sell him through whether Barca can afford to pay any transfer fee, remain major obstacles to any such move.

But Lewandowski has continued to state he will not be in Bavaria next term, saying he desires to move on to discover new challenges.

"Something has died in me," the striker told Polish outlet Onet Sport. "I want to leave Bayern to seek new emotions in my life.

"I just want to leave Bayern. Loyalty and respect are more important than work, [and] the best way is to find a solution for both parties."

Though other clubs have been intermittently linked, reports have suggested Barca will be the only destination for Lewandowski if he does depart Bayern.

The 33-year-old teased this elsewhere, adding: "The list of clubs interested in me is not very long.

"There is a lot of talk about a specific club. I am not considering other offers."

Lewandowski - who has spent a busy off-season so far, both with Poland and in attendance at other sporting events such as the French Open - is unlikely to see his future resolved until the international break is over.

Last season, he retained the European Golden Shoe, after winning it for the first time during a record-breaking 2020-21 campaign when he overtook Gerd Muller for the most goals scored in a single Bundesliga season.

Belgium star Romelu Lukaku will miss the Nations League clash with Poland due to injury as Roberto Martinez implored his side to respond from defeat to Netherlands.

Martinez's side are ranked second in the world but were thoroughly outplayed on Friday as Netherlands cruised to a 4-1 victory.

Lukaku limped off in the first half with the scores level, before goals from Steven Bergwijn, Denzel Dumfries and Memphis Depay secured Netherlands' first win on Belgian turf since 1997.

Martinez assured the issue with Lukaku was simply "a knock" after the game, but Belgium confirmed on Monday that the Chelsea striker will be absent for the clash with Poland on Wednesday.

The Red Devils added Lukaku has started treatment, leaving it unclear whether he will be fit to feature for the remaining clashes in June against Wales and the reverse fixture with Poland.

While Martinez may be without his talisman as Belgium ramp up their World Cup preparations for Qatar, the Red Devils coach urged his team to respond against Poland.

"[The Netherlands defeat] reminded us of the level we have to reach for the World Cup," he told reporters.

"This type of tough game will help us improve. We don't like to lose but we'll learn. It's an ongoing process, and the next test will come quickly against Poland."

 

The defeat to Netherland was also the first time Belgium had lost on home soil against any side since September 2017, while it was the first time the Red Devils had conceded four goals at home since October 2010.

Poland visit Brussels in the next League A Group 4 fixture and coach Czeslaw Michniewicz expects Belgium to come out fighting for a response.

"The Netherlands [won 4-1 in] Belgium, but both teams could have scored more; the Belgians had a lot of chances, plenty of set-pieces," Michniewicz said.

"We will have an interesting meeting with a team that has many classy individuals. Belgium will be motivated after such a heavy defeat."

Iga Swiatek was congratulated by Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski after she successfully regained her French Open crown.

The world number one was embraced by her Polish compatriot after a comprehensive 6-1 6-3 win over Coco Gauff at Roland Garros.

Swiatek and Lewandowski are among the pre-eminent Polish sports stars of this generation, and shared in their delight at the former's triumph.

Victory for the 21-year-old on Court Philippe-Chatrier extends her winning streak to 35 matches and saw her reclaim the title she won for the first time in 2020.

Lewandowski meanwhile is in Paris between games with Poland in the UEFA Nations League.

The veteran forward played in his country's 2-1 friendly win over Wales on Wednesday and is expected to feature against Belgium next week.

Trinidadian 2018 Commonwealth Games 100m gold medalist Michelle Lee-Ahye ran a new meet record 11.17 for victory the Women’s 100m at the Irena Szewinska Memorial, a World Athletics Continental Tour Gold event, at the Zdzislaw Krzyszkowiak Stadium in Bygosczcz, Poland on Friday.

The 2016 Olympic 100m and 200m finalist, who has a season’s best of 10.94 done at the Orange County Classic in California on May 7, won ahead of Vitoria Rosa of Brazil (11.32) and Gina Bass of Gambia (11.33). She had previously run 11.20 in the heats.

Barbadian two-time World Championship finalist Shane Brathwaite followed up a 13.68 performance to win his heat with a run of 13.65 for fifth in the Men’s 100m hurdles won by the USA’s Jamal Britt in 13.35. Poland’s Damian Czykier ran 13.36 for second while Antonio Alkana of South Africa was third in 13.63.

 

 

Wales are among the countries to have declared an interest in hosting the 2022-23 Nations League finals.

UEFA confirmed on Wednesday that the football associations of Wales, Belgium, Poland and Netherlands have all declared their interest in making a bid, with the deadline to submit final bid dossiers not until October 5.

The league phase begins in June 2022, and will run until September, with a break between then and June to allow for the remainder of the domestic season and the 2022 World Cup.

The hosts will be confirmed in January 2023, with the finals due to be held from June 14-18.

The draw for the competition took place in December, with 2018 World Cup finalists France and Croatia together in Group A1, Spain and Portugal among those in Group A2, and the trio of Italy, England and Germany featuring in Group A3.

Interestingly, the four nations to have declared an interest in hosting the finals have all been pitted against one another in Group A4.

Portugal staged the first edition of the tournament in 2019, while Italy hosted in 2021.

Russia has withdrawn its appeal against a ban for its teams from FIFA competitions after World Cup qualifying continued without its senior men's national team.

Russian teams were suspended from FIFA and UEFA competitions following the country's invasion of Ukraine.

The FIFA sanction meant Valeri Karpin's Russia could not compete in their scheduled World Cup play-off semi-final against Poland.

The Russian Football Union (RFU) asked for the ban to be delayed, with that match set for late March, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) rejected its request.

It meant Poland progressed to a final against Sweden, who had defeated the Czech Republic. Poland won to advance to Qatar 2022.

With that tie settled and Poland drawn into a World Cup group alongside Argentina, Mexico and Saudi Arabia, CAS announced on Tuesday the RFU had withdrawn its appeal last week.

Russia's challenges of various bans – including from UEFA – appear set to continue, however.

Qatar 2022 is fast approaching and the anticipation will surely be at its most intense so far when Friday's draw for the group stage is completed.

The Doha Exhibition and Convention Center plays host to the milestone event, which will see eight groups drawn from pots as the eventual storylines of the World Cup begin to unfurl.

Among the narratives that will start being mapped out on Friday is France's title defence, with Les Bleus hoping to become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to successfully defend their World Cup crown.

Ahead of the draw, Stats Perform provides a lowdown of all the key information…

 

How will the draw work?

Most of us have seen a draw and understand the general premise, but there's a lot of detail to consider before we end up with our completed group stage.

For starters, the draw (19:00 local time) will only include 29 qualified teams, with the other three spots to consist of a couple of intercontinental play-off slot placeholders and one UEFA play-off slot placeholder, with those nations to be determined later in the year.

The qualified teams will be sorted into four pots of eight, with their FIFA world ranking determining which they enter – joining Qatar in pot one will be the top seven teams, while the nations ranked eight-15 will be in pot 2, and so on. The three play-off slot placeholders will be drawn from pot four.

There will also be eight pots representing the groups, A to H. Each group pot contains four balls with position numbers, ranging from one to four, which correspond to the teams' respective starting position in the tables and subsequently impact their fixture schedule.

Team pot one will be the first to empty, with Qatar automatically drawn into slot A1. The other sides from pot one will go straight into position one of the remaining groups.

From then on, a ball is drawn from a team pot and followed by one from a group pot, determining that team's position – for example, the second nation drawn into Group A could be placed in slot A4. The process continues until each team pot is emptied, with pot four the last to be drawn.

Where possible, no group will contain more than one team from the same qualification zone, with the exception of Europe – so anyone hoping for an encounter like Brazil v Uruguay will have to wait for the knockout stage.

Thursday's release of the latest world rankings confirmed the make-up of the respective pots, so, without any further ado, let's take a look through them…

The Pots

Pot One:

Qatar (hosts)
Brazil
Belgium
France
Argentina
England
Spain
Portugal

 

Pot Two:

Denmark
Netherlands
Germany
Mexico 
USA
Switzerland
Croatia
Uruguay

Pot Three:

Senegal
Iran
Japan
Morocco
Serbia
Poland
South Korea
Tunisia

 

Pot Four:

Cameroon
Canada
Ecuador
Saudi Arabia
Ghana
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 1 
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 2
UEFA play-off placeholder

Luck of the draw!

It goes without saying that, theoretically, being in pot one means you would be favourites to win your group. But that's the beauty of football; practically anything can happen once you're on the pitch.

If we look back to the last World Cup four years ago, defending champions Germany were top of the FIFA rankings and in pot one, but then failed to get through the group stage for the first time ever.

 

But just as being in a higher pot is no guarantee of going deep into the tournament, who's to say how eventual 2018 champions France would have fared had they been in pot two?

Les Bleus were ranked seventh at the time so squeezed into pot one ahead of Spain. While that arguably gave them a trickier route to the final in the knockout phase, perhaps the tests posed by Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium were what kept them sharp all the way to the end?

This time around, Spain do appear in pot one. Portugal do as well, with Fernando Santos' men benefiting in that regard from European champions Italy's shock absence.

Nevertheless, there are some powerful teams in pot two. The Netherlands and Germany are undoubtedly the pick of the bunch there, both of whom will provide a stern test for any of the teams in pot one. Brazil v Die Mannschaft in the group stage, anyone?

There's a chance we could even see a repeat of the 2018 final in the group stage, with Croatia (pot two) able to come up against France in the opening round, while an England v United States showdown would surely capture the imagination of fans on both sides of 'the pond'.

We can expect to see plenty of quality in pot three as well, especially with Serbia, Robert Lewandowski's Poland and African champions Senegal present.

Among those in pot four are Canada. They may only be competing in their second World Cup and first since 1986, but John Herdman's team have won plenty of admirers en route to winning the CONCACAF qualifying section ahead of Mexico and reaching a record high of 33rd in the rankings.

 

Excitement, expectations and exoduses as Ronaldo and Messi look likely to bow out

Whether watching football on TV or from the stands, it can often be easy to forget that our heroes are just ordinary people as well. They are individuals who in all likelihood had the same hopes and dreams as many of us as children.

The glitz and glamour surrounding professional football can lead us to put footballers on a pedestal, but behind the sport's shiny facade, our teams are made up of – and coached by – people who are just as obsessed with the idea of the World Cup as anyone else.

England manager Gareth Southgate encapsulated the excitement earlier this week, as he said: "[The World Cup evokes] a different sort of feeling, but it's still a tournament we all watched as kids, we all filled our wallcharts out, we all hoped and followed when England were there that we would do well. And it's a unique chance to make history, so that of course is massively exciting."

Of course, that innocent excitement harbours expectation and hope for many, for others there will be a feeling of responsibility to amend the wrongs of the past.

This time around, that's arguably truest when looking at Germany, with Manuel Neuer fully appreciating he may not get another opportunity to put things right.

"I know that I will probably not get to play many more World Cups, so after crashing out in 2018 in Russia and our exit against England [at Euro 2020], it's important that we show a new version of ourselves and visualise success," the experienced goalkeeper said.

That finality Neuer alluded to is another key aspect of the World Cup. Given the four-year cycle of the tournament, every time we bid a fond farewell to a few greats of the game who opt to take advantage of the cyclical nature and end their international careers.

 

This time it looks as though Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – who for so long battled out their own personal 'Greatest of All-Time' rivalry – may be among those appearing on the World Cup stage for the last time.

"Goal achieved, we're at the Qatar World Cup. We're in our rightful place!" Ronaldo's Instagram post after Portugal's play-off success focused on the positive, but at 37, Qatar 2022 will surely be his final appearance at the tournament.

As for Messi, he said last week: "I don't know, the truth is I don't know. Let's hope [Argentina's preparations] go the best way possible. But for sure after the World Cup many things will change."

Exoduses after major international tournaments are common as teams reset or rebuild, but given what Messi and Ronaldo have represented on the pitch and the fact they've appeared at each of the previous four World Cups, their appearances at Qatar 2022 need to be savoured.

It all begins with Friday's draw, when narratives and talking points that'll live longer than any of us will start to take shape with the unscrewing of a few shiny plastic balls.

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