Chelsea and Wales defender Ethan Ampadu is desperate to break into the Blues' first team this season, but admits he needs regular playing time ahead of a likely World Cup appearance in Qatar.

Ampadu spent last season on loan at Venezia, making 29 Serie A appearances but failing to prevent them from finishing bottom of the Italian top flight. 

Having also spent time at RB Leipzig and Sheffield United since joining Chelsea from Exeter at the age of 16, Ampadu – already a Wales regular with 36 senior caps – is eyeing a breakthrough campaign at Stamford Bridge.

Asked whether he hoped for a long-term future with Chelsea by The Athletic, Ampadu, who is part of Thomas Tuchel's squad for a pre-season tour of the United States, replied: "Of course – I'm here, aren't I?

"This club fights for everything, Champions League, Premier League. It's all about fighting here and trying to get to the top.

"There are a few of us with that same mindset that want to break through. We're out here now and it's our chance to show it.

"Like every footballer out there, my dream is to be at the top. I don't think that's a bad thing to say and dream, everyone wants to be at the top. It's about fighting and getting towards that."

Ampadu appeared from the bench in Chelsea's 2-1 friendly win over Mexican giants Club America on Sunday.

But the 21-year-old will face fierce competition in his bid to force his way into a defence which conceded just 33 Premier League goals last season (only Liverpool and Manchester City conceded fewer).

Chelsea have already signed Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly and are being linked with Paris Saint-Germain's Presnel Kimpembe.

With Ampadu likely to feature when Wales begin their first World Cup campaign since 1958 against the United States on November 21, he recognises the importance of playing regularly.

"The World Cup adds something else, but even if there wasn't the World Cup, as a professional footballer you want to play," Ampadu added.

"I enjoy playing and I want to be playing week in, week out. But the World Cup is definitely something you want to be going to feeling fit and fresh."

Lucas Moura insists he is committed to Tottenham amid uncertainty over his future, as he expressed his desire to end a trophyless spell in north London next season.

The Brazil international revealed last month that the 2022-23 campaign could be his last with Spurs, though the forward's agent was quick to suggest his client remains an important part of Antonio Conte's plans.

Moura may have to settle for a rotational role, or play at wing-back as Conte previously hinted, due to the arrival of Richarlison in the off-season, with the former Everton man joining Harry Kane, Dejan Kulusevski and Son Heung-min in Spurs' attack.

With just a year left on his contract, on which Tottenham hold an option for a further 12 months, Moura said his planned return to Brazil can wait until he has experienced success under Conte.

"I will turn 30 in August. I'm getting old already, but I feel very good mentally and physically," he told football.london. "I'm very, very happy at Tottenham. I love the club. I love the fans.

"I love everyone who works in the club, but of course I have a plan to go back to Brazil one day. I have at least one year in my contract, maybe two.

"I don't know if the club will want me to sign another contract but I'm happy here. I just want to have the best season this season. 

"I just want to win a trophy because this has been my objective here since the first day I arrived in the club, and I believe this season I can achieve this, and then we'll see next season what is the desire of the club."

The former Paris Saint-Germain attacker appeared 34 times across the 2021-22 Premier League campaign, scoring two goals and assisting six, while creating 34 chances.

That represented Moura's worst goal return when playing a full season in the English top flight, but he hopes to prove his worth in a bid to feature at the Qatar World Cup for Brazil in November.

"I have other targets, which are to go back to the national team," he added. "Why not play in the World Cup at the end of the year? It's very difficult but anything is possible.

"I have this hope and I will work for this. These are the two most important targets for now."

Moura's compatriot Richarlison is another who will aim to feature in Qatar for Brazil following his big-money move from Everton.

The 25-year-old scored (10) and assisted (five) more Premier League goals than any other Everton player last term, and Moura believes Conte's new signing could be a great asset.

"I met him two years ago on the national team. Quality player, very good guy, he will help us a lot because he has some experience in the Premier League," he continued.

"He is strong. His mentality is very good. He's a great addition for us. He's a very simple guy, very humble, very funny. It's always good to have a guy like this in the squad and I'm happy because he's Brazilian, so I have one more Brazilian with me now!

"He's always ready to play because we see he loves to play football. It's good to have a player like this. 

"This season we can see another Tottenham and I hope we achieve our targets because we have a quality squad and a great manager. We have the quality to win trophies and this is our objective.

"We know how difficult it is because we play in the Premier League and there are a lot of teams that can win. Also, the Champions League we know is not easy, but we have a great squad.

"We have stars like Harry and Sonny. We have a manager who is one of the best. We have a structure, an amazing training ground, an unbelievable stadium, great fans.

"We have everything we need to achieve. Now it depends on us. We need to work hard and show on the pitch we deserve to win."

Fabinho has backed Darwin Nunez and Luis Diaz to step up in Sadio Mane's absence for Liverpool, though he acknowledged the Uruguay striker may need time to adapt to the Premier League.

Liverpool narrowly missed out on a historic quadruple last term, winning both domestic cups but finishing as runners-up in the Premier League and Champions League as Mane scored 23 goals in all competitions.

The off-season has seen Jurgen Klopp remould his attack after Mane left for Bayern Munich, signing Nunez from Benfica in a deal potentially worth up to £85million (€100.5m), while Diaz made a positive impact after joining from Porto in January.

While Fabinho acknowledged Mane is a "big loss" for Liverpool, he remains confident the Reds' new-look attack will fire them into contention for more silverware next campaign.

"Darwin may need a bit of time to adapt, let's see, but a player like him can really change a team," Fabinho told the Athletic.

"He's a proper number nine. He's a goalscorer. He scored in both games against us in the Champions League. We know how good he is. 

"Even though we lost Sadio, I still believe that we can fight for everything. The team is still really strong.

"For a long time it was always Sadio on the left side. But we have Luis on the left side and we saw how well he played in the second half of last season. Luis will become increasingly important.

"At the end of the season, I spoke a lot with Sadio. He told me about the situation that he could leave. I was always saying to him, 'come on Sadio, stay here. You can win the Premier League and the Champions League right here, don't leave'. But I think he had already made his mind up. We had to respect that.

"Sadio had a really good story in a Liverpool shirt. He played for six years here and during that time he won everything you can win and he decided that he wanted a new challenge. That's okay.

"After the parade in Liverpool, everyone said goodbye to him. We knew there was a good chance he would be leaving. I always kept some hope that he would still stay but then it was all confirmed.

"Losing Sadio is a big loss. He was one of our best players but it's something that we can't change. We have to deal with it. Now other players have to step up and take on greater responsibility."

Next season will also see Fabinho assume a key role as Brazil look to end a 20-year wait for a World Cup win in Qatar, with the Selecao beginning their campaign against Serbia on November 24. 

And the midfield enforcer admitted ending his nation's long drought is in his thoughts as he suggested the timing of the tournament could be a positive for players.

"For us as players, I actually think it's good for us that the World Cup will be in November and December," he added. "Maybe around that time of year, we'll be in our best shape of the season.

"One of my big targets for the season is to play in the World Cup and try to win it for my country. 

"It's been 20 years since Brazil last won the World Cup and the people at home want so much for us to win it for the sixth time.

"I'm focused on giving my maximum to play a good season for Liverpool but I can't lie, the World Cup is also in my thoughts."

Jurgen Klopp has conceded Diogo Jota will likely miss the Community Shield final for Liverpool, while Alisson "should be fit" to face Manchester City.

Jota sat out of the pre-season opener in Bangkok on Tuesday, a 4-0 defeat to Manchester United, before Alisson joined the forward on the injury list ahead of the 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace on Friday.

Klopp had previously suggested he was concerned by a recurrence of Jota's hamstring issues, the forward having initially aggravated the problem he suffered when away with Portugal on international duty in June.

After victory over Palace in Singapore, where Mohamed Salah and Jordan Henderson were on target, Klopp provided an update on the injured duo.

"Ali, I think, has the chance for City and Diogo not," Reds manager Klopp told reporters as he discussed the upcoming Community Shield on July 30.

"Ali, he feels a muscle, abdominal. It's nothing serious but, again, we prepare a full season. So he can train but just not like before, so he should not play in the moment. Not normal goalie training but he has a pre-season, so he doesn't lose time. 

"But yeah, these kind of things happen. The boys have to travel a lot and train and you never know exactly. 

"It's only little things, nothing serious but we have to be careful because the rest of the season is much longer than the start."

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was another to limp off in the pre-season clash with Patrick Vieira's side, and Klopp hopes the "top-class" England international will soon recover from a muscle injury setback.

"Of course, it's very disappointing for us because Oxlade trained all the time really well since the pre-season started," he added.

"It happened obviously with Ox in the past when it gets more intense and something can happen. Now this is just a muscle thing and that's OK. We had worse situations, so I'm OK with it. 

"I don't know exactly how long it will take but he will be back and then it's all fine. He is obviously a top-class player and he can help us."

As injury fears mount, Klopp's attention turned to the upcoming Qatar World Cup, with July effectively serving as the first pre-season before unselected players will have to keep fitness across November and December.

Klopp, a regular critic of the Nations League and international football schedule, labelled this pre-season as like no other as he lamented the lack of concern for player welfare.

"Normally our pre-season is always the basis for the rest of the season, this time we have the first part of the season that's interrupted," he continued. 

"We are already kind of used to it because with the pandemic we had breaks and starting again.

"So it's not completely new to us anymore and when these players have time off, for example, if they are not at the World Cup, they never have real time off, they have a training schedule to fulfil so they don't lose a lot in these periods, which is very important for us.

"That's why we can give them at least as long as possible time off with family and holiday and stuff like this, but they just need it.

"Apart from that, the World Cup is for all top teams in football pretty much the same, especially in England it's the same because we play immediately.

"If you are in the final or the third-place [game] then you play again a week later - and then you play 26th, 31st, 2nd and stuff like this.

"Obviously the guys in the Premier League like the spectacular. I've said it often enough, nobody really cares about the players in these moments but that's how it is."

Juventus' new signing Angel Di Maria is casting aside thoughts of Argentina's World Cup campaign as he prepares for his first Serie A season.

Di Maria joined Juve last week, after leaving Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer following seven successful years in the French capital.

The 34-year-old has signed a one-year deal in Turin, and staying in top condition ahead of the Qatar World Cup might have played a part in his decision to stay in Europe.

Yet he insisted that his full focus is on Juve, and not on helping Argentina contest for a world title come November.

"The same Di Maria as always has arrived, who wants to win at all costs, who hates to lose and wants to be a champion: I think Juve chose me for this," said Di Maria, who has been joined by Paul Pogba in signing for the Bianconeri.

"The most important thing will be to work hard and I will try to do my best.

"My head is now solely and exclusively at Juve. I came here to win and work with this great club. We will think about the national team when the time comes to think about it. I want to win with Juventus.

"The World Cup is one of the best experiences for a player, but it is essential to have your head focused on the present. I repeat, I will always do my best for Juve. I always give my best to every new beginning and it will be the same here."

Asked why he elected to join Juve, who have finished fourth in Serie A in consecutive seasons, Di Maria explained: "Juve is Juve, they have won many titles and they are a great club that now has a great desire to return to the highest levels.

"I want to make this happen. It will be important to form a united group.

"I chose Juve because they are the most important club in Italy and have all the credentials to be able to win. I know it's a strong team and I want to be part of this team. If they have looked for me, it means that they believe me to be up to it.

"If an important team like Juve is looking for you, it is almost impossible to say no. They waited patiently for the end of my contract, I really wanted to come here. I was calm with my family, and the right moment came."

Di Maria, speaking at his unveiling on Monday, also revealed a Juve great played a part in his decision to join Juve.

He said: "I have a good relationship with Gianluigi Buffon. I also talked to him when I signed the contract.

"He wanted me to come to Juve and I think being here is very nice. I am calm and I will do my best to help Juventus win."

Dani Alves says Barcelona "do not care about the people who made history for the club" following his release by the LaLiga giants last month.

The Brazil international returned to Camp Nou last November and made 17 appearances after being officially registered in January, but his short-term contract was not renewed.

Alves spent eight years with Barca in his previous spell in Catalonia and won 23 trophies in arguably the most successful period in the club's decorated history.

During that past stint, the 377 chances created by Alves were bettered by only five others from Europe's top five leagues, two of them being Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

While grateful to have had the chance to return, the veteran full-back is upset at the manner of his latest exit and has taken aim at those in charge of running the club.

"I didn't leave sad. I left happy to have returned to Barcelona. I dreamed for five years wanting to live this second moment," he told The Guardian. 

"The only thing I didn't like was how my departure was handled. 

"Since I arrived, I made it very clear that I wasn't any more a 20-year-old guy and that I wanted things to be done head-on, without hiding things. 

"But this club has sinned in recent years. Barcelona don't care about the people who made history for the club.

"As a [Barca fan], I would like Barcelona to do things differently. I’m not talking about myself because my situation was another scenario. 

"I am eternally grateful to Xavi and the president for bringing me back. I found a club full of young people with incredible ideas on the pitch. 

"But it needs to improve the work outside the field. The mindset is totally opposite to what we built a few years ago. 

"Everything that happens on the field is a reflection of what happens outside.

"I'm supporting for Barcelona to come back to the top, but it's super-complicated. Football is more balanced, it's a collective game. And that has been left out at the club."

 

Alves scored one goal and set up four more between his second debut on January 5 and the end of the 2021-22 campaign.

That is a tally bettered only by Ferran Torres (six), Jordi Alba (seven) and Ousmane Dembele (11) among Barca players over that period.

Despite recently turning 39, Alves has made clear he intends to find a new club in order to remain part of Tite's Brazil plans for the 2022 World Cup, which begins in November.

"I know that everyone is talking about my age, that I am old, that 20 years ago everyone wanted me and today not," he said. 

"But I completely disagree because I have an experience today that I didn't have 20 years ago. When there's a big game, 20-year-olds get nervous and worried, but I don't.

"Age has its pros and cons. There are many things you do when you're 20, but you don't do it when you're older. 

"Maturity comes from just living. I also have the experience of having lived almost everything in the sport."

Alves, capped 124 times by Brazil, added: "The last dance is when you're going to retire, but I think I’ll keep dancing. 

"A dance is always welcome, regardless of the place and which dance. I do not think like that. 

"And the last dance has already been done. It's better to create a new chapter, a new series. It's another chapter of my life."

Roberto Mancini has revealed he twice considered stepping down as Italy head coach, but is now determined to win the World Cup with his country after deciding to stay on.

The 57-year-old guided Italy to Euro 2020 success exactly one year ago, only to then miss out on qualification for Qatar 2022 following a shock play-off loss to North Macedonia.

It is the second successive World Cup the four-time winners have missed out on, having previously failed to reach Russia 2018.

Despite the latest disappointing qualifying campaign, Italian Football Federation president Gabriele Gravina confirmed in March that Mancini would remain in the job if he wished.

However, Mancini has admitted he contemplated walking away after the loss to North Macedonia, as well as eight months prior after beating England in the Euro 2020 final.

"It was more [likely] the second time," the former Manchester City and Inter boss told Gazzetta dello Sport. "I found myself in a really difficult situation. 

"I thought about it a bit after Wembley but there was a World Cup a little more than a year later."

Italy's next shot at World Cup glory will now have to wait until 2026 when Canada, Mexico and the United States will jointly host the competition, which will be expanded to feature 48 sides rather than 32.

And Mancini, who took charge of Italy in May 2018, intends to still be in charge by the time that tournament comes around.

"From when I became manager, I had an objective: win the Euros and a World Cup," he said. "A year ago, with the cup in my hands, I told myself: 'I'm going after the other'.

"I was thinking about this World Cup [in Qatar] – obviously that isn't the case. But I continue to think we will win one, yes."

Ben Chilwell hopes to achieve the "highlight of my life" by securing the left-back spot for England and featuring at the upcoming World Cup in Qatar.

The Chelsea defender missed a large part of the 2021-22 campaign, playing just 541 Premier League minutes, after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury against Juventus in November.

Chilwell required surgery for his knee issue but made an encouraging return on the final day of the season against Watford.

While the 25-year-old aims to deliver success for Thomas Tuchel's side, Chilwell also has his eyes on the World Cup in November, where England are in a group with Wales, Iran and the United States.

Luke Shaw and Tyrick Mitchell are among the left-backs competing with Chilwell, though Gareth Southgate has previously utilised right-backs Kieran Tripper and Reece James in the role.

With 17 caps to his name already after making his debut in September 2018, Chilwell wants to make the left-back position with England his own as the Three Lions search for a first major trophy since 1966.

"I'm back in full training now, I trained with the group in the last week of the season, came on for a few minutes," he told reporters.

"It has been nice to get away from it all after a long six months of rehab for a few weeks. I've come back early and I've been here three weeks and feel fit and ready.

"I took [the injury] in my stride and was pretty positive. I felt it could improve me mentally. The World Cup is a big motivation as well as the season with Chelsea.

"If I play well between now and then I am confident I will be in the squad. That's my mindset and I wasn't worried.

"I just wanted to do everything I can to be the best version of myself and play well for Chelsea for four months to give myself a chance to be picked.

"I dreamed of playing in the World Cup ever since I can remember, to know it is around the corner is more motivation than you know for me to see if I can establish my spot. Especially after the Euros which was a difficult time for me.

"I want to be the left-back in the team and I think we can do really well and go a long way. It would be amazing. It would be a highlight of not just my career but my life.

"So I am going to work for it for the next four months."

Gareth Bale hailed the "incredible reception" he received after being presented to the Los Angeles FC fans for the first time since his move to the MLS leaders.

The former Real Madrid and Tottenham forward recently joined the MLS franchise on a one-year deal, which could be extended through to 2024, following his departure from Los Blancos.

The Wales international will be hoping for plenty of game time ahead of the World Cup later this year, and what will be the Dragons' first appearance at the finals since 1958.

Bale arrived in California on Friday and received a rapturous reception at the Banc of California Stadium when he was paraded to the supporters ahead of his new side's 'El Trafico' derby against rivals LA Galaxy.

LAFC ran out 3-2 winners and the 32-year-old is excited by the ongoing project at the franchise formed back in 2014.

 

"What an incredible reception I had when I came in," he told ESPN.

"The best prep [for the World Cup] is to play games.

"I want to come here. I want to play games and make my stamp and do as best I can to try and help LAFC win a trophy.

"And I can help with the youngsters because it's a very young team here, give them advice, seeing what I do in terms of professional standard and try to help them.

"The league is a growing league. It was an exciting opportunity I felt was right for me and my family.

"It's very new, but it's something that's really glamorous. It's just a very attractive club."

Julian Alvarez declared he has already achieved one childhood dream in playing alongside Lionel Messi for Argentina, as Manchester City's new signing targets a spot at the World Cup in Qatar.

Alvarez agreed to join Pep Guardiola's side from River Plate in a reported £14million ($18.8m) move in January but remained on loan with the Buenos Aires giants until their Copa Libertadores exit to Velez Sarsfield on Thursday.

On Friday, the Premier League champions confirmed Alvarez would join up with their first team ahead of the 2022-23 season, having scored 54 goals in 122 outings since coming through River's youth system.

Having also won nine caps for his country, Alvarez is primed to appear at the World Cup later this year and scored his first Argentina goal when appearing alongside Messi in a 1-1 draw with Ecuador in March.

Alvarez will face competition from the likes of Lautaro Martinez and Paulo Dybala to start for the Albiceleste in Qatar, where the City new boy wants to build on his international breakthrough.

"Messi has been my idol since I was a child," he told City's website ahead of his arrival. "He is my family's idol, the idol of my brothers too. So, Messi is a hero for me. 

"Playing for my country is a dream come true. I dreamed as a child to play in the national team with Messi. 

"To have achieved this at the age of 22 obviously makes me feel very proud, happy, and I have to keep going for more success."

Messi is both Argentina's most-capped player (162 appearances) and record goalscorer (86), and will join the likes of Lothar Matthaus, Rafael Marquez, Antonio Carbajal and Gianluigi Buffon in playing at five separate World Cups with an appearance in Qatar.

"He wants to come."

Barcelona president Joan Laporta did not mince his words when speaking about the possibility of the Blaugrana signing Raphinha.

Last week, Chelsea struck a deal with Leeds United – reported to be worth around £55million with add-ons taking the total fee to more than £60m – to take the Brazil winger from Elland Road to Stamford Bridge.

That agreement seemingly saw Chelsea pip London rivals Arsenal to the post after a high-profile pursuit.

Yet a deal that seemed set for a swift resolution has, as of yet, not been completed, and that is because, if Laporta is to be believed, the 25-year-old is prioritising a switch not to Stamford Bridge, but Camp Nou.

Barca have been consistently linked to Raphinha, who has established himself as one of the most exciting attackers in the Premier League since his move to Leeds from Rennes in September 2020.

Yet Laporta acknowledged that, despite Raphinha's wish to join Barca – whose financial issues make matching Chelsea's offer to Leeds problematic – the race is not won.

"We've spoken to Leeds, I don't think they will be offended," he explained. "We have communication and we have spoken personally. 

"What happens is that there are other clubs that want Raphinha and they are making their proposals."

At this stage, it does seem to be a two-horse race. Previously, with Barca's interest having seemed to have cooled, Arsenal looked well set to beat their rivals Tottenham to the winger, but it was then Chelsea who stole a march.

Bayern Munich have been credited with an interest in the past, but Sadio Mane's switch to Bavaria has ruled the German champions out.

But just why has Raphinha, a somewhat under-the-radar arrival in Yorkshire under two years ago, been so coveted?
 

Brazilian stardust meets street fighter spirit

Brazil. The home of the Copacabana, festivals and beautiful football. Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Pele, Kaka, Neymar, Zico, Socrates... the list of world-class talent produced by the South American nation is endless. They are five-time world champions for a reason.

But while Brazilian flair remains in abundance, the most recent success stories when it comes to the players that have struck gold, in the Premier League at least, have been those who have merged that national talent with steel, grit and robustness perhaps more associated with the likes of Argentina, Uruguay or the northern European nations.

Raphinha fits that bill, and like Premier League-based compatriots Gabriel Jesus and Richarlison, always seemed set to move for pastures new this off-season.

His talent cannot be doubted. Since making his Leeds debut, he has directly contributed to 29 Premier League goals, scoring 17 times and providing 12 assists, at least five more than any team-mates in the period.

 

The variety of his strikes has also been hugely impressive, with seven of his league goals for Leeds coming from outside the area. Only one player – Southampton captain James Ward-Prowse – can boast a better total (nine) in the same time frame.

Raphinha's 11 league goals last season marked his best performance since the 15 he netted in the 2017-18 campaign, when he played for Vitoria Guimaraes in Portugal. He did not score as freely for Sporting CP, and only managed seven goals during his sole full season with Rennes in France.

Leeds' system, particularly under former manager Marcelo Bielsa and even still under Jesse Marsch, is physically demanding.

Raphinha, however, proved more than up to the task. Indeed, last season, he was a standout performer when it came to both targeted off-ball runs into the final third, and the number of sprints made per 90 minutes. 

A tireless runner, Raphinha offers both sides of the game.

He compares competitively when stacked up against Tottenham new boy Richarlison, one of the hardest working wide players in the Premier League across his time with Everton and a player that Raphinha competes with for a place in the Brazil side.

Raphinha's duel success rate of 42.6 per cent falls just short of Richarlison's 43.4 per cent, since the winger's league debut for Leeds on October 19, 2020, while the pair have won the same number of tackles (42), albeit Richarlison's success percentage of 59.7 compared to Raphinha's 54.1 puts him ahead in that regard.

Nevertheless, whichever club gets Raphinha is buying not just attacking output, but defensive steel.
 

Top-class creativity 

As mentioned, Raphinha's attacking output is up there with the best the Premier League has had to offer in recent seasons, especially when Leeds' struggles last season are taken into account.

Only four forwards have created more goals in the competition than Raphinha since his Premier League debut, and just one – Tottenham star Son Heung-min (131) – has created more chances in total than his tally of 129.

Of those opportunities, 85 came from open play, ranking him third in the division's attackers behind Mane (93) and Mohamed Salah (101), with his 22 big chances trailing only Salah and Harry Kane (both 26).

 

Raphinha has attempted 286 dribbles, the third-highest total in the league behind Adama Traore and Allan Saint-Maximin, though his success rate (41.3) trails some way behind that duo.

Four forwards had more than Raphinha's 155 shots, though his conversion rate of just under 11 per cent shows an area of improvement if he is to succeed at one of Europe's elite clubs.
 

World Cup hopes

It was in Portugal, not his homeland, that Raphinha made his name, but ahead of Qatar 2022, he seems a shoo-in to make Tite's squad.

He has won nine caps since his first selection in October last year, when he assisted twice on just his second appearance in a 3-1 win over Venezuela before scoring twice on his full debut in a 4-1 rout of Uruguay. Raphinha's third international strike came in a 4-0 defeat of Paraguay.

While a place on the plane to Qatar should be secured, barring injury, Raphinha will be determined to ensure he is fighting for a place in Tite's starting XI.

Brazil's coach has plenty of options to choose from for both flanks; the aforementioned Richarlison and Jesus can play central or wide, while Real Madrid star Vinicius Junior is surely a certainty to start on the left. Ajax's Antony, Madrid's Rodrygo and Arsenal's Gabriel Martinelli and Everton, now back in Brazil with Flamengo, are all likely to be in that fight, too. 

Should he get his move to either London or Barcelona, Raphinha will get the opportunity to show Tite he truly can perform on the biggest stage.

Corentin Tolisso is hopeful that his move from Bayern Munich to Lyon will help secure him a return to the France fold ahead of the World Cup.

The 27-year-old's return to Lyon, with whom he started his career, was confirmed on Friday following the expiration of his Bayern contract. 

Tolisso spent five trophy-laden campaigns at the Allianz Arena, but he started just 12 matches in all competitions in an injury-plagued 2021-22 campaign.

He did not feature for France at all last season, with the most recent of his 28 senior caps coming at last year's rescheduled Euro 2020.

But after completing a move back to Lyon on a five-year deal, Tolisso is targeting a place in Didier Deschamps' squad in time for Qatar 2022.

"I didn't talk with [Deschamps about the decision. It was a personal one, though I talked a lot about it with my agents and my family," he said at a news conference.

"We said it was the best decision for me. The future will tell if I was right or wrong. Lyon is the right club for me to return to the French team and go to the World Cup.

"I am very proud and happy to be back in Lyon. The project seduced me. It's a good thing for me and my personal goal, which is to play in the World Cup."

Tolisso was a member of France's World Cup-winning squad four years ago and also won five Bundesliga titles and the Champions League during his time in Bavaria.

Injuries, including a cruciate ligament rupture that ruled the midfielder out for the majority of the 2018-19 season, restricted him to 118 games in five years with Bayern.

However, the Lyon youth product feels he learned a lot with the German giants and does not believe his injury issues are any longer a concern.

"I learned on both a human and professional level," he said. "I remember the trophies and how we won them. There are many things to remember. 

"I remember a lot of positive things. Of course, there were not only positive things, but that's also part of life, that's how it is. The negative experiences helped me to grow.

"I have gained more maturity and experience; I have learned a lot at Bayern Munich in these five years. I grew and learnt a new system, a new culture, a new mentality.

"As for the injuries, I passed the medical, which is already a good point. It's true that I had problems.

"I previously said that my worries were more psychological and mental than physical, for reasons I won't necessarily reveal today. 

"A lot of things have been going on in my head over the last year that have influenced the large number of injuries I've had. I did a lot of physical preparation. 

"Now I am ready. I passed some [physical] tests yesterday. It went extremely well so everyone can be reassured about my fitness. There will be no problem."

FIFA has confirmed it will utilise semi-automated VAR offside technology at the Qatar 2022 World Cup later this year, says head of refereeing Pierluigi Collina.

The move to introduce further advancements in the VAR process for this year's showpiece tournament has been ongoing over the past few months.

Following trials at the Arab Cup and Club World Cup, the fresh processes – which can cut VAR decision-making from 70 seconds to 25 seconds – is set to be implemented in the Gulf State in November.

Collina, a former World Cup final referee when he took charge of Brazil's win over Germany at Korea/Japan 2002, says the time is now to bring in semi-automated technology, which will further enhance decision-making.

"We are very positive. It is ready," he stated. "I read about robot referees. I understand this is very good for headlines, but it is not the case.

"The match officials are still involved in the decision-making process. The semi-automated technology only gives an answer when a player is in an offside position when they play the ball.

"The assessment of interfering with an opponent and seeing if a handball or foul was committed remains at the discretion of the referee. Our goal is to get referees taking decisions correctly on the field.

"If something wrong should happen, the referee may take advantage of the technology to get a better vision of what happened – but there will still be room for discussion."

Semi-automated technology will make use of in-ball sensors, dedicated multi-tracking camera rigs and 29 rapid data points on players to help calculate exact positions.

The Qatar 2022 World Cup opens on November 21, with Senegal facing the Netherlands and England squaring off with Iran before the hosts play the official opening game against Ecuador.

Spain's triumph at Euro 2012 proved to be the final flourish for one of the greatest ever international sides, with La Roja winning three consecutive international tournaments.

Prior to victory in Euro 2008, Spain had not won an international competition since 1964 and had been perennial underachievers. 

But that swiftly changed with the Euros win followed up by World Cup success in South Africa in 2010 before the successful defence of their continental crown.

The triumph in 2012 was the end of an era, however, with Spain eliminated in the group stages of the 2014 World Cup, bowing out at in the last 16 at Euro 2016 and then losing to hosts Russia on penalties at the 2018 World Cup.

However, a turn in fortunes was shown at Euro 2020, played in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, when Spain reached the semi-finals of the competition, narrowly losing to eventual champions Italy.

Now, all eyes are focused on Qatar this year. With Spain in a tough group alongside Germany, Japan and Costa Rica, a new dawn of young talents will be decisive to the hopes of the nation.
 

Pedri

Pedri's international debut came in Spain's second World Cup qualifying match against Georgia and he soon established himself as a core part of the squad for Euro 2020, where he played all but a single minute and was named Young Player of the Tournament.

In the semi-final against Italy, Pedri shone as he completed 65 of 67 passing attempts and overall at the tournament, he failed to complete just 40 of 461 attempts, resulting in a passing accuracy of 91 per cent.

Understandably, this has led to the general consensus that Pedri is the heir apparent to Xavi and Andres Iniesta, who were vital for Spain's glory years a decade ago, and under the stewardship of the former at Barcelona, expectations are high.

Still a teenager and only turning 20 in the days after what is expected to be his World Cup debut against Costa Rica on November 23, his calm and composed demeanour will help to keep Spain ticking through midfield in Qatar.

Gavi

The other half of Barcelona's exciting midfield duo, Gavi too has settled into Spain's international fold since his debut appearance in the semi-finals of the Nations League against Italy – where he became the youngest-ever player to represent Spain's senior squad.

A further record would tumble last month in the Nations League clash against the Czech Republic, where he became his country's youngest-ever scorer, and he has accumulated 10 appearances for his national side in less than a year.

Gavi's creativity has proven to be a stellar asset for his national side and his movement across the field, shown by his touches during his international career, is extremely difficult to track – and noticeably touches inside the box are few and far between.

Just 14 of 321 touches have come inside the 18-yard box, with his work tending to orientate from a deeper role. That is reflected by his passes – with just eight passing attempts inside the box and the remaining 234 coming outside.

Ansu Fati

Earning an international debut in September 2020 against Germany, then scoring a few days later against Ukraine, Ansu Fati notched up four caps for Spain before the close of that year but injury problems derailed his progress for club and country.

A nine-month absence began in November 2020, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season, and a further injury setback occurred in January this year which saw him miss three months of the campaign before his return in May.

While his international football has been limited ahead of the World Cup, expectations remain high at Barcelona where he has netted 19 goals during his career – with 15 of those strikes coming from inside the box.

That results in a significant asset for Spain, as Pedri and Gavi often provide the sort of passes that Fati thrives on.

Fati could prove particularly important given La Roja are limited with central options in the attacking third.

Eric Garcia

While not commanding as many headlines as other young talents within the Spain squad, Eric Garcia's role in the years ahead is vital given the ageing defensive line La Roja have at their disposal.

In the most recent call-ups in June, Garcia was the only defender under the age of 25 and one of only three beneath 30, alongside Pau Torres and Diego Llorente, which shows a clear changing of the guard lying ahead.

Garcia is likely to be one of the first names on Spain's teamsheet in the heart of defence, with 17 caps since making his international debut in 2020 and having started five of Spain's World Cup qualifying matches.

In true Spain style, one of his greatest assets is his ability on the ball and he showcased that last month in Spain's 2-0 Nations League against the Czech Republic, where Garcia completed 110 of 115 pass attempts.

Pedri has been hailed as "the Iniesta, the Xavi" of the Spain team that will go after World Cup glory in Qatar.

The praise came from former Liverpool and Newcastle United left-back Jose Enrique, a player who was crowded out of the Spain squad by the country's last golden generation.

Jose Enrique's peak playing years coincided with Spain's most dominant period in international football, and although he does not consider Luis Enrique's squad quite at that same level, the likes of Barcelona youngster Pedri make him optimistic for the World Cup.

Spain won Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and Euro 2012 in a sensational period of dominance. They have not won a major tournament since, but a burgeoning group of young talent is emerging once again, with 19-year-old midfielder Pedri among the most exciting talents in the world game.

"To me, the player that has more projection in terms of image on that team is Pedri, he won't be out of the team," said Jose Enrique.

"You also have Ferran Torres doing well for Barcelona and Pau [Torres], the central defender of Villarreal; I think he will be key for the team as well."

Speaking to Stats Perform, Jose Enrique said Spain's final squad for the finals would be "difficult to predict" due to head coach Luis Enrique often filtering players in and out of his squad.

"But to choose one who will make the difference 100 per cent, and that already did in the past, it is Pedri," Jose Enrique said.

"For me, he is the star of the national team, the Iniesta, the Xavi. Back in that day it was different because there were many and that is why Spain won everything. But if you mention Spain now, the first player that comes to my mind is Pedri."

Pedri endured an injury-disrupted 2021-22 season with Barcelona, scoring five goals and having one assist in 22 games across all competitions. Only five Barcelona players created more chances than the 31 he carved out.

In the previous season, he played a team-high 52 matches, going on to win Tuttosport's prized Golden Boy award as Europe's top young talent. He will be expected to continue to grow into his responsible role in coach Xavi's Barcelona team in the new season.

Barcelona greats Xavi and Iniesta were at the heart of Spain's indomitable midfield for their three successive big tournament triumphs.

Jose Enrique was starring in the Premier League at the time but got no further than the Spain Under-21 team, such was the strength throughout the national squad.

He says the current group of players and the pool that brought glory to Spain during a dazzling four-year period cannot be compared, but stressed that does not mean the new breed cannot be successful.

A run to the Euro 2020 semi-finals was a step in the right direction for Spain, after a run of disappointing big-stage performances, fuelling Jose Enrique's belief they will be a threat when Qatar hosts in November and December.

Spain must navigate a challenging group that will see them face Germany, Japan and Costa Rica.

"Spain will always be one of the favourites because I believe that Spain always is," Jose Enrique said. "But to win a World Cup isn't easy and Spain did it: Euro-World Cup-Euro when they had a brutal selection of players, and now it is completely different.

"It has a magnificent coach and a squad that changes depending on the players' performances and I love this about Luis Enrique, but it is true that we cannot compare.

"We now have a young squad with few veterans, and they could win the World Cup because anything can happen in football. England had a very young squad and made it to the [2018 World Cup] semi-finals.

"Youngsters have more support than before and Spain can be a surprise because Luis Enrique knows very well how to play. He has young players but full of desire and hunger. The most important thing for me is to start well. If they do, they are capable to win against any team, and why not Germany."

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