Fernando Santos questioned the referee's performance after Portugal suffered the first defeat of their Nations League campaign to Switzerland.

Haris Seferovic opened the scoring after just 55 seconds in Geneva, the fastest goal in Nations League history and earliest Switzerland have scored since 1988.

Referee Fran Jovic awarded a penalty to Switzerland 13 minutes later for a handball against Nuno Mendes, but the VAR overruled the decision.

A clear foul on Andre Silva by Nico Elvedi on the halfway line was the reason, with the Portugal striker requiring brief medical treatment for the ankle injury suffered in the tackle.

Portugal were incensed at the original decision, surrounding Jovic at half-time, and tempers continued to boil over in the second half, with Bruno Fernandes confronting the Swiss bench at one point.

While Santos refused to directly criticise the referee's performance, he admitted his frustrations with Switzerland seemingly slowing down the game en route to a 1-0 victory.

"I'm not going to criticise, but when a penalty is awarded that doesn't happen just like that, when there's a clear foul in midfield... Then just look at the number of fouls and time lost," he told reporters. 

"The fourth official knows very well what happened in the game."

Santos was satisfied with the second-half improvement, even if Swiss goalkeeper Jonas Omlin's heroics left Portugal a point behind group leaders Spain, who defeated Czech Republic on Sunday.

"At half-time, I was just saying that we have to have the ball and play differently and push them back," he added. 

"We started very well, in the first few minutes we wanted to put the ball very quickly on [Goncalo] Guedes. We knew opportunities would arise and many have arisen."

Portugal are not in action again until visiting Czech Republic in the Nations League on September 24.

Portugal suffered their first defeat of the Nations League campaign after Haris Seferovic scored the winner in a 1-0 victory for Switzerland in Geneva.

Switzerland had lost all three of their Group A2 fixtures, including a 4-0 hammering in the reverse fixture, but took the lead through Seferovic inside the first minute.

Fernando Santos' side were repeatedly denied by Swiss goalkeeper Jonas Omlin in search of an equaliser, with the absence of the injured talisman Cristiano Ronaldo particularly noticeable for the visitors.

Defeat left Portugal a point behind Spain at the summit of the group, while Switzerland picked up their first win to move one point behind Czech Republic in third.

Switzerland raced out the blocks as Seferovic headed into the bottom-left corner from Silvan Widmer's right-wing cross after just 55 seconds – the fastest goal in Nations League history.

The hosts thought they had a penalty 13 minutes later for a Nuno Mendes handball, but a lengthy VAR check ruled the spot-kick out for an earlier Nico Elvedi foul on Andre Silva.

Omlin kept his side ahead by denying a close-range Danilo Pereira header, before Rafael Leao headed home shortly after, only to be ruled out for offside.

Omlin also stopped a low Andre Silva drive after the interval, while Remo Freuler drilled just wide at the other end.

Seferovic almost extended Switzerland's lead but arrowed narrowly off target on a rapid counter-attack before Omlin beat away a swerving Bernardo Silva long-range strike.

The Montpellier stopper carried on his fantastic performance by pushing away a sliding Goncalo Guedes effort and a low Diogo Jota header as Switzerland held on for victory.

What does it mean? Portugal's top-spot hopes dented

Portugal were arguably fortunate to snatch a draw in their Nations League opener with Spain, but then recorded convincing victories over Switzerland and Czech Republic.

However, they came unstuck in Geneva and were largely off the pace, handing Spain the advantage in Group A2.

With only one team progressing, Portugal may end up needing to beat Spain on the final matchday in September.

Swift Seferovic

Not only was Seferovic's smart flick to open the scoring the fastest goal in Nations League history, but it was also Switzerland's earliest goal since 1988.

The striker became the first Swiss player to score in the first minute of a game in 34 years, since Alain Sutter managed to do so in World Cup qualifying against Luxembourg.

Sorry Silva

Andre Silva was tasked with leading the line in the absence of Ronaldo, but failed to leave his mark against Elvedi and Manuel Akanji.

The RB Leipzig striker was caught offside on a game-high two occasions, the first in the build-up to Leao's disallowed header, and made just 15 passes all match.

What's next?

Portugal are not in action until a Nations League away clash at Czech Republic on September 24, when Switzerland also visit Spain.

Cristiano Ronaldo was left out of the Portugal squad for their Nations League meeting with Switzerland on Sunday. 

Portugal captain Ronaldo, Joao Moutinho and Raphael Guerreiro did not travel with the team for the match in Geneva. 

With his team sitting top of Group A2, Fernando Santos took the chance to grant the Manchester United striker a rest. 

Asked about the absences, Santos replied: "They are not because of physical problems – it's just normal management. 

"It wouldn't make sense to have 26 travelling to Switzerland when only 23 can be in the squad. In the last game we've been doing the best management and now it has fallen to these players." 

Even without Ronaldo, midfielder Ruben Neves has no doubt that Portugal have enough quality to claim a third win of the campaign. 

"Obviously, Cristiano is the best player in the world and it's always good to play with him," said Neves. 

"But I'm sure we're all prepared to help bring home another three points." 

Spain boss Luis Enrique was in a prickly mood as he defended his team's performance after a 1-0 win over Switzerland in the Nations League on Thursday.

Pablo Sarabia scored the lone goal of the match in the 13th minute, getting on the end of Marcos Llorente's driven pass across the penalty area for a simple tap-in after a quick regain of possession.

That Sarabia's goal came in that scenario spoke to the nature of Spain's possession over the 90 minutes, with Switzerland firing just as many shots with 34 per cent of the ball in comparison to La Roja's 66 per cent.

When asked on Diego Llorente's second start in three games, after making only three appearances since 2020 coming into this international window, Luis Enrique went on the front foot both on selection and approach.

"I know a lot about football and he [Llorente] comes because he is among the best," 'Lucho' said. "He has played continuously. Both him and Pau [Torres]. They found [Sergio] Busquets many times, which is important.

"Marco Asensio has given us things. Morata has been spectacular and with either as our number nine, they have put us favourable scenarios.

"Yes, when they pressure us, they take us to one side of the pitch and we don't have solutions. When you do it very well you can hit a ball up to the forward, and we alter their pressure.

"We are good there too, but it is not our identity. Our identity is to play with the ball. In these games, I insist. You have to have personality to play."

 

Much like in the Euro 2020 quarter-final, Switzerland were able to create specific problems in transition, while remaining compact in defensive phases to largely deny Spain sustainable avenues to goal.

It has been a running theme for Luis Enrique's side in this start to the Nations League, where high volumes of possession did not translate to dominance in shot volume and quality in draws against Portugal and the Czech Republic.

The 52-year-old Spain boss pointed to Switzerland's quality as a team and their record at home – where they were previously unbeaten in a competitive game since 2014 – to validate his own team's performance.

"Switzerland are in the World Cup and will give us problems," Enrique said. "For me the mistake is not having the ball in the opposite end of the field. We defend with the ball.

"The result conditions everything. This is how football works. This team had 23 matches without losing an official match at home. Winning away is very difficult. It has cost, how could it be otherwise.

"The game is conditioned by the result. I'm happy for the spirit of the players and their attitude. It is a positive match that gives us the possibility to still depend on ourselves.

"Switzerland have been undefeated for eight years, 23 official games without losing at home and we had the opportunity to beat them."

Spain earned their first victory of the Nations League campaign in Switzerland on Thursday, winning 1-0 courtesy of an early Pablo Sarabia goal.

Finalists in the previous edition, Spain were frustrated in a draw with Portugal and then snatched a point against the Czech Republic before heading to Stade de Geneve.

Luis Enrique's side were not entirely convincing but got their win at the third time of asking, with Switzerland unable to respond to Sarabia's 13th-minute strike.

Bigger aims are on the horizon for La Roja, yet they remain firmly in contention for another Nations League run as a result.

Early Spanish pressure told when Marcos Llorente got in behind and squared for a simple Sarabia finish, with the scorer given the benefit of the doubt following a marginal offside call and lengthy VAR review.

Switzerland's only first-half attempts were miscued headers from Breel Embolo and Eray Comert, who each might have done better, although Sarabia also passed up an opportunity for his second when he blazed over.

Chances were even more sparse into the second half, with Switzerland gaining a foothold without really threatening.

Llorente whipped a left-footed shot wide, but Sarabia had continued to be the game's most dangerous player and his withdrawal just past the hour mark teed up a low-key finale.

What does it mean? Another successful Swiss trip

The Nations League ensures Spain are regularly playing high-level opponents, but there may have been some concern if the national team went three competitive matches without a victory in a World Cup year.

A trip to Switzerland was the ideal tonic then, for Spain are now unbeaten in all of their 11 matches in the country – their best such record anywhere.

Pablo predictably pivotal

Escaping the Paris Saint-Germain bench, Sarabia enjoyed an outstanding season at Sporting CP and has also become a key figure at international level. He has scored three goals and assisted another in his past four appearances, with his nine goal involvements in the past 12 months leading all Spain players.

Llorente's involvement in the goal was perhaps a little less expected. A superb player he may be, but this was the Atletico Madrid man's second assist outside of Spain for club or country across his entire career.

Gavi given rough treatment

Barcelona teenager Gavi catches the eye every time he plays, and this match was no different in that sense, with one outrageous sequence seeing the midfield execute a 'sombrero' over Xherdan Shaqiri and then dance past Granit Xhaka.

But that piece of skill, like other rare moments of Spanish brilliance, was followed by a foul. Switzerland conceded 21 of them, including seven to poor Alvaro Morata.

What's next?

Spain get another shot at the Czech Republic, this time at home on Sunday, when Switzerland host Portugal.

Portugal boss Fernando Santos does not know what else can be said about Cristiano Ronaldo after his starring role in Sunday's Nations League win over Switzerland.

The veteran forward bounced back from being benched for Thursday's opener against Spain with a brace as he led the hosts to a 4-0 rout in Lisbon.

The result maintained an unbeaten start to the latest iteration of the competition for Portugal - and further underlined the vital role their captain plays in their success.

Speaking afterwards, Santos - who together with Ronaldo delivered Euro 2016 glory six years ago - admitted he has no further words to describe one of the game's greatest figures.

"I don't know what else to say," Santos said. "I will repeat that he is the best player in the world.

"What more can I say? I think it's all been said."

"I'm a coach who's happy when I win and when the team plays like they've practiced," Santos added to SportTV of Portugal's overall performance.

"After the first few minutes, we got the ball back and controlled the game. We could have done one or two more in the first half.

"In the second half the pace dropped, [but] the players are not machines. We scored another goal.

"Switzerland created some problems, but we always found the right solutions. It's more to Portugal's credit."

 

Cristiano Ronaldo gave an emphatic reminder of his value to Portugal as he fired them to a 4-0 victory over Switzerland in the Nations League.

The veteran forward and captain was rested to the bench for his country's opener with Spain on Thursday, forced to make do with a half-hour cameo in the 1-1 draw.

But the Manchester United star sent a searing message of his indispensability to coach Fernando Santos on his return to the starting line-up, bagging a double after setting up the opener for the hosts at Estadio Jose Alvalade.

For Murat Yakin's Swiss visitors, a second defeat of the Nations League in as many games leaves them facing a tough remaining schedule, after losing to the Czech Republic last time out.

It could have been so different though, after a lively start in Lisbon looked to have thrown up a wretched start for the hosts when Haris Seferovic prodded in from close range amid a crowded box.

Portugal were let off the hook, however, when VAR intervened to deem Fabian Schar had committed a handball infringement in the build-up from Xherdan Shaqiri's corner.

After that early scare, Santos' side sought to impose themselves and were rewarded on the quarter-hour mark when William Carvalho tapped home the rebound after Ronaldo's free-kick was pushed out.

From there, Ronaldo unfurled his instinct for hitting goals in rapid succession, first doubling his side's lead with a smooth strike from Diogo Jota's cut-back in the 35th minute, before adding a second for himself four minutes later with a tap-in.

The captain almost had a hat-trick before the break, steering an effort wide, and even as the goals dried up after the interval, he remained a potent marshal for Portugal's steady hold on the encounter.

With a three-goal cushion a bridge too far for Switzerland, the visitors proved particularly toothless in response. When Joao Cancelo struck in the 68th minute, what little resistance the Swiss had displayed perished as the hosts steered themselves to a resounding victory.

Tite says Brazil were dealt with neither the group of "death nor of life" after they were drawn to face Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon in the 2022 World Cup.

The Selecao faced Switzerland and Serbia in the last World Cup in Russia four years ago, so there was a sense of deja vu when the draw was made in Doha on Friday.

As the top-ranked side in the world, Brazil will be expected to win Group G, which also includes Cameroon.

But Brazil boss Title says there will be no room for complacency.

He told reporters: "It is neither [the group] of death nor of life. Everything is the same [as Brazil’s group at Russia 2018] – all that was missing was Costa Rica!

"We're talking about Switzerland and Serbia, the teams who stopped Italy and Portugal, and also a Cameroon team that is very strong in Africa.

"We will have to raise our own game."

All three of Brazil's opponents qualified for the tournament as group winners, but Tite is focused on ensuring his side are in the best possible condition to take the tournament by storm.

"That is part of the chapter of a book. Now it's another reality, another moment," he said.

"We have to consolidate this work now. There are eight, nine more months until the end of the year. We have to confirm an evolution of the team, to affirm the quality of the team, that the athletes individually can be in their best condition.

"We have to do an invisible job of monitoring them, which for the fans maybe do not see, but it's the medical follow-up, the physical follow-up, the follow-up of the technical commission with the athlete himself.

"All this [while] respecting their clubs. We have to have all the follow-up and guidance so that they can be in the best conditions, apart from the preparatory games that we will have until the World Cup. This is the most important thing for me."

Brazil will face Serbia in their opening game of the tournament on November 24.

Tite says Brazil were dealt with neither the group of "death nor of life" after they were drawn to face Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon in the 2022 World Cup.

The Selecao faced Switzerland and Serbia in the last World Cup in Russia four years ago, so there was a sense of deja vu when the draw was made in Doha on Friday.

As the top-ranked side in the world, Brazil will be expected to win Group G, which also includes Cameroon.

But Brazil boss Title says there will be no room for complacency.

He told reporters: "It is neither [the group] of death nor of life. Everything is the same [as Brazil’s group at Russia 2018] – all that was missing was Costa Rica!

"We're talking about Switzerland and Serbia, the teams who stopped Italy and Portugal, and also a Cameroon team that is very strong in Africa.

"We will have to raise our own game."

All three of Brazil's opponents qualified for the tournament as group winners, but Tite is focused on ensuring his side are in the best possible condition to take the tournament by storm.

"That is part of the chapter of a book. Now it's another reality, another moment," he said.

"We have to consolidate this work now. There are eight, nine more months until the end of the year. We have to confirm an evolution of the team, to affirm the quality of the team, that the athletes individually can be in their best condition.

"We have to do an invisible job of monitoring them, which for the fans maybe do not see, but it's the medical follow-up, the physical follow-up, the follow-up of the technical commission with the athlete himself.

"All this [while] respecting their clubs. We have to have all the follow-up and guidance so that they can be in the best conditions, apart from the preparatory games that we will have until the World Cup. This is the most important thing for me."

Brazil will face Serbia in their opening game of the tournament on November 24.

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.

It's nearly four years since Didier Deschamps became only the third man to win the World Cup as a player and coach, as he guided France to their second success on football's grandest stage.

The target now for Les Bleus is to become the first nation since Brazil in 1962 to retain their crown, and that journey begins on Friday with the draw for the group stage of Qatar 2022.

Four years is a long time to wait for anything, but the draw for the World Cup is always a milestone event that sees the anticipation taken up a notch.

The eyes of the football world will be on the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center, where the eight groups will be drawn and potential routes to December's finale can start being plotted.

But there is a little more to the draw than that…

 

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, Friday's 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 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.

Luke Shaw appeared to suggest he finds greater enjoyment in his football when playing for England than Manchester United. 

Shaw scored the Three Lions' equaliser in Saturday's 2-1 friendly win over Switzerland, which was secured by a second-half Harry Kane penalty. 

That was Shaw's sixth goal involvement in his past eight matches for England, with the left-back seemingly established as first choice for Gareth Southgate. 

He remains a reliable creative source at club level as well, with his five assists across all competitions in 2021-22 bettered by only Paul Pogba (nine) and Bruno Fernandes (13), while the latter (107) is also the only United player to create more chances than Shaw (47). 

But much like club and international colleague Harry Maguire, Shaw's United form has been criticised at times this term, especially with regard to his defensive positioning in an extremely porous backline – only four teams have faced more shots on target in the Premier League this season than the Red Devils (143). 

That would understandably be difficult to enjoy for a defender, but Shaw's frankness about the situation will likely raise eyebrows at Old Trafford. 

"The environment here that Gareth creates, you always enjoy it," Shaw told reporters at Wembley. 

"When I come here it's about enjoyment and playing games with a smile on my face. We all love playing for our country and when we're here we're all focused on what's happening here." 

Shaw was then asked if he had to be happy in order to find his best form, to which he replied: "I think everyone does. 

"It's always important to feel like you're wanted and especially here I always feel that. I'm not saying I don't at United, but especially here, the way things are, I feel wanted and I enjoy my football. 

"A big part of football is the enjoyment and, of course, it's hard to enjoy when we're losing and not playing well at club level. We have to face that. 

"This season hasn't been good enough at all and it's hard to enjoy. We've got a lot to improve but right now we're here at England. My focus is on that." 

Gareth Southgate is not worried about the prospect of Harry Kane struggling with pressure as he closes on Wayne Rooney's England goals record.

Kane scored the winner as the Three Lions beat Switzerland 2-1 in Saturday's friendly at Wembley, converting a penalty 12 minutes from time.

It took him level with Bobby Charlton on 49 goals for England, meaning only Rooney on 53 is now ahead of the Tottenham star.

Rooney, who coincidentally broke Charlton's initial record with a penalty against Switzerland in 2015, was considered by many to have passed his peak when he reached 50 goals, as he only went on to score another three.

There was also a degree of obsession around the achievement in the lead up, with the idea that Rooney struggled somewhat with the pressure a common theory.

Whether that truly was the case, only Rooney knows, but Southgate is convinced Kane will not be impacted in such a way.

Asked if he wanted Kane to break the record before the World Cup so it does not become a distraction, Southgate jovially replied: "I'd like him to break it in the World Cup final!

"I think he's quite calm about it, confident he can get there because his goals per game record is phenomenally good.

"I don't know where that would compare to Jimmy Greaves, but I imagine he's the only other player who'd be close [to Greaves], so I think he knows there's always going to be speculation.

"If he doesn't break it before [the World Cup] then [the country] will be saying he's out of form and should he be in the team.

"One way or another, the focus will be on him – he's used to dealing with it and I'm sure he'll be very calm about it whichever way."

But in the eyes of Southgate, there is much more to Kane than just his goals, with the England manager delighted to have such a talent who also acts as an example with his attitude.

"I think the names he's amongst now are incredible, aren't they? He'll appreciate that history and it'll mean a lot to him to be in with those people," Southgate said of Kane pulling level with Charlton.

"You'd have to say he looks favourite to go and do that [break Rooney's record], I don't want to put any sort of curse on that and say any more, but he wants the team to do well.

"He has this dual drive. What's great is that means that whenever he turns up, because he also has the individual ambition, there's never a camp where he doesn't look like he wants to play, or doesn't want to be involved or at the forefront of things.

"That's the mentality that then spreads through the rest of the group, so I'm very pleased for him and I think in the second half especially we were just about value for the win."

England are in action again on Tuesday when they host Ivory Coast. Three days later they will find out their opponents at Qatar 2022 when the World Cup draw is made.

Harry Kane appreciated being alongside "amazing company" after joining Bobby Charlton on 49 goals for England with his penalty in a 2-1 win over Switzerland. 

England fell behind to Breel Embolo's opener at Wembley on Saturday but Luke Shaw equalised on the stroke of half-time and Kane converted a winner from the spot after Steven Zuber was adjudged to have handled the ball following a VAR review. 

The Tottenham striker now sits joint-second on the all-time goalscoring list for the Three Lions, with only Wayne Rooney (53) ahead of him. 

Kane's penalty was his 14th in international football – five more than any other England player – and the 100th the country have scored in all competitions.

"It is amazing company to be with," Kane told Sky Sports of moving level with Charlton. 

"[I'm] super proud to be doing that but we look forward to the next one. A big year ahead to get more caps and more goals. I will be ready for Tuesday [against Ivory Coast] but it is down to the manager." 

He added: "You have to be ready for any chance at any moment. Penalties are a great way of getting on the scoresheet, I practice and work on them a lot." 

Gareth Southgate handed debuts to Marc Guehi, Kyle Walker-Peters and Tyrick Mitchell and Kane was pleased to get the win with a number of less experienced players in the squad. 

"Tough game. A big year ahead and a chance for us to try different systems and formations to see how we get on. I felt it was a good performance but room for improvement but a good win to start the year," he said. 

"We rotated the squad, new faces getting debuts and these are the games you have to try stuff. There is not a lot of time between now and the World Cup. 

"The new boys did great, really well. Marc Guehi got the penalty and good to see the young players coming on. You want to start your England career with a win and thankfully we did that." 

England began their World Cup year with a 2-1 friendly victory over Switzerland at Wembley on Saturday thanks to Harry Kane's late winner.

The Three Lions were by no means spectacular, but Gareth Southgate will in all likelihood be content as they got the job done despite fielding a somewhat unfamiliar starting XI.

Nevertheless, Southgate may have expected more from a first half that Switzerland had by far the better of, with Breel Embolo's headed opener one of nine shots to England's two.

But a fierce Luke Shaw hit right before the break had the hosts level at the interval.

The hosts enjoyed greater control in the second half and eventually dealt the decisive blow via Kane's penalty, his 49th international strike, leaving him behind only Wayne Rooney (53) for the most England goals.

Victory looked unlikely for a while, however. The Three Lions found themselves trailing after 22 minutes as Embolo nodded in from Xherdan Shaqiri's right-wing cross.

It would have been 2-0 a few moments later were it not for Jordan Pickford, whose sharp reflexes ensured Fabian Frei's goal-bound effort was pushed onto the crossbar.

Ricardo Rodriguez's long-range strike forced Pickford into action again late in the half, before Embolo scuffed the rebound wide.

England capitalised on those let-offs on the stroke of half-time when Shaw ran on to Conor Gallagher's cut-back and smashed home from 20 yards.

Shortly after the restart, Kane's attempted lob from a tight angle came back off goalkeeper Jonas Omlin's face and debutant Marc Guehi's glancing header at the resulting corner flew agonisingly wide.

England's belief grew as the half progressed and Kane made no mistake from the spot late on after Steven Zuber handled Guehi's header inside the box.

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