Eden Hazard is "medically perfect" but there is concern about the Belgium star's injury problems, according to national team boss Roberto Martinez.

The playmaker has endured a miserable time in Spain due to persistent physical issues since his move from Chelsea in 2019 for a reported €100million (£88.5m).

Hazard has only completed four matches for Los Blancos in all competitions, scoring just five goals in 51 appearances in total, as patience over his lack of availability runs thin among fans and local media.

The 30-year-old impressed in the first half of the Nations League semi-final against France last week, as Belgium took a 2-0 lead into half-time, but he was taken off in the 74th minute as Martinez's side went on to lose 3-2 to the world champions.

Hazard sat out the 2-1 third-place play-off defeat to Italy, Martinez saying he was suffering from "muscle fatigue" but adding he did not know how long the former Lille star would need to recover.

Indeed, Martinez has found it difficult to determine why Hazard, a player he believes can still challenge for the Ballon d'Or, has endured so many injuries since his move to Spain two years ago.

"It's certainly true that Eden is not now in a physical situation to be at 100 per cent for 90 minutes," Martinez told El Larguero. "What's important now is to have patience, to work well and try to get Hazard, bit by bit, to get back to that level he's always had.

 

"His situation in Spain is very atypical. He found a situation that's new for him, because he was never injured and suddenly finds himself over the course of two years with no explanation for so many injuries.

"We're all worried and I'm sure Real Madrid are as well. He's a player who needs the ball, needs to dribble, and in order to reach his maximum physical level, he needs to play games.

"What I've seen is that he is medically perfect. The first 45 minutes [against France] were really enjoyable. We hope that, between Real Madrid and the national team, we can help him so he can get the minutes he needs. If he's at the level of those 45 minutes against France, I'm sure he'll bring a lot of success to Belgium, but especially to Real Madrid."

Martinez's future has come under scrutiny in recent weeks following reports he was a prime candidate to take over from Ronald Koeman as Barcelona head coach.

That was until Barca president Joan Laporta insisted he would give Koeman time to turn things around amid a run of just two wins in eight matches in all competitions.

Regardless, Martinez says he has not spoken to the club and has not yet decided if he will commit to the Belgium job beyond next year's World Cup in Qatar.

"It's been a difficult period because it seems like you don't want to answer, but the truth is they've not had any contact with me," he said.

"You know how rumours with coaches work. It's nothing more than an anecdote that helps me start the day with a smile.

"I still haven't decided [if I will stay after the World Cup]. Whenever I talk about my future, I don't usually clarify it.

"We're continuing a really beautiful, ambitious project and you have to think day by day. I've learned that the emotional side of a national team is on another level to what happens at a club."

Raphael Varane is set to be out for "a few weeks" after sustaining an injury in France's Nations League final win, Manchester United have confirmed.

Varane had to be replaced by Dayot Upamecano just before half-time in Les Bleus' 2-1 victory over Spain.

The centre-back went to ground off the ball and was quickly withdrawn from the match, with United now confirming he sustained a groin injury.

A brief statement read: "Raphael Varane sustained a groin muscle injury in the Nations League final and has commenced rehabilitation at the club.

"He will be out for a few weeks."

It comes as a massive blow to United and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ahead of a potentially pivotal few weeks.

While it is unclear exactly how many games Varane will miss, the central defender will be absent for a chunk of what looks set to be a gruelling run of matches.

United face Leicester City, Atalanta twice, Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City all in the next four weeks.

After a rather erratic start to 2021-22 consisting of just five wins from 10 matches across all competitions, Solskjaer heads into the upcoming run under pressure.

To make matters worse, there was already uncertainty over the condition of captain – and Varane's regular centre-back partner – Harry Maguire, who missed the clashes with Villarreal and Everton due to a calf injury before the international break that prevented him from linking up with England.

Whether Maguire will be fit to face former club Leicester at the weekend is yet to be determined, meaning the rather haphazard Eric Bailly and the dislodged Victor Lindelof could form an unfamiliar partnership at the back.

Although United have come in for criticism so far this term, Varane's early form has largely been considered positive and he has performed an important function in getting the team on the front foot, with his 7.6 passes into the final third per 90 minutes the most among the club's defenders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luis Enrique lauded Spain "pillar" Sergio Busquets after his exploits in the country's trophy-less Nations League Finals campaign.

Spain fell short in Sunday's Nations League final, beaten 2-1 by reigning world champions France at San Siro in Milan.

Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe cancelled out Mikel Oyarzabal's 64th-minute opener and while Spain were left emptyhanded, veteran captain Busquets produced another impressive display in the middle of the nation's rebuilding project.

Busquets provided his 10th assist for Spain and first since November 2019 having teed up Oyarzabal, while the 33-year-old captain led the team in tackles (four) and total duels (17) after finishing with a 92.2 per cent passing accuracy – only bettered by Eric Garcia for La Roja.

"Busquets has been named the best player of the tournament. That says a lot about his level. He's vital for us. He's the captain, but not only that," Luis Enrique said during his post-match news conference.

"He's also somebody who gives some values off the pitch and on the pitch. He gives you calmness, quietness. He's our pillar on which our defensive and attacking game are based.

"How much we've won, I don't know, but I know we were able to win against the European champions and play almost evenly with the world champions, so for the players and the team, that is all good.

"And of course, every time it will be more difficult for me to make the next selection, and that is good for me and good for us. The important thing is the team maintains its personality and will to win."

Spain ended the decider with 63.9 per cent possession and 624 passes, compared to France's 354 total passes.

Luis Enrique's Spain were left to rue a missed opportunity, having lost to eventual champions Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 semi-finals.

"Nothing was missing. It was a shame that once we scored that opening goal, that France went up the other end. It was a shame to concede when we just scored, because that's when France were at their weakest. That's the only regret we can have," the former Barcelona boss added.

"What are we missing? We're not missing anything at all. We still need to keep that same confidence, and we need to try press ahead with what we've been doing." 

"As usual, no matter who we're playing against, Spain will always play its game," Luis Enrique said. "Sometimes we play a bit better than other times, but that's normal. But I think all fans would agree that Spain always plays the same way. No matter where, no matter against whom. So I am satisfied with what I have seen this tournament."

France head coach Didier Deschamps hailed "crucial" Karim Benzema after the star forward guided Les Bleus to Nations League glory.

Benzema scored a stunning equaliser as world champions France came from behind to beat Spain 2-1 in Sunday's final in Milan.

After Mikel Oyarzabal broke the deadlock, Benzema struck moments later in sublime fashion to restore parity before Kylian Mbappe settled the contest 10 minutes from the end.

Benzema ended the Nations League Finals as the joint leading scorer alongside Mbappe and Spain's Ferran Torres to cap a particularly pleasing campaign for the Real Madrid talisman, who had spent more than five years in international exile before returning ahead of Euro 2020.

"Karim is a crucial player, and he has proven over the course of these two matches that he has very obvious talent," Deschamps told reporters.

"It's there for all to see, he is really kicked on from what he has been showing at club level with Real Madrid, he's got that desperate will to win. He's here exactly to do that, and he's communicated a great deal with his teammates, I am very happy for everyone, but especially for him.

"He needed that, he's not going to play another four or five international competitions, at least I don't think so. It's not the most important trophy, but he did everything, and he was very significant for us when it came to coming here and winning the Nations League. 

"It's important of course to have come from behind and equalised. I am personally very happy for Karim, that's why he is here. He scores a bucket-load of goals with his club and he does likewise for France, and besides the goals that he scores... he has that wonderful will to win, and you can see that come out.

"I am delighted as for the future of course, it is very important, besides the talent that he or other players might possess, there also this mental strength he's got this competitive edge which is absolutely crucial at the highest level."

Deschamps' France are now unbeaten in 25 competitive matches, only doing better once in their history between 1994 and 1999, thanks to exploits of Benzema and Mbappe at San Siro.

Mbappe finished the Nations League Finals with four goal involvements – more than any other player.

Deschamps, whose France were shocked by Switzerland in the last 16 at Euro 2020, added: "There are no regrets in football, that is part of the past, some people might agree or disagree, but there was a 10-minute window when we had a bit of a black-out [against Switzerland].

"And the scenario went against us here, we went behind by two goals [in the semi-final against Belgium], that can happen, but it was all about what we had done well before. But it was of course a bit of a sudden stop, and we did of course have ambitions to go further. But it's not a case that you have to throw everything out of the window, throw the baby out with the bathwater, quite the opposite.

"Even if it is not the same personnel. We have some young players who have very few caps, like Theo Hernandez, or Aurelien Tchouameni this evening. We threw them in there. And the team's level didn't suffer, there will be a lot of effervescence in this side, there will be competition for places and for those that are in form as you know the best possible remedy is to win trophies and there was something up for grabs tonight and I am very happy for the entire squad that was here during the two games that we won here." 

Karim Benzema hailed France's comeback ability as a sign of a "great team" after Les Bleus fought back to defeat Spain 2-1 and claim the 2021 Nations League.

The Real Madrid forward equalised after Mikel Oyarzabal opened the scoring, the seventh time in 2021 France have fallen behind first – three more times than any other calendar year.

Kylian Mbappe then scored the winner after 80 minutes, his fourth goal involvement at the Finals – more than any other player – to secure Les Bleus' second trophy in three attempts after winning the 2018 World Cup and faltering at Euro 2020.

Didier Deschamps' side are now unbeaten in 25 competitive matches, only doing better once in their history between 1994 and 1999, and Benzema pinpointed the team's comeback ability as a hallmark of how good they are.

"It's a dream evening on a collective and personal level," Benzema told M6 post-match.

"I really wanted to win a trophy with the France team, today it's done. It was a difficult match against a very good team. We have shown the strength of character.

"This team is very strong, it never gives up and we have proven it again today. It is the sign of great teams: [they] do not panic and wait for the right moment.

"We will first take advantage of this trophy and go for the World Cup."

Paul Pogba, who dominated the final with team-high figures in both touches (77) and passes (42), echoed Benzema's sentiments while bemoaning France's tendency to start slowly in games.

"It's true that we started badly," Pogba said to M6 after the game. "[It was] another first period where we were dominated by Spain [and] we had to react after a goal.

"We have to do better, we know that. But the result is victory at the end. If that's how we have to win, why not like that?

"It's always good to go for trophies. We always [have a] thirst for trophies, we are never satisfied."

Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe inspired France to come from behind once again and defeat Spain 2-1 in Sunday's 2021 Nations League final.

The reigning world champions, who overturned a two-goal deficit against Belgium in Thursday's semi-final, fell behind to Mikel Oyarzabal's second-half strike moments after Theo Hernandez had hit the woodwork.

However, Luis Enrique's side – who ended Italy's record 37-game unbeaten run in Wednesday's semi-final – were pegged back two minutes later as Benzema curled in magnificently.

Mbappe then doubled the blow as he netted after 80 minutes for France to secure their second trophy in three attempts following their win at the 2018 World Cup and disappointment at Euro 2020.

Marcos Alonso's wayward speculative long-range free-kick represented the only notable first-half chance as Spain struggled throughout the first 45 minutes to make their initial 66.7 per cent possession pay.

Raphael Varane was then forced off before the interval with what seemed to be an innocuous injury and matters worsened for Didier Deschamps' side after the break.

Mbappe's smart offload almost set up an opening goal but Hernandez struck the crossbar before Oyarzabal, who was released by Sergio Busquets, drilled into the bottom-right corner after 64 minutes.

However, Benzema and Mbappe combined to immediately level, with the former drifting inwards to bend a right-footed effort into the top-right corner before the latter put France into the lead.

The PSG forward appeared offside as he rounded Unai Simon following Hernandez's throughball but a VAR check stuck with the original decision as Mbappe recorded his fourth goal involvement of the Finals – more than any other player.

Oyarzabal then provided a late scare as he connected sweetly with a left-footed volley but was denied by Hugo Lloris before the France goalkeeper parried away from Yeremi Pino's first-time attempt to secure victory in the second edition of the competition.

Raphael Varane was forced off with an injury during the Nations League final between France and Spain on Sunday.

Varane stretched to clear a cross from the right flank in the 40th minute and was taken off moments later after going down to receive medical treatment.

The extent of the centre-back's injury and the exact nature of the problem remained unclear from what seemed like an innocuous situation, with Dayot Upamecano immediately introduced by Didier Deschamps.

Up until his injury, Varane had won only one of three duels but made a team-high two clearances as France limited Spain to speculative efforts.

The former Real Madrid defender's knock will offer Manchester United potential cause for concern as, depending on the extent of the injury, the 28-year-old could be a doubt for next week's Premier League match against Leicester City.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side also have a Champions League clash with Atalanta to contend with before a huge meeting with rivals Liverpool, with Tottenham following on October 30.

United already had injury problems at the back, too, with Harry Maguire having missed time before the international break due to a calf problem.

Roberto Martinez said it is "difficult for me to talk about rumours" after addressing speculation he could replace Ronald Koeman as Barcelona boss.

Martinez saw his Belgium side defeated 2-1 by Italy in Sunday's Nations League third-place play-off, having lost to the Azzurri by the same scoreline in the quarter-finals of Euro 2020.

Speaking after Sunday's game, Martinez was asked about links to Barca, with Koeman's position under threat after an indifferent start in LaLiga this season and back-to-back 3-0 defeats to Bayern Munich and Benfica in the Champions League.

"It's difficult for me to talk about rumours. I've been working with this team for five years and am fully concentrated on this role," Martinez told reporters post-match.

"We came to the Nations League to win it and did not manage that, but now we prepare for World Cup qualifying. I have nothing more to add."

Nicolo Barella's goal and a Domenico Berardi penalty were enough for Italy to defeat Belgium, for whom Charles De Ketelaere's first international goal was not enough to mount a comeback.

It marked the first time Belgium have suffered back-to-back competitive defeats since September 2010 and Martinez, whose team let a two-goal lead slip against France in the semi-final on Thursday, was left frustrated.

"The penalty was a debatable decision and one that frankly I do not agree with. I try to be respectful with the referee, but you need experience at a tournament of this level," he added.

"We are very frustrated by VAR intervening against France, saying referees ought to be given responsibility for their decisions, but why didn't the VAR intervene today when the referee needed help? The frustration grew as the game wore on."

Substitute Kevin de Bruyne, who assisted De Ketelaere's late consolation goal, was also disappointed but felt the experience has been good for some of Belgium's younger squad members.

"We did well at times against some top teams and had many new faces who did more than a decent job today," De Bruyne told Belgian outlet HNL.

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

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

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

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

Nicolo Barella and Domenico Berardi struck in the second half as Italy defeated Belgium 2-1 to claim third place at the 2021 Nations League Finals on Sunday.

Roberto Martinez's side, who let slip a two-goal lead to lose to France on Thursday, were denied twice by the woodwork either side of Barella's volley, which gave the reigning European champions the lead just a minute after the interval.

Berardi then scored from the penalty spot to add a second for Roberto Mancini's team, who had their record 37-game unbeaten run ended by Spain in Wednesday's semi-final, before Charles de Ketelaere netted a late consolation.

Italy banished any demons after their first competitive loss on home soil since 1999 while Belgium - having faltered in a Euro 2020 quarter-final against the same opponents - may now have to wait until the 2022 World Cup to inflict revenge.

Federico Chiesa blasted the first chance of the contest narrowly over from a tight angle before a deflected effort from Berardi was parried away by Thibaut Courtois.

Toby Alderweireld's near-post header then forced Gianluigi Donnarumma's first save, but the Italy goalkeeper could only stand and watch as Alexis Saelemaekers curled onto the crossbar moments later.

Barella responded by sending a speculative long-range effort over before Chiesa was excellently denied by Courtois' legs on the stroke of half-time.

Courtois, however, was no match for Barella's right-footed volley straight after the break, the midfielder finding the bottom corner to open the scoring.

Michy Batshuayi almost immediately drew Belgium level, his right-footed drive cannoning into the bar, before Timothy Castagne needlessly fouled Chiesa to concede a penalty, one Berardi converted despite Courtois getting a hand to the effort.

Yannick Carrasco struck the right-hand post and while De Ketelaere did roll through Donnarumma's legs to score, Belgium could were unable to find a late leveller.

After the 2018 World Cup final, when highlights of France's thrilling 4-2 win were played back at Luzhniki Stadium, one man in particular was enraptured.

Antoine Griezmann stood on the pitch, ignoring the celebrations that surrounded him, his gaze fixed upwards at the big screen beneath the storm-laden sky.

His hands to his mouth, eyes watering, smile beaming, the face of the man bore an expression of boyish disbelief: I was just man of the match in the World Cup final. And we won.

It's unlikely anything in Griezmann's career will ever top that victory over Croatia in the Russian capital. Win or lose, Sunday's Nations League final against Spain almost certainly won't. Still, it will be another special occasion for the Atletico Madrid forward, who is set to win his 100th cap against the national team of his adoptive country.

It also offers a chance to reflect on Griezmann's international career, which began only seven years ago. In the Didier Deschamps era, there has been no more important player.

 

Didier's favourite

Reaching a century of international games is commendable for any player – only eight men have ever achieved it for France before. What makes Griezmann unique is that all of his caps have come under the same coach.

It was Deschamps who handed Griezmann his debut on March 5, 2014 against the Netherlands, starting the forward wide on the left of a front three. Griezmann has since been used across the forward line in changing systems, but his presence in Deschamps' set-up has been constant: he has only missed four France games since his first appearance and has played in 56 matches in a row for Les Bleus, the longest such streak in their history.

 

Under Deschamps, only Olivier Giroud (101) has played more often than Griezmann, while only goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris has started more games (96 compared with Griezmann's 84) or played more minutes (8,700 to Griezmann's 7,300).

When he scored his second in the 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Finland in September, Griezmann moved level with Michel Platini on 41 international goals. Only Giroud (46) and Thierry Henry (51) have managed more in the national team's history. Given his rate of just over five international goals per year, the outright record looks well within Griezmann's reach, even if he insists it is not an "obsession" to get it.

Another record beckons in 2022: should France reach the semi-finals in Qatar, Griezmann could surpass Henry and Fabien Barthez (both on 17) for the most appearances for Les Bleus at World Cup finals.

 

Griezi does it on the biggest stage

In the 2018 World Cup final, Griezmann won and took the free-kick from which Mario Mandzukic scored the opening own goal, and he converted the penalty that restored France's lead when Croatia were beginning to take control.

It was a decisive display in the biggest match of the Deschamps era, but the fact Griezmann stepped up for his country when it mattered should not have come as a shock.

In the knockouts in Russia, Griezmann scored in the 4-3 win over Argentina, got a goal and an assist in the quarter-final with Uruguay and crossed for Samuel Umtiti's headed winner against Belgium in the last four. He won the bronze ball as the third-best player at the tournament and the silver boot for finishing as second in the goal standings, two behind England's Harry Kane on six.

 

Two years earlier, he scored twice against the Republic of Ireland, got a goal and two assists against Iceland and two more strikes against Germany in the knockouts of Euro 2016 before France fell at the final hurdle on home soil against Portugal. In both 2016 and 2018, he came third in the Ballon d'Or standings.

Griezmann won the golden boot and was named player of the tournament at Euro 2016. Indeed, in the history of the European Championship finals, only Cristiano Ronaldo (20) and Michel Platini (10) have been directly involved in more goals than the 30-year-old (nine).

 

Antoine-derful

Griezmann scored 22 goals in 74 LaLiga games for Barcelona as he struggled to find his place in the system alongside Lionel Messi under three different coaches. It was a fairly poor return for €120million. Yet for France, regardless of tactics and personnel, he has delivered consistently when it matters.

Since his debut, Griezmann has nine goals and four assists in 16 World Cup qualifying games. No player has managed more, or made more appearances. He also leads the way for chances created (33, 14 more than anyone else), and shots (46, seven more than nearest rival Paul Pogba).

In Euros qualifying, only Giroud matches Griezmann for games (10) and beats him for goals (six), while the Atleti man is again top for assists (seven). In fact, he has created 42 goalscoring chances in those games, which is 28 more than anyone else for France during his international career.

At World Cup finals, no France player has played more matches (12), scored more goals (four) or provided more assists (two) than Griezmann in the Deschamps era. His 17 chances created are, again, the most in that time.

And, at the European Championships... well, you can guess where we're going here. His seven goals and two assists in 11 games is a better return than any other France player since his debut. If you add in four goals and an assist in 11 Nations League matches – again, nobody for France has played as many – then Griezmann stands on 43 direct goal involvements in competitive internationals, which is 15 more than any other player since he made his bow on the senior stage.

 

In Spain, Griezmann went from underrated Real Sociedad talent to Atletico Madrid superstar to Barcelona let-down. For France, he has been Monsieur Dependable for more than seven years.

If he marks his 100th cap with a decisive turn in a Nations League final victory, nobody – among the French, at least – would be surprised.

Jorginho is dreaming of winning the Ballon d'Or as Azzurri head coach Roberto Mancini insisted no one is more "deserving" than the Chelsea and Italy star.

Having won Euro 2020 with Italy after helping Chelsea to Champions League glory last season, Jorginho is among the nominees for this year's Ballon d'Or, alongside the likes of Paris Saint-Germain superstar and Copa America winner Lionel Messi and Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski.

Jorginho already received the UEFA Men's Player of the Year prize following his exploits for club and country.

"Ballon d'Or? That's the dream of every child in the world," Jorginho told reporters ahead of Sunday's Nations League third-place play-off against Belgium.

"I learnt that dreaming little things and big things is exactly the same. So, I prefer to dream big things."

"It would be incredible," the 29-year-old midfielder continued. "I can't find words to explain it. I could never imagine it when I start my career. But now I'm so close and that's really incredible, I feel so good."

Jorginho added: "Things are changing fast. I worked very hard with Chelsea and Italy, then this perfect season happened.

"Everyone helped me. I do not feel pressure, to be honest. I'm calm because everyone believes in me. I'm happy."

Italy boss Mancini also endorsed Jorginho for the prized individual honour, telling a news conference: "They were nominated because they are good players and not because of me.

"If I have to choose one, I'd give it to Jorginho because he won Champions League, Euro Cup and FA Cup. He deserves it, I do not see anyone deserving it more than him."

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