Roberto Martinez revealed Eden Hazard informed him he must "pay for a dinner party" following his red card in Belgium's Nations League win over Wales.

The Red Devils kept their hopes of reaching the Nations League Finals alive with a 2-1 victory in Brussels; Kevin De Bruyne and Michy Batshuayi on target at King Baudouin Stadium.

Martinez was given his marching orders by referee Ali Palabiyik after preventing Wales from taking a quick throw-in deep into stoppage time as his side remained three points behind Group A4 leaders Netherlands, with Kieffer Moore's goal proving to be in vain.

The Spaniard did not feel he should have been ordered from the touchline and says his dismissal will be costly.

"It may have been yellow, but never red," he told VTM. "I was just trying to slow down the game a bit. The captain told me that in Belgium, you have to pay for a dinner party with a red card. I will do that.

"You did see different halves. Before half-time, we found the spaces well, with many chances and two goals. After that, we tried to look for the one-on-one less, and we let the ball move less quickly.

"I'm glad we played it so well after the [Wales] goal. We can learn a lot from this for the next games."

Meanwhile, De Bruyne also took a swipe at officials following a penalty incident late on. Belgium were initially awarded a spot-kick after the Manchester City maestro was challenged by Rhys Norrington-Davies.

The decision was rightly overturned following consultation with the VAR, as the Wales defender clearly played the ball, but the referee subsequently pointed for a goal-kick rather than a corner.

Asked about Belgium's penalty shout, De Bruyne told S4C: "I was already running to the corner. The rules are so stupid though; it should then be a corner.

"I think we fully deserved to win, we dominated the first half and created a lot of chances. Wales were playing man to man, so there were more options in the first half.

"Then we started the second half poorly. We have to keep the ball - as Wales were playing so deep - and wait for the right moments."

Didier Deschamps hailed France for responding with a 2-0 victory despite having "little time to prepare" to face Austria in the Nations League.

Paul Pogba, N'Golo Kante and Hugo Lloris were among the notable absentees for injury-hit France, while recent Barcelona recruit Jules Kounde limped off in Thursday's Nations League clash.

But Kylian Mbappe powered home in the second half to set Deschamps' side on their way to a win before Olivier Giroud – aged 35 years and 357 days – became France's oldest scorer.

The second-half double act from Mbappe and Giroud helped France to stave off Nations League relegation, picking up their first win to move a point clear of Austria with a game to play.

After Deschamps had to contend with a plethora of injury issues, the France head coach reflected on a job well done.

"I'm very satisfied with the way we played," he told M6. "The win is important, and we did everything we had to do, created a lot of chances and controlled the game with players who aren't used to playing with each other.

"We've had very little time to prepare, everyone has made an effort. There's a lot of positives."

Aurelien Tcouhameni benefited from the absence of Pogba, Kante and Adrien Rabiot, starting in midfield as France dominated Ralf Rangnick's side, and the Real Madrid midfielder felt his team showed their quality.

"We were determined to show a different face. We all wanted to show our true worth," Tchouameni said. 

"The conditions weren't optimal, but once you're on the pitch, there's nothing else that's important. Things went very well [with Youssouf Fofana]. You could see the understanding we have, I'm happy for him."

France will head into their final Nations League fixture with their fate in their own hands, facing Denmark on Sunday in Les Bleus' last outing before the World Cup starts in Qatar in November.

Cody Gakpo and Steven Bergwijn were on target as the Netherlands ran out 2-0 winners over Poland in Nations League Group A4 on Thursday.

The Oranje dominated the first half at the PGE Narodowy in Warsaw and went in at the break 1-0 up thanks to Gakpo's close-range finish after 13 minutes.

Poland threatened an equaliser at the start of the second period, but Bergwijn sealed all three points on the hour mark with a composed finish.

The result means Louis van Gaal's side just need to avoid defeat in their final group game against Belgium on Sunday to progress to the Finals next June.

The Netherlands lost Teun Koopmeiners to injury inside the opening five minutes, but they went ahead when Gakpo applied the finishing touch inside the six-yard box following a flowing move that cut through Poland's backline with ease. 

Memphis Depay squandered a golden opportunity to double the visitors' advantage, blazing over from a tight angle when a simple pass to Gakpo would surely have resulted in a goal, while Steven Berghuis curled narrowly wide. 

Poland were much brighter after the interval and twice went close to an equaliser through Arkadiusz Milik and Sebastian Szymanski. 

Their hopes of getting back into the game were ended in the 60th minute, though, when Bergwijn coolly slotted past Wojciech Szczesny after being teed up by Vincent Janssen. 

What does it mean? Oranje barely break sweat

The Netherlands were excellent value for their win, with the only disappointment for Van Gaal being that they did not beat a poor Poland side by a greater margin.

Now they just need to safely navigate Sunday's mouth-watering clash against their neighbours to book their spot in next year's Finals.

Gakpo's hot streak continues

Gakpo has scored eight goals in seven Eredivisie games for PSV this season and he continued that fine form on the international stage, stroking the Netherlands ahead early on with his third goal at this level.

Shot-shy Lewandowski

Robert Lewandowski cut a frustrated figure up front for Poland. The Barcelona man has been one of Europe's most potent strikers for the past decade, yet he failed to have a single shot here as his side struggled to break down their opponents.

What's next?

Both sides wrap up their Group A4 campaigns on Sunday, with Poland visiting Wales at the same time as the Netherlands meet Belgium.

Kevin De Bruyne was on target as Belgium kept their faint hopes of progressing to the Nations League Finals alive with a 2-1 victory over Wales.

De Bruyne opened the scoring and set up the second goal for Michy Batshuayi at the King Baudouin Stadium, as the Red Devils remained three points behind leaders Netherlands in Group A4.

Kieffer Moore pulled one back for Wales, but the Dragons must now beat Poland on Sunday to have any chance of avoiding relegation from League A.

The Red Devils, whose head coach Roberto Martinez was sent from the touchline for time-wasting, need an emphatic win over the Dutch when they meet on Sunday to reach the Finals.

Belgium took just 10 minutes to break through as De Bruyne applied a wonderful first-time finish to Batshuayi's lay-off to the edge of the penalty area.

Youri Tielemans steered Yannick Carrasco's cross off target and Batshuayi fired over from a tight angle as the Red Devils continued to dominate, while the woodwork denied De Bruyne a second goal as he rattled the post from 20 yards out.

Eden Hazard then curled narrowly wide before the hosts doubled their lead in the 37th minute. This time, De Bruyne was the provider; sweeping in a pinpoint cross for Batshuayi to touch home.

Ethan Ampadu called Thibaut Courtois into action with Wales' first attempt on goal, while Wayne Hennessey denied De Bruyne at the other end.

The visitors halved the deficit within five minutes of the restart as Moore rose to head home Brennan Johnson's inviting cross.

Rob Page introduced Gareth Bale in the 64th minute and the Los Angeles FC forward went close soon after; Toby Alderweireld deflecting his header over from Dan James' centre.

VAR overturned a Belgian penalty later on, but the hosts held on for maximum points after Martinez was ordered from the touchline in stoppage time.

Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud were on target as France picked up their first Nations League victory of the campaign with a 2-0 victory over Austria on Thursday.

Les Bleus faced serious injury difficulties heading into the international break, with Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante among the absentees, and often lacked fluidity at the Stade de France.

But Mbappe stepped up after 56 minutes to drive past numerous defenders and finish past Patrick Pentz before Giroud headed in to help Didier Deschamps' side to victory.

The winners of the last edition, France will now have their Nations League relegation fate in their hands, but cannot progress through Group A1 after leaders Croatia downed Denmark.

Mbappe thought he had curled France into a second-minute lead, only for the offside flag to deny him, before Jonathan Clauss forced Pentz to push over from range.

Jules Kounde was withdrawn as Les Bleus' injury woes continued before Benoit Badiashile's acrobatic effort was tipped onto the crossbar by Pentz, who denied Antoine Griezmann's close-range follow-up.

A smart passing move between Mbappe and Griezmann resulted in Clauss curling narrowly over after the interval, but France were soon ahead.

Mbappe received the ball from a driving Giroud run before powering forward into the area and firing a right-footed effort past the reach of Pentz.

Griezmann provided the second goal as his cross from the right wing found Giroud, who flicked a header into the top-left corner to secure the victory for France.

Gareth Southgate insists England "need commitment from everyone" ahead of their crucial Nations League Group A3 clash with Italy.

The Three Lions are on the brink of relegation from League A, having collected just two points from their opening four games, suffering a humbling 4-0 defeat to Hungary last time out.

England would drop into League B if they fail to win at San Siro, where Southgate says it will be a "great honour" for his squad to play as they look to build momentum ahead of the World Cup.

"This is a very important tournament, and we have already faced two very strong teams," he said. "We have already played against Italy, we know how formidable the players are.

"We need to improve after the latest results and in view of the World Cup, doing it here at San Siro - in an iconic stadium - will be a great honour.

"We analysed everything and tried to understand why there were these bad results after 22 games without a defeat. We need commitment from everyone, and we are focusing on this; we are making sure that the team can train in the best possible way."

Southgate, who revealed Jordan Henderson would be available to face the reigning European champions, also underlined his stance on the OneLove initiative.

Qatar has faced external criticism for its treatment of migrant workers, as well as its record on women's rights and treatment of LGBTQ people.

Human rights campaigner Amnesty International has called for migrant workers to be compensated for "suffering endured" in Qatar during preparations for the World Cup, calling for FIFA to support a 'remediation programme' and warning of the prospect of the tournament being "indelibly tainted by human rights abuses".

Southgate said: "I have observed and studied this situation closely. I have documented myself with experts who deal with this and the FA has also done a lot.

"Some demands have been made, there are already some hypotheses on the table and there is already an agreement with seven European nations to maintain this debate.

"I know that there is a need to talk about these issues, after all we hope for a change in that country even if everything is not under our control.

"We will not be able to do everything we want, there are limits, but talking is important. The criticisms are there, we must accept them, but we are doing our best."

Roberto Mancini believes reaching the Nations League Finals could help to ease the "suffering" coming Italy's way when the World Cup begins.

Italy have failed to qualify for the World Cup for the second time in succession, with their disappointment magnified this time after they won the delayed Euro 2020 in July 2021 but then flopped in the final stages of Qatar 2022 qualifying.

On Friday, the Azzurri tackle England in Milan, a repeat meeting of the European final that Italy won on penalties at Wembley.

The teams have met since that occasion, slogging out a goalless draw at Molineux in June in their initial Nations League clash.

Mancini is hoping this latest reunion stirs something in his players that carries them to victory, given they have ground to make up on Hungary and Germany in Group A3, where England sit surprisingly bottom after four games. The Finals will be contested next June.

“There is enthusiasm for such a beautiful match and something that gives us a reminder," Mancini said. "I think winning the European Championship after 50 years was quite important.

"Getting to the Finals would give us joy, since from mid-November to mid-December there will be suffering.

"Tomorrow we have a very tough match against one of the best teams in the world, full of talents. We will need that team spirit that has always distinguished us. And then we will have to try to play well. Playing in a simple way is always the best thing."

Italy are without the injured Marco Verratti, Sandro Tonali, Matteo Politano and Lorenzo Pellegrini, but even with his midfield resources stretched, Mancini seemingly ruled out a change of system.

"If changing the game system ensured victory, then we would always change it. I don't think it changes much," he said. "Our national team has an identity that is what has led us to do well for a long time."

The game will see Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci line up against England once more, having scored the equaliser that preceded Italy's penalty shoot-out success at Wembley in last year's Euros.

Excluding penalty shoot-outs, England have only lost two of their past 26 matches, both against Hungary in June 2022 (W18 D6). The Three Lions are winless in four matches, however (D2 L2), last having a longer winless run in June 2014 (five matches), with one of those games being a 2-1 defeat to Italy at the World Cup.

Bonucci is hoping Italy can harness memories of Wembley to boost their prospects at San Siro.

The Italians need a pick-me-up after conceding 13 goals in their previous seven matches, including a 5-2 mauling by Germany last time out, the first time the Azzurri had shipped five in a game since a 1957 game against Yugoslavia. Italy had conceded only 15 goals in their previous 40 games before the recent sharp decline.

Bonucci said: “We must not forget the beautiful emotions we experienced. I believe that this national team does not lack enthusiasm, even if it must be amplified with victories.

"Tomorrow is an important match to understand where we are on this new path. There is no better match than this to build something important."

England captain Harry Kane hopes to spread a "broader message" to make a "step forward" at the Qatar World Cup, where the striker and nine other skippers will wear anti-discrimination armbands.

The Three Lions forward has joined with captains from the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Wales as part of the OneLove initiative.

As England prepare to face Italy and Germany in the Nations League, Kane's decision to promote the movement to empower inclusion and diversity was the main talking point.

A distinctive heart-adorned armband will show England's stand against discriminatory practice in Qatar, where same-sex relationships and promotion of same-sex relationships are criminalised. 

"I talked to some captains on the human rights issue in Qatar, surely if we act together we can bring a broader message," Kane told reporters.

"The players can do a lot given the importance of the World Cup, we hope to make a step forward on this front."

England cannot reach the Nations League finals after disappointing in Group C1, with Gareth Southgate's side having gone winless in their first four games.

Defeat to Italy, who played out a goalless draw in the reverse fixture at Molineux, would condemn England to relegation on Friday and Kane knows it is vital his side must return to winning ways.

"Certainly determination characterises us, we have to get back to playing well," he added. "For four years we have been formidable and we know that the last few matches in June were not positive, but we are preparing to better manage the two months remaining until the World Cup.

"Tomorrow's match will not be easy at all, but we want to win this race to also improve for the World Cup."

Italy will not feature at the World Cup in November after missing out on a second straight edition of the global competition following play-off defeat to North Macedonia.

With Germany to follow for England after their clash in Milan, Kane insists the challenges against Roberto Mancini's side and Hansi Flick's team will provide a marker for the upcoming World Cup.

"We played against the best teams and tomorrow we will play again against one of them," he continued.

"Tomorrow's match will be very useful for the World Cup, we must try to impose our game and it will help us to practice at our best.

"We talked within the team about this possible relegation, but there are still two games. Relegation is possible, but it must not affect the determination with which we will take the field."

Germany boss Hansi Flick has told his players to be cautious about socialising ahead of the World Cup to reduce the risk of catching COVID-19 and missing games.

Midfielder Leon Goretzka and captain Manuel Neuer have been ruled out of the Nations League games against Hungary and England after testing positive.

Those results followed their visit, as members of the Bayern Munich squad, to Oktoberfest celebrations last weekend.

It is unclear whether that was where the players caught the coronavirus, but social occasions give Flick cause for concern, albeit he is adamant that "life should also go on".

The Qatar 2022 World Cup is coming up in November and December, and Flick wants everyone available.

"This can also affect us in Qatar," said Flick. "We have to react to it and deal with the situation as best we can.

"It's not quite as easy as [saying] you should behave. We in the coaching team are also on the road a lot. Such cases are always annoying, but it's also become a normal situation.

"With a normal flu you also miss out. Covid is of course a bit more aggressive. Of course you have to reduce your contacts a little before the World Cup and consider, should I go there or not.

"You're on the road a lot. Life should also go on. We have to see that we keep it under control. But a certain normality with common sense, I think, is the right way."

Germany play Hungary on Friday and England on Monday, and Barcelona's Marc-Andre ter Stegen will get a chance to impress in the Hungary game in the absence of Neuer.

"I don't need to keep a secret about the goalkeeper position, Marc will be in goal," Flick said in Thursday's press conference.

Ronald Koeman claimed an attempted move to bring Georginio Wijnaldum to Barcelona fell through after president Joan Laporta delayed a deal.

The Dutchman, who was fired by the LaLiga outfit last October after 14 months in charge at Camp Nou, struggled at times on the Barcelona bench and was replaced by Xavi.

Koeman, who will embark on a second spell as Netherlands head coach after the World Cup in Qatar, has confirmed he attempted to bring in compatriot Wijnaldum during the final transfer window of his Barcelona tenure.

However, Koeman contends that president Laporta, then recently returned to the position as Josep Maria Bartomeu's successor, stymied any move by dragging his heels.

"I tried to sign Wijnaldum for Barca, but I failed because the president wanted to play with me more than bring in a player," Koeman told Dutch newspaper AD.

"That delayed the operation, and for that reason, he opted for PSG. Otherwise, he would have played for Barcelona."

Wijnaldum left Liverpool in June 2021 to join Paris Saint-Germain, but he struggled across a dismal first season, resulting in him being loaned out to Roma for the current campaign.

A serious leg injury has since left Wijnaldum sidelined, however, making it highly unlikely he will be included in the Netherlands' squad for the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

Awer Mabil's fine strike gave Australia a 1-0 win over New Zealand in the final home game for the Socceroos before their World Cup trip in November.

The Cadiz winger struck in style in the 32nd minute at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. Jackson Irvine won possession in midfield before feeding Mabil, who cut in from the left flank and fired into the bottom-left corner from 22 yards.

These teams meet again at Eden Park on Sunday, and New Zealand, who missed out on World Cup qualification when they lost in a play-off to Costa Rica, should take heart from Thursday's display.

The visitors almost snatched a 10th-minute lead when Chris Wood's flick-on put Andre de Jong in on goal, and he jabbed a foot wide of the left post after getting behind the Australia defence.

Irvine missed the target from a big chance for Graham Arnold's Australia, and was then penalised for a questionable push when the hosts got the ball in the net in the 28th minute.

Mabil's goal four minutes later meant that was soon forgotten, with Australia settling for a narrow win in the end after Mathew Leckie shot against the outside of the left post late on, via a faint touch from New Zealand goalkeeper Oliver Sail.

Hertha Berlin winger Jean-Paul Boetius will undergo surgery on Friday after tests revealed the Dutchman has a testicular tumour.

The 28-year-old, capped once by the Netherlands, is a former Feyenoord and Basel player who joined Hertha in August after a four-year spell with Mainz.

His club said in a statement: "Jean-Paul Boetius has been diagnosed with a testicular tumour following the results of a urological test on Wednesday, and will be out for the foreseeable future. The 28-year-old will undergo an operation on Friday."

Fredi Bobic, Hertha's managing director of sport, backed Boetius to make a full recovery.

Bobic said: "As tough as it is to hear at first, we are full of hope that Jean-Paul will be able to recover and return to us as soon as possible.

"He will receive our full support, until he returns. The Hertha family are by his side and wish him all the best."

The news for Boetius follows Borussia Dortmund striker Sebastien Haller being found to have a testicular tumour in July, just weeks after joining from Ajax. Haller had surgery and has since undergone chemotherapy.

Luka Modric says he is not thinking about any international retirement call ahead of Croatia's Nations League clash with Denmark.

The Real Madrid veteran is looking to skipper his country through to next year's finals in their last major pre-Qatar 2022 World Cup run-out.

Four years on from reaching the final at Russia 2018, Modric is among the elder statesman of the world game on the pitch, at 37, with many wondering if this year's tournament will be his international swansong.

But speaking ahead of their Group A1 encounter at Stadion Maksimir, the playmaker has poured cold water over any imminent exit talk and suggested whatever decision he makes will likely wait for the new year.

"I'm not thinking about that," Modric stated. "I haven't made any decisions. I'm focused on the Nations League.

"We have an opportunity to qualify for the last four, then we have the World Cup and then we will see.

"I'll try to make the best decision. At that that time, I'll talk with our head coach, with the people I trust. I'm not thinking about that at the moment."

Between Croatia's hopes of a finals spot stands Denmark, atop Group A1 and out to follow up last year's Euro 2020 semi-final with another impressive tournament run.

Modric is under no illusion what challenge they possess, adding: "Denmark is an excellent team. I think the biggest strength is the unity of the group itself.

"There are many excellent players, like [Christian] Eriksen or [Pierre-Emile] Hojbjerg from Tottenham. [But] their biggest strength is the group.

"[It is] the togetherness, the fighting spirit, and we need to perform the same way if we want to achieve a good result."

Everyone is presumably looking forward to more talk of football "coming home" when the World Cup kicks off in November, with England among the favourites to win the tournament for the first time since 1966.

However, the Three Lions have had a stinker of a Nations League campaign in 2022, having failed to win any of their four games in June.

A 1-0 defeat in Hungary was followed by a draw in Germany thanks to a late Harry Kane penalty, before a dull 0-0 at Molineux against Italy and an abysmal performance in their 4-0 defeat to Hungary at the same venue.

Three months on from that chastening loss in Wolverhampton, manager Gareth Southgate picked his squad for the final two Nations League games against Italy and Germany, and while there was a new face in Brentford striker Ivan Toney, it was otherwise more of the same, with some notable absentees too.

In February, Southgate said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph: "I'm very conscious I've got to get the balance right because ultimately my responsibility is to produce a winning England team.

"I never pick on reputation; form has to come into it. You have to look at the opposition and the type of game you're expecting and select the players best suited to that."

It therefore raised some eyebrows when some players who have subjectively been somewhat out of form in the opening weeks of the season, and who were at the scene of the crime in previous disappointing England results, kept their places ahead of others who have stepped up their game domestically in recent weeks.

Stats Perform has taken a look at some who were perhaps lucky to get another call, and others unfortunate to miss out in the last Three Lions squad before the World Cup.

Who made it?

Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw

It makes sense to pair the two Manchester United defenders, as the reasons why they can consider themselves lucky to keep their international places are essentially the same.

Maguire and Shaw received their fair share of blame for United's poor showings in recent years, and it came to a head in the 4-0 defeat at Brentford in the second game of this season's Premier League campaign, having already lost at home to Brighton and Hove Albion.

New boss Erik ten Hag dropped both after that, and United have won four from four in the league since.

Left-back Shaw has been reduced to occasional substitute appearances after losing his starting spot to young Dutchman Tyrell Malacia, while Maguire has been ousted by France centre-back Raphael Varane.

The only game in the past five Maguire has started was at home to Real Sociedad in the Europa League, which United lost 1-0.

That is not to say the duo are solely responsible for the insipid showings from their team, but it also doesn't feel like purely coincidence Ten Hag's men's results immediately improved without them.

 

Jarrod Bowen

This might be a little harsh as Bowen was being championed by everyone to be included on form last season, which he was, featuring in all four Nations League games in June.

However, having scored 18 goals in 51 games in all competitions last season for West Ham, Bowen has managed just two in 10 this season, both of which have come in the Europa Conference League.

The Hammers have struggled for form this season, sitting in 18th place after seven games, so it would be unfair to blame Bowen, but he also failed to make much of an impact in any of his England appearances.

The door certainly should not be shut on an undoubtedly talented player, but it seems odd to see him back with the national team after a noticeable drop in form at a time when others in his position are excelling.

Jack Grealish

Arguably the player who causes most debate in England, Grealish will always feel too talented to leave out.

Comparisons to Paul Gascoigne seem lazy, but it's hard not to resort to them when you see him at his best, able to turn a game on his own if he finds that spark almost all other players lack.

Grealish had a poor first season at Manchester City, though, recording just 10 goal involvements (six goals, four assists) in 39 games.

He scored and played well in the 3-0 win at Wolves last weekend, but it was his first goal involvement in six appearances this season, and while he is clearly capable of being a key part of Southgate's team on his day, his form arguably does not justify inclusion at the moment.

 

Who missed out?

Ben White

The Arsenal defender is a difficult one to champion, frankly, because it's not clear what position you would be arguing for.

White did not really blow anyone away at centre-back in his first season with the Gunners but has thrived at right-back in Mikel Arteta's system so far this campaign.

If Southgate is to go back to his favoured three-at-the-back formation, White on the right of that would make sense, albeit Kyle Walker probably has the shirt right now.

White is improving all the time, though, and has played a big part in Arsenal winning six of their first seven Premier League games, and his versatility would be a bonus.

James Maddison

Possibly the man most justified in feeling miffed at missing out as, unlike the other three in this list, Maddison is rarely ever seen in an England squad, despite his output at club level.

Although he has been named in squads before, Maddison has just one cap, which came when he played 35 minutes against Montenegro in November 2019.

Like Grealish, Maddison can be seen as enigmatic, but his recent form for Leicester City speaks for itself.

He has been directly involved in 24 Premier League goals since the start of last season (15 goals, nine assists). The only English player with more in this time is Harry Kane (33) having made three more appearances than Maddison (44 to 41).

Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford

As their United team-mates were paired up, it makes sense to do the same here, and because their turn around in form has synced up as the Red Devils have won five of their past six games.

Sancho struggled to make an impact in his first season back in England, with just eight goal involvements (five goals, three assists) in 38 games.

However, this season he already has three goals in eight matches, showing glimpses of his Borussia Dortmund form.

Rashford ended a run of 997 minutes without a goal in all competitions for Manchester United when he scored against Liverpool in August, and netted another two against Arsenal as his scoring touch returned at Old Trafford.

The duo were a part of England's squad that reached the final of Euro 2020, but both also played a part in the penalty shoot-out loss to Italy.

That does not mean they cannot be of use in Qatar, and it would seem foolish of Southgate to ignore players already proven at international level who seem to be peaking at just the right time for a mid-season tournament.

 

Ultimately, as Southgate said, it is his job to build a team he thinks can win games. It is hard to argue with a record that has seen England reach the final four of the 2018 World Cup and the final of Euro 2020.

He also said "form has to come into it" rather than it being the be all and end all.

Rather than "reputation", perhaps Southgate is just picking players he knows, therefore allowing him full awareness of what he is going to get if he selects them. Heading into a World Cup is not really the time to be introducing unknown quantities.

The likes of White and Maddison will be well within their rights to blame the former Middlesbrough boss for them continuing to be relatively unknown to him, though.

Raphael Varane has hailed Ousmane Dembele's "extraordinary qualities" and believes the 25-year-old is finally "blossoming" at Barcelona.

Dembele has been a player reborn since Xavi took charge in November 2021, with his 17 assists in all competitions bettered only by Lionel Messi (22) and Kevin De Bruyne (21) among players in Europe's top five leagues, while his 15 LaLiga assists during that time represent a league high.

The former Borussia Dortmund man also leads Barca's charts for chances created (63), chances created from open play (52) and touches in the opposing box (126) under Xavi in LaLiga.

Dembele signed a new two-year deal with Barca in July, and Varane thinks the best is still to come from his compatriot.

"I'm very happy to see him at this level," he said. "We see him blossoming. He has extraordinary qualities.

"As a person, I always find him with the same joy of living, he brings this freshness to the group.

"He is also more calm, always quiet. He has managed to find the recipe for physical recovery, to feel better, and we are very happy.

"He had some difficult moments with some injuries that followed one another, but now we have the chance to see him having fun and enjoying himself on the field, so we are all very happy."

 

Varane also praised the impact of France team-mate Aurelien Tchouameni at his former club Real Madrid.

Tchouameni, who joined from Monaco in June for a fee that could rise to €100million, has started the season in impressive form for Carlo Ancelotti's side, and Varane believes he has the maturity to keep on getting better.

"I think we can welcome his lightning adaptation in a club like Real Madrid," the Manchester United defender said.

"I know from experience how difficult it is. He has the maturity and the qualities for it, so hats off to him. He is a very complete player. He has the ability to defend well, protect the defence, and also the ability to organise the game.

"He does not hesitate from his first selections to ask for the ball, to impose the tempo in midfield. For his young age, he is already very mature, and I wish him to stay the course, to continue like this, because what he is doing is already extraordinary."

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