Gareth Southgate joked he would have come under pressure from Wayne Rooney's family if he left Harry Kane on to add to his England tally in the 10-0 thrashing of San Marino. 

Kane scored four first-half goals in San Marino on Monday, making him the first England player to achieve that since Ian Wright in 1993 and setting a Three Lions record with 16 goals in a single calendar year. 

The Tottenham striker had equalled the previous benchmark of 12 with a hat-trick against Albania last week, with his efforts at Stadio Olimpico di Serravalle making him just the fourth Three Lions player to register trebles in consecutive games. 

Kane drew level with Gary Lineker in third on England's all-time scoring list with 48 goals, just five shy of Rooney's record, but made way for Reece James in the 63rd minute. 

"If we'd have left him another half an hour … we'd have had Wayne Rooney's family on the phone telling us to get him off," Southgate joked to ITV. 

"He's a phenomenal goalscorer. He's obviously not had the opportunity in some of those games where there have been a lot of goals available. We wanted to give him that chance tonight, and he took it really well." 

With England having secured qualification for the 2022 World Cup with the win, Kane could surpass Rooney's record on the biggest stage of them all in Qatar. 

Asked for his feelings after drawing level with Lineker, he said: "It's fantastic again. Every time I wear an England shirt, I am proud, and whenever I can score goals, it is one of the greatest feelings I can have in my career. It's nice to be among those names, and hopefully we can keep them coming." 

The victory was England's biggest in a competitive away match and means that in 2021 they have won more games (15), scored more goals (52) and kept more clean sheets (14) than in any other calendar year in their history. 

Southgate said: "I've got to credit all our players and staff on a really good year. Even in a game like tonight, you can't do anything about the level of the opposition, but the mentality, the way they played, the way they applied themselves was terrific." 

European champions Italy missed out on automatic qualification for the 2022 World Cup as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Northern Ireland.

Jorginho's last-gasp penalty miss against Switzerland last time out meant Italy headed into their final Group C game at Windsor Park level on points with the Swiss, ahead only on goal difference.

And while Switzerland managed to beat Bulgaria on Monday, Italy were frustrated by Ian Baraclough's side in Belfast.

A star of the Euro 2020 success, Federico Chiesa went closest to breaking the deadlock for Roberto Mancini's side as Italy – who failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup – had to settle for a place in the play-offs.

Lorenzo Insigne's sublime pass put Giovanni Di Lorenzo through inside the opening 10 minutes, though from a tight angle, the full-back's effort was caught between a cross and a shot, with Bailey Peacock-Farrell able to parry away.

That set the tone for Italy, who had plenty of possession and territory but lacked a cutting edge. Matters would have been made more difficult early in the second half if not for Gianluigi Donnarumma.

With Insigne having dragged wide from a presentable chance, Northern Ireland almost took the lead at the other end – Donnarumma making a superb stop to deny George Saville.

Peacock-Farrell judged a difficult Domenico Berardi free-kick, though was beaten by Chiesa's curling attempt soon after. Unfortunately for Italy, it sailed the wrong side of the upright.

Despite Mancini throwing on the cavalry, Chiesa's chance was the closest Italy went, and they were fortunate Leonardo Bonucci was on hand to clear Conor Washington's late shot off the line.

The Azzurri now face two play-off games in March to try and qualify for the tournament in Qatar.

 

What does it mean? Back down to Earth

Italy’s Euro 2020 euphoria will have been replaced by a real concern history could be set to repeat itself. Since their penalty shoot-out triumph over England at Wembley, Mancini’s side have won just two of their seven fixtures, with only one of those coming in qualifying.

The Azzurri lost to Sweden in the play-offs for Russia 2018. This time, they will have to win two games to progress (a semi-final and a final). They will go into pot two in the draw, alongside the Czech Republic, Scotland, Sweden, Wales and the runners-up from Groups D, G and I.

Baraclough’s brilliant defence

Northern Ireland boss Baraclough had a tough ask taking over from Michael O'Neill, but he has retained the resilience and spirit within the squad.

They were out of the qualification picture before Monday’s game, but have gone the entire campaign without conceding a goal at home. Indeed, they have now kept a clean sheet in their past five home qualifiers. It should have been an even more jubilant night, but Washington fluffed his lines late on.

Toothless Italy fall short

Italy have not conceded a single goal in any of their past nine away games in all competitions, but it was at the other end they fell short.

While Switzerland cruised to a 4-0 victory, Mancini must find a way to get his attacking talents firing as they did in the Euros. Only against Sweden (eight), have Italy played more away matches without winning than in Northern Ireland - drawing three and losing once in four games.

What's next?

Neither team will be in action until March, with Italy waiting to see who they will face in the play-offs.

Harry Kane made history as England booked their place at the 2022 World Cup with a dominant 10-0 qualifying victory over San Marino, who finished with 10 men on Monday.

England only needed a point to be guaranteed of finishing top of Group I and booking their place in Qatar, but a win never looked in doubt, with Harry Maguire's header and Filippo Fabbri's own goal preceding a four-goal salvo from Kane. 

The Tottenham striker became the first England player to score more than 12 goals in a calendar year with the first of two penalties, and by the end of the half he had gone from matching Jimmy Greaves' 44 international goals to drawing level with Gary Lineker (48) in third on the Three Lions' all-time scoring list. 

Emile Smith Rowe marked his full debut with a goal before Dante Rossi saw red for San Marino, with Tyrone Mings, Tammy Abraham and Bukayo Saka compounding San Marino's misery in a non-competitive game.

Maguire scored the opening goal for the second game running when he headed Phil Foden's corner home, and in the 15th minute Saka's scuffed shot was inadvertently poked inside the near post by Fabbri. 

Kane converted from the penalty spot after referee Rade Obrenovic penalised Rossi for handling Foden's acrobatic effort in the box, and the Tottenham striker doubled his tally with a volley from Smith Rowe's delivery. 

Kane completed a 12-minute hat-trick by drilling another spot-kick – awarded after Alessandro D'Addario handled his header – into the top-left corner, and he made it four before half-time with a cool finish at the end of a mazy run. 

Abraham was sent on as one of three half-time substitutes and teed up Smith Rowe in the 57th minute, with Mings looping a first England goal home after Rossi was shown a second yellow card for tripping debutant Conor Gallagher.

Jude Bellingham had a maiden England strike of his own chalked off following a VAR review two minutes later, but Abraham steered in a majestic half-volley and Saka nodded in a 10th to complete the scoring in the 79th minute.

What does it mean? Records tumble for Kane and England 

The new record for England goals in a calendar year now stands at 16 after Kane moved clear of George Hilsdon (in 1908) and Dixie Dean (in 1927) with a clinical first-half display. 

He became just the fourth player to hit a hat-trick in consecutive Three Lions appearances and the first to score four goals in a single game since Ian Wright in November 1993 – also against San Marino. 

England racked up six in the first half for the first time since an 8-2 win over Netherlands in 1946 and finished with 10 for the first time since beating the United States by the same scoreline in 1964.

Southgate brings in more fresh blood 

By handing Aaron Ramsdale and Gallagher their first England caps against San Marino, Gareth Southgate has now given 50 players their senior international debut. The last Three Lions manager to do that was Bobby Robson (64). 

Smith Rowe at home

Smith Rowe became the first Arsenal player to score on his first start for England since Paul Merson in March 1992. He was also the 18th different England goalscorer in 2021 – the most the Three Lions have ever had in a single calendar year.

What's next? 

There is nothing in the schedule for either team in the next international break, though the focus will be friendly matches to build up to the World Cup. 

England captain Harry Kane has set a new record for Three Lions goals in a calendar year by netting his 13th of 2021 against San Marino.

George Hilsdon (in 1908) and Dixie Dean (in 1927) for a long time stood alone with a benchmark dozen in a single year before Kane also tallied 12 in England colours in 2019.

The Tottenham forward reached that mark again at home to Albania on Friday as he netted his fourth international hat-trick.

The 5-0 Wembley win meant England needed only a point at minnows San Marino to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, but Kane was keen to feature and add to his total.

"[Kane] is quick to let me know that he hasn't played in those games [against Andorra and San Marino]," manager Gareth Southgate said at the weekend.

In an otherwise experimental line-up on Monday, featuring Emile Smith Rowe from the start for the first time, Kane led the line and got on the scoresheet.

 

Kane netted the visitors' third from the penalty spot in the 27th minute after Harry Maguire's opener and a Filippo Fabbri own goal.

It was England's 45th goal of 2021, also extending a team record at the end of a year that began with a 5-0 home success against San Marino.

Proper time management and self-discipline might sound like clichés, but it is exactly what has propelled Jamaica College’s Digicel Manning Cup Captain Duncan McKenzie to nine CSEC Subjects – all grade 1s with eight straight A profiles.

The 17-year-old player, who as a precocious 15-year-old netted three goals and had eight assists as Jamaica College (JC) won their 30th Manning title in 2019, is now trusted with the task of leading the “Dark Blues” this season to defend their crown and to lead his school’s pursuit of a record 31 Manning Cup titles.

The pressure has never been an issue for McKenzie based on his ability to successfully balance school work and sports over the years even as he is expected to lead with distinction on the field as he did in the classroom.

While in third form, he aced his Human and Social Biology CSEC examinations with a Grade 1 and a straight-A profile and followed up with passes in English A, English B, Mathematics, Spanish, Physics, Information Technology, Principles of Business and Principles of Accounts.

“I believe the key to balancing school work and football is proper time management and self-discipline. From a very young age, this has been emphasized by both my parents and I have learnt to structure my time well,” said McKenzie.

“Yes, it is difficult to strike the balance but it can be achieved. My advice to the younger generation is to practice good habits from early so that they become routine”.

Young McKenzie who idolizes Lionel Messi and loves Barcelona, one day hopes to play football at the highest level.

“I aspire to play football professionally. However, I would still like to pursue a degree in Accounting or Business Management,” he explained.

JC drew their opening match against Calabar 0-0 on Saturday and is joint third in what is arguably the group of death that includes five former champions in early group leaders St George’s College and Charlie Smith High School.

However, McKenzie is confident his team will rise to the challenge.

“I believe that we have a talented and highly motivated squad that is capable of defending our title,” said McKenzie.

“Playing without spectators is a new and strange experience. I believe that it lessens the performances of all teams in the competition.

“We are all aware of how important it is to have fan support at matches. They spur teams on and provide additional motivation for players to perform well. I hope that in the near future, we will be able to bring back fans safely to the games.”

JC has again been tagged as favourites but McKenzie is not taking any team lightly.

“As a result of the pandemic, there are a lot of unknowns. Consequently, I regard all teams in the competition as challengers for the title,” he said.

 

Reading have signed former England striker Andy Carroll on a short-term deal.

The 32-year-old had been a free agent since being released by his boyhood club Newcastle United at the end of last season, but joined the Championship side on a contract until mid-January on Monday.

Carroll joins a Royals side that sit 16th in the second tier, but only four points adrift of sixth-placed Queens Park Rangers.

Capped nine times by his country, the former Liverpool frontman career has been blighted by injuries.

Reading boss Veljko Paunovic hopes Carroll, who has scored 80 goals in his career and made over 250 Premier League appearances, can hit the ground running.

Paunovic said: "This is a deal that we have been working on for some time and are confident it is the right move for both player and club.

"Andy is looking for a new challenge in his career and we need a player with his quality and vast experience. So this is a great match and I'm really looking forward to working with Andy over the next couple of months."

Lionel Scaloni has confirmed Lionel Messi will definitely play a part in Argentina's World Cup qualifier against Brazil.

The rival nations meet for the first time since this year's Copa America final, which Argentina won 1-0, when they face off in San Juan on Tuesday.

Both teams have identical records since that final, each winning five of their six qualifiers. A clash between the pair in Sao Paulo in September was suspended due to coronavirus restrictions relating to Argentina's England-based players.

Already-qualified Brazil sit top of the CONMEBOL standings on 34 points, six clear of Scaloni's team, who defeated Uruguay on Friday.

Given the 12-point gap between Argentina and fifth-placed Colombia, who occupy the play-off spot, a win would all but guarantee their place in Qatar next year. Dropped points for two of Chile, versus Ecuador, Colombia, against Paraguay, and Uruguay, in Bolivia, would make the picture clearer still.

Messi, whose selection in Argentina's squad "did not make sense" – according to Paris Saint-Germain sporting director Leonardo – due to the 34-year-old's recent injury issues, came on as a 76th-minute substitute in the win over Uruguay.

Scaloni explained he had used Messi sparingly in order to keep him in top condition for Tuesday's clash with Brazil, and the coach confirmed in his pre-match news conference the former Barcelona superstar would certainly play, albeit he did not reveal if he would start.

"It is confirmed that Messi will play tomorrow," Scaloni told reporters on Monday.

On the challenge his team face, Scaloni said: "This Brazilian team is one of the most direct in recent times.

"They have already qualified for the World Cup, and we know how difficult this game is going to be.

"You have to always play the same, it is not worth it for me that a player of mine plays in one way against Venezuela and another against Brazil. Football is always the same regardless of the rival.

"I don't think the rest of the rivals in the qualifiers are less than Brazil. They are all very difficult games.

"There are always things to correct. Our goal is that the players do not relax, that they know that there are things to improve."

While Messi will play, Argentina may be without Paulo Dybala, who was taken off at half-time against Uruguay.

"Paulo came with a blow and at half-time of the game we decided to take him out, it was not worth risking it. Now we are waiting to see what [injury] he has," Scaloni added.

Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold has acknowledged his England career so far "could have gone better".

The 23-year-old has starred at club level as part of a team who have won Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup and Premier League titles in the past few years.

Speaking to ITV Sport, Alexander-Arnold revealed he expected to have played more games for his country and feels there is a lot more to come from him in an England shirt.

When asked about how he feels about his international career so far, Alexander-Arnold said "It's a mix really. I'm grateful for all the opportunities I've had, I've been to a World Cup, played in games, so that's amazing.

"But at the same time, there's something inside me that tells me that in my mind it could have gone better for me personally.

"If I'm being selfish, I expect myself to play more games, to have been involved a bit more and there's a lot more to be unlocked.

"It's two very different roles at club and country. Different responsibilities, different personnel and different tactics. Adjustments have to be made between club and country, and I've probably just struggled with doing that, I would say."

After scoring a free-kick in Liverpool's recent 3-2 defeat at West Ham, Alexander-Arnold now has 45 Premier League goal involvements (nine goals, 36 assists), the joint-most by any defender for the Anfield club in the competition, level with John Arne Riise.

But Alexander-Arnold has failed to contribute a goal involvement for England in 2022 World Cup qualifying prior to Monday's game against San Marino, restricted to a mere 103 minutes across the campaign.

The Liverpool man was utilised in midfield by Southgate for England’s 4-0 win at home to Andorra in September, but was moved back to his usual right-back role in the second half.

"Okay. It's an exciting thought," he said about being played in the middle. "I always found myself in there anyway within a game, I drift into there [from right-back] and it was natural.

"I think that was what went wrong in that first half was being in there already, standing in there and trying to find space rather than going in there unexpectedly and confusing the opposition, and feeling the freedom to drift in there whenever I thought it was right.

"I don't like to put limitations on myself, but as of right now my main focus is trying to nail down the right-back spot.

"I have the talent and I should have the performances to make sure I'm in that squad [for Qatar 2022], and if I don't then it's only me who can be blamed for that."

Cristiano Ronaldo conceded that Sunday's 2-1 defeat to Serbia was "tough" but vowed that Portugal's hopes of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup are "still very much alive."

Despite an early goal from Renato Sanches in Lisbon, an equaliser from Dusan Tadic and a 90th-minute Aleksandar Mitrovic header saw Serbia leapfrog Portugal to win Group A in World Cup qualifying.

Fernando Santos' men must now go through the play-offs in March if they are to qualify for the showpiece tournament, though captain Ronaldo reassured he still believes his side will qualify for Qatar.

"Football has shown us time and time again that, at times, it is the most winding paths that lead to the most desired outcomes," the 36-year-old posted on Instagram.

"Yesterday's result was tough, but not enough to get us down. The objective of being present at the 2022 World Cup is still very much alive and we know what we have to do to get there. No excuses. Portugal [are] heading to Qatar."

Ronaldo scored six goals in seven games for his country in qualifying, which included a goal against the Republic of Ireland that saw him become the all-time record goalscorer in international football, overtaking Iran's Ali Daei (109).

Portugal head coach Santos played down a gesture made by Ronaldo after the late defeat, insisting that his captain was referencing March's reverse fixture in Belgrade, in which the Manchester United forward was not awarded a stoppage-time goal despite the ball appearing to cross the line in the 2-2 draw.

"Nobody was explaining anything," Santos told reporters when asked about Ronaldo. "He was telling the other guy that there [in Serbia] he had scored a goal at the last minute and that the referee didn't count.

"That's what he was saying at the time. It wasn't a matter for us to be there now. On the field, he said that we scored a goal there and the referee didn't, but it's his outburst. It's perfectly normal."

Gareth Southgate insisted a new contract with England would not impact his side's chances of success at the 2022 World Cup.

Southgate was appointed as England manager in November 2016, leading the Three Lions to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals in Russia before making it to the Euro 2020 final in July.

The former Middlesbrough boss signed a four-year contract back in 2016 but had his stay extended to 2022 after England's positive showing in Russia.

That agreement is due to expire after the World Cup in December 2022, with reports suggesting he is expected to pen a new two-year extension to keep him at the helm for Euro 2024 in Germany.

As England head to San Marino on Monday needing just a point to confirm World Cup qualification, Southgate remained adamant that committing his future before the tournament will not disrupt plans for Qatar.

"You would never have a contract if you didn't judge somebody before a tournament, so I think on the back of two tournaments and progress made, that's a more acceptable sort of conversation to be having," Southgate told reporters.

"I think we have tried to do it professionally by focusing on the summer, professionally by focusing on qualification and then we will see where it leads after that."

Southgate was hired after Sam Allardyce's turbulent short reign over the Three Lions, though the Football Association (FA) had valued him long before that as he ascended to the top job after three years with the Under-21s.

Reports in September suggested Southgate had hinted he would be open to returning to club football at some point.

But, for the time being at least, the 51-year-old is solely focused on developing his young squad as they look to first secure qualification and then win their first major trophy since 1966.

"We have responded well to every hurdle that has been thrown at us across a calendar year in which we have had total contrast in terms of the quality of opponent we have played," he added.

"The mentality has been good. That is why in 90 minutes and extra time, we haven't been beaten.

"That is a record we want to keep building on. We have got the best defensive record in Europe, in terms of goals to games. We are fourth in terms of goals scored and chances created. It is a good challenge to try to improve on it [against San Marino]."

Real Madrid are trying to offload a pair of veterans to Tottenham. 

Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale could be on the way out at the Santiago Bernabeu. 

Spurs are reportedly only interested in one of them.

 

TOP STORY – SPURS WEIGH BALE REUNION

Gareth Bale could be headed for a permanent return to Tottenham, El Nacional reports. 

Real Madrid have offered Bale and Eden Hazard to Spurs but head coach Antonio Conte is not interested in his former Chelsea player. 

However, Spurs may pounce for Bale at a reduced price before he is out of contract following the season.

 

ROUND-UP

Manchester United are interested in adding France defender Jules Kounde to replace Harry Maguire, says Todofichajes, which reports Sevilla will demand €80million (£68m) in return. 

Donny van de Beek wants out at United, according to the Metro, and Birmingham Live says Wolves will make a strong push to sign the Dutch midfielder, with Everton and Newcastle United also rumoured suitors.

- Fiorentina are willing to sell Dusan Vlahovic in January if an interested club like Manchester City or Tottenham will pay £70m for the Serbia international, says the Sun. Vlahovic has also been linked with Bayern MunichAtletico Madrid, Juventus, Inter and Arsenal.

Milan have joined Chelsea and Atletico in pursuit of 17-year-old Angers striker Mohamed-Ali Cho, according to L'Equipe. 

Barcelona will extend 17-year-old Spain sensation Gavi's contract for five years, reports Fabrizio Romano. 

Dean Smith's appointment at Norwich City is expected to become official Monday, says The Guardian. 

Ange Postecoglou is in the midst of the biggest job an Australian coach has held in men's club football.

Postecoglou changed the landscape of the game in Australia and left a legacy in Japan, where he conquered the J1 League with Yokohama F.Marinos before he was lured to Glasgow by a wounded Scottish powerhouse Celtic, dethroned by bitter rivals Rangers.

After some initial backlash, Postecoglou has Celtic fans dreaming of glory through an emphasis on a high-octane style of attacking football and unrelenting belief in his philosophy.

But to get a clear picture of Postecoglou – the most decorated coach in Australian football – and his journey to Parkhead, you have to go back to his days at boyhood club South Melbourne.

Most know about Postecoglou's love for South Melbourne, where his passion for the sport grew alongside his father after immigrating from Greece.

Postecoglou went from juniors to seniors, winning two titles as a player before delivering back-to-back NSL titles as a coach and an unprecedented spot alongside Manchester United at the 2000 Club World Cup in Brazil.

Michael Petersen saw the making of Postecoglou unfold before his eyes. The former South Melbourne and Australia midfielder had been involved with the Australian great since around the age of 10 – the pair initially clashing in a junior rivalry between South and Port Melbourne.

Petersen eventually joined Postecoglou at South Melbourne in the late 1980s.

"He was a natural leader," Petersen told Stats Perform. "In a lot of ways, probably needed to get up to speed personally, but it was an invisible leadership. But he was always serious about his football. He loved the club. So his loyalty was unquestioned."

A trail-blazing coach, Postecoglou's career in the dugout is well-documented but he was also successful on the pitch – the former defender is considered to be one of South Melbourne's greatest players, having won eight pieces of silverware, while earning four international caps for Australia.

However, Postecoglou's career was cut short due to a knee injury.

"He was underestimated [as a player] but obviously he got wiped out pretty young at 27," Petersen said. "I think you're just coming into your professional career [at that age]. At the time, South Melbourne had a lot of good players in all the lines so he probably went a little bit unnoticed but not in our changing room. He was very well respected. You obviously don't make someone captain if you're not first on the teamsheet, so he was always first picked on the teamsheet."

 

Postecoglou's success has been shaped by his father, Dimitris, and legendary Hungarian Ferenc Puskas.

The 56-year-old played under Puskas from 1989 to 1992, forming a close bond, before launching his own coaching career at South Melbourne.

Postecoglou was appointed in 1996 and former general manager Peter Filopoulos was instrumental in the ex-captain's rise from skipper to coach.

"Every time I spoke to Ange, I felt like I was educated about football. Because I was an administrator. I never played at the high level. I was a little bit more educated about South Melbourne's history and he was very proud of South Melbourne history, the club and he always had these really big aspirations for the club, but also big aspirations for football in Australia as he still does," Filopoulos said.

Postecoglou's transition from player to senior coach at South Melbourne almost did not happen following the sacking of former Socceroos boss Frank Arok.

After a 3-0 loss away to Marconi in March 1996, Arok was relieved of his duties and Postecoglou put in charge on an interim basis for the remaining three games of the season.

"I remember getting the long bus trip to the airport from Fairfield and Frank had slumped in his chair and was just sulking a little bit. The players started to misbehave and were bantering. It was as if they had won 3-0, not lost 3-0. I could see Ange to the right of me was just not amused at all right, I'm sitting at the front of the bus as the official. And it got to the stage that it was out of control on the bus," Filopoulos recalled. "He went up to the front of the bus and picked up the microphone. He said, 'You listen to me, you blokes'. It was silent and he said to them, 'I've played for this club from under eights, right through to every level of South Melbourne, I've worn this jersey for every team age group, to the seniors, I captained this club and won championships. If you want to muck around, no problem, we lost 3-0 but I just want to tell you my perspective, today was the worst performance I've seen of any, any South Melbourne team of any age group in my entire career. So if you guys are happy with yourselves, and you want muck around on the bus, why don't you just reflect on the disgraceful performance and how you disgraced the team jersey today and the club'.

"That was it. There was silence for the rest of the bus trip. And then we got to the airport. And there was all these shuffling of the boarding passes. No one wanted to sit next to Ange. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, right? But I remember thinking to myself back then this guy has something special."

However, Postecoglou – who was working in a bank at the time to supplement his salary of being an assistant coach – was not even in the equation to make the step up permanently after winning all three games as South Melbourne's hierarchy eyed bigger and more established names.

"I'd be in the board meetings as a general manager, and they'd be speaking about Zoran Matic and [former Australia coach] Raul Blanco, all those big names of the time. Ange came into the office and he wasn't really mentioned around the table. They all thought he'd automatically be an assistant," Filopoulos said.

"He goes to me what's going on with the coaching gig? And me naively, I said we had a meeting last night and we're talking about Matic and Blanco. And Ange goes, 'What about me big fella?' I said, 'Are you interested?' He said 'Yes I am, I am interested'. I said, 'Well Ange, if you're interested, you need to make it known'. I thought, I wonder what the young fellas thought. We had the younger committee members and older ones. I remember ringing up some committee members and I threw Ange's name in the mix and over a few conversations, you have to give him a chance to present.

"So what I did back then, we were a very close-knit social group, the younger guys and I set up a barbecue at my place. The coaching conversation came up. And everyone's talking about those big names again. And then Ange said, 'You know I'm interested right?' And someone said, 'What? Are you really interested?' Ange started talking about his philosophy and ideas. It went for like 30 minutes. It was like a full-on pitch without knowing it was a pitch. He finished and it was dead silence. The vice-president at the time said 'Ange you're our f****** coach mate'. That was it. We lobbied hard and got him through. It was tough to get it through. There were some really older guys who weren't convinced.

"Ange got the job. And a lot of people would say that was a foresight. I would say, sometimes it was instinctive that it was the right decision. He changed everything. So there's me as general manager, it was actually quite good, because there was all these expectations and all these different things he wanted in place, which meant I worked pretty hard for him to deliver it."

 

But it was not all smooth sailing after fighting tooth and nail to appoint Postecoglou – a run of just one win from seven games to open the 1996-97 season had some South Melbourne committee members calling for Ange's head.

Filopoulos said: "There were a few phone calls from committee members and I remember one guy, he said 'you need to get rid of him at midnight tonight so no one sees him leave the club because you've made a mistake, and because you orchestrated all of this, you can follow him behind'.

"It came down to the eighth game at Marconi for a coach's career, really, because the pressure was on. We won after a scrappy 87th-minute goal. Had we not won that game, it would have been a different future for Ange. The rest is history. After that, he improved our football club. He took it to another level. We became a true destination club."

"So a similar story to Celtic, it takes some time, right? Because he does, on my experience, he turned our program upside down. He has meticulous detail and thought process, even to the point of dressing room access," he added.

Petersen, who also served as Postecoglou's assistant during his tenure as head coach of the Young Socceroos, experienced the "seamless" transition from player to coach up close and personal.

"There's layers to having a good football IQ. There's layers to it," said Petersen, who was told his playing career was ending by Postecoglou. "Ange has always had it. No, not even an issue. Very, very astute. I can rubber stamp that from, from way, way back. And that's to a point is if you love something, you really go deep into it. He goes deep into, you know, picking a football team for any matchday is a bit of a puzzle. You've just got to put the whole thing together, you've got to get the right balance of energy, skill sets. Who's going to actually perform on the day for that given day?

"He doesn't get it wrong a lot. And I can say that, but I think his history shows it. He's managed to get it right on the big days. It's by design, it's not coincidence. He gets it right. You can read all the books in the world. And you either got that gift, or you don't have that gift."

"At the time [after coaching South Melbourne to NSL glory] I thought Ange was Australia’s modern-day version of Alex Ferguson," he continued. "To this day I haven't changed my mind as I have watched him evolve and succeed and continually challenge himself and the type of football his team produces. Ange wins and wins well with style and grace."

 

From South Melbourne to Australia and Japan, Postecoglou has won it all – a pair of National Soccer League championships, back-to-back A-League titles, a record 36-match unbeaten streak at Brisbane Roar, plus a ground-breaking 2015 Asian Cup triumph with the Socceroos and a J1 League crown with F.Marinos – while silencing his doubters.

Postecoglou, like Manchester City's Pep Guardiola and former Juventus and Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri, pushes the boundaries. Firmly set in his belief of how football should be played, Postecoglou's approach never wavers and success follows in his pursuit of excellence.

That has always been the case for Postecoglou.

Recalling Postecoglou's first steps in senior coaching and his pitch-side antics, Petersen – who also worked alongside Ange at South Melbourne after retirement – said: "We almost had a rule, no one was allowed to talk on the bench. If you're gonna say something, it's gotta mean something, otherwise chitter chatter and joking around, none of that. So there's none of this micro-coaching, if you like. Ange was almost locked in tune with the game. He was actually very, very still, quiet and measured."

Postecoglou is known for not getting too close to his players and Petersen added: "I think that's a maturity beyond his years in a sense that he always, because he probably had to start coaching young and he kind of realised early that you do have to draw a line from mateship because players are insecure creatures, and they'll look for any way to get a way in and if you can be pals, you might jag a spot because he likes you.

"Ange never did that. He made decisions that were based on what was best for the club, not necessarily on the individual. Even as a captain, looking back, he was galvanising the hierarchy, the directors of the football club, everything was all about what was best for the football club. I think that's rare to see players who do that. And then already when they transition into assistant coach and then senior coach, you knew there was a line. And that was all right. I think, in the wash-up, once you know the rules of a gaffer, you love it, you go, 'Okay, well, I know where I stand, I've got to perform'. And it's not just performing in games, it's performing at training. We have to perform, every training session means something.

"We joke around in the changing rooms and then we had fun. We had ghetto blasters, telling jokes. I think the moment we hit the football pitch, for that block of time, for an hour and a half, it was business. There's no laughing, football is serious. Because you laugh and joke, you lose football games. So you train how you play. So the intensity should always be at training. I think Ange knew that already at a young age – perform at training, transition that into games, and then whatever happens after hours, yeah, let's have some fun as well."

England's players have not turned a blind eye to the human rights situation in Qatar, but they will not have a formal conversation about it until after they secure World Cup qualification. 

Concerns over treatment of migrant workers in Qatar have sparked varying levels of protests by national teams from Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and other countries. 

While some individual England players have taken high-profile stands on social issues, defender Conor Coady said everyone's first priority for the moment is reaching next year's finals. 

Group I leaders England – who face minnows San Marino – can do so with at least a point on Monday and a group discussion could soon follow. 

"A conversation hasn't been had yet because we've always said – obviously we are seeing quite a lot in the news at the minute – that we make sure we do our job first," Coady told reporters.

"We make sure we try to get to that competition as quickly as we can and then I'm sure the conversation will be had with the players.

"An incredible thing that comes out of this England squad is that people try to make a difference all the time. People are trying to use that platform.

"If there are any way players can help going forward and help in different situations, I am sure us as players and part of the England setup will try to do that.

"At the minute it is tough to speak about it because it is not something we have had a real conversation about.

"We are not robots, we are humans, we are seeing things in the news that are going on every day. But we've always said to ourselves over the last year that the most important thing is to get to where we want to be, which is to Qatar, and honestly speak about the situation when the time is right."

Fernando Santos played down Cristiano Ronaldo's gesture after Portugal missed out on automatic World Cup qualification, though the under-fire head coach guaranteed his team will be in Qatar next year.

Portugal will feature in the World Cup play-offs following Sunday's dramatic 2-1 defeat at home to Serbia in Lisbon.

Requiring only a draw to book their trip to Qatar in Group A, Portugal were on track after Renato Sanches and Dusan Tadic traded goals in the opening half.

However, Aleksandar Mitrovic came off the bench and scored in the 90th minute to send Serbia to the showpiece tournament.

Portugal superstar and captain Ronaldo cut a frustrated figure afterwards, gesturing as coach Santos approached him on the pitch post-game.

But Santos insisted Ronaldo was referencing March's reverse fixture in Belgrade, where the five-time Ballon d'Or winner was not awarded a stoppage-time goal, despite the ball appearing to cross the line in the 2-2 draw.

"Nobody was explaining anything," Santos told reporters when asked about Ronaldo. "He was telling the other guy that there [in Serbia] he had scored a goal at the last minute and that the referee didn't count.

"That's what he was saying at the time. It wasn't a matter for us to be there now. On the field, he said that we scored a goal there and the referee didn't, but it's his outburst. It's perfectly normal.

"Now no one goes after a game to explain what happened or didn't happen. I went to raise the players' heads."

Ronaldo's Portugal will take part in the play-offs as one of the second-placed seeded teams.

The play-offs will not be contested in two-legged ties, with the semi-finals and final set to take place in March next year.

"The truth is that we did not have a good performance overall," Santos said. "Therefore, we have to say sorry. The Portuguese people are obviously sad. Not more than us, but just like us.

"But my team will be at the Qatar World Cup. That is guaranteed. We just have to compete in the play-offs which is not common for us. Portugal never went through a play-off with me, but they played it on three occasions and qualified for the finals in all of them.

"We will do it again. And I personally took part in a play-off, too. And I also qualified for the World Cup."

Serbia head coach Dragan Stojkovic insisted there is no limit to what the country can achieve after they qualified for the 2022 World Cup in dramatic fashion.

Aleksandar Mitrovic scored in the 90th minute to break Portugal's hearts as Serbia reached next year's showpiece tournament in Qatar thanks to a last-gasp 2-1 victory in Group A on Sunday.

Portugal only required a draw to earn automatic qualification and Cristiano Ronaldo's men were on track after Renato Sanches and Dusan Tadic traded first-half goals in Lisbon.

However, Serbia dominated and were rewarded when substitute Mitrovic headed home late as Portugal were relegated to the play-offs.

"We have no limit, we will analyse everything after this, and we did everything we did perfectly," Stojkovic said post-game.

"We showed in the end that we are better. We have the potential for much bigger things."

Serbia failed to qualify for Euro 2020 following a disappointing play-off defeat to Scotland.

Mitrovic – Serbia's all-time leading scorer – said: "I don't know what to say. I would cry and laugh at the same time. 

"Great victory, we came to Portugal to play football, to win. We were better, outplayed the opponent and deservedly celebrated."

Serbia captain Tadic, who equalised in the 33rd minute to cancel out Sanches' early opener, praised the impact of Stojkovic.

Stojkovic was appointed in March, replacing under-fire boss Mladen Krstajic.

"There are a lot of emotions at the moment and everyone is very happy and satisfied," Tadic added. "Since [Stojkovic] came, I think that a smile has returned and that we are playing beautiful football, which we showed today. 

"We showed that we can come to Portugal to dominate and win. I think that everyone who wears this coat of arms and who is a citizen of this country should be very happy and proud."

"Serbia should go to the World and European Championships continuously," Tadic said. "I hope that [Stojkovic] will stay for a long time and that Serbia will go to big competitions all the time."

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