Ronald Koeman claimed the first win of his second spell in charge of the Netherlands as the Oranje dispatched 10-man Gibraltar 3-0.

Nathan Ake scored twice in a game that saw the Netherlands have 50 attempts without allowing one at the other end, as Koeman's team got up and running in Euro 2024 qualifying following last week's heavy defeat to France.

Ake's second-half double came after Memphis Depay had put the Dutch ahead against the Group B minnows in Rotterdam on Monday.

It marked a 19th straight defeat in Euro qualifying for Gibraltar, who had Liam Walker sent off for a rash challenge on Dutch debutant Mats Wieffer.

In need of a response following their hammering in Paris, the Netherlands had control from the off, and the lead came in the 23rd minute.

Following a patient move, Denzel Dumfries – back from suspension – supplied an inviting cross that Depay glanced in.

Georginio Wijnaldum volleyed just over while Wout Weghorst twice went close – spurning a great chance when he shot wide from eight yards out before Dayle Coleing produced a smart reflex save to deny the Manchester United striker.

The Dutch doubled their lead five minutes after the break, Dumfries helping a deep cross back into the centre for Ake to head home.

Gibraltar were reduced to 10 men less than 60 seconds later. Walker caught Wieffer with a dangerous challenge, leaving referee Morten Krogh with little choice but to brandish a straight red.

Coleing denied Donyell Malen and Cody Gakpo while Roy Chipolina blocked Weghorst on the line, but Ake's deflected strike eight minutes from time added gloss to an easy victory.

Temba Bavuma and Anrich Nortje have been recalled to South Africa's ODI squad for the upcoming series with the Netherlands.

Captain Bavuma was rested while pace bowler Nortje was injured for the final ODI against West Indies last week as South Africa levelled the series with a four-wicket victory.

But the pair will return for the two-match series with the Netherlands, which gets underway on Friday in Benoni, as South Africa look to boost their chances of reaching the World Cup in India later this year.

South Africa will seal their place at the tournament if they win the Netherlands series. If they fail to do so, however, they will be forced into a qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe in order to reach the World Cup.

The Proteas are riding the crest of a wave after a stunning six-wicket T20I win over West Indies on Sunday, recording the highest successful run chase in the format's history as Quinton de Kock's brilliant century saw them chase down 259.

After their first meeting in Benoni, South Africa and the Netherlands will renew acquaintances at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg on April 2.

Ronald Koeman is targeting "as many goals as possible" in Monday's Euro 2024 qualifier against minnows Gibraltar to get his side's heavy loss to France out of their system.

The Netherlands were thumped 4-0 by Les Bleus on Friday in their opening Group B match and the first game of Koeman's second spell in charge of the national side.

Oranje have a quick turnaround in games as they welcome Gibraltar – ranked 200th in the world – to De Kuip three days after such a crushing loss, and Koeman is hoping for a big victory.

"From the first minute until the 97th we must do everything to score as many goals as possible," he said at Sunday's pre-match press conference. "We have to keep going.

"We know Gibraltar will defend with a lot of men, but hopefully we can get a quick goal. Our attacking line-up will be very important."

Koeman opted for a 4-3-3 formation against France and, while not ruling out a switch to 5-3-2 against certain sides, he has faith in the current system.

"The France game was a one-off," he said. "I have no doubt for a second that we should have done things differently in the last game. It will get better; I am convinced of that.

"It will take time before we see what we want. This is what we have training sessions for."

The Netherlands' loss to France was only their second by a four-goal margin against any opponent in the past 60 years, the other also coming against Les Bleus in August 2017.

Defender Nathan Ake, who played a full part at the Stade de France, revealed he and his team-mates spoke openly about the defeat after the match.

"We discussed what needs to be improved," he said. "We had to reflect and you also have to speak plain language and just tell each other the truth.”

Koeman added: "This group is self-critical and a number of things were said. What we discussed mainly was our build-up play and the intensity of our play – it was too slow.

"That was the biggest disappointment, particularly as we worked on it in training."

Ronald Koeman believes managing the Netherlands will be easier the second time around.

After a three-year absence, Koeman returned to the Oranje set up to succeed Frank de Boer following the World Cup in Qatar.

A second spell in charge begins with a daunting test against France as qualification for Euro 2024 gets underway on Friday at the Stade de France in Paris.

Koeman's initial stint with the national side brought an end to an absence from international competitions, leading the Netherlands to qualification for Euro 2020 – their first tournament since the 2014 World Cup.

However, Koeman left for Barcelona and did not take charge at the tournament, and returns to the fold with unfinished business.

"It's easier now than it was back then. There are a couple of players I have seen at my clubs, but 14 or 15 of the guys that are here I have worked with already, including Frenkie de Jong and Steven Bergwijn," he told a press conference.

"But there's also a couple of new guys. I'm curious what they think, what we think of them as players, those are fun conversations to have.

"I also had a lot of contact when I left the national team with my captain, Virgil van Dijk. Everything feels very familiar.

"We want to make this squad successful, we have to do that together. We are strong, but we need to work hard to perform well.

"You always follow players at their clubs, and new players also come here with certain nerves. The level is high, it's nice to see that the group does a lot of things together.

"Even the new guys are joining the 'old' guys at the table. That's a nice process. That's good to see."

Virgil van Dijk is relishing the challenge presented by Kylian Mbappe as the Netherlands tackle France in a Euro 2024 qualifier.

The Oranje begin their qualification campaign under Ronald Koeman at the Stade de France in Paris, where a depleted squad faces a stern test against the World Cup runners-up.

A viral infection has ravaged the Dutch squad this week, with the France clash followed by a match against minnows Gibraltar in Rotterdam on Monday, leading to five players being sent home.

That could make the task of keeping new France captain Mbappe quiet a difficult one, though Van Dijk was keen to stress the Paris Saint-Germain superstar is not the only threat to be wary of.

"Football is played with 11 against 11, not one against one. Those moments will arise, but then it's important to defend and be well organised. We need to help each other out when somebody gets dribbled past," the Liverpool defender said in a press conference.

"However, it's crystal clear that Kylian Mbappe is a world-class player. He can make the difference, that's clear. We need to do well, both defensively and offensively.

"If our attackers are performing well, that also makes things easier for us as defenders. We need to do things together.

"I'm looking forward to it, and I get the feeling from this group that I'm not the only one."

Koeman will not be able to call upon Matthijs de Ligt or Van Dijk's club-mate Cody Gakpo, with the duo among the contingent to come down with illness, while Frenkie de Jong is unavailable through injury.

Though that leaves significant voids to fill, Van Dijk is confident other players can be counted on.

"Of course, it's a let-down, but, on the other hand, everybody who gets called up to this squad is good enough to play in this squad," he added.

"We'll miss Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt, the others as well. Everybody has their role in this group, but without them, others will have to step up. I am confident everyone will do so."

Cody Gakpo and Matthijs de Ligt were among five players sent home from the Netherlands national team camp on Thursday after being hit by a virus.

The drastic news meant coach Ronald Koeman was forced into a rapid rethink of his plans for Friday's Euro 2024 qualifier away to France.

In a statement on its website, the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) said Liverpool forward Gakpo and Bayern Munich defender De Ligt had left the squad, along with Newcastle United defender Sven Botman, PSV midfielder Joey Vermeen and Anderlecht goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen.

Botman, Vermeen and Verbruggen are uncapped and were hoping for their first active involvements with the Oranje, while Gakpo and De Ligt are key figures in the Dutch side.

Koeman called in Vitesse goalkeeper Kjell Scherpen, Inter defender Stefan de Vrij and Bayern Munich midfielder Ryan Gravenberch to fortify his group.

The KNVB described the problem facing the five sick players as "a viral infection", without giving further details.

The Netherlands tackle World Cup runners-up France at the Stade de France in Paris on Friday and then host Gibraltar on Monday in Rotterdam.

The first international window after a major tournament always offers the chance of a reset, with squads freshened up whether teams have failed or triumphed.

It gives coaches the opportunity to reassess as they build towards the next competition.

In Europe, qualifying for Euro 2024 begins, so there'll be a competitive edge to the majority of the fixtures.

It's an ideal time for newcomers to the squads to assert themselves. Here, Stats Perform looks at the players aiming to do just that.

 

ARGENTINA

Lionel Messi finally got his hands on the biggest trophy of them all last year, as he led Argentina to World Cup glory in Qatar. Now, Lionel Scaloni will be looking to see what prospects he can bring into the squad as La Albiceleste aim to retain their Copa America title in 2024. Two friendlies against Panama and Curacao should give him the ideal chance to test out some newcomers.

Nehuen Perez is enjoying a fine season in Serie A with Udinese and will be looking to improve on his one Argentina appearance, while Manchester City youngster Maximo Perrone has received his first international call. Perrone joined City from Velez Sarsfield in January, having only made his professional debut last year.

BRAZIL

Like Argentina, Brazil have a friendly – just the one – on the cards this month, though it is against World Cup semi-finalists Morocco. That should prove a tough test for the first match of Ramon Menezes' interim tenure.

With Brazil still reeling from their quarter-final exit in Qatar, and key players such as Neymar and Richarlison injured, Menezes has named plenty of fresh faces in his squad.

Among them is Rony, who has already scored six goals for Palmeiras in 2023, following a haul of 23 last year. Joao Gomes, who joined Wolves in January and has already netted in the Premier League, will also be hoping to make an impression, as will Andrey Santos. The 18-year-old is back on loan at Vasco de Gama from Chelsea but now has a chance to win his first cap.

ENGLAND

There were no new call-ups in Gareth Southgate's squad for England's Euro 2024 qualifiers against Italy and Ukraine, but Ivan Toney was something of a surprise inclusion.

That's not due to Toney's form – only Erling Haaland (28) and Harry Kane (21) have scored more Premier League goals than the Brentford striker (16) this season – but because he is under investigation over an alleged breach of Football Association betting rules.

Toney was included in Southgate's final squad before the World Cup but did not make the cut for Qatar, and has not yet made a Three Lions appearance. Given his inclusion this time around, the 27-year-old, who has averaged a league goal every 140 minutes this season, will be hoping to make his mark.

 

FRANCE

Kylian Mbappe is the new France captain following Hugo Lloris' international retirement, which has left a spot to fill in goal. Milan's Mike Maignan is the natural successor though has struggled with injury this season. Meanwhile, Brice Samba received his first call-up as one of the three shot-stoppers.

Samba left Nottingham Forest to join Lens last year and the 28-year-old has impressed in Ligue 1. His 78.1 save percentage is the third-best in the division out of goalkeepers to have played at least five games, while according to Opta's expected goals on target conceded (xGOT) model, he has prevented 5.2 goals, the fourth-best total in France's top tier.

 

Khephren Thuram, son of 1998 World Cup winner Lilian Thuram and brother of France striker Marcus Thuram, is having a superb season at Nice and could look to force his way into Didier Deschamps plans for midfield, especially with the injury issues of N'Golo Kante and Paul Pogba.

GERMANY

As hosts of next year's Euros, there'll be no competitive matches for Germany this month, though Hansi Flick's team will be looking to atone for their horror show in Qatar. Six uncapped players have been called up by Flick for friendlies against Peru and Belgium, including Milan defender Malick ThiawKevin Schade, on loan at Brentford from Freiburg, is another newcomer in the forward line.

Marius Wolf has earned his first international opportunity at the age of 27. He has only scored one goal and provided one assist in 24 games this season, so perhaps he won't be the player who goes on to propel Germany to glory in 2024.

ITALY

There's three new faces in Italy's squad, though Roberto Mancini has been lamenting what he sees as a lack of homegrown talent at his disposal. Italy, of course, won the delayed Euro 2020, only to then fail to qualify for the World Cup.

Of the three uncapped players in this selection, Mateo Retegui is certainly one to watch. The 23-year-old, Argentina-born striker holds dual citizenship and plays in the South American nation for Tigre.

Retegui has scored 29 goals since the start of last season. Wladimiro Falcone and Alessandro Buongiorno are the other players who could win their first caps.

NETHERLANDS

Ronald Koeman has given five uncapped players an opportunity to impress in the first squad of his second spell in charge and Sven Botman is undoubtedly the biggest name. The Newcastle United defender was a surprise exclusion from Louis van Gaal's World Cup squad, but the 23-year-old centre-back has been given the nod by Koeman.

Botman has helped Newcastle keep nine clean sheets in the Premier League, while he has made more blocks (15) than any of his defensive club-mates, though he will be hoping to avoid a mistake such as the one he made to gift Nottingham Forest a goal last week. 

Xavi Simons, meanwhile, will be looking to make an impact further forward. The 19-year-old has scored 13 goals and provided six assists in the Eredivisie this season.

 

SPAIN

Most of the players on this list are on the younger side, but new Spain coach Luis de la Fuente has handed a first call-up to 32-year-old Joselu.

The Espanyol forward, previously of Newcastle United and Stoke City, is one of LaLiga's leading scorers this season with 12 goals. Better late than never, perhaps?

Osasuna's David Garcia is another newcomer, while Real Betis striker Borja Iglesias – who like Joselu has netted 12 times in LaLiga – was called up in place of the injured Gerard Moreno on Sunday.

Frenkie de Jong will play no part in the Netherlands' two opening Euro 2024 qualifiers due to injury.

The Barcelona midfielder played the full 90 minutes as the Blaugrana beat Real Madrid 2-1 in Sunday's El Clasico to move 12 points clear at the top of LaLiga.

But he was left with "upper leg complaints", the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) said, leading to his withdrawal from the Oranje squad for their upcoming fixtures.

Ajax forward Steven Bergwijn has also had to pull out with a knee injury.

PSV midfielder Joey Veerman and Borussia Dortmund's Donyell Malen have been chosen by Ronald Koeman as the respective replacements.

The Netherlands begin their campaign against France in Paris on Friday, before hosting Gibraltar at De Kuip three days later.

Friday's trip to France will be the first game of Koeman's second spell in charge.

The former Barcelona boss was confirmed as the Oranje's new head coach before last year's World Cup, with Louis van Gaal presiding over their run to the Qatar 2022 quarter-finals.

Ronald Koeman's first squad in his second stint as Netherlands coach included five uncapped players as Georginio Wijnaldum returned to the fold but Ryan Gravenberch was not selected.

Koeman, who was previously Oranje coach between 2018 and 2020, replaced Louis van Gaal following last year's World Cup in Qatar.

The Netherlands face France and Gibraltar in qualifying for Euro 2024 in Koeman's first two matches after returning to the post.

And the returning coach could hand debuts to Sven Botman and Brian Brobbey, who have impressed this season for Newcastle United and Ajax respectively.

Both players were called up previously under Van Gaal without appearing.

Koeman has also drafted in Anderlecht's Bart Verbruggen and Feyenoord pair Lutsharel Geertruida and Mats Wieffer.

Verbruggen's inclusion sees Koeman change all three goalkeepers from the squad Van Gaal selected for the World Cup, with recalls for Jasper Cillessen and Mark Flekken.

Wijnaldum was recalled, too, having missed the World Cup with a leg fracture suffered in August, robbing the Netherlands of a key man in midfield.

The Roma man's return perhaps contributed to the absence of Gravenberch, who has started only a single Bundesliga match for Bayern Munich this season. He was included instead in the Netherlands Under-21 squad.


Netherlands squad in full: Jasper Cillessen (NEC), Mark Flekken (Freiburg), Bart Verbruggen (Anderlecht); Nathan Ake (Manchester City), Daley Blind (Bayern Munich), Sven Botman (Newcastle United), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Denzel Dumfries (Inter), Lutsharel Geertruida (Feyenoord), Matthijs de Ligt (Bayern Munich), Tyrell Malacia (Manchester United), Jurrien Timber (Ajax); Steven Berghuis (Ajax), Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona), Davy Klaassen (Ajax), Marten de Roon (Atalanta), Xavi Simons (PSV), Kenneth Taylor (Ajax), Mats Wieffer (Feyenoord), Georginio Wijnaldum (Roma); Steven Bergwijn (Ajax), Brian Brobbey (Ajax), Memphis Depay (Atletico Madrid), Cody Gakpo (Liverpool), Wout Weghorst (Manchester United).

Cody Gakpo's decision to move to Liverpool at such a young age has not served him well, suggests his national team head coach Ronald Koeman.

After an impressive World Cup that saw him score three goals in five games in helping the Netherlands to the quarter-finals, Gakpo joined Liverpool from PSV in January for a reported fee of around £40million (€45m).

However, the 23-year-old forward, who also contributed to 21 goals in 14 Eredivisie matches this season, has endured a tough start to life in England.

He has failed to find the net in his first six games as Liverpool have won just one of their seven matches in all competitions since the turn of the year.

Koeman, in his second spell as head coach of the Netherlands after taking over from Louis van Gaal, is concerned Gakpo's move to an underperforming team at just 23 years old is hampering his development.

Koeman told a YouTube show hosted by former footballer Andy van der Meyde: "He has ended up in a team that is not doing well.

"If you don't score or you're not important and you don't win any matches, it's very difficult, especially for a young player.

"If that was someone aged 28, with experience, it would be different."

Gakpo is not the only Netherlands star to struggle with a new club, with midfielder Ryan Gravenberch yet to start a Bundesliga match for Bayern Munich since signing from Ajax prior to this season.

Koeman feels the inferiority in quality of the Eredivisie in comparison to the top leagues in Europe is making it difficult for young stars to flourish after taking the leap.

"The level in England is higher than in the Netherlands," Koeman added.

"But they are also young boys, aren't they? Like Gravenberch going to Bayern and not playing. Then that is difficult."

European champions Italy will face Spain in the last four at the Nations League Finals in June, with hosts Netherlands drawn against World Cup semi-finalists Croatia.

Italy, who were absent from a second consecutive edition of the World Cup in Qatar last year, reached the Nations League semi-finals by edging out Hungary for top spot in a group which also contained Germany and England.

Standing between Roberto Mancini's men and the final are Spain – who beat the Azzurri 2-1 at the same stage of the competition in 2021 before losing the final against France.

Spain, who saw off Portugal to win Group A2, will be led by new head coach Luis de la Fuente after Luis Enrique departed in the aftermath of their surprise World Cup exit against Morocco.

The Netherlands, who were beaten finalists at the inaugural 2019 Nations League Finals in Portugal, will face Croatia in a home semi-final at De Kuip in Rotterdam.

The Oranje are also under new management, with Ronald Koeman returning to the role in place of Louis van Gaal after their World Cup quarter-final loss to eventual champions Argentina.

While it's all change for Spain and the Netherlands, there will be a familiar look to Croatia's side in June, with talismanic midfielder Luka Modric pledging to continue his international career after helping the team win bronze in Qatar.

The semi-final fixtures will take place on June 14 and 15, with the third-place play-off and final being held on June 18.  

Ronald Koeman plans to adopt a more attacking style of play with the Netherlands than the one established by his predecessor Louis van Gaal.

The Oranje reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Qatar under Van Gaal, but criticisms were directed to a style of football that was perceived to be negative.

A five-man defensive line proved to be miserly, conceding just twice in the first four matches of the tournament, but fans wanted more creative output from a side that boasted the likes of Memphis Depay and Cody Gakpo.

The Netherlands' venture in Qatar came to an end against Argentina in a shoot-out defeat, having fought back from a two-goal deficit in a game that marked the final stand of Van Gaal's third spell at the helm.

A similar approach will not be adopted under Koeman, who instead plans to return to the four-man defence he used during his previous stint in charge from 2018-2020.

"In principle, we are going back to the system we played before," he said.

"I also change the system sometimes, but we are going to form the basic system with four defenders.

"In the end, it's all about the implementation of the system. I also played with five players at the back at Barcelona, with three central defenders, and that went very well.

"Everything revolves around: put high pressure or let yourself sink. That makes a system offensive or not."

Assessing the Netherlands' performance at the World Cup, Koeman praised Van Gaal's unbeaten record that stretched until the quarter-final defeat to Argentina and hopes he can enjoy a similar run of form, albeit in his own approach.

"We try to play attractive and fun football in the Netherlands. And twenty international matches remain unbeaten, that will be incredible if I manage to do the same," he added.

"It can be done differently, and I want to do it differently."

Koeman faces a baptism of fire on his return to the national side, with his first match coming against France in March as the qualification campaign for Euro 2024 begins.

Daley Blind revealed his shock move to Bayern Munich has received the backing of Louis van Gaal and Erik ten Hag.

Former Netherlands boss Van Gaal, who stepped down after the World Cup, is a former Bayern head coach, while Manchester United manager Ten Hag previously had a spell in charge of Bayern's reserve team.

Both think Blind has made a smart move by joining the German champions in a step that few saw coming.

The 99-cap Netherlands defender had been heavily linked with Royal Antwerp, but he jumped at the chance to join Bundesliga leaders Bayern, who are chasing an 11th consecutive league title.

Blind has committed to a six-month contract, with the 32-year-old adding the Bavarian giants to his illustrious list of clubs, having also had a four-year stint at United that ended in 2018.

Asked about the influence on the deal of Van Gaal and Ten Hag, who was his former coach at Ajax, Blind said: "I did not speak to them before. Everything went real quick.

"They messaged me after and told me it was a great step, a great opportunity. They were really happy and wished me all the luck."

Speaking at his presentation in Doha on Saturday, Blind refused to go into the reported falling-out with Ajax coach Alfred Schreuder that preceded him being cut free, six months before the end of his contract.

"There is a lot of news lately about Ajax and me, but I don't think is the right moment to talk about that," he said.

Blind is eager to fight for a place in the Bayern team, aware he will be "maybe not a first choice" initially.

His hope is that there will be the chance to extend his short-term deal, but Blind veered clear of looking too far into the future.

"We'll see what happens," he said. "I'll enjoy the moment for now and see what happens after."

Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic revealed talks with Blind happened prior to his Ajax exit being announced on December 27.

"Before Christmas we got in touch with him and he showed us straight away this would be his first option," Salihamidzic said.

"We got along very well straightaway and had a good feeling for each other.

"He's an asset for us. We know he's a great player so we hope we can win a few titles together."

There is perhaps no sporting debate that captures the imagination like that concerning the identity of football's greatest ever player.

The incredible goalscoring feats of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo put them at the centre of the discussion, but what about the greats of yesteryear? 

Does the cunning of Diego Maradona or the ingenuity of Johan Cruyff make one of them the best to have played the world's most popular sport?

The ultimate reference for all those iconic players, however, is Pele. The only player to have won three World Cups, the ultimate personification of "o jogo bonito".

With tributes flooding in after the Brazil icon passed away at the age of 82, Stats Perform delves into the Selecao star's incredible career, asking how it compares to those of the game's other greats.

Pele: The World Cup's finest

While any debate over the greatest player of all time will always be subjective, nobody can deny Pele his status as the ultimate World Cup legend.

His introduction to the global stage came at the 1958 tournament in Sweden, where Brazil exercised the demons of 1950 – when they lost the final on home soil to Uruguay in what became known as the "Maracanazo" – to clinch their first title.

A 17-year-old Pele missed Brazil's first two games at the tournament, but the Santos youngster quickly made the Selecao's number 10 shirt his own after coming in for a 2-0 win over the Soviet Union.

From there, he went from strength to strength, scoring his first World Cup goal against Wales before helping himself to a hat-trick against France in the semi-finals.

As Brazil overcame the hosts 5-2 in a thrilling final, Pele – at the age of 17 years and 249 days – scored twice. Only one other teenager has ever netted in a World Cup final – Kylian Mbappe in 2018.

 

As if one outstanding World Cup campaign was not enough, Pele was key to further Selecao triumphs in 1962 and 1970 – assuming a talismanic role in what many consider to be the greatest international team in history at the latter tournament.

Pele's tally of six assists in Mexico remains the highest tally recorded at a single World Cup since records began four years earlier, and his nonchalant lay-off for Carlos Alberto to finish off a flowing team move in Brazil's final win over Italy remains one of the most iconic moments in the tournament's history.

While modern-day detractors may point to Pele's failure to test himself in Europe, his incredible record on the grandest stage of all dictates that he is remembered among the very best, and there can be no doubt as to his unmatched World Cup legacy.

Johan Cruyff: The innovator

If Pele's legacy can be measured in World Cup accomplishments, Cruyff's must be examined in a very different way.

Cruyff's unbelievable tally of 36 chances created at the 1974 World Cup may be a single-tournament record, but it was not enough for the Netherlands to avoid the first of their three final defeats at the competition.

Eight Eredivisie titles, three European Cups and one LaLiga triumph as a player does not exactly do justice to the career of football's great innovator, the man considered responsible for "total football" and by extension, every free-flowing Barcelona or Ajax team that has followed.

If Pele's is best remembered as the World Cup's greatest player, perhaps Cruyff deserves the title of football's finest pioneer.

Diego Maradona: The individualist 

No conversation about football's greatest could be complete without a mention of Maradona, the man who almost single-handedly carried Argentina to football's greatest prize with a perfect blend of skill and cunning.

Astonishingly, Maradona claimed five goals and five assists as Argentina won the 1986 World Cup – a feat no other player has accomplished since detailed data collection began in 1966.

Maradona's quarter-final brace against England, perhaps the most iconic double in history, encapsulated his on-pitch personality perfectly – a mischievous first goal being followed by a truly remarkable second.

Maradona's tendency to carry unfancied sides to success was replicated on the club stage, with his two Serie A triumphs with Napoli earning him a level of adulation that will perhaps never be matched.

A beaten finalist in 1990, not even El Diego could match Pele's World Cup exploits, but the Argentine carved out a reputation as football's finest individualist. 

 

Cristiano Ronaldo: The big-game player

Like Cruyff, neither of the final two players on our list have made their greatest impact at the World Cup, but the incredible goalscoring feats of Ronaldo ensure his place among the game's legends.

In the Champions League – arguably the true pinnacle of the modern game – no player can match Ronaldo's total of 140 goals.

Ronaldo – who scored his 700th goal in club football earlier this season – has also lifted the Champions League trophy on five occasions – a tally no other player has bettered.

The 37-year-old started off the 2022 World Cup by becoming the first male player to net in five different editions of the tournament, though he ultimately ended it in disappointment, making just 10 touches after coming on as a substitute in Portugal's quarter-final defeat to Morocco.

He has been the ultimate big-game player. Whether he is anymore is clearly up for debate. 

Lionel Messi: The Magician 

While some may prefer the efficiency and athleticism of Ronaldo, there is no sight in modern football as joyous as that of Messi slaloming through panicked defences.

Seven Ballon d'Or wins tells you all you need to know, Messi's army of fans may say, while Pep Guardiola's revolutionary Barcelona side – considered by many as the best team to ever take to the field – was built to accommodate the Argentine's incredible mix of elite finishing, dribbling and passing skills. 

 

Until the last two years, the only major blot on Messi's career was a perceived failure to replicate the feats of Maradona, with the expectations of the Argentinian public often seeming to weigh heavily upon the shoulders of the diminutive attacker.

However, having helped the Albiceleste end a 28-year wait to win the Copa America in 2021, Messi then contributed seven goals and three assists to mirror Maradona's achievement of leading Argentina to World Cup glory, with the Paris Saint-Germain forward's campaign in Qatar already regarded as one of the greatest in the tournament's rich history.

While the sight of Messi lifting the World Cup trophy at the Lusail Stadium caused some to declare any debate regarding football's greatest player to be over, the forward's age dictates he will not get the chance to equal Pele's feats on the game's grandest stage.

Everyone has a different opinion on what makes a player the greatest in history, be it their style, their goal record, or their impact on subsequent generations.

The role of football's greatest tournament will always be pivotal, however, and on that basis, Pele will always have a place among the legends of the game.

Liverpool have reached an agreement to sign Netherlands international Cody Gakpo, his club PSV have announced.

Gakpo has been linked with several of Europe's biggest clubs – including Manchester United and Real Madrid – after emerging as a key part of Ruud van Nistelrooy's side. 

The forward has scored nine goals and provided 12 assists in 14 Eredivisie games this season, the third-highest tally of goal contributions (21) after 14 games in the league since the 1999-00 season – only Van Nistelrooy (27 in 1999-00) and former Liverpool man Luis Suarez (25 in 2009-10) have bettered that tally.

While Erik ten Hag's United have been linked with Gakpo for several months, reports on Monday claimed Liverpool were close to signing the 23-year-old for an initial £37million (€42m) fee.

Having impressed for the Netherlands at the World Cup in Qatar, where he scored three goals, Gakpo is now on course to arrive at Anfield in the January transfer window.

A statement from the Eredivisie giants said: "PSV and Liverpool have reached an agreement on the proposed transfer of Cody Gakpo.

"The 23-year-old attacker will leave for England imminently where he will be subjected to the necessary formalities ahead of the completion of the transfer."

The statement added that both clubs would not make an announcement on the fee, but general manager Marcel Brands did say: "this is a record transfer for PSV," with the club's previous record being the sale of Hirving Lozano to Napoli for a reported €45m.

Should a deal be completed, Gakpo will provide competition in the forward line for Jurgen Klopp's team, who are currently without injured pair Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota.

 

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