And so, the countdown begins…

The 2022 World Cup is just over a year away, with Qatar set to begin the tournament against a still-to-be-decided opponent on November 21, 2022.

Even writing it feels strange. A World Cup… starting in November. But that is the reality, with Qatar's controversial – to put it kindly – hosting of the competition effectively rendering a tournament in June/July impossible due to the conditions.

With only a year to go, 13 of the competing nations (including Qatar) have confirmed their qualification, including record five-time winners Brazil and defending champions France.

Of course, most countries will have a fairly settled group of players, but a year is a long time in football, and a few newcomers will make the breakthrough.

As such, Stats Perform has identified 11 uncapped players who could break into their respective national teams by this time in 2022, and those players' progress will be tracked over the next 12 months in follow-up features.

Without any further ado, here are the chosen players...

Luis Maximiano (Portugal) – 22, goalkeeper, Granada

Yes, yes, Maximiano's inclusion here already implies a massive assumption that Portugal will even make it to Qatar, given their 2-1 home defeat by Serbia left them needing to go through the play-offs.

Nevertheless, it's reasonable to expect them to make it, and if they do, Maximiano may fancy himself as being in with a shot, particularly after a strong start to 2021-22.

He replaced compatriot Rui Silva – who left for Real Betis – between the posts at Granada after falling out of favour at Sporting CP, and he's showing his quality.

 

According to Opta's xGOT (expected goals on target) conceded data, Maximiano has already prevented 3.7 goals in LaLiga this season, the second-most in the division.

Of course, such metrics are weighted in favour of goalkeepers in teams are that kept defensively busy, and Granada are 17th in LaLiga, but we can create a fairer comparison by standardising for the number of shots each keeper faced by looking at their 'goals prevented rate'.

Maximiano's goals prevented rate of 1.37 means he was expected to concede 1.37 goals for every goal actually conceded, and again this is the second best in the league this season.

His shot-stopping abilities have reportedly caught the attention of Barcelona, and given Portugal's lack of a standout goalkeeper (and that's including first-choice Rui Patricio), Maximiano certainly isn't out of the running for Qatar 2022.

Jonathan Clauss (France) – 29, right-back, Lens

Football loves a late bloomer; maybe it's because they convince some of us we can still make it as a professional player. Lens star Clauss is a fascinating embodiment of the phenomenon.

Now 29, Clauss did not make his top-flight debut until the start of 2020-21, but it's fair to say he's been a revelation in a Lens side who have truly captured the imagination since they were promoted back to Ligue 1 in 2019-20 – 13 games into the current campaign, they're second to PSG.

A year out from Qatar 2022, Clauss is being mentioned in France media conferences, with Didier Deschamps last week asked why he wasn't called up. Of course, the coach's decision to go with options he knows when qualification wasn't assured is fair enough, but the Lens man is seemingly now in contention.

He has already had a hand in eight Ligue 1 goals this season, with six assists the joint-most in the division. His positivity on the flank as a wing-back is proving a massive asset to Lens, for whom he also set up six goals last term.

Of course, his greater comfort as a wing-back rather than an orthodox full-back may in the long run count against him, but Clauss is demonstrably effective going forward – usual France right-back options Benjamin Pavard and Leo Dubois aren't, and that may be his 'in'.

 

Bremer (Brazil) – 24, centre-back, Torino

Playing in a generally poor team can go one of two ways for a centre-back: you're either considered a big part of the problem, or you thrive because you're given more opportunities to show your strengths.

For Bremer in a Torino team that have finished 16th and 17th in the past two seasons, it's definitely been the latter.

The 24-year-old has reportedly attracted the interest of numerous Premier League clubs, with Liverpool seemingly the team that are most keen.

While he's not a particularly great progressor of the ball, his 4.9 passes into the final third per 90 minutes since the start of last season being almost half the figures of the highest-ranking Serie A defenders, Bremer is a reliable centre-back first and foremost.

His four clearances per game is up there with the best (only one player averages more than 4.7), while Bremer's positional sense is highlighted by 2.6 interceptions every 90 minutes, a figure bettered by only five defenders (min. 1,000 minutes played since 2020-21 started).

Similarly, the centre-back wins 3.2 aerial duels per 90 minutes, which again is the sixth-highest among that group of defenders.

Brazil don't have outstanding depth at centre-back, all the more reason why Bremer is in with a shot – a move to Liverpool or another 'giant' would only help his cause.

Sven Botman (Netherlands) – 21, centre-back, Lille

Ball-playing centre-backs grow on trees in the Netherlands, or so you'd think. Botman is another off the very reliable production line, having come through the esteemed ranks at Ajax.

Lille signed him for roughly €9million in July 2020 after he enjoyed a promising loan spell with Heerenveen, and he went on to play in all but one Ligue 1 match as Les Dogues won the title.

Life's been a little tougher for Lille this term following the loss of coach Christophe Galtier to Nice, but Botman remains a key player and retains a fine reputation from 2020-21.

Since the start of last season, his 1,295 forward passes is the second most in the division and he ranks 11th for the most ball carries (635).

He's a progressive centre-back who offers plenty of forward-thinking but is also reliable when it comes to getting stuck in.

Over the same period, he's come out on top in 67.8 per cent of his duels, which is the second-best success rate among players to have engaged in at least 150.

Granted, the Netherlands' centre-back options are deep, but Botman's been in the squad before and there's little doubt he would be a good fit for them stylistically.

Angelino (Spain) – 24, left-back, RB Leipzig

It may surprise a few people to learn Angelino has never played for Spain. In fact, he's never even received a call-up to the senior side.

Let's not forget, Spain are blessed with a lot of quality in left-back and wing-back roles. Currently, Jordi Alba, Marcos Alonso, Jose Gaya and Sergio Reguilon are the favoured options, but Angelino is arguably in better form than any of them.

All five players are probably at their best as wing-backs rather than full-backs, and Luis Enrique's current system does allow for such players, which is another reason for Angelino's suitability. Then it comes down to effectiveness on the pitch.

Since the start of last season, in league competition Angelino tops a host of attacking metrics among the aforementioned players. He creates 2.2 chances per 90 minutes on average, with Alonso and Alba next on 1.6.

While Angelino's 0.16 assists every 90 minutes is lower than Alba's 0.22, the Leipzig man is seemingly being let down by poor finishing as his expected assists each game is 0.31 – again, this is the highest.

On a per-90-minute basis, Angelino creates the most chances from open play (1.6), plays the most crosses (5.5) and passes into the box (9.9) most frequently among this group.

Of course, this is partly explained by him playing slightly further forward than his counterparts, but Spain spend most of the time on the ball anyway – having someone as effective as Angelino in attack must be a consideration for Luis Enrique.

 

Riqui Puig (Spain) – 22, midfielder, Barcelona

It feels like Puig has been around for a long time, because even before he was around the first-team squad, Barca fans were singing his praises.

He had been considered as potentially their next legendary midfielder, such was his blend of technical excellence and fine passing skills, two staples of Barca's La Masia academy.

But it's not quite worked out that way.

In the past three seasons, he's only played more than 300 minutes over the course of a LaLiga campaign once, under Quique Setien in 2019-20. While he did feature in 14 league games for Ronald Koeman last term, that amounted to 283 minutes at an average of 20.2 mins in each appearance, and that did not improve this term prior to the Dutchman's sacking.

So, why is he even on this list?

Well, as much as anything because his progress will be intriguing to watch once again now that Xavi is at the helm. If there's anyone who can appreciate Puig's qualities, it'll surely be him.

Christopher Nkunku (France) – 24, midfielder, RB Leipzig

While Nkunku has generally been considered a versatile central midfielder for much of his career, he's excelled in a slightly different role since Jesse Marsch's introduction as Leipzig coach.

He's operated more from the flanks and is getting into the opposition's penalty area with greater frequency, his touches in the box up from 5.2 per 90 minutes to 7.7 this season.

As such, he's getting more shots away in the area (2.2 every 90 minutes, up from 1.7) and that's unsurprisingly led to an increased xG average of 0.45 each game.

He's already got 11 goals across all competitions, four more than he managed in 2020-21, suggesting the change in role is paying dividends, though he remains an able option in the middle such is his quality on the ball and ability to break forward.

In each of the past two seasons, Nkunku didn't manage to start more than 21 league games, but he's already on 11 this term. He's maturing and seemingly found his niche – now all he needs is that elusive first call-up.

 

Alan Velasco (Argentina) – 19, winger, Independiente

Lionel Scaloni has restored a significant amount of respect for Argentina's national team, guiding them to Copa America success earlier this year – that was their first international title at senior level in 28 years.

During his three years in charge, Scaloni has used 75 different players in matches, which shows both the wealth of options he has but also how willing he is to give individuals a chance.

In attack is arguably where Argentina's depth is greatest, but Independiente talent Velasco is surely one of the likeliest to earn a first cap over the next 12 months.

A positive and direct left-winger who likes to cut inside onto his right foot, Velasco has been enjoying something of a breakthrough season in Argentina's Primera Division, particularly during the second stage.

 

He has five goal involvements (one goal, four assists) since mid-July, with no one in the division managing to set up more than five in the entire year, and he has unsurprisingly become a bit of a target for opponents, as highlighted by his 2.9 fouls suffered every 90 minutes being the third-most among players with at least five appearances.

But that doesn't deter him. His 41 chances created is the third highest in the division, and the most among under-21 players, while his 91 dribbles completed and 4.8 per 90 minutes are both league highs.

Velasco also works hard off the ball, making 47 recoveries in the opposition's half, which is fifth among all players. The teenager is a big talent who also boasts strong work ethic – Scaloni will surely have him earmarked as one to watch.

Cade Cowell (United States) – 18, forward, San Jose Earthquakes

There aren't many countries in the world producing more exciting young talent than the United States at the moment, with their squads for the next few World Cups shaping up to be very promising.

While 2022 will probably come too soon for Cowell – arguably the wildcard of this list – he certainly shouldn't be written off, given he has already spent time training with the senior squad before.

A dynamic, quick and strong attacker who play out wide as well, Cowell is the third-youngest player in MLS history to reach 50 appearances, having reached that landmark at 18 years and 16 days old. Only Freddy Adu (16y, 2m, 25d) and Alphonso Davies (17y, 7m) got there quicker.

 

This season, despite only starting for 14 of his 33 MLS appearances, Cowell has amassed 11 goal involvements (five goals, six assists), which only Jesus Ferreira (17 – 8g, 9a) and Ricardo Pepi (16 – 13g, 3a) can better among under-21 players.

There's no mistaking Cowell is very much a rough diamond. He doesn't create a huge amount of chances (1.3 per 90 mins), his duels (32.2 per cent) and dribble (47.6 per cent) success rates aren't great, but he's young and raw. Improvements here should come naturally, and a big 2022 might just propel him into a national side that's not afraid to give youngsters a chance.

 

Amine Gouiri (France) – 21, forward, Nice

If there's one team in international football that would be the toughest to break into as a forward, it's probably France, but Gouiri looks special.

It now looks utterly astonishing that Nice managed to get him for as little as an initial €7million from Lyon in 2020, and the versatile forward – who is comfortable on the left or through the middle – is enjoying the kind of consistency not always associated with young players.

The 2020-21 season was his first as a regular starter in top-flight football and he went on to score a highly respectable 12 goals. While that failed to match his 14.6 expected goals (xG), perhaps showing a degree of inexperience, he did also lay on seven assists.

 

Once again, Gouiri's goals haul of six is a little behind his xG (8.1), suggesting a hint of wastefulness, but only three players are providing greater service than him, with his 3.3 expected assists (xA) ranking high.

Technically, Gouiri is exceptional and explosive, and this undoubtedly helps him create openings and space in the final third, with his combined average of 0.97 expected goals and assists every 90 minutes this season the second-highest in Ligue 1.

Gouiri is too good to never play for France – it's only a matter of time until he gets the call-up, and if he carries on his current trajectory for the next 12 months, Qatar will beckon.

 

Matias Arezo (Uruguay) – 18, forward, River Plate (URU)

Uruguay has produced some truly great strikers down the years. After more of a barren spell in that regard since Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez came through, there is once again a cause for optimism with Darwin Nunez, Agustin Alvarez and, arguably chief among them, Arezo.

The teenager turns 19 this November, so he's still got lots to learn and much room for growth, but the early signs are hugely promising – his stocky appearance, powerful style of play and feistiness (13 yellow cards over 2020 and 2021) have earned him the nickname 'Buffalo', and he's already a reliable source of goals despite his youth.

Arezo scored 13 times in 35 Uruguayan Primera appearances last term – he's matched that haul from 26 outings this year. For comparison's sake, Suarez got 10 in 27 in his first full season in the division with Nacional, while Cavani recorded nine in 25 appearances for Danubio before moving to Europe.

Qatar 2022 will almost certainly be the last World Cup for Suarez and Cavani if Uruguay make it, so they are likely to be involved – but otherwise, La Celeste's forward options are up in the air.

Arezo has been coping well in the physical competitiveness of South America's domestic football and must be in with a great shout of forcing his way into contention for the mission to Qatar.

Netherlands head coach Louis van Gaal insisted his "brain still works" following a bike accident left him temporarily in a wheelchair.

Van Gaal suffered a hip injury after falling off his bicycle on Sunday and oversaw Monday's training session from a golf buggy ahead of the Netherlands' crucial World Cup qualifier against Norway.

The Netherlands require at least a draw from their Group G decider on Tuesday to clinch a berth at Qatar 2022.

Van Gaal, who will be able to coach his nation when the Netherlands and Norway clash in Rotterdam, was keen to stress his brain remains intact following the incident.

"Physically, I'm bad. But my brain still works," former Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Barcelona boss Van Gaal told reporters via video link.

Asked if it hurt a lot, Van Gaal replied: "Yes, a lot. That's why I'm in a wheelchair. That's why I led the training session from my buggy.

"Look, it's the lesser trochanter, that’s a bone, and that's broken. And the iliopsoas, that’s a muscle, is attached to that. That's a stabilising muscle. I hope you can all understand what I'm saying.

"I had to learn about every single bone in the human body when I used to study for gymnastics teacher. That comes in handy now."

"I can do everything, because my brain works. There are things I can use, such as that buggy and my wheelchair. I look stupid, I know that too," the 70-year-old added. "But coaching is verbal, and you use your brain to do so. And the presentation has to convince the squad."

Netherlands star Virgil van Dijk added: "It's just sad and unfortunate for him. He now has to recover the next weeks.

"It's a physical thing, luckily it's not mental. He is still focused on reaching the World Cup, like we all are."

The Netherlands missed the chance to seal qualification for the 2022 World Cup as Montenegro produced a late comeback to snatch a 2-2 draw on Saturday.

Memphis Depay had Group G leaders the Netherlands on track before Montenegro overturned the two-goal deficit.

The Netherlands will now look to clinch against a Norway side missing injured superstar Erling Haaland.

Van Gaal acknowledged Haaland's absence changes the dynamic of the fixture.

"Haaland has the quality to always show up behind a defence," Van Gaal said. "He also did so in their home game against us, three of four times. That were also their only chances.

"Now, they'll have to find another solution. At least, that's what they'll be trying to do. But Haaland has specific qualities that they'll miss now. We can, in principal, play a bit further from our own goal now too."

The Netherlands will have to do without the injured Stefan de Vrij when they face Norway in a decisive World Cup qualifier on Tuesday.

De Vrij suffered a hamstring injury in the closing stages of the Oranje's 2-2 away to Montenegro on Saturday and was replaced by Matthijs de Ligt.

The Inter centre-back has now been ruled out of the Netherlands' final Group G game against third-placed Norway at De Kuip, so De Ligt is set to starting alongside captain Virgil van Dijk.

Coach Louis van Gaal has not called up a replacement for De Vrij.

The Netherlands lead Norway and Turkey – who are away to Montenegro on Tuesday – by two points, and a draw should be enough for them to qualify for the tournament in Qatar next year due to their far superior goal difference.

It appeared to be mission accomplished for the group leaders when Memphis Depay's double put them in control at Podgorica City Stadium, but late goals from Ilija Vukotic and Nikola Vujnovic prevented them from getting the job done.

The Netherlands will not have the backing of a partisan crowd against Norway, as the game in Rotterdam will be played behind closed doors due to coronavirus restrictions.

Virgil van Dijk was left fuming with a "scandalous" second-half performance after the Netherlands missed a chance to seal qualification for the World Cup when they drew 2-2 with Montenegro.

The Oranje knew a win at Podgorica City Stadium would seal top spot in Group G and their place in the tournament in Qatar next year following Norway's goalless draw with Latvia earlier in the day.

It appeared to be mission accomplished when Memphis Depay doubled their lead early in the second half, having opened the scoring from the penalty spot.

But Montenegro struck twice in the final eight minutes to stun Louis van Gaal's side, Ilija Vukotic rounding Justin Bijlow and slotting home before fellow substitute Nikola Vujnovic rose above Daley Blind to head home.

The Oranje go into what promises to be a tense final group game against third-placed Norway on Tuesday leading their opponents and Turkey by two points.

Captain Van Dijk offered a frank and scathing assessment of his side's collapse.

The Liverpool defender told NOS: "It is just scandalous how we played the second half. We all want to have the ball, we all want to play football, attack and score. 

"But we have to make sure that we also think defensively. Spaces were created for them on the counter. And if you don't have the organisation right... It's just awful."

Van Dijk says there can be no excuses for the group leaders failing to get the job done with a game to spare.

He added: "We just had to secure qualification here. With all due respect to Montenegro, but as the Netherlands you just have to win here.

"Especially if you are leading 2-0. Maybe it was a bit of laziness. We need to discuss that carefully. Now it just has to happen on Tuesday in an empty stadium.

"We are going to prepare well. We keep faith in our group and are going to give everything, we can't do more. But it should definitely be better than tonight."

The Netherlands had not let a 2-0 lead slip in a competitive game since a 2004 clash with the Czech Republic at Euro 2004.

Depay is the leading European scorer in this World Cup qualifying campaign with 13. The Barcelona forward has scored 37 times for his country, the joint-fourth highest along with Dennis Bergkamp and Arjen Robben.

The Netherlands missed the chance to seal qualification for the 2022 World Cup as Montenegro produced a late comeback to snatch a 2-2 draw.

Norway's goalless draw with Latvia earlier in the day gave the Oranje a chance to win Group G with a game to spare at Podgorica City Stadium and they were well on course to grasp their opportunity courtesy of a Memphis Depay double.

Depay struck from the penalty spot in the first half before the leading scorer in European qualifying took his tally to 11 after the break to give Louis van Gaal's breathing space.

Montenegro looked beaten, but Ilija Vukotic set up a tense finale when he halved the deficit with eight minutes to play and fellow substitute Nikola Vujnovic stunned the Netherlands when he equalised after 86 minutes.

The Oranje go into what promises to be a tense final group game against third-placed Norway on Tuesday leading their opponents and Turkey by two points.

Europe's qualifying section for the 2022 World Cup reaches its dramatic climax over the next week, with eight more nations set to secure their places in Qatar.

There will be 50 matches played during this international window, during which the outcome of all 10 groups will be decided, with Denmark and Germany the only European nations to have already booked their tickets.

Indeed, the other eight group winners will seal automatic qualification for Qatar 2022, while another 10 nations will advance to March's play-offs as the runners-up.

The 10 second-placed teams will be joined by the two best group winners from the 2020-21 Nations League who have neither already qualified nor sealed a play-off spot via the group stage.

With plenty of excitement and drama guaranteed, Stats Perform takes a closer look at the most eye-catching fixtures, permutations and milestones.  

800 up for Ronaldo?

Another day and another milestone approaches for Cristiano Ronaldo, who is just two goals away from taking his career tally to 800.

The Portugal skipper could hit the landmark when his country face the Republic of Ireland on Thursday – failing that, they host Serbia three days later.

Should Portugal take maximum points at the Aviva Stadium, Fernando Santos’ men would then guarantee top spot in Group A by avoiding defeat against Serbia on Sunday.

 

Deja vu for Italy?

The reigning European champions missed out on the finals last time around, sparking a cultural reset that ultimately culminated in their brilliant Euro 2020 success earlier this year. But their place in Qatar is still far from secure.

Level on points with Switzerland at the top of Group C with two games remaining, the Azzurri must beat the Swiss when they face off on Friday and avoid defeat against Northern Ireland three days later to guarantee qualification. 

Four years ago they were fell to Sweden in the play-offs – failure this time around would be an even bigger shock.

Work to do for the Dutch

The Netherlands were also absent from Russia in 2018 and, despite leading Group G, they are not home and dry just yet.

Louis van Gaal’s side travel to Montenegro on Saturday while second-placed Norway host Latvia.

Just two points separate the top two, who lock horns at De Kuip on Tuesday in a game that will more than likely decide who wins the group.

Spain to avert Swede success?

The 2010 World Cup winners are not yet guaranteed a top-two finish in Group B, although they will be by avoiding defeat away to Greece on Thursday.

Spain are two points behind leaders Sweden, who travel to Georgia on the same day. They go head-to-head in what will surely be the group decider on Sunday, assuming they take maximum points three days earlier. 

 

France looking to avoid the Blues

The reigning world champions and recently crowned Nations League winners are not quite over the line in Group D, despite holding a three-point advantage and game in hand over second-placed Ukraine.

However, Les Bleus will secure top spot with a win over Kazakhstan on Saturday or, failing that, taking maximum points away to Finland on Tuesday. 

Who will top Group H?

Russia and Croatia are guaranteed top-two finishes in Group H, but with just two points separating them, the identity of the group winners is still very much up in the air.

After facing Cyprus and Malta respectively on Thursday, the two nations collide in Split on Sunday with one of them booking a place in Qatar and the other heading for the play-offs.

Second place up for grabs in Group J

Eight points clear of the chasing pack in Group J, Germany secured qualification with flying colours. But the battle for second place is not quite as straightforward.

Occupying second are Romania (13 points), followed closely by North Macedonia and Armenia (both 12), while Iceland (eight) still have an outside chance as well.

Armenia and North Macedonia face off on Thursday with Romania hosting Iceland.

The group then reaches its climax three days later as North Macedonia and Iceland lock horns, while Armenia host Germany and Romania travel to Liechtenstein – expect a rollercoaster ride in Group J!

Gerhard Erasmus and David Wiese saw Namibia over the line in an historic eight-wicket win over Ireland that sent the African nation into the Super 12 stage of the T20 World Cup for the first time.

Set a target of 126 to win in Sharjah, Namibia ensured an automatic place at the next T20 World Cup in Australia with an emphatic victory and eliminated Ireland.

Captain Erasmus top-scored with 53 not out, while Wiese made 28 from 14 deliveries tot propelled the minnows, who only attained ODI status in 2019, through with nine balls to spare.

"It's a dream that's come true. These players were six and seven-year-old boys, dreaming of playing against teams like India and Pakistan. That dream has come true," Namibia coach Pierre de Bruyn said.

"All they had in the last few years was to watch these guys on TV and dream about it. They will wake up knowing it's real. I am just so pleased for them. I don't think people really know how limited we are. We are not a cricket organisation with a luxury of great resources."

Jan Frylinck took 3-21 and Wiese claimed 2-22 as Ireland collapsed from 94-2 to 125-8 after Paul Stirling had smashed 38 off 24 balls.

Namibia will be in Group 2 of the Super 12s along with India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Scotland.

In Friday's other match, already-qualified Sri Lanka made light work of the Netherlands in an eight-wicket thrashing

Sri Lanka beat the Netherlands by nine wickets in their only previous T20I meeting, en route to winning the 2014 World Cup, and they skittled the European nation out for 44 in just 10 overs.

The Dutch had no answer to Lahiru Kumara (3-7) and Wanindu Hasaranga (3-9) and Maheesh Theekshana (2-3) before they cruised to victory in only 7.1 overs, Kusal Perera making 33 not out.

The Super 12s get under way on Saturday, with Australia facing South Africa and England taking on reigning champions West Indies.

Sri Lanka are through to the T20 World Cup Super 12 after a dominant 70-run win over Ireland.

Wanindu Hasaranga's 47-ball 71, along with 61 from Pathum Nissanka, which came from the same amount of deliveries, propelled the 2014 winners to 171-7.

The 172 target proved well beyond Ireland, who were dismissed for 101 with nine balls left, Hasaranga also taking a wicket and bowling a team-high 14 dot balls in a Man of the Match display.

It means Sri Lanka can top Group A with a win over the Netherlands, whose hopes came to an end with defeat to Namibia.

Max O'Dowd hit a 56-ball 70 for Netherlands as they posted 164-4, however, David Wiese's unbeaten 66 ensured Namibia got over the line for a six-wicket win with six balls left.

England are among the tournament favourites and they underlined that status with a 13-run warm-up win over New Zealand in which Jos Buttler delivered a scarcely needed reminder of his class by hitting 11 fours and two maximums for his 73.

Mark Wood (4-23) and Adil Rashid (3-18) impressed with the ball for England, who were runners-up in 2016 to West Indies.

The Windies seemingly have work to do ahead of the Super 12 after a 56-run defeat to Afghanistan, who saw Hazratullah Zazai (56) and Mohammad Shahzad (54) hit half-centuries.

Rassie van der Dussen, meanwhile, looks in ominous form for South Africa, his 51-ball 101 comprising of 10 fours and four maximums as South Africa saw off Pakistan by six wickets.

Sri Lanka eased to a straightforward seven-wicket victory over Namibia in their opening match of the T20 World Cup on Monday.

Namibia were dismissed for just 96 runs after being put into bat first, and Sri Lanka ultimately eclipsed that total as early as the 14th over.

Maheesh Theekshana was a key part of the Sri Lanka attack, taking Stephan Baard on his first delivery, before also claiming the scalps of Zane Green and Jan Frylinck, ending the day at 3-25.

Craig Williams (29) was the only Namibian to get more than 20, though his haul was hardly emphatic given it came off 36 balls and included just two boundaries.

Sri Lanka's innings did not start particularly impressively given they were 26-3 after the first ball of the sixth over, but Avishka Fernando (30 not out) and Bhanuka Rajapaksa (42 not out) had a steadying impact as they got them over the line at 100-3.

The day's early Group A match saw Ireland win in similarly comprehensive fashion against the Netherlands, with the bowlers again having the decisive impact during a seven-wicket victory.

Curtis Campher (4-26) incredibly took all four of his wickets in succession to leave the Dutch in disarray, becoming only the third man after Lasith Malinga and Rashid Khan to achieve the feat in a T20I, while Mark Adair was even more efficient with figures of 3-9 in his four overs.

Like Campher, Adair's treble came in a row and right at the end as the Netherlands could only set a target of 106.

Paul Stirling (30 not out) kept things ticking over throughout with a professional – if unspectacular – knock, but Gareth Delany (44) top scored for the Irish. By the time he was eventually stopped by Pieter Seelaar's yorker, Ireland only needed another 12 runs.

Elsewhere, several of the tournament favourites were in action in warm-up matches. India beat England by seven wickets with six balls remaining partly down to swift 50s by KL Rahul and Ishan Kishan, while Australia's 159-7 saw them defeat New Zealand with one ball left.

South Africa enjoyed a comfortable 41-run win over Afghanistan and Pakistan defeated the West Indies by seven wickets in a little over 15 overs.

Memphis Depay scored twice and had a penalty saved as the Netherlands maintained their hold on World Cup qualifying Group G with a comfortable 6-0 win over Gibraltar.

Virgil van Dijk's early header got the ball rolling, with Depay responding to Bradley Banda saving his spot-kick by finishing off a neat team move and scoring a second penalty as the Oranje went in at half-time with a commanding lead.

Denzel Dumfries wasted no time in adding to the scoreline in the second half, before substitutes Arnaut Danjuma and Donny Malen completed the scoring to condemn Gibraltar to an eighth defeat from eight.

The Netherlands can ill afford to slip up, with Norway two points behind them, but that was never likely here as Van Dijk opened the scoring inside nine minutes, losing his marker with ease and nodding Depay's corner in at the near post.

Stefan de Vrij's header was blocked in the box by the arm of Graeme Torrilla, with a penalty awarded following a VAR review, yet Depay's spot-kick was at a nice height for Banda to make a convincing save.

The Gibraltar goalkeeper could do little two minutes later, however, as Noa Lang's superb pass carved the visiting defence open and Davy Klaassen squared for Depay to tap in.

Banda made fine saves from Georginio Wijnaldum and De Vrij, but another handball – this time Julian Valarino blocking Steven Berghuis' right-wing cross – gave Depay a second opportunity from the spot he would not pass up.

Dumfries made it 4-0 shortly after the restart, finding himself in the centre of the box to head in Lang's left-wing cross, and a lull in the scoring was brought to an end 15 minutes from time when Wout Weghorst flicked on to Danjuma, who steered the ball into the bottom-left corner on the stretch.

Weghorst thought he had got his name on the scoresheet when he nodded over Banda but Roy Chipolina hacked off the line, with the sixth instead belonging to Malen after slick interplay involving Depay.

Georginio Wijnaldum admitted he is "not completely happy" with a lack of playing time at Paris Saint-Germain but has vowed to fight for his place in the side.

The 30-year-old joined the Ligue 1 giants on a free transfer in June after failing to agree a new deal with Liverpool, where he had been a regular for the past five seasons.

Having started five of PSG's first seven games this term, Wijnaldum was named in the starting line-up just once in their five matches prior to the international break.

He has played a part in all but one of the French side's 12 fixtures in all competitions, but the midfielder is not pleased to be playing back-up to Marco Verratti, Idrissa Gueye and Ander Herrera.

"I can't say I'm completely happy," he said at a pre-match news conference ahead of the Netherlands' World Cup qualifier against Gibraltar.

"The situation is not what I wanted. I have played a lot in recent years, was always fit and also did very well. 

"This is something different and that takes getting used to. I was really looking forward to the new step and then this happens. It is very difficult.

"That's football and I'll have to learn to deal with that. I'm a fighter. I have to stay positive and work hard to turn it around."

 

Wijnaldum made 51 appearances for Liverpool in all competitions last season – his most in a single campaign since making his senior debut for Feyenoord in 2006-07.

The 502 minutes Wijnaldum has played this season is the 12th most among PSG players, behind the likes of Gueye (588) and Herrera (868).

Speaking last week, Netherlands head coach Louis van Gaal said he was "worried" by Wijnaldum's situation at the Parc des Princes.

"I already talked to him about that when he arrived here. But the alarm bells are not sounding just yet. I have lots of trust in certain players," Van Gaal added.

"You will remember I took him to the World Cup in 2014 when he was carrying an injury. I started with [Jonathan] De Guzman but Wijnaldum soon took over and did well."

Wijnaldum is in contention to start the Netherlands' home match with Gibraltar on Monday, with victory enough to guarantee a top-two finish in Group G should other results go their way.

Louis van Gaal defended Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman and midfielder Frenkie de Jong by claiming foreigners are always blamed for the club's problems.

It appeared Koeman was on the brink of being sacked prior to Barca's 2-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid on October 2 and a 3-0 Champions League loss to Benfica suggested his fate was certain.

However, president Joan Laporta opted to stand by the former Everton boss as he acknowledged the difficulty of managing injury problems and the loss of Lionel Messi amid the club's financial crisis.

Midfielder De Jong moved to defend his side in recent days, insisting the team's issues were "exaggerated a lot" and that their season was far from a write-off.

Netherlands boss Van Gaal delivered two LaLiga titles, a Copa del Rey and the UEFA Super Cup in his first spell as Barca coach, but he endured a difficult relationship with players and supporters at Camp Nou.

Speaking ahead of the Oranje's World Cup qualifier with Gibraltar, Van Gaal said he was not surprised to see his compatriots being criticised.

 "If everything is going smoothly, and you have great contributions that Frenkie has made in the past two years, then there is nothing to worry about," he told reporters.

"But when things go bad, people at Barcelona always look at the foreigners. And in this case, the coach is also a foreigner and a Dutchman.

"I have experienced that, too. History repeats itself. But I think Frenkie handles it very well, and Ronald, and Luuk de Jong and Memphis [Depay], too. I don't think that's the biggest problem.

"At the moment, they are trying to do everything they can. I've never had a striker like Memphis who runs so much, comes so deep and gets on the ball so much. That's commendable."

The Netherlands' 1-0 win over Latvia put them two points clear of Norway in their World Cup qualifying group.

Victory over Gibraltar, who have lost all seven of their games in Group G, would put Van Gaal's men in a strong position to qualify for Qatar 2022.

Netherlands head coach Louis van Gaal says his side does not need to play to entertain after they ground out a 1-0 World Cup qualifying win over Latvia in Riga on Friday.

Davy Klaassen netted a 19th-minute winner for the Dutch to move clear in Group G, although they needed an injury-time save from goalkeeper Justin Bijlow to preserve their lead.

Klaassen's goal came when he volleyed home a Memphis Depay corner with Van Gaal's side putting in an uninspiring performance, where they bossed 75 per cent possession and had the bulk of the chances with 19-10 shots and 4-1 shots on target.

Van Gaal would not be drawn on his side's ability to entertain, insisting World Cup qualification is the only goal after the Dutch missed out in 2018.

"We don't have to entertain the public here," van Gaal told NOS after the game. "We have to make it to the World Cup, that's the goal.

"These are very difficult matches. Every long ball was a fight with that striker [Roberts Uldrikis] of theirs."

The Netherlands sit clear atop Group G with 16 points, two points ahead of Norway, who drew with third-placed Turkey 1-1 on Friday.

Van Gaal conceded the Dutch invited Latvia's pressure, with Bijlow denying Igors Tarasovs late, by not adding to their one-goal advantage and felt they should have scored more.

"It has become 0-1, but it could also have been 0-4, 1-6 or 2-1," he said. "We did that ourselves. Frenkie de Jong's pass was too soft and Denzel Dumfries did not come to the ball. Everything went wrong there."

He added: "We had 15 chances and they had four. We had 75 per cent of the ball. That is not surprising, because I had already expected this.

"You can say it’s not that great, but we won 1-0, and Turkey-Norway made it 1-1. We are one step closer to the World Cup."

Virgil van Dijk praised Justin Bijlow for his injury-time save against Latvia as the Netherlands scraped a 1-0 win in World Cup qualifying.

Davy Klaassen's volley after 19 minutes proved enough for Louis van Gaal's men to take all three points in Riga on Friday.

The Oranje were largely uninspiring, though, with 78 per cent of the possession yielding just four shots on target against a side who have won only three World Cup qualifiers since 2013. In their previous six qualifiers, they had averaged 11 attempts on target per game.

Latvia twice came close to an equaliser, the first just a minute after the goal when Van Dijk lost possession near halfway and Klaassen was forced into two blocks in the penalty area.

Then, in second-half stoppage time, Feyenoord goalkeeper Bijlow made a one-handed save to deny Igors Tarasovs after the visitors failed to clear a corner.

"It's a game everyone expects you to win," Van Dijk told NOS. "That's only normal, I think. Luckily, we did that.

"We created a lot of chances, and they had a few dangerous moments after our mistakes. But yes, it's three points. That's very important in terms of World Cup qualification. It's what we came for.

 

"We analysed Latvia well, and they're a team who don't give up. They keep running. It's not that they put you under a lot of pressure, but they play very opportunistically when they have the ball. We knew it wouldn't be over with a 1-0 lead.

"I think we had chances, but the second goal didn't come in the end. Then you have to do everything you can to keep the clean sheet and take the three points. We were successful in that, partly thanks to a good save by Justin at the end."

The victory allowed the Netherlands to move two points clear at the top of Group G after Norway drew 1-1 away to Turkey.

With their next match at home to Gibraltar, who have lost all seven of their games, Van Gaal's side could put themselves in a strong position to qualify for Qatar 2022.

"[The Norway draw] was a very favourable result for us, but we have to do things ourselves. It's in our own hands," said Van Dijk.

"On Monday, we have to take another three points against Gibraltar, hopefully with a great atmosphere in the stadium."

The Netherlands took control of World Cup qualifying Group G with a 1-0 victory over Latvia on Friday.

Davy Klaassen scored the only goal of the game in the first half as Oranje edged an uninspiring contest in Riga.

After scoring 10 goals in their previous two matches against Montenegro and Turkey, Louis van Gaal's men were far more laboured against a side whose only World Cup qualifying wins since the end of 2013 have come against Andorra and Gibraltar.

Klaassen's opening goal was a well-taken volley on the turn from Memphis Depay's corner, as the Netherlands started in positive fashion.

Yet Klaassen was required to make a double block against Andrejs Ciganiks and Roberts Uldrikis at the other end barely a minute later following a mistake near the halfway line by captain Virgil van Dijk.

Latvia continued to offer a threat on the break, but the visitors should have made their position more comfortable six minutes after half-time, Cody Gakpo heading Daley Blind's cross over the bar when Klaassen was perhaps better placed to meet it.

The Netherlands continued to control around 75 per cent of the possession without really threatening Roberts Ozols in the Latvia goal, at least until substitute Ryan Gravenberch was thwarted by the keeper's legs from inside the penalty area.

Latvia almost produced a late shock in injury time, Igors Tarasovs drawing a one-handed save from Justin Bijlow after the Netherlands failed to clear a corner.

What does it mean? Netherlands two points clear in Group G

With Turkey and Norway playing out a draw in Istanbul, the Netherlands were able to move two points clear at the top of the group.

Given their next game is at home to Gibraltar, who have lost all seven of their qualifiers, Van Gaal's side have a good chance to put themselves in a strong position ahead of the final two rounds of matches.

Klaassen holds the key

There were not many especially bright performances but Klaassen deserves credit for the decisive moments: his volley on the spin from 12 yards out was well controlled, and his endeavour in his own box moments later made sure there was to be no quick equaliser.

He was the only Netherlands player to manage more than a single shot on target, too – although he only had two of those.

Complacency almost proves costly

While the final half-hour was firmly under their control, the Netherlands allowed Latvia far too many opportunities to attack in the first half as they failed to build on their lead.

One particularly slack piece of play from Van Dijk in the opponents' half presented them with their best chance of the contest.

What's next?

The Netherlands host Gibraltar on Monday, when Latvia are at home to Turkey.

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