Five and a half years after the iconic line "Carlos Brathwaite, remember the name" was delivered, England are among the favourites to banish the memories of their T20 World Cup heartbreak.

Ian Bishop delivered those famous words from an Eden Gardens commentary box after watching Brathwaite win the 2016 T20 World Cup for West Indies in dramatic fashion.

Needing 19 off the final over for the Windies to be crowned champions for a record second time in Kolkata, Brathwaite launched Ben Stokes for four huge sixes in as many balls to leave England shell-shocked.

It remains to be seen who will make a name for themselves in the 2021 showpiece, which could not be staged in Australia last year due to the coronavirus pandemic and was then moved from India to the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Stats Perform pick out the contenders and key players ahead of a cricketing extravaganza that will finally get under way when Oman face Papua New Guinea on Sunday.

 

Gayle force to put Wind in champions' sails?

It is 22 years since Chris Gayle made his Windies debut, so there will be no need for a "remember the name" if the left-handed opener cuts loose.

Powerhouse Gayle cut short his latest Indian Premier League spell with Punjab Kings due to bubble fatigue to ensure he would be fresh for the T20 World Cup.

Gayle is the highest run-scorer in T20 history with a staggering 14,276 from 440 innings at an average of 36.79, with 22 centuries and a strike rate of 145.71.

The 42-year-old self-proclaimed 'Universe Boss' has proved to be the man for a big occasion time and again and he could produce more fireworks as a talented Windies squad, which does not include Brathwaite, target a hat-trick.

 

England could be Living it up

England won the last major international white-ball tournament on home soil with a dramatic Super Over-defeat of New Zealand in an incredible 2019 World Cup final at Lord's.

Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer were key to that stunning victory, but they will both be absent as Eoin Morgan attempts to lead England to T20 glory.

Top of the rankings and with the number one T20 batsman in the world in the shape of Dawid Malan, they have every chance of lifting the trophy in Dubai on November 14.

Destructive all-rounder Liam Livingstone can play a huge part, while Tymal Mills will be one to watch over three years after the left-arm paceman's last international appearance.

Kohli desperate to end reign on a high note

Virat Kohli will step down as India captain after the tournament, although the prolific right-hander will continue to play for his country in the shortest format.

Kohli has not won a major ICC trophy as skipper, but this competition represents another huge opportunity to put that unwanted record right.

The highest scorer in international T20 cricket, Kohli could take the World Cup by storm and he will lead a squad packed with firepower both with bat and ball.

Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Rishabh Pant are just a few of the other key men for India.

 

Australia to put on 'Big Show'?

Preparation for some of the Australia players has been anything but ideal, having faced a strict lockdown in their homeland.

Yet captain Aaron Finch says they will be ready to go when they face South Africa in their first match of the Super 12 stage on October 23 as he steps up his recovery from knee surgery.

David Warner has been out of sorts, but Finch has backed his fellow opener and Australia have no shortage of potential match-winners in their squad.

All-rounder Glenn Maxwell may need to live up to his 'Big Show' nickname if Australia are to lift the trophy.

Black Caps and Pakistan can mount a challenge, outside chance for Proteas

New Zealand celebrated winning the first World Test Championship final this year and they have the armoury for T20 success under the inspirational leadership of Kane Williamson.

Kyle Jamieson and Trent Boult can spearhead a strong attack, while Williamson consistently racks up the runs in all formats and Devon Conway can make his mark.

Much rests on the shoulders of skipper Babar Azam in Pakistan's pursuit of glory, while the likes of Quinton de Kock, Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada will be key for South Africa.

After a COVID-19 enforced postponement, the T20 World Cup will finally get underway on Sunday.

Initially scheduled to take place in Australia last year, and then India following the postponement, the competition will now take place in the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

A first round featuring eight teams, including debutants Namibia and Papua New Guinea as well as 2014 champions Sri Lanka (who have reached three T20 World Cup finals, more than any other side), gets the tournament up and running, with four teams progressing into the Super 12 stage.

The West Indies are aiming to defend their title, having edged out England in the 2016 edition. Eoin Morgan's team, who have the world's top T20 batsman in their ranks, are sure to be one of the main challengers for the Windies' crown.

Virat Kohli's India are among the favourites, while Pakistan will be hoping captain Babar Azam delivers. Australia and New Zealand (the most economic side when it came to bowling in 2016) cannot be discounted either, with South Africa also improving in recent years.

It promises to be a thrilling tournament and, with the help of Opta, Stats Perform looks at some of the key data points heading into the tournament.

 

Gayle on the record trail

The Windies have won two of the last three T20 World Cups, triumphing in 2016 and 2012 either side of Sri Lanka's success, and they remain the only team to have won the tournament on multiple occasions. Key to their sustained success has been Chris Gayle, who at 42, is still the face of the sport in the Caribbean.

He is just 80 runs away from becoming the second player to score 1,000 runs at the T20 World Cup. In fact, he needs only 97 runs to surpass Mahela Jayawardene's record tally of 1,016. Gayle already holds one competition record, for the number of sixes (60), while he averages 40 across 26 innings at the tournament, with a brilliant strike rate of 146.7.

New Zealand great Brendon McCullum (123) is the only player to have a higher T20 World Cup score than Gayle's 117, and you would not bet against the Windies talisman claiming that record either.

Gayle will have able support from the likes of Kieron Pollard (1,378 T20 runs), Dwayne Bravo (1,229) and Lendl Simmons (1,508), not to mention Nicholas Pooran.

Despite batting in the middle order, Pooran hit the second-highest number of sixes in this year's Caribbean Premier League (25). He also has form in the middle east, having struck 350 runs at a rate of 170 in the most recent edition of the Indian Premier League.

 

Malan and Livingstone to lead England

The Windies' first opponents in the Super 12 phase will be England, who will be out for revenge. They had a batting strike rate of 148 in 2016, the best of any team, but still fell short. Yet while the West Indies are now ninth in the ICC's T20I rankings, Morgan's men sit top of the pile.

Dawid Malan is the star batsman. He is ranked number one in the world in T20Is, with a rating of 841, way clear of second-placed Babar (819). Over 30 innings, he has amassed 1,123 runs at an average of 43.2 and a strike rate of 139.3.

Morgan, not shy of a big innings himself, is also able to call on Liam Livingstone, who has made a fantastic start to his T20I career. 

From seven innings, Livingstone has hit 206 runs with a strike rate of 167.5. His high score of 103 is the joint-highest in England's squad, level with Malan (103 not out).

As was the case at the 2019 World Cup, England's batting depth is exceptional, though they are shorn of Ben Stokes, who always seems to deliver when it matters most.

 

Kohli's last shot

Not too far behind Malan in the ICC's T20I batsman rankings is India star Kohli, who is stepping down as the captain in the shortest format of the game following the World Cup.

Winners of the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007, India have only reached one other final, back in 2014. Kohli was named player of the tournament, top-scoring with 319 runs, and as he prepares to bow out as captain, he will be determined to cap off his tenure on a high.

No player has made more half-centuries in the competition than the 32-year-old (level with Gayle on nine), though Kohli is yet to log a century.

Kohli's hopes may well rest on the shoulders of Rohit Sharma. The opener debuted with an unbeaten half-century back in 2007 and has made 111 T20I appearances, behind only Shoaib Malik (116) and Mohammed Hafeez (113).

Only Martin Guptill (147) has struck more sixes than Sharma (133) in the format, while over the last five years, India have won every time the batsman has scored 50+ runs.

 

Captain fantastic

Shahid Afridi has taken the most wickets of any player in T20 World Cup history (39). Indeed, Bangladesh's Shakib Al Hasan has taken the most wickets at the tournament of any player set to participate in this edition (30), which shows the void Pakistan are having to fill following Afridi's retirement.

They do, however, possess a supreme batsman in the form of captain Babar. 

Since his T20I bow in 2016, Babar has tallied up 2,204 runs. His average of 46.9 puts him third on the all-time T20I list (20+ innings), behind Kohli (52.7) and his fellow opener Mohammad Rizwan (48.4), who provides another string to Pakistan's bow.

Babar, who has only managed one century to date (122 from 59 balls against South Africa earlier this year) was the fastest player to 2,000 T20I runs (52 innings) beating Kohli's previous best of 56, and an enticing encounter between the sub-continental rivals takes place on October 24.

Mumbai Indians put an end to a three-game losing streak to boost their play-off hopes in the Indian Premier League, beating Punjab Kings by six wickets. 

Saurabh Tiwary made 45 and Hardik Pandya hit an unbeaten 40 as the reigning champions overhauled their opponents' score of 135-6 with an over to spare on Tuesday. 

Looking to beat Mumbai for a third time in a row – a feat they had not managed since a run between the 2008-09 seasons – Punjab Kings simply failed to fire with the bat. They appeared to be making solid progress when their opening pair reached 36 without loss, only to then lose four wickets for the addition of just 12 runs.

Kieron Pollard claimed two in one over, including dismissing fellow West Indian Chris Gayle for one. Captain KL Rahul followed soon after, hitting a slower bouncer straight to Jasprit Bumrah at short fine leg to depart for 21. 

Aiden Markram led a recovery of sorts, finishing as the top scorer in the innings with 42. Deepak Hooda contributed 28 while Harpreet Brar ended up unbeaten on 14, though both struggled to up the run-rate in the closing overs. 

Ravi Bishnoi provided hope for Punjab Kings by dismissing Rohit Sharma and Suryakumar Yadav with successive deliveries in the powerplay, but Pollard came out at number six in the order to rush his team to victory, making 15 not out from just seven balls.

 

Bowlers help dethrone Kings 

Mumbai Indians have lost 13 games against Punjab Kings in the history of the IPL, the joint-most for the franchise against any rival in the tournament. 

However, they came out on top this time thanks mainly to their bowling attack. Krunal Pandya and Bumrah both claimed 1-24, while Nathan Coulter-Nile's four-over stint conceded just 19 runs. 

All-round excellence in Abu Dhabi 

Pollard may be better known for his big-hitting exploits with the bat, but the all-rounder has now reached the milestone of 300 wickets in Twenty20 cricket, meaning he becomes the first player to achieve both that feat and also score 10,000 runs in the format.

He dismissed Gayle for just the second time in T20 action, tempting the left-hander to have a go at a slower delivery that only ended up in the safe hands of Hardik Pandya. 

The West Indies have clinched their T20 International series against Australia, racing to an unassailable 3-0 lead with a dominant six-wicket win in St Lucia on Monday.

Chris Gayle produced his best knock since his return to the international side, with 67 from 38 balls as the West Indies cruised in the chase, winning with 31 balls to spare.

Stand-in captain Nicholas Pooran (32* from 27 balls) finished the job with back-to-back boundaries off Riley Meredith (48-3) to seal the series victory with two games to play.

Australia captain Aaron Finch won the toss and elected to bat first this time, with his batsmen failing to capitalise on several starts, only managing 141-6.

Moises Henriques top scored with 33, hitting Australia's only two sixes, with Hayden Walsh restricting them with 18-2 from four overs.

The improved Mitchell Starc (18-1 from four) dismissed Andre Fletcher early, bringing Gayle to the crease and the 41-year-old was at his best.

Gayle hit several lusty blows, including seven sixes and four fours in his knock, before edging to wicketkeeper Matthew Wade off Meredith.

RETURN TO FORM FOR GAYLE?

Gayle has made it clear that his return to the West Indies, after two years away, has been inspired by competing at the T20 World Cup later this year.

Despite strong Indian Premier League form, he has struggled upon his return to the international arena, managing only 102 runs in nine innings.

The veteran left-hander made his first T20 International half-century since 2016 with his knock at first drop on Monday.

"From a personal point of view, you all knew I was struggling with the bat, but to be get some runs today it's very pleasing," Gayle said. "I want to dedicate these runs to my teammates, especially Kieron Pollard. He gave me the pep talk I needed."

Gayle made 288 runs in seven innings at an average of 41.14 in the 2020 IPL, before scoring 178 runs in eight knocks in the 2021 edition.

"Looking back, when I got back into the West Indies team against Sri Lanka, I was trying to play a different role, than play Chris Gayle himself," Gayle said. "I didn’t get the runs but the guys rallied around me. It's coming on, my main focus is the World Cup."

AUSSIES T20I WOES CONTINUE

Australia continue to struggle in the shortest format, having been comfortably beaten in all three matches in the series.

Finch, who made 30 from 31 deliveries at the top of the order, felt there was a clear theme to address among the losses.

"Same as the other games, we haven’t had the top order go on deep into the innings," Finch said. "It's been quite similar the whole way through. Credit to the West Indies, they bowled beautifully, especially at the back end."

Australia have only managed scores of 127, 140 and 141-6 in the three T20Is this series, bowled out on both occasions when they have chased.

"We would’ve liked more runs, no doubt," Finch added. "That comes down to the top order not going through. If one of your top four is there through the end you put pressure on the bowlers."

Evin Lewis smashed 71 off 35 balls as West Indies cruised to an eight-wicket win over South Africa in the first Twenty20 international in Grenada on Saturday.

Rassie van der Dussen (56 not out) and wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock (37) helped the Proteas post a modest 160-6 as Fabian Allen (2-18) finished the pick of the West Indies bowlers.

A blistering assault from Lewis laid the foundations for the win as he and opening partner Andre Fletcher (30) put on 85 for the first wicket in seven overs.

Tabraiz Shamsi (1-27) claimed the wicket of Lewis, but Chris Gayle (32 not out) and skipper Andre Russell (23 not out) saw West Indies home with 30 balls to spare.

South Africa thrashed West Indies in their recent two-Test series, but these five T20 matches look set to go the other way based on this one-sided game.

West Indies, the reigning T20 world champions, won the toss and elected to bowl first at the National Stadium in St George's and kept South Africa's batsmen in check.

Left-arm spinner Allen bowled particularly impressively as he accounted for the wickets of Reeza Hendricks (17) and skipper Temba Bavuma (22) before veteran Dwayne Bravo (2-30) closed out the innings.

South Africa's attack were no match for the brutal hitting of the West Indies batsmen with Lewis, who shrugged off a blow to the midriff, reaching his half-century off 22 balls.

Lewis had whacked seven sixes and four fours by the time he sliced Shamsi's left-arm wrist spin into the hands of David Miller at long-off, but Gayle and Russell continued to pepper the boundary in a convincing win.

 

Lewis gives flashes of batting guru

With West Indies team-mate Gayle as his batting mentor, it should be no surprise the left-handed Lewis deals in maximums, and this innings was reminiscent of the six-machine at his pomp.

Too short from Ngidi

South Africa paceman Lungi Ngidi bowled with aggression but should have used his head. He bowled way too much short stuff, was promptly dispatched to the stands, and finished with 0-46 from three overs.

Delhi Capitals piled on the pain for Punjab Kings and KL Rahul by racing to a seven-wicket victory in the Indian Premier League and going top of the table.

It was revealed earlier on Sunday that Kings captain and star batsman Rahul faces surgery after being diagnosed with acute appendicitis, and he was in hospital while this match played out at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad.

In his absence, stand-in skipper Mayank Agarwal made a dominant 99 not out in a total of 166-6, helming the Kings innings and cutting loose when he saw fit in a terrific 58-ball knock that contained four sixes and eight fours.

Shikhar Dhawan produced the key innings for the Capitals in response, making an unbeaten 69 and finding the sort of support that Agarwal lacked, helping Delhi to 167-3, winning with 14 balls to spare.

Agarwal had required five from the final ball of the Kings innings to post what would have been just the second IPL century of his career, but he could only crunch a four down the ground rather than clear the ropes.

Kagiso Rabada had earlier taken two wickets in his first two overs, the second coming when he bowled Kings veteran Chris Gayle with a full toss immediately after being cracked for six by the West Indies batsman.

That was the first of three sixes off Rabada's bowling, but the South African paceman also removed Prabhsimran Singh and Chris Jordan while taking 3-36 in his four-over allocation.

Dawid Malan made 26 but it was ostensibly a one-man show as Agarwal contended with a revolving cast of batting partners.

Delhi had more about them, with Prithvi Shaw making 39 in a 63-run first-wicket stand alongside Dhawan, before Steve Smith added 25.

Shimron Hetmyer launched Riley Meredith for two consecutive sixes followed by a cover drive for four in the 18th over, leaving Delhi just two short of their victory target.

Neither Hetmyer nor Dhawan had the privilege of finishing the job, however, with a pair of wides from Meredith carrying the Capitals over the line.


Agarwal deserved better

Not only did he take over as captain, Agarwal also led by proud example, just as Rahul as so often done. His innings was the standout performance of this match, but where he rose to the occasion, others in the Kings ranks wilted. Gayle, with 13, was the team's third highest scorer, and it is almost impossible to win matches that way.

Getting all Het up

Hetmyer's late care-free cameo of 16 from four deliveries would likely not have happened without his team-mates laying solid foundations. They did so in the face of largely unthreatening bowling from Punjab, who sit sixth with three wins from eight games, amid doubts over whether their leader will be back in action this season.

KL Rahul scored another magnificent half-century and Harpreet Brar tormented Royal Challengers Bangalore in a 34-run Indian Premier League win for Punjab Kings.

Captain Rahul replaced Shikhar Dhawan as the leading run-scorer in the tournament with a scintillating 91 off 57 balls, getting Kings up to 179-5 after Virat Kohli put them in.

Chris Gayle also smashed a rapid 46 from 24 balls before Rahul and Harpreet provided a late flurry at Narendra Modi Stadium on Friday.

RCB fell well short in reply with the Kings attack giving nothing away, Kohli top scoring with 35 as they could only muster 145-8 in Ahmedabad.

They never got going in the run chase and lost six wickets for 34 runs, with spinner Harpreet sparking the collapse by bowling Kohli before cleaning up Glenn Maxwell for a golden duck off the next ball in a double-wicket maiden.

Harpreet claimed outstanding figures of 3-19, while fellow tweaker Ravi Bishnoi finished with a brilliant 2-17 in a resounding victory.

Harshal Patel (31) and Kyle Jamieson (16 not out) combined for an eighth-wicket stand of 48, but the damage had been done as Kings moved up to fifth, consigning third-placed RCB to only a second defeat.

 

RCB have no answer to Rahul

Punjab skipper Rahul must wish he could play against RCB more often, as they have not managed to get him out since 2019.

The India batsman was imperious once again, bringing up his fourth half-century of the tournament off 35 balls after Gayle had taken 20 off a Jamieson over and struck Yuzvendra Chahal for two sixes in the next before gloving a Daniel Sams delivery behind.

Harshal, the leading wicket-taker in the tournament, went for 53 runs off his four wicket-less overs - the last of the innings costing 22 as Rahul and Harpreet (25 not out from 17) cut loose.

 

Harp calls the tune

Riley Meredith struck an early blow by removing Devdutt Padikkal's off stump before the Kings spinners came to the fore.

RCB were struggling on 36-1 at the end of the powerplay and were well behind the run rate when Kohli came down the track to Harpreet but lost his off stump.

Harpreet was on a hat-trick after bamboozling Maxwell with a peach of a delivery that clicked his off stump. It was pretty much game over when the same bowler had AB de Villiers caught at extra cover by Rahul, with Rajat Patidar soon following for 31.

KL Rahul and Chris Gayle powered Punjab Kings to a much-needed victory as they ended a three-game losing streak in the Indian Premier League in emphatic fashion against Mumbai Indians.

On the receiving end of significant margins in each of their previous defeats, the Kings turned the tables in style to surge to a nine-wicket triumph through a superb performance with bat and ball.

Despite a fine 63 from Rohit Sharma, Mumbai could only manage 131-6 as Mohammed Shami and young leg-spinner Ravi Bishnoi kept them in check.

Captain Rahul and Gayle then made short work of the target of 132, with Kings losing only one wicket in the process and reaching the finishing line with 14 balls to spare.

Rahul hit three fours and as many sixes in an unbeaten 60, while Gayle struck 43 off 35 balls as their partnership of 79 inspired the Kings.

Having already produced scores of 91 and 61 in this season's competition, Rahul laid the platform for a routine chase with a first-wicket stand of 53 with Mayank Agarwal.

Agarwal lofted Rahul Chahar to long-on as he was dismissed for 25, but the arrival of Gayle only served to help the Kings hit the accelerator.

His and Rahul's stand ensured there was never any doubt of them chasing a modest total, Mumbai having failed to offer Rohit sufficient support during their innings.

Rohit helped Mumbai to recover from 26-2 to 105-2 as he and Suryakumar Yadav (33 off 27) steadied the ship.

However, Suryakumar top-edged Bishnoi to Gayle at short third man to start the 16th over and Rohit soon followed in being dismissed when he fired a low full toss from Shami straight to deep square.

Kieron Pollard (16 not out off 12) provided an efficient cameo, but both Hardik (1) and Krunal Pandya (3) failed to get going as Mumbai limped to the finish to give the Kings a straightforward task.

"I think I would've been the best batsman in the world if I played cricket."

Christian Vieri is regarded as one of the greatest strikers to have played football.

Once the most expensive player in the world, the former Italy international won titles with Juventus, Inter, Lazio and Torino, while he claimed numerous individual honours – the Pichichi Trophy and Serie A Footballer of the Year to go with his FIFA 100 selection and other awards.

But it could have been a lot different for the cricket-mad 47-year-old after growing up in Australia – a far cry from his birthplace in Bologna.

"My whole family is a soccer-team family," Vieri, who also played for Milan, recalled to Stats Perform News. "My father played, I played, my grandfather, my brother. So when my father at the end of his career in Bologna, they asked him if he wanted to go play in Sydney with Marconi. He said yes and the whole family moved there. He played for some time and coached there. We all went with him. 

"I think I was about four years old and I stayed 10 years there, till about 14. I grew up there. It was good. Growing up with the kids, for me it wasn't strange. Now, if you tell people, it's a bit strange that I grew up in Australia but when I was there it was normal – going to school, playing soccer, playing cricket, playing different sports. I was a big fan of cricket. Even if we were 13-14, we would go watch Australia play Test matches, ODI matches in Sydney. I'm a very big, big cricket fan."

"I just love playing," Vieri said. "I was probably playing more cricket than soccer at school. You know what we would do? The tennis ball, we would tape it up to make it go faster and swing. I think I would've been the best batsman in the world if I played cricket. I was an all-rounder. I was really good. 

"You know what happened now? Two months ago before the second coronavirus wave, I spoke to someone from the cricket association, I'm going to start playing in March, April. It's a small thing in Italy, in Milan there is a cricket team. I spoke with the Italian cricket captain. They said listen, when you want to play with us, just come. I said listen, one thing is playing with a tennis ball when you're 14, one thing is playing with professionals. I want to come three or four days, train with you guys and see how it is. 

"I just love the game. I watch all the West Indies' games – Viv Richard, Clive Lloyd, Joel Garner, all those guys. I would watch Australia but in those days, the Windies were too strong for everyone. I'm on YouTube a lot watching cricket. My wife always says 'what are you watching? what is this?', three hours a day watching games from 1984 and 1986, and she is going 'what is wrong with you, why aren't you normal?' I say to her, 'listen, I grew up there, these are the days I was there following cricket'. She takes the p*** out of me. Pakistan had Imran Khan, I know the players. England had Ian Botham. It was fun. 

"I love the game. Couple of months when it gets a bit warmer and we can start to go out a bit easier, I would like to go training with the Italian team, see how fast the ball really comes at you, with your pads and everything. I think it would be a good experience."

So, as Vieri prepares to dust off his pads and helmet in Italy, who would he compare to in the current era of cricket?

"I think Chris Gayle from West Indies. I'm a left-hander," he added. "When I used to play, I'm not a Test match guy, I want to smash the ball outside the stadium. I think I would've been good."

And if Vieri remained down under in Australia, rather than returning to Italy at the age of 14, would he have opted for cricket over a football career?

"Cricket, soccer or tennis," Vieri, who retired in 2009, responded. "I play paddle, I play tennis for 30 years. I like tennis too because it's an individual game – it only depends on you."

Vieri went on to make 49 appearances for his beloved Italy, scoring 23 goals (ninth on the all-time list) following an international career spanning eight years between 1997 and 2005.

He made two trips to the World Cup in 1998 and 2002 – his nine goals across the two major tournaments a joint national record alongside Paolo Rossi and Roberto Baggio, while he also featured at Euro 2004.

While Vieri joined forces with the likes of past greats Paolo Maldini, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Filippo Inzaghi, Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta and Andrea Pirlo for the Azzurri, his younger brother Max followed a different path.

Max Vieri, who was part of Juve's youth team before going on to play for Napoli in a notable spell, opted to represent Australia.

A midfielder, Max earned six caps for the Socceroos, but Christian Vieri never considered wearing the green and gold.

"I had two dreams when I was in Sydney playing and I was only 12, 13, 14, so you're going to school playing soccer. That's why I left Australia when I was 14 – my two dreams were to play in Serie A and for the national team – the blue jersey," said Vieri. "I remember in 1982 when Italy won the World Cup – Paolo Rossi and all those big players – I had it stuck in my head that I wanted to become an Italian player. When I was 14, I started breaking my dad's head about going to play soccer in Italy.

"When I started playing for Marconi, I started left full-back and then after I while, I said to the coach 'put me up front' and that's it, I was scoring goals and that's how everything started. My brother wanted to play for Australia always and I just had my dream to play the World Cups with Italy."

"I think the Australian team has done well in the last 10-15 years World Cup-wise and qualifications," he added. "They've done good. Of course when I was there – the big sports were AFL, rugby league, cricket – football wasn't the main sport but I think it's getting bigger. The evolution of football around world is just so big now, so much money behind it. When I was there, we were playing soccer and it wasn't the main sport but the passion we have and the kids have, it was bigger than the other sports."

Vieri's choice to chase his dream in Italy proved a wise decision, winning the Scudetto with Juve in 1997 before joining Atletico Madrid after just one season in Turin.

An incredible return of 24 goals in as many LaLiga matches for Atletico, and 29 from 32 appearances across all competitions in 1997-98, led to head coach Radomir Antic famously saying: "Vieri dead is better than any other attacker alive".

"We had a good relationship. I won the goalscoring award. I was a bit crazy those days. I would go out a lot. He would always say don't go out too much, train," Vieri recalled. "He knew I wanted to go back to Italy after about seven, eight months. He said, 'where are you going? you are going to stay here, LaLiga is your competition. You stay here and you just train a little bit, you score 50 goals a year with a cigarette'. I said yeah but I wanna go back home. 

"I think it was the best experience in my life playing in the Spanish league. It's the best quality league. There is so much technique and the way all the teams play, they all play to win. A lot of ball possession. Those days, you had to be really good to play. I had an amazing season."

Like his time at Juve, Vieri's spell with Atletico was brief as he returned to Italy via Lazio in a €25million deal the following season.

After 14 goals in 28 appearances and a UEFA Cup Winners' Cup triumph in the Italian capital, Vieri became the most expensive player in the world when he reunited with former Juve boss Marcello Lippi at Inter, who splashed out €49m to partner the Italian with Brazilian great Ronaldo.

"The thing is that, if you play in Spain, Italy, England – they're the biggest competitions, so you can't block it out," Vieri said when asked about the pressures of being the world's most expensive player. "Automatically, from being normal to 100 times of pressure on you because 90billion Italian lire in those days, the player who cost more than anyone, every game you play you're judged… even more than before. 

"At Atletico, I was sold to Lazio – big scandal came out – then when I went to Inter for 90b [lire], the world went crazy. From Lazio, moving to Inter, going to play at San Siro, it's a heavy thing because San Siro – the biggest players in the world have played there, 85-90,000 people judging you all the time. They whistle if you don't play good. They've seen everyone. 

"When I went there, I said to myself, 'Bob, first game is at home, when I went to camp, in a month and a half, your first game is at home and whatever happens, you have to go score in that game. if you score in that game, you're gonna fly'. I trained a month and a half in camp, I wouldn't go out anywhere. First game, I scored three goals at home, 90,000 people went crazy. Took a lot of pressure off my shoulders that first game. Here they call me Mr. 90m guy, even today. It's a thing you're gonna call you that for the rest of your life."

Now, Vieri watches the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski, Mohamed Salah, Romelu Lukaku, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe bang in the goals across Europe. 

How would he fare in 2020-21?

"I think it's easier to score these days because there's less marking. Before, football, first thing was not to concede, in Italy league at least," Vieri said. "It was probably the hardest league in the world in those days. All the biggest players in the world were there. We started the competition where seven teams were trying to win the league, not one or two but seven big teams with big, big players. If we would shoot twice in 90 minutes, we were happy. Those two shots, we would score one goal, we had to score once. 

"Today, the game has changed. The defenders don't mark as much, they play. They're more like midfielders, you have to play with the ball at your feet – the whole team have to attack. Now you have 15 strikers who score more than 20 goals. It's fun to watch still but changed a lot."

Popular on social media and Italian television in his post-playing days, Vieri has ventured into coaching as he works to complete his UEFA A and B license alongside the likes of former team-mates Del Piero and De Rossi.

"All of us, the former players, when we talk about things, we only miss one thing – staying together and training... having fun. The everyday stuff. The dressing rooms, we had the craziest dressing rooms, people. Taking the p*** out of everyone 24/7. 

"I speak with all my ex-team-mates. It's just fun. Now, I'm doing the coaching course… We just laugh, we have fun. We are doing UEFA A and B together. The way we talk to each other, it's just like back in the days. With a lot of former team-mates, we play paddle ball here in Milan. When we can, we hang out."

"The first thing is you need a license to coach. It's very hard, it's not easy. When you're doing two courses together because the federations asked UEFA if just the top 10 players could do it, so we're doing it," added Vieri, when asked if he was eyeing a coaching career.

"We'll see what happens. If I have a nice project, anything can happen. 1,000 of doors will open like I always say."

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