Marcos Senesi appears certain to be involved in June's Finalissima, and Argentina hope he will turn out in the Albiceleste.

The Feyenoord defender was born in Argentina but also holds an Italian passport.

Senesi remains uncapped and is said to be a target for Italy ahead of the June international break, in which they will play Argentina as part of the Finalissima between the European Championship winners and Copa America champions.

Lionel Scaloni has moved first by including Senesi in his preliminary squad, however, named on Friday.

And Senesi could get his opportunity as Cristian Romero, also called up by Scaloni, has been ruled out for the rest of the club season with Tottenham.

"We understood in the last few days that Romero had a serious injury and has finished this season," Spurs coach Antonio Conte said. "There are only two games to go and he has no time to recover for these two games."

After playing Italy at Wembley on June 1, Argentina also have a friendly on June 11 against Brazil, whom they must play again in a replayed World Cup qualifier.

Argentina squad in full:

Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa), Juan Musso (Atalanta), Geronimo Rulli (Villarreal), Franco Armani (River Plate); Gonzalo Montiel (Sevilla), Nahuel Molina (Udinese), Juan Foyth (Villarreal), Lucas Martinez Quarta (Fiorentina), Cristian Romero (Tottenham), German Pezzella (Real Betis), Marcos Senesi (Feyenoord), Nicolas Otamendi (Benfica), Lisandro Martinez (Ajax), Nehuen Perez (Udinese), Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax), Marcos Acuna (Sevilla); Guido Rodriguez (Real Betis), Leandro Paredes (Paris Saint-Germain), Nicolas Dominguez (Bologna), Alexis Mac Allister (Brighton and Hove Albion), Rodrigo De Paul (Atletico Madrid), Exequiel Palacios (Bayer Leverkusen), Giovani Lo Celso (Villarreal), Papu Gomez (Sevilla), Nicolas Gonzalez (Fiorentina), Lucas Ocampos (Sevilla), Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain), Emiliano Buendia (Aston Villa); Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain), Angel Correa (Atletico Madrid), Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Joaquin Correa (Inter), Julian Alvarez (River Plate), Lucas Alario (Bayer Leverkusen), Lautaro Martinez (Inter).

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin labelled the crowd trouble at the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy as unacceptable and warned it must never happen again.

Italy secured their first European Championship since 1968 with a penalty shoot-out victory over England at Wembley Stadium in July, but the game was marred by clashes before the final.

Hundreds of supporters without tickets attempted to gain entry prior to kick-off, with an independent review later concluding it was "clear we were close to fatalities and/or life-changing injuries for some, potentially many" of the fans in attendance after 17 mass breaches of Wembley's gates.

UEFA punished the Football Association (FA) with a two-game stadium ban, one of which is suspended for two years, and an £84,560 fine.

The FA subsequently apologised and said it was appalled at the disorder that saw ticketless fans fight with stewards and police officers in an attempt to force their way into the stadium.

Ceferin, who was in attendance at the final, reinforced his disappointment with the failures of football as he spoke to a UEFA congress in Vienna on Wednesday.

"We still have many problems to solve to make our sport a role model and greater source of inspiration than it is today," Ceferin said.

"The images of violence at Wembley Stadium at last year's Euro final are unacceptable.

"When a family goes to see a match of any competition, it should be a time for fun, celebration and enjoyment. People should feel safe in and around a stadium.

"They should never feel in danger. With the authorities' help, this cannot happen again. Ever."

 

Christian Eriksen says he is "enjoying the moment" at Brentford, but refused to commit to his next steps ahead of a reunion with former club Tottenham on Saturday.

The Denmark international will face his old club for the first time since he linked up with the Bees in January, a move which came seven months after his cardiac arrest at Euro 2020.

The playmaker has defied expectations to make a full return to football after his collapse in Copenhagen last summer, and has been at the heart of Brentford's revival since arriving. 

He will reunite with Spurs for the first time since he left for Inter in 2020 this weekend, as well as with former Nerazzurri boss Antonio Conte.

Those close links have fuelled speculation he could return to his former North London home at the conclusion of the season, but for now, Eriksen is focused on enjoying his time with the Bees.

"When I signed here in January, it was actually [about] coming back and showing I was a football player and could play football," he told Sky Sports ahead of the Bees' clash with Spurs.

"There was also the six months of a test trial. By now, it feels good. But for the future, I don't know.

"I'm just enjoying the moment, every game is really fun to play in. What happens in the summer will be a decision for me as a footballer and as a family man.

"Everything is open. I've been taken good care of at Brentford, they've really shown me a lot of love and [I'm] trying to repay them for what they've showed me.

"Every option is open, either at Brentford or anywhere else."

Spurs captain Hugo Lloris, meanwhile, says his side are looking forward to seeing their old team-mate, who helped them to the 2019 Champions League Final during his time with the club.

"After what happened to him, it's always nice to see an ex-team-mate but even more, a player who was special for the club," he told Tottenham's official website.

"He spent more than six years at the club and he had a great time, we had a great time as team-mates.

"Then after what happened last summer… for most of us, it's going to be the first time that we’ve seen him.

"Obviously the most important thing for us right now is the game and the three points. We will have time after the game to enjoy the moment with him."

Harry Kane has launched a staunch defence of under-fire England team-mate Harry Maguire after the defender was jeered by fans, describing the reception as "just not right".

Manchester United captain Maguire started Tuesday's 3-0 win over Ivory Coast at Wembley, where goals from Ollie Watkins, Raheem Sterling and Tyrone Mings sealed victory for the hosts.

Despite having been a key figure under Gareth Southgate, even earning a spot in the UEFA Team of the Tournament for his performances at Euro 2020, Maguire has become a target for the boo boys in club and international colours.

Southgate labelled the reaction "an absolute joke", and Kane took to Twitter on Wednesday to echo those sentiments, adding that Maguire had the full backing of his international team-mates.

"We’ve worked hard to rebuild our connection with England fans in the last few years so to hear Harry Maguire booed at Wembley before kick-off was just not right," the Tottenham striker tweeted.

"The fact that he's been brilliant on the pitch and given us all so many great memories makes it even harder to understand. He doesn't deserve that reception.

"He's got full support in the changing room and should have the same from every England fan."

 

Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson also offered his support to Maguire via social media.

"I can't get my head around what happened at Wembley tonight," he wrote on Twitter.

"Harry Maguire has been a colossus for England. Without him, the progress made at the last two tournaments would not have been possible.​

"To be booed at his home stadium, for no reason? What have we become? What happened tonight was just wrong. As someone who wants to win with England, I feel fortunate to share a dressing room with him.

"We all feel the same!"

Gareth Southgate described the reaction of some England supporters towards Harry Maguire as "an absolute joke" after the defender was booed before kick-off on Tuesday.

Manchester United captain Maguire started the Three Lions' victory against the Ivory Coast, as goals for Ollie Watkins, Raheem Sterling and Tyrone Mings secured a 3-0 success at Wembley.

The centre-back has been a key performer for Southgate since breaking through into the senior set-up, and he was named to the UEFA Team of the Tournament for his performances at Euro 2020.

Yet since scoring in England's penalty shoot-out loss to Italy in last year's final, Maguire has struggled for form at club level, and has often found himself a scapegoat for United's on-field issues.

Those frustrations translated themselves into audible jeers from sections of the home support on Tuesday, leaving Southgate to launch a passionate defence of his player at the full-time whistle.

"I thought the reception was a joke, an absolute joke," manager Southgate said. "The way he has performed for us has been absolutely phenomenal.

"I don't get it. We're either all in this together or we're not. He's in an England shirt and [...] you support a player in an England shirt regardless.

"When you've played at the level he has for us and put the performances in he has, it should be total commitment behind him. I don't get it at all.

"His performance was pretty faultless really. He stepped out from the back really well for his first goal, was involved in the second one too.

"The team are totally united. We recognise everyone has difficult moments, but he's a top player and he will come through it.

"They are real England fans and some are influenced by whatever – social media or players that played previously who are influencing opinion.

"The club situation is obviously very difficult, but he's in an England shirt. I remember decades ago a few players being booed in an England shirt, and it's never been acceptable to me. Fans should always get behind their team."

 

Jack Grealish also came to Maguire's defence, with the Manchester City attacking midfielder hailing the defender's creative prowess as crucial to the Three Lions' success against Ivory Coast.

"Personally I think it's ridiculous," Grealish said. "Harry's been unbelievable for this country. Our first two goals have come from him.

"Not every centre-back can have those qualities. It was ridiculous for him to get booed, and it wasn't something the team liked one bit."

Conor Coady believes England can learn from last year's Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy, just as they did from experiences at the 2018 World Cup.

The Wolves captain only made his England debut in September 2020, but has become a regular face of Gareth Southgate's squads in recent times, and will likely be a part of the Three Lions setup at the World Cup in Qatar later this year.

Coady – who came through the ranks at youth level with Liverpool – now has nine senior England caps, and spoke to Sky Sports ahead of Tuesday's friendly with Ivory Coast at Wembley Stadium.

"I think we can learn so much from that," he said when asked about losing on penalties to Italy in July. "That's something this group of players, this squad, this team, have done ever so well at since the World Cup in 2018 and the Nations League – trying to take on board everything we've done.

"We can learn so much. Whether it be in games, tactical stuff or obviously being around the place as well, so there's always stuff we can improve on and always stuff we can learn. That's something we try to do every time we meet up as well."

The 29-year-old has played in all 30 Premier League games for Wolves this season, and is part of a backline that has conceded just 26 goals, the fourth best in the league behind only Manchester City (18), Chelsea (19) and Liverpool (20), but insists he never takes his place in the England squad for granted.

"I never get used to the feeling because if you do, I think you become a little bit comfortable," he said.

"Getting comfortable is something I've never done in my life, I never would do. Being called up by your country is the biggest privilege a footballer can ever have in their life, so I've never got comfortable and I'll never take it for granted."

Coady also praised the new faces in the latest England squad, with Southampton's Kyle Walker-Peters as well as Crystal Palace duo Marc Guehi and Tyrick Mitchell making their senior international debuts in Saturday's 2-1 win against Switzerland.

"All of them have stood out," Coady added. "We see the quality they have in training, we see what they're like on the ball, we see how they play.

"They're fantastic footballers, but I think more importantly, they're fantastic people and that's what this squad's for. It's full of absolutely brilliant people who want to try and help and they're no different."

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has dismissed the notion of Russia hosting Euro 2028 as "beyond satire", instead suggesting the tournament be awarded to Ukraine.

Russia launched a bid for either Euro 2028 or Euro 2032 on Wednesday, despite the country's ongoing invasion of their Eastern European neighbour.

That puts the 2018 World Cup hosts against a joint United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland bid for the former, an Italy bid for the latter and a Turkey bid for either event.

"The idea of Russia holding any idea of football tournament or any kind of cultural event right now is beyond satire," Johnson said in Brussels, where a Nato summit addressing Vladimir Putin's invasion is taking place.

"I can’t believe that anybody would seriously consider their suggestion."

Johnson appeared to forget that his own country had bid for Euro 2028 when he subsequently suggested the best path would be to hand it to Ukraine, who jointly hosted Euro 2012 with Poland.

"I think the best thing possible would be for the entire Russian forces to retire forthwith from Ukraine and hand the tournament to them," Johnson added.

Last year's rearranged Pan-European edition saw Italy triumph over England in a penalty shoot-out final at Wembley Stadium.

Hosts will be confirmed for 2028 and 2032 in September 2023, ahead of the next edition in Germany in 2024.

UEFA has confirmed it received declarations of interest from four potential bidders for hosting rights to Euro 2028 and Euro 2032.

The United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland launched a joint-bid for Euro 2028 earlier on Wednesday, while a Russian official remarkably confirmed its own interest in holding either of the two tournaments.

Russia's teams are currently banned from UEFA and FIFA competitions following the country's invasion of Ukraine, but the 2018 World Cup hosts pushed ahead regardless.

Turkey has joined Russia in announcing to UEFA its willingness to stage the European Championship in either 2028 or 2032.

While the two countries are up against the UK and Ireland in the first of the two finals, Italy is the other interested party four years later.

The hosts of the two tournaments will be announced in September 2023.

UEFA has confirmed that the game between Italy and Argentina to be played on Wednesday, June 1 in the first "Finalissima" in 29 years, will take place at Wembley Stadium.

The match was initially announced in September, with confirmation in December that a "renewed and extended Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) lasting until 30 June 2028" had been signed between UEFA and CONMEBOL, leading to a game to be played in London on June 1.

The original iteration, pitting the winner of the most recent European Championship against the winner of the most recent Copa America, was previously known as the Artemio Franchi Trophy and was held in 1985 and 1993.

France beat Uruguay 2-0 in the inaugural edition in 1985, while the 1993 game saw Argentina – led by Diego Maradona – beat Denmark in a penalty shoot-out.

As had been expected, the venue for this year's encounter has now been confirmed as Wembley, where the capacity will be 86,000 and tickets sold on a "first-come, first-served basis".

A statement from UEFA on Tuesday confirmed that: "[It] will give fans the chance to watch the current champions of the world's two best footballing continents contest the coveted CONMEBOL-UEFA Cup of Champions.

"Twenty-nine years after its last edition, the relaunch of this legendary footballing encounter is the result of the long-standing partnership between UEFA and CONMEBOL and will serve as a catalyst for the global development of football – uniting countries, continents, and cultures, while also demonstrating to fans around the globe that football can be a force of good in turbulent times."

Wembley holds fond memories for Italy as the venue of their Euro 2020 final victory over England last year.

Christian Eriksen has signed for Brentford as he completes a remarkable return to the Premier League after suffering a cardiac arrest at Euro 2020.

The Denmark international collapsed during a clash with Finland last June and subsequently required surgery to fit an ICD (implantable cardioverter-defibrillator) to his heart.

Rules in Italy prevent players from playing after having such a device fitted, so the 29-year-old's time with Inter came to an end.

However, it is not illegal to play professional sport in England with an ICD, nor in the Netherlands – where Daley Blind could continue playing fo Ajax after having the device fitted.

Eriksen had been training at his former club Odense to build up his fitness, while he also recently joined Ajax's training sessions with the Eredivisie leaders' reserve side.

Fellow Dane Thomas Frank has now acted by signing the former Tottenham man, who he coached when the midfielder was in Denmark's Under-17s side, on a deal until the end of the season.

"I am looking forward to working with Christian again," Bees boss Frank told the club's official website. "It has been a while since I last coached him, and a lot has happened since then.

"Christian was 16 at the time and has become one of the best midfield players to appear in the Premier League. He has also won trophies all over Europe and become the star of the Danish national team.

“We have taken an unbelievable opportunity to bring a World Class player to Brentford. He hasn’t trained with a team for seven months but has done a lot of work on his own. He is fit but we will need to get him match fit and I am looking forward to seeing him work with the players and staff to get back towards his highest level.

“At his best, Christian has the ability to dictate games of football. He can find the right passes and is a goal threat. He also has very, very good set-piece delivery, both from corners and direct free-kicks.

"He is a player you can find with the ball, and he will come up with a solution to the problem in front of him. Christian will also bring experience of top level football to the Club. I expect him to have an impact in the dressing room and at the training ground."

Eriksen appeared 226 times in the English top flight for Spurs, scoring 56 times and assisting 62.

The playmaker still holds the club record at Spurs for most assists in a single Premier League campaign, recording 15 during the 2016-17 season.

He joined Inter on a four-and-a-half-year deal in January 2020 and was a part of Antonio Conte's title-winning team that ended a 10-year wait for the Scudetto last season.

Brentford have lost their past four Premier League games, leaving them 14th in the table. They are next in action in the FA Cup against Everton on Saturday.

As football concludes for 2021, you'd be forgiven for wondering if the past year even happened at all.

COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing, the climate crisis continues unabated, Donald Trump is crying election fraud and everyone is talking about cryptocurrency without really knowing why. If Bill Murray appeared on television to tell you we're stuck in a 2020 time loop, you'd barely even blink.

Well, 2021 really did happen, and we have the data to prove it. Here, Stats Perform presents a selection of the biggest footballing moments of the year, and the numbers that help to make them unforgettable – even if you can't remember what day it is...

Tuchel your fancy

Expectations are pretty high for Chelsea coaches, but winning the Champions League before you've been in the job for half a year – after replacing club legend Frank Lampard, no less – isn't a bad way to impress the owner! No but seriously, Thomas Tuchel is brilliant.

The Blues beat Atletico Madrid, Porto, Real Madrid and Manchester City in the knockouts as they became kings of Europe for the second time. They only conceded twice in those matches; in fact, Edouard Mendy became the first goalkeeper to keep as many as nine clean sheets in his debut season in the competition.

From Tuchel's first match in charge until the end of 2020-21, no Premier League team lost fewer games (five), conceded fewer goals (16) or kept more clean sheets (19) across all competitions than Chelsea. It's worth remembering that, Thomas, if you really do think your title hopes are already over at the halfway stage of the season.

Live and let Daei

Football's greatest-of-all-time debate is likely to drag on until humanity has long since gone extinct, with nothing left of civilisation except decaying ruins and NFTs of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, most likely dressed as goats, stored on a giant blockchain server at the centre of the Earth (no, we don't understand it all, either).

We can at least agree on one non-fungible Ronaldo record, though: as of 2021, he is the leading international goalscorer in the history of men's football.

A brace against the Republic of Ireland on September 1 took him to 111 for Portugal, two more than previous record-holder Ali Daei of Iran. Ronaldo will start the World Cup year on 115 goals in 184 international appearances – but without the Ballon d'Or on his mantelpiece...

Gerd lord, another record

With practically the final kick of the 2020-21 Bundesliga season, Robert Lewandowski pounced on a loose ball to score his 41st league goal and break Gerd Muller's previous single-season record of 40, which had stood since 1972.

Not satisfied with the greatest goalscoring effort in Germany's top flight for nearly half a century, Lewandowski ended 2021 with 43 goals for the calendar year (in only 34 games), again surpassing a previous best tally set by Muller. During that run, he became the first player in the competition to score in 13 consecutive home matches, beating the 12-game runs of Jupp Heynckes and, yes, Muller. The late Bayern great's record of a goal in 16 Bundesliga games in a row still stands, though, Lewandowski having been stopped from matching it by the crossbar in a 3-1 win at Greuther Furth in September.

This year also saw the Bayern Munich striker reach 120 away goals in the Bundesliga, which is, you guessed it, another record. At least this one was previously held by a different name: Klaus Fischer, on 117. Muller is third on 115, for what it's worth.

Let's talk about six, baby 

Liverpool started the year boasting the second-longest unbeaten home run in the history of England's top division: they had gone 68 games without defeat after losing 2-1 to Crystal Palace in April 2017, a streak only bettered by Chelsea (86 games ending in October 2008).

Then, they lost 1-0 to Burnley at Anfield. Then, 1-0 to Brighton and Hove Albion at Anfield. After that came a 4-1 battering by Manchester City, an almost unthinkable 2-0 loss to Everton, and then another pair of 1-0 defeats, this time to Chelsea and Fulham... and all at Anfield.

Six consecutive home defeats: something never endured by any Liverpool team before, nor any reigning champion of England's top flight.

Pep-pered with records

City were top of the Premier League on Christmas Day for the third time in their history. They won the league on the previous two occasions (in 2011 and 2017), so the omens are positive for 2021-22 – not that they need much divine intervention right now.

The reigning champions, boasting a 10-match winning streak, broke the record for the most victories in a calendar year in England's top flight with their 34th of 2021 against Newcastle United this month. The previous best was 33 set by Bob Paisley's Liverpool in 1982.

In the process, Pep Guardiola's men also set a new top-tier record of 18 away wins in a single year, beating the previous best of 17 set by Bill Nicholson's famous Tottenham side of 1960-61. Oh, and their 112 goals scored in 2021 is the best such calendar-year return in the Premier League era.

An Argentine tango – and a Messi divorce

Lionel Messi ends 2021 with 23 goals and eight assists in LaLiga, the most direct goal involvements of any player aside from Karim Benzema (41). And he hasn't played in the competition since May.

Messi's tearful departure from Barcelona, who decided they simply couldn't afford to keep the player they previously couldn't afford to lose, heralded the end of an era in Spanish football. It hasn't gone particularly well for either party, either: Barca, who sacked Ronald Koeman in November, sit seventh in LaLiga, while Messi has scored one goal in 11 Ligue 1 games for Paris Saint-Germain.

Club football might have been more of a nightmare than a dream for Messi this year, but the same cannot be said for his international exploits. He was the joint-top goalscorer and the tournament's best player as Argentina finally ended their long wait for silverware, defeating Brazil 1-0 in the final of the Copa America. It was enough to secure Messi a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or, even though he seemed to think Lewandowski actually deserved to win (and, let's be honest, a lot of us did).

It's a Lille bit funny...

Last season, Paris Saint-Germain replaced Tuchel with Mauricio Pochettino ostensibly so they might win the Champions League. Instead, while Tuchel took Chelsea to European glory within just five months, Pochettino's PSG could not even keep hold of their Ligue 1 crown.

Lille won the French top flight for the fourth time in their history, becoming only the fourth side to win it at least twice since the turn of the century (the others being PSG, of course, Monaco and Lyon). Their triumph was inspired by the late-career renaissance of Burak Yilmaz: his 16 league goals were the most scored by anyone over the age of 35 in Europe's top five leagues last season, with the exception of Cristiano Ronaldo (29).

While their title defence isn't going too swimmingly – Lille are eighth in the table after 19 games, 18 points behind leaders PSG – they managed to win their Champions League group for the first time in seven attempts. They also boast the top scorer in Ligue 1 this term: Jonathan David, who was an 11-year-old playing for Ottawa Gloucester Hornets when Lille won their third league title in 2011, has scored 12 times already.

Get Inter the spirit

This year saw Inter end their decade-long wait for the Scudetto and bring about the end of Juventus' recent stranglehold on Serie A.

Inspired by Antonio Conte – who started Juve's nine-year title streak back in 2012 – and league MVP Romelu Lukaku, the Nerazzurri finished 12 points clear at the top as their coach became the man with the best points-per-game ratio (2.26) in the modern history of Italy's top flight.

Despite a close-season of upheaval in which Conte walked, Lukaku returned to Chelsea and Achraf Hakimi went to PSG, Inter go into next year with a four-point advantage at the top and just one defeat in 19 league games, having scored over 100 league goals in a calendar year for the first time in their history.

Mancini's miracle

Italy's second European Championship trophy, secured courtesy of a penalty shoot-out win over England at Wembley, was the pinnacle of a quite remarkable run of results under Roberto Mancini.

The Azzurri would go on to set a new world record in men's international football of 37 matches without defeat, during which they won 30, scored 93 goals and conceded only 12. The run ended when they lost 2-1 to Spain in the Nations League semi-finals in Milan, marking their first competitive home defeat since 1999.

In the first 33 of those matches, starting from a 1-1 draw with Ukraine in October 2018, they were behind for only 44 minutes. At Euro 2020, they had five players who scored at least twice, they ended the tournament with a joint-high 13 goals and conceded only four. And yet, in 2022, they must navigate the play-offs – and potentially a meeting with Portugal – if they are to avoid failing to qualify for the World Cup for the second time in a row.

Palmeiras pull off the unbeliev-Abel

The Copa Libertadores final is not something Andreas Pereira will want to remember: it was the Manchester United loanee's error that allowed substitute Deyverson to win it for Palmeiras in extra time.

This was a historic result, though. Not only were Palmeiras the first team since Boca Juniors 20 years ago to win back-to-back Libertadores trophies, but Abel Ferreira became the only European coach to win the competition twice.

Before his time in Brazil, arguably Abel's finest achievement in his post-playing career was helping PAOK reach 51 league games unbeaten – although he was only actually in charge for 17 of those matches, including the 4-2 loss to Aris that brought the streak to an end.

Raheem Sterling feels England's commitment to taking a knee at Euro 2020 and thereafter shows the gesture can still be powerful in the fight against racism despite certain fans voicing discontent.

In 2020, the Premier League lent its support to the Black Lives Matter movement after the death of George Floyd, an African American man murdered by a white police officer in the American city of Minneapolis.

Clubs wore Black Lives Matter badges on their jerseys, while players, officials and staff began to take a knee at the start of every match.

In 2021-22, clubs are generally continuing to take a knee, though there are examples of individuals opting against it – Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha became the first Premier League player to say he was no longer going to kneel back in February 2021, the Ivory Coast international suggesting the gesture had lost meaning.

Ever since fans began returning to stadiums after the initial lockdown in the coronavirus pandemic, taking a knee has been a topic of debate.

Some supporters have gone as far as booing players for taking part, with the justification of such reactions being that some perceive it to be a "political" gesture despite what players and authorities say.

England players were jeered before Euro 2020 and it was confirmed they would continue to kneel during the tournament – the online abuse of Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho after their penalty misses in the final showed there was still a fight to be fought.

The Three Lions' commitment to taking a knee highlighted how this generation will not stand for such matters being swept under the carpet after a few days of outrage.

Speaking with manager Gareth Southgate to BBC Radio 4, Sterling said: "How us as a team took a stance, I think the big question was, 'Are we going to continue doing it through the Euros?'.

"And I think a lot of the time when the racism comes up or something has happened, a lot of the time in football and in the majority of society, we tend to address it for that period, for that five days or that week and then we brush it under the carpet and [pretend] things are all fine now.

"When the next scenario happens. that's when we go again. But us as a country, players that have been in those scenarios face some of that racist abuse, on a whole, we just want to keep highlighting that.

"Yes, there have been times that we've sat down and said, 'Is the message still powerful?', and we've said yes and as a group and as a collective we've tried to keep that going."

Sterling has been vocal in calling out racism for years, having routinely brought to attention the conduct of the British media.

Arguably the most famous such incident saw Sterling highlight how a newspaper reported on the spending habits of his young Manchester City team-mates Tosin Adarabioyo and Phil Foden back in 2018.

While Foden was covered in a positive light for buying his mother a new £2million home, Adarabioyo – who is of Nigerian descent – was said to have paid a similar amount for a "mansion…despite having never started a Premier League match", the headline seeming to suggest he was not worthy.

The unity and social consciousness of the current England squad has often been put down to Southgate's management of the team, though he pointed to Sterling's stance as helping him to open his eyes.

Continuing on the subject of taking a knee, Southgate said: "At the very least, this had to be a team where we were united on how we saw it and we could send a message to young kids watching that I think the lads maybe didn't realise how powerful that would be going into a tournament because they wanted to concentrate on the football.

"They want to be judged primarily on the football but what Raheem has done, in this space, in particular…. I remember you [Sterling] put the two articles out on how Tosin had been reported on as a young player and a similar sort of story with Phil, and the difference, and it was clear the way those things had been reported.

"So, there were a lot of things that happened over the last few years, including the incident with George Floyd, which I think led…it educated me a lot and I wanted to represent the players in the best way I could."

Roberto Mancini has expressed regret about Italy's failure to secure automatic World Cup qualification and warned the Azzurri must forget about their Euro 2020 success ahead of the playoffs.

Italy, who missed out on the 2018 World Cup, have undergone a transformative period under former Inter and Manchester City manager Mancini. That culminated in them triumphing at Euro 2020 – their first European Championship title since 1968.

The Azzurri embarked on a world-record 37-game unbeaten run, which ended at the hands of Spain in the Nations League semi-finals in October, but their World Cup prospects hang in the balance.

Italy finished runners-up to Switzerland in Group C, as did Portugal to Serbia in Group A. The pair were then drawn on the same play-off path, meaning there is no way that Mancini's side and Cristiano Ronaldo and co can both qualify for Qatar 2022.

Italy have to navigate past North Macedonia in the play-off semi-final in late March and Mancini wishes his side had managed to confirm qualification earlier.

He told Sky Sports Italia: "Yes, but this is football, it is sport. Sometimes you deserve to win and you don't win, we deserved to finish the group much earlier.

"We let ourselves go a bit and now we have to roll up our sleeves and do a great job in the two games. But I remain optimistic, as I knew that our group with Switzerland would be difficult. I thought we would qualify, but I knew it would be difficult."

Reflecting on Euro 2020 success, Mancini said: "We have done an extraordinary thing, we have made millions of people happy. It is the most beautiful thing, of which we are all proud.

"But the European Championship is behind us, now we have to think about something else."

The play-offs are one-leg ties, with Italy and Portugal hosting North Macedonia and Turkey in their respective semi-finals.

The winners of those two semi-finals will meet in a final, in which Portugal or Turkey will be at home, to secure a place at Qatar 2022.

If Italy can negotiate such a tricky route, Mancini believes they have players who will benefit from experiencing a World Cup.

He said: "There are many players who can improve a lot and, for me, it will be important to go to the World Cup because I think there are 10-12 players who can improve a lot going to the World Cup, if we go there."

Inter have terminated the contract of Christian Eriksen by mutual consent, with the Denmark international unable to play in Serie A due to health regulations following his cardiac arrest.

Eriksen collapsed following a cardiac arrest in Denmark's Euro 2020 opener last June and was given CPR before subsequently undergoing successful heart surgery.

The former Tottenham man was then fitted with an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), which means he is unable to play for Inter in Serie A due to not meeting the "requirements of achieving sporting fitness" in Italy.

Eriksen would be allowed to play in other European leagues, as Daley Blind does for Ajax in the Eredivisie with an ICD fitted, and the 29-year-old has been using the training facilities of former club Odense to build up his fitness in Denmark.

The midfielder has returned to Inter on just the one occasion, visiting their training ground in early August, but Simone Inzaghi's side confirmed on Friday that Eriksen would be free to negotiate with other clubs after they parted ways.

"FC Internazionale Milano can confirm that an agreement has been reached to terminate Christian Eriksen's contract by mutual consent," the statement by Inter said. 

"The club and the entire Nerazzurri family wish Christian all the very best for his future.

"Although Inter and Christian are now parting ways, the bond shall never be broken. The good times, the goals, the victories, those Scudetto celebrations with fans outside San Siro – all this will remain forever in Nerazzurri history."

Eriksen was the part of the Inter side that ended a 10-year wait for the Scudetto last term under now-Tottenham manager Antonio Conte.

England must play their Nations League game against Italy behind closed doors at Wembley next June – as punishment for crowd trouble at the Euro 2020 final between the teams.

Gareth Southgate's side made it to the final of the delayed showpiece event in July but were beaten on home turf by the Azzurri in a penalty shoot-out following a 1-1 draw.

The Wembley final was marred by ugly scenes in the stands, outside, and on the concourses, and UEFA hit the English Football Association with a two-game ban on supporters as punishment in October, with the first closure to take place in England's next UEFA game.

The second closure was suspended for a probationary two-year period, while the FA received a €100,000 (£85,000) fine.

The Italy fixture on June 11 is England's next competitive UEFA home game and will be a rematch of the final and a chance for the hosts to gain a degree of revenge, but they will not have the boost of their supporters at the ground.

England's Nations League opponents were revealed on Thursday, with the Three Lions drawn against Germany and Hungary as well as Italy.

Southgate's team must also play in an empty stadium away from home in their opening match on June 4 against Hungary.

The Hungarians were served with a three-match behind-closed-doors order – one of which was suspended – following incidents at the Puskas Arena and in Munich at Euro 2020. That has since been reduced to two matches, with one game suspended.

The Three Lions' other two June fixtures are away against Germany on June 7 and at home to Hungary – with supporters allowed at Wembley – on June 14.

England then do not play in the competition again until a trip to Italy on September 23 before hosting Germany three days later.

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