Ben Chilwell believes the competition between himself and Luke Shaw to be England's first choice on the left-hand side of defence can only benefit Gareth Southgate's team.

Southgate named right-back Kieran Tripper at left wing-back earlier this season as Chilwell worked his way back to form following a foot injury.

If that suggested a dearth of options, the pieces now appear to be falling into place ahead of the rescheduled Euro 2020 for the Three Lions.

Chilwell has settled into life at Chelsea and is thriving under Thomas Tuchel, while Shaw has arguably been Manchester United's most consistent performer this term, putting years of injury torment behind him.

"At Chelsea you've got two or three good players in each position and at England you should expect the same thing," said the former Leicester City player.

"Going into the Euros, if me and Luke are battling it out and trying to prove who's having the best club form going into the tournament, that's only a positive.

"That means if everybody in each position's doing that, going into the tournament everyone should be sharp and ready to play and confident.

"Then whoever plays is ready and that's important."

Chilwell believes it could be advantageous for himself and club colleague Reece James if Southgate sticks with the 3-4-3 setup he used during the recent Nations League campaign, given Tuchel has employed the system to fine effect at Stamford Bridge

"We've spoken about that, me and Reece particularly, because it affects us the most," he said ahead of England's triple-header of World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland.

"If you look at the formation England are playing, the formation we're playing here at the moment gives us the best possible chance to get used to playing in the positions that England want us to play in.

"Hopefully that gives us a good chance going into the summer – that we can be used."

Shaw generally operates as a more conventional full-back at United, even though Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has periodically reverted to a back five for big games.

Nevertheless, that has done little to quell his attacking output.

The former Southampton youngster's 52 chances created in the Premier League this season, more than any other defender in England's top flight and far in excess of Chilwell's 21.

Shaw has five assists to Chilwell's four, with his solitary goal in the recent Manchester derby victory set against two for the Chelsea man.

Chilwell (79) has attempted more crosses than Shaw (67) but fewer have been successful – 11 compared to 18.

Shaw has attempted 39 dribbles and his 21 completed are two more than Chilwell has attempted overall.

In terms of tackles and interceptions, they are fairly evenly matched, with Shaw up 36-32 on the former metric, while the latter falls 19-15 in Chilwell's favour.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic broke down in tears at a media conference on Monday after revealing his return to the Sweden squad has not been easy for his family.

The Milan striker was recalled by Janne Andersson for this month's World Cup qualifiers against Kosovo and Georgia, plus the friendly with Estonia, paving the way for him to potentially play at Euro 2020.

He celebrated his first call-up in nearly five years by posting a picture on Twitter of himself in a Sweden shirt with the caption: "The return of the God."

Ibrahimovic, who turns 40 in October, is Sweden's all-time leading scorer with 62 international goals, the last of those coming against Denmark in November 2015. 

Speaking at a media conference on Monday, an emotional Ibrahimovic revealed the difficulty of leaving his family to join up with the national team. 

"I had Vincent [his son] here, who was actually crying when I left him. But it's okay...," he said, before breaking off in tears.

"This takes time away from my family and it's not an easy thing. If you have two kids crying every time you leave them, it's a bit hard. I'm human, even though I'm Superman.

"They are very proud."

Ibrahimovic has impressed in Serie A this term with 15 goals in as many matches, and the ex-Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain striker believes he can still make an impact on the international stage.

"I'm just a piece of the puzzle, among many pieces. I'm here to do better, if Janne thinks I can,” he added.

"If you ask me, I'm the best in the world, but that doesn't help me much here. I've promised to decide matches, so now it's up to me!

"I'm just glad I'm here. I'm proud, I'm not demanding anything and I want nothing. I just want to contribute what I can. If Janne felt I cannot contribute or do what I have to do, then we wouldn't be here.

"As of today, I want to keep going as long as I can. I don't want to regret anything when I stop. That thought came into my head after the injury [in 2017].

"You should continue as long as you can with what you love. Football is what I want to do; that's what I love.

"I am who I am. But I'm not here to have my own show."

Didier Deschamps believes Ousmane Dembele can still become a more consistent contributor after recalling the forward for the start of France's World Cup qualifying campaign. 

Dembele has not played an international game since November 2018, when he came on as a substitute in a 2-0 Nations League defeat to the Netherlands. 

However, his form this season for Barcelona has led to the 23-year-old being included in Les Bleus’ squad for games against Group D rivals Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Bosnia-Herzegovina 

Deschamps handed the player his full debut back in September 2016 and, after injuries wiped out the vast majority of the 2019-20 season, is pleased to see Dembele back performing again. 

Still, the France boss sees further room for improvement, pinpointing the need to have an even greater impact on games.

"He is a player who showed his qualities very early. He is still young," Deschamps told the media on Monday. 

"If we haven't seen him for a while, it's because he's not been spared from injuries. By the time he recovered he was injured again. 

"Now he is able to play again, he is able to make the difference and score goals. He could score more and be more effective. 

"It is not a question of changing him. He has been playing at the highest level for a long time. He is young. It would be good for him, for his club and for us if he could become more efficient.  

"Of course, this is something that needs to be worked on. As you mature, you may make better choices. All forwards have moments when they are less efficient than others."

Dembele has scored nine goals and provided four assists for Barca in all competitions this season, his fourth at Camp Nou.  

His tally of 78 shots is already his highest for a campaign since arriving from Borussia Dortmund, with his conversion rate sitting at 11.54 per cent.   

He barely featured last term but was more clinical in 2018-19, when he had 14 goals and eight assists in 42 appearances. That season, he converted shots at a rate of 20.29 per cent, with 45.45 per cent success from 'big chances', where Opta expects a player to score.  

Dembele has had 15 'big chances' and created a further seven under Ronald Koeman for Barca, who made it five wins on the spin in LaLiga at the weekend with a 6-1 thrashing of Real Sociedad, in which the Frenchman one of the goals.  

"Ousmane has and always had this ability to create chances and make the difference. He is not always decisive in the area. That's where it's most difficult," Deschamps continued.  

"The important thing is his ability to make the difference.  Yes, he can be more consistent from the beginning to the end of the game. 

"I'm not saying he can't progress or improve. I prefer to look at the qualities anyway. They all have little flaws that can be erased with time.   

"Sometimes they don't, but that doesn't stop them from being good. We are talking about a player who has been at the top level for several years and he is still very young."

Germany team director Oliver Bierhoff had no issue with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge's comments on Hansi Flick's future, insisting the DFB would not have approached the coach while he remained at Bayern Munich.

The 2014 world champions are searching for a new coach to succeed Joachim Low, who will leave his role after the Euro 2020 finals later this year.

Flick, Low's former assistant, was predictably mooted as a potential replacement having enjoyed great success as Bayern boss.

The Bavarian giants won the treble last season and have already added the Club World Cup title in 2020-21, while defences of their Bundesliga and Champions League crowns remain on track.

Flick, who turned Bayern's fortunes around, is under contract until 2023, although club CEO Rummenigge will depart at the end of the year.

That will not spell the end of Flick's tenure, though, Rummenigge insisted last week, saying: "We are well advised to finish what we have agreed in the contract."

But this does not clash with Germany's plans either, as Bierhoff says the new man will not be poached from another job. Ralf Rangnick, who turned down a role at Schalke, has been linked.

"Nothing has changed for us," the team director said on Monday. "We always said we won't approach a coach who is currently under contract.

"I interpreted it in the way that [Rummenigge] wanted to back Hansi Flick and he did. That is the right thing to do as CEO of a club."

Bierhoff was facing the media at the start of the first international break of 2021, with the clock now ticking on Germany's recruitment process.

"We don't have limitless time, but we are not under pressure either," he said. "We have to appoint a new coach for the time after the Euros. We are going to take our time.

"The DFB delegation will be in the team hotel in the coming days. President Fritz Keller, Peter Peters, Rainer Koch and Friedrich Curtius will be there and we will discuss the situation.

"Obviously we will analyse, discuss and have long talks, and then we'll see."

Marcus Rashford will likely link up with the England squad next week despite a foot injury keeping him out of the FA Cup quarter-final on Sunday, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said.

The forward was hurt during Manchester United's 1-0 win over Milan in the Europa League last-16 second leg at San Siro on Thursday.

Rashford struggled to walk on Saturday and United manager Solskjaer confirmed scans showed he has sustained damage, meaning he was unavailable for the clash with Leicester City at the King Power Stadium.

Anthony Martial returned from a hip injury to take Rashford's place in attack, while Paul Pogba and Donny van de Beek were also recalled to the starting line-up after only recently regaining full fitness.

Solskjaer said Rashford was never likely to feature against Leicester, but he will not stop the 23-year-old from joining up with Gareth Southgate's Three Lions squad for this month's World Cup qualifiers.

"No, he wasn't close [to playing]," Solskjaer told BBC Sport. "We took him off [against Milan] and he thought he'd be ready but, yesterday, he had no chance of walking on his foot.

"The scans show there's an injury there but, of course, we've got players coming back – Anthony and Donny are back in, so there are positives as well.

"The doctor will speak to the English [national team] but I think he'll travel and report [for international duty]. Maybe he'll be fit for them."

England face San Marino next Thursday before further matches against Albania on March 28 and Poland on March 31.

 

 

Italy boss Roberto Mancini handed first call-ups to Atalanta captain Rafael Toloi and Spezia midfielder Matteo Ricci as he selected a 38-man squad for the three upcoming World Cup qualifiers. 

Brazilian-born Toloi has been residing in Italy since leaving Sao Paulo to join Atalanta in 2015 and has received the citizenship that makes him eligible to represent the Azzurri. 

The 30-year-old has been summoned at the first opportunity by head coach Mancini, who has observed the centre-back as a prominent member of the Atalanta team that has caught the eye in Serie A and the Champions League. 

Ricci, 26, joined Spezia from Roma in July 2018 and helped the team win promotion to Serie A last season. 

He has yet to score in the top flight for Spezia this term but has had two assists and created 16 chances, while winning possession 139 times, a team-high mark. 

Italy face Northern Ireland in Parma in their Group C qualifying opener next Thursday, then tackle Bulgaria in Sofia on March 28 before playing Lithuania three days later in Vilnius. 

The Inter trio of Alessandro Bastoni, Nicolo Barella and Stefano Sensi will only be involved if they have the all-clear from health authorities, given they are currently subject to COVID-19 restrictions after positive tests at the club. 

Inter's Stefan de Vrij and Matias Vecino tested positive for coronavirus, and the Nerazzurri said on Thursday all players would be prevented from joining up with their international teams, although that may change if they return negative test results on Monday. 

The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) said Ricci must also be similarly cleared to join up. 

Italy are unbeaten in 22 games and have qualified for both Euro 2020, which takes place in June and July, and the Nations League Finals in October. 

Italy squad: Alessio Cragno (Cagliari), Gianluigi Donnarumma (Milan), Alex Meret (Napoli), Salvatore Sirigu (Torino); Francesco Acerbi (Lazio), Alessandro Bastoni (Inter), Cristiano Biraghi (Fiorentina), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Giovanni Di Lorenzo (Napoli), Emerson Palmieri (Chelsea), Gian Marco Ferrari (Sassuolo), Alessandro Florenzi (Paris Saint-Germain), Manuel Lazzari (Lazio), Gianluca Mancini (Roma), Leonardo Spinazzola (Roma), Rafael Toloi (Atalanta); Nicolo Barella (Inter), Gaetano Castrovilli (Fiorentina), Bryan Cristante (Roma), Manuel Locatelli (Sassuolo), Rolando Mandragora (Torino), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma), Matteo Pessina (Atalanta), Matteo Ricci (Spezia), Stefano Sensi (Inter), Roberto Soriano (Bologna), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain); Andrea Belotti (Torino), Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), Federico Bernardeschi (Juventus), Francesco Caputo (Sassuolo), Federico Chiesa (Juventus), Stephan El Shaarawy (Roma), Vincenzo Grifo (Friburgo), Ciro Immobile (Lazio), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Moise Kean (Paris Saint-Germain).

Stefan de Vrij's positive coronavirus test has ruled him out of the latest Netherlands squad, with Mainz centre-back Jeremiah St Juste included for the first time in his place.

Dutch coach Frank de Boer named a final 24-man squad on Friday, picking from an initial 31-man group selected earlier this month.

Inter defender De Vrij was among those to make way, having contracted COVID-19, prompting a lockdown of the Nerazzurri camp.

Their international players have been banned from joining their national teams, although Belgium still called up Romelu Lukaku while De Boer suggested a delayed arrival was possible for De Vrij.

But that complication has created an opportunity for St Juste, a former youth international.

"For Stefan de Vrij, it is of course annoying that he tested positive for corona," De Boer said. "That's why we can't summon him.

"We need to see how that develops and whether Stefan can possibly join later. We'll really have to wait and see.

"With Jeremiah St Juste, who can play at right-back and right-centre, I now have a good replacement. It's nice for him to be able to make his debut in the squad."

Although St Juste's passing accuracy of 79.6 per cent pales next to De Vrij's (93.5 per cent), he has had far more practice in a defensive sense this season at Bundesliga strugglers Mainz.

The 24-year-old contests more duels (9.8, winning 58 per cent), aerial duels (3.9) and tackles (1.9) per 90 minutes than De Vrij, while also contributing more interceptions (2.1) and blocks (0.9).

Goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, last in a Netherlands squad in October 2017, has also been handed a chance.

Wout Weghorst misses out, his 26 goal involvements in 32 Wolfsburg games not enough, as does Quincy Promes, who was arrested in December in connection to a stabbing earlier last year. The player denied his alleged involvement.

"We are now close to the European Championships," De Boer said. "That means that all players from the provisional squad remain in our picture, even if they are not in the final group now.

"This applies, for example, to Quincy Promes, who I have not selected now. The competition in his position is great and I choose others at the moment.

"Of course I know the stories around him, but for me only one thing applies: you are innocent in the Netherlands until proven guilty. So I treat him just like everyone else."

Netherlands squad in full:

Jasper Cillessen (Valencia), Tim Krul (Norwich City), Maarten Stekelenburg (Ajax); Daley Blind (Ajax), Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus), Denzel Dumfries (PSV), Jeremiah St Juste (Mainz), Kenny Tete (Fulham), Patrick van Aanholt (Crystal Palace), Joel Veltman (Brighton and Hove Albion), Owen Wijndal (AZ); Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona), Ryan Gravenberch (Ajax), Davy Klaassen (Ajax), Marten de Roon (Atalanta), Donny van de Beek (Manchester United), Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool); Ryan Babel (Galatasaray), Steven Berghuis (Feyenoord), Steven Bergwijn (Tottenham), Calvin Stengs (AZ), Memphis Depay (Lyon), Luuk de Jong (Sevilla), Donyell Malen (PSV).

Jamal Musiala should not change his approach while away with Germany, Hansi Flick insisted after the Bayern Munich teenager was handed his first senior international call-up. 

Having elected to represent Germany ahead of England, whom he played for at youth level, Musiala was selected by Joachim Low for Die Mannschaft's upcoming World Cup qualifiers with Iceland, Romania and North Macedonia. 

Musiala has made 18 Bundesliga appearances in 2020-21 – only four players who are younger than him (18 years, 21 days) have played in more matches across the top five European leagues this term. 

On target in a 4-1 win over Lazio in the Champions League last month, Musiala has demonstrated impressive composure for someone of his tender years. 

And Flick believes displaying the same level-headed attitude will be the key for Musiala in his international career. 

"He should approach it the same way he does things with us, by staying calm. He's an exceptional player," Flick told a media conference ahead of Bayern's Bundesliga clash with Stuttgart. 

Bayern have been pitted against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League quarter-finals having eased past Lazio 6-2 on aggregate in the last 16. 

It is a rematch of last year's final, with the reward for winning the tie a semi-final meeting with either Manchester City or Borussia Dortmund.

But the renewal of acquaintances with PSG is not in Flick's immediate focus.

"My focus is on the game against Stuttgart, first and foremost," he said about the draw. "This will be our 18th game in 11 weeks.

"The team has, in this short time, delivered many strong performances once again, including in the most recent games.

"Now comes first Stuttgart, then the important game in Leipzig. We have enough time to prepare for Paris.

"Manchester City is currently one of the most consistent teams in Europe, so it is a challenge for us and Dortmund. We play the Champions League for that. 

"But we and Dortmund have the opportunity to go one round further.

"It's important to play two games at the highest level. Of course, it's a tough opponent, as you saw in the final. But we also have tremendous quality."

Teenagers Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz have been called up to Germany's senior squad for the first time, but there is still no place for Thomas Muller, Mats Hummels or Jerome Boateng. 

Musiala, 18, pledged his allegiance to Germany last month having previously represented England at every level from Under-15 to Under-21. 

The versatile attacker played in the Chelsea academy from 2011 until 2019 before opting to move back to Germany, where the Stuttgart-born youngster has since made quite the impression at Bayern Munich. 

He has made 18 Bundesliga appearances this term – only four players who are younger than him (18 years, 21 days) have played in more matches across the top five European leagues this term. 

One of those is Wirtz, who has shown immense promise at Bayer Leverkusen since making his debut shortly after his 17th birthday in May last year. 

With four goals and as many assists in 21 Bundesliga games, Wirtz – a technically gifted attacking midfielder – is one of only two players under the age of 20 (along with Arnaud Kalimuendo) across the top European leagues to be involved in eight league goals. 

Similarly, across those same leagues, Adil Aouchiche (46) is the only individual yet to turn 20 with more key passes than Wirtz's tally of 37.

Joachim Low, who earlier this month confirmed he will leave his post later this year, is urging both players to relax despite the added pressures that come with international recognition. 

"We are excited to get to know Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz even better," he told the German Football Association (DFB). "They earned the nomination with their recent good performances. 

"But especially with such young players, our responsibility is to be careful with them and lead them step by step to the highest level. 

"Both have huge potential, and I am sure that we will have a lot of fun with them in the next few years, but at the moment it is important not to rush into anything, they should take it easy and develop carefree. I think the next few days will be a good experience for Jamal and Florian." 

Amin Younes, who has been impressing with Eintracht Frankfurt this term, has earned his first call-up since October 2017, while Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Emre Can, Lukas Klostermann and Kai Havertz all return after missing the November internationals, which included a 6-0 humiliation by Spain. 

However, there is still no recall for Bayern duo Muller and Boateng, nor Borussia Dortmund centre-back Hummels. 

All three World Cup winners were cast aside by Low in March last year as he looked to refresh the squad in the wake of the 2018 World Cup failure. 

Earlier this month, Low did not rule out potentially bringing them back into the fold given their solid form at club level, yet he has ignored them again on this occasion as Germany begin their World Cup qualification campaign with games against Iceland, Romania and North Macedonia.

Roberto Martinez remains "very positive" Eden Hazard will be fit and firing in time for Euro 2020 despite missing out on Belgium's latest squad.

And the Red Devils coach called on club side Real Madrid to join the national team in taking "responsibility" for Hazard's recovery.

The winger returned from a six-game absence in LaLiga to appear as a second-half substitute in Madrid's win against Elche last weekend.

However, Hazard had to miss training on Monday due to a damaged hip flexor and could not face Atalanta in the Champions League the following day.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane fumed at the repeated "inexplicable" issues that have restricted Hazard to just 36 appearances and 29 starts since his €100million transfer in June 2019.

Hazard has scored only four times for Los Blancos, providing five assists from 38 chances created.

But he remains a key man for Belgium, with five goals, seven assists and 34 chances created in eight European Championship qualifying outings and is set to captain the side at the finals, if he can recover in time.

Martinez is staying patient, revealing the player - in "good spirits" - will not undergo surgery and explaining: "I think there is still a long, long, long, long way to go [to the Euros].

"Rather than setting a timeline, all that matters is to measure every day and to see that Eden is on the right path to get back to full fitness.

"It would be wrong and it would be gambling, by anyone, to imagine if Eden will be fully fit or not.

"I feel this situation can be solved a lot earlier than the Euros, but only when Eden goes from day to day will we see the final answer.

"Knowing Eden, what we're dealing with is a player that has never been injured in his career. This is a real shock, something new. There is a lot of uncertainty around that.

"But in terms of the injury, I feel very positive that we can get to see the best Eden Hazard well before the Euros."

While Zidane had no explanation for Hazard's woes, Martinez added: "This is a situation with Eden Hazard. We're dealing with the same problem. There's been a lot of different niggles and different problems, but everything comes from the same previous problem.

"Now is the moment to forget about any deadlines, any times, it's about Eden Hazard, giving him what he needs and getting him fully recovered and making sure he's back on the football pitch.

"We all need to take that responsibility, between the Belgian federation and the club where he's playing his football."

While Hazard will play no part in Belgium's March World Cup qualifiers against Wales, Czech Republic and Belarus, Romelu Lukaku has been included, despite a coronavirus breakout at Inter.

There are also first senior nods for midfielders Albert Sambi Lokonga and Orel Mangala.


Belgium squad in full:

Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid), Thomas Kaminski (Blackburn Rovers), Simon Mignolet (Club Brugge); Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Dedryck Boyata (Hertha Berlin), Timothy Castagne (Leicester City), Jason Denayer (Lyon), Leander Dendoncker (Wolves), Thomas Foket (Reims), Brandon Mechele (Club Brugge), Thomas Meunier (Borussia Dortmund), Thomas Vermaelen (Vissel Kobe), Jan Vertonghen (Benfica); Yannick Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Nacer Chadli (Istanbul Basaksehir), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Dortmund), Albert Sambi Lokonga (Anderlecht), Orel Mangala (Stuttgart), Dennis Praet (Leicester City), Alexis Saelemaekers (Milan), Youri Tielemans (Leicester City), Hans Vanaken (Club Brugge); Michy Batshuayi (Crystal Palace), Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace), Charles De Ketelaere (Club Brugge), Jeremy Doku (Rennes), Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad), Romelu Lukaku (Inter), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Leandro Trossard (Brighton and Hove Albion), Yari Verschaeren (Anderlecht).

Trent Alexander-Arnold has not made the cut for England despite being one of the few Liverpool players to deliver high standards during the Reds' poor run.

Gareth Southgate named a 26-man squad for this month's upcoming World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland.

Five full-backs were included in the selection, but Alexander-Arnold, a Champions League and Premier League winner in the past two years, was not among them, casting doubt over his participation in Euro 2020.

Manchester City's Kyle Walker, Chelsea's Reece James and Atletico Madrid's Kieran Trippier were preferred to Alexander-Arnold at right-back, while left-backs Ben Chilwell and Luke Shaw were also selected.

Trippier has just returned from a ban imposed by the Football Association for a breach of betting rules.

Alexander-Arnold and his Liverpool team-mates have endured a tough time in the Premier League since the turn of the year, picking up just four wins.

The reigning champions have lost eight league games in 2021, though 22-year-old Alexander-Arnold has kept his performance levels high.

Manchester United full-back Shaw is the only defender to have created more chances (52) than Alexander-Arnold (47) so far this season, while the Liverpool man ranks highest of any player in the competition for passes played into the box (315).

Alexander-Arnold's accuracy from crosses and corners tallies at 18.81 per cent, which does represent a dip compared to 21.41 last season, and 29.21 in 2018-19.

His efforts this season have resulted in one goal and three assists – he teed up 13 goals last term – though Liverpool's misfiring strike force have to shoulder much of that responsibility, with only club-mate Andrew Robertson and West Ham's Aaron Cresswell (both nine) having crafted more big chances among Premier League defenders than Alexander-Arnold (eight).

Alexander-Arnold also boasts an impressive 69.05 per cent tackle success rate, from a total of 42 attempted tackles, higher than James (68.42) and Walker (65.38), though slightly lower than Trippier's rate of 69.23 per cent from 39 attempted tackles in LaLiga. Alexander-Arnold had a 61.82 per cent success rate last term, so there has been a marked improvement.

The youngster's set-piece delivery could also be a miss for England, with Alexander-Arnold having created 21 goalscoring opportunities from corners or free-kicks in the league this term – only four players have managed more in the top flight.

A SUPER TALENT

Explaining his decision, Southgate conceded Alexander-Arnold was "unfortunate" to miss out, though he singled out Matty Cash of Aston Villa and Luke Ayling of Leeds United as examples of the strength in depth England possess at right-back, while Aaron Wan-Bissaka was not even mentioned.

Wan-Bissaka's international future is up in the air, with reports the Manchester United defender may choose to represent DR Congo having been consistently overlooked by Southgate, but the England boss has no doubt over Alexander-Arnold's long-term importance to the Three Lions.

"There's some areas of the pitch where we've got incredible competition for places," Southgate told a news conference.

"Trent has been very unfortunate. The last few weeks he's definitely taken steps in the right direction. Reece and Trippier have had exceptional seasons. Kyle is in great form.

"Matty at Aston Villa, Luke at Leeds. It's a remarkable position of strength. What I said to Trent – I've made that same call to Kyle and Kieran in the past, their response was a good one.

"Trent is a super talent and I'm certain he'll play a big part with England in the future. We could be sat here [for the Euros] and he's with us."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic insists he is deserving of his place in the Sweden squad, even if he is no longer the same player he was when last representing his national side in 2016.

The Milan striker was recalled by Janne Andersson for this month's World Cup qualifiers against Kosovo and Georgia, plus the friendly with Estonia, paving the way for him to potentially play at Euro 2020.

He celebrated his first call-up in nearly five years by posting a picture on Twitter of himself in a Sweden shirt with the caption: "The return of the God."

Ibrahimovic, who turns 40 in October, is Sweden's all-time leading scorer with 62 international goals, the last of those coming against Denmark in November 2015. 

And having also impressed in Serie A this term with 14 goals in as many matches, the ex-Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain striker believes he can still make an impact.

"I don't want to be considered and called up for what I did before, but for what I can give now," he told the Swedish Football Association's official YouTube channel.

"I can't be the player I was five, 10, 15 or 20 yeas ago. Now, I have a completely different physique and a completely different game.

"But I keep a very high level. You don't have to worry. I'm not on the squad list because my name is Zlatan and I'm Ibrahimovic.

"It's because of what I add to the squad and what I have achieved. I think I deserve it."

Andersson previously ruled out a recall for Ibrahimovic, but his stance changed following a "great conversation" with the 116-cap ace in November.

Asked about those discussions with Andersson, Ibrahimovic said: "It was very positive. We examined everything and drew a line on everything that is the past. 

"We spoke with respect among ourselves. We were able to talk to each other.

"I recognise that mentality in myself. When you're a footballer at a certain level and you've the chance to represent your country it's the greatest joy there is to be able to do so. 

"It is with pride and honour that I will wear the national team jersey."

Ibrahimovic returned to Italian football in December 2019 after a two-season spell in MLS with LA Galaxy and has scored 27 goals in 41 games in all competitions.

Twenty-four of those goals have come in 32 Serie A appearances since returning to San Siro, a tally bettered only by Romelu Lukaku (30 goals in 45 games), Ciro Immobile (31 goals in 44 games) and Cristiano Ronaldo (44 goals in 42 games).

Sweden's players are due to gather on Monday ahead of their home qualifier against Georgia on March 25.

Luke Shaw and Jesse Lingard have been recalled to the England squad for this month's World Cup qualifiers.

There are also first call-ups for Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins and West Brom goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, who are the only uncapped players in the group.

Reece James, Phil Foden and Jude Bellingham have all been added after being left out of the Under-21 squad for the European Championship, along with Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka.

Bellingham was chosen despite concerns from Borussia Dortmund that he would be forced to quarantine upon his return to Germany.

Wolves defender Conor Coady keeps his place, as does Chelsea left-back Ben Chilwell, despite having recently struggled for game time under Thomas Tuchel.

Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse is selected but there is no place for Leeds United's Patrick Bamford, who had been tipped to earn a spot. Team-mate Kalvin Phillips, who made his debut last September, will be involved.

Gareth Southgate's side face San Marino on March 25 before a game with Albania three days later. They then take on Poland on March 31.

 

England squad:

Dean Henderson (Manchester United), Sam Johnstone (West Brom), Nick Pope (Burnley); Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Conor Coady (Wolves), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Reece James (Chelsea), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Atletico Madrid), Kyle Walker (Manchester City); Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jesse Lingard (West Ham), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Kalvin Phillips (Leeds United), Declan Rice (West Ham), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton); Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa).

Portugal coach Fernando Santos has defended his decision to call up Rui Patricio for this month's World Cup qualifiers.

The Wolves goalkeeper suffered a sickening blow to the head after colliding with team-mate Conor Coady during Monday's 1-0 Premier League loss to Liverpool.

He was taken off on a stretcher after a lengthy delay to the match, but Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo confirmed after the match that Patricio had avoided serious injury.

The 33-year-old was named as part of the Portugal squad on Tuesday ahead of the upcoming games against Azerbaijan, Serbia and Luxembourg.

Santos told reporters: "He's been called up because, from the moment it happened, we tried to find out everything that was going on.

"We talked to him and the medical department. He's stable. He has a protocol to follow but they said there was no hindrance."

Alongside established stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Joao Felix, Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes and Ruben Dias, Santos granted recalls to striker Andre Silva and Arsenal full-back Cedric Soares.

There were also debut call-ups to Sporting CP full-back Nuno Mendes and his midfield team-mate Joao Palhinha.

Santos said he had given Palhinha "a positive assessment, otherwise he wouldn't be here", adding: "There were other options.

"He's had very positive form. It's important for him to come at this moment because there isn't a very long international break and it's important for me to evaluate him more closely."

Portugal squad:

Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Rui Patricio (Wolves), Rui Silva (Granada); Joao Cancelo (Manchester City), Cedric Soares (Arsenal), Domingos Duarte (Granada), Pepe (Porto), Jose Fonte (Lille), Ruben Dias (Manchester City), Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund), Nuno Mendes (Sporting CP); Danilo Pereira (Paris Saint-Germain), Joao Palhinha (Sporting CP), Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho (both Wolves), Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United), Renato Sanches (Lille), Sergio Oliveira (Porto); Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Pedro Neto (Wolves), Diogo Jota (Liverpool), Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus), Rafa Silva (Benfica), Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid), Andre Silva (Eintracht Frankfurt).

Jordan Pickford has been ruled out of England's World Cup qualifiers this month due to an abdominal injury.

Pickford was forced off shortly before half-time during Everton's 2-1 Premier League defeat to Burnley last weekend.

Everton confirmed the 27-year-old had undergone a scan that revealed damage to his oblique abdominal muscle.

Pickford will also miss Everton's FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester City at Goodison Park ion Saturday.

England face San Marino, Albania and Poland as their campaign to reach Qatar 2022 gets underway.

Manager Gareth Southgate has kept faith with Pickford as his first-choice goalkeeper, the former Sunderland man having impressed during the Three Lions' run to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals in Russia.

Burnley's Nick Pope and Manchester United's Dean Henderson are the most likely replacements for Pickford.

In all competitions this season, Pope has made 105 saves compared to Pickford's 73 and boasts a better save percentage of 75.9 to 69.5

Pickford has made four errors leading to goals this season, compared to two from Pope, while only Aaron Ramsdale (11) has conceded more than his 10 goals from outside the box among all Premier League goalkeepers.

Pope and Henderson have each been beaten twice from beyond their 18-yard box.

Henderson has enjoyed a recent run in the United first team but is usually back-up to David de Gea and has made a total of 17 appearances this season.

However, the former Sheffield United loanee's save percentage of 81.13 is the highest of any goalkeeper from the English top flight to have played 10 or more games this season.

Sam Johnstone, like Henderson a product of the Manchester United youth set-up, could now push for a place in Southgate's squad.

Johnstone has made more saves than any Premier League keeper (115) but also conceded the most goals (55) for relegation-threatened West Brom.

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