Seattle Sounders became the second MLS team to clinch a play-off berth with their 4-1 rout of Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday. 

Seattle are atop the Western Conference on 57 points, second only to runaway Eastern Conference leaders and Supporters' Shield pacesetters New England Revolution (65), who already have secured the top seed on their side. 

The Sounders established themselves early with goals from Shane O'Neill in the fifth minute and Nicolas Benezet in the 14th at home to the Whitecaps amid their 13-game winless run against Seattle – the club's longest drought against any opponent in MLS.

After Vancouver clawed a goal back via Brian White at the end of the first half, Will Bruin added a third for Seattle 10 minutes into the second period and Leo Chu netted in the 90th minute to close it out. 

New York Red Bulls kept their play-off hopes alive, defeating slumping Inter Miami 1-0 behind a 25th-minute goal courtesy of Patryk Klimala. 

The Red Bulls sit ninth in the east, three points adrift of Montreal, rivals New York City and DC United, who currently hold the final three post-season positions.

Inter Miami are eight points off the pace amid a five-match losing streak.

FC Cincinnati became the first team officially eliminated from play-off contention following a 2-1 home defeat to third-placed Philadelphia Union. 

Though Philadelphia had possession for only 37 per cent of the match, they built a lead through Kacper Przybylko in first-half stoppage time before Paxten Aaronson doubled the advantage 11 minutes into the second half.

Haris Medunjanin netted in the 82nd minute but it was too late as Cincinnati suffered their 16th loss of the season against eight draws and an MLS-worst four wins. 

Xavi did nothing to quash rumours that he could replace Ronald Koeman at embattled LaLiga giants Barcelona, saying he is "open to anything". 

Xavi was among the favourites for the Barca job before Koeman was hired as head coach in August 2020 and has been the name on everyone's lips as the Catalans have struggled this season. 

Barca great Xavi has presided over Qatari side Al-Sadd since his retirement in 2019, leading them to a league title and five domestic cups, but a return to the Camp Nou would be difficult to resist. 

Ahead of Sunday's Nations League final between Spain and France, Xavi left the door open for a return. 

"Any offer will be evaluated and then a decision will be made," Xavi told TVE. "I don't know where my future will take me, but I'm open to anything."

The 41-year-old made 505 appearances for Barca as a player from 1998 through 2015.

Xavi, who moved to Al-Sadd in 2015 before signing a contract extension as coach through 2023 in May, held the record for most Barca appearances before it was broken by Lionel Messi last season.

Others mentioned as potential replacements for Koeman include Belgium boss Roberto Martinez, River Plate head coach Marcelo Gallardo, former Juventus coach Andrea Pirlo and Ajax's Erik ten Hag. 

Koeman remains in the job, and Barca president Joan Laporta affirmed his support for the embattled former Blaugrana star on Friday.

"We have every confidence in him, he's our coach, and he deserves some leeway as he believes in the team and hasn't been able to call on the entire squad yet," Laporta told RAC1. 

Barcelona are ninth in LaLiga, five points adrift of leaders Real Madrid with a game in hand. 

The mystery surrounding the decision of West Ham forward, Michail Antonio, to withdraw from Jamaica’s team days ahead of the ongoing round of World Cup qualifiers has added another twist, with the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) insisting it was based on a misunderstanding.

According to multiple reports, the issue stemmed from the fact that the player was not given permission to carry his personal physiotherapist on the trip, which he had agreed to pay for out of pocket.  Through his agent, Antonio who has suffered from a long history of muscular injuries, made the request for the medical professional to be able to join the squad but was turned down.

However, strangely, the JFF now insists that the player’s representative was given the wrong information as he should have in fact been granted permission to travel with the therapist.

“It was a simple mix-up that caused that caused that to happen.  What we don’t want to do is to continue to lay the blame all over the place.  We know administratively from the JFF hierarchy that that is something we had supported,” General Secretary Dalton Wint told TVJ Sports.

The official, however, seemed to be at a loss to explain how a member of the technical committee could have communicated a negative answer to the player’s agent when the answer he admits should have been a simple and positive one.

“He is allowed (to carry physiotherapist), it’s simple.  That’s why we used the term miscommunication.”

Wint went on to state that the issue had been cleared up with the player and his agent and expected him to return to the team in the near future.  The Jamaica team is at the bottom of the standings with three losses in the first four matches.

   

Jamaica Reggae Boy midfielder Anthony Grant has joined the team ahead of Sunday’s crucial World Cup qualification match against Canada.

 The Swindon Town player missed out on the United States game after a late call-up, following the decision of Preston North End's Daniel Johnson to pull out of the squad for what was reported to be injury precaution reasons.

Grant made his debut, alongside Devon Williams, for the team against Mexico in a narrow 2-1 loss before representing the team again in a 1-1 draw against Costa Rica.  The player’s return should be good news for the under-pressure Theodore Whitmore coached team who used veteran JeVaughn Watson in the position against the United States.  Watson’s recall, ahead of the Costa Rica game, had come as a surprise to many.  The player had been coming off a low level of inactivity having not been included initially for the qualifiers.  The inclusion of Grant should add reinforcement for the team in the defensive midfield area, as the Reggae Boyz look to clamp the brakes on a dangerous Canadian attack, which has been one of the best in the competition so far.  

The team is yet to win a match in the competition so far and is rooted to the bottom of the eight-team table on the back of one draw and three losses.

Gareth Southgate was not surprised by Phil Foden's outstanding England display against Andorra, while he backed Jadon Sancho to recover his best form at Manchester United.

Foden came into the international break having dazzled on the left wing for Manchester City in last week's 2-2 draw with Liverpool, scoring one goal and having a hand in the other.

The 21-year-old was not on the scoresheet in Saturday's 5-0 World Cup qualifying win, but he controlled the game from the centre of midfield.

Having played the pass that cut Andorra open for Ben Chilwell's opener, Foden got an assist for Bukayo Saka's second. The last England duo aged 21 or under to combine for a World Cup qualifying goal had been Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen against Germany in 2001.

Tammy Abraham, James Ward-Prowse and Jack Grealish added goals after half-time, but Foden remained the star.

Although there was one wild, wayward shot, he created three chances and completed 94.7 per cent of his 76 passes, including 93.1 per cent of 58 in the Andorra half.

England have been accused of lacking control in the centre of the pitch in their biggest games, so manager Southgate was intrigued by Foden's display – even if he expected the City man would thrive.

"The quality we know," Southgate told a news conference. "For us, it's really interesting the possibilities with him in terms of his positioning moving forward.

"Today was a perfect game, because the whole team had no need for defending, so you're only analysing one part of the game against a certain level of opponent.

"Nevertheless, to see the passes and to have the quality to hit the passes he did is apparent for everybody.

"Not just him, but as one or two others in that midfield get stronger, I think it's exciting to see how we might evolve as a team in certain matches and how that balance and creativity might continue to progress.

"I'm not surprised that his performance was the standout tonight. We half-expected it when we named the team, really.

"I think [identifying his best position] is difficult, because frankly he's one of those players that is effective across that front line, if you play him seven, 11, 10, eight.

"A traditional 4-3-3 formation, with a six, eight, 10, [he would be] the 10 within that but with the capability to drop lower and to build the play at times as he did tonight.

"I think part of that is as he gets stronger, and part of that is the balance of the type of player who might play as the other eight, as well, and their qualities.

"Look, it's fabulously exciting, isn't it, when you're trying to break down a defence as you are tonight and you've got a player who can see the passes that he sees and hit them and execute them in the way that he did.

"Towards the end of the game, there were some lovely bits of combination – Foden, Mount, Grealish, Saka – the type of play that our players are capable of producing is really exciting."

While Foden has two goals and two assists in six club games this term on one side of Manchester, new United signing Sancho has yet to register one of either in nine outings.

He got two assists on Saturday, though, including teeing up Chilwell after Foden's pass.

Southgate said: "It was not easy for a winger in the game tonight, because quite often you're receiving the ball with two, sometimes three defenders really close.

"You've got to pick the right moments to set the ball off and the right moments to back yourself to maybe take one or two of those players out. I thought he did that exceptionally well.

"It was important that he got the assist, because you've also got to have that productivity, and the right pass or the right cross at the end of those packages of play.

"When I've spoken to him this week, we shouldn't be surprised that for a young player to have such a big change in his life – new league, new club, different style of play, different training regime, back living in Manchester, moving house, everything that's involved in that – that's a lot to take in.

"It's going to need time, but he showed a lot of the qualities he has, and I know that will come with the club as well."

Lionel Messi did not want to leave Barcelona and his eventual signing for Paris Saint-Germain even caught them by surprise, according to the Parisians' sporting director Leonardo.

Messi ended a 21-year association with Barca back in August when it was announced he would not be re-signing for the club.

His contract had officially expired at the end of June but Barca and Messi were expecting to be able to announce a new deal on a reduced salary.

But even with the reduced terms, Barca were still unable to get their wage expenditure under their LaLiga-imposed salary cap, which prevented them registering new signings.

As such, Messi was officially a free agent and PSG quickly swooped to bring him in, with the Ligue 1 champions and Manchester City both being linked with him extensively in the past.

The situation surrounding Messi's inability to re-sign for Barca and his move to PSG shocked the world of football, and that included those at PSG.

"Messi was convinced to stay at Barcelona," Leonardo told reporters at the Festival dello Sport on Saturday.

"We had some contacts. Some rumours were saying he may not stay at Barcelona because his contract was expiring.

"We checked the situation, we talked but we did not have the feeling he wanted to leave Barcelona. However we started networking. This helped us to be in a good position.

"Then Barcelona announced the end of their relationship, so that's the moment we started and it's been great. It's been a surprise for everybody.

"Then he arrived. The way he arrived… he was at Barcelona for 21 years. It was the first transfer he'd done.

"It was a new thing for him to be in a new dressing room. He's got an impacting silence, he doesn't talk much but he is someone to admire."

Another high-profile player signed by PSG on a free transfer in pre-season was Gianluigi Donnarumma, who departed Milan after running his contract down.

Many in Italy have been intensely critical of Donnarumma for opting to leave for the greater riches on offer in Paris, but Leonardo insisted PSG did not get in touch with him until June, two months after his exit was confirmed.

"I know it's a difficult situation," Leonardo said. "We never contacted Donnarumma before June. I don't want to be wrong, I think Milan announced in April that they were not extending the contract [of Donnarumma].

"They signed a new goalkeeper in Mike Maignan, so Donnarumma was free for the market. We had never contacted Donnarumma before, then some things happened.

"I had been in Milan but his future was not decided yet. He was free in June. We talked and we took this decision.

"We had never done previous work to have him for free. He was going to another team if it wasn't PSG. He wouldn't have stayed at Milan."

Jack Grealish was delighted to finally get off the mark in an England shirt after adding the final goal in Saturday's 5-0 win at Andorra.

A reshuffled England side were comfortable throughout as they closed on World Cup qualification, recording their sixth win in seven matches in this campaign.

The Three Lions were two up by half-time through Ben Chilwell and Bukayo Saka, the latter assisted by the outstanding Phil Foden. It was the first time two England players aged 21 or under had combined for a World Cup qualifying goal since Steven Gerrard's assist for Michael Owen against Germany in 2001.

Tammy Abraham got in on the act after half-time, before Grealish made a significant impact from the bench.

In 17 minutes, the £100million man won a penalty, which James Ward-Prowse saw saved before tucking away the rebound, and then hit the net following Sam Johnstone's throw from an Andorra set-piece.

The last substitute to win a penalty and score a goal in a European World Cup qualifier while playing 17 minutes or fewer had been Nicklas Bendtner in a six-minute cameo for Denmark against the Republic of Ireland in November 2017.

Grealish's goal came in his 16th appearance for his country, and the Manchester City winger acknowledged the drought had been on his mind. 

"It has been a long time coming, and it's about time that I scored because everyone has been saying it to me," Grealish told BBC 5 live.

 

"I think that is 16 games now. It was coming, and I'm just delighted that I've got off the mark.

"I want to be starting games, to be starting the biggest of games and keep playing for England. Luckily over the past few months and during the Euros I've had the chance to do that.

"In the back of my mind there has been that feeling that I've just wanted to score, just to get off the mark. Obviously I've done that tonight, I'm delighted, and it's a night I won't forget."

For Abraham, meanwhile, it was his first England goal for almost two years.

The Roma striker became the first England player to score while affiliated to an Italian team since David Platt, then with Sampdoria, netted against Sweden in 1995.

"I need to keep performing for my club and I hope I'll be in more camps going forward leading to the World Cup," said Abraham.

"It is never straightforward against Andorra. It was hard to break them down, but you could see the quality in the team as we had to find ways to score, and we did.

"I knew the opportunity would come. Jadon told me at half-time that sometimes he would cut back on his right and try and find me in the middle of the goal, so I should be ready.

"I was ready that time and got a good toe onto the ball. I was in the right place at the right time and I took my chance."

Cristiano Ronaldo scored for the ninth time in seven Portugal appearances as the Selecao cruised to a straightforward 3-0 friendly win over Qatar on Saturday.

With Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup in 13 months' time, this was another opportunity for them to test themselves against higher-quality opposition, but they were outclassed by a Portugal side who hardly got out of second gear.

Ronaldo capitalised on a defensive error to put Portugal 1-0 in front late in the first half, with the hosts having created numerous chances beforehand.

Jose Fonte's first ever international goal and an Andre Silva header then sealed the win for Portugal in the second period, with Qatar – who could only muster a 1-1 draw with Luxembourg last time out – offering no threat to Diogo Costa in the home side's net.

Portugal peppered the Qatar goal in the first half but were initially rather wasteful.

Silva smashed an effort into the face of Saad Al Sheeb when one-on-one in the 12th minute, though the goalkeeper knew a little more about his save soon after to deny Goncalo Guedes at the end of a bursting solo run.

Ronaldo was then guilty of slicing wide from 10 yards after reaching Diogo Dalot's cross, but he was on hand to tap in when a defender failed to clear a header across goal from his Manchester United team-mate.

Al Sheeb was drawn into a necessary save to keep out Danilo Pereira's header two minutes after the interval, but he parried the ball right to Fonte, who slammed in from close range.

A host of substitutions saw Portugal's tempo drop even further – not that it mattered. They still looked infinitely more dangerous as Silva continued to keep the Qatar defence and goalkeeper busy.

The forward did eventually find the net, meeting a wonderful cross from debutant substitute Rafael Leao – who had previous hit the crossbar and post – with a stooping header that wrapped up a simple victory.

What does it mean? Fernando Santos learns precious little

The objective of this friendly from Portugal's perspective was presumably just to keep players sharp ahead of next week's competitive action. Other than that, it is difficult to see what benefit this game was to the Selecao.

The gulf in quality was massive, far greater than the scoreline ultimately suggested, which probably is not a particularly encouraging thought for a Qatar side who will be keen not to be embarrassed as World Cup hosts next year.

Dalot stakes his claim

While the quality of the opposition may not have been great, Dalot certainly did his chances of earning a regular spot no harm with his performance on either flank. His five chances created were not bettered by anyone on the pitch, while he also played the pass that led to Ronaldo's opener.

Silva gets reward for persistence

Silva's overall display was good, with the RB Leipzig striker a regular threat to the Qatar goal, though he was quite wasteful. He had six shots – only two of which were on target – before eventually finding the net with his seventh.

What's next?

Portugal return to World Cup qualification on Tuesday as they host Luxembourg.

Bukayo Saka and Tammy Abraham were on target as England cruised to a comfortable 5-0 win over Andorra in World Cup qualifying Group I on Saturday.

Gareth Southgate named a largely second-string outfit at the Estadi Nacional but they had no problem dispatching a side ranked 153 places beneath them, Ben Chilwell setting them on their way in the 17th minute with his first international goal. 

Bukayo Saka added a second before half-time, while Tammy Abraham, James Ward-Prowse and Jack Grealish sealed the most routine of wins in the second period. 

A sixth win in seven group games means England move onto 19 points at the summit, while Andorra remain in fifth on three points. 

Real Madrid should be punished for their pursuit of Kylian Mbappe, according to Paris Saint-Germain sporting director Leonardo.

Mbappe's contract at PSG is due to expire next year and Madrid have been open in their admiration for the France international.

Madrid president Florentino Perez suggested earlier this week that Los Blancos were optimistic about getting positive news on Mbappe in January – though he quickly followed that up by saying his comments were misinterpreted.

Karim Benzema then said Mbappe moving to the Santiago Bernabeu was only "a question of time".

PSG were reported to have rejected multiple bids for Mbappe from Madrid during the most recent transfer window, though Leonardo still feels the Spanish giants have been posturing for the best part of two years in the hope of getting the striker on a free transfer, and he says their conduct should be punished.

"From Madrid they deny, but I think Real Madrid have been doing a job to buy Mbappe [on a free transfer] for a long time," Leonardo said at the Festival dello Sport.

 

"For two years they have been speaking publicly about Mbappe. This must be punished.

"From Real Madrid I see a lack of respect for Mbappe. He is not a normal player, he is one of the best in the world.

"The manager, the board, Madrid players spoke about Kylian... I think it's part of their plan. Not respectful."

Mbappe confirmed earlier this month that he wanted to leave PSG in pre-season and Madrid was the only club he wanted to join.

Nevertheless, he did not rule out signing a new deal with PSG, and his mother even claimed this week that Mbappe is still in talks over a contract extension.

"Our idea is to extend Kylian Mbappe's contract," Leonardo added. "Nothing has changed in our plans.

"Kylian is a jewel, he is incredibly perfect for PSG. Then we have Kylian, Leo [Messi], Neymar. We've never planned PSG's future without Mbappe."

 

Luis Enrique has no doubts about the quality of his Spain team but accepts their Nations League final opponents France have the best collection of individuals in international football.

Spain defeated European champions Italy in their semi-final on Wednesday, ending the Azzurri's world-record 37 match unbeaten run in the process.

World champions France await in the finale, with Didier Deschamps' men having come from 2-0 down to beat Belgium 3-2, which was the first time they had reversed a two-goal deficit since May 2012.

Spain's starting XI last time out was the youngest (average age of 26.8 years) of the four teams involved in the Nations League semis, and prior to their win over Italy, Luis Enrique had the impression they were most people's outside bets for the trophy.

But he relished causing something of an upset and believes they are capable of doing so again.

He told reporters: "I am convinced that we are going to have a great game and that we are going to put France in difficulty.

"I don't know if it will be enough to win us, but for us it is a very great encouragement.

"In the semi-finals we were the underdogs of the four teams and we turned that feeling around. Now we will try to do the same against the best team in the world – at an individual level, without a doubt.

"We are going to defend as we always do, by taking risks and playing face-to-face, trying to make sure that the only ball on the field is Spain's."

La Roja have certainly done a reasonable job in that respect in previous Nations League games, given they have had the most shots (126), shots on target (46), the best passing success (90.8 per cent) and best average possession (67.7 per cent) in this edition of the competition.

Luis Enrique still thinks they can get better, though.

"We still have the trump card of being a team," he continued. "We can still be a better team, we can still improve our performance.

"This is a wonderful sport that rewards those who play the best, we will try to be better than them collectively and make it happen."

But that is not to say Luis Enrique is underestimating the weapons France possess, with their front three of Karim Benzema, Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann – who is one match away from becoming only the ninth Les Bleus centurion – capable of doing damage.

"The power and quality of their front three is indisputable," Luis Enrique added. "They are very good and capable of deciding any match based on their individual quality.

"But we are not going to change one iota of what has brought us here, our ambition, our conviction and our quality."

Belgium's Nations League hopes fell flat on Thursday, but Yannick Carrasco insists the squad still have faith they can achieve glory at the 2022 World Cup.

The world's number one ranked team squandered a two-goal lead as France came back to win 3-2 in their semi-final clash in Turin, Theo Hernandez scoring the crucial fifth goal of a thrilling contest in the 90th minute.

Instead of heading to San Siro to face Spain in the final, Belgium are instead back at the Allianz Stadium on Sunday, going up against European champions Italy in a third-place play-off.

It is the second such match during Roberto Martinez's tenure, the Barcelona-linked coach having previously guided Belgium to the semi-finals of World Cup 2018, where they also fell foul of France.

Belgium defeated England to claim third place in Russia, before reaching the quarter-finals at Euro 2020. Sunday's opponents Italy beat them there.

When asked if Belgium's squad still held belief in their ability to challenge at next year's World Cup in Qatar, Atletico Madrid winger Carrasco turned the tables on the media.

"Do we believe that we can win a prize in Qatar? We always believe in ourselves," he told a news conference.

"But do you still believe in us? Because we don't have that feeling. We know that we have a good team, that we can do something beautiful.

"On Friday, the coach showed what we did well and what we did badly.

"That is necessary to prepare for Qatar. A year is not long with the national team, we will use the match against France to get better."

 

Martinez, meanwhile, said a new cycle had now started for Belgium as they look to build towards the World Cup, which arguably presents the final chance for the Red Devils' 'golden generation' to claim a trophy.

He said: "A new cycle has started, that of preparing for the World Cup.

"Over the past five years we have created a style of play. Multiple players can bring what the team needs but our style of play goes beyond individuals. 

"We have been number one in the world for three years. Of course that is important. We want to remain number one. But our main motivation is to get better. The second half against France showed we are not the finished product."

Belgium will be out for revenge against the Azzurri, aiming to at least end their Nations League campaign on a high. However, they will be without Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, who have both been withdrawn due to what Martinez described as "muscle overload".

"I cannot say," Martinez said when asked if the duo would be fit for their clubs next week. "That is a question for the medical department. But it is definitely about overload and not injury."

Ellen White rescued Manchester City in a fierce derby as the England striker hit a landmark goal to secure a 2-2 draw with Manchester United.

Staring at a fourth successive defeat in the Women's Super League, City trailed and were down to 10 players after Georgia Stanway's red card.

But White was on hand to slot in her first goal of the season after 79 minutes, when Jess Park's thumping strike was pushed against the crossbar by Mary Earps.

The tap-in means White has now scored against all 17 clubs she has faced in the WSL, netting against more different sides in the league than any other player.

She has previously played for Arsenal, Notts County and Birmingham in the competition, which began in 2011.

This season's WSL title is already probably beyond City, the 2016 champions, and they entered Saturday's derby six points behind United after just four matches of the 22-game campaign. Injuries to the likes of FIFA Best Women's Player winner Lucy Bronze and Steph Houghton have left their ranks depleted, and both were absent again.

Stanway was dismissed after 35 minutes when her dangerously high boot caught Leah Galton high on the thigh in midfield, but City snatched the lead three minutes later when Khadija Shaw headed in a cross from the left by Demi Stokes.

City's run of three defeats was their worst in the WSL, and a fourth was on the cards when Lucy Staniforth's backheeled flick for a 72nd-minute equaliser was followed by Alessia Russo firing hosts United ahead.

At that stage, United were on course for their first win over City in the WSL, having previously managed just one point from three games.

The tussle at Leigh Sports Village had another twist in store though, and White, who had replaced Shaw just before the hour mark, showed her poacher's instinct to tuck away the loose ball after Earps saved from Park.

 

City star Lauren Hemp told the BBC: "The fight and determination throughout the whole game was top drawer. I'm so proud of how we've turned it around this week. It just shows how together the team is and hopefully this will be the turning point.

"We showed the quality this team has and that we deserved to put on a show. That's what you want in Manchester derbies, and we did it justice. I'm so proud of the team."

City boss Gareth Taylor wanted a win but said: "It was a roller coaster and when you're potentially staring at a loss at 2-1 down, I think you have to say reluctantly it's a fair point."

LaLiga president Javier Tebas pleaded for a more sustainable level of spending across football as he refused to take the blame for Lionel Messi's departure from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi left his only senior side Barca to join PSG on a free transfer after the Catalan club were unable to offer him a contract due to LaLiga's spending restrictions.

Barca's salary cap was cut to €97million this season due to a combination of their lavish prior outlay and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Messi instead headed for big-spending PSG in France, but Tebas believes Ligue 1, along with Serie A, should follow LaLiga in keeping a closer eye on finances.

He suggested LaLiga needed its fellow 'top five' leagues to stay afloat in order to ensure the European Super League, proposed last season before a swift collapse, does not return.

Faced with financial difficulties, Barca, Real Madrid and Juventus remained committed to the Super League project, even as their domestic rivals and the Premier League's 'big six' backtracked.

"Is the transfer of Messi to PSG my fault? Obviously not," Tebas said, speaking at the Festival dello Sport. "We need sustainability in football. It is a special sector, football is passion and belonging, but in recent years it has become a business.

"Serie A has been at a loss for 20 years, what matters is the total balance. This also happens in France, not in Germany and not from us.

"What did we have to do to be sustainable? The competition must be regulated by some rules; otherwise, teams like PSG will arrive and invest €400m in a single summer. They have very high salaries; this leads to inflation.

"It is not our fault that Messi has not renewed his contract; we have a salary cap in LaLiga, a rule approved by all the teams, and this is what makes LaLiga sustainable. If there were such controls also in Italy and France, there would be no more losses.

"The economic solidity of the other leagues is also fundamental for Spain: if there are no strong leagues, the risk of the Super League is always high.

"I have said it many times to [Juventus chief] Andrea Agnelli: 'Do you want to go to the Super League where Real Madrid and Barcelona will earn more and more than you?'"

As well as the Super League, Tebas is opposed to the idea of a biennial World Cup put forward by Arsene Wenger, the former Arsenal manager and FIFA's chief of global football development.

The LaLiga boss was frustrated FIFA had not first involved the leagues.

"Football has a problem with governance," he said. "FIFA wants to change the international calendar with a unilateral decision. This has an impact on the leagues.

"If you want to take a decision with an impact on domestic leagues, the FIFA Council cannot just take the decision with the Solomon Islands voting, too. With UEFA, we have reached an agreement with the leagues.

"The biennial World Cup will have an impact on the revenues of clubs like Torino and other Italian clubs, no doubt about that.

"Leagues cannot just be consulted in the decision-making, they need to be part of the decision."

Karim Benzema has declared his determination to win the Ballon d'Or after taking centre stage at Real Madrid since Cristiano Ronaldo's departure.

The France striker has been Madrid's attacking spearhead and has taken over the captaincy following the exit of Sergio Ramos, reflecting his standing with the Spanish giants.

With three LaLiga titles and four Champions League wins in 12 years, Benzema has accrued plenty of silverware while with Los Blancos.

Now, individual acclaim is regularly coming his way, with Benzema stepping out of Ronaldo's long shadow and becoming the talisman.

He has topped the 20-goal mark in LaLiga in the last three seasons and has nine strikes in eight games so far this term in the Spanish top flight, with Madrid top of the table.

With Lionel Messi having moved on to Paris Saint-Germain, Benzema has a major claim to be the star turn in LaLiga, and a first Pichichi trophy, which goes to the league's top scorer, is an obvious target.

Ahead of his 34th birthday in December, Benzema has perhaps never been a more credible contender for the Ballon d'Or, although the likes of Messi, Jorginho and Robert Lewandowski might deny him this time around. They, along with Benzema, were selected on a shortlist on Friday.

"Since I was a kid, it was always a dream of mine to win the Ballon d'Or... it's the dream for most players," Benzema told AS.

"It's true that football is a team game but when you help the side to win, when you're instrumental in triumphs, when you score winning goals, it's natural for any player to aspire to win the Ballon d'Or.

"Of course, I'll work as hard as I can to win that trophy and I hope, someday, fulfil the dream I had when I was a young boy."

 

Carlo Ancelotti, in the early weeks of his second spell as Madrid head coach, spoke glowingly of Benzema in August, saying: "He is a very complete player. Now he is more complete than five years ago."

Benzema feels personal recognition has been hard earned during his time in Spain.

"It's possible that it has been a struggle at times but the most important thing is that people are enjoying my style of play, that's something that makes me proud and extremely happy," Benzema added.

Benzema was an effective foil to Ronaldo as he went on to become Madrid's all-time record scorer, but the plaudits mainly went to the Portuguese, who departed for Juventus in 2018.

Last season, Benzema's 23 league goals came at a rate of one every 126.13 minutes, which he has only beaten twice in a full season at Madrid. They also came from an expected goals total of 18.81, indicating he is excelling in taking the chances that come his way.

His shot conversion rate so far in 2021-22 is 26.47 per cent, higher than he has achieved across any full LaLiga campaign since arriving in 2009 from Lyon.

He described his Madrid role as that of "a big brother figure", helping along the likes of Vinicius Jr.

It remains to be seen whether Benzema is joined at Madrid by his France team-mate Kylian Mbappe, who was targeted by Los Blancos during the last transfer window.

Mbappe is in the final year of his Paris Saint-Germain contract and could move to Madrid for free next year. Benzema has said it is "a question of time", convinced Mbappe will at some stage in his career pull on the famous white shirt.

Speaking about the 22-year-old striker, who he has played alongside for France, Benzema said: "Mbappe is an amazing talent with his brand of football and more so taking into consideration his age. He's also a really great guy and I love playing alongside him."

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