Gareth Southgate has rejected the suggestion that "most" of his England squad are not fully vaccinated against coronavirus and reiterated his support for a vaccine programme.

The subject of wildly varying vaccination rates at Premier League clubs recently prompted a passionate outburst from Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.

Southgate supports the vaccination programme and Tammy Abraham this week became the first England player to reveal he had been jabbed, but others have been reluctant to speak about the matter publicly.

Asked about most players in the squad and Premier League in general not being fully vaccinated ahead of England's World Cup qualifier in Andorra, Southgate replied: "I'm not sure that's totally accurate, in terms of 'most', but I think everybody knows where I stand on the subject.

"To move out of a pandemic, the only way is a vaccination programme, I think that was essential.

"There is then the complication that there are lots of individual circumstances around that and I understand that some people would be anxious, perhaps.

"When you are in the camp of mine, over 50, there is less to consider really. The odds are more straightforward, it's a much more straightforward decision and I'm a believer that it's the right thing to do.

"I can kind of understand there are other topics we've talked about where everybody would be aligned and we would all have a very clear view as a team.

"With this, it's a little bit more nuanced, lots of people have had the virus, so maybe they feel the antibodies are high in their own bodies.

"Lots of people might have individual medical conditions, some people in the country might have religious reasons. It's a complicated area, my belief is the route out of the pandemic is a vaccination programme.

"I'm yet to hear anybody offer an alternative and there is not a lot more we can say than that."

Southgate says the England team doctor takes the lead when it comes to communicating with the players on the subject.

He added: "Our doctor over the last year and a half has always spoken to the players about the current situation.

"He has spoken in terms of infection in the country to explain what measures will be needed within the camp for us because those over the 18 months have changed.

"So whether masks are needed indoors for us, the level of testing and whatever that is going to be.

"He's always explaining the benefits of the vaccination. But, of course, we have had to deal with many different topics.

"We also have to prepare a team to play football and sometimes there wouldn't be enough hours to discuss all the things that everybody seems to want us to discuss and prepare a team to play a football match.

"We cannot impact the weather in the next two or three days, we could not jab everyone here in two or three days.

"There is a balance to strike. First and foremost, we are here to win football matches."

England are four points clear of Albania at the top of Group I ahead of Saturday's match with Andorra, who are fifth in the standings.

What is expected to be a more testing match with Hungary follows at Wembley on Tuesday.

Gareth Southgate says England know they are "close" to ending their long wait to win a major trophy as they prepare to try to seal World Cup qualification.

The Three Lions suffered the heartbreak of losing to Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley in July, three years after crashing out of the World Cup in Russia at the semi-final stage.

It is 55 years since England won their only major trophy in the 1966 World Cup on home soil, but they are well on course to get another opportunity in Qatar next year.

England are four points clear at the top of Group I ahead of an away clash with Andorra on Saturday and an encounter with Hungary at Wembley three days later.

Southgate has been impressed with the way his players reacted to missing out on Euro 2020 glory and feels there is a belief they can avoid more agony.

He said: "Ultimately what I like last month [when they thrashed Andorra and Hungary before drawing in Poland] is that there was no hangover in terms of the disappointment and no complacency in terms of the attitude of the players.

"There was a desire to improve, to make sure the next steps are the right ones and keep the standards every day. 

"Of course we've got to qualify first, that's the task over the next five to six days, to get six points.

"But there is a definite understanding that we are close, that we are ranked well in the world and that our results over a period of time have been consistent, but we know we ultimately want to go one step further next time."

It is just over five years since Southgate initially took over as manager on an interim basis before landing the role for the long term.

The ex-England defender says there is much more desire in the camp compared to when he took the reins in 2016.

"Different periods across that timeline, I think the first thing we wanted to do was restore confidence and then across the period of time optimism," he said.

"I think it's best embodied in terms of the players in that I can remember at that time it was difficult to get players to come sometimes. Now we had three lads called into the squad late and they couldn't wait to be here.

"There's lots of markers we could use, but for me in terms of working with the team and the enthusiasm of the team the connection with the country I think they are probably the things at the utmost in my mind."

Southgate brushed off concerns about Harry Kane playing on an artificial pitch in Andorra with his history of ankle trouble and says he has no new injuries to contend with.

Barcelona are proud to have Ronald Koeman as head coach and must trust him as they once did Frank Rijkaard, says president Joan Laporta.

Ex-Netherlands boss Koeman appeared to be on the brink of being sacked by Barca when widespread reports ahead of the match with Atletico Madrid on Saturday suggested it would be his last at the helm.

But Laporta came out to insist Koeman would be staying with the club regardless of the result, which proved to be the case despite the Catalans suffering a disappointing 2-0 away defeat in LaLiga.

That left them ninth in the table, while they are bottom of Champions League Group E after woeful defeats to Bayern Munich and Benfica.

Koeman said he was grateful to have been given "clarity" over his future after a meeting with Laporta, with the president citing the backing he had once given Rijkaard, who went on to secure Champions League glory in 2006.

Laporta explained he recognises the difficulties Koeman has had after the departure of talisman Lionel Messi, financial chaos at the club and a long injury list.

"The decision is that Koeman continues," he said to RAC1.

"Everyone, including him, is discouraged at the moment - things have happened that we did not want. 

"But he wants Barca to do well. He has a valid contract and he has to be respected. I am happy with the decision."

 

Laporta continued: "As president I have evaluated everything, I have listened to people I trust and I have come to the conclusion that I must trust and support him as I did with Rijkaard. 

"He is a cule like us, he loves Barça and he is a legend of this club.

"Indeed, has decided to come to us during a moment of sporting and institutional crisis. 

"I wanted to know if he trusted the team and he responded positively and forcefully. He said he needed time to recover the injured players and I saw a person determined to continue."

 

A host of other coaches have been connected with the Barca job, with Koeman's contract due to expire in 2022. Club great Xavi is persistently linked to the role.

Laporta added: "People can think what they want. 

"With Xavi I speak frequently because we are friends. Also with Pep [Guardiola]. I like to know what they think because they know more than me.

"But the coach we have is Koeman. We are proud to have him as a coach."

Joan Laporta has revealed he hoped Lionel Messi would make a last-ditch offer to play for free to avoid him leaving Barcelona.

Messi ended up moving to Paris Saint-Germain in a blockbuster free transfer move in August.

It came after long negotiations over his new Barcelona contract reached a point where the Catalan giants could no longer afford to renew his terms while complying with the financial rules in LaLiga.

Messi, who this week insisted he had not made a mistake in joining PSG, was in tears as he attended his farewell news conference at Camp Nou and admitted he was leaving against his will.

Barca president Laporta was holding out hope Messi would end up staying without taking a salary but ultimately felt it was unreasonable to expect that from the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

"With Messi I do not get angry because I appreciate him," Laporta said to RAC1. "I love him too much to be angry.

"I know he had a huge desire to stay, but also a lot of pressure because of the offer he had. 

"Everyone knew that he had a very powerful offer. Everything indicated that he already had the offer from PSG and would go there if he did not stay."

Laporta added: "There comes a time when you see that things just cannot happen, and there was disappointment on both sides.

"When it came to making the decision, I thought I was doing the best thing for Barcelona - nothing can put the institution at risk.

"I did hope that at the last minute there would be a change and Messi would say that he would play for free. 

"I would have liked that and he would have convinced me. I understand that the league would have accepted it. But we cannot expect that from a player of his level.

"We have a very good relationship. I knew that if we recovered financially we would compensate him, but we couldn't make demands knowing the offer he had in Paris."

Messi scored his first PSG goal in the Champions League win over Manchester City last week but has failed to score in his first three Ligue 1 appearances, including Sunday's shock 2-0 loss to Rennes.

Harry Kane sits fifth in England's all-time scoring charts, but he could overtake Wayne Rooney's competitive record for the Three Lions against Andorra.

Kane has found the net nine times in 13 appearances in 2021 for Gareth Southgate's men to leave him 12 goals behind Rooney (53) as England's leading scorer.

However, the Tottenham forward has 36 goals to his name in competitive international fixtures – one fewer than Rooney – before the trip to the Estadi Nacional on Saturday.

Kane is also one shy of becoming just the second player to score 10 or more in two separate calendar years for the Three Lions, after Vivian Woodward in 1908 and 1909.

But comparisons between Kane and Rooney are likely to be the focus in the coming months, as the England captain targets his records – starting with this competitive benchmark.

Kane quicker to this point

Since opening his account on debut against Lithuania in March 2015, Kane has scored 36 times across 53 competitive fixtures – averaging a goal every 118 minutes.

By contrast, Rooney played 21 more matches for his 37 goals, netting once every 156 minutes on average having played an additional 1,545 minutes.

Kane, who is still waiting on his first Premier League strike of the season, has needed just 82 shots on target to reach his 36-goal mark as well, with Rooney requiring 32 more to achieve his tally.

Overall, Rooney has attempted 99 more shots than his counterpart, which translates into a 13.8 per cent conversion rate. Kane has turned 21.3 per cent of his 169 shots into goals.

 

Kane delivers on the biggest stage

Rooney may have scored five more goals than Kane (25) in major tournament qualifiers, but the latter shines when it comes to the showpiece events.

Despite playing in just one World Cup, Kane impresses ahead of Rooney in terms of goals at the finals, with his six to claim the 2018 Golden Boot towering above the former Manchester United forward's one across three tournaments between 2006 and 2014.

While Kane's goals were subsequently not enough to see England past Croatia in the semi-finals in Russia, the current Three Lions captain also guided his side to their first major tournament final in 55 years at Euro 2020.

However, Rooney (six) has scored two more European Championship goals than Kane, netting four times at Euro 2004 as he briefly became the youngest scorer in the tournament's history.

Nevertheless, Kane outscores Rooney by three at major tournaments, having proven himself the man for the big occasion on the international stage.

 

Rooney filled his boots with five competitive goals versus San Marino, against whom Kane has netted just once, but England's record scorer had an impressive four against both Croatia and Switzerland.

Kane's best hauls have been his four against Bulgaria and Montenegro, although he did score three in one match against Panama at the World Cup.

Two stars similar finishers

Strangely, Kane and Rooney have almost identical records when it comes to the breakdown of how their goals have been scored.

The pair have each scored four with their left feet and 24 with their favoured right boots, with Rooney heading in nine to Kane's eight.

Kane's swerving long-range finish against Poland last time out was his sole goal from outside the box to date, however, whereas Rooney has smashed in six goals from outside the area – two of those being free-kicks.

Rooney has six from the penalty spot, too, where Kane has proved particularly prolific, his 10 conversions from 12 yards allowing him to close quickly on a fellow great.

Gavi has fast become the talk of Spanish football.

The 17-year-old is a regular for Barcelona and now an international for Luis Enrique's Spain.

His exploits have reportedly attracted interest from Europe's elite.

 

TOP STORY – TRIO CHASING GAVI

Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool and Manchester United are interested in Barcelona and Spain sensation Gavi, according to El Nacional.

Gavi has enjoyed a rapid rise at Camp Nou this season, while he earned his first international cap in Spain's Nations League semi-final success against Italy on Wednesday.

PSG, Liverpool and United are eyeing Gavi as Barca try to extend the 17-year-old's contract, claims Mundo Deportivo.

 

ROUND-UP

- ABC claims Liverpool have set their sights on Real Madrid attacker Marco Asensio, who is reportedly unhappy at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Juventus and Inter are eyeing Bayern Munich centre-back Niklas Sule, says Calciomercato. The Germany international, who is out of contract at the end of the season, has also been linked with Chelsea.

- Bundesliga champions Bayern are monitoring PSV winger Cody Gakpo. The 22-year-old is seen as an ideal replacement Kingsley Coman, who is reportedly wanted by the likes of Liverpool and United.

Valencia and Real Betis are battling to sign out-of-favour Inter forward Alexis Sanchez, per Calciomercato. The Chilean forward has also emerged as a target for Rayo Vallecano.

Mauro Icardi could swap PSG for Juve as the Serie A side view the former Inter captain as an alternative to Fiorentina star Dusan Vlahovic, according to Gazzetta dello Sport. Vlahovic is set to leave Fiorentina amid links with Manchester City, Tottenham, Atletico Madrid, Arsenal and Inter.

"If you have the ambition and quality, we count on you and give you the chance to develop. With development, there is also performance. That's why it's a great story for Florian but also for us as a club," Simon Rolfes told Stats Perform.

Bayer Leverkusen had money to splash after Chelsea paid a club-record fee to prise German star Kai Havertz from BayArena at the start of 2020-21. His absence was supposed to leave a glaring hole in North Rhine-Westphalia and prompt a frantic search in the transfer market.

But sporting director Rolfes and Leverkusen had other ideas. Rather than use the money recouped in the blockbuster Havertz transfer, Die Werkself opted to look in their own backyard for a replacement – 18-year-old teenage sensation Florian Wirtz.

Leverkusen's faith in youth and their clearly defined philosophy has served them well previously, and they're being rewarded once again by the club's latest wonderkid, who has put Havertz well and truly in the rear-view mirror as Europe's elite queue for his signature.

At home in the number 10 role behind a striker or even as a deep-lying playmaker, Wirtz can do it all on the pitch.

Leverkusen prised Wirtz from Cologne in 2020. Dubbed "the best midfielder to come through the club in 30 years" by local newspaper Kolner Express, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Liverpool were all circling after Wirtz captained boyhood team Cologne to Under-17 German Championship glory in 2019, but Leverkusen eventually won the race.

Rolfes had first watched Wirtz at the age of 13. He was immediately mesmerised by the Brauweiler-born sensation, who has firmly established himself in the Leverkusen XI, quickly becoming the new face of Die Werkself.

 

From his junior days, Wirtz has been great at exploiting gaps and creating space in midfield while churning out goalscoring chances with his devastating awareness. Not to mention his defence-splitting passing ability. Five years on and nothing has changed on the international stage.

"Extraordinary player," Rolfes told Stats Perform. "I saw him the first time when he was 13 and followed him all the time. Spoke with him before he moved to us, with the parents a lot of times and tried to convince them that it was the right step to come to us and accelerate his development. I and the whole club are very happy that he is with us. That's the interesting thing, I watched him the first time at 13 and he is still playing the same. 14,15, 16, always in that kind of style."

When a player breaks a record held by Kai at Leverkusen, it is a sign to stand up and take notice.

Wirtz was swiftly thrust into the first team, becoming Leverkusen's youngest-ever debutant at the age of 17 years and 16 days, eclipsing Havertz's record, in last season's 4-1 rout of Werder Bremen in 2019-20. After a handful of appearances in the coronavirus-hit campaign, Wirtz played 29 Bundesliga games, which yielded five goals and as many assists in the post-Havertz era in 2020-21. In February 2021, Wirtz became the first player in the league's history to score five goals before celebrating his 18th birthday.

So, when it comes to comparing Wirtz to Havertz through their first 42 Bundesliga appearances with Leverkusen, how do they stack up against each other?

Wirtz has an equal split between goals and assists (10 each), averaging his 20 goal involvements once every 148 minutes across his top-flight career so far. That's quicker than Havertz managed at the same stage of his Bundesliga career, with his 16 goal involvements in his first 42 apps coming at an average of 165 minutes.

Wirtz also proved a shade more productive in front of goal, with an expected goals per 90 average of 0.16 compared to Havertz's 0.14, but the now-Chelsea forward was able to get more involved in the average game with 65 touches per 90 compared to Wirtz's 58 per 90.

"I wouldn't say they're similar. They're for sure similar in terms of extraordinary qualities and potential for really big careers," Rolfes said. "I would say at the end, Kai plays a little bit more forward and is very good in going deep with a lot of speed. Sometimes it doesn’t look like it because he is so tall but he is incredibly fast. Very direct, fantastic shot with his left foot and a good header. With his height, a very good header of the ball.

"With Florian, I think from a positional sense he is a little bit deeper. More technique in small spaces I would say. Kai likes to use his speed. They are quite different. They unfortunately only played/trained half a year together. It would be nice to have them both together in the squad at the moment because one right foot, one left. They would fit very good together."

With so much attention from a very young age, it is easy for some players to get swept up amid the hype and interest. Not Wirtz.

Wirtz has continue to shatter records and dazzle in the Bundesliga. Against Mainz on matchday six of this season, the Germany international became the youngest player to score 10 goals in Germany’s top-flight, doing so 208 days younger than Lukas Podolski (18 years, 353 days for Cologne in 2004).

No player in the Bundesliga this season has more assists than Wirtz (five) through seven rounds.

With four league goals in just six appearances, he is already only one goal shy of matching last season's haul, despite an expected goals (xG) goal value of 1.0 – no other player has such a large difference between his goals and expected goals.

His nine goal involvements in this season's Bundesliga are only surpassed by Dortmund star Erling Haaland (10), while Wirtz has the best shot conversion rate (36.4 per cent) among all players with at least three goals in 2021-22.

As Wirtz goes from prospect to genuine star, it all comes down to his mindset.

"The attitude is very good. With players and we could see it with Kai Havertz, they know their quality. They are 18 and self-confident because they know about their quality. Special players have that – they can feel that, feel it directly on the pitch. Playing with other good players, they're able to handle it and adapt to the different speed of the game," said Rolfes.

"In that case, they are quite far [developed] and they know there's interest in them because also with 14, 15, 16 it's normal big clubs watched him play. With Florian and Kai, it's quite the same. They always know they’re interesting and extraordinary players."

In all competitions in 2021-22, Wirtz (11) is the only player in Europe's big-five leagues 18 or younger to be involved in seven or more goals, having already found the back of the net twice in the Europa League.

 

Wirtz has been involved in a goal across all competitions every 47 minutes so far this term – it is the best ratio of minutes per goal involvement of all players in Europe's top-five leagues with at least 500 minutes, ahead of Haaland (51 mins), Real Madrid's Karim Benzema (52 mins), Bayern talisman Robert Lewandowski (60 mins) and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah (65 mins).

"In the youth teams, the difference in the quality between him and others was much higher. The game in the youth is around them. Now, he also has a big influence on the game, but he has to position himself better to get the ball and use his quality. Players with extraordinary quality have the ability to find the right spaces but in professional teams they have to wait a little bit in their position and then use their quality," former Leverkusen midfielder Rolfes said. "Compared to the youth where they are doing everything."

It's a frightening thought when you remember Wirtz only celebrated his 18th birthday in May and how much growth there is to come from Leverkusen’s prized asset.

Despite being so young, Wirtz is already important in Leverkusen's attacking production – he's been involved in 26 open-play attacking sequences in the Bundesliga this season, with only two players at the club involved in more. Of those 26, 12 have come as the creator of the chance, which is more than any Leverkusen team-mate.

"He will improve year by year. Although he already has a high level. His biggest strength and you could see that in all the years in the youth team, is that he gives his best in each game," added Rolfes. "Doesn't matter where he was playing or which team-mates he was playing with. The first team, U19, U13 etc, he was always giving his best. That is a key element in his development that he is able to adapt at higher levels but he has ambition to always improve and you have to improve.

"Sometimes improvement is also a little bit about changing your game. For sure the opponents want to defend him and watch him, so improvement is sometimes changing a little bit. I'm totally convinced he will have a great career because he has the right mindset to develop. If he keeps that, he is 18 and young, it's a really young guy and he has strengthen his personality etc – that’s normal. We all know how we've been at 18 but if he keeps his mindset and development, he will have a fantastic career."

Mexico and Canada played out a 1-1 draw in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying as El Tri failed to beat their emerging North American rivals for the first time in 13 years.

Not since 2008 had Mexico been unable to defeat Canada, a run of five consecutive victories across all competitions.

Mexico were forced to share the spoils with fellow unbeaten side Canada at the Azteca on Thursday after Jonathan Osorio cancelled out Jorge Sanchez's 21st-minute opener before half-time.

The result left Mexico level on eight points alongside the United States atop the standings in the final round of qualifying on the road to Qatar 2022, two points ahead of third-placed Canada through four matchdays.

Tata Martino's Mexico opened the scoring through Sanchez, who controlled Hirving Lozano's pass beautifully before finishing past Maxime Crepeau.

Canada were not overawed away from home – Alphonso Davies almost restored parity in the 31st minute but the ball was cleared from the Bayern Munich star's feet at the last moment with the goal at his mercy.

Osorio did equalise for Canada three minutes prior to the interval, finishing expertly beyond Guillermo Ochoa having been played through by Davies.

The second half was eventful, with play halted momentarily due to crowd chants, while Canada defender Alistair Johnson headed the ball onto his own crossbar as Ochoa produced an important save 12 minutes from the end.

Didier Deschamps said he never doubted Kylian Mbappe after his return to form in France's last-gasp win over Belgium in the Nations League semi-finals.

Mbappe scored a penalty as France completed a stunning Nations League comeback in Turin on Thursday, overturning a 2-0 deficit in a 3-2 triumph en route to the final thanks to Theo Hernandez's 90th-minute strike.

All eyes were on Mbappe after revealing he considered taking a break from international football following France's Euro 2020 disappointment.

Mbappe missed the decisive penalty as France sensationally crashed out of Euro 2020 at the hands of Switzerland in the round of 16 but the Paris Saint-Germain star assisted Karim Benzema's goal before equalising with his 69th-minute spot-kick.

Afterwards, France head coach Deschamps hailed Mbappe, who became the youngest player to reach 50 games for Les Bleus (22 years and 291 days), overtaking Benzema (24 years and 240 days).

"Kylian [Mbappe] didn't have any doubts," Deschamps told reporters. "I have always been behind him, I saw his determination. He was full of good intentions during the Euros, he missed the efficiency in the end, but he was injured, he couldn't play the second and third game.

"There are a lot of expectations with Kylian. I've always said this, and it's not to be nice, I know very well France is a lot stronger with Kylian. Today he did it.

"Offensively, in his efforts, the way he is complementary with Benzema and [Antoine] Griezmann has added to that. It's good for France. But I never had any doubts about him.

"It will have been good for him, definitely, on a personal level, but since he arrived at the start of this week, I could sense that he felt that it was an important match for him as well, and all for the better for him and for us."

Hernandez's thunderous long-range winner meant world champions France claimed their first victory after trailing by two or more goals at half-time since May 2012 against Iceland in an international friendly.

Belgium had led 2-0 at the interval thanks to Yannick Carrasco and Romelu Lukaku but France will now meet Spain in Sunday's Nations League showpiece.

"It's the kind of football that we like when we end up on the right side of it," Deschamps said. "It's amazing to go from one emotion into another in a big game like that, against an opponent like that. We were on the wrong side of it this summer, and it hurts.

"It's hard, I put myself in Roberto Martinez's shoes when it comes to the final scoreline, it hurts. But you have to accept it. Much joy and pride, I'm here for that. I've known many great moments, and we're going to have more. Because the quality we have in this side, the spirit, the mentality even if we had to react to the situation. But to be able to turn around a situation like that, I can only be proud of what we've done tonight."

Gabriel 'Gabigol' Barbosa scored an 85th-minute penalty as Brazil came from behind to preserve their perfect CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying record with a late 3-1 win at Venezuela.

The Selecao had never lost in 17 previous World Cup qualifiers against Venezuela (W16 D1) – the most Brazil had faced an opponent without defeat – but the South American giants found themselves sensationally trailing at half-time on Thursday.

Eric Ramirez's first international goal had bottom outfit Venezuela dreaming of the unlikeliest of wins in the 11th minute, but Marquinhos equalised in the 71st minute in Caracas.

Gabigol was fouled with five minutes remaining and converted his own spot-kick to guide CONMEBOL leaders Brazil to their ninth win in nine qualifiers on the road to Qatar 2022, with Antony adding a third goal in the 96th minute.

Brazil made a bright start away to lowly Venezuela, as Gabigol saw effort flash just wide of the post in the seventh minute.

Against the run of play four minutes later, Venezuela claimed a surprise lead thanks to Ramirez.

Yeferson Soteldo charged down the wing and delivered an inch-perfect cross to Ramirez, who made no mistake as he guided his header past Alisson and into the bottom corner of the net.

Ramirez's goal ended Brazil's sequence of six consecutive clean sheets in World Cup qualifying – the longest of any team in the history of the CONMEBOL tournament.

Brazil continued to control proceedings but had nothing to show for it after Everton Ribeiro's shot deflected onto the crossbar in the 22nd minute, evading his team-mates for a tap-in.

Venezuela made it to half-time without conceding but Brazil put the ball in the back of the net 11 minutes into second half.

Fortunately for Venezuela, Thiago Silva's headed goal for Brazil was disallowed due to offside, much to the disappointment of the Selecao.

Venezuela continued to take the game to Brazil as the contest opened up, with the visitors chasing an equaliser, and they did restore parity via Marquinhos' towering header 19 minutes from the end.

Brazil broke Venezuela's hearts during the closing stages after Gabigol – who was tackled from behind as he tried to pounce on Vinicius Junior's rebound – coolly scored from the spot before Antony made it 3-1 with the last kick of the game.

 

What does it mean? No stopping Brazil after scare

Brazil were facing the very real prospect of their first ever qualifying loss to Venezuela before Marquinhos and Gabigol. With it, Brazil extended their unbeaten run in World Cup qualifiers to 26 matches, dating back to 2015.

Gabigol steps up late

Time after time, Gabigol has showed his quality for Brazilian giants Flamengo. Now, the former Inter forward is performing on the international stage. Gabigol scored his third international goal and first since the 2016 Copa America.

So close but yet so far

Venezuela threatened a boilover on home soil, but the minnows instead were left licking their wounds following a fifth consecutive defeat. Venezuela are winless in 10 matches across all competitions and are bottom of the CONMEBOL standings.

What's next?

Brazil will make the trip to Colombia on Sunday as Venezuela host Ecuador on the same day.

Lionel Messi's Argentina were frustrated in a goalless draw away to Paraguay in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.

Argentina had their chances against Paraguay in Asuncion, but the Copa America champions could not find the breakthrough on Thursday.

Lionel Scaloni's Argentina, though, remain unbeaten in second position after nine matchdays on the road to Qatar 2022 and undefeated across 23 games across all competitions.

Messi was entering the contest on the back of his record-breaking exploits during the last international break after surpassing Brazil great Pele (77) as the all-time leading scorer for a South American nation with his hat-trick against Bolivia.

The Paris Saint-Germain superstar looked lively away to Paraguay, creating a great opportunity for Argentina to break the deadlock in the 11th minute.

Messi, who had received 437 passes in CONMEBOL qualifying – the most by any player in the campaign – weaved his way past defenders and slid a ball through to Lautaro Martinez, whose goal-bound effort was somehow cleared off the line by a scrambling Omar Alderete ahead of Angel Di Maria.

Argentina were largely in control in the opening half, though Paraguay had some moments in the attacking third.

Another chance went begging for Argentina within five minutes of the second half getting underway, Rodrigo de Paul's ball across the six-yard box somehow evading his team-mates.

Paraguay almost took a surprise lead four minutes later after Miguel Almiron's turn of pace created an opening, but Emiliano Martinez was up to the task to deny the Newcastle United star.

Di Maria picked out Joaquin Correa at the back post on the hour mark, however, some desperate defending blocked the Argentina forward's goal-bound header.

Martinez was kept rather busy in the second half, but the in-form goalkeeper continued to thwart Paraguay, who were searching for their first home World Cup qualifying win against Argentina since 2009.

Antony Silva produced a fabulous sequence to deny Argentina during the closing stages, first dealing with Guido Rodriguez's header before pushing Papu Gomez's long-range effort onto the crossbar seven minutes from the end, while Carlos Gonzalez almost snatched victory for Paraguay in the 88th minute.

 

What does it mean? Unbeaten run continues

While Argentina were unable to secure maximum points, the South American champions have not tasted defeat since 2019.

Goalkeepers flex muscles

It was a showdown between two goalkeepers at the top of their game. Martinez came up big for Argentina in the second half, while Paraguay counterpart Silva was not to be overshadowed in a strong display.

Paraguay struggling for home form

While Paraguay would have probably taken a point before the match, their home woes continue. Paraguay have only won one of their past eight World Cup qualifiers on home soil, dating back to March 2017.

What's next?

Argentina are back in action for the visit of Uruguay on Monday, while Paraguay are away to Chile on the same day.

Jose Mourinho said he wants to deliver titles to Roma as the Portuguese boss embraces the "eternal passion" in the Italian capital.

Mourinho is back in Serie A with Roma in 2021-22 following his Tottenham sacking in April.

Roma are fourth in the league standings, six points behind flawless leaders Napoli through seven rounds during the international break.

The Giallorossi have not won Serie A since 2001, while not since 2008 have they claimed silverware, something head coach Mourinho is looking to change.

"I would give Roma titles, because a club lives with titles and they fuel the passion of the fans," former Chelsea, Inter, Real Madrid and Manchester United boss Mourinho told Esquire magazine.

"I immediately realised the love for Roma here goes beyond trophies, it is an eternal passion, it's in the blood and it's familial.

"However, victory is what's missing and we are building a project to get there. If it arrives with me in charge, perfect, otherwise it'll be wonderful to know I contributed to the construction of this future, which is the dream for everyone.

"I was not surprised by the passion, because I lived and worked in Italy for two years, I played against Roma many times, so the atmosphere is undeniable."

Asked how he has improved since leading Inter to the treble in 2009-10, Mourinho added: "In every way. If a coach does not improve, it's because he has lost the passion or the mentality to keep learning every day. Age or physical fitness are irrelevant in this profession, you can only improve with experience.

"I will have time to look at my trophies when I retire, but now I only want to think about the next game. I feel more like a coach now than I did 10 or even 20 years ago."

 

Belgium threw away plenty of their hard work from across the last five years in their Nations League defeat to France, says a frustrated Roberto Martinez.

First-half goals from Yannick Carrasco and Romelu Lukaku had seemingly put Belgium well on their way to facing Spain in Sunday's final, only for Les Bleus to fight back to win 3-2.

Theo Hernandez got the winner in the final minute of normal time, just moments after Lukaku thought he had restored Belgium's lead following Karim Benzema's strike and a Kylian Mbappe penalty.

Yet VAR came to France's aid with an offside call, as they won their first game after trailing by two or more goals at half-time since May 2012 against Iceland in a friendly.

Belgium will return to Turin to face European champions Italy in a third-place play-off this weekend. Martinez, who guided the Red Devils to a semi-final at World Cup 2018 (where they lost to France) and the quarter-finals in Euro 2020, said his side had nobody but themselves to blame.

"We are very disappointed that we could not hold onto the lead," he said in post-match media duties. "We didn't have enough control in the second half. We let France get back into the game.

"When you play against someone like France, they punish all mistakes. We brought France into the game at a time when that shouldn't happen again.

"This is a competition in which we had to show our experience and all our hard work of the past five years. The disappointment is huge because the hard work and all the efforts the team has put in has been thrown away."

The match statistics back up Martinez's complaints.

In the first half, Belgium had more shots (eight compared to France's four) and controlled the possession (55.8 per cent), attempting 389 passes in contrast to 305.

Yet Didier Deschamps' side came out a different force after the restart, mustering 12 attempts in total, with Belgium only managing three, while the possession statistics were also flipped – France having 54.4 per cent of the ball as they upped the pressure and ultimately sealed their place in the final.

 

A Nevada court has recommended a civil case alleging Cristiano Ronaldo committed a sexual assault should be dismissed.

It means the Portugal star is likely to receive confirmation in the near future that the case has been thrown out.

Ronaldo was accused by Kathryn Mayorga of assaulting her in a Las Vegas hotel in 2009, but the footballer has strenuously denied the allegation.

Now at Manchester United, whom he joined from Italian club Juventus in August, Ronaldo initially described the claims, first reported in 2018 by German publication Der Spiegel, as "fake news" via an Instagram video.

No criminal charges were brought, with the Clark County District Attorney's Office announcing in July 2019 that the allegations could not "be proven beyond a reasonable doubt".

Ronaldo's lawyers pushed for the civil case to be dropped, and a United States District Court judge for the state of Nevada has agreed that documents, which emerged via alleged illegal hacks by Football Leaks, should be inadmissible and the action dismissed.

The court criticised Mayorga's legal representatives, Stovall and Associates, for the handling of the case.

"Dismissing Mayorga's case for the inappropriate conduct of her attorney is a harsh result," the court report said. "But it is, unfortunately, the only appropriate sanction to ensure the integrity of the judicial process."

In a document released by the court on Thursday, it was stated that the documents were "inherently prejudicial to Ronaldo fairly presenting his defence".

The report, signed by United States magistrate judge Daniel J Albregts, concluded: "It is recommended that Ronaldo's motion for case terminating sanctions be granted. It is further recommended that Mayorga's action be dismissed with prejudice."

The court's decision can be challenged with a written objection within 14 days, it stated.

Ronaldo said on Twitter in 2018: "I firmly deny the accusations being issued against me. Rape is an abominable crime that goes against everything that I am and believe in."

According to Der Spiegel, Mayorga first made a complaint of sexual assault in 2009 and subsequently reached an out-of-court settlement with Ronaldo. It is claimed by the magazine she was paid $375,000 as part of a privacy agreement, preventing her from going public with the allegations.

Martin Boyle stooped to conquer as Australia racked up a record 11th successive win in their World Cup qualifying campaign, battling to a 3-1 victory over Oman.

The Hibernian forward got down to head in the crucial second goal for the Socceroos at the Khalifa International Stadium in Qatar, and he has now been directly involved in eight goals in his last eight internationals, scoring five times and providing three assists.

Australia snatched a ninth-minute lead when Awer Bul Mabil lashed home a left-footed strike.

Graham Arnold's side were then indebted to goalkeeper Mat Ryan who kept them ahead with two fine saves, but he was beaten in the 28th minute as Al Mandhar Al Alawi pulled Oman level, sidestepping Harry Souttar and thrashing a shot high into the right corner.

Australia regained the lead in the 49th minute when Adam Taggart's shot was only parried as far as Boyle, who was deadly from close range.

The hard-earned success was sealed when Mitchell Duke side-footed into the left corner late on.

It means Australia have three wins from three in the third round of Asian World Cup qualifying, having won eight from eight in the second round, the stage at which they began their campaign.

They become the first team to have won 11 games in a single World Cup qualifying campaign.

Australia have won 12 consecutive qualifiers in all, including the 3-1 play-off win over Honduras that took them to the 2018 World Cup.

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