Cristiano Ronaldo should replace Harry Maguire as Manchester United captain, according to Bayern Munich defender Alphonso Davies.

A video surfaced on YouTube of the Canada international making the astonishing assessment while playing FIFA 22 on streaming service Twitch.

Maguire has found himself a scapegoat during another difficult season for United, who are seventh in the Premier League and three points behind Tottenham in fourth.

Following several below-par performances and high-profile mistakes, the England international was also booed by sections of the Wembley crowd during the Three Lions' recent friendly against Ivory Coast.

Many have questioned the decision to hand the defender the armband over Ronaldo, who returned to Old Trafford from Juventus last August.

And Davies followed suit during a mini rant when acquiring Maguire in a pack on the Ultimate Team game mode.

Turning down his music, the Bayern defender said: "Can you guys imagine?! Can you guys imagine?!

"You're Ronaldo; one of the greatest players ever. And what's his name is your captain? Harry Maguire is your captain?!

"And you refer to him as 'yes cap' – I don't know what he says to him. 

"I'm not dissing Harry Maguire, but Ronaldo should get the armband."

Ralf Rangnick confirmed Cristiano Ronaldo will return against Everton on Saturday, while insisting Manchester United cannot afford to drop any more points in the top-four race.

United are languishing in seventh in the Premier League after limping to a 1-1 draw at home to Leicester City last Saturday, sitting three points behind fourth-placed Tottenham, who have played a game fewer.

Arsenal are level on points with their London rivals, having played two games fewer than United, whose 2021-22 hopes rely on Champions League qualification after failure in the cup competitions.

That has led to questions over the capabilities of Rangnick, the identity of his next permanent successor, and the future of numerous United stars, with Paul Pogba and Ronaldo both scrutinised.

The Portugal captain missed the Leicester game and Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher, joined by Wayne Rooney, labelled Ronaldo's return as a mistake.

The former Real Madrid man will hope to prove his doubters wrong when the Red Devils on Saturday head to Merseyside, where Rangnick reminded his team they cannot drop points if they want to qualify for UEFA's flagship club competition.

"Cristiano is back again. Luke [Shaw] is still injured. He will be out for the next two or three weeks," Rangnick told reporters at Friday's pre-match news conference.

"[Edinson] Cavani is still injured, [Raphael] Varane is still injured and the same is true with [Scott] McTominay I'm afraid."

Asked if the game was must win, he added: "That happens in football [big teams struggling], not only England but in other leagues. But for us again, it's about being aware about the current situation.

"We still have a chance to qualify for the Champions League, but in order to do that we need to win and we definitely need to win the game tomorrow.

"If you look at the current situation in the table, we can't afford to drop points anymore and I think everybody in the team and the squad is aware of that."

Rangnick has, even if unspectacularly, steadied the ship for United, with only Manchester City and Liverpool (one each) losing fewer Premier League games than United, who have been defeated just twice in 16 league games since the German's appointment in December.

United have won half of those top-flight games but Rangnick knows he must strike a balance between attack and defence in the coming weeks if his side are to compete.

"It's got to do with the kind of players we have available. As you know, we have quite a few strikers missing in the last couple of weeks and months," he continued on the make-up of his team.

"In the game against Leicester, on top of that, we had Ronaldo not available, that's one reason. The other reason is the focus. In the first couple of weeks, we put our focus on being more stable defensively and conceding not that many goals, which we did.

"At one stage, we also found out then that we needed a plan out of possession of the ball to create chances ourselves. Right now, it's about getting both parts together."

While Rangnick called on his side to construct a complete performance, he acknowledged he was pleased with some developments, but now he wants to see consistency.

"I was not surprised. I knew that from the start," Rangnick said of the quality at United. "When you see the whole process over the last four and a half months, I think we have developed the team in some areas, but as you've said, it's all about being consistent and consistency.

"This is what we have to start. We have to start tomorrow with the best possible performance."

Ajax's Erik ten Hag has reportedly agreed to talks with United to become their next permanent manager, with Paris Saint-Germain's Mauricio Pochettino also linked, but Rangnick refused to provide any insight on the next appointment as he looked ahead to his consultancy role when his short-term contract expires at the end of the season.

"From what I know, all the managers with whom the club have so far spoken are top managers, top coaches," he added. "If this includes Erik ten Hag, then it's also true with him. That's all I can say at this stage.

"As you know, we have agreed upon a consultancy contract as an advisor and we will speak about that in the next couple of weeks I'm pretty sure – at the latest, the end of the season. But again, my focus is on tomorrow."

Wayne Rooney insists Lionel Messi is the only player who is not jealous of Cristiano Ronaldo, who seemingly hit out at his former team-mate after he criticised the forward's return to Manchester United.

The Portugal captain has found the net 18 times in 33 games in all competitions since his Old Trafford comeback, averaging a goal every 148 minutes, but United are out of all the cup competitions and down in seventh in the Premier League.

That has led to questions over the tenure of Ralf Rangnick, the next permanent appointment for the Red Devils, and United's transfer dealings, with Ronaldo and Paul Pogba both scrutinised.

Rooney, who appeared on Sky Sports' Monday Night Football, suggested Pogba should move on and concurred with fellow pundit Jamie Carragher that the return of Ronaldo had disappointed.

"You'd have to say no, at the minute," he said when asked had Ronaldo's transfer worked. "He's a goal threat, but the rest of his game, I think they need more. I think they need young, hungry players."

Rooney later posted a photo to Instagram of him on the programme, and Ronaldo appeared to hit back as he commented "Two Jealous" to the Derby County manager.

But United legend Rooney, who played with Ronaldo during his first stint in Manchester, has responded to the backlash by praising his former colleague as he suggested the former Real Madrid man is idolised by most professionals.

"I saw that this morning," he said on Thursday when asked about Ronaldo's reply. "I'd say there's probably not a footballer on the planet who isn't jealous of Cristiano.

"The career he's had, the trophies he's won, the money he's earned… his six pack! Every player bar Lionel Messi is jealous of Cristiano."

Ronaldo will aim to prove his doubters wrong when United head to lowly Everton in the Premier League on Saturday.

Cristiano Ronaldo has seemingly hit back at Wayne Rooney after the Derby County manager suggested the forward's return to Manchester United had not paid off.

The Portugal captain has managed 18 goals in 33 games in all competitions since his Old Trafford comeback, averaging a goal every 148 minutes, but United are out of all the cup competitions and languishing in seventh in the Premier League.

That has led to questions over the capabilities of Ralf Rangnick, the identity of his successor at the end of the season, and United's transfer dealings.

Rooney, speaking on Sky Sports' Monday Night Football, concluded that Paul Pogba should move on and agreed with fellow pundit Jamie Carragher that the return of Ronaldo had proved a mistake.

"You'd have to say no, at the minute," he said when asked had Ronaldo's transfer worked. "He's a goal threat, but the rest of his game, I think they need more. I think they need young, hungry players.

"He's scored the hat-trick against Tottenham, but I think if you're looking to the future of the club, you have to go with younger, hungry players to lift Manchester United over these next two to three years.

"Obviously Cristiano is getting on a bit, he certainly isn't the player he was when he was in his 20s, and that happens, that's football."

Rooney later posted a photo to Instagram of him on the programme, and Ronaldo appeared to make his views known.

"Two Jealous," he replied in a message to former team-mate Rooney, who he played with during his first stint at United, presumably referring to the comments made alongside Carragher.

United will be hoping Ronaldo can quieten his critics when they visit strugglers Everton on Saturday.

Wayne Rooney believes Cristiano Ronaldo's return to Manchester United has not worked out, and suggested his former club concentrate on "young and hungry" players in future.

The duo played together to great success during Ronaldo's first stint with the Red Devils, winning three Premier League titles and a Champions League in the same team.

However, despite the 37-year-old scoring 18 goals in 32 games since returning to Old Trafford, United have had a season to forget.

The club are out of all cup competitions and sit seventh in the Premier League after a 1-1 draw against Leicester City on Saturday.

Speaking as a guest on Sky Sports' Monday Night Football, Rooney was asked if he agreed with fellow pundit Jamie Carragher's assertion that Ronaldo's signing had been a mistake.

When asked, 'Has it worked?', Rooney replied: "You'd have to say no, at the minute.

"He's scored goals, important goals in the Champions League early on in the season.

"He's scored the hat-trick against Tottenham, but I think if you're looking to the future of the club, you have to go with younger, hungry players to lift Manchester United over these next two to three years.

"Obviously Cristiano is getting on a bit, he certainly isn't the player he was when he was in his 20s, and that happens, that's football.

"He's a goal threat, but the rest of his game, I think they need more. I think they need young, hungry players."

The Derby County manager was also asked about United captain Harry Maguire, whose form has been heavily questioned this season.

"I like Harry, I know Harry personally," Rooney said. "He hasn't been in his best form this season, like a lot of players haven't.

"And then you look at England - he goes to play for England and he looks like a world-class centre back.

"A lot of it is confidence, I think the players need to feel winning again, to feel winning consistently to get that confidence back and if they do that, I think Harry Maguire is a big part of it."

Cristiano Ronaldo was not part of Manchester United's squad for Saturday's Premier League home game with Leicester City due to illness.

The 37-year-old played both World Cup qualifying play-off games for Portugal during the international break, but he was struck down by flu on Friday and was not ready to face City.

Ronaldo has scored 18 goals in all competitions since returning to United in August, with 12 of those in the Premier League, including a hat-trick against Tottenham in his most recent outing in the competition.

Confirming the reason behind Ronaldo's absence, Rangnick told MUTV pre-match: "He had some flu-like symptoms before training yesterday and didn't feel well enough to train.

"We sent our doctor to his home this morning to check if he felt any better, but he didn't, so he's not in the starting XI as he was supposed to be."

Prior to the visit of Leicester, United had failed to win any of the five top-flight matches they had started without Ronaldo since the five-time Ballon d'Or winner rejoined.

Despite the absence of Ronaldo, and with Edinson Cavani again being ruled out through injury, Marcus Rashford had to settle for a place among the substitutes.

Rangnick instead went with the same system and side that started last month's 4-1 loss to Manchester City when Ronaldo was last absent.

Captain Harry Maguire, jeered by a section of England supporters during a friendly in midweek, retained his place in defence.

As for Leicester, who had won their past three games against United in all competitions, they paired Wesley Fofana and former Red Devils man Jonny Evans together in defence for the first time this season.

The draw is out, and the World Cup suddenly feels a lot closer, with the elite preparing to go for glory at Qatar 2022.

A likely last hurrah on the World Cup stage awaits superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, while new names will break through and rising talent will be put to the test.

Eight nations have been champions of the tournament that was first staged in 1930, and it will be France looking to defend the title this time.

Many of us pride ourselves on remembering World Cup trivia from past tournaments, but just how good is your knowledge?

These Opta-assisted 20 questions should sort the group-stage flops from the champions of World Cup quizzing. The answers are below, but don't cheat!

The first...

1. Name the English boss who at Qatar 2022 will become the first to coach a team at both the men's and women's World Cups?

2. Gregg Berhalter will become the first man to serve as player and manager of the USA at the World Cup. He appeared at the 2002 tournament and is now boss of the American side. To which present-day Premier League club did Berhalter then belong, becoming their first World Cup player?

3. Who became the first player to score a Golden Goal winner at the World Cup when he netted for France against Paraguay in a 1998 last-16 clash?

4. In the 2018 showdown between France and Croatia, who became the first player in World Cup final history to score for both teams?

5. Qatar will attempt to become the first nation from the AFC confederation to win their first World Cup finals match. Ten of the previous 11 have lost (including Israel in 1970), but who were the team who in 1982 managed a 1-1 draw against Czechoslovakia?

 

The last...

6. There have been 52 hat-tricks in the tournament's history, but who was the last player to score a treble in the knockout stages of the World Cup?

7. A goalkeeper won his 159th and final international cap at the 2018 finals, when he became the oldest player to appear at the World Cup, at the age of 45 years and 161 days. He saved a penalty in a 2-1 defeat for his team against Saudi Arabia. Who was that goalkeeper and what team did he play for?

8. Ghana reached the World Cup quarter-finals in 2010 and Senegal did so at the 2002 finals. But who were the first team from Africa to make it to the last eight, doing so at the 1990 finals in Italy?

9. Brazil last lost a group game at the World Cup in 1998, since when they have won 12 and drawn three games at the first-round stage. Which team beat them in that 1998 tournament?

10. Cameroon have lost each of their past seven games at the World Cup (between 2002 and 2014). Only one team have ever lost more games in a row in the competition's history – nine between 1930 and 1958. Who were that team?

The most...

11. Just Fontaine scored his 13 World Cup goals in just six games for France. The competition's all-time record scorer is Germany's Miroslav Klose, who netted 16 times for his country in how many appearances: 22, 23 or 24?

12. Who will become the only team to have appeared at all 22 editions of the World Cup when they take part in Qatar 2022?

13. Iran will be making their sixth appearance at the World Cup and have never gone beyond the group stage. Which country has made the most appearances (eight) without making it past the first round?

14. Which forward had the most goal involvements of all players in European qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup, scoring 12 and assisting six times in 10 games?

15. Since 1966, only three players have completed more than 12 dribbles in a single World Cup game, with Brazil's Jairzinho achieving 13 against Paraguay in 1970 and Paul Gascoigne matching that total for England against Cameroon in 1990. Who managed the most – 15 in a game against Italy at the 1994 tournament?

 

The GOATs...

16. Which superstar, who scored eight times and provided eight assists in 21 World Cup games, also holds the record for the most handball decisions given against a player at the tournament (seven) since records began?

17. Who holds the record for the most minutes played in World Cup history, having featured in 2,216 minutes of finals action?

18. Portugal great Cristiano Ronaldo is one of only four players to score in four different World Cup tournaments. He will attempt to go one better this year, but Ronaldo currently sits alongside Pele, Klose and which other player?

19. Between them, Ronaldo (seven) and Lionel Messi (six) have managed 13 World Cup goals. How many of those goals came in the knockout rounds?

20. Ronaldo is one of just two European players to have either scored and/or assisted a goal in each of the last five major international tournaments (World Cup/European Championship). Who is the other player to have managed the feat?

 

Answers:

1. John Herdman (Canada – he managed Canada Women at the 2015 Women's World Cup)
2. Crystal Palace
3. Laurent Blanc (France)
4. Mario Mandzukic (Croatia)
5. Kuwait.
6. Tomas Skuhravy (for Czechoslovakia against Costa Rica, last 16, 1990)
7. Essam El Hadary (Egypt)
8. Cameroon
9. Norway
10. Mexico
11. 24
12. Brazil
13. Scotland
14. Memphis Depay (Netherlands)
15. Jay-Jay Okocha (Nigeria)
16. Diego Maradona (Argentina)
17. Paolo Maldini (Italy)
18. Uwe Seeler (West Germany)
19. Zero
20. Ivan Perisic (Croatia)

Kylian Mbappe is leading a new generation of World Cup stars whose emergence means football will soon move on from the Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo era, says Youri Djorkaeff.

French great Djorkaeff has a World Cup winner's medal, which is more than Messi and Ronaldo can say as the serial Ballon d'Or winners head towards what is likely their last major global tournament.

The France 98 winner saw Mbappe help another generation of Les Bleus triumph four years ago in Russia, and Didier Deschamps' side will again be among the favourites in Qatar this year.

Messi has reached a final with Argentina, but neither he nor Ronaldo has ever scored in a World Cup knockout game.

For all their great success at club level, neither could yet be considered a World Cup great.

Asked about both, and Ronaldo's former Real Madrid club-mate Luka Modric, Djorkaeff disagreed their likely World Cup swan songs meant football was at a turning point in its history.

"No, we should not look back, we should look forward," he said. "The Mbappes and all the players who will arrive. We have many of them in France.

"Generations pass, but what matters is the quality of the new players. In France, we have great players who arrive."

Speaking in Doha ahead of Friday's World Cup draw, Djorkaeff said any team that might feel they land a tough assignment should not be too downhearted, since there is no such thing as an easy draw.

"Yes, the World Cup is starting, so you prepare, and you know when you are going to play, but there is no good or bad draw," Djorkaeff said.

With the tournament taking place unusually in November and December, rather than a familiar June and July stretch, Djorkaeff believes there will be a different flavour to the World Cup this year.

The 82-cap former forward said: "That's where the World Cup will be different from the others. All the great players and all the teams are going to get to a point in the season where they are going to be competitive.

"It's not the end of the season where it's long and there are a lot of big games. It's almost the beginning of the season. It's going to be very interesting."

Qatar 2022 is fast approaching and the anticipation will surely be at its most intense so far when Friday's draw for the group stage is completed.

The Doha Exhibition and Convention Center plays host to the milestone event, which will see eight groups drawn from pots as the eventual storylines of the World Cup begin to unfurl.

Among the narratives that will start being mapped out on Friday is France's title defence, with Les Bleus hoping to become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to successfully defend their World Cup crown.

Ahead of the draw, Stats Perform provides a lowdown of all the key information…

 

How will the draw work?

Most of us have seen a draw and understand the general premise, but there's a lot of detail to consider before we end up with our completed group stage.

For starters, the draw (19:00 local time) will only include 29 qualified teams, with the other three spots to consist of a couple of intercontinental play-off slot placeholders and one UEFA play-off slot placeholder, with those nations to be determined later in the year.

The qualified teams will be sorted into four pots of eight, with their FIFA world ranking determining which they enter – joining Qatar in pot one will be the top seven teams, while the nations ranked eight-15 will be in pot 2, and so on. The three play-off slot placeholders will be drawn from pot four.

There will also be eight pots representing the groups, A to H. Each group pot contains four balls with position numbers, ranging from one to four, which correspond to the teams' respective starting position in the tables and subsequently impact their fixture schedule.

Team pot one will be the first to empty, with Qatar automatically drawn into slot A1. The other sides from pot one will go straight into position one of the remaining groups.

From then on, a ball is drawn from a team pot and followed by one from a group pot, determining that team's position – for example, the second nation drawn into Group A could be placed in slot A4. The process continues until each team pot is emptied, with pot four the last to be drawn.

Where possible, no group will contain more than one team from the same qualification zone, with the exception of Europe – so anyone hoping for an encounter like Brazil v Uruguay will have to wait for the knockout stage.

Thursday's release of the latest world rankings confirmed the make-up of the respective pots, so, without any further ado, let's take a look through them…

The Pots

Pot One:

Qatar (hosts)
Brazil
Belgium
France
Argentina
England
Spain
Portugal

 

Pot Two:

Denmark
Netherlands
Germany
Mexico 
USA
Switzerland
Croatia
Uruguay

Pot Three:

Senegal
Iran
Japan
Morocco
Serbia
Poland
South Korea
Tunisia

 

Pot Four:

Cameroon
Canada
Ecuador
Saudi Arabia
Ghana
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 1 
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 2
UEFA play-off placeholder

Luck of the draw!

It goes without saying that, theoretically, being in pot one means you would be favourites to win your group. But that's the beauty of football; practically anything can happen once you're on the pitch.

If we look back to the last World Cup four years ago, defending champions Germany were top of the FIFA rankings and in pot one, but then failed to get through the group stage for the first time ever.

 

But just as being in a higher pot is no guarantee of going deep into the tournament, who's to say how eventual 2018 champions France would have fared had they been in pot two?

Les Bleus were ranked seventh at the time so squeezed into pot one ahead of Spain. While that arguably gave them a trickier route to the final in the knockout phase, perhaps the tests posed by Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium were what kept them sharp all the way to the end?

This time around, Spain do appear in pot one. Portugal do as well, with Fernando Santos' men benefiting in that regard from European champions Italy's shock absence.

Nevertheless, there are some powerful teams in pot two. The Netherlands and Germany are undoubtedly the pick of the bunch there, both of whom will provide a stern test for any of the teams in pot one. Brazil v Die Mannschaft in the group stage, anyone?

There's a chance we could even see a repeat of the 2018 final in the group stage, with Croatia (pot two) able to come up against France in the opening round, while an England v United States showdown would surely capture the imagination of fans on both sides of 'the pond'.

We can expect to see plenty of quality in pot three as well, especially with Serbia, Robert Lewandowski's Poland and African champions Senegal present.

Among those in pot four are Canada. They may only be competing in their second World Cup and first since 1986, but John Herdman's team have won plenty of admirers en route to winning the CONCACAF qualifying section ahead of Mexico and reaching a record high of 33rd in the rankings.

 

Excitement, expectations and exoduses as Ronaldo and Messi look likely to bow out

Whether watching football on TV or from the stands, it can often be easy to forget that our heroes are just ordinary people as well. They are individuals who in all likelihood had the same hopes and dreams as many of us as children.

The glitz and glamour surrounding professional football can lead us to put footballers on a pedestal, but behind the sport's shiny facade, our teams are made up of – and coached by – people who are just as obsessed with the idea of the World Cup as anyone else.

England manager Gareth Southgate encapsulated the excitement earlier this week, as he said: "[The World Cup evokes] a different sort of feeling, but it's still a tournament we all watched as kids, we all filled our wallcharts out, we all hoped and followed when England were there that we would do well. And it's a unique chance to make history, so that of course is massively exciting."

Of course, that innocent excitement harbours expectation and hope for many, for others there will be a feeling of responsibility to amend the wrongs of the past.

This time around, that's arguably truest when looking at Germany, with Manuel Neuer fully appreciating he may not get another opportunity to put things right.

"I know that I will probably not get to play many more World Cups, so after crashing out in 2018 in Russia and our exit against England [at Euro 2020], it's important that we show a new version of ourselves and visualise success," the experienced goalkeeper said.

That finality Neuer alluded to is another key aspect of the World Cup. Given the four-year cycle of the tournament, every time we bid a fond farewell to a few greats of the game who opt to take advantage of the cyclical nature and end their international careers.

 

This time it looks as though Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – who for so long battled out their own personal 'Greatest of All-Time' rivalry – may be among those appearing on the World Cup stage for the last time.

"Goal achieved, we're at the Qatar World Cup. We're in our rightful place!" Ronaldo's Instagram post after Portugal's play-off success focused on the positive, but at 37, Qatar 2022 will surely be his final appearance at the tournament.

As for Messi, he said last week: "I don't know, the truth is I don't know. Let's hope [Argentina's preparations] go the best way possible. But for sure after the World Cup many things will change."

Exoduses after major international tournaments are common as teams reset or rebuild, but given what Messi and Ronaldo have represented on the pitch and the fact they've appeared at each of the previous four World Cups, their appearances at Qatar 2022 need to be savoured.

It all begins with Friday's draw, when narratives and talking points that'll live longer than any of us will start to take shape with the unscrewing of a few shiny plastic balls.

The 2022 World Cup is now less than eight months away and the excitement will ramp up another notch on Friday when the draw takes place in Doha.

Qatar will become the first Arab country to host the global showpiece, 92 years after the inaugural event in Uruguay, in what is the 22nd edition of football's biggest tournament.

It will become the smallest host nation by area, with matches to be spread across five different cities, making this the most concentrated edition since Argentina 1978.

Twenty-nine nations have already booked their finals spot, 22 of which competed at the 2018 edition, with the automatically-qualified hosts the only side to make their debut.

Due to the knock-on effects of the coronavirus pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the fate of eight teams remains in the balance – only three of whom can still advance.

Wales will face the winners of the Scotland versus Ukraine play-off in June, while New Zealand take on Costa Rica and Peru meet either Australia or the United Arab Emirates.

To further whet the appetite ahead of Friday's draw, Stats Perform looks at some key questions to be answered with the aid of Opta data.

 


Will Europe continue to dominate?

The past four World Cups have been won by European teams: Italy in 2006, Spain in 2010, Germany in 2014 and France in 2018.

That is the longest run of victories for a single continent in the tournament's history, with only one defeated finalist – Argentina in 2014 – coming from outside of Europe.

Indeed, a European team has triumphed in 12 of the previous 21 editions, with South America responsible for the other nine victors.

France are the reigning champions and are aiming to become the third team to retain the trophy after Italy (1934 and 1938) and Brazil (1958 and 1962).

However, a word of warning for Les Bleus – the past three defending champions have been eliminated in the group stage (Italy in 2010, Spain in 2014 and Germany in 2018).

 


No Italy, but will it be a familiar winner?

Despite that, France will be fancied by many having reached the final in half of the past six World Cups –1998, 2006 and 2018 – which is more than any other country.

Another World Cup heavyweight will not be present in Qatar, though, as four-time winners Italy – only Brazil (five) have won more trophies – missed out in the play-offs.

Speaking of Brazil, they are taking part in their 22nd World Cup, making them the only team to have featured in every edition of FIFA's showpiece competition.

Like Italy, Germany have won four titles and they have reached the semi-finals on four of the past five occasions, which is double the number of any other team in that period.

No matter how strong a side, a perfect tournament is tough to come by – only Brazil in 1970 and 2002 have achieved that since the 1930s, when teams played just four games.


Or is it a chance for someone new to shine?

Canada will play in their first World Cup since 1986; that gap of 36 years the longest between appearances among teams confirmed to be taking part in this year's event.

Egypt and Norway had the longest gap at 56 years, though Wales will break that should they advance from their play-off to qualify for the first time since 1958 (64 years).

Qatar are the only new face and will aim to avoid becoming just the second hosts to be eliminated in the first round after South Africa in 2010.

Mexico will also have their sights set on the knockout stages, though no side has played as many games (57) as them without reaching the final.

Netherlands, meanwhile, have reached the final on more occasions (1974, 1978 and 2010) without lifting the coveted trophy than anyone else.

 


Can Ronaldo and Muller set new records?

Cristiano Ronaldo will appear at a record-equalling fifth World Cup and is out to become the first player ever to score in five different editions.

The Portugal forward has seven World Cup goals in total, nine short of the record held by Miroslav Klose, who netted all 16 of his goals from inside the penalty area.

Thomas Muller has an outside chance of catching countryman Klose in Qatar, having scored 10 times across his three previous participations – no active player has more.

The top scorer in a single World Cup is Just Fontaine, who scored 13 times in 1958, including a goal in all six of France's games.

Not since Gerd Muller in 1970, with 10 goals for Germany, has a player reached double figures in a single edition. Brazil great Ronaldo's eight in 2002 is the highest since then.

It's nearly four years since Didier Deschamps became only the third man to win the World Cup as a player and coach, as he guided France to their second success on football's grandest stage.

The target now for Les Bleus is to become the first nation since Brazil in 1962 to retain their crown, and that journey begins on Friday with the draw for the group stage of Qatar 2022.

Four years is a long time to wait for anything, but the draw for the World Cup is always a milestone event that sees the anticipation taken up a notch.

The eyes of the football world will be on the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center, where the eight groups will be drawn and potential routes to December's finale can start being plotted.

But there is a little more to the draw than that…

 

How will the draw work?

Most of us have seen a draw and understand the general premise, but there's a lot of detail to consider before we end up with our completed group stage.

For starters, Friday's draw (19:00 local time) will only include 29 qualified teams, with the other three spots to consist of a couple of intercontinental play-off slot placeholders and one UEFA play-off slot placeholder, with those nations to be determined later in the year.

The qualified teams will be sorted into four pots of eight, with their FIFA world ranking determining which they enter – joining Qatar in pot one will be the top seven teams, while the nations ranked eight-15 will be in pot 2, and so on. The three play-off slot placeholders will be drawn from pot four.

There will also be eight pots representing the groups, A to H. Each group pot contains four balls with position numbers, ranging from one to four, which correspond to the teams' respective starting position in the tables and subsequently impact their fixture schedule.

Team pot one will be the first to empty, with Qatar automatically drawn into slot A1. The other sides from pot one will go straight into position one of the remaining groups.

From then on, a ball is drawn from a team pot and followed by one from a group pot, determining that team's position – for example, the second nation drawn into Group A could be placed in slot A4. The process continues until each team pot is emptied, with pot four the last to be drawn.

Where possible, no group will contain more than one team from the same qualification zone, with the exception of Europe – so anyone hoping for an encounter like Brazil v Uruguay will have to wait for the knockout stage.

Thursday's release of the latest world rankings confirmed the make-up of the respective pots, so, without any further ado, let's take a look through them…

The Pots

Pot One:

Qatar (hosts)
Brazil
Belgium
France
Argentina
England
Spain
Portugal

 

Pot Two:

Denmark
Netherlands
Germany
Mexico 
USA
Switzerland
Croatia
Uruguay

Pot Three:

Senegal
Iran
Japan
Morocco
Serbia
Poland
South Korea
Tunisia

 

Pot Four:

Cameroon
Canada
Ecuador
Saudi Arabia
Ghana
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Luck of the draw!

It goes without saying that, theoretically, being in pot one means you would be favourites to win your group. But that's the beauty of football; practically anything can happen once you're on the pitch.

If we look back to the last World Cup four years ago, defending champions Germany were top of the FIFA rankings and in pot one, but then failed to get through the group stage for the first time ever.

 

But just as being in a higher pot is no guarantee of going deep into the tournament, who's to say how eventual 2018 champions France would have fared had they been in pot two?

Les Bleus were ranked seventh at the time so squeezed into pot one ahead of Spain. While that arguably gave them a trickier route to the final in the knockout phase, perhaps the tests posed by Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium were what kept them sharp all the way to the end?

This time around, Spain do appear in pot one. Portugal do as well, with Fernando Santos' men benefiting in that regard from European champions Italy's shock absence.

Nevertheless, there are some powerful teams in pot two. The Netherlands and Germany are undoubtedly the pick of the bunch there, both of whom will provide a stern test for any of the teams in pot one. Brazil v Die Mannschaft in the group stage, anyone?

There's a chance we could even see a repeat of the 2018 final in the group stage, with Croatia (pot two) able to come up against France in the opening round, while an England v United States showdown would surely capture the imagination of fans on both sides of 'the pond'.

We can expect to see plenty of quality in pot three as well, especially with Serbia, Robert Lewandowski's Poland and African champions Senegal present.

Among those in pot four are Canada. They may only be competing in their second World Cup and first since 1986, but John Herdman's team have won plenty of admirers en route to winning the CONCACAF qualifying section and reaching a record high of 33rd in the rankings.

 

Excitement, expectations and exoduses as Ronaldo and Messi look likely to bow out

Whether watching football on TV or from the stands, it can often be easy to forget that our heroes are just ordinary people as well. They are individuals who in all likelihood had the same hopes and dreams as many of us as children.

The glitz and glamour surrounding professional football can lead us to put footballers on a pedestal, but behind the sport's shiny facade, our teams are made up of – and coached by – people who are just as obsessed with the idea of the World Cup as anyone else.

England manager Gareth Southgate encapsulated the excitement earlier this week, as he said: "[The World Cup evokes] a different sort of feeling, but it's still a tournament we all watched as kids, we all filled our wallcharts out, we all hoped and followed when England were there that we would do well. And it's a unique chance to make history, so that of course is massively exciting."

Of course, that innocent excitement harbours expectation and hope for many, for others there will be a feeling of responsibility to amend the wrongs of the past.

This time around, that's arguably truest when looking at Germany, with Manuel Neuer fully appreciating he may not get another opportunity to put things right.

"I know that I will probably not get to play many more World Cups, so after crashing out in 2018 in Russia and our exit against England [at Euro 2020], it's important that we show a new version of ourselves and visualise success," the experienced goalkeeper said.

That finality Neuer alluded to is another key aspect of the World Cup. Given the four-year cycle of the tournament, every time we bid a fond farewell to a few greats of the game who opt to take advantage of the cyclical nature and end their international careers.

 

This time it looks as though Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – who for so long battled out their own personal 'Greatest of All-Time' rivalry – may be among those appearing on the World Cup stage for the last time.

"Goal achieved, we're at the Qatar World Cup. We're in our rightful place!" Ronaldo's Instagram post after Portugal's play-off success focused on the positive, but at 37, Qatar 2022 will surely be his final appearance at the tournament.

As for Messi, he said last week: "I don't know, the truth is I don't know. Let's hope [Argentina's preparations] go the best way possible. But for sure after the World Cup many things will change."

Exoduses after major international tournaments are common as teams reset or rebuild, but given what Messi and Ronaldo have represented on the pitch and the fact they've appeared at each of the previous four World Cups, their appearances at Qatar 2022 need to be savoured.

It all begins with Friday's draw, when narratives and talking points that'll live longer than any of us will start to take shape with the unscrewing of a few shiny plastic balls.

Cristiano Ronaldo claimed Portugal are in their "rightful place" after Fernando Santos' team secured their place at the 2022 World Cup.

Bruno Fernandes scored both goals in a 2-0 win over North Macedonia in Porto on Tuesday, ensuring Portugal's run of qualifying for every World Cup since the turn of the century continued.

Portugal had to get through two play-off games to reach Qatar after finishing behind Serbia in their qualification group, but it does mean Italy are the only true European footballing heavyweight that will not be featuring in the tournament later this year.

Barring injury, Manchester United forward Ronaldo will be featuring at his fifth World Cup, equalling the record shared by Antonio Carbajal, Rafael Marquez, Lothar Matthaus and Gianluigi Buffon, albeit the latter did not actually play in the 1998 tournament despite making Italy's squad.

"Goal achieved, we are at the Qatar World Cup, we are in our rightful place!" Ronaldo wrote in a post on his official Instagram account shortly after the match.

"Thank you to all the Portuguese for your tireless support! Go Portugal!"

Ronaldo teed up Fernandes' opener in the 32nd minute, with the 37-year-old's club-mate then slotting in from Diogo Jota's cross midway through the second half to all but wrap up the win.

"It doesn't matter at all. It's important to help the team, I'm not here to score goals," Fernandes told reporters when asked about his own performance.

"If I can score, I'd be happy to. That's what I did today. Then it's up to everyone to give their criticism and opinion.

"But I keep my mind on the coach's ideas, and that's probably why I've had this double, for doing what the coach asks of me."

On qualifying, Fernandes added: "It will be in a special place, obviously. The objective has been achieved, which is the most important thing.

"I think Portugal has played better, we've had better performances, but this game made a difference because it qualified us."

Pepe declared Portugal have the quality to become world champions but admitted he was uncertain about his own prospects of playing at Qatar 2022.

Fernando Santos' team clinched their place at the finals with a 2-0 play-off win over North Macedonia in Porto on Tuesday.

Bruno Fernandes got both of the goals for the Euro 2016 champions, who beat Turkey in their previous play-off match.

It means Cristiano Ronaldo is set to feature at a record-equalling fifth World Cup, though fellow veteran campaigner Pepe is not quite so sure of his place.

While that does not seem likely to be down to coach Santos, with 39-year-old Pepe still a mainstay of his defence, the former Real Madrid centre-back insisted that now his focus is on helping Porto, rather than thinking about the showpiece that starts in November.

"I still don't know, there's still a lot of time," Pepe told reporters.

"Now I have to focus on my club's games. I didn't want to mix things up, but I know that at this age I have to think game by game. Obviously I want to help Portugal.

"I'm very happy to do what I like to do, play football, I try to pass on this desire of mine to enjoy every second and moment in football, because it passes very fast. I am 39, but I still have the same illusion of a kid of 15, 18, 20 years old. I try to make [my team-mates] feel this happiness because we are privileged."

Pepe played a crucial role in Portugal's second goal against North Macedonia, making a fine tackle deep in his own half to start the counter-attack that resulted in Fernandes steering home Diogo Jota's cross.

Portugal were ultimately comfortable winners, having 11 attempts and restricting their opponents to just three going the other way, with none of those hitting the target.

Yet the fact they were even in this play-off in the first place, and could well have been facing European champions Italy if not for North Macedonia's shock win over the Azzurri last week, points to a sense of underachievement.

Pepe, though, feels Portugal have all the tools to succeed in Qatar.

"We have a lot of quality, we know that for this feat we have to work hard and be very strong mentally, be a humble and warrior team, which we were many times in the period in which we won the Euros and the Nations League," he said.

"We have players with a big future, who play in big clubs in Europe. I believe we have the capacity to be world champions, but we'll take it easy, prepare well, so we can be at our level.

"It was an emotional night, the atmosphere in the stadium was fantastic, we felt that positive energy from everyone. I feel privileged to be part of this group, to be able to live this wonderful night.

"It [would be] a huge injustice not to be at the World Cup, the way we work, the way we dedicate ourselves, the criticism we receive. We proved to be a humble team."

Portugal sealed their place at the 2022 World Cup as Bruno Fernandes double secured a 2-0 win over North Macedonia.

Fresh from their shock defeat of Italy, North Macedonia headed to Porto with another giant killing in their sights, but it is Cristiano Ronaldo and company who will feature in Qatar.

Whereas North Macedonia had kept things tight and took their chance when it came in Palermo last week, a costly mistake from Stefan Ristovski saw them fell behind this time around.

Fernandes took full advantage, opening the scoring in the 32nd minute before doubling his tally after finishing a counter-attack he helped start with a fine 65th-minute half volley to ensure Portugal kept up their record of qualifying for every World Cup since the turn of the century.

Portugal's first opportunity seemed set to result in a goal when Ronaldo burst onto Otavio's pass in the 14th minute, only to drag wide when one-on-one with Stole Dimitrievski.

North Macedonia had otherwise kept Portugal at arm's length, yet Diogo Jota should have done better when he headed over the bar from Fernandes' corner.

It was a mistake, though, that gifted Portugal the lead. Fernandes pounced on Ristovski's poor pass and, having received a neat pass back from Ronaldo, picked out the bottom-left corner.

Jota sliced a close-range effort wide as a chance for 2-0 went begging before half-time, but Fernandes made no such mistake after the hour.

Pepe's superb tackle prevented a North Macedonia attack and started a rapid counter, with Fernandes beating the offside trap to steer in brilliantly from Jota's cross.

That settled any nerves in the crowd, with Fernando Santos' team able to relax as their prolonged qualification quest proved successful.

The only downside for the fans was two late chances going amiss for Ronaldo, who just failed to turn home a Fernandes cross before his path to goal was blocked following an excellent run from Rafael Leao.

 

What does it mean? Heavyweights book their spot

The draw for Path C of the UEFA qualification play-offs always ensured that at least one giant of European football – and, indeed, one of the previous two Euro winners – would miss out on a place in Qatar.

The likes of Germany, England, Spain, France and the other European nations to already have qualified will have been thrilled to see Italy crash out to North Macedonia, but lightning never looked likely to strike twice for the minnows, who can at least reflect on that famous win over the Azzurri. 

Ronaldo set to match World Cup record

Barring missing out through injury, Ronaldo will feature in a fifth World Cup, which equals the record currently shared by Antonio Carbajal, Rafael Marquez, Lothar Matthaus and Gianluigi Buffon, albeit the latter did not actually play in the 1998 tournament despite making Italy's squad.

At 37, this will surely be Ronaldo's final chance to become a world champion on the international stage.

Minnows just don't have enough

Ristovski's error did, of course, prove extremely costly, but ultimately North Macedonia did just not have the guile or quality in attack to frighten Portugal.

In fact, they managed just three shots, with none of them testing home goalkeeper Diogo Costa.

What's next?

Portugal face neighbouring Spain in the Nations League in June, while North Macedonia go up against Bulgaria.

North Macedonia have already pulled off perhaps the greatest shock in World Cup qualifying history, so they are entering Tuesday's play-off against Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal with no fear.

An incredible qualification campaign – in which they won away in Germany in Group J – continued for North Macedonia when they defeated Italy in last week's play-off semi-final.

That set up yet another away trip against an elite side, with the relative minnows now visiting Portugal for a place at Qatar 2022.

As Selecao talisman Ronaldo, now 37, is potentially bidding to play at his last World Cup – although he insists he will make that call – there is far more pressure on the hosts than on North Macedonia.

Coach Blagoja Milevski explained: "I don't think anyone would ever have expected that North Macedonia, as a country, as a national team, [would make it this far].

"Compared to the other participants in our group in this play-off, we are very small and that's why nobody expected North Macedonia to be in this position of being able to play in the final of this play-off and go to the World Cup.

"So, let's not run away from this opportunity. We are in a good position and I have only one message: to enjoy the moment and make the most of this opportunity to play against a great team."

Milevski knows Portugal are still the favourites, but that does not concern him.

"Of course we know who the favourites are. We know that according to everything that has happened, Portugal are the favourites," he said.

"But North Macedonia are not here by coincidence, we have our qualities and it was precisely these qualities that put us in the group of the best 20 at the European level. And so I think we have to see what happens."

Portugal required a play-off to qualify in both 2010 and 2014 – the latter seeing Ronaldo score all four goals of a 4-2 aggregate win over Sweden.

Those goals contribute to a world-record international tally of 115, but Milevski suggests North Macedonia cannot afford to focus on Ronaldo alone.

"Regarding Cristiano Ronaldo, I think we are talking about someone who has been the best player in the world for several years," the coach said.

"But we will not just play against him. There are 10 other players who play with him. Portugal is not just Ronaldo.

"Although he is sensational, there are other extraordinary players. And therefore, we will focus on the team as a whole and not just on an individual."

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