Gareth Bale has suggested the standard of football he competes at in the build-up to the World Cup does not make "too much of a difference", amid continued speculation over a move to Cardiff City.

The Wales international will end a nine-year spell with Real Madrid and become a free agent at the end of June when his contract expires.

Bale, who helped Wales to their first World Cup qualification since 1958, has been linked with a host of clubs across Europe and the United States.

Cardiff chairman Mehmet Dalman is said to have flown to the United Kingdom to start discussions with the 32-year-old, attempting to bring the forward back to his hometown club.

Wales coach Rob Page declared a deal with Cardiff would "tick all the right boxes", while the veteran attacker's agent Jonathan Barnett revealed his next move will not be driven by money.

Bale, speaking on Monday before a Nations League clash with the Netherlands, refused to rule out a move to the Championship side as he outlined his plans to discuss his next career move with Page.

"It's something I guess I need to sit down and go through," Bale told reporters at a pre-match news conference.

"Not just with my family, but with the manager here [Page], with the physios here that we use, to see what would give me the best chance of being fit come November and December.

"I don't really know if the standard makes too much of a difference. A football game is a football game.

"I feel like I'll never really lose my quality on the ball. I guess it's a conversation to be had.

"I need time to think what's the best move for me, my family, my kids, and hopefully we'll sort that over the summer. I have options."

 

Bale won 16 trophies during his time with Madrid but rarely featured in the 2021-22 campaign, in which Los Blancos lifted the La Liga title and the Champions League.

He played in seven of Madrid's 56 matches in all competitions – 13 per cent – with just four of those being starts.

But Bale was still on hand to help Wales to the World Cup in Qatar, their 64-year wait the longest gap between qualification for world football's showpiece tournament.

While Bale's deflected free-kick off the head of Andriy Yarmolenko was enough to secure play-off success over Ukraine, he knows he still has to build his fitness.

"Ideally I would have had more games coming in [to camp] so I would have been even fitter and not had to recover as much as I am at the moment," he added.

"I've been available for quite a lot of the games in Spain. Sometimes you just don't get picked so people assume that you're injured.

"[he next step] is going to be massively important. I need to make sure I'm playing games and I'm as fit as possible.

"Sometimes I'm able to get away with it, but ideally I want to go into a World Cup playing games and being as fit for as long as I can on the pitch."

Even when Jack Grealish charged into the penalty area in the 87th at the Santiago Bernabeu last month and saw his shot cleared off the line by Ferland Mendy, there seemed no way Manchester City wouldn't be in the Champions League final.

They were already 1-0 up in the semi-final second leg, 5-3 up on aggregate. Real Madrid had three minutes plus stoppage time to turn things around – even for a side that produced some memorable comebacks en route to the semi-finals, turning things around looked impossible.

Yet we all know how the tale unfolded in a matter of minutes, with City's Champions League aspirations dissolving for another season.

Over the course of the two legs, City were comfortably the better team and yet to failed to advance through to the final in Paris, where Madrid went on to beat Liverpool 1-0.

City's failure served to highlight a key deficiency in their squad.

Whether that's fair or not is up for debate, because they have since gone on to win a fourth Premier League title in five years, and no one would've questioned the legitimacy of them seeing off Madrid, but when the victor is led by the type of figure the loser is lacking, it's an easy conclusion to jump to.

Karim Benzema may not have been at his unplayable best in last month's second leg, but he won and converted the ultimately decisive penalty, and the effectiveness with which he led the line in the first leg ensured Madrid were still in with a shout upon the return to Spain.

City will now hope they have such a goalscoring talisman in Erling Haaland.

A month after confirming an agreement was in place for Haaland, City announced on Monday that the prolific striker has put pen to paper on a five-year deal that will officially go through on July 1.

City are apparently set to pay £51.3million (€60m) to Borussia Dortmund for his transfer. Even when you consider the apparently significant agents' fees et cetera, it's difficult to see this as anything other than a bargain for City.

The dust may now have settled on City's recent collapse in the Spanish capital, but it's hard not to look at the deal through the prism of Champions League failure because of what will now be expected – rather than hoped for – with a player like Haaland in the team.

When trying to understand what has specifically gone wrong for City in the Champions League since Guardiola was hired, most people seem to have different opinions. Some might point to an apparent lack of on-field leaders, others highlight wastefulness at crucial moments, and of course there are many who have bemoaned Pep's dreaded "overthinking".

The idea of there being a lack of on-field leaders has always seemed wide of the mark, while no one can accuse Guardiola of overcomplicating his selections against Madrid – even if they did try to claim that, City were on course for the final until the 90th minute of the second leg.

Similarly, wastefulness is something most clubs can be accused of at one time or another and, in fact, across all the Champions League ties from which City have been eliminated under Guardiola, they have scored 17 times from 16.99 expected goals (xG). Granted, there were occasions where they didn't score as often as they should have, but over time it evens itself out.

Yet perhaps this is where Haaland can make the difference. Sure, City's xG has evened out over the unsuccessful ties in question, but with a striker as freakishly deadly as the Norwegian, there becomes a greater opportunity to finish chances that maybe you wouldn't generally expect to.

Since his Bundesliga debut on January 18, 2020, Haaland has scored 86 goals in 89 games for Dortmund in all competitions, averaging a goal every 84 minutes.

Only Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski (123 goals in 108 games) boasts a better scoring rate over that period among players from Europe's top five leagues.

Despite struggling with injuries in the 2021-22 season, he still managed 29 goals in 30 games for BVB, including a strike in his final game. Twenty-one of those goals were scored via his favoured left foot, three came via his right and the other five were headers.

One thing you cannot accuse City of is being ineffective when it comes to controlling football matches and creating chances – they wouldn't have enjoyed the success they have in the Premier League, under intense pressure from an incredible Liverpool side, if not.

But in knockout ties when there is such a limited amount of time to respond to setbacks or make amends for certain mistakes, whether that's defensive or in front of goal, the value of the greatest strikers can shine through even more: Benzema showed that against City.

While there are likely to be stylistic compatibility questions to be asked regarding City and Haaland, particularly given the Premier League champions haven't really played with an out-and-out striker for a couple of years now, they suddenly have arguably the finest finisher of his generation in their arsenal.

If Haaland isn't the final piece of the puzzle in City's quest for a maiden Champions League crown, Guardiola might as well give up.

Erling Haaland believes he has joined the right club to fulfil his ambitions after Manchester City officially confirmed the striker's arrival on Monday.

City announced on May 10 that an agreement was in place to sign Haaland from Borussia Dortmund after triggering his reported €75million (£64.2m) release clause.

The Norway international has now officially put pen to paper on a five-year contract at the Etihad Stadium, with that deal to go through on July 1.

Haaland had been one of Europe's most sought-after players and follows in the footsteps of his father Alf-Inge, who played for City between 2000 and 2003.

He scored 86 goals in 89 games for Dortmund upon joining from Salzburg in January 2020, averaging a goal every 84 minutes across all competitions.

Indeed, only Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski (123 goals in 108 games) boasts a better scoring rate over that period among players from Europe's top five leagues.

And after making the switch to the Premier League champions, Haaland is hopeful that his goals will lead to trophies under the management of Pep Guardiola.

"This is a proud day for me and my family," he told City's official website. "I have always watched City and have loved doing so in recent seasons. 

"You can't help but admire their style of play, it’s exciting and they create a lot of chances, which is perfect for a player like me. 

"There are so many world-class players in this squad and Pep is one of the greatest managers of all time, so I believe I am in the right place to fulfil my ambitions. 

"I want to score goals, win trophies and improve as a footballer and I am confident I can do that here. This is a great move for me and I can't wait to get started in pre-season."

Haaland won two Austrian Bundesliga titles during his time with Salzburg and the DFB-Pokal in 2020-21 across his two-and-a-half seasons at Dortmund.

The prolific striker struggled with injuries in the 2021-22 season, yet he still managed 29 goals in 30 games in all competitions for BVB, including a strike in his final game.

Luis Enrique is in no doubt Spain can compete with the very best in the world after watching his side cruise past the Czech Republic 2-0 in the Nations League on Sunday.

Carlos Soler and Pablo Sarabia were on target in each half as La Roja moved top of Group A2 following Portugal's 1-0 defeat to Switzerland.

The win, which stretched Spain's unbeaten run to eight games, means their progress to the Nations League finals could be sealed before their final group game against Portugal.

Should they beat Switzerland in their penultimate game and Portugal lose to the Czech Republic, Spain will seal their place in the tournament.

Luis Enrique was pleased with his side's display at La Rosaleda in Malaga, yet acknowledged there is room for improvement.

"I am very satisfied, how can I not be?" he said in a media conference.

"The rival has shown how good they are, in all aspects. We have been quite good, although we lacked some things.

"The atmosphere was wonderful, with lots of cheering and respect for the anthem of the rival. I hope it repeats itself and serves as an example.

"We are leaders and we have been good in general. Ask the rivals what they feel when playing with us. Surely we will compete [against anyone]."

Marco Asensio was particularly bright for Spain, teeing up Soler's goal to move level with Jordi Alba as the joint-highest goal creator under Luis Enrique's leadership (seven assists).

He played more key passes (three) than any other player on the pitch, and Luis Enrique says the fact he is not a regular starter at Real Madrid is not an issue.

"I always called him up when I saw him doing well," he said. "Now he has been playing less. We like him and he knows it. There are no doubts with him."

Unai Simon made important saves from Vaclav Cerny and Jan Kuchta before Soler's opener, with Luis Enrique pleased at his goalkeeper's decisiveness. 

"He chose well in decision-making," he added. "He gives us a lot with the ball in aerial aspects. He has been good.

"It gives me a lot of peace of mind, and I am the one who makes decisions. He has saved us and that's what the goalkeeper is for."

Fernando Santos questioned the referee's performance after Portugal suffered the first defeat of their Nations League campaign to Switzerland.

Haris Seferovic opened the scoring after just 55 seconds in Geneva, the fastest goal in Nations League history and earliest Switzerland have scored since 1988.

Referee Fran Jovic awarded a penalty to Switzerland 13 minutes later for a handball against Nuno Mendes, but the VAR overruled the decision.

A clear foul on Andre Silva by Nico Elvedi on the halfway line was the reason, with the Portugal striker requiring brief medical treatment for the ankle injury suffered in the tackle.

Portugal were incensed at the original decision, surrounding Jovic at half-time, and tempers continued to boil over in the second half, with Bruno Fernandes confronting the Swiss bench at one point.

While Santos refused to directly criticise the referee's performance, he admitted his frustrations with Switzerland seemingly slowing down the game en route to a 1-0 victory.

"I'm not going to criticise, but when a penalty is awarded that doesn't happen just like that, when there's a clear foul in midfield... Then just look at the number of fouls and time lost," he told reporters. 

"The fourth official knows very well what happened in the game."

Santos was satisfied with the second-half improvement, even if Swiss goalkeeper Jonas Omlin's heroics left Portugal a point behind group leaders Spain, who defeated Czech Republic on Sunday.

"At half-time, I was just saying that we have to have the ball and play differently and push them back," he added. 

"We started very well, in the first few minutes we wanted to put the ball very quickly on [Goncalo] Guedes. We knew opportunities would arise and many have arisen."

Portugal are not in action again until visiting Czech Republic in the Nations League on September 24.

Liverpool forward Sadio Mane has been encouraged to sign for Bayern Munich by his Senegal coach Aliou Cisse.

Mane has been strongly linked with a move to the Bundesliga champions, with just 12 months left to run on his current contract at Anfield.

The Premier League club are said to have turned down two advances from Bayern for the 30-year-old, who has lifted six major trophies in as many seasons with the Reds.

The Senegal international hinted at wanting a move away when on international duty and Cisse believes Bayern represent the best option for Mane's career if he is to leave Liverpool.

"I tell my boys to try to work out the contract issues so that when their respective championships resume, they will have already found a base," Cisse told reporters.

"I heard about Sadio at Bayern. For me, it is a club that is of its standing. Bayern is intense, pressing football with a German coach.

"Sadio played in Salzburg in Austria, which is a border country, and that means he is not going into unknown territory.

"For me, the club where he will feel the best is Bayern."

 

Mane has scored 90 goals in 196 Premier League games for Liverpool since joining from Southampton in 2016.

Only Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy (104), team-mate Mohamed Salah (118) and Tottenham's Harry Kane (134) have managed more in the competition across that period.

Jurgen Klopp's side appear to be close to signing Benfica forward Darwin Nunez as a replacement for Mane.

But Bayern sports director Hasan Salihamidzic has suggested the German side are considering multiple options in the transfer market, with the Mane move far from a certainty.

Spain made it back-to-back wins to go top of Nations League Group A2 as goals from Carlos Soler and Pablo Sarabia sealed a 2-0 win over the Czech Republic on Sunday.

Luis Enrique's side edged past Switzerland on Thursday after opening their campaign with two draws, and they racked up another win at La Rosaleda in Malaga. 

Valencia midfielder Soler scored the opening goal shortly after the midway point in the first half – his third strike at international level.

And substitute Sarabia made sure of all three points in the 75th minute as La Roja usurped Portugal, who lost 1-0 in Switzerland, at the top of the group. 

Unai Simon denied Vaclav Cerny and Jan Kuchta inside the opening 20 minutes as the visitors started brightly.

Yet Spain went ahead with their first attempt on goal in the 24th minute, Soler drilling past Ales Mandous from eight yards after running onto Marco Asensio's pull-back.

Soler then clipped wide soon after as Spain fell short of doubling their advantage before the interval.

Simon pushed away a long-range drive from Alex Kral midway through a tepid second half as both sides struggled to build any momentum. 

That was until Sarabia followed up his winner against Switzerland with another goal three minutes after being introduced for Asensio, the attacking midfielder nudging home from Ferran Torres' low cross to wrap up maximum points.

 

What does it mean? Victory moves Spain to group summit

After a sluggish start to their Nations League campaign, Spain are well and truly up and running now.

A second consecutive win moved them onto eight points, one ahead of Portugal. The Czech Republic, meanwhile, remain in third with four points from their opening four games.

Asensio shines

Asensio's pass for Soler's goal means no player has provided more assists for Spain under Luis Enrique's leadership (seven, level with Jordi Alba). He was Spain's biggest threat here, playing more key passes (three) than any other player on the pitch.

Morata goes missing

Alvaro Morata endured a game to forget up front for the hosts. The 29-year-old failed to have a single shot or play a key pass before he was hauled off for Torres in the 59th minute.

What's next?

Both sides complete their Group A2 campaigns in September. Spain are at home to Switzerland before visiting Portugal, while the Czech Republic host Portugal and then travel to Switzerland.

Portugal suffered their first defeat of the Nations League campaign after Haris Seferovic scored the winner in a 1-0 victory for Switzerland in Geneva.

Switzerland had lost all three of their Group A2 fixtures, including a 4-0 hammering in the reverse fixture, but took the lead through Seferovic inside the first minute.

Fernando Santos' side were repeatedly denied by Swiss goalkeeper Jonas Omlin in search of an equaliser, with the absence of the injured talisman Cristiano Ronaldo particularly noticeable for the visitors.

Defeat left Portugal a point behind Spain at the summit of the group, while Switzerland picked up their first win to move one point behind Czech Republic in third.

Switzerland raced out the blocks as Seferovic headed into the bottom-left corner from Silvan Widmer's right-wing cross after just 55 seconds – the fastest goal in Nations League history.

The hosts thought they had a penalty 13 minutes later for a Nuno Mendes handball, but a lengthy VAR check ruled the spot-kick out for an earlier Nico Elvedi foul on Andre Silva.

Omlin kept his side ahead by denying a close-range Danilo Pereira header, before Rafael Leao headed home shortly after, only to be ruled out for offside.

Omlin also stopped a low Andre Silva drive after the interval, while Remo Freuler drilled just wide at the other end.

Seferovic almost extended Switzerland's lead but arrowed narrowly off target on a rapid counter-attack before Omlin beat away a swerving Bernardo Silva long-range strike.

The Montpellier stopper carried on his fantastic performance by pushing away a sliding Goncalo Guedes effort and a low Diogo Jota header as Switzerland held on for victory.

What does it mean? Portugal's top-spot hopes dented

Portugal were arguably fortunate to snatch a draw in their Nations League opener with Spain, but then recorded convincing victories over Switzerland and Czech Republic.

However, they came unstuck in Geneva and were largely off the pace, handing Spain the advantage in Group A2.

With only one team progressing, Portugal may end up needing to beat Spain on the final matchday in September.

Swift Seferovic

Not only was Seferovic's smart flick to open the scoring the fastest goal in Nations League history, but it was also Switzerland's earliest goal since 1988.

The striker became the first Swiss player to score in the first minute of a game in 34 years, since Alain Sutter managed to do so in World Cup qualifying against Luxembourg.

Sorry Silva

Andre Silva was tasked with leading the line in the absence of Ronaldo, but failed to leave his mark against Elvedi and Manuel Akanji.

The RB Leipzig striker was caught offside on a game-high two occasions, the first in the build-up to Leao's disallowed header, and made just 15 passes all match.

What's next?

Portugal are not in action until a Nations League away clash at Czech Republic on September 24, when Switzerland also visit Spain.

Spain made it back-to-back wins to go top of Nations League Group A2 as goals from Carlos Soler and Pablo Sarabia sealed a 2-0 win over the Czech Republic on Sunday.

Luis Enrique's side edged past Switzerland on Thursday after opening their campaign with two draws, and they racked up another win at La Rosaleda in Malaga. 

Valencia midfielder Soler scored the opening goal shortly after the midway point in the first half – his third strike at international level.

And substitute Sarabia made sure of all three points in the 75th minute as La Roja usurped Portugal, who lost 1-0 in Switzerland, at the top of the group. 

Unai Simon denied Vaclav Cerny and Jan Kuchta inside the opening 20 minutes as the visitors started brightly.

Yet Spain went ahead with their first attempt on goal in the 24th minute, Soler drilling past Ales Mandous from eight yards after running onto Marco Asensio's pull-back.

Soler then clipped wide soon after as Spain fell short of doubling their advantage before the interval.

Simon pushed away a long-range drive from Alex Kral midway through a tepid second half as both sides struggled to build any momentum. 

That was until Sarabia followed up his winner against Switzerland with another goal three minutes after being introduced for Asensio, the attacking midfielder nudging home from Ferran Torres' low cross to wrap up maximum points.

Impressive centuries from Ollie Pope and Joe Root helped England close in on New Zealand's imposing first innings total on day three of the second Test at Trent Bridge.

The pair put on a third-wicket partnership of 187 as the hosts closed on 473-5, still 80 runs shy of the tourists.

Alex Lees and Pope picked up where they left off from day two as Lees reached his maiden Test half-century in his ninth innings, before he edged a Matt Henry (1-128) delivery to Daryl Mitchell for 67.

Root arrived and did not hesitate in building his own big partnership with Pope, not just piling on runs but doing so at pace.

The former England captain followed up his match-winning ton at Lord's with another 100 here, with this one being the fastest of his illustrious career, coming from just 116 balls.

Pope was finally out for 145 after top-edging a hook shot up in the air off Trent Boult (3-89), which Henry caught well diving forward.

A successful review against Jonny Bairstow (eight) saw him back to the pavilion after ultra edge showed a very slight spike as a Boult delivery passed his glove, with skipper Stokes next in, blasting 46 from 33 balls before hitting Michael Bracewell straight into the waiting hands of Boult.

Ben Foakes (24 not out) steadied things as he and Root (163 not out) looked to move closer to New Zealand's total with an unbroken partnership of 68, leaving the Test match tantalisingly poised heading into day four.

Welcome to the McCullum and Stokes era

With Brendon McCullum arriving as head coach of England's Test side with Stokes as captain, it was always likely to lead to more excitement.

It was therefore not all that surprising to see England finally getting Test runs, scoring 383 on the day, while also going at a potent run rate of 4.14 across the innings so far.

Three could be magic number for Pope

Pope had never even batted above four in the order until the first Test at Lord's, where he scored 17 in his two innings coming in at three.

However, he looked every bit the option McCullum will want in that role during this knock, which included three sixes, and will have pleased Root in particular, who would much rather stay in his favoured role at four.

Moeen Ali has confirmed he has "officially unretired" and is available for the England Test side after a conversation with coach Brendon McCullum.

Moeen announced his retirement from the five-day game last September after struggling to maintain focus in red-ball outings and enjoying shorter-format cricket.

The 34-year-old mustered 2,914 Test runs at an average of 28.3 and collected 195 wickets at 36.7, including a hat-trick against South Africa at The Oval in 2017.

Only James Anderson and Stuart Broad managed more Test wickets for England during Moeen's time in the side, while the off-spinner ranked 12th for dismissals in the world in that same period.

Stokes has since been appointed captain as the successor to Joe Root, partnering with coach McCullum, who replaced Chris Silverwood after his dismissal.

That had led to suggestions of a potential Test return for white-ball star Jos Buttler and also Moeen, who acknowledged on Saturday he would be open to the idea of featuring again, adding "never say never".

Moeen then followed that up on Sunday by confirming, after a conversation with McCullum, he is available for selection as he eyes the Pakistan Test tour for a three-match series in September.

 

"I spoke to McCullum this morning, and we did discuss Pakistan this winter," he said on BBC's Test Match Special. "The door is always open, and yeah, I suppose I am officially unretired.

"He is a very difficult person to say no to. I find that very, very hard. He is very convincing and to be honest I would love to play under him and Ben Stokes.

"They are both very aggressive and I think I would suit their cricket a bit more. At the time I said I was retired I felt like I was done. I felt really tired with cricket."

Heinrich Klaasen smashed a career-best 81 as South Africa claimed a 2-0 T20I series lead with a four-wicket victory over India.

Ishan Kishan (34) and Shreyas Iyer (40) offered India a bright start at the Barabati Stadium on Sunday.

But the hosts' middle-order batters struggled before Dinesh Karthik scored a brisk 30 off 21 balls to propel India to 148-6.

Having chased an improbable 212 in the first meeting, South Africa initially struggled this time around with Bhuvneshwar Kumar reducing the tourists to 29-3 after an opening spell of three wickets for 10 runs.

Captain Temba Bavuma watched as wickets fell around him but posted an important 35 before being bowled by Yuzvendra Chahal (1-49).

Bavuma combined in a vital 64-run partnership with Klaasen, whose brutal 81 came off just 46 deliveries before he was removed by Harshal Patel (1-17) and Wayne Parnell (one) fell to Kumar (4-13).

David Miller (20 not out) then saw South Africa over the line with 10 balls to spare as the Proteas furthered their advantage in the five-match series.

Rapid Rabada

Rabada became the fourth South African bowler to claim 50 wickets in men's T20Is when he dismissed Ruturaj Gaikwad for one in the first over.

The fast bowler achieved the feat in his 42nd game, making him the third-fastest bowler from South Africa to a half-century of dismissals, behind only Dale Steyn (35) and Imran Tahir (31).

Hendricks misses opportunity

Chasing a far from imposing total, Reeza Hendricks had the chance to make his mark as an opener, replacing South Africa stalwart Quinton de Kock.

However, the 32-year-old made just four before being bowled by Kumar as he failed to leave a lasting impression in a rare opportunity at the top of the order.

Beatriz Haddad Maia won her first ever WTA tour singles title on Sunday with an impressive 6-4 1-6 6-3 win against Alison Riske at the Nottingham Open.

A back-and-forth contest ultimately turned in the Brazilian's favour as she recovered from a dominant second set from her American opponent to claim the decider and the trophy. 

Haddad Maia made a strong start, and took the first set 6-4 after winning 90 per cent of points on her first serve (18 of 20).

Sixth seed Riske came out fighting in the second set, though, breaking in the second game before saving three break points on her own serve, and then breaking for a second time, racing out to a 5-0 lead.

Riske made just five unforced errors in the second set to claim it 6-1 and send the final into a decider.

Seventh seed Haddad Maia was being made to work hard at the start of the third and was broken again by Riske in the third game, but this time was able to break straight back.

Haddad Maia was angered by a line call that went against her in the seventh game, but she used it to find another level, breaking Riske again to take a 5-3 lead, before serving out to seal her maiden WTA singles title.

"It was just amazing. I never expected people here [in Nottingham] cheering for me so thanks a lot for making it special for me," Haddad Maia said in her on-court interview after the win.

"[Riske] improved her game so I tried to stay concentrated... I'm very happy that I was fighting with myself so I could get this trophy.

"It's crazy because I never thought my first [singles title] would be on grass.

"I came here to fight and to win this title, and Nottingham for sure will always be in my heart."

Reece James has said people who question Trent Alexander-Arnold's abilities "don't really know the game".

The highly-rated Chelsea right-back is in direct competition with his Liverpool counterpart for a place in Gareth Southgate's England team ahead of the World Cup later this year.

Southgate has an embarrassment of riches to pick from on the right side of his defence, with Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier also a part of his current squad.

James, who started for the Three Lions in Saturday's 0-0 Nations League draw with Italy at Molineux, said that while he wants to be his country's first choice, he does not agree with those who criticise Alexander-Arnold's defensive qualities.

The Liverpool man has regularly received uncomplimentary reviews for his defending, with some blaming him for the goal scored by Vinicius Junior against the Reds in last month's Champions League final defeat against Real Madrid.

However, the 23-year-old recorded 17 clean sheets in 32 Premier League appearances last season, more than any of his England right-back rivals, even on a per 90 minutes basis.

"I'll try everything I can [to be first choice]," James said. "Only my performances will be able to prove what I can bring. In these games and building into next season I'll hopefully be able to show that I'm ready to play every game.

"I make mistakes as well. I gave away a penalty against Hungary, so we are both still learning our trade. 

"Liverpool have 95 per cent of the ball and he defends less than I have to. People have a lot of stuff to say and don't really know the game. Trent is a great player."

Mohamed Salah wants to emulate George Weah as only the second-ever African to win the Ballon d'Or, and was "shocked" by his seventh-place finish last year.

The Egypt international posted sixth and fifth-place finishes in 2018 and 2019 in the annual awards ceremony to crown the best men's footballer in the world.

But he saw his standing slip two years later after a 2020 cancellation, placing outside the top six as Lionel Messi extended his record haul.

Since then, Salah has helped fire Liverpool to a domestic cup double, plus a second-place Premier League finish and another Champions League final during 2022 as he recorded 46 goal involvements in 2021-22 (31 goals, 15 assists).

In addition, he has already picked up a slew of individual prizes, including another Premier League Golden Boot, the FWA Footballer of the Year and - most recently - the PFA Player of the Year.

But it may not be enough for the forward to emulate Liberia star Weah, who is the only African to previously lift the Ballon d'Or.

"I want to win it to join George Weah, the only African [in 1995]," Salah told L'Equipe.

"It's true that I was shocked by my ranking in 2021 (seventh). For this year, the defeat against Real Madrid is a disadvantage, even if I played a good game in the final.

"But it doesn't cancel out everything I've achieved for months. Let's wait for the vote. And if I'm not Ballon d'Or in 2022, I'll do everything I can to be the next one."

Salah's disappointment at losing in the Champions League final to Madrid last month has not dimmed his appreciation for fellow attacker and Ballon d'Or frontrunner Karim Benzema.

Salah admits he sees himself in the France forward, and feels a kinship in his approach to how he imposes himself upon the wider team.

"I understand what Benzema says. He doesn't just see himself as a goalscorer, he knows he influences every aspect of Real Madrid's game," he added.

"Like others, I want to be seen as the best player in the world.

"At Liverpool, everyone runs for everyone else. If I don't fight for the defence, they won't fight for me.

"I have to be an example, to be the first to press, to sacrifice myself for the team."

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