Sergio Ramos says he has "four or five more years" left at a high level despite struggling for game time since his move to Paris Saint-German. 

The 36-year-old has endured an injury-hit first campaign in the French capital, playing 392 minutes across his seven appearances in all competitions, just four of which were starts. 

However, the former Real Madrid defender impressed on his return to the line-up in PSG's 6-1 thrashing of Clermont last time out, as Neymar and Kylian Mbappe each netted hat-tricks and Lionel Messi claimed three assists. 

Ramos completed 99 of his 105 attempted passes – both of which were game highs – during the Ligue 1 leaders' dominant win. 

The defender now says he believes he can play at the highest level into his forties, insisting he feels back to his physical best. 

"I see myself playing four or five more years at a high level, and then [I'll have] another experience," Ramos told Amazon Prime Video in France. 

"Here in Paris, I have two more years [on my contract], I'll try to make it three, [with] one more, we'll see.  

"As long as my physique holds up, I think my head is very focused. Now, I'm very well, very happy and eager to play." 

Ramos' excellent distribution from the back contributed to PSG completing 93.6 per cent of their passes against Clermont, the highest percentage managed by any Ligue 1 team since Opta began recording such data in the 2006-07 season. 

Meanwhile, Ramos refused to say whether he preferred international football to the club game, having won an incredible 180 caps for Spain during a glittering career that has seen him win one World Cup and two European Championships. 

He never formally retired from international duty despite being left out of Luis Enrique's squad for Euro 2020 and could yet look to fight his way back into the coach's plans for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. 

"It's a difficult question to answer," Ramos added. "The feeling of your homeland and your country is always something very big. [The feeling] that your team is to whom you owe yourself, [that] you have to play well in your [club] team to be selected.  

"They are both a unique feeling, I can't keep [only] one, although with the national team you can aspire to be a world champion." 

PSG have a 12-point lead over second-placed Marseille in Ligue 1, and Mauricio Pochettino's team can take a huge step towards securing the French title when they face their nearest rivals on Sunday. 

Former Juventus defender Fabio Cannavaro says the Bianconeri can still win the Scudetto this season, insisting Massimiliano Allegri's men have a chance in a "four-man race" for the title.

Cannavaro noted the slip-ups of Juventus' rivals as a reason for his belief in his former club's chances, claiming "it seems that nobody wants to win" Serie A.

The legendary centre-back also demanded far-reaching changes across Italian football in response to the Azzurri's recent failure to reach this year's Qatar World Cup, but would not be drawn on talk he could replace Roberto Mancini as the national team's coach.

Juventus are six points behind leaders Milan with six games remaining, and narrowed the gap on their rivals over the weekend, beating Cagliari 2-1 before Milan drew 0-0 with Torino and Napoli lost 3-2 to Fiorentina.

Juventus have now won three consecutive away league games for the first time this season, and the 48-year-old, who left the club for Real Madrid after captaining Italy to World Cup glory in 2006, believes Allegri's men remain in the hunt.

"It seems that nobody wants to win it," the 2006 Ballon D'or winner said at an event in Tuscany. "The feeling is that when there is the chance to make a difference, something always happens.

"The championship is always open, anything can happen. Seeing the results of those ahead [of Juventus], it's a four-man race.

"We know Juventus, they never give up, it is certainly a championship that can give us surprises.

"It's a strange championship, when you have the chance to knock the others off [the top], nobody does. It's a championship that anyone can win, all four of them. If the results are [to continue like] these, it will be an interesting ending ".

If Juventus were to win the title, it would represent their 10th Scudetto in 11 years, and their sixth under the tutelage of Allegri.

Cannavaro was also asked about his country's second consecutive failure to qualify for the World Cup after Italy suffered a shock play-off defeat to North Macedonia last month.

"It hurts," he said of the failure to reach Qatar. "After 2006, we are no longer able to [have our] say at the World Cup, which has always seen us as protagonists.

"Beyond this, this resignation to the fact that it has to be like this saddens me. It is a shame, there are generations [of Italians] that have not seen a final phase [of a World Cup].

"We need to change quickly. I don't have the cure, I don't have the recipe, it's not up to me.

"It [the Italian Football Federation] is an organisation that doesn't work. Before, the [Italian] teams went to Europe and commanded, we went to Champions League finals, now we haven't reached it for years.

"It [talk of Cannavaro succeeding Mancini] is normal. You can't focus on one man, but on a system that has failed for too many years. I haven't heard from anyone."

Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder Giovanni Reyna's season is over after the club confirmed the United States international suffered a muscle and tendon injury against Stuttgart on Friday.

The teenager was forced off in the early stages of BVB's 2-0 Bundesliga victory in the latest of a line of fitness issues that have seriously impacted his season.

Now, Dortmund have confirmed he will sit out the rest of the campaign, with Marco Rose's side nine points of adrift of leaders Bayern Munich.

"Midfielder Gio Reyna, who had to be substituted early in the game, suffered a muscle and tendon injury," Dortmund confirmed in a statement. "The season is over for the American."

Restricted to just 13 appearances this term for the German side, English-born playmaker Reyna has struggled to live up to the heights of his first full senior season last term.

He suffered a hamstring injury in September while on international duty against El Salvador and subsequently was out of action into the new year.

A return to action in February for Dortmund saw him promptly reaggravate the problem, though he only missed a few further weeks.

He subsequently recovered in time to play a part in the Stars and Stripes' successful Qatar 2022 World Cup qualification last month but will now wait for the 2022-23 season to play again.

 

 

Pep Guardiola says he will happily manage Manchester City for the rest of his career as he shut down speculation linking him with the soon-to-be-vacant Brazil job.

With head coach Tite set to step down after the World Cup, reports from Spain earlier this week suggested Brazil have already reached out to Guardiola.

According to Marca, Brazil are willing to pay Guardiola a salary of €12million (£10m) a year through until after the next World Cup in 2026.

However, asked about the rumours on Friday, Guardiola made clear that he cannot see himself managing any side other than City.

"Not today, come on," he told a news conference.

"I'm under contract here and I'm so happy. I'm willing to stay forever here. There cannot be a better place to be [than City]. 

"I'd extend the contract ten years but I could not extend the contract ten years. Now is not the moment. I don't know where it's come from."

Guardiola was speaking ahead of Sunday's huge showdown with Premier League title rivals Liverpool, with City holding a one-point lead over Jurgen Klopp's team.

The ex-Barcelona coach was also questioned about another article published this week, in German outlet Der Spiegel, alleging City are being investigated over illegal payments.

Among other allegations, Der Spiegel reported that City pressured young players "to sign contracts through monetary payments, in violation of the rules".

City have yet to officially comment on the matter and Guardiola did not want to discuss it any further when probed on the topic.

"It's come from outside," he said. "When you understand the important win we had a few days ago [against Atletico Madrid], and the games ahead, I don't spend one second on it.

"In fact, I have spent 50 seconds talking about it now, so next question."

Neville Southall insists Jordan Pickford is not to blame for Everton's woes and believes he is rightfully England's first-choice goalkeeper.

Pickford captained Everton as Frank Lampard's team capitulated to another dismal away defeat on Wednesday, this time to relegation rivals Burnley.

Two penalties from Richarlison had put Everton 2-1 up at Turf Moor heading into half-time yet Jay Rodriguez and Maxwel Cornet struck to seal a 3-2 victory for Burnley that takes the Clarets to within a point of Lampard's side, who sit 17th with nine games remaining.

Pickford was hardly at fault for any of Burnley's goals and has been a consistent performer for Everton despite their torrid form.

The 28-year-old's place as England number one has been called into question this term, due in large part to Aaron Ramsdale's strong form for Arsenal, though Gareth Southgate has stood by Pickford, who has played a pivotal role in the Three Lions reaching a World Cup semi-final and the final of Euro 2020.

Asked about Pickford by Sky Sports, Everton great Southall, who was their goalkeeper throughout the club's successful spell in the 1980s, said: "Confidence plays a part in it. Jordan Pickford's done nothing wrong this season.

"Unfortunately at the moment, we've got Aaron Ramsdale at Arsenal and traditionally most of the media want somebody to play [for England] from a London club.

"So he's always going to be under more scrutiny because he's playing for a club up north. I truly believe there's been a witch hunt against him through the media at times and I think it's just silly.

"He's a decent goalkeeper, playing for England. Is he going to make mistakes? Of course he is, because he's human."

Southall also believes fans and pundits have to be more aware of the potential damage that being highly critical of players can do to their mental wellbeing.

"We've got to think about what we say to these players," he continued. "Telling them all the time that they can't do stuff. 

"We should start saying that they can do it. They don't know what damage they're doing. You're entitled to an opinion but some of the language I think has been over the top and it can affect some of the players. For me it's about looking after the players' welfare."

Everton's situation makes for grim reading. Lampard has lost all five of his Premier League away games in charge of the club – he is the first manager to lose his first five away matches at a Premier League side since Jan Siewert at Huddersfield Town in 2019, who lost his first seven.

Southall, though, has put the onus on the players to step up after mistakes from Ben Godfrey and Jonjoe Kenny proved costly at Turf Moor.

"I wouldn't say any, to be fair," Southall said when asked how much responsibility fell on Lampard's shoulders.

"Whoever he puts out it's up to them to do the job. It's all about the players on the pitch. The players have to emulate the fans, passion, expression, desire and if they show them things I think we'll get results."

Everton face Manchester United at Goodison Park on Saturday.

England could be considered as "the biggest favourite" for the 2022 World Cup, according to former Three Lions manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Gareth Southgate's team reached the semi-finals at Russia 2018, matching England's best effort at a World Cup since they triumphed on home soil in 1966.

England then made their first major tournament final appearance since 1966 when they faced Italy in a Euro 2020 showdown last year, only to lose on penalties.

Eriksson managed England at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, reaching the quarter-finals of each tournament respectively, while also getting to the last eight at Euro 2004.

Beaten by Brazil in 2002, and Portugal at the following two tournaments, Eriksson was unable to guide England's 'golden generation' to success.

But the Swede believes Southgate's team have earned the right to be considered among the favourites – and, indeed, the frontrunner overall – to succeed in Qatar later this year.

Eriksson told Stats Perform: "I think they are one of the big teams who can win, and maybe they are the biggest favourite.

 

"I'm not sure how strong Brazil and Argentina are in this moment, but in Europe, Italy [are] not there. Spain, I don't think they are good enough to win it too. Germany, you never know they could do it. Belgium, always a good team."

Eriksson also believes England should easily progress from Group B, in which they have been drawn alongside Iran, the United States and one of Ukraine, Scotland or Wales.

"The group with England, Iran, United States and then it's Ukraine Scotland or Wales. I mean, it's always difficult in the World Cup, but I can't see them not winning that group," Eriksson added.

"That's impossible. They will win it easily. And then it depends always, who are you going to meet next stage, and then if you win there you go to the quarter-final.

"So, a little bit of luck there and no injuries, important players and so on and England can do it."

Ronald Koeman will return to his former role as head coach of the Netherlands national team after the 2022 World Cup.

The former Barcelona boss will take over from Louis van Gaal, who revealed recently on Dutch TV show Humberto he has undergone 25 rounds of radiation treatment for prostate cancer.

The 70-year-old has continued to work and did not tell his players of his condition when the Netherlands squad got together in March for friendlies against Denmark and Germany.

However, Van Gaal will remain in charge for the tournament in Qatar, which takes place between November 21 and December 18, with Koeman resuming the role he left in 2020 after that.

The news was confirmed by the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) on Wednesday.

"I am looking forward to the new collaboration," Koeman said. "A little over a year and a half ago, I certainly did not leave the Dutch national team out of dissatisfaction. 

"My stay felt good, the results were good and the connection with the players was good. We will soon continue on that path, that is certain to me."

Marianne van Leeuwen, director of professional football for the KNVB, said: "We are very happy that Ronald will return next year. During his previous term as national coach, there was great satisfaction with his work and the results.

"That is why, after internal deliberations, together with director of top-level football Nico-Jan Hoogma, I entered into discussions with Ronald and his agent Rob Jansen."

Koeman previously spent just over two years as national team coach between 2018 and 2020, guiding the Netherlands to the final of the 2018-19 Nations League, before leaving for Barca in August 2020.

The Netherlands will face hosts Qatar, Senegal and Ecuador in Group A at the World Cup following Friday's draw.

Russia has withdrawn its appeal against a ban for its teams from FIFA competitions after World Cup qualifying continued without its senior men's national team.

Russian teams were suspended from FIFA and UEFA competitions following the country's invasion of Ukraine.

The FIFA sanction meant Valeri Karpin's Russia could not compete in their scheduled World Cup play-off semi-final against Poland.

The Russian Football Union (RFU) asked for the ban to be delayed, with that match set for late March, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) rejected its request.

It meant Poland progressed to a final against Sweden, who had defeated the Czech Republic. Poland won to advance to Qatar 2022.

With that tie settled and Poland drawn into a World Cup group alongside Argentina, Mexico and Saudi Arabia, CAS announced on Tuesday the RFU had withdrawn its appeal last week.

Russia's challenges of various bans – including from UEFA – appear set to continue, however.

Wayne Rooney would be "delighted" if Harry Kane surpasses him as England's record goalscorer, but hopes it happens before the 2022 World Cup.

Kane matched Bobby Charlton on 49 goals for the Three Lions when he struck the winner against Switzerland on March 26.

However, Gareth Southgate chose to rotate his squad for last week's meeting with Ivory Coast at Wembley.

England cruised to a 3-0 win, with Kane coming on in the 62nd minute, though the Tottenham striker did not score.

Rooney was stunned the forward, who he labelled as "one of the best players the Premier League has seen", did not start against Ivory Coast, as he believes it would be better for England if Kane breaks the record prior to the World Cup, which starts in November.

"I'd be delighted for him," Rooney said on Sky Sports. "I was so surprised he didn't play against Ivory Coast.

"I think for him, for Gareth as well, he should try and get that record before the World Cup so it doesn't become a distraction, so I would have played him to try and get that record before the World Cup comes along, so there's no distraction on it."

The Derby County boss was also asked if Kane, who he also called a "genuine, nice, humble guy" will go on to surpass Alan Shearer as the Premier League's record goalscorer. The 28-year-old is currently 82 short of the haul of 260.

 

"I think he gets it, I think he beats Shearer. He's young enough to do that, if you look at his numbers, he'll have no problem," Rooney said.

Kane turned in a star performance in Spurs' thrashing of Newcastle United on Sunday. He provided one assist, but was involved heavily as Antonio Conte's team moved into the top four.

After a slow start to the season, Kane now has 12 league goals and six assists, and Rooney is thrilled to see how the forward has developed his game, in particular under Conte.

"When you get a bit older you lose that sharpness but I don't think it’s the case with Harry," Rooney added. 

"I think over the last couple of seasons, he has been dropping deeper, and I think this is the first time it looks like it's worked on. If you look every time the ball is played into him, Tottenham have got players sprinting and that allows him to use his quality. He can do both. He can play as a nine, a 10, he's an incredible player.

"I think Harry Kane of three, four years ago, all he's thinking about goals. Now he's thinking goals and assists.

"I've been there, I used to love assisting goals, so I know he wants to get the goalscoring record but I think he wants to get the assist record as well and he's capable of doing it.

"He's not old, he's a fairly young lad, I don't think his speed will have gone, I think he's done that on his own back but what Conte's done is he's gone in and worked on it. If you look at the reaction of the other players, they know he can deliver that pass. It's almost like [Francesco] Totti at Roma, he'd come deep and they'd have runners going beyond him.

"The one thing I think he needs to do a bit more is go and join in, once he's played the pass, because if it comes into the box he's the one player you want to be on the end of it."

Kane has assisted 40 goals in the Premier League; his first 20 assists were spread across his first 211 appearances in the competition, while his last 20 have come in his last 63 matches.

Ukraine midfielder Taras Stepanenko wants their World Cup qualifying play-off semi-final against Scotland to be postponed again.

Scotland and Ukraine were meant to meet last month, but FIFA delayed the match until June due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

As such, Wales – who beat Austria 2-1 in their play-off semi – are yet to find out which team they will face for a place at the Qatar World Cup in November.

Wales, Scotland and Ukraine all know which group they will be in should they progress, however, with the winner of the play-off path having been drawn alongside England, Iran and the United States in Group B.

But with no sign of the conflict in Ukraine ceasing, Stepanenko, who has played 69 times for his country, has called on FIFA to delay the match with Scotland again. 

The Shakhtar Donetsk man, who last played a match in December, told The Sunday Times: "We don't want to be known as victims here. We are strong and capable guys, everyone is fine, and we can play 100 per cent.

"But the question I would ask is how can we play such an important game when you haven't played a match for such a long time?

"Every football player knows that if you recover from an injury for a long time, no matter how much you work out in the gym and do running, you go out to play football and everything is different.

"The level and strength may not be enough with one match, but we will be asked to play two incredibly tough matches in maybe four days to get to the World Cup. If there is no option, then we must play.

"But I think it would be extremely difficult to achieve two positive results. We are hoping FIFA and UEFA recognise this and postpone the matches to give us more time to prepare."

Speaking after the World Cup draw was made in Doha on Friday, both England manager Gareth Southgate and USA coach Gregg Berhalter stressed they were not concerned by how long it might take for the final team in their group to be confirmed, given the extraordinary circumstances.

"When that tie is played out is irrelevant really," said Southgate, while Berhalter added: "We're patient on that and pulling for [Ukraine] 100 per cent."

Belgium boss Roberto Martinez has suggested out-of-favour striker Romelu Lukaku may have to leave Chelsea with the World Cup in Qatar on the horizon.

Chelsea forked out a club-record fee that was reported to be £97.5million (€115m) to take Lukaku back to Stamford Bridge from Inter last August.

Lukaku's second spell with Chelsea has not gone to plan so far, though, and the 28-year-old did not do himself any favours by telling Sky Sport Italia that he was unhappy with his situation with the European champions after losing his place in the side.

The former Everton and Manchester United frontman remains out of favour, having scored only 12 goals in 35 appearances this season under Thomas Tuchel.

Martinez hinted that the Red Devils' all-time leading scorer may have to seek pastures new if he is unable to force his way back into the Blues side, so he is firing on all cylinders in Qatar later this year.

"We are talking about players, like Romelu, who have got over 100 caps and are part of this group of players who know the national team inside out," the Spaniard told The Sun.

"I'm not going to judge or assess the condition of any player until after the summer because it is not a normal situation.

"It is still seven months to the World Cup and probably you will go into the details of how a player feels when it gets closer to it than now.

"But there will be a lot of players who change clubs or are going to feel in a different way in the summer.

"Romelu needs to be assessed on how he feels in September, the same way Eden Hazard does and some others.

"But he is one of the players for whom the summer could be a big moment for their careers."

Martinez, however, says Lukaku is ready to fight for his place in Tuchel's team.

He added: "We always speak. I have a very close relationship with all my players. I would never tell a player what to do but we always share thoughts.

"At the moment Romelu is in a good place. He is so committed.

"He was delighted to win the Club World Cup and the next step is to finish the season strong with Chelsea and make sure he can feel very important."

England boss Gareth Southgate has expressed his support for proposed changes to 2022 World Cup squads.

FIFA is expected to announce an increase in squad sizes for the tournament in Qatar, with 26-man squads instead of 23 – akin to those permitted at Euro 2020 – expected to be allowed.

Coaches of the qualified nations are also pushing for 15-man benches at the competition after Euro 2020 regulations forced Southgate and other bosses to leave three players out of their matchday squads.

England will begin their 16th World Cup campaign with a first-ever competitive meeting with Iran on November 21, before rounding off their group-stage campaign with games against the United States and one of Wales, Scotland, or Ukraine.

Southgate has now claimed that coaches were "unanimous" in their desire to allow every player in a squad to be in matchday contention in Qatar at a recent meeting, making his strong support for the proposal clear.

"I think what everyone is saying is that if the squads are going to be bigger, then it needs to be a situation where everybody is able to change on a matchday," Southgate said. 

"That was unanimous in the room [at the coaches' meeting]. Whether a bigger squad is necessary... originally that was for COVID-19, there's now people talking about the [impact of] condensed fixtures. 

"I still think it's a bigger skill to pick 23 and to work all that out, but that decision will be made and I suspect it will be 26. 

"But I think everybody has to be available for all the games."

Southgate also highlighted some difficulties of managing a squad at an international tournament, noting the "challenge" of keeping players involved as a reason why some coaches may not elect to take extra players.

"You either get the difficult conversations in the middle of November or in the next few weeks," Southgate added. "That's how it was last summer.

"When you are picking a team, when you've got 11 who are happy and 15 who are disappointed, that's more of a challenge. That's managing. 

"That's why you don't have to take 26, I know Luis Enrique didn't last year [Spain took 24 players to Euro 2020]. That's something we'll have to think about, depending on what the Covid situation is and what our injuries might be."

England are the only European team to have reached the semi-finals of the last two major international tournaments (the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020), and sealed their place in Qatar via a dominant qualification campaign in which they scored 39 goals and conceded just three.

The dust is settling following the 2022 World Cup draw, which has provided a number of subplots and talking points aplenty to discuss between now and the opening set of games on November 21.

France, placed in a group that contains Denmark, Tunisia and one of Peru or Australia, will look to avoid becoming the fifth defending champions in the past six tournaments to exit at the first hurdle.

Spain and Germany, the winners of two of the past three World Cups, face off in arguably the pick of the group games in what will be their fifth meeting in the competition and the first since La Roja's 2010 semi-final triumph.

There are some good omens for England, who are in action on the opening day of the tournament – the last time that was the case they went on to lift the trophy on home soil in 1966.

As the debate rumbles on as to which is the most interesting group this time around, and supporters of participating nations plot out their route to the latter stages, Stats Perform picks out a key stat for each team.

GROUP A – Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands

Qatar are competing in their first World Cup and will aim to avoid becoming only the second host nation to be knocked out in the first round after South Africa in 2010.

They will begin their campaign against Ecuador, who have not faced a nation from outside of the UEFA or CONCACAF regions in their previous 10 World Cup matches.

Senegal are participating in the event for a third time and are the third African Cup of Nations title holders to qualify this century after Cameroon in 2002 and Nigeria in 2014.

However, the heavyweights of the group are the Netherlands, who have won 11 of their last 14 World Cup matches when not factoring in penalty shoot-outs. Three times Oranje have reached the final; three times they have been beaten. They failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, of course.

GROUP B – England, Iran, United States, Scotland/Wales/Ukraine

England have progressed past the quarter-finals just once since 1966, although the most recent occasion came four years ago when losing in the semi-finals.

First up for England are Iran, who have scored nine goals in 15 World Cup matches – that goals-per-game average of 0.6 the lowest of any side to have played at least 10 times.

Back involved after missing Russia 2018, the United States will be looking to reach the knockout stages for a fourth time in their past five participations in a World Cup.

Should Wales reach the finals, the gap of 64 years between their only two finals appearances will set a record.

Scotland, who meet Ukraine in a play-off for the right to face Wales, have made more World Cup appearances (eight) without making it past the first round than any other nation.

 

GROUP C – Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland

One of three South American teams to have lifted the trophy, Argentina have made it past the first round in 12 of their past 13 appearances, the only exception being in 2002.

It would be an understatement to say that Saudi Arabia have had less success in the finals, having won only three of their previous 16 World Cup matches – albeit one of those coming against Egypt in the 2018 edition.

Mexico have reached every World Cup since missing out in 1990 and tend to do well in the group stage, having advanced to the last 16 in each of their last eight appearances.

Whereas Mexico have won five of their past six opening games, first opponents Poland have won just one of their previous eight curtain-raising fixtures and have lost the last three.

GROUP D – France, Peru/Australia/UAE, Denmark, Tunisia

France are out to become the third team, after Italy (in 1938) and Brazil (in 1962) to retain the trophy. However, the last three defending champions have fallen in the group stage.

Denmark boasted the best defensive record of any side in European qualifying and have made it out of the group stage in four of their five World Cup appearances.

That is in contrast to Tunisia, who have not made the knockout rounds in six previous attempts. The Eagles of Carthage have also not beaten a European side in 10 World Cup games (D3 L7).

Tunisia have lost 60 per cent of their World Cup games, the third-highest by a team to have played 15+ games behind Saudi Arabia (69 per cent) and possible Group D opponents Australia (63 per cent).

 

GROUP E – Spain, Costa Rica/New Zealand, Germany, Japan

Spain won the World Cup in 2010, but that is the only occasion they have reached the semi-finals in their last 13 participations. However, they have won the group in four of their last five appearances.

Germany, champions in 2014, were the first side to reach Qatar 2022 aside from the hosts, and have made it to the semi-finals in four of the five World Cups this century – the best record of any side.

After reaching the last 16 in 2018, competition regulars Japan will aim to book a place in the knockouts in back-to-back editions for the first time.

Completing arguably the toughest group is either Costa Rica or New Zealand, who meet in a play-off in June. Costa Rica have appeared at five previous World Cups, while the All Whites have made it to the finals twice before.

GROUP F – Belgium, Canada, Morocco, Croatia

Belgium have qualified for more World Cups without winning it than any other European team, with this their 14th appearance. With much of their 'golden generation' either 30 or close to it, however, this is realistically the final chance for that batch of players to cement their names in the history books, after a third-place finish in 2018.

Roberto Martinez's team might meet Spain or Germany in the last 16 but should have little trouble in getting out of their group.

Canada are competing in the global showpiece for the first time since 1986, when they lost all three matches and failed to score.

Morocco have won just one of their last 10 World Cup games, with that coming against Scotland in 1998, while their last knockout-round appearance was in 1986.

Beaten finalists in 2018, Croatia have had a mixed time of things in the finals, having been eliminated in the group stage (three times) or reached the semis (twice) in their past five appearances.

 

GROUP G – Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Cameroon

Brazil are the competition's most successful side with five trophies and are unbeaten in their last 15 World Cup group games, winning 12 of those. Their last such defeat was against Norway in 1998.

The next side with a chance to end that long run are Serbia, who have lost seven of their last nine World Cup matches, which is the most of any European nation since 2006. They also met Brazil in the 2018 group stage.

Another team to have been drawn with Brazil and, indeed, Serbia in Russia was Switzerland. History has repeated itself this time around. The Swiss finished above Italy in qualifying to make it to their fifth successive finals. Including the European Championships, they have reached the knockout stages in their last four major tournaments, a record only Belgium and France can match.

Cameroon make up Group G. They have played more matches at the World Cup than any other African nation (23), but they have lost the last seven of those – only Mexico (nine) have ever lost more in a row.

GROUP H – Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay, South Korea

Heavyweights they may be, but Portugal have won only three of their last 14 World Cup matches, each of those in the group stage. Their last knockout-round win was in the last 16 against the Netherlands in 2006. 

All being well, Cristiano Ronaldo will be featuring in a record-equalling fifth World Cup. It will almost certainly be his last, though.

Ghana's quarter-final appearance in 2010 remains the joint-best finish for an African side, alongside Senegal in 2002 and Cameroon in 1990, and they have scored in their last five World Cup games.

Uruguay controversially eliminated Ghana in the quarter-finals 12 years ago but the Black Stars have a chance for revenge here in the final round of fixtures.

First up for Uruguay, meanwhile, are South Korea, but the South American side have won their opening match at just one of their last seven World Cups.

That is good news for Son Heung-min and Co. as South Korea look to win successive finals matches for just the second time ever, having knocked out Germany four years ago.

John Herdman insists his Canada side will have "no fear" when going up against powerhouses Belgium and Croatia at the 2022 World Cup.

Canada last appeared at the World Cup in 1986, where they lost all three games without scoring a single goal.

However, Canada have been rejuvenated by talented youngsters such as Bayern Munich's Alphonso Davies and Lille forward Jonathan David.

Under Herdman's tutelage, Canada finished top of the CONCACAF standings.

Regardless of Canada's quality, though, it will be tough sledding against nations with such storied histories.

Belgium hold the crown for most successful World Cup qualifications without winning the tournament out of any European side, making their 14th appearance, while Croatia made the final in 2018, going down 4-2 to France.

Speaking after finding out Canada's draw, Herdman insisted his side would find the line between having no fear, without being naive.

"We wanted those type of games," said Herdman, who will become the first coach to take charge of a team at both the men's and women's World Cups.

"You go into a World Cup, there are no easy matches and I think any team can beat any team on a given day. That's just tournament football.

"We'll be at our best when we rely on our grit and spirit, and then to bring that 'no fear' [mentality].

"For us, there will be a 'no fear' mentality – not naive, but no fear coming into this. Just see the opportunity to pioneer for this country and get after scoring that first goal for Canada at a World Cup."

Herdman also preached what a valuable chance it will be for some of his players to shine on the biggest stage.

"The opportunity that exists in these types of games, against the best players in the world," he said.

"Players like Alistair Johnston, Kamal Miller, and Jonathan Osorio, Canadian boys get the chance to match themselves [against them], but also tell a story in those games.

"Belgium, we know their quality [with] players like [Kevin] De Bruyne and [Romelu] Lukaku and what they've done on the international stage. And then the Croatians, who four years ago were [World Cup] finalists.

"I mean, this is what we want – we want that underdog story."

When analysing the group, Belgium coach Roberto Martinez called Canada "the hidden surprise".

"It's a group that is very interesting, and you have to go into detail to see the nations we will be facing are completely different," he said.

"Morocco for us, we have a real attachment from a football point of view, players that could play for both nationalities, have strong feelings, and then Canada is the hidden surprise. 

"A strong team that hasn’t been in a major tournament for 36 years, so there is that unknown quality, but they're very dangerous. 

"It's a celebration, they will arrive here full of energy, full of belief, full of commitment and you have to find a way to challenge that like we did against Panama in 2018.

"Then you have Croatia, who finished second in 2018, and have probably got players playing in the most demanding teams around Europe, playing at the highest level at a real consistency.  So the group is as versatile as you can find."

Luis Enrique is optimistic that Spain will win this year's World Cup, despite being drawn in a tough group that contains fellow heavyweights Germany.

Top seeds Spain were placed in Group E in Friday's ceremony in Doha along with Germany, Japan and either Costa Rica or New Zealand, who meet in a play-off in June.

Spain and Germany, who lifted the famous trophy in 2010 and 2014 respectively, will face off in the competition for a fifth time.

La Roja have failed to beat Germany in their previous three group encounters, but they won their most recent World Cup meeting in the 2010 semi-finals.

They have met just twice since then in competitive games, with Spain hammering Die Mannschaft 6-0 in the Nations League in 2020 after a 1-1 draw in the same competition.

Germany have replaced Joachim Low with Hansi Flick since then, however, and are unbeaten in nine games under their new boss, winning eight of those.

The inclusion of a Japan side that reached the last 16 in 2018 and one of the play-off winners makes for a tough group, but Luis Enrique is in a bullish mood.

"It's going to be nice. It's a great group with a great rival, one that we'll enjoy. You don't play at World Cups often," he told reporters.

"My body has stayed as it was before the draw, the same. Regardless of who we got, being in the tournament is already a prize.

"Being seeded means what has been done in recent years counts. We know about Germany but not so much the rest, though we have time to analyse them.

"Competing against us is very complicated and it will be difficult to beat us. Anyone can beat us and we can beat any team.

"It is time to enjoy and be optimistic. We are Spain, seventh in the world ranking and we are going to conquer the world."

 

Spain's huge showdown with Germany will take place on November 27, their second group game.

Should Spain advance, as expected, they will meet either Belgium, Croatia, Canada or Morocco from Group F in the first knockout round.

Fernando Hierro, who took charge of Spain for their disappointing 2018 campaign when exiting to Russia in the last 16, believes facing Germany will give La Roja a chance to lay down an early marker.

"People give a lot of importance to the draw, but if you want to be world champion, you have to beat them all," Hierro said. "World Cups are won, not lost. 

"It is true that everyone pays a lot of attention to the draw for the first group phase. 

"But the most important thing is that in the end, if you want to be world champion, you have to beat everyone.

"Therefore, sooner or later the best teams will arrive, and the World Cup will be decided there."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.