Furious Nigeria supporters stormed the pitch at the National Stadium in Lagos after rivals Ghana sealed a World Cup spot at the expense of the Super Eagles.

Arsenal's Thomas Partey opened the scoring in the 10th minute for Ghana, before William Troost-Ekong levelled from the penalty spot for the hosts midway through the first half.

Nigeria could not find a crucial second goal, however, with Otto Addo's Ghana side holding on for the 1-1 draw, to progress to Qatar 2022 via away goals after a 0-0 draw in the first leg.

The result sparked ugly scenes inside the stadium, with videos on social media showing supporters leaving their seats and smashing equipment at the side of the pitch.

There was heartbreak for Mohamed Salah and Egypt after they suffered another dramatic penalty shoot-out defeat to Senegal.

Hosts Senegan recovered from a 1-0 first-leg deficit to beat Egypt by the same margin at the Abdoulaye Wade Stadium, before Salah, with dozens of laser pens seemingly pointing at his face, fired Egypt's first penalty of the shoot-out over the bar.

Mostafa Mohamed later failed with the visitors' fourth kick, allowing Salah’s Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mane to slam his penalty past Mohamed El Shenawy and seal Senegal's progress, in a repeat of February's Africa Cup of Nations final triumph.

"We try our best but today was not enough," he wrote. "To all my players and my staff, [I give] my recognition and humble thank you.

"You will be always in my heart. It was my privilege to work and be helped by such dedicated and capable professionals and wonderful friends."

There was stunning late drama in Bilda as Karl Toko Ekambi scored late in extra time to seal a 2-1 win for visitors Cameroon against Algeria, the Indomitable Lions progressing to Qatar via away goals after a 2-2 aggregate draw.

Algeria thought they had sealed a place at the World Cup when Ahmed Touba cancelled out Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting's opener with two minutes remaining in extra time, but there was just enough time left for Ekambi to seal the most dramatic of victories.

Morocco also booked their place in Friday's World Cup draw with an emphatic 4-1 win over Democratic Republic of Congo. A brace from Azzedine Ounahi, as well as goals from Tarik Tissoudali and Achraf Hakimi, sealed a 5-2 aggregate win over DR Congo, who scored a late consolation through Ben Malango.

Meanwhile, a 0-0 draw for Tunisia against Mali was enough to see the former seal their own place in Qatar after they managed a 1-0 win in the first leg.

Robert Lewandowski's successful penalty was "one of the heaviest" of his life as he helped Poland book their place in the World Cup finals.

The skipper was on target as the Poles beat Sweden 2-0 in the playoff final to seal their spot in Qatar.

Lewandowski broke the deadlock four minutes into the second half in Chorzow after Jesper Karlstrom fouled Grzegorz Krychowiak in the box.

Piotr Zielinski sealed the deal when he slotted past Robin Olsen 18 minutes from time to secure the Eagles' ninth appearance in the finals.

Lewandowski led the wild post-match celebrations at the Silesian Stadium, but the Bayern Munich forward admitted he felt the pressure when he stepped up for the decisive spot-kick.

He told TVP Sport: "It was a special match; we knew what we were playing for. It is known that this situation around was an additional burden, but in our stadium, it was easier. 

"After the goal, it was clear that the Swedes had a desire. We played well defensively. There is potential to create even more situations, but let's appreciate this qualification and mentally prepare for the World Cup.

"It was one of the heaviest penalties of my life. I was aware of the pressure. I wanted to focus on the execution, but I knew what the game was about. 

"There was great euphoria after the penalty, because I knew it would be a key step [towards qualification]. Then, [Zielinski] scored a goal, and it worked out."

Luis Enrique believes Spain have what it takes to win the 2022 World Cup, but adds his side will still have to contend with luck after a 5-0 rout against Iceland.

Braces for Alvaro Morata and Pablo Sarabia, plus Yeremi Pino's first goal for his country, helped La Roja to a runaway victory against their visitors at the Riazor.

After struggling to break through a stubborn Albania on Saturday, Tuesday's performance fell more in line with the high-energy performances of Euro 2020 last summer.

With a semi-final finish at their last major tournament as incentive, Luis Enrique certainly feels he has the players to help him go one step further and claim victory in Qatar later this year.

"We are capable of fighting anyone," he stated. "We are going to be competitive, for sure.

"The luck factor is important, as we saw in South Africa, and we hope to control everything that does not depend on that luck factor."

With several names pressing for inclusion, Luis Enrique further admitted whittling his squad down from the roster of players in contention for a place will be just as tough a task in itself too.

"It's going to be tough," he added. "26 [players]? Only 11 play. What I can say is that this team is going to compete with anyone and put anyone in trouble.

"But make no mistake, anyone can beat us. The atmosphere that lives in this team is very special. The base you know what it is.

"We will assess when the time comes. What matters is the mentality of adding. My parameters are not going to change."

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."

Gareth Southgate described the reaction of some England supporters towards Harry Maguire as "an absolute joke" after the defender was booed before kick-off on Tuesday.

Manchester United captain Maguire started the Three Lions' victory against the Ivory Coast, as goals for Ollie Watkins, Raheem Sterling and Tyrone Mings secured a 3-0 success at Wembley.

The centre-back has been a key performer for Southgate since breaking through into the senior set-up, and he was named to the UEFA Team of the Tournament for his performances at Euro 2020.

Yet since scoring in England's penalty shoot-out loss to Italy in last year's final, Maguire has struggled for form at club level, and has often found himself a scapegoat for United's on-field issues.

Those frustrations translated themselves into audible jeers from sections of the home support on Tuesday, leaving Southgate to launch a passionate defence of his player at the full-time whistle.

"I thought the reception was a joke, an absolute joke," manager Southgate said. "The way he has performed for us has been absolutely phenomenal.

"I don't get it. We're either all in this together or we're not. He's in an England shirt and [...] you support a player in an England shirt regardless.

"When you've played at the level he has for us and put the performances in he has, it should be total commitment behind him. I don't get it at all.

"His performance was pretty faultless really. He stepped out from the back really well for his first goal, was involved in the second one too.

"The team are totally united. We recognise everyone has difficult moments, but he's a top player and he will come through it.

"They are real England fans and some are influenced by whatever – social media or players that played previously who are influencing opinion.

"The club situation is obviously very difficult, but he's in an England shirt. I remember decades ago a few players being booed in an England shirt, and it's never been acceptable to me. Fans should always get behind their team."

 

Jack Grealish also came to Maguire's defence, with the Manchester City attacking midfielder hailing the defender's creative prowess as crucial to the Three Lions' success against Ivory Coast.

"Personally I think it's ridiculous," Grealish said. "Harry's been unbelievable for this country. Our first two goals have come from him.

"Not every centre-back can have those qualities. It was ridiculous for him to get booed, and it wasn't something the team liked one bit."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is keen to keep his international career alive despite Sweden missing out on qualification for the 2022 World Cup. 

Sweden went down 2-0 to Poland in their qualifying play-off final, with Robert Lewandowski converting a penalty after Jesper Karlstrom's foul on Grzegorz Krychowiak and Piotr Zielinski's cool finish completing the success in Chorzow. 

Ibrahimovic retired from international duty after Euro 2016 but returned to the fold last year to help in Sweden's quest to reach Qatar. 

The 40-year-old is his country's all-time leading scorer with 62 goals to his name but he has failed to find the net in five appearances since making his comeback.

He was only a late substitute in the defeat against Poland yet has no intention of stepping away from the international set-up again. 

"I hope so. As long as I can stay healthy and play and contribute something," Ibrahimovic told C More said when asked if he would continue playing for Sweden.

Pushed to confirm he did not view the defeat to Poland as his last match, he replied: "There is no answer now. 

"Everyone is disappointed. It's depressing, but it's normal when you lose. Everyone wants to play [at] the World Cup and experience a World Cup, but unfortunately that won't happen." 

 

Sweden boss Janne Andersson believes a fit Ibrahimovic will continue to be of use.

"If it's the case that Zlatan wants to be involved and he's completely healthy – because he has to be, he has to play because otherwise it will be difficult – then he definitely has something to add still," said Andersson. 

Injuries have limited Ibrahimovic to just 918 minutes of game time in Serie A for Milan this season, with the striker scoring eight times.

Jack Grealish believes it is a "brilliant time" to be in his shoes, as the England star focuses on improving his attacking output to impress Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.

Grealish produced a lively display as England beat Ivory Coast 3-0 in Tuesday's international friendly, with the attacking midfielder playing a leading role in a largely inexperienced starting XI.

The former Aston Villa man set up his City team-mate Raheem Sterling for England's second goal, with what was one of three key passes – only James Ward-Prowse supplied more.

While his performances for City since his massive £100million move from Villa last year have been far from alarming, Grealish's productivity in terms of goals and assists is lacking.

Eight City players have managed more goal involvements than Grealish (who has seven) across all competitions, and while Guardiola has indicated he is not worried, the 26-year-old playmaker is eager to see his end product improve.

 

"I'm just happy to get goals and assists," Grealish told Sky Sports after teeing up Sterling for England.

"They have been difficult to come by at Manchester City, but with England I have got quite a few. I want to continue playing well because I'm really enjoying it.

"Of course, I've spoken to Pep Guardiola. He's shown me every other stat in the world that you would be happy with, apart from goals and assists.

"He's the only person I need to impress, but if you're a forward you want to get goals and assists, so hopefully in the business end of the season I can get them."

He did not seem overly concerned in general, however, clearly recognising he is in a good place.

"It's a brilliant time to be in my shoes," Grealish said. "We're in so many competitions still and then at the end of the year we have the World Cup. I need to keep impressing the manager to get into that squad."

Tuesday's match was effectively ended as a spectacle in the 40th minute when Serge Aurier was shown a second yellow card for dissent, reducing an Ivory Coast side that was already struggling to hurt England to 10 men.

Curiously, even Grealish was protesting in favour of his opponent at the time.

"I wanted [Aurier] to stay on because it's a friendly and you get more from playing against 11," Grealish explained.

"I think it would have been more of a challenge for us. I said to the referee: 'Come on!'"

England are next in action at the start of June when they start their Nations League campaign against Hungary – but first, they turn their attention to Friday's World Cup draw, which will reveal who they are to face in the group stage of Qatar 2022.

Alvaro Morata feels the future is bright for Spain thanks to their young talents, after the forward bagged a history-making brace in Tuesday's 5-0 win over Iceland.

The Juventus forward netted a first-half double to set up a Roja rout at the Riazor, while goals from Yeremi Pino and Pablo Sarabia completed the victory after the interval.

In doing so, Morata has become only the eighth player in Spain history to hit 25 goals for the men's national team, while Pino has become their second-youngest scorer for a decade-and-a-half.

But speaking afterwards, the former was happy to deflect attention away from his own feats, to lavish praise on his young team-mates and what they could offer going forward.

"There are many young players [among the squad] to look forward to the future with optimism for," he stated.

"It doesn't matter who scores the goals. I'm very happy for mine, but I'm very happy for those of Sarabia and Yeremi too."

Villarreal winger Pino, one of Spain's rising generation who hope to be in the frame for the World Cup later this year, bagged on his first senior start for La Roja.

The teenager admitted he has taken strength from manager Luis Enrique's faith in him, and says the team already have an eye on how far they can go in Qatar.

"I'm very happy, the coach has given me enough confidence," he added.

"The desire is there, we don't take any game as a friendly. From Albania, we are already thinking about Qatar."

Sadio Mane fired Senegal to the World Cup as Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah suffered penalty shoot-out agony with Egypt after being targeted with lasers by fans.

Senegal recovered from a 1-0 first-leg deficit to land victory by the same margin at the Abdoulaye Wade Stadium on Tuesday.

That meant the play-off, tied at 1-1 after 120 minutes of the second leg, went down to a battle of spot-kicks to decide who would go to Qatar 2022, and Salah missed Egypt's first penalty when he fired over the bar.

Lasers flashed across the pitch and were directed at Egypt's star man, who could not find the focus to convert from 12 yards.

The first four penalties were missed, with Salah's the second of those, before both sides netted their third kicks.

Egypt's Mostafa Mohamed failed with the visitors' fourth penalty, seeing his shot blocked, and that allowed Mane to step up and crack a fierce spot-kick past Mohamed El Shenawy, booking a place in Friday's draw.

Robert Lewandowski and Piotr Zielinski sent Poland to a 2-0 play-off victory over Sweden, sealing World Cup qualification.

Bayern Munich star Lewandowski beat Robin Olsen from the penalty spot before Zielinksi produced a composed finish to secure the hosts' spot in Qatar as Zlatan Ibrahimovic's hopes of appearing at what would surely have been a final World Cup were dashed.

Sweden offered promise in the first half. Emil Forsberg placed an early shot too close to Wojciech Szczesny and Jan Bednarek blocked Dejan Kulusevski's effort.

Poland managed only one attempt on target during a tame first-half performance but needed just four minutes to hit the front after the break, Lewandowski rolling home from 12 yards after Jesper Karlstrom clumsily felled Grzegorz Krychowiak.

Szczesny made a stunning close-range save to again deny Forsberg, but Zielinski wrapped up the win when he robbed Marcus Danielson and slotted in after 72 minutes, sparking wild scenes of celebration in Chorzow.

Ibrahimovic came on with 11 minutes remaining but only had three touches as Sweden missed out on a World Cup for the third time out of the last four tournaments.

Raheem Sterling played a starring role with the captain's armband as England cruised to a 3-0 friendly win over Ivory Coast, who had Serge Aurier sent off in the first half.

Gareth Southgate made 10 changes from the team that beat Switzerland 2-1 on Saturday, though at no point did that look an issue for the Three Lions, whose record unbeaten run was extended to 22 matches – excluding penalty shoot-outs.

Sterling was at the centre of much that was good about England in the first half, teeing up Ollie Watkins for the opener and then providing a finish just before the interval having seen Aurier dismissed moments earlier.

An England penalty was then overturned early in the second half, and the Three Lions looked like settling for a two-goal win during a disjointed second 45 minutes until Tyrone Mings headed a last-gasp third.

England were dominant right from the start and almost went ahead in the 15th minute, but Jude Bellingham's close-range effort was nudged onto the post by Badra Ali Sangare.

The visitors' goalkeeper was helpless a quarter of an hour later, though, as Sterling beat Aurier and squared across the six-yard box for Watkins to tap in.

Ivory Coast's chances of a turnaround were further damaged when Aurier was shown a second yellow card for dissent in the 40th minute, and soon after it was 2-0 thanks to Sterling's close-range finish from Jack Grealish's cut-back.

The VAR spared Ivory Coast a penalty concession early in the second half after Fousseny Coulibaly was initially penalised for a clean tackle on Bellingham.

Just when the game appeared to be petering out, Mings saw his header from a corner crash into the ground and bounce up to find the top-right corner in stoppage time.
 

What does it mean? Fringe players get a chance to impress

In truth, this ended up being little more than a training session that just happened to be attended by fans and televised, especially after Aurier's dismissal.

Nick Pope in the England goal will not have had many (any?) easier matches in his entire career, but further forward there were certainly a few players who grasped their opportunity with both hands.

Bellingham was particularly good, while Watkins got himself on the scoresheet and Emile Smith Rowe looked tidy after coming on in the second half.

Sterling shimmers

This was an excellent hour or so from the Manchester City star. Pep Guardiola probably grimaced when the forward was on the end of a heavy early tackle, but from then on he was a real threat, having a hand in the first two goals – it was the first time he had scored and assisted in an England game since October 2019.

Aurier surprises no one

There was a degree of mystery around Aurier's second yellow card for a moment, though it soon emerged he was punished for dissent. It was needless, as was his tough tackle on Grealish for his first yellow. But if anyone was a prime candidate for a first-half red card, Aurier was always going to be the man.

What's next?

England begin their Nations League campaign away to Hungary on June 4, but before that they will turn their attentions to Friday's World Cup draw.

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.

Angel Di Maria should continue playing in Europe for another one or two seasons despite his uncertain future with Paris Saint-Germain.

That is the view of Di Maria's father Miguel as the winger reviews his career options.

Di Maria is expected to leave PSG when his contract expires at the end of the season.

The former Real Madrid and Manchester United player has only started four times in Ligue 1 since the start of 2022 and his importance to the team appears to be diminishing.

Di Maria has three goals and three assists from 20 league appearances this season, but his father Miguel believes he still has more to do in Europe and should remain there with the World Cup approaching.

"I would like him to play one or two more years in Europe and then come back [to Argentina]," Miguel said to Radio La Red. 

"He is just 34 years old and he still has a career [at the highest level]. 

"He takes great care of himself, so he has to continue playing [in Europe]." 

Di Maria has had a successful seven seasons with PSG since arriving from Old Trafford in 2015 after a disappointing campaign in the Premier League.

He is closing in on a fifth Ligue 1 title with Mauricio Pochettino's men, but is now deciding on his next move as he nears the end of the one-year contract extension he signed in 2021.

Di Maria has also been pondering his future at international level.

The veteran said after scoring once and creating another goal in the 3-0 World Cup qualifying win over Venezuela at La Bombonera on Friday that he had likely played for Argentina on home soil for the last time.

He thanked supporters and confirmed he would consider retiring from Argentina duty after the World Cup in Qatar at the end of this year.

"We talked later [that night] – I was very happy and he was very proud," added Miguel.

"It's on his mind and it all depends on him.

"I wish he could continue but from what he said that was his last game in Argentina and then it's Qatar and it's over, he's not going to play for Argentina anymore." 

Miguel added that when the time comes to return home, Di Maria still plans to do so with boyhood club Rosario Central.

"His idea is to come to Central for what remains in his career and finish the race – that's it for now," he said.

"He has already said retiring with Central [is his goal]. Hopefully he can achieve it. That is what he is lacking so far because he left here very young and could not enjoy anything."

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."

Raphael Varane will feel "great pride" in captaining France when they face South Africa on Tuesday in Les Bleus' final game of the March international break.

The Manchester United defender has been handed the armband for the friendly clash at Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille, the 28-year-old's hometown, with regular skipper Hugo Lloris sitting the game out.

Didier Deschamps' side are looking to continue their preparations for the Qatar 2022 World Cup at the end of the year, as they eye a successful defence of their 2018 crown.

With regular captain Lloris set to be benched in favour of Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan, Varane said it would be an honour to lead out his country in his home city.

"It is a great pride," he said. "I grew up not far from here. I was born in Lille, I grew up between Lille and Lens. 

"Of course, it's a bit special."

Varane also commented upon the selection of Maignan, who has kept 11 Serie A clean sheets in an impressive debut campaign with the Rossoneri, praising the 26-year-old's leadership and character.

"He brings great explosiveness," Varane said of Maignan. "He has a great kicking game, he brings his character, he is a leader at heart.

"He keeps progressing and continues to evolve. He has a lot of talent."

The former Real Madrid defender spoke in glowing terms about Clauss' qualities, saying that his inclusion in the squad brought "a lot of joy".

"He brings a lot of freshness," Varane added. "I did my best to welcome him, to put him at ease.

"He is living an exceptional moment, and it brings a lot of joy.

"If he is there [in the France squad], he has the qualities. The desire is there, [and] he has some very interesting qualities."

Deschamps' side will be looking to maintain their excellent attacking form when they host South Africa, having scored in each of their last 19 games, the longest such run in the history of the national team.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.