Italy or Portugal will miss out on the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after the two most recent European champions were drawn in the same play-off path.

Roberto Mancini led Italy to a Euro 2020 triumph earlier this year, yet the Azzurri failed to qualify automatically for next year's World Cup, with Switzerland progressing instead.

Portugal, Euro 2016 winners, also fell short, finishing three points behind Serbia in Group A.

And now one of the heavyweights will fail to appear in Qatar, with both teams drawn together in Path C of the play-offs, which will take place in March.

Italy were drawn in a semi-final against minnows North Macedonia, who are aiming to make their first appearance at a World Cup, while Portugal will face Turkey.

Should they progress, Portugal will have home advantage in the Path C final to determine which team progresses to Qatar. While Cristiano Ronaldo could well be fighting to play in his final World Cup, the Azzurri will be aiming to avoid missing out on the tournament for a second successive time.

Path A threw up the possibility of Wales going up against Scotland for a place in the finals, should they overcome Austria and Ukraine, who went unbeaten in a qualifying group that also included reigning world champions France, respectively.

In Path B, Russia will host Poland and Sweden will play the Czech Republic. 

The winner of Russia v Poland will host the Path B final.

Play-offs draw in full

Path A

SF1 – Scotland v Ukraine

SF2 – Wales v Austria

F1 – Winner SF2 v Winner SF1

Path B

SF3 – Russia v Poland

SF4 – Sweden v Czech Republic

F2 – Winner SF3 v Winner SF4

Path C

SF5 – Italy v North Macedonia

SF6 – Portugal v Turkey

F3 – Winner SF6 v Winner SF5

Switzerland kept their word and thanked Northern Ireland for helping them to reach the World Cup – by sending the team chocolate.

In one of the sweeter football stories of the week, Switzerland posted a video to social media on Wednesday showing head coach Murat Yakin boxing up some confectionery treats to send to Belfast.

It was their way of showing their gratitude for Northern Ireland's goalless draw with Italy in the final round of European World Cup qualifying group games, a result that, combined with Switzerland's 4-0 win over Bulgaria, saw Yakin's men seal their place at Qatar 2022.

Ian Baraclough's side are to receive 9.3 kilograms of Swiss chocolate in recognition of preventing the European champions from scoring for 93 minutes.

Switzerland had previously promised a gift after initially paying tribute in their post-match celebrations at the team hotel in Lucerne, where they sung Sweet Caroline, the 1969 Neil Diamond hit that has become a staple song at Northern Ireland matches.

The Euro 2020 quarter-finalists drew 1-1 with Italy in their penultimate qualifier, in which Jorginho missed a 90th-minute penalty for the Azzurri. That result ensured they were able to finish two points clear at the top of Group C after the final round of games.

Italy, meanwhile, must now contend the play-offs alongside teams including Portugal, Sweden, Wales and Russia. The draw for the semi-finals takes place on Friday.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic acknowledged his shoulder charge on Cesar Azpilicueta was stupid but insisted he would "100 per cent" do it again. 

In the closing stages of Sweden's 1-0 defeat to Spain this month, which meant they would have to go through the play-offs to reach the 2022 World Cup, Ibrahimovic steamed into Azpilicueta and sent him flying to the ground. 

The veteran striker was shown a yellow card that has ruled him out of Sweden's play-off semi-final in March. 

But Ibrahimovic felt it was important for him to stand up for a team-mate and teach the Chelsea defender a lesson. It is not a decision he would change if he had his time again. 

"The other day in the national team, I gave a tackle to [Azpilicueta]. I did it on purpose. I'm not ashamed to say it because he did something stupid to my player. Acting big to my player," Ibrahimovic told The Guardian. 

"It was a stupid thing but I would still do it to make him understand: 'You don’t f****** do that. You don't have balls to do it against me. But I will show you what happens if you do it to me.' That’s why I did it. 

"It's not about missing the play-offs. It's about making the guy understand you don't take the p*** out of somebody laying [on the ground]. You don't attack a dog that doesn't talk. Attack the one able to do something. It's too easy to pick on my team-mates who are 20 years old and very nice guys. I hope he understands now. 

"I'm not afraid to say it to you. I did a stupid thing. [But] I will do it again. 100 per cent. 

"That is what I say about being 'perfect'. Being myself is perfect for me. I don't need filters to ask them what kind of questions you will give me." 

Asked if Azpilicueta had said anything to him after the game, Ibrahimovic replied: "What can he say? He will not say it to me but he will say it to my player – who will do nothing because he's too nice. 

"It was not a good thing by me, but I would still do it. That's me. I'm not ashamed to say it." 

Gareth Southgate says it would have been "very difficult to live with" walking away from the England job with a potentially "very exciting" few years ahead.

England manager Southgate and his assistant Steve Holland on Monday signed new contracts until December 2024.

The former Three Lions defender will lead his country in the World Cup next year and attempt to go one better by winning the next European Championship in three years' time.

Southgate led England to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup in Russia and they were beaten by Italy in the final of the rescheduled Euro 2020 at Wembley in June.

The 51-year-old feels he has unfinished business after coming so close to winning a first major tournament since 1966.

He said in a media conference: "The reality is we had already agreed [to stay]. Although we didn't feel it right to announce things before we qualified for the World Cup we knew what we wanted to do.

"In football, when you have a team who are a good team and you've done a lot of the work culturally, where they are at a point where they can challenge, you want to have a go.

"We still believe that's possible [to win a trophy]. It's an aim we should have as a team. To step away at a moment when the next few years could be very exciting, I think that could have been very difficult to live with.

"If this contract is the last I think I would still only be 53 by the end of it and I'd like to think I have a long life to live after that."

 

He added: "There was never a consideration that I wouldn't go to Qatar. What I wanted to be sure of was that I was wholly committed beyond that.

"It is something I feel deserved time. The way it ended for us [in Euro 2020] took a lot of emotion and energy. We were so quickly into World Cup qualifying, I wanted to allow that time for consideration."

Southgate feels England have learned from the heartbreak of falling short in the past two major tournaments.

"I think the players are at a point now where they're getting lots of big match experience, we've had a couple of near misses which, while painful, are games we've learned so much from," he said.

"We have to be at the latter stages consistently. It's the process of winning for any team, we're starting to get to those latter stages consistently and we must continue to do that.

"The response from the fans and the nation has been incredibly fulfilling. There was a period I heard people saying they didn't care about international football but I think that was a case of being hurt.

"It's been unbelievably rewarding [uniting the fans]. The players care about playing for England, there are moments when they break, when they're under huge pressure, but we've been able to refresh the team and bring new players in and whoever we have selected has performed at a really consistent level."

Gareth Southgate has signed a new contract with England until after Euro 2024, at which point he will have been in charge for almost eight years.

While it remains to be seen what state the Three Lions are in at that point, it is fair to say their current trajectory suggests a positive outcome.

Shortly after finding himself moved into the top job back in 2016, Southgate surmised he had inherited "a mess" – yet, in the following five years England have come within touching distance of ending that long wait for silverware.

The drought has not been ended, and so Southgate's job is far from finished, but he has got at least another two opportunities.

And on the evidence of the progress he has made, there is much reason for hope.

September 2016

Sam Allardyce's reign as England manager lasted just 67 days, with the Three Lions playing one match in that period before he resigned in disgrace after being covertly filmed by a British newspaper while making a slew of controversial statements, which included talk of breaching FA rules.

Southgate, in charge of the Under-21s at the time, stepped into the breach in late September to assume a temporary role, leading England to a 2-0 win over Malta in his first game.

November 2016

England's form during Southgate's 'caretaking' was decent, if not spectacular, but the FA clearly saw enough promise in how he conducted himself and dealt with the players. He was appointed on a full-time basis on November 30.

In a real show of faith, Southgate was handed a four-year contract – and to be fair to all parties, there has arguably been nothing but progress since.

December 2017

The Three Lions qualified for the 2018 World Cup in convincing fashion, dropping just four points in their 10 matches as they finished eight points clear of second-placed Slovakia.

Southgate then received a massive vote of confidence in December when, shortly after being drawn alongside Belgium, Tunisia and Panama in Russia, then-FA chief executive Martin Glenn insisted the former Middlesbrough man would remain in charge regardless of how England fared at the World Cup.

July 2018

Although England finished behind Belgium, they cruised through their World Cup group. Colombia pushed them all the way in a gruelling, physical last-16 tie, but the Three Lions progressed via their first ever penalty shoot-out victory at the tournament.

They then saw off Sweden in the quarter-finals as Southgate became the first England manager since Bobby Robson in 1990 to reach a World Cup semi-final.

Hopes of ending a long wait for success that stretched back to 1966 were ended by Croatia, but at least Southgate had England fans dreaming again.

June 2019

The inaugural Nations League presented another opportunity for England to claim only a second ever international title at senior level – they finished top of their group and qualified for the Finals in Portugal.

A 3-1 defeat to the Netherlands ended their run, though their penalty shoot-out win over Switzerland at least secured them their first third-placed finish in a tournament since Euro 1968.

November 2019

Euro 2020 qualification was confirmed with an emphatic 7-0 win over Montenegro in England's 1,000th match, and optimism was swirling all around the Three Lions ahead of a tournament that presented the opportunity of potentially playing most of their matches at Wembley.

2020 was all set to be a big year for Southgate and England…

September-November 2020

Well, that did not quite work out... The coronavirus pandemic put Euro 2020 on hold for 12 months, meaning England were not in action again until September in the second edition of the Nations League.

This time, progression to the finals did not materialise as defeats to Denmark and Belgium proved costly.

June-July 2021

Euro 2020 finally arrived… in 2021… but it was still called Euro 2020. Semantics aside, there was much to cheer about for England as they reached a first major international final since 1966.

That run was built on the foundation of a solid defence that let in just one goal en route to the final – in fact, Jordan Pickford became the first goalkeeper in European Championship history to keep five clean sheets across the first five matches.

England's home comforts at Wembley almost certainly played a part, though ultimately Italy prevailed in a penalty shoot-out in the final following a 1-1 draw after extra time. Nevertheless, it was another positive step for Southgate's Three Lions.

November 2021

During the Euros, Southgate received another vote of confidence from FA higher-ups that he was going to have his contract renewed regardless of how well they did after the group stage, so Monday's announcement was hardly a surprise.

But the confirmation was at least held off until England had secured their place at Qatar 2022, with their World Cup qualification campaign culminating in back-to-back thrashings of Albania and San Marino.

But having reached the semi-final and final of their past two major tournaments, expectations will be sky-high for England in Qatar – it would be fair to say, anything short of a semi-final spot will be deemed a disappointment.

That in itself is testament to the work Southgate has done during an immensely positive five-year tenure.

Gareth Southgate has signed a new deal to extend his stay as England manager through to December 2024, the Football Association (FA) has confirmed.

It means Southgate will remain in charge for the Three Lions' World Cup campaign in Qatar next year, and oversee qualifying for Euro 2024.

Southgate's assistant Steve Holland has also penned fresh terms to remain in his role.

"I am delighted that Steve and I have been able to extend our stay in our respective roles. It remains an incredible privilege to lead this team," Southgate said via an FA statement on Monday.

"I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mark, John and the board for their support – and of course the players and support team for their hard work. 

"We have a great opportunity in front of us and I know they and the fans are all excited about what this squad could achieve in future."

Southgate initially took on the role on an interim basis in September 2016 after Sam Allardyce's tenure lasted just one match and 67 days after he became embroiled in newspaper accusations that he offered advice on how to circumvent rules on player signings.

Two months later, Southgate was appointed to the position on a permanent basis and oversaw qualification to the 2018 World Cup.

In Russia, England achieved their best result in international football's most prestigious tournament since 1990 with a run to the semi-finals, where they were defeated 2-1 by Croatia.

England went on to secure a third-place finish in the inaugural Nations League Finals a year later, before easily qualifying for Euro 2020.

That tournament was postponed by 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic but Southgate then guided England to just a second ever major tournament final appearance, where his side agonisingly lost out in a penalty shoot-out to Italy after a 1-1 draw at Wembley in July.

Having regrouped to secure a relatively safe passage to Qatar, Southgate has been rewarded with a new deal.

The FA's statement added: "Southgate, who marks five years in charge at the end of this month, has overseen a period of positive progress guiding England to a FIFA World Cup semi-final and UEFA Nations League third place before securing the best men’s performance in 55 years with the UEFA EURO final this summer."

Under Southgate's stewardship, England have won 44 of 68 matches (drawing 14 and losing 10) giving him a win percentage of 65. They have scored 152 times and conceded 42 in that time.

Gareth Southgate has signed a new deal to extend his stay as England manager through to December 2024, the Football Association (FA) has confirmed.

It means Southgate will remain in charge for the Three Lions' World Cup campaign in Qatar next year, and oversee qualifying for Euro 2024.

Southgate's assistant Steve Holland has also penned fresh terms to remain in his role.

"I am delighted that Steve and I have been able to extend our stay in our respective roles. It remains an incredible privilege to lead this team," Southgate said via an FA statement on Monday.

"I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mark, John and the board for their support – and of course the players and support team for their hard work. 

"We have a great opportunity in front of us and I know they and the fans are all excited about what this squad could achieve in future."

Southgate initially took on the role on an interim basis in September 2016 after Sam Allardyce's tenure lasted just one match and 67 days after he became embroiled in newspaper accusations that he offered advice on how to circumvent rules on player signings.

Two months later, Southgate was appointed to the position on a permanent basis and oversaw qualification to the 2018 World Cup.

In Russia, England achieved their best result in international football's most prestigious tournament since 1990 with a run to the semi-finals, where they were defeated 2-1 by Croatia.

England went on to secure a third-place finish in the inaugural Nations League Finals a year later, before easily qualifying for Euro 2020.

That tournament was postponed by 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic but Southgate then guided England to just a second ever major tournament final appearance, where his side agonisingly lost out in a penalty shoot-out to Italy after a 1-1 draw at Wembley in July.

Having regrouped to secure a relatively safe passage to Qatar, Southgate has been rewarded with a new deal.

The FA's statement added: "Southgate, who marks five years in charge at the end of this month, has overseen a period of positive progress guiding England to a FIFA World Cup semi-final and UEFA Nations League third place before securing the best men’s performance in 55 years with the UEFA EURO final this summer."

Under Southgate's stewardship, England have won 44 of 68 matches (drawing 14 and losing 10) giving him a win percentage of 65. They have scored 152 times and conceded 42 in that time.

Spain head coach Luis Enrique moved to end speculation over interest from Manchester United as he questioned reporters whether it was April Fools' Day.

United announced on Sunday that they were parting ways with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer following a 4-1 humiliation at Watford – their heaviest defeat against a promoted side since September 1989.

Pressure had been building on Solskjaer since a 5-0 crushing by Liverpool on October 24, which was United's largest margin of defeat at home to the Reds and the first time they had trailed by four goals at half-time in the Premier League.

Saturday's demolition, which followed a home humbling against Manchester City prior to the international break, proved the final nail, and United are now in the market for a new boss, at least on an interim basis until the end of the season.

Reports have linked the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Brendan Rodgers and, later, Luis Enrique to the role, with Cristiano Ronaldo said to want the former Barcelona coach to join him at Old Trafford.

However, the Spain boss has quickly quashed any talk of a move as he expressed his desire to stay with the national team, who qualified for the 2022 World Cup with a 1-0 win over Sweden in the final Group B fixture.

Questioned on the speculation by La Sexta, Luis Enrique replied: "Is it April Fools' Day today?

"I am already in the biggest team in Spain, the national team.

"We are 5,000 players, I have the players I want. What's bigger than that? The future changes in 15 seconds. Now we have to enjoy ourselves, and I am happy where I am."

Former midfielder Michael Carrick is set to take temporary charge of United, who travel to Villarreal in Tuesday's Champions League clash before visiting Chelsea on Sunday.

The 2022 World Cup gets underway in exactly one year's time.

The tournament has courted controversy ever since its hosting rights were awarded, but it promises to be quite the spectacle in a part of the world that has never hosted it before.

Here is everything you need to know about the finals...

Where is the World Cup being held?

The 2022 World Cup takes place in Qatar. It is the first time the tournament will be held in the Middle East

The finals will be staged in five cities: Al Wakrah, Al Khor, Al Rayyan, Lusail, and the capital, Doha.

Qatar is the smallest country ever to host the World Cup. With a surface area of 11,500 square kilometres, it is the 158th largest country in the world and can be traversed in roughly two hours.

A peninsula nation whose economy is powered by oil and natural gas, Qatar has been constructing what FIFA describes as "some of the most eco-friendly and architecturally advanced sporting facilities ever seen" ahead of the tournament.

When does the tournament take place?

The 2022 World Cup will be held from November 21 until December 18, with 64 matches played. The time frame has been slightly condensed because of the impact a winter World Cup will have on many of the world's domestic seasons.

The opening match takes place at Al Bayt Stadium on November 21, with the group stage finishing on December 2. The round of 16 begins the following day.

The quarter-finals will be held on December 9 and 10, with the semi-finals on December 13 (at Lusail Stadium) and December 14 (at Al Bayt Stadium).

The third-place play-off is on December 17 at Khalifa International Stadium, with the final on December 18 at Lusail Stadium.

 

What are the venues?

The tournament is being held across five city regions: Al Wakrah, Al Khor and Lusail contain one stadium each, with two in Al Rayyan and a further three in Doha.

The venues and their capacities are:

Al Rayyan
Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium: 44,000

Education City Stadium: 45,350

Al Khor
Al Bayt Stadium: 60,000

Al Wakrah
Al Janoub Stadium: 40,000

Doha
Al Thumama Stadium: 40,000

Ras Abu Aboud Stadium: 40,000

Khalifa International Stadium: 40,000

Lusail
Lusail Iconic Stadium: 80,000

 

 

Which teams have qualified?

At the moment, the following teams have qualified for the finals:

Qatar (automatically qualified as host nation)

Denmark

Germany

Brazil

France

Belgium

Croatia

Spain

Serbia

England

Switzerland

Netherlands

Argentina

 

Why is it controversial?

The bidding process for the hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups has been beset by allegations of corruption.

Although a FIFA investigation cleared Qatar of wrongdoing, Swiss federal prosecutors opened criminal proceedings into the awarding of the two tournaments as part of a wider probe into alleged criminal activity concerning some former FIFA executives.

Concerns have also been raised about the treatment of migrant workers used in the massive construction projects for the tournament. Amnesty International said labourers in Qatar were subject to abuse, inhuman working conditions and little pay, describing "a playground for unscrupulous employers" in September 2019.

In response, Qatari authorities changed their employment law after entering a partnership with the UN's International Labour Organisation (ILO) aimed at reforming their labour policies. The introduction of a new minimum wage and a commitment to end the 'kafala' system, which made it impossible for workers to change jobs without their employer's permission, were welcomed by the ILO and Amnesty International.

The decision to stage the World Cup during the Northern Hemisphere's winter was taken due to the extreme heat common in summer in Qatar. However, moving the tournament to November and December, when the European club season is at its busiest, will create a knock-on effect for 2022-23.

The Premier League, for example, plans to take a seven-week break between November 13 and December 26 to accommodate the World Cup, while the Champions League final is set to be pushed back into June. There are concerns about the physical toll the prolonged season will have on players; Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow described it as a "crazy idea".

Massimiliano Allegri is convinced Italy will make it to the World Cup – but that is the least of his worries as he looks to guide Juventus back into the Scudetto picture.

Juve head coach Allegri takes his side to Lazio on Saturday for what already feels like a highly important game in the context of the season.

Defeats to Sassuolo and Hellas Verona in late October look to have almost scrubbed Juve out of the title frame, and they sit eighth heading into the weekend, already 14 points behind Napoli and Milan. It will take a sharp upturn for them to trouble the early pace-setters.

Lazio are three points better off than Juventus too, and their boss is former Juve head coach Maurizio Sarri, the man who was given the flick by the Turin giants in August 2020 after just one season.

Sarri won the Serie A title in that campaign, but a lack of European success cost him dearly. His successor, Andrea Pirlo, delivered neither, which is why Allegri was summoned to return to the Allianz Stadium top job, having won five league championships in his previous stint.

Italy is consumed by the travails of the Azzurri, with Roberto Mancini's team falling to Earth with a bump after their Euro 2020 success as they failed to earn automatic qualification for the World Cup, with Jorginho's costly missed penalty against Switzerland followed by a draw with Northern Ireland.

They still have a play-off to fall back on, so may well still feature at Qatar 2022, and Allegri spoke about Italy while addressing the focus on putting points on the board.

"Football is good because you can have opinions, you can talk, but in the end it all boils down to the results," he told a news conference on Friday.

"For a missed penalty, they've been massacring them for a week now. We need balance, there are unforeseen events that must be managed, and I believe that in the end they will go to the World Cup."

He is waiting to learn whether Paulo Dybala is available for the trip to Rome, with the Argentine keen to be involved after international duty. Allegri described the forward's calf as "problematic" but did not rule him out.

"It's a nice challenge, two teams that are floating on the edge of fourth place," Allegri said. "It will be a difficult match."

A sketchy 1-0 victory over Fiorentina, secured by Juan Cuadrado's stoppage-time goal after their visitors were reduced to 10 men, sent Juventus into the international break with a win.

 

"Right now, here you just have to do and not think. We are behind in the standings, talking is of no use at all," Allegri added.

"We just have to think about what to do to try slowly to improve in the attacking and defensive phases, as well as in the standings."

Juve have lost only two of their last 33 Serie A games against Lazio, both since 2017 (W24 D7).

Lazio have conceded at least once in their last 16 Serie A home games against the Bianconceri, their longest streak without a clean sheet at home against a single opponent in the top flight.

Sarri has previously spoken of his difficulty in bringing new elements to Juventus' play during his short tenure, but Allegri feels the current crop are malleable enough.

"Maurizio is an excellent coach and here he won a championship," Allegri said. "You'd have to ask him, he said it and not me. For me the teams are all trainable, it depends on the players you have."

Thomas Tuchel has hailed Jorginho's personality and character as he backed the Chelsea star to recover from a frustrating international break.

Jorginho missed a penalty as Italy drew with Switzerland, a result that left the European champions in need of a victory against Northern Ireland to ensure their spot at Qatar 2022.

However, the Azzurri – who missed out on Russia 2018 after a play-off defeat to Sweden – must now win two more games in March to book their spot at next year's World Cup, after they were held to a goalless draw in Belfast and Switzerland thrashed Bulgaria 4-0.

Jorginho has had a stellar year, helping Chelsea to Champions League glory before winning Euro 2020 with Italy. His efforts saw him named UEFA's Men's Player of the Year in August, while he has also been nominated for this year's Ballon d'Or.

Yet after having scored each of the first six penalties taken for Italy, Jorginho has failed his last three (including in shoot-outs, with the midfielder having squandered spot-kicks against both Switzerland and England at Euro 2020).

Jorginho played 68 minutes of Monday's clash at Windsor Park. Only four Italy players – all defenders – completed more passes than his 53, with 38 of these coming in Northern Ireland's half, while he made more interceptions than any of his team-mates (three).

"If there's a guy to handle this disappointment, it's Jorgi," Tuchel told a news conference.

"I fully trust his personality, his character. For me the most important thing is that when he arrives here he feels safe in Cobham, that he knows that everybody will support him, no matter what happens outside this building, he is our player, he is fully protected and fully appreciated.

"We are super happy that he's back. These things happen during a career, he is not the first one to miss an important penalty and will not be the last one.

"He has enough character, enough difficulties in his career if you know the story, like how he made it to professional football, what obstacles he had to overcome, this is a bump on the road and no more.

"We will do everything so that he feels good and can continue to play on the highest level like he did from day one."

While Jorginho endured a disappointing international break, another Chelsea midfielder enjoyed a first senior call-up.

Having impressed on loan at Crystal Palace so far this season, scoring four league goals, Conor Gallagher was handed his England debut in a 10-0 win over San Marino.

Gallagher, who spent last season on loan at West Brom, only signed a five-year deal at Chelsea in 2020, though Tuchel was asked about plans for the midfielder's future.

"This is too early to talk about it, way too early in public, before we talk with Conor and see his goals and what he wants," he replied.

"This will happen [at the end of the season] because we all agreed it was the best step to join Palace and Patrick Vieira.

"I am not surprised that the national coach loves him because I loved him from day one, there cannot be a coach who does not love guys like this."

Of the possibility of recalling Gallagher in January, Tuchel said: "I have not thought to bring him back earlier, it is important for him to be happy where he is and for him to stay in the moment.

"It's important to be calm at this stage of his career. I don't think it's necessary to change again in January."

Leaders Chelsea play away to Leicester City in the Premier League on Saturday.

Eden Hazard is suffering through a "sad moment" in his career, according to Belgium boss Roberto Martinez.

Form and fitness woes have dogged Hazard since his big-money move to Real Madrid from Chelsea in 2019.

The 30-year-old soared to global prominence during a glittering seven-year spell at Stamford Bridge during which he won the Premier League twice, but he has failed to recapture that brilliance at the Santiago Bernabeu.

With Hazard only on the fringes of Carlo Ancelotti's Madrid team this season, Martinez conceded the forward is not having the best of times.

"In the recent years, he has lived with it, but he has been concentrated on the national team," said Martinez, whose side secured their spot at the 2022 World Cup last week.

"We need him to arrive at the World Cup prepared. We have grown as a dressing room.

"Eden is in a sad moment, football-wise. He has left winners projects [but] he doesn't have the rhythm of competition."

Hazard has made just four starts in a total of 10 appearances in LaLiga this season, spending 350 minutes on the pitch.

That time has yielded only one assist, with Hazard yet to score this term.

In his 116 appearances for his country, Hazard has found the net 33 times, but has added only one to that tally during qualifying for Qatar 2022.

Didier Deschamps hailed the complementary partnership between Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe after France ended their World Cup qualifying campaign with a 2-0 win over Finland.

Benzema's deflected 66th-minute effort and a sublime individual goal from Mbappe, who had teed up the Real Madrid star for the opener, 10 minutes later ensured victory for Les Bleus in Helsinki.

The result denied Finland a place in the play-offs as Ukraine finished second in Group D. France, meanwhile, end qualifying unbeaten and are undefeated in their past 27 competitive matches, though that run includes the stunning Euro 2020 shoot-out loss to Switzerland, a streak that stretches back to June 2019.

"We must not forget Antoine Griezmann," Deschamps said afterward when asked about Benzema and Mbappe. 

"It looks easy because the two players are technically complementary.

"They will have a lot of club matches between now and our next meetings. But the combination of all these talents allows the France team to be even more efficient."

Asked about the unbeaten run, he replied: "These are numbers. There are also 13 away matches. This shows the strength of this France team. The quality is there with the addition of new players, young or old.

"It's great to end the calendar year with this victory in Finland."

Reflecting on the year, Deschamps said: "It is a positive result if I rule out 10 minutes of fatal loss of the Euro. 

"We win the Nations League and then we qualify without trembling for the World Cup. 

"We end the calendar year undefeated even if the draw against Switzerland is a defeat despite everything. The France team has shown that it remains competitive.

"There are still improvements and things that could be improved."

Louis van Gaal feared the Netherlands would blow their chance to secure automatic qualification for the 2022 World Cup.

The Netherlands wrapped up top spot in Group G on Tuesday after a cagey 2-0 victory over Norway thanks to late goals from Steven Bergwijn and Memphis Depay.

Netherlands head coach Van Gaal had suffered a fall from a bike and injured his hip ahead of the game so was forced to watch the match from the stands in a wheelchair.

Van Gaal cut a nervous figure as Danny Blind relayed his instructions via telephone on the touchline in a fixture played without any fans at De Kuip due to growing coronavirus cases.

Despite a tense game, the Netherlands got the job done as their stubborn defence – which has conceded just eight goals in qualifying – stood firm.

The Netherlands are now unbeaten in seven matches since Euro 2020, winning five times.

"The mood was a bit down the day after [the draw with] Montenegro, then I was afraid that it might go completely wrong," Van Gaal told NOS Journaal.

"But all in all it was a fantastic week despite everything. We got to know each other through lows and highs.

"We scored two goals today, and Jasper Cillessen kept a clean sheet. We dominated and controlled the game for 90 minutes. Norway may have had half a chance.

“I complimented the team at half-time, but also told them to play a little more forward.

"We played provocative pressing in the second half, which gave us a little more space. And of course we have the attackers for that."

Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk made a team-high four clearances, two tackles and won 88.9 per cent of his duels as Norway failed to register a single shot on target.

The Liverpool defender spoke of his excitement at potentially playing at his first major international tournament, having missed out on the rescheduled Euro 2020 earlier this year through injury.

"We are going to Qatar and it's well deserved, we almost didn't give anything away. In my opinion, nothing at all," said Van Dijk.

"We had to show a reaction after last Saturday and we did. Of course there are many things that could be improved, but the result was the most important.

“I am extremely proud of this team. It can be tricky to play around with the idea that any mistake can be fatal, but we've embraced it. 

"We showed real character, it was not easy to switch quickly after the 2-2 in Montenegro, but we did it.

"I was very sorry that the national coach was there from a distance and the fans were not there at all. We're going to celebrate well inside. I can't wait for the World Cup."

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