Cristiano Ronaldo's dip in goalscoring form is of no concern to Fernando Santos, who felt he was "tremendous" in Portugal's World Cup qualifying play-off semi-final success against Turkey. 

First-half efforts from Otavio and Diogo Jota put Portugal in control in Porto, but Burak Yilmaz pulled one back after the hour mark and had a chance to equalise from the penalty spot with five minutes remaining. 

However, Yilmaz missed the target from 12 yards and Matheus Nunes completed a 3-1 win for the hosts in stoppage time, with Ronaldo hitting the bar in the final act of the game. 

The Manchester United forward had five efforts on goal and hit the target with two of them. Diogo Jota (38), who played 20 minutes fewer than Ronaldo, was Portugal's only outfield starter with fewer touches than him (40).  

Ronaldo also failed to find the back of the net in Portugal's draw with the Republic of Ireland and the defeat to Serbia that cost Santos' men automatic qualification for Qatar. 

He has scored just four goals in his past 13 appearances in all competitions for club and country, but the Portugal boss is unconcerned by his displays. 

"Ronaldo is judged on the goals he scores, it's always that way," said Santos. 

"From my perspective, he played a tremendous game, bringing the group together, working and pressing with the intensity of the game. 

"He didn't score, but that doesn't invalidate what was an excellent performance for Ronaldo. He had several opportunities. He didn't convert them, but he opened up a lot of spaces for others and that's something to highlight."

Ronaldo is one of several veterans in the side that it has been suggested should be phased out by Santos to make way for a new generation, but the coach spoke out in defence of the more experienced options at his disposal. 

"The one that everyone is asking to be replaced is the only golden generation. I'm very sorry to say this, but it is the only one that has brought a trophy to Portugal," he said. 

"Now, if you ask me if Portuguese football has a bright future ahead of it, with high-quality players capable of responding at any time, I'd say yes. 

"Portugal have always had great players, but the golden generation is the one that won the gold." 

Jorginho admits his missed penalties earlier in the campaign will haunt him forever following Italy's failure to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.

The Azzurri were crowned Euro 2020 champions just eight months ago after beating England in the final on penalties.

However, Roberto Mancini's side will not be at the World Cup later this year after they were stunned 1-0 by North Macedonia in the playoff semi-finals.

Although the hosts dominated proceedings in Palermo, Aleksandar Trajkovski struck in stoppage time to give the visitors a shock victory.

Having drawn four of their last five games, Italy had to settle for a playoff place after finishing two points behind Switzerland in Group C.

Among them was a 1-1 stalemate with the Swiss, during which Jorginho missed two penalties that would have seen the Azzurri displace their opponents in top spot.

And the Chelsea midfielder revealed his sense of responsibility for his nation’s subsequent failure to qualify.

"It is difficult to explain what happened," he told RAI Sport. "It hurts so much. I'll be honest, I am still incredulous. 

"I don't think we lacked creativity, as we always dominated matches and created so many chances. Unfortunately, we were unable to finish them off.

"We played good football, we won the European Championship last summer, but unfortunately in the last few games, we made small errors and were unable to recover from them. They made the difference.

"It hurts when I think about [the missed penalties], because I do still think about it, and it will haunt me for the rest of my life.

"Stepping up there twice and not being able to help your team and your country is something that I will carry with me forever, and it weighs on me.

"People say we need to lift our heads and carry on, but it's tough."

Meanwhile, team-mate Marco Verratti acknowledged that the reigning European champions were made to pay after failing to turn their superiority into goals.

"It is difficult to understand. I think we dominated this match, and we should've won. We had to win," the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder added.

"This is football, it is fundamental to be clinical and ruthless. It's just so difficult to explain. It was a nightmare.

"Looking around the locker room, we had the players to challenge for the tournament itself, yet here we are talking about a disaster. It's so tough to go from hero to zero.

"We experienced special times together, and I will always be proud of my team-mates. 

"We have to ask ourselves questions now. There's some bad luck, but you also need to make your own luck."

Roberto Mancini has been backed to stay on as head coach by FIGC president Gabriele Gravina despite Italy’s failure to qualify for the 2022 World Cup. 

The Azzurri succumbed to a sensational 1-0 defeat to North Macedonia in a play-off semi-final in Palermo on Thursday, ending their hopes of securing a place in the tournament in Qatar this year. 

Having missed out on a spot at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Italy will not feature in two successive editions of the competition for the first time in their history. 

However, with Mancini having led the team on a 37-game unbeaten run that included Euro 2020 glory and only ended last October, Gravina still believes he is the right man for the job. 

"I hope Mancini will continue with us. He has a commitment to the project," Gravina told Rai Sport. 

"I hope, like all the other Italians, that he will dispose of the waste from this elimination and remain at the helm to continue our work. I still have a lot of energy. 

"I'm sorry, I'm truly embittered for all our fans. The great joy of the previous summer remains, but also the great bitterness of this defeat. We didn't expect it. 

"The guys were splendid and will continue to be so. They gave our country an extraordinary dream just a few months ago. However, tonight's defeat makes us understand there is something we need to do."

Gravina wanted the previous round of Serie A fixtures be postponed to give Italy more time to prepare for the game but his request was denied by the league. 

"I'm sorry the boys only met for one day to prepare for the game. It doesn't help, but I don't want to cause a controversy," he added. 

Italy have failed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup following a shock 1-0 defeat by North Macedonia on Thursday.

For the first time in their history, the Azzurri will miss out on successive finals after Aleksandar Trajkovski struck a stoppage-time winner at Renzo Barbera.

Roberto Mancini's side triumphed at Euro 2020 just eight months ago, defeating England on penalties in the final to claim their second title.

But four years after their playoff defeat by Sweden denied them a place in Russia, they will be absent in Qatar after suffering their first ever loss on home soil in a World Cup qualifier.

It is fair to say it has been quite the journey from one World Cup qualifying failure to another.

Swede success

Despite finishing behind Spain in their qualifying group, Italy were heavy favourites to overcome Sweden in a two-legged playoff.

However, Jakob Johansson struck the only goal of the opening leg to set up a tense climax in Milan.

The Azzurri dominated their opponents, but the Swedes stood firm to deny them a place at the World Cup finals for the first time since 1958.

Euro 2020 glory

Failure to qualify for Russia culminated in the departure of Gian Piero Ventura, who was replaced in the hot-seat by Mancini.

Despite winning just one of his first six matches in charge, things eventually clicked into gear for the former Inter and Manchester City coach, who oversaw a perfect qualifying campaign for the delayed Euro 2020.

The Azzurri came flying out of the blocks; topping Group A with maximum points before seeing off Austria, Belgium and Spain, before holding their nerve to overcome England on penalties for a second European crown.

The record-breaking run

In fact, Italy did not look back after a 1-0 defeat by Portugal in the Nations League in September 2018.

The Azzurri subsequently embarked on a record-breaking 37-match unbeaten run across all competitions spanning three years.

The streak came to an end following a 2-1 defeat by Spain in the Nations League semi-finals last October.

North Macedonia mayhem

Despite going unbeaten in qualifying, four draws from their last five matches meant Italy had to settle for second place in Group C and another playoff berth.

Once again, the Azzurri were red-hot favourites to overcome North Macedonia, who are seeking their first appearance at the finals as an independent nation.

But despite 32 attempts on goal, the hosts were unable to make their superiority count in Palermo, and were punished right at the death as the visitors stunned the four-time world champions.

Roberto Mancini described Italy's shock World Cup qualifying play-off exit to North Macedonia as the antithesis of the Azzurri's Euro 2020 triumph.

Only eight months have passed since Mancini's men defeated England in a penalty shoot-out at Wembley to be crowned European champions.

But tears of joy were replaced by howls of agony in Palermo on Thursday as Aleksandar Trajkovski's 92nd-minute strike earned the minnows a memorable victory and a final against Portugal in pathway C of UEFA qualification.

For head coach Mancini, the chain of events since that day in London – including his side's failure to qualify from Group C – is difficult to fathom.

"Just as the Euros was the most wonderful experience of my life, this was the biggest disappointment," he told Rai.

"We can't say anything but this is football. Sometimes incredible things happen.

"Maybe we shouldn't have been there, we did everything to win it. Some matches are like that and it's difficult to talk about it. 

"The victory at the Euros was absolutely deserved, we played great football. Then some of the luck we had in that tournament turned into complete bad luck, as some unbelievable things happened from September onwards.

"We dominated the group, all we needed was one of those moments to go well, but neither of them did. Tonight, it feels almost as if conceding a goal at the 92nd minute was fitting.

"This is a group of fine players and I am sorry for them."

The loss is sure to lead to questions over Mancini's future, with even his Euros triumph unlikely to buy him much favour after a desperately disappointing defeat, which means Italy have failed to qualify for consecutive World Cups for the first time in their history.

But Mancini said it would be wrong to discuss such matters so soon after the event.

"We will see. I think everyone is too disappointed right now to talk about the future," he added.

"I have to say, I care more for my lads now than I did in July. This is such a tough moment, my affection for them is immense. 

"It's too early to say what happens next, as there is such disappointment, but at the same time this is a squad of great players with a bright future."

Italy were "destroyed" by their shock defeat to North Macedonia, with Giorgio Chiellini saying their failure to qualify for the World Cup opened "a great void". 

The reigning European champions fell to a surprise 1-0 defeat at home to North Macedonia, with former Palermo attacker Aleksandar Trajkovski netting a surprise winner for the visitors in the 92nd minute. 

Italy have now failed to qualify for two straight World Cups. They will not be able to feature on that stage until 2026, with their only win in the competition since they triumphed in 2006 coming against England in the 2014 group stage.

The defeat to North Macedonia marked an incredible turnaround in fortunes for Italy, who won Euro 2020 as part of a 37-game undefeated streak that ended in October – a month after they dropped valuable points against Bulgaria and Switzerland in their World Cup qualifying group. 

Roberto Mancini's side ended up missing out on top spot to Switzerland after two further draws, and their capitulation at the Renzo Barbera was tough for Chiellini to take. 

"It's hard to explain. There is great disappointment. We played a great match but just couldn't score," Chiellini told Rai Sport. 

"We weren't presumptuous. We were missing something. We made mistakes from September until today and we paid for them. 

"I am proud of this team, but it's obvious we are disappointed and destroyed. We have to start again. 

"It's difficult to comment so quickly. There will remain a great void and I hope this void will give the energy needed to restart. We have to start against to win again and get back to the top of the European Championship and in four years go to the World Cup." 

Veteran defender Chiellini refused to confirm whether the loss would prove to be his final match for Italy, saying "now is not the right moment."

Italy will miss out on a second successive World Cup after Aleksandar Trajkovski's stoppage-time strike gave North Macedonia a sensational 1-0 victory at Renzo Barbera.

Having also failed to qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia, the European champions will not go for glory in Qatar this year after suffering their first World Cup qualifying defeat on home soil.

Roberto Mancini's side dominated the game, but they were made to pay for their lack of a cutting edge in a dramatic finale.

Trajkovski was North Macedonia’s hero, beating Gianluigi Donnarumma from 25 years in the second minute of stoppage time set up a showdown with Portugal for a place in the World Cup.

Burak Yilmaz's late penalty miss proved costly as Turkey fell to a 3-1 loss to Portugal in their 2022 World Cup qualifying play-off semi-final on Thursday.  

Otavio scored his second international goal in just his third cap to put Portugal in front, with Diogo Jota doubling their advantage before half-time.  

Yilmaz pulled one back for Turkey after the hour mark and had a chance to take the game to extra time by making it 2-2 after referee Daniel Siebert awarded the visitors a penalty for Jose Fonte clipping Enes Unal.  

However, Yilmaz's spot-kick clipped the crossbar on its way over and Matheus Nunes rubbed salt into the wound in stoppage time, ensuring it was Portugal who advanced to the final against North Macedonia, who earned a shock 1-0 triumph over European champions Italy.

Portugal started brightly and took the lead when Otavio scored on the follow-up after Bernardo Silva's shot was tipped onto the post by Ugurcan Cakir. 

Turkey responded positively to going behind but Portugal doubled their advantage before half-time when Jota guided Otavio's exquisite delivery into the bottom-right corner with a pinpoint header.  

Yilmaz pulled one back for Turkey when he stabbed a cool finish past Diogo Costa in the 66th minute after an excellent one-two with Cengiz Under.  

The game looked destined to be heading for extra time when the referee pointed to the spot after a trip to the pitchside monitor with five minutes remaining, but Yilmaz was unable to convert. 

It proved to be Turkey's undoing as substitute Matheus put the result beyond doubt when he finished off a pass from Rafael Leao in the 94th minute to send Portugal through.

Julian Weigl was taken aback by his recall to the Germany squad after a five-year absence, having previously been considered a potential future superstar.

Weigl rose to prominence at Borussia Dortmund, earning his first senior Germany cap 14 months after moving to BVB from 1860 Munich in 2015 as a 19-year-old.

His form during his first couple of seasons in the Bundesliga drew links with some of Europe's biggest clubs, with Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona and Manchester City apparently particularly keen on the talented deep-lying playmaker.

But he struggled to maintain that level after Thomas Tuchel's exit and was frustrated by untimely injuries, ultimately falling out of favour and being sold to Benfica for a reported €20million in January 2020.

The move was indicative of the decline in Weigl's reputation and he was being linked with another move less than a year after joining Benfica due to early struggles with Jorge Jesus.

But this season he has become a key figure and played in seven of Benfica's eight matches en route to the Champions League quarter-finals, helping him back into the Germany setup.

"When the coach called me, I was with my team-mate Soualiho Meite. I couldn't believe that Hansi [Flick] had called me and that I'd missed it," he told reporters.

"I knew I had to call him back. I was absolutely thrilled, we chatted for a short while and then I immediately rang my parents and my wife. They were some emotional phone calls. My family and my wife were also over the moon.

"I was extremely pleased when I got the call from Hansi. I wasn't expecting it. When you're putting in good performances for your club, you do get your hopes up a little bit, but it still came as a surprise.

"I was looking forward to seeing the lads again, and so I arrive here with a really positive energy. I've always looked out for when the national squad gets announced, and I'm more than aware that you have to be performing at the top level at your club week-in, week-out to earn your selection.

"But I never once said to myself at any time that my performances deserved to be rewarded with a call-up – I simply tried to keep concentration on myself and my game. Because of that, the eventual call-up was even more of a pleasant surprise."

Despite the promise he showed early on at Dortmund, Weigl only ever featured five times for Germany.

His most recent outing was 66 minutes in a friendly with England way back in March 2017 – now 26, Weigl does not think his playing style has changed significantly, but leaving Germany helped him grow and he feels better physically.

"Generally speaking, I'm still the same player," he continued. "What's changed is that I've become more mature and more experienced – playing abroad has certainly helped me in this regard, as well as becoming a father.

"My daughter helps me to relax, as my life is so fast-paced. I've improved from a physical perspective, too."

Weigl's recall comes at a potentially critical moment as well. With the World Cup starting in less than eight months, the midfielder surely has a genuine opportunity of being in the selection that travels to Qatar.

He is now focused on proving to Flick that he is worthy of consideration.

"I'm trying to show off what I can do every day that I'm here, as well as take on board the ideas of the head coach and work them into my game," he said.

"I'm asking for the ball a lot in the sessions and I'm not afraid to do so, because that's how I'm going to prove to the head coach that I'm a serious option for the World Cup squad, because I can be relied upon at any time and that I can put in a solid performance when needed."

Germany, who have already qualified for the World Cup, will face Israel and the Netherlands in friendlies during this international window.

Kaoru Mitoma scored a last-gasp double to confirm Japan's place at the Qatar 2022 World Cup at the expense of their hosts Australia with a 2-0 win in Sydney on Friday.

The Union SG winger came off the bench to snatch two late goals and break Socceroos hearts with a second-half cameo that proved priceless for the visitors.

Introduced in the 84th minute for Liverpool forward Takumi Minamino, Mitoma notched his first effort five minutes later after tucking a cut-back beyond Mathew Ryan at close-range.

He then doubled his tally in injury-time to seal victory, coasting into the box on a glorious solo run before forcing a fumble from Ryan to finish.

Victory means the Samurai Blue move six points clear of Australia, to confirm both themselves and Saudi Arabia as the latest AFC teams to qualify after Iran and South Korea previously booked their place.

Graham Arnold's third-place side will still get a chance to reach Qatar through the AFC's fourth-round playoff, against either the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon or Iraq.

England captain Harry Kane has called for a collective effort from his fellow international skippers to highlight the human rights issues in Qatar ahead of this year's World Cup.

Qatar's poor human rights record has been a concern during the build-up to the 2022 finals.

The nation's stance towards women and the LGBTQ+ community was widely raised as an issue before FIFA awarded it the tournament in 2010. 

Meanwhile, the deaths of thousands of migrant workers have been reported during preparation for the finals, although Qatar's organising committee disputed what it called "inaccurate claims" around the number of fatalities.

England manager Gareth Southgate described it as a "great shame" after learning of female and LGBTQ+ supporters who were subsequently staying away from the tournament.

Southgate led a briefing to his squad at St George’s Park on Tuesday about the issues surrounding Qatar's hosting of the finals – most notably the rights of women, the LGBTQ+ community and migrant workers.

There was also input from other FA staff members including chief executive Mark Bullingham and Edleen John, the director of international relations, corporate affairs and co-partner for equality, diversity and inclusion.

Skipper Kane mentioned his Tottenham team-mates Hugo Lloris and Son Heung-min – who captain France and South Korea respectively – as he called for a united approach and strength in numbers to drive lasting social change in the country.

Addressing the media ahead of England's friendly against Switzerland on Saturday, the striker said: "I feel as a group, we've never shied away from important issues, and we've always had our opinions and tried to show unity in anything we've done.

"That's what will happen now over this camp and the next camp to try to help in any way we can to support those issues.

"As players, we didn't choose where this World Cup was going to be. But what it has done is shine a light on important issues which might not have come to light if the World Cup wasn't there.

"We have to try to help as much as possible to understand the issues and the situations. We're no experts in that field at the moment in terms of what we know but as always, we try to help in any way we can, we try to use our platform to help in any way we can.

"I understand there has been some progress on certain issues in the country so far. What my hope is that having the World Cup there and having this light on the country will help try and progress some of the issues which have been going on for a long time.

"There's a couple of other national team captains in my team at Tottenham, maybe [I will be] talking to other national team captains to see whether we can be unified in what we try and do and approach it.

"That's something myself and some of the senior players in the team will look to try to achieve over the coming months.

"There's still a lot of progress to be made. But hopefully all of us, like we have done in the past, can try to make change with the platforms that we have."

Harry Kane is focused on leading England to World Cup glory later this year, with "more fire in the belly" following their Euro 2020 final heartbreak.

The Three Lions, whose only major international honour came when they won the 1966 World Cup, were within touching distance of ending 55 years of hurt last July.

However, they were beaten by Italy on penalties at Wembley in the final of the delayed tournament.

Gareth Southgate's side, who also reached the semi-finals at the 2018 World Cup, are looking to go the extra step and get their hands on silverware in Qatar in December, having come through qualification for the finals unbeaten.

England step up their preparations with back-to-back friendlies over the next week against Switzerland (March 26) and the Ivory Coast (March 29) at Wembley.

Captain Kane scored seven goals across the final two qualifiers against Albania and San Marino. That took his tally to 48, moving him joint-third with Gary Lineker on his country's all-time list and just six away from breaking Wayne Rooney's record (53).

The Tottenham man is thrilled with the progress he and his England team-mates have made over the past four years and explains they have a burning desire for glory.

"From where we were pre-World Cup 2018 to where we are now, we've made massive strides, with the squad, with the team, with the connection with the fans," he said. "There's definitely an expectation on us now.

"Obviously, the final in the summer still hurts. It still has a bitter taste in the mouth, but for sure it gives you more hunger, more fire in the belly to take that one step further and try to win a major tournament.

"We're working towards that, we feel like we're improving every year. 

"Hopefully, we can take big strides to becoming one of the best teams in the history of the England national team."

Paul Pogba has revealed that his World Cup winner's medal was among the items stolen when his home was burgled last week.   Pogba's house was broken into while he was playing for Manchester United in a 1-0 Champions League defeat to Atletico Madrid last Tuesday.   The France international said the intruders were in his property for five minutes while his children were asleep in their bedroom.   Pogba says the incident was his family's "worse nightmare" and revealed he rushed home following United's Champions League exit "not knowing if our children were safe and unharmed."   The midfielder has now revealed that the medal won for Les Bleus' World Cup triumph in Russia four years ago was taken.   He told L'Equipe: "There were jewels from my mother, my world champion medal. What scared me the most was that my two children were at home with the nanny during this incident.   "She overheard everything, called my wife and security, then locked herself with the boys in a room. For several days, she was shocked. The main thing is that my children are well."   Pogba is currently away on international duty for friendlies against Ivory Coast and South Africa.

 

Paul Pogba has opened up on suffering from bouts of depression during his playing career.

The World Cup winner became the most expensive footballer on the planet for a period when Manchester United re-signed him from Juventus back in August 2016.

Pogba has bore the brunt of criticism at time for the Red Devils' inconsistent performances, with the 29-year-old having not won a major honour with United since collecting winners' medals in the EFL Cup and Europa League in 2017.

Speaking to La Figaro while on international duty with France, Pogba revealed he has had to contend with personal issues away from the pitch.

"I've had depression in my career, but we don't talk about it," he said.

"Sometimes you don't know you are, you just want to isolate yourself, be alone. These are unmistakable signs."

Pogba went on to say he noticed his struggles beginning during Jose Mourinho's time as manager at United.

The two endured a reportedly rocky relationship when the Portuguese was in charge at Old Trafford, with Pogba losing the vice-captaincy in September 2018.

"Personally, it started when I was with Jose Mourinho at United," Pogba added.

"You ask yourself questions, you wonder if you are at fault because you have never experienced these moments in your life."

Pogba added the personal riches and acclaim that come from being a professional footballer does not stop players from going through difficult times.

He said: "All top athletes go through these moments but few talk about it. Inevitably, you will feel it [depression] in your body, in your head, and you may have a month, even a year, where you are not well. But you don't have to say it. In any case publicly.

"We earn a lot of money and we don't complain really, but that doesn't prevent us from going through moments that are more difficult than others, like everyone else in life.

"Because you make money, you always have to be happy? It's not like that, life. But, in football, it does not pass, we are however not superheroes, but only human beings."

Hans-Dieter Flick declared his unease with the World Cup in Qatar, believing there should be more stringent criteria for potential hosts of global sporting events.

The German national team coach made note of public sentiment, adding that while prioritisation of the bottom line for global sporting bodies comes at a cost, they can protect themselves from it with a more discerning framework.

"It can't always be about the money," Flick told German magazine Stern. "We recently had a World Cup in Russia, the Winter Olympics in Beijing, and the World Cup in Qatar in November – and there was always great criticism.

"That's why I say – we have to think about the country in which we are going to hold sporting events sooner and define even more binding criteria for this."

On whether Germany will boycott from a World Cup in Qatar though, with die Mannschaft having already qualified, Flick questioned its benefit.

"It wouldn't help the people in Qatar," he said. "We want to take part and then send out signals. I think that's more effective.

"For many athletes a World Cup is a career highlight. That would be taken away from them with a boycott.

From a standpoint of symbolism however, the 57-year-old believes armed conflict in Ukraine provides sufficient reason for Russia to be banned from sporting competition.

"I think such measures are right as a symbol, but I don't think Putin is going to be impressed by this," Flick said.

"So far, even economic sanctions haven't been able to stop him. I feel sorry for the athletes who are now being banned from the competitions. Because it's Putin's war, not their war, but there is no other option at the moment."

The upcoming international window will see Germany host Israel on Saturday, before travelling to Amsterdam to face the Netherlands next Tuesday.

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