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.

The Czech Republic national team have had to postpone their departure for Sweden, throwing preparations for their World Cup qualification play-off into disarray.

Due to technical faults with the plane on which they were supposed to depart, Jaroslav Silhavy's side has been delayed for 24 hours, meaning they will have to arrive only on the day before their critical play-off in Solna.

A statement read: "The Czech national team has to change the program. We can’t travel to Sweden due to a technical defect on the plane today and we will move to Sweden during Wednesday."

Originally scheduled to leave following their Tuesday morning training session for acclimatisation and rest, this complication compounds the fact they will be without injured stars Patrik Schick and Vladimir Coufal.

The winner of Thursday's playoff is set to face Poland next Tuesday, to secure a berth in Qatar.

Florian Wirtz can roar back to action for Germany for the World Cup and end a testing year by starring at Qatar 2022, according to Oliver Bierhoff.

The 18-year-old attacking midfielder sustained a major knee injury during Bayer Leverkusen's defeat by FC Koln earlier this month, with a torn anterior cruciate ligament guaranteeing a long-term absence.

But speaking at a news conference ahead of friendlies against Israel and Netherlands, national team managing director Bierhoff believes Wirtz has both the incentive and the physical attributes that mean his prospects are positive.

The teenager has already earned four senior caps for Germany, having made his debut last September after dazzling at club level.

There is no doubt Wirtz is a beneficiary from the World Cup taking place unusually in November and December, given he now has some hope of being able to get fit and match ready.

Had the tournament run in June and July, as has been the custom, he would have been ruled out of Germany's plans by now.

"I'm absolutely convinced that he can do it, for various reasons," Bierhoff said. "First, there is the mental aspect when you have a World Cup in front of you.

"But he's also a light-footed player, and I'm always confident that they'll get over it a little faster. We will give all possible support in coordination with the club."

 

"Our demand is that the players have the World Cup in their heads all year round.

"I am firmly convinced that if you start early and also deal with this topic mentally and build up this inner will, you will do everything you can to want to play a successful tournament in November.

"We will always give the players material so that they can take this one step further."

With 10 goals and 14 assists across all competitions, Wirtz has the most direct goal involvements among players under the age of 21 in 2021-22 from Europe's top five leagues.

The 19 big chances created by Wirtz is bettered only by Kylian Mbappe, Thomas Muller and Dimitri Payet (all on 20), as well as Trent Alexander-Arnold (22) and Bruno Fernandes (23).

FIFA has outlined how the Qatar 2022 World Cup draw will be carried out, including the basis for seeding.

The draw is scheduled to take place in Doha on Friday, April 1, by which time 29 of the 32 participants will have been confirmed for the tournament, which is set to run from November 21 to December 18.

World Cup qualifying continues this week, with 17 places still up for grabs for a place in Qatar.

World governing body FIFA confirmed hosts Qatar will be among the first seeds, along with the seven top-ranked qualified countries according to the FIFA men's world rankings, which will be next issued on March 31.

"The countries occupying positions 8-15 in the ranking of the qualified teams will be allocated to Pot 2, while the 16th-23rd best-ranked qualifiers will be placed in Pot 3," FIFA added in a statement.

"Finally, Pot 4 will include the qualified teams in positions 24 to 28, plus three placeholders representing the two winners of the intercontinental play-offs and the remaining UEFA play-off winner.

"The intercontinental play-offs will be contested on 13-14 June in Qatar, with the AFC representative facing the CONMEBOL representative and the CONCACAF representative taking on the OFC representative, per the draw held on 26 November 2021.

"The final team to qualify through the UEFA play-offs will also be determined in the May-June international window, as per the decision taken by the bureau of the FIFA organising committee on 8 March."

The nations currently occupying the top seven places in the FIFA men's world rankings are Belgium, Brazil, France, Argentina, England, Italy and Spain, though this could change when the list is updated at the end of this month.

Portugal are currently in eighth spot, and would therefore take Italy's place in pot one should they qualify as both are in the same European play-off qualifying path.

Louis van Gaal has spoken out for the first time against the World Cup in Qatar in his position as Netherlands coach.

The former Ajax and Manchester United manager is known for speaking his mind, and made clear the strength of his feelings about this year's prestigious competition.

During a news conference on Monday ahead of a friendly against Denmark, the 70-year-old called it "ridiculous" that the tournament will be held in Qatar in November.

"I am a member of a committee with [KNVB Secretary-General] Gijs de Jong. We meet and then I hear what has been agreed with other countries," he said. "Then I hear what we can do and I give my comments.

"I'm on it every month. I have already mentioned it in previous press conferences. I think it's ridiculous that the World Cup is there."

While Van Gaal's position on the World Cup in Qatar has been publicly known, he has not spoken on it since taking over as the Dutch national team coach last August.

"We are playing in a country that FIFA says they want to develop football there," he added. "That's bulls..t, but it doesn't matter. It's about money, about commercial interests. That matters in FIFA.

"Why do you think I'm not on a committee at FIFA or UEFA with my expertise? Because I have always opposed these kinds of organisations. I can say that in Qatar later but that won't help the world get rid of this problem."

The Oranje face Denmark in Amsterdam on Saturday, before also hosting Germany on Tuesday.

Italy great Fabio Cannavaro insists the Azzurri cannot afford to fail to qualify for two consecutive World Cups.

The reigning European champions could not top their World Cup qualifying group, leaving them having to beat North Macedonia in the playoffs semi-final on Thursday to keep their hopes alive.

Italy would then have to bypass either Turkey or Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal in the final to secure their spot at Qatar 2022, which means one of the previous two European Championship winners will not be present at the World Cup.

Robert Mancini's reinvigorated Azzurri responded to failure to qualify for FIFA's showpiece event in 2018 by lifting the delayed Euro 2020, and Cannavaro explained that it is vitally that they find a way through this year.

"Between us and qualifying for Qatar there could be Portugal, but also Turkey would not be a walk in the park," Cannavaro, who won the World Cup in 2006, told Italian newspaper Il Mattino.

"And even before that in Palermo, we must beat [North] Macedonia. We threw away a chance in Rome against Switzerland [in the group stages], there is no way we can not qualify for the World Cup for eight years.

"It would be a disaster for everyone. Mancini will find the resources to be able to qualify."

While Italy push for World Cup qualification, Russia will not be featuring in Qatar after FIFA excluded them due to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, a decision Cannavaro supports.

When asked if FIFA had made the right call, he added: "Yes. Football is not a world apart. It had to give a signal and it did."

England head coach Eddie Jones has called upon fans to maintain faith in the team's development after a disappointing Six Nations campaign ended with a 25-13 loss to France.

Saturday's defeat to the Grand Slam champions ensured England finished third in the 2022 standings, after Wales suffered a shock loss to Italy and Ireland beat Scotland in the final round of fixtures.

England have now lost three games in three separate editions of the Six Nations under the Australian, having done so just twice in 16 campaigns prior to his 2015 appointment.

But Jones has called upon supporters to maintain faith in the team, which he says is going through a "rebuilding" process ahead of next year's World Cup in France. 

"They [England fans] have got to have some faith," Jones said on Sunday. "I think I have done a reasonable job for England over the past seven years.

"We are going through a period now where we are rebuilding the team and it takes time. Look at the French team, it took them three years to win the [Six Nations] Championship [after appointing head coach Fabien Galthie in 2019].

"We have rebuilt the side from the last Six Nations [after finishing fifth in 2021]. I think the progress is very positive, [but] the results aren't the results we would like.

"We would all like to be winning tournaments and be top of the table, but we are not quite good enough to do that now.

"But within the next 12 to 14 months when we prepare for the World Cup, we will be."

Italy head coach Roberto Mancini has left out Mario Balotelli from his squad for the upcoming World Cup playoffs, while handing maiden call-ups to Joao Pedro and Luiz Felipe.

The Azzurri failed to top their World Cup qualifying group, which leaves them having to beat North Macedonia in the playoff semi-finals on Thursday to set up a meeting against Turkey or Portugal five days later.

The draw means one of the two previous European Championship winners, Portugal and Italy, will not feature at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Mancini has named a 33-man squad for the upcoming clash against North Macedonia in Palermo, with Balotelli snubbed for the introduction of Cagliari forward Joao Pedro, who was born in Brazil but has an Italian passport.

Lazio defender Luiz Felipe also qualifies under the same criteria and he features in the Italy squad for the first time, while Federico Chiesa and Leonardo Spinazzola miss out through injury.

Moise Kean, Alessio Romagnoli and Davide Calabria were also notable omissions, with Cristiano Biraghi expected to take Spinazzola's full-back spot and Roma's Nicolo Zaniolo filling in for Chiesa.

Matteo Politano, Stefano Sensi and Pierluigi Gollini - who replaces the injured Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret - all return, with Manuel Locatelli called up despite testing positive for COVID-19 on Thursday.

Locatelli's Juventus colleague Leonardo Bonucci has made the squad even though he suffered a reoccurring problem with his calf in Wednesday's 3-0 Champions League aggregate loss to Villarreal.

Italy squad:

Alessio Cragno (Cagliari), Gianluigi Donnarumma (Paris Saint-Germain), Pierluigi Gollini (Tottenham), Salvatore Sirigu (Genoa); Francesco Acerbi (Lazio), Alessandro Bastoni (Inter), Cristiano Biraghi (Fiorentina), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Giovanni Di Lorenzo (Napoli), Emerson Palmieri (Lyon), Alessandro Florenzi (Milan), Luiz Felipe (Lazio), Gianluca Mancini (Roma); Nicolo Barella (Inter), Bryan Cristante (Roma), Jorginho (Chelsea), Manuel Locatelli (Juventus), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma), Matteo Pessina (Atalanta), Stefano Sensi (Sampdoria), Sandro Tonali (Milan), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain); Andrea Belotti (Torino), Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), Ciro Immobile (Lazio), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Joao Pedro (Cagliari), Matteo Politano (Napoli), Giacomo Raspadori (Sassuolo), Gianluca Scamacca (Sassuolo) Mattia Zaccagni (Lazio), Nicolo Zaniolo (Roma).

Manchester City defender Ruben Dias has been left out of Portugal's squad for this month's crucial World Cup play-offs, as the 24-year-old continues his recovery from a hamstring injury.

The central defender has been out of action since sustaining the injury in the Premier League champions' FA Cup win over Peterborough United last month.

Fernando Santos will also be unable to call upon fellow injury absences Renato Sanches and Nelson Semedo, as he seeks to avoid being the first Portugal coach to fail to qualify for a major tournament since the country missed out on the 1998 World Cup in France.

After a last-gasp 2-1 loss to Serbia saw Portugal fail to qualify automatically for the World Cup, Portugal will host Turkey in a play-off semi-final on March 24, before the winner of that clash takes on either Italy or North Macedonia five days later for a place in Qatar.

Dias was named Premier League player of the season for the 2020-21 campaign, and has contributed to the league leaders keeping a joint-high 17 clean sheets in 29 top-flight games this term. 

In Dias' absence, uncapped Sporting CP defender Goncalo Inacio gets his second senior call-up, with 38-year-old Lille defender Jose Fonte and Porto's 39-year-old stalwart Pepe likely to form an experienced defensive partnership.

Cristiano Ronaldo, who has hit 115 goals in 184 appearances for his country's senior team, is one of three Manchester United players to make the squad, being joined by Diego Dalot and Bruno Fernandes.

Speaking to the press after announcing his squad, Santos emphasised the importance of the Turkey match, and insisted his 37-year-old captain remains a crucial part of his group.

"We have to win," said the Euro 2016 winner. "We have a goal, we have to fulfil it, it's a goal of the people. 

"All the national team's games will always be very important for the people. [We must] play for Portugal, as there have been others who have marked the history of Portuguese football.

"More important than anything is Portugal. That is the case for us and for the people that we are going to play for, and that also includes our captain Cristiano Ronaldo, who is a very important piece."

Although Dias will not play any part in the crucial match-up with Turkey, club team-mates Joao Cancelo and Bernardo Silva have both been named in Santos' squad.

Portugal squad: Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Diogo Costa (FC Porto), Rui Patricio (Roma); Cedric Soares (Arsenal), Joao Cancelo (Manchester City), Diogo Dalot (Manchester United), Goncalo Inacio (Sporting CP), Jose Fonte (Lille), Pepe (FC Porto), Nuno Mendes (Paris Saint-Germain), Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund); Danilo Pereira (Paris Saint-Germain), Matheus Nunes (Sporting CP), William Carvalho (Real Betis), Ruben Neves (Wolves), Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United), Joao Moutinho (Wolves), Otavio Monteiro (FC Porto); Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid), Diogo Jota (Liverpool), Goncalo Guedes (Valencia), Rafael Leao (Milan); Andre Silva (RB Leipzig), Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United).

Lionel Messi might be going through strife with Paris Saint-Germain, but he has received a timely reminder of how highly he is valued by Argentina.

Ahead of this year's World Cup, Argentina assistant coach Roberto Ayala said Messi can find sanctuary with the national team and stressed club matters were of little concern.

Following PSG's spectacular collapse against Real Madrid in the Champions League last week, Messi was one of the players to be booed by the club's fans in Sunday's 3-0 Ligue 1 win over Bordeaux.

According to former River Plate and Valencia defender Ayala, Argentina have no worries about their captain and long-time talisman.

"For us it [the PSG knockout] is not an issue because it disconnects here with the national team," Ayala told La Red.

"We see Messi well. He is a boy who is transformed when he comes to the national team. He is very contained by the group and also wants them to see him as part of the group."

The Argentina team running to Messi at the end of the final in their Copa America triumph last year reflected the harmony within the playing group.

The team are safe in the knowledge their World Cup ticket is booked ahead of final qualifiers against Venezuela and Ecuador, for which Messi has been called up.

Irrespective of the quality of football, the harmony and Messi’s role within that is something head coach Lionel Scaloni and his staff will look to harness, heading to Qatar.

"A very nice group has been created,” Ayala said. "They enjoy it. Trainings go as we want. It becomes easy because they make it easy for us, there are no long faces."

Of Messi, he added: "For many, he is an idol but also at our side, and he wants to be treated like one of the others.

"I see him [Messi] as a leader not only on the field but with small gestures off it that you see. That is very valuable to us."

However, the 48-year-old assistant still feels the Albiceleste need to be tested by Europe's best before the tournament in November, and also hinted at the future possibility of joining the UEFA Nations League.

"I think Argentina is going to be summoned to the UEFA Nations League, which was set up so that they play against each other," he said.

"Later on, we will be able to participate and have the friction we need. We aim for the players to arrive in good condition."

Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton will retire after the 2023 World Cup despite signing a new deal with Irish Rugby.

The 36-year-old, who earned his 100th cap in November and won the 2018 World Player of the Year, wants to go out on a high at next year's World Cup in France.

Irish Rugby confirmed on Tuesday that Sexton had signed a new contract up until the 2023 event but the 103-cap veteran said he would finish up after that.

“Yeah, finished, 2023 World Cup – it’s up to me to work hard, get the body and mind in the best shape possible and attack the last 18 months,” he said.

“I’m still very driven to get there and perform at the World Cup. I always said that if I am enjoying my rugby and the Ireland and Leinster set-ups believe I can add value to the environment then it would be an easy decision to sign another contract.

“There is some great talent coming through at Leinster at present and I am excited about the prospect of competing at a fourth World Cup with Ireland and the potential for growth in this group between now and then.”

Sexton has played 103 times for Ireland in his storied career and reached the milestone of 500 points in the Six Nations in the 29-7 win over the defending champions last month.

A four-time European Champions Cup winner with Leinster, Sexton is now looking ahead to the prospect of a fourth World Cup finals appearance in France next year.

Poland have been awarded a bye through to the World Cup qualifying play-off final following the postponement of their clash with Russia.

FIFA confirmed the news on Tuesday, though Russia have indicated that they will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against a ban on its national teams from competing.

Should the decision be upheld, Poland will face either Sweden or the Czech Republic – with that semi-final on March 24 still set to go ahead – for a place at Qatar 2022.

That 'Path B' final will be held at the Silesian Stadium in Chorzow on March 29.

FIFA's decision comes on the back of Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic announcing last week they would each refuse to play Russia due to ongoing events in Ukraine.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday 24 following weeks of rising political tensions in the region, with more than two million citizens fleeing the country.

Meanwhile, FIFA has also confirmed that Ukraine's 'Path A' semi-final with Scotland at Hampden Park, scheduled for March 24, will now take place in June.

Ukraine requested that the game be pushed back due to "the impossibility of organising both the travel and training of a team under the current circumstances".

The other semi-final in that side of the draw, the clash between Wales and Austria in Cardiff on the same day, will go ahead as planned.

However, the final will be postponed until after the Scotland and Ukraine game is played.

Ireland and Leinster star Johnny Sexton has signed a new contract that will run until after the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

The 36-year-old has captained his country since January 2020, leading them to 10 wins in 13 matches in that time.

Sexton has played 103 times for Ireland in his storied career and reached the milestone of 500 points in the Six Nations in the 29-7 win over the defending champions last month.

A four-time European Champions Cup winner with Leinster, Sexton is now looking ahead to the prospect of a fourth World Cup finals appearance in France next year.

"I always said that if I am enjoying my rugby and the Ireland and Leinster set-ups believe I can add value to the environment then it would be an easy decision to sign another contract," the fly-half said.

 

"There is some great talent coming through at Leinster at present and I am excited about the prospect of competing at a fourth World Cup with Ireland and the potential for growth in this group between now and then."

David Nucifora, performance director for Irish Rugby, said: "Johnny's performances continue to be of the highest standard and he remains an integral member of the Ireland and Leinster squads.

"He has always been a leader on the field and in the past two years since taking on the Ireland captaincy his leadership off it has been top class. Johnny is a generational player and we are delighted that he has extended to 2023."

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