It's almost taken for granted that the best players in football appear at the biggest tournament of them all, the World Cup.

But look a little closer, and we can see that is just not the case. Every four years there are a handful of big names who miss out, usually those born to countries without the same footballing pedigree as the likes of Brazil, Argentina and Spain.

There are even countless greats who, down the years, have failed to register a single appearance at a World Cup finals. Either they've been something of an anomaly in terms of the quality available to their country at a given time, injury has struck, or the coach simply hasn't picked them. Alfredo di Stefano, Ryan Giggs, George Best, Eric Cantona all enjoyed illustrious careers without playing in a World Cup.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robert Lewandowski have at least all appeared at previous editions of the tournament, so this week's qualifying climax in Europe isn't exactly the only opportunity they have to ensure they represent their respective countries on the grandest stage.

But, given their ages, it has to be considered likely that Qatar 2022 will be the last World Cup at which any of them appear.

Waiting to make their mark

Ibrahimovic and Lewandowski have, obviously, enjoyed incredible careers. At club and international level, both have titles and records practically coming out of their ears.

Lewandowski already has more caps (128) and goals (74) for Poland than anyone else ever, while Ibrahimovic is Sweden's all-time top scorer (62).

Historically, both strikers are their respective nations' most-recognisable footballers, and surely the most talented they've ever produced.

Yet, one cannot say either of them has ever caused much of a stir at a World Cup.

Of course, neither Ibrahimovic nor Lewandowski has ever played in a senior international team that would be considered a challenger for major honours – in fact, each of them has only ever featured at one World Cup.

Ibrahimovic was a part of the Sweden team that got to the last 16 of the 2006 edition, while Lewandowski made his World Cup bow four years ago in Russia.

Sweden coach Janne Andersson opted against offering Ibrahimovic a way out of international retirement ahead of the 2018 World Cup, but he did eventually return in March last year. He will be 41 by the time Qatar 2022 comes around in November.

Lewandowski will be 34, so it's by no means outside the realm of possibility that he'll make an appearance in 2026, particularly if we look at Ibrahimovic's longevity.

But there won't be room for both of them in Qatar. Tuesday's play-off final in Chorzow pits Poland and Sweden against each other for the right to secure passage to the finals and what could be a last World Cup appearance for one of these two all-time greats.

No one will be expecting Sweden or Poland to go deep into the tournament, given neither has been beyond the last eight since 1994. But it would seem a travesty if players as good as Lewandowski and Ibrahimovic never managed to score at a World Cup.

Primed for World Cup number five, unless…

While Ibrahimovic and Lewandowski are still waiting to make a memorable impact at a World Cup, Ronaldo will be featuring at a fifth assuming he and Portugal qualify.

Ronaldo first appeared at the 2006 World Cup, something few England fans will forget given his role in Wayne Rooney's sending-off during their quarter-final tussle. Portugal went on to win 3-1 on penalties after a 0-0 draw, with Ronaldo netting the decisive spot-kick.

They finished fourth that year, but in the three tournaments since, Portugal haven't got beyond the last 16.

While Portugal's success at Euro 2016 means Ronaldo should never have his international legacy questioned in future, that World Cup record must be something he is keen to improve.

Additionally, Qatar 2022 looks likely to be the last time a certain rivalry can dominate headlines in a major tournament.

Lionel Messi has already helped Argentina secure a place and, given their 30-match unbeaten run and the fact they head to Qatar as South American champions, there's every reason to expect La Albiceleste will be an entirely different proposition compared to the team at Russia 2018.

While Messi and Ronaldo have shown signs of decline this term at club level, they remain fundamental for their respective national teams – but this surely won't be the case in 2026.

Qatar 2022 should offer Ronaldo the chance to boost his World Cup goals record of seven in 17 games. While by no means poor, a player of such self-belief will surely be aiming for more.

 

Those leading the way appear out of reach, barring an utterly freak showing from Ronaldo. Miroslav Klose (16) holds the record for most World Cup goals, while the 'other/original/Brazilian' Ronaldo is just behind on 15. Then there are other greats Gerd Muller (14), Just Fontaine (13) and Pele (12).

Reaching double figures would seem a realistic target and at least put him in great company, with only 13 players reaching 10 World Cup goals in the tournament's history.

Similarly, that would also make him Portugal's most-prolific World Cup player, with Eusebio currently holding that record thanks to his nine strikes, all of which came in 1966.

Of course, it's by no means a given that Ronaldo or Portugal will make it. Up next for them on Tuesday in their play-off final are North Macedonia.

Fernando Santos' side will undoubtedly favour themselves, but North Macedonia have already shocked European champions Italy – who's to say they can't stun Portugal as well?

Mexico have all but secured qualification for the World Cup after a 1-0 away win over Honduras on Sunday.

Fourth-placed Costa Rica's 2-1 win in El Salvador earlier in the day meant Mexico could not immediately join Canada in sealing their spot in Qatar, but victory on the road means El Tri are on the brink.

With the top three CONCACAF sides gaining automatic qualification, third-placed Mexico sit three points clear of Costa Rica and have a four-goal advantage, meaning only a defeat at home to El Salvador on Wednesday and a significant goal swing will put Tata Martino's men in trouble.

Mexico had 70 per cent possession in the first half against Honduras but failed to create any clear-cut opportunities.

They upped the intensity after half-time, with Hector Herrera, Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano all creating chances in the first 10 minutes.

Edson Alvarez eventually found the breakthrough in the 70th minute, heading in from Herrera's corner.

With Costa Rica playing second-placed USA in their final qualifying game, even a draw against El Salvador will see Mexico through to their eighth consecutive World Cup.

Christian Pulisic scored a hat-trick as the United States thrashed Panama 5-1 on Sunday to all but secure their place at the 2022 World Cup.

While still not officially assured of a spot in Qatar, only an implausible six-goal midweek defeat to Costa Rica would prevent Gregg Berhalter's side from returning to the tournament after missing out four years ago.

Costa Rica's 2-1 win in El Salvador earlier in the day meant USA were unable to join Canada in making absolutely sure of their qualification, though they went about their business professionally in Orlando.

Pulisic opened the scoring in the 17th minute from the spot after Anibal Godoy was penalised for grappling with Walker Zimmerman, and soon after it was 2-0 as Paul Arriola headed in Antonee Robinson's delivery.

Jesus Ferreira made it 3-0 just before the half-hour mark with a close-range finish and Pulisic ensured they went into the break four up thanks to his second penalty of the day – Godoy was again the guilty party, fouling Miles Robinson.

Pulisic completed his hat-trick in style with 65 minutes played, producing a lovely touch to turn and then convert, though a late Godoy consolation prevented Zack Steffen keeping a clean sheet.

USA need only a point on Wednesday to ensure they are in Friday's World Cup draw, though in reality they could lose 5-0 to fourth-placed Costa Rica and still qualify due to their superior goal difference.

Canada boss John Herdman said his team are "only getting started" after they ended the country's 36-year wait to get back to the World Cup.

The head coach is an Englishman, but he has a tight bond with Canada having previously led the women's team with distinction.

It meant Herdman was full of emotion after a 4-0 win against Jamaica in Toronto on Sunday guaranteed Canada's place at Qatar 2022.

"I still can't believe it," he said. "I've been preaching this belief, but when it finally happens I'm speechless.

"Canadians... we've won Champions League finals, we've got a kid [Alphonso Davies] playing in Bayern Munich, and we've got Canadians playing at all levels in Europe, and we've got Canadians going to a World Cup.

"We're a football country, that's all we ever wanted. We wanted that respect. We wanted people to believe we were a football country, and we've proved it.

"We're coming, we're only getting started here. What a privilege it has been as a coach. I'm proud for all of these people here."

Les Rouges have been the standout team in the CONCACAF section, and a first World Cup appearance since Mexico 86 now awaits them.

Speaking on Sportsnet, midfielder Jonathan Osorio said: "It's a dream come true. We all dreamed of this as little kids and as a Canadian that was impossible.

"And today the impossible happened. It's an incredible feeling."

Defender Richie Laryea added: "It's crazy, it's a great feeling. These guys, everyone on this team worked so hard for this moment. To do it here in Toronto where a lot of the guys are from, it's f****** incredible."

Osorio is a Toronto FC stalwart, and Laryea, who plays in England at Nottingham Forest, said of him: "This guy's done a lot for this programme. He's led the way. It's special to see him do this for club and country. For him to have that moment, it's big for all of us but especially him and his family. Everyone here knows who he is, so it's great."

Canada have qualified for the 2022 World Cup thanks to a 4-0 win over Jamaica in their penultimate qualifying match.

Les Rouges have been the standout team in the CONCACAF section and their participation in Qatar had long seemed a formality.

But having passed up the opportunity to make sure of their place at this year's tournament earlier in the week with their 1-0 defeat to Costa Rica, they eventually got the job done on Sunday.

Cyle Larin settled any early nerves with a clinical finish from Stephen Eustaquio's incisive pass in the 13th minute, and although Canada were rather wasteful thereafter, they deservedly made it 2-0 thanks to Tajon Buchanan's tap-in just before half-time.

Junior Hoilett's smart finish eight minutes from time was then added to late on by an Adrian Mariappa own goal as the celebrations began in Toronto.

Canada had been absent from the World Cup since the 1986 edition in Mexico, which was also their only previous appearance at the tournament – they played three matches and lost all of them.

But having unearthed something of a 'golden generation', John Herdman's side head to Qatar as no pushovers.

The Maple Leafs have suffered just one defeat in the third and final round of CONCACAF qualifying, form which has seen them beat both the United States and Mexico at home and draw away to their two biggest qualification rivals.

They climbed up to 33rd last month when the most recent world rankings were announced, making it the highest Canada have ever been on the FIFA ladder.

Regardless of the USA's and Mexico's results later on Sunday, Canada need only a point away to Panama in their final qualifier on Wednesday to win the group.

Bernardo Silva acknowledged the pressure on Portugal to qualify for the World Cup but assured his side can cope with the challenge of making Qatar.

Portugal overcame Turkey 3-1 in the play-off semi-final on Thursday, when Roberto Mancini's Italy crashed out to North Macedonia as Aleksandar Trajkovski scored a 92nd-minute winner in Palermo.

Fernando Santos' side boast home advantage in the final at Porto's Dragao Stadium as the Euro 2016 winners aim to qualify for a sixth straight World Cup, having previously failed to appear at three consecutive tournaments between 1990 and 1998.

Manchester City star Silva insisted that Portugal players will call upon their club experiences to deal with the expectations on them against North Macedonia on Tuesday.

"The responsibility of being present at the World Cup means that, regardless of the opponent, we have this pressure," Silva told reporters at Sunday's pre-match news conference.

"The pressure exists in that sense, and we accept it, and it would be the same against Italy, [North] Macedonia or anyone else. We are used to pressure at our clubs.

"Of course, having players with experience in decisive games helps. But the fact that North Macedonia haven't played as many games like these also makes their motivation levels higher."

North Macedonia are eyeing a first World Cup in their 27-year history, having qualified for Euro 2020 last year, and Silva knows Blagoja Milevski's team will by no means be pushovers.

"North Macedonia have won four of their last five away games, two of them against two of the best teams in the world [Germany, a 2-1 win in March 2021, and Italy]," he added.

"Let's do our homework, see what the coach's plan is and try to follow it in the best way, knowing that teams are different and will demand different things.

"We are a team that creates many chances. We also know that we need to control the counter-attacks, and the best way to do that is by moving the ball well.

"We know that we have a difficult task ahead of us, but we will do our best to overcome an opponent that we know will create some difficulties. It's 90 minutes, anything can happen, and we're sure it will be very difficult.

"We need to go to the game with the same idea and all rowing in the same direction. I'm sure things will go well."

Fellow midfielder Joao Moutinho echoed Silva's sentiments, though he admitted Portugal expected to contend with Italy for a place at the 2022 edition of FIFA's showpiece event.

"I won't lie to you: we were all expecting it was going to be Italy," Moutinho told reporters.

"Football is different nowadays, every team can win at this level; it doesn't matter the names, numbers or stats. North Macedonia have an extraordinary core and will do their best to make our life miserable on Tuesday."

Domenico Berardi says Italy gave their all but admitted they needed to find even more after their failure to qualify for the World Cup.

The Azzurri's hopes of reaching Qatar ended following a shock play-off semi-final defeat by North Macedonia on Thursday, with Aleksandar Trajkovski striking a stoppage-time winner in Palermo.

No player registered more shots at the Renzo Barbera stadium than Berardi (eight), but just two of those were on target.

And the Sassuolo forward was made to rue his profligacy as the hosts suffered a first-ever World Cup qualifying loss on home soil.

Roberto Mancini's side claimed glory at the European Championship just eight months ago, after beating England on penalties in the final.

But for the first time in their history, they will be absent from consecutive World Cups, having also missed out in Russia four years ago.

Over 48 hours on, Berardi revealed the pain of missing out on the finals is still raw, but he is determined to put things right.

Addressing his 278,000 followers on Instagram, he posted: "A cool head hurts even more. The dream for all of us Italians ended in the worst way.

"Believe it or not, we've really done a lot. We tried in every way, but it wasn't enough.

"It was the goal of the whole group to go to the World Cup. For many of us, [it would have been] the first time to play the most beautiful cup for our country.

"It was our responsibility to take you to the World Cup and live a wonderful adventure all together like the one last summer.

"We had to and could have given more because what angers us most is that we are not there. There aren't many things to add. We will work to make you dream again. Together. United. Azzurri."

Harry Kane is the world's best striker and can land another World Cup Golden Boot this year, says England team-mate Luke Shaw.

Tottenham ace Kane scored the winner for England from the penalty spot in Saturday's 2-1 friendly success against Switzerland at Wembley.

That goal 12 minutes from time, after Shaw had cancelled out Breel Embolo's header, took Kane level with Bobby Charlton as England's joint-second all-time top scorer.

Only Wayne Rooney has scored more goals in an England shirt, with the former Manchester United frontman having netted 53 compared to Kane and Charlton's 49 strikes.

With seven England games pencilled in between now and the World Cup, Kane may well break that goalscoring record before Qatar 2022 gets up and running in November.

On current form, Shaw is backing his Three Lions colleague to finish top of the scoring charts in the global showpiece, having previously done so in Russia four years ago.

"I don't see why not," Shaw told beIN SPORTS. "For me, at the moment, the way he's playing, he's one of the best strikers in the world, probably the best.

"So hopefully he can keep that form up, keep it going. He's showing it week in, week out at the moment, and it's a joy to watch.

"Long may that continue, and I’m sure he will be hunting another Golden Boot and all the other records."

At club level, Kane has scored 11 goals in 17 appearances so far this calendar year and chipped in with a further four assists in all competitions.

The 15 direct goal involvements is a tally bettered only by Robert Lewandowski, Christopher Nkunku (both 16) and Karim Benzema (17) from Europe's top five leagues.

Kane has also now scored eight goals in his last three international appearances, helping England to three successive wins with an aggregate score of 17-1.

England were not at their best against Switzerland, but Manchester United defender Shaw believes the battling display – a seventh comeback win under Gareth Southgate – stands the national team in good stead.

"The belief, the confidence – I've said it many times before, when we're under pressure in games where it's not going the way we want to, I feel like we're all together," said Shaw.

"We're going to come across all sorts of games when we're under pressure. The main thing for me is we're all together, and we do that in abundance where we're really well drilled, and we know what everyone has to do when they step out on that pitch.

"That's with the ball but definitely without the ball we're getting better with that, too."

Chelsea midfielder Mason Mount admits he is concerned by the uncertainty surrounding a takeover at the club

Blues owner Roman Abramovich, who was sanctioned by the UK government following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, put the club up for sale earlier this month.

Abramovich subsequently had his assets frozen due to his close ties with Russian president Vladimir Putin, but can still apply for a special licence to sell the club.

A number of interested parties – including British billionaire and boyhood Blues fan Nick Candy, and the Chicago Cubs owners, the Ricketts family – stepped forward with offers, as well as Centricus – headed by Nizar Al-Bassam and Garth Ritchie.

Mount is currently on international duty with England, for whom he played in Saturday's 2-1 victory over Switzerland at Wembley.

And the Chelsea academy graduate, who is the Blues' top scorer in the Premier League this season with eight goals, is hopeful the situation at his club can be resolved as quickly as possible.

"I've been at the club since I was six years old and something like this has not happened before, so it can be a concern," he said.

"At the beginning, and even now, we don't really know where it’s going and what’s happening the next day. When I'm away with England, that stuff is kind of parked.

"The break probably does help and hopefully by the time we go back, some things are sorted out, or we have some answers about what's going on. But we'll see."

Eddie Jones' successor as England head coach will be appointed ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, with the Rugby Football Union (RFU) targeting an Englishman for the job.

Australian boss Jones has spent six and a half years in charge of England and is under contract until after next year's showpiece event in France.

The 62-year-old had been under increasing pressure following another disappointing Six Nations showing for England, who finished with two wins from five matches.

However, the RFU this week assured Jones that his job is safe for now, though the former Japan coach was warned that nobody is "bulletproof".

Providing a further update on the position on Saturday, RFU performance director Conor O'Shea suggested a new coach could work alongside Jones at the World Cup before taking over.

"The plan for us will be to appoint that coach before summer 2023," O'Shea said. "Whether that's embedding them into the programme or taking a helicopter view, that's a discussion to be had. 

"We would like to think we will be appointing them in the lead up to 2023. We have so many top English coaches who are in a great position.
 
"Eddie has worked with Steve [Borthwick], Neal [Hatley], Gussy [Paul Gustard]. You look across the Premiership and then you see the quality of people overseas. I want them to be English and I believe [they] should be."

He added: "The rationale is we need to appoint so we have got time to embed the new coaching team and allow them to hit the ground running. Eddie is fully aware and knows what we want to do. 

"There will be some people who say that will disturb the World Cup prep because people will be looking over their shoulder.

"[Fabien] Galthie was appointed before the 2019 World Cup and it's the right thing to do because we need to get ready for the 2024 Six Nations."

The RFU's focus on a homegrown coach would rule the likes of Warren Gatland, Steve Hansen and Rassie Erasmus out of the running, but chief executive Bill Sweeney is confident the right approach is being taken.

"We believe we've got such a wealth of English coaches in the game," he said. "As a leading rugby nation we should be developing English coaches and an English style of play. 

"That should be long-term and therefore the preference would be to have an English setup as far as I'm concerned. 

"We've got a war room that's got every English coach you can imagine – based here and based internationally. We've got an advanced succession plan in place."

Gareth Southgate is not worried about the prospect of Harry Kane struggling with pressure as he closes on Wayne Rooney's England goals record.

Kane scored the winner as the Three Lions beat Switzerland 2-1 in Saturday's friendly at Wembley, converting a penalty 12 minutes from time.

It took him level with Bobby Charlton on 49 goals for England, meaning only Rooney on 53 is now ahead of the Tottenham star.

Rooney, who coincidentally broke Charlton's initial record with a penalty against Switzerland in 2015, was considered by many to have passed his peak when he reached 50 goals, as he only went on to score another three.

There was also a degree of obsession around the achievement in the lead up, with the idea that Rooney struggled somewhat with the pressure a common theory.

Whether that truly was the case, only Rooney knows, but Southgate is convinced Kane will not be impacted in such a way.

Asked if he wanted Kane to break the record before the World Cup so it does not become a distraction, Southgate jovially replied: "I'd like him to break it in the World Cup final!

"I think he's quite calm about it, confident he can get there because his goals per game record is phenomenally good.

"I don't know where that would compare to Jimmy Greaves, but I imagine he's the only other player who'd be close [to Greaves], so I think he knows there's always going to be speculation.

"If he doesn't break it before [the World Cup] then [the country] will be saying he's out of form and should he be in the team.

"One way or another, the focus will be on him – he's used to dealing with it and I'm sure he'll be very calm about it whichever way."

But in the eyes of Southgate, there is much more to Kane than just his goals, with the England manager delighted to have such a talent who also acts as an example with his attitude.

"I think the names he's amongst now are incredible, aren't they? He'll appreciate that history and it'll mean a lot to him to be in with those people," Southgate said of Kane pulling level with Charlton.

"You'd have to say he looks favourite to go and do that [break Rooney's record], I don't want to put any sort of curse on that and say any more, but he wants the team to do well.

"He has this dual drive. What's great is that means that whenever he turns up, because he also has the individual ambition, there's never a camp where he doesn't look like he wants to play, or doesn't want to be involved or at the forefront of things.

"That's the mentality that then spreads through the rest of the group, so I'm very pleased for him and I think in the second half especially we were just about value for the win."

England are in action again on Tuesday when they host Ivory Coast. Three days later they will find out their opponents at Qatar 2022 when the World Cup draw is made.

Harry Kane appreciated being alongside "amazing company" after joining Bobby Charlton on 49 goals for England with his penalty in a 2-1 win over Switzerland. 

England fell behind to Breel Embolo's opener at Wembley on Saturday but Luke Shaw equalised on the stroke of half-time and Kane converted a winner from the spot after Steven Zuber was adjudged to have handled the ball following a VAR review. 

The Tottenham striker now sits joint-second on the all-time goalscoring list for the Three Lions, with only Wayne Rooney (53) ahead of him. 

Kane's penalty was his 14th in international football – five more than any other England player – and the 100th the country have scored in all competitions.

"It is amazing company to be with," Kane told Sky Sports of moving level with Charlton. 

"[I'm] super proud to be doing that but we look forward to the next one. A big year ahead to get more caps and more goals. I will be ready for Tuesday [against Ivory Coast] but it is down to the manager." 

He added: "You have to be ready for any chance at any moment. Penalties are a great way of getting on the scoresheet, I practice and work on them a lot." 

Gareth Southgate handed debuts to Marc Guehi, Kyle Walker-Peters and Tyrick Mitchell and Kane was pleased to get the win with a number of less experienced players in the squad. 

"Tough game. A big year ahead and a chance for us to try different systems and formations to see how we get on. I felt it was a good performance but room for improvement but a good win to start the year," he said. 

"We rotated the squad, new faces getting debuts and these are the games you have to try stuff. There is not a lot of time between now and the World Cup. 

"The new boys did great, really well. Marc Guehi got the penalty and good to see the young players coming on. You want to start your England career with a win and thankfully we did that." 

England began their World Cup year with a 2-1 friendly victory over Switzerland at Wembley on Saturday thanks to Harry Kane's late winner.

The Three Lions were by no means spectacular, but Gareth Southgate will in all likelihood be content as they got the job done despite fielding a somewhat unfamiliar starting XI.

Nevertheless, Southgate may have expected more from a first half that Switzerland had by far the better of, with Breel Embolo's headed opener one of nine shots to England's two.

But a fierce Luke Shaw hit right before the break had the hosts level at the interval.

The hosts enjoyed greater control in the second half and eventually dealt the decisive blow via Kane's penalty, his 49th international strike, leaving him behind only Wayne Rooney (53) for the most England goals.

Victory looked unlikely for a while, however. The Three Lions found themselves trailing after 22 minutes as Embolo nodded in from Xherdan Shaqiri's right-wing cross.

It would have been 2-0 a few moments later were it not for Jordan Pickford, whose sharp reflexes ensured Fabian Frei's goal-bound effort was pushed onto the crossbar.

Ricardo Rodriguez's long-range strike forced Pickford into action again late in the half, before Embolo scuffed the rebound wide.

England capitalised on those let-offs on the stroke of half-time when Shaw ran on to Conor Gallagher's cut-back and smashed home from 20 yards.

Shortly after the restart, Kane's attempted lob from a tight angle came back off goalkeeper Jonas Omlin's face and debutant Marc Guehi's glancing header at the resulting corner flew agonisingly wide.

England's belief grew as the half progressed and Kane made no mistake from the spot late on after Steven Zuber handled Guehi's header inside the box.

The CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying format is too tough on the players, with Thiago Silva keen for an alternative that can aid performance to be found. 

In the current system, South American teams play one another twice in a single group for a total of 18 matches. The top four qualify for the World Cup, with the fifth-placed team entering a play-off against a team from Asia. 

Given the scale of the continent and the fact many players ply their trade with European clubs, huge distances need to be traversed and matches can be played at significantly varying altitudes and temperatures in the space of just a few days. 

Brazil centre-back Silva believes a change is needed, with FIFA having reportedly met with some players to discuss what a new format could look like for the first 48-team World Cup in 2026. 

"It's not the 18 games, but the travelling we do. It's a lot of mileage compared to the Europeans, who play close together," Silva was quoted as saying by Globo Esporte. 

"There's a lot of wear and tear, in addition to the climate, which is totally different from what we are used to in Europe. 

"Me and the team had a hard time training in Teresopolis, which is colder than Rio de Janeiro [where Brazil played Chile on Thursday]. This can hinder performance. 

"If we could somehow find a balance in these trips, it would certainly facilitate our stay and our performances. 

"It's definitely unnecessary wear and tear, in my opinion." 

After defeating Chile 4-0 in the heat of Rio on Thursday, Brazil play their final qualifier against Bolivia at over 3,500 metres above sea level on Tuesday.

Leonardo Bonucci has no doubt Italy will recover from their World Cup qualifying humiliation to be a major power once again, pointing out they produced a similar response not so long ago.

Italy were incredibly defeated 1-0 by North Macedonia in Thursday's Qatar 2022 qualifying play-off semi-final, with Aleksandar Trajkovski's stoppage-time winner stunning world football.

Roberto Mancini's men had dominated the match, but Trajkovski's speculative long-range effort left Azzurri players and coaching staff looking dismayed.

It marked a monumental change in fortunes from last year when a largely unfancied Italy side won Euro 2020, which was seen a huge achievement given their absence from Russia 2018.

As such, this will be the first time in World Cup history Italy have missed consecutive tournaments, with their failure to reach the 2018 edition instigating something of rebuild of the senior set-up.

Mancini has seemingly escaped much of the criticism, with many fans of the opinion he overachieved significantly when guiding them to European Championship success last year, and Bonucci appears to be confident Italy will respond swiftly and efficiently.

Bonucci, who missed Thursday's defeat due to injury, wrote on Instagram: "The two emotions are at opposite ends. The great euphoria and joy of the summer [at Euro 2020] are clearly contrasted with the disappointment and bitterness of this exclusion, exacerbated even more by not being able to help my team-mates for those 90 minutes.

"Now is the time to look ahead. Last summer we took the credit and praise for having done something unique; today we must take responsibility for not having earned the passage for our own demerits, more than for the merits of others.

"It is time for concrete and in-depth analysis to start over, to give Italy and the Italians what they deserve.

"We have done this before. And the climb has already begun, for me, for us.

"It will be hard to get back to the top, but we have already shown that we know how to get there. The future is now!"

 

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