Tag Archives: World Cup

Gareth Southgate’s new contract is jumping the gun for England

England have announced that manager Gareth Southgate has signed a two-year extension to his contract, taking him through to after Euro 2024.

It had been long expected that a deal would be reached between the parties to extend his tenure as the boss, after first taking charge of the national team back in 2016.

But now after confirming England’s place in the World Cup for 2022 in Qatar, the deal has been confirmed which will see Southgate complete eight years in charge should he finish out the deal.



But while Southgate’s performance as manager has undoubtedly been successful thus far, have they jumped the gun by extending his contract before a major tournament takes place?

England have enjoyed two brilliant tournaments so far under Southgate, reaching the World Cup semi-finals in 2018 before making it all the way to the final of the delayed Euro 2020 earlier this year, losing to Italy on penalties at Wembley.

But despite the good tournaments, performances for the most part have been far from ideal from Southgate’s side.

The manager has constantly been critiqued for his defensive outlook on games despite the abundance of attacking talent he has at his disposal. Regularly fielding a three-at-the-back formation with two defensive midfielders too, it feels like there is a lot of potential waiting to be unlocked by a better coach.

Against the lesser nations, England have no problems whatsoever. They score plenty of goals, create plenty of chances and regularly win the games they’re supposed to win by a decent margin.

But against the top sides, we’ve seen them struggle on several occasions. When it comes to keeping the ball secure against sides full of quality, who know how to press and defend well they often get overrun and that is a coaching issue.

Southgate also has his favourites in the squad, with some getting call-ups regardless of form at club level while others struggle to get a call-up at all irrespective of what they’re doing for their club side.

While you could absolutely make a case for Southgate to get a new contract, giving him a new deal right before a major tournament seems weird.

What happens if England crash out at the group stages? What if England fail to score a single goal? What if England completely under-perform from their pre-tournament expectations?

Gareth Southgate poses in front of the tunnel as he is unveiled as the new England manager at Wembley Stadium on December 1, 2016 in London, England.

While the intentions are pure and from a good place, it just seems rushed. Southgate is very happy in the job and has intention of going anywhere else right now, and nobody else wants him currently.

England should probably have waited until the end of the tournament next year before extending, especially since Southgate himself had said he was in no rush.

But the announcement of the deal now means the pressure will be on in Qatar, if it wasn’t already.

Remembering Greatness: Oliver Kahn

During my lifetime, when you talk about the greatest goalkeepers to play the game it’s often the same handful of names that crop up in conversation.

Iker Casillas, Gianluigi Buffon, Manuel Neuer, Peter Schmeichel and Petr Cech in particular are the guys that tend to be brought up the most, but there are always a couple of names missing. In my eyes, none are more overlooked than the big German shot stopper Oliver Kahn.

A Bayern Munich legend, Kahn ensured his name was written in stone when he won every trophy possible with the Bavarian club but was also successful with his national team.

After starting his career with Karlsruher, Kahn earned himself a move to Bayern in 1994 for a then-record of around €2.5m. He was immediately installed as the starting goalkeeper after some great performances for his previous side, including helping the side to get through to a UEFA Cup semi-final after battering a Valencia side 7-0 during the tournament.

He suffered a cruciate ligament injury in his knee which saw him miss six months of action in the campaign but still managed to make 30 appearances for the club and earned himself a call up to the German national team for his debut.

His first trophy came at the end of his second season, as despite finishing second in the Bundesliga they were able to beat Bordeaux in the UEFA Cup final 5-1 on aggregate with Kahn keeping a clean sheet in the first leg.

His third campaign was mightily successful, as he won his first Bundesliga title with a string of top performances earning him 14 clean sheets and the goalkeeper of the year award. In between the two campaigns Kahn was called up the German national team as part of the squad that won Euro 96, although he made no appearances his mentality was praised by first choice goalkeeper Andreas Köpke for keeping him on his toes throughout.

Fantastic performances and standards continued with Bayern Munich as they won the title again in 98/99, while also reaching the UEFA Champions League final. During that European campaign, Kahn played in all 13 fixtures and conceded ten goals before the final which was famously lost because of two injury time Manchester United goals.

Kahn was famously distraught after the game, laying on the ground in tears surrounded by his defenders, but it was his famed mental strength that helped him to get back up again and continue to succeed in his career. Later that year he was named as the World’s Best Goalkeeper by the IFFHS.

He even managed to redeem himself just two seasons later when Bayern made it to another final, this time against Valencia. In a game decided by penalties during the game and after it, a 1-1 draw led to a shootout where Khan stood victorious by saving three Valencia penalties to win the game for his side.

Remembering his defeat in 99, the iconic image of Khan consoling a distraught Santiago Canizares while his teammates celebrated on the pitch to this day shows the magnitude of the man that the German was.

‘Der Titan’ perfectly summed up his style and persona too, as he won eight Bundesliga titles throughout his career and six DFB-Pokal cups to go with his Champions League title.

Oliver Kahn of Germany wins the adidas Golden Ball award during the 2002 FIFA World Player Gala at the Palacio de Congresos on 17th December 2002 in...

His aggressive approach demanded quality and focus at all time and Khan was well known for letting his defenders know his feelings if things didn’t go as they were supposed to. But it was that clamour for perfection that made him the first and only goalkeeper to be crowned UEFA’s Best Goalkeeper for four consecutive years.

His international career as a starter never quite hit the heights of winning a tournament, but he was still absolutely influential in the success Germany did have.

At the 2002 World Cup, Khan was captain and a starter in every game conceding just one goal en route to the final. Coming up against R9’s Brazil, Kahn demanded to play in the final despite having torn ligaments in his finger. His error led to Ronaldo’s opening goal, as he fumbled a Rivaldo shot into the striker’s path as Brazil won the final 2-0.

Despite that, Kahn refused to blame the injury and his performances earned him the honour of being the first and only goalkeeper in history to win the Golden Ball – ahead of Ronaldo. In 2001 and 2002 he finished in third place of the Ballon d’Or too and was named in the FIFA 100 list by Pele back in 2004, such was his standing in the game.

Tremendous reflexes, great power, a great throw to start counter-attacks, unrivalled leadership and mentality and one of the most commanding goalkeepers of all-time. The next time there is a conversation about the best goalkeepers ever, remember Oliver Kahn’s greatness.

Remembering Greatness: Alessandro Nesta

Behind every great winning team is a world class defence. Within that world class defence, there is usually one stand-out defender in the team holding it all together.

In every team Alessandro Nesta was in, he made up a large chunk of that solidity with his brilliance. Yet despite winning everything there was to win he’s often overlooked when we discuss the absolute best defenders that we’ve ever seen.

I’ve made it my personal mission to remind everyone just how good Nesta was once upon a time and why he is my personal favourite central defender of all-time.

Nesta’s career started at Lazio, where he played through the youth system as a striker and then a midfielder before eventually settling down as a centre back. His place in ‘The Eagles’ academy came after an offer from Roma was rejected by his father, a lifelong Lazio fan.

He made his debut in the back end of the 1993/94 season as a substitute, but by the time 1997 rolled around Sven-Goran Eriksson had appointed the 21-year-old as the captain of the side. After two full seasons, Lazio were now ready to push for trophies and it was him that was entrusted to lead a pack of players including Roberto Mancini, Pierluigi Casiraghi, Pavel Nedved and Alen Boksic.

That season Lazio were in the race for the treble but they lost their last six games in Serie A to finish fourth, ten points behind eventual winners Juventus. They also made it to the UEFA Cup final but were beaten 3-0 by Inter Milan, although Nesta earned the first trophy of his career by scoring the winning goal in the Coppa Italia final.

He’d go on to be crowned the Young Player of the Year in 1998 as an honour to his performances and his time at Lazio would only bring more success. Despite a serious knee injury picked up during the 1998 World Cup meaning he missed half the season, he returned to captain the side through a title race that would see them miss out on the crown by a single point on the final day.

They did however earn the UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup with a win over Mallorca and then go on to beat treble winners Manchester United in the UEFA Super Cup at the start of the following season, thanks to a Marcelo Salas strike.

That campaign would be the best of Nesta’s Lazio career, as he would lead the team to victory in the 2000 Coppa Italia final over Inter as well as becoming Serie A champions for the first time in his illustrious career thanks to a final day victory over Reggina. Lazio would win the next edition of the Italian Supercoppa as Nesta won the final trophy of six during his spell in Rome.

Financial troubles and stellar performances would see him picked up by AC Milan in 2002 for €31million. He’d join a defence alongside Paulo Maldini and Alessandro Costacurta to form one of the most feared back lines in Europe and earned instant success.

The Rossoneri finished third in Serie A but were successful in winning the double, trumping AS Roma 6-3 on aggregate in the Coppa Italia before winning the UEFA Champions League on penalties against Juventus, with Nesta scoring the fourth penalty. He was named the defender of the year and named in the UEFA team of the year, highlighting his performances.

The following year his performances alongside the addition of Cafu to the side helped the team to be crowned champions of Italy. Nesta made 38 appearances across all competitions as he was named in the UEFA team of the year for a third consecutive season ahead of Euro 2004, where Italy were eliminated at the group stages following some disappointing displays in front of goal.

Dutch centre half Jaap Stam then joined and former a formidable partnership, as Milan won the Italian Supercoppa before making two Champions League finals in three years between 2005 and 2007.

Unfortunately for Nesta he will be remembered for being part of the Milan side who blew a 3-0 lead to Liverpool in Istanbul, but he was also instrumental at the heart of the defence as they avenged that defeat two years later in Athens.

That final would come a year after Nesta won the World Cup with Italy in Germany. Nesta was first-choice alongside Fabio Cannavaro but picked up a knee injury in the group stages that would rule him out of the remainder of the tournament. As Italy went on to win the tournament, his partner Cannavaro would end up winning the Ballon d’Or following Juventus’ title that went with it, showing just how much extra work he needed to put in without Nesta.

Injuries began to affect the tail end of his career, but that didn’t stop him having one more top class season in 2010 and 2011. Milan won the league once again and then won the Supercoppa at the start of the following season as Nesta continued to be a regular in the side.

Alongside Thiago Silva the club conceded just 24 goals in 38 Serie A games on their way to the title, with Nesta postponing his planned retirement by a season and being named in the team of the year. His added title took his tally up to 326 games for the club with ten trophies won in ten seasons.

Sport, Football, FIFA World Cup Final, Berlin, 9th July 2006, Italy 1 v France 1, , Italy won 5-3 on Penalties, Italy's Andrea Pirlo and Alessandro...

He ended his career playing in the MLS with Canadian outfit Montreal Impact, winning the Canadian title in 2013.

His career is one of the best, with trophies at all his clubs but also a legacy. He is one of the most artistic defenders the game has seen, with brilliant tackling and raw power to match his gazelle like speed and agility. He was also brilliant in the air at 6ft 2 but unlike the defenders of today he didn’t care for being a threat in the opposition box, it was all about stopping goals going in against him.

Nesta led the way for defenders from a young age and for my money is the best Italian centre-back of his generation, despite the accolades some others may have. Remember his greatness next time there’s a debate happening.

Remembering Greatness: Lilian Thuram

When you think back to the legendary French national team back in the late nineties and early 00’s, one thing they were built off was a solid defence.

Along with the elegance of Zinedine Zidane in midfield and the explosive technique of Christophe Dugarry and Youri Djorkaeff in attack, in addition to the youthful energy and skill of Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet, they were able to field a defence that was complete with everything you’d ask for.

One of the stand-out performers of that golden generation was right-back and absolute unit Lilian Thuram.

Standing at 6ft tall, Thuram was a physical defender who used those gifts to great effect constantly. He had fantastic pace, excellent strength, a brilliant football brain and was a leader throughout his career, winning a trophy at every club he played for as well as at international level.

He started off with AS Monaco in Ligue 1 as a teenager and after a couple of seasons as a back-up squad player, he finally broke into the team as a regular in the right-back position. In that first season with Monaco he won the Coupe de Ligue, although he wasn’t selected to play in that game by a certain Arsene Wenger.

He would go on to make 193 appearances for the French giants, while making his international debut in 1994. He also competed in Euro 1996, starting four out of five of France’s fixtures as they went out in the semi-finals on penalties after conceding just two goals throughout the tournament.

Those performances would earn him a high-profile move to Parma in Serie A, as he became part of their legendary team filled with talent such as Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta, Juan Sebastian Veron and Hernan Crespo.

PARMA TEAM SHOT, NESTOR SENSINI, FABIO MUSSI, ALAIN BOGHOSSIAN, LILIAM THURAM, GIANLUIGI BUFFON, JUAN SEBASTIAN VERON, FAUSTINO ASPRILLA, ANTONIO...

He made over 200 appearances for the club and won three trophies during his time in the famous yellow and blue shirt, all of which came in 1999. An excellent campaign saw Parma do the double, winning the Coppa Italia on away goals after drawing 3-3 with Fiorentina over two legs, before lifting the UEFA Cup thanks to a 3-0 win over Marseille in Moscow.

Thuram became a stalwart of the team and was a leader of the changing room as they went on to win the Supercoppa Italiana with a 2-1 win over league champions AC Milan, with Thuram captaining the team as one of the three centre-backs.

While he never lifted the Serie A title with Parma, many regard that period of his career as the best despite the trophies that would follow at club level. Not only did he do brilliantly with the Italian side, but he was magnificent as France dominated the international scene too.

Continuing in his right-back role with the national team, France won the 1998 World Cup with Thuram starting six out of seven games and the team conceding just once with him in the team. That goal came in the semi-final against Croatia, where Thuram played Davor Suker onside to allow them to take the lead. He made amends for losing that perfect record however by scoring twice to send Les Bleus through to the final – his only two international goals.

At Euro 2000 he was just as influential and important, starting five out of six games and completing every minute of each of those games. In fact, the only minutes he missed during the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 were when he was rested in the third group game of both tournaments with France already qualified, such was his importance.

The following season with Parma would go on to be his last as he led the team to a fourth place league finish and a Coppa Italia final, where they were beaten by Fiorentina 2-1 on aggregate.

His phenomenal reputation and ability earned him a move to Serie A heavyweights Juventus, who took him and Buffon at the same time for a deal that would be worth around €41million today.

The move saw him final claim some of the many titles his ability deserved, as he racked up four Scudetto’s (although two were later revoked due to the match-fixing scandal) and two Italian Supercoppa’s in five years at the club.

Once again playing as a right-back under Marcelo Lippi and then Fabio Capello, Thuram showed the world that while he was known as a no-nonsense central defender that had shone as one of the best around in the toughest defensive era, he could go both ways.

He continued to use his pace and intelligence to overlap and cause problems for opposition defenders in a team that dominated the bulk of possession and he was able to adapt brilliantly.

French players Christophe Dugarry, Lilian Thuram, and Robert Pires celebrate with their trophy after winning the 1998 FIFA World Cup 3-0 against...

Thuram was an ever-present in the team that made it all the way to the 2003 UEFA Champions League final, where they were beaten by Serie A rivals AC Milan on penalties at Old Trafford.

After the match-fixing scandal that rocked Italian football, Thuram was coming to the end of his career at 34 years old. That didn’t stop the top clubs wanting him however, as European champions Barcelona paid €5m to bring him to Spain.

There he would act largely as back up to Carles Puyol, Rafael Marquez and Gabriel Milito at centre-back with his pace now not what it once was. It was a transitional period for Los Cules and while they didn’t win La Liga during his time at the club, he was part of the club that won the Super Cup in 2006 – playing one half of the second leg in a 4-0 aggregate win.

Thuram would retire at the end of his two year spell as the third player to hit 100 international caps and most capped French player every with 142 caps to his name, with a record of having won everywhere he went.

Without a doubt one of the best pure defenders the modern game has ever seen, but also one of the most underrated attacking full-back to play the game too. One of France’s greatest ever exports, remember Lilian Thuram’s greatness next time you’re talking about all-time great defenders.

Remembering Greatness: Gilberto Silva

Look back at all the greatest teams in history and they all have one thing in common, a dominant force in midfield to glue everything together.

The same can be said for both Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ from the 2003/04 season in the Premier League and the 2002 World Cup winners Brazil. Both teams shared the same man in that key position and have unrivalled success – Gilberto Silva.

A beast of a central midfielder, he had all the attributes you crave as a defensive stalwart in your team but also had the athleticism to chip in going forward when needed.

Interestingly enough, Silva’s rise to prominence came at the 2002 World Cup. He was still playing in his home country for Atletico Mineiro when he was called up to the national team as cover for the captain and star defensive midfielder Emerson.

Rather than change system or set up, Luiz Felipe Scolari trusted the 26-year-old to plug that gap. Gilberto played every minute of every game as Brazil won the tournament for a record fifth time, with his performances described as “carrying the piano on his back that Ronaldo and Rivaldo played their tunes on”.

Brazil's forward Ronaldo (C) and midfielder Gilber : News Photo

The performances were enough to see him labelled as one of the best defensive midfielders in the world, and that convinced Arsene Wenger to spend £4.5million on bringing him to Europe.

He immediately settled into the team ahead of his international compatriot Edu, forming a formidable partnership alongside Patrick Vieira. Between them, they could physically dominate opposition while also covering ground to help in both directions and being technically tidy enough to keep possession and carve through teams.

Gilberto’s job in the side was simple, beef up the protection in front of the back four and get the ball forward to the more talented attacking players as quickly as possible.

His first season ended with a FA Cup win and runners-up in the league, five points behind Manchester United. But the following season was a historic one in English football.

In 2003/04 Arsenal went the entire season unbeaten, becoming the first English side to do so. Gilberto was key in that run, playing in 32 of 38 league games as well as all eight Champions League games they played that season. Unfortunately for Arsenal, they didn’t win any cup competitions so had to settle for that league title – which would end up being the only title Gilberto won in his career.

The following year he struggled with injury after fracturing his back and only featured 17 times in all competitions before returning the following season. His important to the side was shown, since despite the exit of Vieira to Juventus that summer, Gilberto’s partnership with Cesc Fabregas led the Gunners to a Champions League final against Barcelona.

Although they lost, they played very well and it was two late goals against ten men that won it for Barcelona and meant that Gilberto went trophyless once again.

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Aside from those classic performances for the Gunners, he will also forever go down in history for the club. After they moved from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium, it was the Brazilian who scored the club’s first ever goal at the new stadium in a 1-1 draw against Aston Villa.

Following on from there he lost his place in the Arsenal team as a regular, but for Brazil he was still key. He wore the captain’s armband in the absence of Lucio during the 2007 Copa America as Brazil won the tournament, beating Argentina 3-0 in the final. While Gilberto was suspended for the final itself, he played every game up to that point and was key under his idol Dunga.

After a spell with Greek side Panathinaikos he returned to Brazil to finish his career in his homeland where he spoke of winning the Copa Libertadores with his former side Atletico Mineiro. In 2013 he achieved that dream before retiring.

‘The Invisible Wall’ was the glue for all the successful teams he played in. Dominant aerially, a tough tackler, a great reader of the game and a leader. Arsenal wouldn’t have gone unbeaten without him and Brazil wouldn’t have won the World Cup without him. Without a doubt one of the best and most underrated defensive midfielders of his generation. Remember greatness, remember Gilberto Silva.

Remembering Greatness: Rivaldo

When you think Brazil, the first thing that comes to mind is flair and their legendary number 10 shirt. From Pele and Zico to Ronaldinho, Kaka and Neymar the famous yellow and green has been filled with greatness since forever.

But one man who is often overlooked when it comes to the greatness of his career and achievements both at club level and international level is the great Rivaldo.

With a wand of a left foot, incredible upper body strength, sublime skill, finesse and brute power to go with his athleticism, Rivaldo is without a doubt one of Brazil’s greatest ever.

At 6ft 1, he was not your average diminutive creator. He was powerful, able to compete in physical battles in an era where defenders got away with a crunching tackle as a “warning shot” early in the game. Much like the legendary winger Garrincha, his bow-leggedness never caused him an issue or stopped him reaching greatness.

He first broke onto the scene in Europe after signing for Deportivo La Coruna from Palmeiras. He wore the blue and white stripes of the La Liga outfit for just one season, but he immediately put everyone on notice by scoring 21 league goals in 41 appearances to be the fourth-highest scorer in the division.

Those performances were enough to seal him a move to the Camp Nou, after Barcelona agreed to pay around £19million for the then 25-year-old with manager Sir Bobby Robson convincing the club to sign him ahead of Liverpool’s Steve McManaman.

He had an immediate impact for Los Cules scoring 19 goals in 34 games in La Liga as the Catalan side claimed a league and Copa Del Rey double. The following year he bettered his league goal tally and matched it in all competitions despite playing in less games as they retained the title.

That 1998/99 season was a special one for Rivaldo as he had played a part in helping his national side to the 1998 World Cup final, only to be beaten in the final by France. He bounced back brilliantly, going on to win the Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year award in 1999.

As the best player in the world officially, he was now the proud owner of Brazil and Barcelona’s number ten shirt but that didn’t stop Louis van Gaal trying to move him around on the pitch.

The Dutch coach tried to put him on the left wing rather than his preferred central playmaker role and despite playing a lot of games his own individual performances struggled. That still didn’t stop him from scoring ten Champions League goals en route to the semi-finals but ultimately he ended the campaign trophyless.

That season saw him linked with moves all over Europe, including Manchester United with then captain Roy Keane naming him as the player that he would most like to see come to Old Trafford.

Instead he opted to stay and produced the best season of his career, scoring 36 goals in 53 games in all competitions but that year is most remembered in Rivaldo’s career for the final game of a long campaign.

With Barcelona and Valencia battling it out for the final Champions League spot, the Brazilian took it upon himself to overtake the opposition with a hat-trick that to this day is widely regarded as the best hat-trick of all time. A stunning, swerving free-kick was his first, before some individual skill and his trademark power found the top corner for his second.

Then in the final minute, Rivaldo received the ball with his back to goal on his chest. His first touch flicked the ball upwards rather than to kill it dead and from the edge of the penalty area he hit a jaw-dropping bicycle kick into the bottom corner to secure the vital three points. If you ask the original R10, that is the greatest goal of his career – and he scored plenty of scorchers.

The following year would be his final with Barcelona, scoring 14 goals in 33 games before the return of Louis van Gaal saw a now 30-year-old Rivaldo was allowed to leave the club on a free transfer.

He joined Italian giants AC Milan, who were still in their pomp with Carlo Ancelotti at the helm as boss. Rivaldo wasn’t as explosive or influential as he was during his heyday anymore, scoring just eight times in 40 appearances across a season-and-a-half in which he broke his European hoodoo to win the Champions League as well as the Coppa Italia.

For all the trophies he won at club level, you cannot overlook his international status.

As previously mentioned he reached the final of the 1998 World Cup, being named in the team of the tournament along the way to a runners-up medal. He scored three times in the tournament for Brazil, with only Ronaldo scoring more for his country.

He bounced back from that disappointment the following summer however, helping the Seleccao to retain their Copa America title in 1999. He scored a tournament high five goals, tied with Ronaldo, and was voted as the tournament’s best player having scored twice in the 3-0 win over Uruguay in the final.

The crowning moment of his Brazil career however came in 2002, when he was a key part of the team that was able to claim victory in the World Cup final to give the country a record fifth title. He scored the winner against Turkey in the group stages, a game where he is more remembered for getting someone sent off for feigning injury when a ball was kicked at him.

He also scored the fourth in a 5-2 win over Costa Rica, at a point where the game was swinging in the minnows favour having just come from 3-0 down to make it 3-2 and also scored the second of four in the win over China. He then scored the opening goal in the 2-0 win over Belgium in the round of 16 before equalising for Brazil in the quarter-final game against England after Michael Owen had put the Three Lions ahead.

The semi-finals and final belonged to R9 as he scored all of Brazil’s goals from then on, but without Rivaldo it’s fair to say they wouldn’t have even got that far. Even in the final it was Rivaldo’s shot that was saved by Oliver Kahn to allow Ronaldo to tap in the opener before he dummied the ball and allowed it to run through to Ronaldo for the second too.

Because of the greatness of R9 at the same time as him as well as the greatness that followed with Ronaldinho and Kaka both winning Ballon d’Or’s also before Neymar became one of Brazil’s all-time greats, Rivaldo’s brilliance is often forgotten.

Don’t let him be forgotten, because he is truly one of the absolute best Brazilians to ever grace the game of football.

Portugal continue to play to level of opponents in narrow win over Azerbaijan

Portugal kicked off their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign with a narrow win over minnows Azerbaijan, as a pattern in their recent games continued.

Despite starting with a very strong team including Cristiano Ronaldo, Bernardo Silva, Pedro Neto and Joao Cancelo, the two teams were only separated by an own goal from Azerbaijan defender Maksim Medvedev in the first half.

Portugal continued to dominate the ball and push forward, but failed to create any real clear cut chances until the final minutes of the game when substitute Joao Felix hit the ball straight at the goalkeeper.

It was the Seleccao’s fourth win in five games and added another clean sheet to Fernando Santos’ record, with the victory marking his 50th in competitive games as Portugal manager.

But there was a pattern displayed in this game that has been fairly worrying for some fans in recent games, that the team seem to play to the level of whatever the opposition is they’re up against.

The recent games against Spain and France saw them eek out close fought 0-0 draws before succumbing to a 1-0 defeat to the world champions in a game that could have gone either way. They were able to beat Sweden in relatively dominant fashion following that, before a 7-0 win over lowly Andorra too.

Against Croatia they seemed to go toe-to-toe and came out 3-2 winners thanks to a last minute Ruben Dias header, in a game they could easily have lost too. They were being comfortably outplayed by the home side before Marko Rog’s second yellow card just moments before the equaliser.

Considering the quality they have running through the squad, they still seem to play at their best when they have the underdog mentality going into games.

Santos’ preference is to set up a solid defence and to let the attacking players perform freely, but with so much depth and quality he should be setting up to take games by the scruff of the neck and dominate them.

The vast majority of the attacking players thrive in possession based teams at club level and are better suited to that type of game, while the fact Ronaldo is allowed to take the evenings off when it comes to defending surely means the overall game is better suited to not having to defend so much.

With a game against Serbia at the weekend and then another qualifier against Albania next midweek, Portugal will need to find a level we all know they’re capable of to win those games against much tougher opposition than Azerbaijan could provide.

During Euro 2016 we saw Portugal win only one game during 90 minutes in the entire competition on their way to winning the competition, then in the 2018 World Cup in Russia they fought to an exciting draw with Spain then beat Morocco 1-0 before being held to a 1-1 draw with Iran. They then failed to really turn up against Uruguay in the knockout rounds, getting eliminated at the first attempt.

If Euro 2020 and the 2022 Qatar World Cup are to be successful with what could be argued as Portugal’s strongest squad ever, they need to start performing to their potential in every game.

England lineup against San Marino should be all-out attack

Forget this summer’s European Championships for a couple of weeks, England begin their path to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar with a triple header of qualifiers over the next two weeks.

Gareth Southgate’s side will prepare for games against San Marino, Albania and Poland starting against the minnows who come from just off the Italian coast.

Normally this would be where the manager would set out a strategy and start to plan how he wants to play, but considering everything right now there’s probably no need for England to do that this time.

They come up against a side in San Marino who have scored just once since 2017, with the aggregate score of their last 24 games standing at them losing 90-1 with 22 defeats.

You could say it’s an unfair match up against England who are currently ranked fourth in FIFA’s world rankings, 206 places above the bottom ranked San Marino. The result is probably not in doubt by anyone who knows anything about the sport and for that reason, there is no need for Southgate to use serious tactics or strategy for the game.

It may seem unprofessional or disrespectful, but it isn’t. In a game where England are expected to romp to victory against opposition who’s level will not be seen in a major tournament ever, the point of the tactical side becomes a bit forgotten.

England will likely have upwards of 70% possession of the ball, will create chance after chance and will barely be tested defensively – so why go with traditional tactics and formations. Why not go out to put a beating on them and set down a marker?

Belgium and Russia both beat San Marino 9-0, while even Scotland were able to score eight in their two games against San Marino. England should be looking to match the the former results at the very least with the type of attacking talent they have in the squad.

You don’t need four defenders on the pitch and you won’t need a defensive midfielder, so Southgate should make the most of his squad options and field an all-out attacking side to send a message and get some confidence flowing through his squad.

Either Dean Henderson or Nick Pope will start in goal but they’ll have nothing to do so it doesn’t really matter too much which one plays. In defence, you want your most progressive passers at centre back for a game like this so Harry Maguire and John Stones should be automatic picks. Kyle Walker’s pace and familiarity against a low block should see him start at right-back and that’s where traditional picks should stop.

Bukayo Saka broke into the Arsenal team as an attacking left-back but has now transformed into a winger and has been one of the Gunners’ best players this season. He should start on the left but will be given complete freedom to just roam down the flank.

In midfield you want the most progressive players that can make things happen and are comfortable technically. Central midfield is not England’s strongest position when it comes to players who naturally play there, but this is the type of game where that doesn’t matter too much.

The best, most technical players that perform centrally in the squad are Jude Bellingham, Mason Mount and Phil Foden and therefore those three should make up the midfield trio.

In attack, England’s best three are available and thus should start. Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane are locks in attack and with Jadon Sancho missing from the squad through injury, Marcus Rashford claims the left wing position. With that said he has been struggling with an ankle injury and has missed Manchester United’s last two games. If he is unavailable then Southgate should add goals to the team, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin should enter the frame.

The team still retains a balance but is packed with attacking players to get confidence flowing and to set out a marker for the rivals in the group. Use the other two games against Albania and Poland to work on tactics and formations, but this game should be a complete run-over.

Neymar’s new PSG contract confirms the path he needs for greatness

It’s hard to make a case for Neymar not having reached his full potential, but it’s also pretty easy to make a case too.

Having just turned 29 years old, the Brazilian superstar has agreed a new four-year contract with Paris Saint-Germain to extend his stay at the club until 2026 at least.

By that point, Neymar will be 34 years old and without a doubt on his way down on the trajectory of his career. He’s not the supreme super-athlete that Cristiano Ronaldo is – who turned 36 on the same day Neymar turned 29 – nor is he a player who doesn’t need to rely on his physical attributes like Lionel Messi does.

Neymar’s key attributes have always been his incredible skill, matched with electric pace, super agility and the technical quality to carry the ball past players with total ease. By the time he is 34, he’ll still be able to do those things but probably not to the same standard that we’ve come accustomed to.

What that means for most, is that Neymar has entered the final stretch of his career to make himself remembered as one of the best of his generation.

After joining Barcelona from Santos, Neymar shone. He scored 105 goals in 186 games for the Catalan giants and won every trophy available to him while becoming one third of arguably the greatest attacking trident the game has ever seen with Messi and Luis Suarez.

But when he left the Camp Nou for Paris aged 25, many questioned his ambition. To him it was clear – he wanted to be the main man in a successful team and didn’t feel like he could do that in the shadow of Messi in Spain.

He was right too, nobody can outshine the greatest player of all time at the club he has spent his entire career. To put into perspective how good Messi is at Barcelona just look at his goal record. He has scored 651 times for the club and sits top of the all time scoring charts. But he is so far ahead of everyone else that you’d have to add together the player’s tally from fourth place, third place and second place in those charts and then add 27 goals to match him.

Neymar’s decision to join a side who are financially strong enough to compete for all the major titles in Europe while making him the main man was easy to understand. They signed Kylian Mbappe alongside him and with Thomas Tuchel being brought in soon after, they were supposed to push on and become a dominant force.

But in a spell that has seen him constantly linked with a return to Spain due to unhappiness, as well as marred with injuries and underperforming in the Champions League question marks have been raised about whether or not the move was a success.

He’s won several trophies with the club, but PSG are supposed to win everything domestically. The money they have available to them, they are completely clear of everyone around them to be able to dominate the league and cup scene in France.

In Europe though, they’ve not been as good. They had failed to reach even the quarter-finals since Neymar joined the club until last season, when the adjusted run-in meant they made it all the way to the final.

The single leg format certainly helped them but Neymar was the standout performer until they came up against a formidable Bayern Munich side.

There was talk that the defeat could see the end of the project, with Neymar to return to Spain to get back to the top of the game. Instead though, he has committed himself to the project and huge money to finish what he started.

Having already won the Champions League, simply winning it once with PSG with the amount of investment they have put into the squad won’t be enough to cement his legacy.

With the World Cup around the corner now, winning it is the only way that he will be remembered in generations to come for the great player that he actually is.

The club trophies are great but are clouded by the fact he was playing alongside Messi, the entire reason he left the club to begin with. Without succeeding at PSG by winning the Champions League he will be deemed to have never reached that potential without him.

But internationally, to go down with the great Brazilians before him like Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Zico, Pele and Romario he needs a World Cup title.

The Brazilian side is arguably the strongest it’s been during Neymar’s reign as the leader and the World Cup in 2022 in Qatar will be his final attempt at the biggest trophy in all of football.

His path to eternal greatness is now set with this new contract. Win the Champions League with PSG as the main man and then win the World Cup with Brazil and go down as the best Brazilian of this era. Simple.

Portugal: Don’t Fear The Big Boys Anymore – You’re One Of Them

For years and years, Portugal have been considered to be in the second tier of international football.

The giants like France, Germany, Brazil and Argentina have always been considered the better teams at international level, with the best talent always seemingly having one of those passports to their name.

Portugal have been grouped with the likes of England and Holland as perennial under-achievers despite having plenty of talent in their squad. It’s all changed now though.

After consecutive 0-0 draws against France and Spain, it may seem like a weird conclusion to come to. But this is the final stretch of a long process that has seen Portugal win the last two competitive tournaments they have been a part of – including the European Championships in 2016.

Plenty of fans and critics like to point out that Portugal won just one of their games in that entire tournament during the initial 90 minutes, the 2-0 semi-final win over Wales. What they fail to mention is they didn’t lose any games during the tournament. Fernando Santos has done a fantastic job of making Portugal almost impenetrable defensively.

Since losing to Uruguay in the World Cup Round of 16 back in 2018, Portugal have only lost one game in all competitions – friendlies included. They’ve beaten Italy, Holland, Serbia, Croatia, and Sweden in that time, while also drawing against France, Spain and Croatia too.

Luxembourg v Portugal - UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier : News Photo

They’ve also managed to get a squad together which is arguably among the top 3 in the world in terms of pure talent. Defensively, Rui Patricio patrols a backline expertly well as a man with his experience should. In front of him, Pepe is arguably one of the most underrated defenders of all-time ad next to him is an undeniable prospect in Ruben Dias. At full-back the Selecçao have incredible depth with the likes of Ricardo Pereira, João Cancelo, Nelson Semedo and Raphael Guerreiro in the current group while youngsters like Nuno Mendes are coming through too.

In midfield they arguably have the deepest pool of options outside of the French. Danilo Pereira and William Carvalho provide a solid base to build from, with a wide passing range to go with their defensive capabilities. Both men have expert positioning and are great at reading the game, which allows the attacking players to flourish. Other options in the deeper positions include João Moutinho, Ruben Neves, Andre Gomes and Renato Sanches too.

In the more attacking midfield positions the depth continues. In addition to guaranteed starters Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes, Portugal’s options include Gonçalo Guedes, Trinçao, Diogo Jota and Rafa Silva for different occasions.

Portugal’s weakest position is arguably in centre forward and yet they still have the greatest goalscorer in modern football history. Cristiano Ronaldo has moved away from the left-wing position in recent years to a more central role and he’s flourished. During Sky’s broadcast of the draw with France they revealed a stunning stat. If you took all of Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals for Portugal score prior to his 30th birthday, he would still be their all-time top goalscorer with 49 goals. Alongside him, young prospect João Felix is making a name for himself while Andre Silva provides a reliable goal threat in the squad too.

With Santos looking to pair Felix and Ronaldo together going forward, Portugal’s strongest XI is arguably one of the best in world football right now. With a manager and captain who believe in winning by any means necessary too, they need fans to start believing now. Previously against the top sides, Portugal would hang back and defend and look to counter-attack with Ronaldo leading the charge but these last two performances have shown progression; Portugal can go toe-to-toe with the best.

It’s time for Portugal to stop worrying about the prospect of facing the big boys at tournaments now – they’re one of them.