Heskey: Coaching helps you look at football differently

Emile Heskey coaches Leicester City Women.
  • Emile Heskey represented England at four major tournaments
  • The former Liverpool striker is now coaching Leicester City's women
  • He tells FIFA.com about that job and gives his take on England's Class of 2021

Emile Heskey is one of Leicester’s favourite football sons. A local lad made good, he lifted two League Cups for his hometown team before becoming a treble-winner at Liverpool and earning 62 caps for his country.

In a ‘golden generation’ of dazzling individual English talent, he was the unflashy personification of humility and hard work. Michael Owen, for whom he acted as a tireless and selfless foil, still names him – without hesitation – as his best strike partner.

Now 43, Heskey finds himself back at Leicester City, beginning his coaching career where he started out as a player. But he is not, as might have been expected, taking those early steps with Brendan Rodgers’ UEFA Champions League-chasing men’s team.

His expertise is instead being utilised with the club’s women, who this season earned promotion to the increasingly star-studded WSL 1, topping the second tier with two games to spare.

Jonathan Morgan, the side’s manager, had spent his youth idolising Heskey. "We still joke about it now,” he said recently, “but I remember when I was a young lad at the park literally saying Emile's name when I was scoring goals.” Now Morgan says he is discovering and benefiting from the same humble honesty that made the former England striker such a favourite of team-mates and managers.

Heskey is relishing the coaching experience, too, and explained why in an interview in which he took time to reflect on his England career and assess the Three Lions’ current generation.

Emile Heskey of England controls the ball under pressure from Medhi Lacen and Anther Yahia of Algeria during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group C match between England and Algeria at Green Point Stadium on June 18, 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa. 

FIFA.com: Emile, can you tell us how the job with Leicester City Women came about and how you’ve been enjoying it so far?

I’ve been loving it to be honest. I’d been a Leicester club ambassador for a while and I’m on a UEFA course which requires you to undertake some work experience inside the football club, so I asked about helping out somewhere. Susan Whelan (Leicester’s chief executive) said that the club was just about to acquire Leicester's women’s side (previously independent of Leicester City FC), and suggested I get involved and become an ambassador for them. In the end that’s morphed into coaching the team too, and I’ve really enjoyed the experience. The only downside is that the staff played a tournament recently with the girls and they beat us eight games out of nine! (laughs)

Was the coaching element of it a surprise to you, and something that just evolved?

It was. I'd been quite happy with the ambassadorial role, doing bits and pieces off the pitch, but when Jonathan came and asked if I fancied doing some coaching, I thought ‘Why not?’ And once I was out on the grass, I enjoyed it. I’d done a bit of coaching towards the end of my playing career, working with the U-21s at Bolton, but here I have the opportunity to get involved a lot more, working with individual players and looking at different tactics. And it does help you look at football differently. After 20-plus years of looking purely from an individual’s point of view as a player, now I have to look at it from a coach’s perspective, getting into players’ heads, delivering my message in the right way so that what I'm telling them ends up getting translated out on the pitch.

It must be an exciting time to be involved at Leicester, with the women’s team going up to WSL 1 for the first time and the men flying high in the Premier League.

It really is. When you look at the progression of Leicester as a club, it’s massive. We're cemented as a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League, obviously winning it under Claudio [Ranieri] but also consistently pushing for Champions League spots in the last couple of years too. That ambition and feelgood factor is there with the women’s team too, having been at the top of the table all season and getting up to WSL 1 at such a critical time, with so much more sponsorship and TV coverage coming in there. It’s an exciting time to be going up into what is already a very good league.

As you say, even without the latest cash injection, the WSL already boasts many of the world’s top players. Is testing Leicester’s players against those stars something that excites you?

In football, that’s what it’s all about: pitting yourself against the best. I loved doing it as a player and, yeah, I can’t wait for our players to challenge themselves against the Man Citys, Arsenals, Chelseas – with all the stars they have – and see how they measure up. As a club, we definitely want to be competitive in that league – we don’t want to just be part of it. There are big ambitions for women’s football at Leicester; it’s not just a little side project.

Emile Heskey, LCFC Ambassador and Coach reacts with Millie Farrow of Leicester City following the FA Women's Continental League Cup Semi Final match between Bristol City and Leicester City at Twerton Park on February 03, 2021 in Bristol, England.

Do you see yourself being part of that journey for Leicester City Women, or is there another direction you see your career going in over the coming years?

Quite honestly, I’d love to stay part of it. I don’t know what the future will bring but it would be nice to play a part in continuing the team’s progression. I know how ambitious the club is about the women’s team, and the thought of being part of their first season in WSL 1, seeing them play games in the King Power, definitely excites me. It’s also nice to be part of the wider progression of women’s football, and hopefully getting it to a level that it should have been at years ago.

This has been your first experience coaching female players. How have you enjoyed that, and has there been any adjustment required?

I enjoy it until I get beaten by them in training matches, or I need to join in the running! (laughs) Honestly, they’ve been great. They’ve taken to me really well, and I wasn’t sure if that would be the case, with me coming in from the men’s game and trying to implement certain things. But they’ve been very receptive and I can see some real development as a result of the things we’ve been trying to teach them.

In the men’s game, we’ve had World Cup qualifying starting up recently in Europe and some early wins for England. What do you make of the current squad?

In my opinion, Gareth Southgate has one of the toughest jobs in football just selecting a squad because there’s so much English talent there to choose from right now. I think it looks great for England at the moment. There will always be discussion about why this player or that player isn’t being picked, but that comes with the territory. It’s Gareth’s job to win games and he’ll do that by finding the right blend. And I think he will.

As a former centre-forward yourself, how highly do you rate Harry Kane?

Very highly. When I look at him, I see a natural goalscorer – someone you can always rely on. Looking at it from a coaching perspective, I appreciate all the more that those players – the ones who’ll get you goals week in, week out, year in, year out – are worth their weight in gold. Harry’s been fantastic for England, a great captain, and that’s saying something because I’ve always said that forwards shouldn’t be captains because they’re too selfish. But he’s taken that role on, made it his own, and for me whatever frontline Gareth plays, Kane is the one player who has to be there.

You played and scored in England’s most famous World Cup qualifier: the 5-1 win in Germany. Was that the highlight of your time with the national team?

Yeah. Nothing could measure up to that. You’ve got to remember that we’d lost the last game at the old Wembley to that Germany team not long before. They hadn’t been beaten at home for 50-plus matches and, to make things even tougher, we went 1-0 down after seven or eight minutes. For us to win in those circumstances, and win the way we did, was just phenomenal. Sven [Goran Eriksson, England’s then coach] was very clever and tactically astute in the way he prepared for that game and, even when we went a goal down so early, we never panicked. We hit them at certain key times, and it was just a very special night.

Was it even better than playing at the World Cup itself?

It’s hard to compare the two. Growing up, playing in a World Cup, scoring in a World Cup, is what you dream about. The 1994 tournament in America made such a big impression on me because Romario was one of my all-time favourite players, and I can still remember his goals and the way he combined with Bebeto – it was just flawless. So when I got the chance to go to the World Cup, it did bring back all those great memories I’d had as a kid.

Emile Heskey in action at the 2002 World Cup.

When you look at the team that beat Germany and went on to Korea and Japan, you can see why people thought England could, and maybe should, win that World Cup. Was that your feeling too at the time?

One hundred per cent. We eventually lost in the quarters to the Brazil team who went on to win it, but I even felt we should have beaten them. We went 1-0 up through Michael [Owen] and, looking back, our tactics weren’t the best after that. We sat back too much and invited probably the best attacking force in football at that time – Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho – to come on to us. Those three were phenomenal that day, but I do think our tactics worked against us. Brazil obviously had a bit of luck too. It was a shame because I would have loved to have won something with that England team because there was so much incredible talent in that generation.

Sport. Football. 2002 World Cup Qualifier. Group 9. Munich. 1st September 2001. Germany 1 v England 5. The England team line up together for a group photograph. Back Row L-R: Sol Campbell, Emile Heskey, Rio Ferdinand, David Seaman, Michael Owen. Front Row

Caparros: Armenia must have faith in the work being done 

RCD Espanyol v Sevilla FC - La Liga
  • FIFA.com speaks exclusively with Armenia coach Joaquin Caparros
  • His side have begun Qatar 2022 qualifying with three straight wins
  • "We've started well, but we’re keeping our feet on the ground," he says

When Joaquin Caparros was appointed Sevilla coach back in 2000, he could never have guessed where he would be coaching 21 years later.

From then until 2005, he became an idol at the Andalusian club, contributing to the development and consolidation of future stars like Sergio Ramos, Jesus Navas, Jose Antonio Reyes and Dani Alves. After taking charge of a variety of clubs in Spain, Switzerland and even Qatar, he returned to Sevilla in 2018, where he had two short spells as interim coach interspersed with a period as the club’s director of football. Then in early 2020, he got a call from Gines Melendez that would change everything.

The veteran coach, who had enjoyed great success while in charge of Spain’s youth teams, was the one who sought out Caparros to offer him the Armenia job, having himself being appointed technical director of football at the country’s football association the previous year. Now in need of a coach for the national team, he knew right away that Joaquin was his man.

"They want to develop, and they know that this depends on the credentials of the coaches they have. They're doing great and we’re seeing results that give credence to the president and everyone involved. It's the path we have to follow," Caparros tells FIFA.com when asked about the change in Armenian football.

"I still had time on my contract with Sevilla, but Gines Melendez told me about the Armenia opportunity, so I met him and the president of the national federation. There was a good feeling and a sense of empathy, so we hit it off and came to an agreement quite quickly. They trust us and there’s very smooth communication," Caparros says of the decision to embark on this adventure.

Since then, the mutual affection between Caparros and Armenia has only deepened, helped by a dream start for the coach. "Getting promoted to UEFA Nations League B was reward for the work being done, but it was also unexpected because we were competing against quality teams like Georgia and North Macedonia. It was a success and provided a major morale boost for the country and the squad. It reaffirmed that Armenia must have faith in the work being done," said the former coach of Athletic Bilbao, Deportivo La Coruna and Mallorca, among others.

That promotion was the best possible prelude to the European qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, in which Armenia have made a perfect start, winning their opening three games in the last week of March to lead Group J.

"We’ve begun the qualifiers with a lot of enthusiasm but remain conscious of how tough our group is. We’ve started well, but we're keeping our feet on the ground. We’re in with teams like Romania, Iceland, North Macedonia, and especially Germany, which are very strong. That’s where we find ourselves, but we’re hopeful and excited, and no one can take that away from us," Caparros says.

The 65-year-old knows it is a time for calm heads, especially when you look back at what has happened so far in the evenly matched Group J. "Being in a group that throws up crazy results is good for us, but we know it’ll still be very difficult. We’re talking about teams with a lot of [good] players and a great deal of history, like Germany, who are always favourites."

However, when asked about specific objectives, Caparros is not prepared to look beyond September. "We have to take it one game at a time and see how far we can go. We’re not playing again [in the qualifiers] until September, so we'll see how the players are doing. We’re relying on our strength as a team as well as mental fortitude."

And while he has only been in charge of Armenia for ten games, the Spanish coach has hit it off really well in the eastern European country. "From the start, everyone’s been empathetic, from the president down to the coaching staff. It's a joy to go to team gatherings and be with the lads, because they're so committed."

Caparros has only good things to say about his day-to-day work with the national team. "We have an amazing academy. There are ten football pitches here, all maintained superbly, and a residential building with luxury rooms. Everything you need... We're very comfortable," he says.

Norberto Briasco (L) of Armenia vies with Ari Skulason of Iceland during the 2022 FIFA World Cup, WM, Weltmeisterschaft, Fussball qualification match between Armenia and Iceland in Yerevan, Armenia, March 28, 2021.

But surely for a Spanish coach in Armenia, the language barrier is a problem? "Within the squad we speak four languages: Russian, Armenian, English and Spanish," Caparros tells FIFA.com, insisting it has not been an issue: "There’s very fluid communication, and furthermore football is a universal language. When the whistle blows, everyone understands each other. This non-verbal communication has been fundamental."

We finished by asking this native Andalusian what it would mean for Armenia to reach a major tournament like the EURO or World Cup. "Just winning promotion in the Nations League was very emotional, so I can only imagine what it would be like… However, I’ve not even thought about it. I've been in football for many years, so I know we have to take it one step at a time. So let the people of Armenia enjoy the victories, and let us focus on our working methods," he concludes.

Caparros is clearly proud of this Armenia team and the work they have done, so it will be fascinating to see just how far they can go together.

FIFA World Cup 2022™ media rights awarded in Italy

Generic TV camera gantry.

Following the tender process for the Italian media rights to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ will be the 22nd edition of the competition, and it will be particularly unique as the first FIFA World Cup in the Middle East and the first to take place in November/December. With ultra-modern venues, optimal playing conditions and a compact event footprint, the host nation will provide a unique platform to celebrate the game and its ability to connect and inspire people around the world. The tournament will follow the traditional format, with 32 participating teams and 64 matches, offering a highly competitive group stage followed by an exciting knockout phase.

FIFA’s Director of Media Rights & Content Services, Jean-Christophe Petit, said, “After a very competitive tender process, we are pleased to have concluded a deal with a strong media partner in Italy for the FIFA World Cup 2022. We look forward to working with Rai to make this unique FIFA World Cup a great success and create an unforgettable experience for all Italian fans.”

Rights to the Greece earlier this month, which is due to close on Tuesday, 20 April.

Through the sale of media rights for its tournaments, FIFA generates income which is essential to support and develop football around the world, for instance through the FIFA Forward Development Programme.

Brahimi stars in Qatar 2022 Magazine Show

Welcome to the third episode of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ Magazine Show, coming to YouTube every month.

This month, we look back on the 2021 Qatar Cup final, which saw Sabri Lamouchi's Al Duhail come up against Xavi's Al Saad.

We also discover the golf course just a stone's throw from a Qatar 2022 stadium, reflect on the growth of women's sports in Qatar and meet the Spanish chef who has a taste for football.

And we hear from Al Rayyan SC captain Yacine Brahimi on his hopes of Algeria making a return to the FIFA World Cup for the first time since Brazil 2014.

Taylor: Montserrat ready to send shockwaves through world football

MFA Training 11 - Copyright BOL Football
  • Montserrat captain Lyle Taylor speaks with FIFA.com
  • He talks about the Emerald Boys' historic 1-1 draw with El Salvador
  • "It's massive to get the result, but there's more to come from us"

Montserrat 1- 1 El Salvador.

Perhaps it is a scoreline lost in the deluge of FIFA World Cup™ qualifying results and storylines from the past week. But it is by far one of the most significant results of the 108 qualifiers that were played in the past week.

Montserrat, an island with a population hovering just around 5,000 and ranked 183rd in the world, punched above their weight on two occasions. First, they drew 2-2 with Antigua and Barbuda on 24 March, a team 57 places above them on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.

But the real headliner was to come three days later in Willemstad, on the island of Curaçao. Trailing 1-0 in the 89th minute against El Salvador - a nation who have featured at two World Cups and sit 113 places above them - Lyle Taylor fulfilled his role as the team’s talisman and delivered in the crucial moment, just as he had done by scoring both goals against Antigua. Timing his run to perfection, Taylor latched onto Jamie Allen's cross and headed in the equaliser.

After two heartbreaking defeats to El Salvador in the Concacaf Nations League - Taylor was unable to play on both occasions - the third time was indeed the charm. The celebrations were fitting of a World Cup Final. And even better, his young brother Joey, who he seldom gets to play alongside his sibling, was on the pitch when for the decisive goal [Editor's note: Another pair of brothers play on the team in Brandon and James Comley].

Nearly 9,000 kilometres away from the Lewandowskis, Kanes and Gnabrys of the world scoring on the same day in somewhat routine wins, history was made.

As the 70th-ranked team in the world, El Salvador is the highest-ranked side Montserrat have ever drawn against, and by some distance. Curaçao were ranked 159th when they drew in Russia 2018 qualifiers and Antigua are currently 126th.

FIFA.com caught up with Montserrat's man of the hour, who was back in Nottingham fresh off a cross-Pacific flight from Curacao via an eight-hour layover in Amsterdam, to put the achievement into context and to learn where their ambitions lie next.

FIFA.com: Lyle, this past week of World Cup qualifying must be up there in terms of career highlights for you, is that right?

Lyle Taylor: It’s definitely up there. I’ve been at the training ground at Nottingham Forest and everyone’s been asking me how it was, and it’s just so different from my day-to-day footballing job. I get to play with my brother and with, I call them “brothers”. We are a family. The majority of the group have been together for about six years. It’s definitely special.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn't more special than club football because it’s representing where I’m from and where my family have been and everything that makes us “us” as a family. It is very, very special and to be able to captain a country and walk the boys out and to go to war as we do every time we step on the pitch is a special feeling.

What’s your feeling of how Montserrat performed in your first two qualifiers, now that you’re back home and had some time to reflect?

The instant feeling was that we should’ve beaten Antigua and we expected to. And I mean this in no demeaning or derogatory way of Antigua and their national team, but we expect to beat them. So for us that’s a disappointment. We thought if we went out there and did everything possible that we could beat El Salvador, who are over a 100 places above us, so I think that says a lot about how far we’ve come.

We’re not going into these games as whipping boys. We’ve got enough in this dressing room to win, so let’s go out there and show everyone that we’re good enough. We know the World Cup in Qatar is pie in the sky. That is a long way from this. We’ve got a lot of work to do just to get to the next qualifying group before the impossible dream of getting there, let’s be honest. Little ol’ Montserrat getting to the group qualifying stages would be massive. But that’s where we want to get.

Lyle Taylor

People may look at two draws in the standings and not think much of that, but can you put those results into context and describe what they mean to the island?

I made my debut six years ago last week in Curacao against Curacao. Arguably we should’ve beat them. We were unlucky then. We had a period of inactivity for about three or four years and we’ve come back ready to prove a point. I’d like to take the last three years and say where are now compared to where we’ve been is streets ahead. Ninety per cent of that is down to Mr. Cassell (Montserrat FA President Vincent Cassell). The work he’s put in and the effort he’s made to allow us to simply play and to get to the position where we are expecting to win games is amazing and that’s down to him and what he’s put in.

As captain I’m privy to everything that goes on behind the scenes. I can’t overstate how hard Mr. Cassell works, and there’s a lot to come. It’s amazing what I’ve seen this team start as and turn in to. Down to the smallest things like kits. We used to wear FIFA-donated kits and now have a sponsorship with Bol. The new kit is amazing and it’s special to us and what we are as the Emerald Boys. Everything from that to the dormitories being built at the stadium, the standard of the pitch and facilities we’re given and hotels we stay in when we go away is 100 per cent down to him. He waited over 40 years to see us win a game, and we’ve done that in recent years.

What the boys have put in is unbelievable. Bear in mind we’ve had a lockdown for football below step 2 for about five or six months. We have over half our squad playing at that level. They’ve not been able to play or train for that period of time and they still turn up and bust their balls and get the results. It is absolutely unbelievable. We’ve had so many obstacles thrown at us and it almost feels like there are powers that don’t want us to succeed, but we are going to make it to a major championship, whether that’s a Gold Cup or the next stage of World Cup qualifying. When we do make it, it’s going to send shockwaves through world football.

The standout result was of course the draw against El Salvador with you scoring in the last minute. Is that your finest moment in your career, or at least up there?

I’ve played in front of some big crowds at Wembley and I’ve got a lot to be thankful for, but there is nothing like playing with family and we are all a family in the national team. To pick up a point against an El Salvador team, that really we have no right to be going toe-to-toe with, is massive. To do it the day before my birthday was a perfect storm and I’m so thankful that six years ago I accepted the call to be a part of this.

What does getting a point off El Salvador do for the team from a mental standpoint?

This is the first time I’ve played against them. The boys were telling me how tough it would be, and I was thinking about the games we played against teams that had beaten us big before, and you turn up and you graft and you give it absolutely everything and you get a result because that’s how football works. We were still confident. It’s always going to be in the back of some people’s minds, especially when you concede late goals to a team that, let’s be honest, are superior.

To be able to go out there, stand toe-to-toe and give away a poor goal by our standards, and to dominate the second half as we did is just amazing. It’s a taste of their own medicine to them because of what they’ve done to us previously. It’s massive to get that result, but there’s more. The next time we play, we will be winning.

What does it mean to you to represent Montserrat?

From the level of football I’ve come from here in the UK to the level I’m at now, I was never going to be called up for England. It was never an option. The day I got the message I was on the train on the way up to Sheffield playing for Scunthorpe United at the time in League One. My dad and I had been talking about it that weekend and joking how Joey, my little brother, could play left-back, I’ll play up front and my dad could go in goal! And that weekend I got the message asking about my Montserratian heritage. As soon as I was asked, the answer was ‘yes’. It was a chance to represent where my grandparents are from and I was never, ever going to say no to that.

How much pride do you have in being a central figure on this team and in perhaps taking Montserrat to the next level of World Cup qualifying or a major tournament?

I don’t think anything I’ve done in life would be bigger than that achievement. That’s how big it would be and how high it would rank on my list. That would be the best thing ever. I’d give so much for us to be able to play in the latter stages of World Cup qualifying. If it’s the biggest highlight in my career, it would be up there at the very, very top for the other boys. That’s what it would mean, and there’s only one way for it to happen and we have to go out and make it happen, so we’ve got some work to do.

Montserrat have a team talk in training - Copyright BOL Football

Five things we learned from World Cup qualifying

Austria v Denmark - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier
  • There were some spectacular results in qualifying for Qatar 2022
  • Some surprise standouts emerged in on either side of the Atlantic
  • Read on for insight and analysis from the past week

The big boys can be beaten

Although several favourites still recorded comfortable wins, most notably Japan’s 14-0 triumph in Mongolia, several matches threw up surprising results.

Few would have predicted that the Netherlands would lose 4-2 to Turkey in their opening World Cup qualifier. Having looked unstoppable after their 6-0 rout of Germany in the UEFA Nations League last autumn, Spain toiled to secure a 1-1 draw with Greece, before only beating Georgia 2-1 thanks to an injury-time winner.

Burak Yilmaz puts Turkey 2-0 up against the Netherlands from the penalty spot

The 2018 FIFA World Cup™ finalists had perhaps the most stuttering start of all, with Russia 2018 runners-up Croatia suffering a 1-0 defeat to Slovenia in their first qualifier, while reigning champions France dropped two points with a 1-1 home draw against Ukraine.

Most surprisingly of all, four-time winners Germany slumped to a 2-1 loss to North Macedonia in Duisburg. Joachim Low’s men had already shown signs of weakness in their 1-0 win in Romania, and this latest shock setback suggests they have not yet overcome the issues that led to their heavy 6-0 defeat at the hands of Spain last autumn.

Concacaf sides hitting new heights

Europe is not the only place where the game’s "minnows" seem increasingly well equipped to cause problems for bigger teams, as ongoing development work also seems to be paying off in other regions.

British overseas territory Montserrat, home to just under 6,000 people, held overwhelming favourites El Salvador to a 1-1 draw and are still unbeaten in qualifying, while Puerto Rico also shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw with former World Cup participants Trinidad and Tobago. Observers attribute this improvement in performance to factors such as the Concacaf Nations League, which offers more opportunities for teams to develop in competitive conditions.

"I'm very proud of this group. We've talked a lot about not playing with fear. The takeaway from this is: we're a young team that has great potential," said Puerto Rico coach Dave Sarachan. "We're not happy we drew, but we're pleased that we were prepared, and that the group competed. It keeps us in the hunt."

Denmark rotating their way to success

Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand has followed a policy of total rotation during the Scandinavians’ opening three World Cup qualifiers. After beginning their campaign with a 2-0 win over Israel, he changed all ten outfield players for the match against Moldova, with only goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel making a second successive start.

His move paid off with a free-scoring 8-0 win from a Danish team that is generally more attack-minded than that of his predecessor Age Hareide. But did this record-breaking result earn anyone a spot in the starting line-up for the next game against Austria? Not a bit of it – Hjulmand once again rotated all ten outfield players en route to a 4-0 victory in Vienna.

Rotation record

  • Matches: 3
  • Wins: 3
  • Goals scored: 14
  • Goals conceded: 0
  • Players used: 21
  • Goalscorers: 11

Spain have Pedri… and a striker problem

The list of supertalented Spanish youngsters seems endless. Just a year after Ansu Fati’s heralded arrival onto the world stage, all eyes are Barcelona’s 18-year-old midfielder Pedri, who featured for his country in all three of their World Cup qualifiers, making two starts along the way, and already appears to be a key part of Luis Enrique’s plans for the national side.

A familiar problem also seems to have re-emerged for the Spanish. While their possession and passing is as impressive as ever, they lack the necessary aggression and penetration in front of goal. What’s more, there does not appear to be any sign of a prolific attacker who can consistently capitalise on the apparent dominance of Enrique’s team.

Curaçao daring to dream under Hiddink

He guided Korea Republic and the Netherlands to World Cup semi-finals and won the UEFA Champions League. Now Guus Hiddink has been appointed national team coach of the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao, population 150,000.

He has made a flying start with his new side, recording a 5-0 victory over St. Vincent and the Grenadines followed by a 2-1 win over Cuba.

"If people ask: 'Are we going to the World Cup?' then I say: 'Yes, we’re going to the World Cup.' What else can I say? We are going to do everything we can. The ambition is there and it would be fantastic if Curaçao makes it to the World Cup," said Hiddink.

Individuals who impressed

Qatar 2022 postage stamps to deliver FIFA World Cup™ delight worldwide

Qatar 2022 postage stamps

Fans of the beautiful game now have the chance to collect little pieces of football history after the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ Philatelic Programme launched with the promise of delivering commemorative postage stamps to a worldwide audience.

The stamps will celebrate the first-class features of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, including the state-of-the-art stadiums and the stunning capital city of Doha, as well as the Official Mascot, the Official Poster and the fascinating history of Qatari football.

Further designs highlighting the heritage of the FIFA World Cup™ will be released next year, helping to send vivid football stories across the globe as the clock ticks down to the tournament’s big kick-off on 21 November 2022.

The programme’s first stamps were unveiled on 1 April, giving fans a tantalising taste of what to expect when the world’s best footballers congregate in Qatar next year for an enthralling month of action.

Enthusiasts worldwide will be able to collect a range of memorable designs over the coming months through FIFA Branded Licensee MDM Münzhandelsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG Deutsche Münze.

In the tournament’s host country, the stamps will be distributed by Qatar Post for mailing purposes, as well as for collectors, ensuring the anticipation and joy sparked by the tournament are shared day in, day out.

The stamps will increase awareness and buzz in the build-up to Qatar 2022, while after the tournament, they will take collectors on a nostalgic journey back through an iconic FIFA World Cup.

“In Qatar, the FIFA World Cup Philatelic Programme will allow people to share their excitement on a daily basis,” said FIFA’s Head of Licensing & Retail, Sarah Bohner.

“The striking designs will provide locals with a daily reminder of the game-changing global football spectacle that is on the horizon. For collectors around the world, the stamps will build anticipation ahead of Qatar 2022 and inspire memories that will last a lifetime.”

Follow Wednesday's qualifiers live

England v San Marino - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier
  • A busy week of World Cup qualifying comes to a close
  • Focus squarely on Europe, with some of the world's best players in action
  • England, Italy and Germany among those protecting perfect starts

UEFA (All matches)

Coming soon

Armenia vs Romania

Moldova vs Israel

England vs Poland

Greece vs Georgia

Andorra vs Hungary

San Marino vs Albania

Northern Ireland vs Bulgaria

Ukraine vs Kazakhstan

Bosnia and Herzegovina vs France

Scotland vs Faroe Islands

Liechtenstein vs Iceland

Spain vs Kosovo

Germany vs North Macedonia

Austria vs Denmark

Lithuania vs Italy

Larsson: Sweden have some tremendously gifted youngsters

Sebastian Larsson of Sweden

In recent weeks, the headlines in the Swedish press have been all about the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic for FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifying, five years after he announced his international retirement in the wake of the UEFA EURO.

Sebastian Larsson was one Zlatan’s team-mates at France 2016, where the Blagult failed to make the knockout phase after finishing bottom of Group E. Thirty-one at the time and already an international for eight years, it would not have been a surprise had Larsson also called time with Sweden.

Shortly after that tournament came the appointment of new head coach Janne Andersson, who made Larsson one of the cornerstones of his team as he looked to give them fresh impetus. It proved a winning gamble, with the Swedes reaching the Russia 2018 quarter-finals – their best World Cup performance since USA 1994.

Blessed with natural leadership, composure and skill with the ball at his feet, Larsson is, at 35, still indispensable to the team. Moreover, he wore the captain's armband during the opening qualifiers for Qatar 2022, as Sweden kicked off their Group B campaign with two wins.

In conversation with FIFA.com, the midfielder talks freely about his country's ambitions. He also reminisces about the 17 years he spent in England, where he had spells with Arsenal, Birmingham City, Sunderland and Hull City, and shares his memories of training with Thierry Henry and his pride at pulling on Sweden’s famous yellow jersey more than 120 times.

FIFA.com: You joined AIK in 2018 at the age of 33, having spent your entire senior career in England. Did you want to experience the league championship in your homeland before hanging up your boots?

Sebastian Larsson: It's something I was thinking about more and more as I got older. I went to England when I was 16 and stayed there for 17 years. I became increasingly curious about how I’d feel playing at the highest level in Sweden. That feeling became stronger and stronger as my career went on, and when the opportunity arose, I felt it was the right time. And I’ve been really enjoying it since I got home.

In your first season back, you helped AIK win the championship. Was it important to return while you still had something to contribute to AIK and not just to enjoy the twilight of your career?

Of course. When I first started thinking about coming back, I really didn't want to leave it too late or for it to be about taking it easy and winding down my career. I wanted to be good enough to help the team and make sure that I could contribute to its success, while I still had my ambition and a hunger to win

AIKs Sebastian Larsson cheers with Henok Goitom and Bilal Husein

You debuted with the Arsenal first team in 2004. What did it feel like to sit in a changing room with the likes of Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp, Gilberto Silva and Freddy Ljungberg at 19?

This was an extraordinary period at Arsenal. Without exception, all those players were of the highest quality – and I mean in every position. For me, as a youngster trying to launch my career, having the opportunity to train with those players was simply amazing. Of course, I'm not going to lie, I was very nervous at first. I didn't want to mess up a pass for Henry, I wanted to lay it on for him perfectly. The things I learned from this group were incredible. Their mentality, their quality on the pitch, the way they worked hard in training... they were completely focused. Today, at 35, when I look back at my young self in that environment, I think it was absolutely perfect. Obviously, it was extremely difficult to get game time in that team or entire matches. But if we're talking about football education, I don't think I could have done any better, because at that time Arsenal were one of the best teams in Europe.

Now, a decade-and-a-half later, you’re the experienced player with the impressive career. Do you see differences between the player you were back then and the young pros you share a dressing room with today?

A lot is different. Football, like society, has changed, which is normal. You cannot expect to remain the same all this time, while society evolves. Young players today are extremely serious about their profession, especially in terms of off-field activities. Now you think about what you eat from an early age, how to look after yourself, how many hours you sleep... In that regard, it’s a great step forward. However, when I first managed to make a senior team, it was a bit different. In a way, we had to earn that right. I knew that I was still young, that I had to help the team and kind of be of service to the older players. That's how you developed and became a full-fledged team player. You can find positives and negatives when you compare the two eras, but in the end, football takes its lead from society.

Willo Flood of Manchester City evades Sebastian Larsson of Arsenal

Looking back, what advice would you give to the young Sebastian Larsson set to make his Sweden debut in 2008?

I’d tell him to try to enjoy every moment. I've been very lucky to be in the national team for so long and, when I look back, this first appearance remains a special moment. But I’ve loved every minute I’ve been involved – it's such an honour. So, I’d tell this young man to appreciate everything, especially at the start, but also to try to learn from players who have more experience, whether in matches or training, and take away some small things. When you're young, international players who’ve been around for a long time can really help. And that's what I've always tried to do.

Thirteen years later, you’re now wearing the captain’s armband and have more than 120 caps. Are you aware that you’re now part of national team history?

It's a great honour, something I'm very proud of. I remember when I won my 100th cap. It was a special moment, because there are only a few players to have reached that milestone. But I've always been the kind of player who tries not to look back – at least while I'm still active and able to look to the future. But when the end does come, it’ll surely be something I can reminisce on with immense pride.

At Russia 2018, Sweden were eliminated by England in the quarter-finals. What feelings did that produce: pride at being among the top eight teams in the world or disappointment at not going further?

A little bit of both. It was already a great accomplishment. I don't think a lot of people expected us to reach the quarter-finals of a World Cup. It was a fantastic experience. But when you get that far, you still want to go further, so it was a big disappointment to be knocked out. And the most disappointing thing is that we had the quality to go on, but we didn't perform to the level required of a World Cup quarter-final. England deserved to win that game, but when you're only one game away from having a chance to play for a medal, it's painful to come up short so close to your goal. But overall, we’re proud of what we accomplished.

Three years on, Sweden will be appearing at this summer’s EURO but finished bottom of their group in the UEFA Nations League 2020/21. Has the team progressed or regressed in recent years?

I’d say we’ve became a better team. Some tremendously gifted young players have come into the squad and given us fresh impetus. Competition for places today is as intense as it has been in a very long time. You’ll find our players right across Europe’s top leagues and performing well, which can only lead to improvements. Of course, we finished last in our Nations League group, but we were competing against the best teams: France, Portugal and Croatia. Playing against teams of that calibre is not something we’re used to, but these are the kind of games that teach you a lot. We have to try different things to find solutions and learn how to close the gap and compete. However, we also need to learn what not to do. We quickly realised that, even if we’re dominating a game, if we open things up a little too much, then these teams will immediately punish you. Teams like Sweden need to learn this when they play against the world’s top sides, as they make you pay for every mistake.

Can you put those lessons to use in Qatar 2022 qualifying and emulate what you achieved in 2018?

It’s an indispensable starting point. You always need to have that mindset of learning from things you’ve done and putting it to use, of wanting to do better than before if you want to improve. Otherwise you’ll never accomplish anything. At best, you’ll stay at the same level. We know how difficult it is and how many good teams are in contention, so we have to repeatedly perform at our best. The good thing is that we’ve demonstrated over the last two years that, from time to time, we have what it takes to compete with the best teams. We can make it difficult for them. That’s the primary lesson we need to take with us for our squad to keep progressing.

For you personally, would participating at Qatar 2022 be the ideal way to bring the curtain down on your long international career?

First there’s the European Championship, which is a major tournament and the primary objective for now. But to be honest, I've never tried to look too far ahead, and even less so at my age. [International retirement] might not be too far away, but I haven't decided anything yet, and I don't want to think about it yet.

You're at an age where you don't want to look too far ahead, but do you ever look back and think about what you might do differently if you could relive your career?

Going back in time can be beautiful, but also dangerous. I'm sure you can always find something you could do differently. I decided to leave Sweden at a young age, but I’m proud of the career I’ve had so far. I've played in a league I dreamed of as a kid, the Premier League, and played there for a long time. I’ve always managed to maintain my physical condition, which is why I haven’t had any major injuries. I’ve been able to have a great career, especially with the national team, with whom I’ve played many games. The last World Cup was a success and an important moment for me personally. So I prefer to be proud of everything I've achieved, rather than think of at what I could have done.

Follow Tuesday's qualifiers live

Japan fans cheer
  • Follow all the live scores, results and news for Tuesday's Qatar 2022 qualifiers
  • Ten more matches in Europe with Portugal, Netherlands and Russia all on the road
  • Japan kick-start the action as AFC and Concacaf matches bookend the matchday

Eighteen matches across three continents feature on another massive day of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifiers, and you can follow all the action as it happens here with FIFA.com.

AFC qualifying returns with Russia 2018 participants Japan and Saudi Arabia featuring in the two Asian-based matches.

In Europe, there are home matches for Belgium, Russia 2018 runners-up Croatia and in-form Turkey, while Wales against Czech Republic shapes as a key fixture on the road to Qatar. Portugal, Netherlands and 2018 hosts Russia are also in action. 

Six more Concacaf matches round out the day in the region's final scheduled matchday until June.

30 March

AFC (All fixtures)

Mongolia vs Japan

Saudi Arabia vs Palestine

Qatar 2022 qualifiers draw (AFC Round 2) 

UEFA (All matches)

Azerbaijan vs Serbia

Cyprus vs Slovenia

Turkey vs Latvia

Luxembourg vs Portugal

Slovakia vs Russia

Belgium vs Belarus

Gibraltar vs Netherlands

Wales vs Czech Republic

Montenegro vs Norway

Croatia vs Malta

Concacaf (All fixtures)

Belize v Turks and Caicos Islands

Grenada vs US Virgin Islands

Barbados vs Anguilla

Bermuda vs Aruba

Guyana vs Bahamas

St. Vincent and the Grenadines vs British Virgin Islands

Modric: I want another major success with Croatia

Modric article feature 2
  • Luka Modric now Croatia’s most-capped player of all time
  • Midfielder made his 135th international appearance against Cyprus
  • He discusses that milestone in this exclusive interview

"There is no way of looking at this in which Luka [Modric] doesn’t deserve the title as the best [Croatian] in history."

These words were spoken by Robert Prosinecki, himself considered by many as the country’s best player of all time, in summer 2018 after Croatia had finished as runners-up at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. Just a few months later, Modric was crowned as The Best FIFA Men’s Player.

Two and a half years have passed since then, and the 35-year-old is still pulling the strings in midfield for the Vatreni, as captain and the team’s leader. Modric reached a new milestone on Saturday when he earned his 135th international cap in the 1-0 World Cup qualifying win against Cyprus to overtake Darijo Srna as his country’s record appearance holder.

FIFA.com chatted to Modric about that achievement, his next objectives and Croatia’s bumpy start to Qatar 2022 qualifying.

FIFA.com: Luka Modric, how do you feel as Croatia’s new most-capped player?

The feeling is great, I'm happy and proud. It's a great honour to break such a record, even though I haven't given it much thought. Other national team goals were more important. However, when I came close to this number, I wanted to reach the top. Luckily, I've managed to do it.

You are now 35. Will the UEFA EURO be your last major tournament?

We'll see what happens after the EURO. At the tournament, Croatia have to be strong as a team since we are in a tough group. Despite some retirements, I believe we have quality in our team and that we can play a significant role. It is difficult to promise anything, but we'll go to the EURO with ambition and hope, and mindset to justify the high reputation we have already earned. We need to represent Croatian football as it deserves.

Are you satisfied with your career or is there something still lacking?

Regardless of previous achievements, both at club and international level, you always want more. When you win a trophy, or achieve something big, you want to repeat that triumph. As long as I play, I will have objectives and ambition. With Croatia, I want another major success, and at club level I want to fight for trophies as long as I have a chance. I prepare and work accordingly, and we'll see how long this will last.

Croatia finished as runners-up at the last World Cup, but have started the qualifying campaign for Qatar 2022 with a win and a defeat. Are you disappointed?

Croatia did not start this qualifying campaign in the best possible way, considering both the performances and the outcomes. It’s more difficult to play after the World Cup achievement: every opponent is more motivated against us, and we have to maintain the level of performance from Russia, the high level of the Croatia national team. The start wasn't perfect, but it's the finish that counts. I'm convinced that we have the most quality in this group and that we'll prove that during the qualifiers.

Modric by numbers

  • Born: 9 September 1985
  • Position: Central midfield
  • Clubs: Dinamo Zagreb, Tottenham Hotspur, Real Madrid (since 2012)
  • National team: 135 caps (16 goals)
  • Honours (selected): World Cup runner-up (2018), adidas Golden Ball winner (2018 World Cup), The Best FIFA Men’s Player (2018), European Footballer of the Year (2018), UEFA Champions League winner (2014, 2016, 2017, 2018), FIFA Club World Cup winner (2014, 2016, 2017, 2018)

What others say about Modric

"I’ve said it before: Modric is almost at the same level as Zidane, and Zidane was one of the best players of all time. These players see things we don’t even see on replays."
Casemiro to journalists after the Club World Cup final in United Arab Emirates in 2017

"It seems like they both came here from a different planet to play football with us mere mortals. Both of them are among the best players of all time in their positions."
Ivan Rakitic on Modric and Andres Iniesta at a press conference after the group stage of the 2018 World Cup in Russia

"Luka makes it look easy, but believe me, it’s very, very difficult to play football like that. But with him it looks like the most normal thing in the world. It’s like a dance for him."
Kaka to Omnisport

"When your team are under the cosh, there is no better player to handle the pressure. Modric is always willing to receive the ball and will keep hold of it to take the sting out of the game. That is the mark of a brave player."
Jamie Redknapp in the Daily Mail

Turkey seeking new legends to revive past glories

Ozan Tufan of Turkey celebrates with teammates after scoring 
  • Turkey enjoy best ever start to World Cup qualifiers
  • Sights set on return to biggest stage after 20 years
  • We look at some key takeaways from their opening victories

The big question in Turkish football this week: is their national team set to return to the world stage after a 20-year absence? The early signs are certainly promising after the Crescent Stars kicked off their qualifying campaign for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ with two wins from two to lead the way in a fiercely competitive Group G.­­

Pitted against three-time World Cup runners-up the Netherlands in their opening game at the Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey threw down the gauntlet with a 4-2 win over a strong Oranje team.

Three days later, Senol Gunes’ side underlined their Qatar 2022 credentials with a resounding 3-0 win away to Norway, another of the group’s fancied sides. That victory was especially significant as Turkey had never before won their opening two games in a World Cup qualifying campaign.

Ahead of the team’s third fixture at home to Latvia tomorrow (Tuesday 30 March), hopes of a third World Cup appearance – and first in 20 years – are understandably high among the nation’s famously passionate football fans.

At Korea/Japan 2002, with star turns from the likes of Hasan Sas, Hakan Sukur and Ilhan Mansiz, Turkey stunned everyone by reaching the semi-finals, where they lost to the eventual winners Brazil. In the end, they took home the bronze medal with victory in the third-place game over co-hosts Korea Republic, memorable also for Sukur scoring the fastest goal in World Cup history after 11 seconds.

Gunes, who was also in charge of the team back in 2002, is now trying to shape a new generation of heroes with a mix of home-based and overseas talent. Ahead of the Norway game, his captain Burak Yilmaz showed how confident the team were when asked if they feared Erling Haaland: “We have great defenders and so fear no one. We've never been afraid of anyone.”

Key factors

Solidity: In their opening two games, the Turkish rearguard had to contain the offensive threat of players like Memphis Depay and Erling Haaland, two of the finest forwards in world football at present. However, with English Premier League players Ozan Kabak of Liverpool and Caglar Soyuncu of Leicester City alongside Kaan Ayhan of US Sassuolo, the Crescent Stars were able to hold their defensive line.

Ruthlessness: With seven goals in two games from just eight shots on target, Turkey have been ruthlessly effective up front. Gunes has plenty of top international players at his disposal, among them AC Milan's Hakan Calhanoglu: "Turkish players are highly skilled but of course we can still improve in terms of our play and tactics,” said the coach. “However, it says a lot that only two players – Ozan Tufan and Ugurcan Cakir – from our starting line-up play in the Turkish league."

Star quality: "I desperately want us to qualify for the World Cup," captain Yilmaz said of their quest. The skipper clearly believes in leading by example after grabbing three of his side’s four goals against the Dutch. Then against Norway, it was the turn of Tufan to weigh in with two strikes of his own, reminding everyone that Turkey have numerous players who can win games with individual brilliance.

Turkey could not have wished for a better start on the road to Qatar 2022 and have laid the foundations for a return to football’s flagship event. If Yilmaz can continue to inspire and lead as he has been doing, then he and team-mates like Hakan Calhanoglu, Caglar Soyuncu and Tufan stand every chance of following in the footsteps of the heroes of 2002 and earning legendary status themselves.

Iniesta-inspired Furuhashi harbours high hopes with Japan

 Kyogo Furuhashi of Japan looks on during the international friendly match between Japan and South Korea 
  • Kyogo Furuhashi finished as Vissel Kobe's top marksman last season
  • Attacker admits that he has drawn inspiration from team-mate Andres Iniesta
  • Aims to translate club form to international arena during Qatar 2022 campaign

If Kyogo Furuhashi's performances with Vissel Kobe last season are anything to go by, it seems that the attacker is set to bloom on the international stage commencing with Japan's 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™ qualifier against Mongolia on Tuesday.

The player, deployed either as a winger or attacker, racked up 17 goals in all competitions with Vissel Kobe in 2020 which saw him finish as the team's top-scorer. Notably, he was on target four times in his AFC Championship League debut helping Vissel storm all the way to last four.

His brilliant displays with Vissel didn't go unnoticed as he recently received his call-up to the Japan squad from coach Hajime Moriyasu. It marks a rare call-up having previously joined Samurai Blue during the 2019 edition of the Kirin Cup. Having failed to find the back of the net two years ago, the in-form goal-getter was keen on breaking his international duck this time around.

"I am very happy to be selected into the national team once again," the 26-year-old told FIFA.com. "I used to watch [the national team] on TV and now I am qualified to play for country [again]. I will try to push myself to score goals if I am given the chance to play. I want to do my best to help my team to a good result by scoring goals [against Mongolia]."

 Andres Iniesta of Vissel Kobe celebrates his goal with Kyogo Furuhashi

Breakthrough campaign

Born in Ikoma, Furuhashi cut his teeth with Chuo University team before joining FC Gifu in 2017. After spending a season with the then second-division side, he was swooped up by Vissel in 2018. It was with the Kobe-based side that he quickly made a name for himself.

After a short acclimatisation in his first season, he exploded on to the local scene in 2019 grabbing 12 goals from 36 appearances. Notably, he netted twice in that year's Emperor's Cup, including sealing a 3-1 victory against Shimizu S-Pulse in the semi-final encounter. Vissel went on to down Kashima Antlers 2-0 in the final to win their first cup title and thus seal maiden AFC Champions League qualification.

Despite having never played on the continental scene, the dynamic predator showed little stage fright. He scored in their 5-1 group-opening win against Johor Darul Ta'zim, before bagging the match-winner against Suwon Bluewings and also netting in a 3-1 win against two-time winners Guangzhou Evergrande.

Furuhashi was not done yet. He scored his fourth goal of the campaign by netting the leveller against Suwon in the last-eight clash as the Japanese won on penalties.

Aside from the goals he accrued, it was the new experiences that Furuhashi cherished most. "It was unique feeling scoring in my AFC Champions League debut. The competition level was high and all the matches were hard-fought. It was learning process for the team, including me.

"I am grateful for having the chance of playing football so far down the years. I have kept honing skills and accumulating experiences and that has stood me in good stead today. You keep doing what you can and you will earn your chance game after game. I think I have grown mentally in this regard."

Partnership with Iniesta

Furuhashi's move to Vissel coincided with the club's eye-catching signing of Andres Iniesta in 2018. Inspired by the legendry Spanish playmaker and Vissel captain, Furuhashi made rapid progress establishing himself as the key man up front.

In fact, he has developed telepathic understanding with the former Barcelona midfield maestro and their partnership has become a familiar routine for Vissel.

"I feel that I have a very good relationship with him," he said. "If he moves with the ball, he [often] makes a pass to me. He sees me as a first option [to pass the ball to]. So I think I am trusted and I am confident to do my job well."

Looking ahead, Furuhashi voiced his ambitions to move his game to a higher level to repay those supporting him. “I wouldn’t have reached this level had it not been for great help and support from many people. And I also owe big thanks for my team-mates. What I can do is play well, convey courage, confidence and energy to all those watching us.”

LIVE: FIFA World Cup qualifiers

Jair Catuy of Panama celebrates a goal
  • Another big matchday of FIFA World Cup qualifiers across Europe
  • Five more Concacaf matches will conclude Sunday's match schedule
  • Follow all today's action and catch up on Saturday's news here

Concacaf (All fixtures)

Live

Dominica 0-1 Panama
Cuba 1-1 Curaçao
Puerto Rico 0-0 Trinidad and Tobago

Line-ups

Montserrat vs El Salvador
Postponed: Cayman Islands vs Canada

FIFA has been informed that the Cayman Islands Football Association was not able to submit the required COVID-19 testing information in time for today’s FIFA World Cup Qualification match between Canada and the Cayman Islands. It has been agreed between both Member Associations, FIFA and Concacaf that the match will be postponed and be played at 18:00 ET tomorrow 29 March 2021 at IMG Academy in Florida. This decision has been taken to ensure the safety of all participants in the match.

UEFA (All matches)

Results

Kazakhstan 0-2 France
  • Ousmane Dembele was on target as a much-changed France team recorded their first win of the Qatar 2022 qualifiers. Didier Deschamps made nine alterations to the team that drew 1-1 at home with Ukraine, and two of the players brought in – Anthony Martial and Dembele – combined for the latter to smash home a 20th-minute opener. The points were all but secured just before half-time, when Kazakhstan’s Sergiy Maliy – in wrestling with Paul Pogba at an Antoine Griezmann corner – inadvertently headed past his own keeper. France could have added more in the second half but saw substitute Kylian Mbappe denied from the penalty spot by a fine Aleksandr Mokin save.
Armenia 2-0 Iceland
  • There was an upset in Yerevan as 99th-ranked Armenia beat 2018 FIFA World Cup™ debutants and 46th-ranked Iceland 2-0 in the sides’ first-ever World Cup qualifier. Tigran Barseghyan opened the scoring with an inch-perfect finish, curled away from the experienced keeper Hannes Halldorsson. Barseghyan then turned provider as he found substitute Khoren Bayramyan with a lofted pass. Bayramyan took on his marker before finishing into the far corner as Armenia won their first two qualifiers of a campaign for the first time in history, while Iceland fell to a seventh successive defeat in all competitions.
Albania 0-2 England
  • Harry Kane scored one and set up another on his return to the England line-up as the 2018 semi-finalists maintained their perfect start. Albania provided resolute opposition for Gareth Southgate’s side but were finally undone as half-time approached when Kane threw himself at Luke Shaw’s inviting left-footed cross to power in a superb header. The England captain, who rattled the crossbar soon after, helped secure the points midway through the second half when he threaded through a precise pass for Mason Mount to curl home from just inside the box. The Three Lions are now unbeaten in their last 23 World Cup qualifiers.
Georgia 1-2 Spain
  • Dani Olmo dramatically snatched Spain a come-from-behind 2-1 victory in Georgia that sent them on to four points from two games in Group B. Although Spain monopolised the ball, Georgia looked dangerous on the counter-attack and got their reward from one just before half-time. Otar Kiteishvili did brilliantly to find Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, who thumped the ball into the bottom corner. Ferran Torres slid home a 56th-minute equaliser from Jordi Alba’s cross, before the same provider set up Olmo for an injury-time winner. Nika Kvekveskiri was then sent off for the hosts.
Denmark 8-0 Moldova
  • Denmark recorded their biggest ever World Cup qualifying win with an impressive demolition job on Moldova. Despite making several changes to the team that cruised to victory in Israel, the Danes were slick and effective from the opening whistle – racing into a 5-0 lead by half-time. Mikkel Damsgaard opened his international account with a brace on his first competitive start, and Kasper Dolberg also bagged a double. Jens Stryger Larsen, Mathias Jensen, Robert Skov and Marcus Ingvartsen were the other players on target as the Danes stretched to 11 matches their unbeaten run in World Cup qualifiers.
San Marino 0-3 Hungary
  • Hungary moved on to four points from a possible six in Group I with a 3-0 win in San Marino. The first half was a tale of two penalties, with Adam Szalai coolly slotting Hungary ahead before Elia Benedettini’s save stopped Roland Sallai doubling the advantage. The latter made amends in the 71st minute with a looping header, and Nemanja Nikolic got a third with a late spot-kick.
Kosovo 0-3 Sweden
  • Sweden cruised to a 3-0 victory away to Kosovo that left them two points clear of Spain at the top of Group B. Ludwig Augustinsson, whose first international goal helped Sweden beat Mexico 3-0 to win Group F at Russia 2018, got his second to break the deadlock. Then, after good work from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexander Isak coolly dispatched the rebound after his initial shot was saved. Sebastian Larsson’s 70th-minute penalty just crept in to complete a good evening’s work for the USA 1994 semi-finalists.
Ukraine 1-1 Finland
  • Teemu Pukki’s last-gasp penalty snatched Finland a point away to Ukraine. The hosts dominated the game, but it took until the 80th minute for them to get the goal their play deserved. The impressive Oleksandr Karavaiev set up Junior Moraes, who made no mistake from close range. It nevertheless awoke Finland, and after Paulus Arajuuri had hit the post, Pukki won and scored a penalty. Vitaliy Mykolenko was then sent off to complete a miserable night for Ukraine.
World Cup Qualifiers: 28 March 2021
Serge Gnabry of Germany celebrates with Ilkay Gundogan after scoring
Switzerland v Lithuania - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier
Romania v Germany - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier
Austria v Faroe Islands - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier
Bulgaria v Italy - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier
Georgia v Spain - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier
Sasa Kalajdzic of Austria in action against Faroe Islands
Romania v Germany - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier
Albania v England - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier
Georgia v Spain - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier
Serge Gnabry of Germany runs with the ball against Romania
Harry Kane of England celebrates
Denmark v Moldova - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier
Mikkel Damsgaard celebrates scoring for Denmark against Moldova
Harry Maguire of England looks on
A Georgia fan wearing face paint looks on outside the stadium
Luke Shaw of England runs with the ball under pressure from Elseid Hysaj of Albania
Raheem Sterling, Harry Maguire of England and teammates embrace
Georgia v Spain - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier
Albania v England - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier
Albania v England - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier
Robert Lewandowski celebrates scoring for Poland
Christoph Baumgartner of Austria celebrates scoring
Romania v Germany - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier
Austria v Faroe Islands - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier
Bulgaria v Italy - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier
Romania v Germany - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier
Romania v Germany - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier
Bulgaria v Italy - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier
Austria 3-1 Faroe Islands
  • Austria came from a goal down to record a comfortable victory at home to the Faroe Islands. The hosts, who fought out an entertaining 2-2 draw with Scotland on Thursday, suffered a shock early setback when Sonni Ragnar Nattestad rose at the near post to head home from a corner. But Austria held their nerve, and were 3-1 in front by half-time thanks to goals from Aleksandar Dragovic – his first at international level since 2014 – Christoph Baumgartner and the in-form Sasa Kalajdzic.
Israel 1-1 Scotland
  • Ryan Fraser cancelled out Dor Peretz’s stunning 30-yard opener as Israel and Scotland battled to a hard-fought draw in Tel Aviv. The Israelis were the better side throughout the first half, and should have been in front long before Peretz’s long-range effort evaded Scotland’s UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying hero, David Marshall. But the Scots improved after the break and levelled when Che Adams, making his first start, teed up Fraser for a smart right-foot finish from just outside the box.
North Macedonia 5-0 Liechtenstein
  • North Macedonia bounced back from an opening-match defeat to Romania to sweep aside Liechtenstein. They were indebted to a goalkeeping error for their seventh-minute opener, with Benjamin Buchel allowing Enis Bardhi’s harmless looking free-kick from the left to sneak through his grasp and in at the near post. But there was no good fortune needed in the second half, when the EURO-bound hosts’ class told in the shape of goals from Aleksandar Trajkovski (2), Elif Elmas and a Panenka penalty from Ilija Nestorovski.
Bulgaria 0-2 Italy
  • Italy’s fourth successive 2-0 win extended their unbeaten run to 24 matches and kept them perfect In Group C. Andrea Belotti clinically found the bottom corner with a penalty he himself won in the first half, and substitute Manuel Locatelli put the result beyond doubt with a sublime curler late on.
Poland 3-0 Andorra
  • Robert Lewandowski picked up right where he left off – he scored Poland’s equaliser in their pulsating 3-3 draw with Hungary – with The Best FIFA Men’s Player putting them ahead when his sliced free-kick took a heavy deflection and broke the deadlock. Lewandowski doubled his tally on the night with a scrappy goal, initially mis-controlling Kamil Jozwiak’s cross before finishing past Iker Alvarez. Karol Swiderski added a third for Paulo Sousa’s side with a fine, stabbed finish poked in from Kamil Grosicki’s curling cross to give Poland their first win in Qatar 2022 qualifying.
Romania 0-1 Germany
  • Germany kept their place at the top of Group J with a 1-0 win over Romania in Bucharest. Serge Gnabry, who had two assists in his side’s opening 3-0 win against Iceland, scored the only goal of the evening. Kai Havertz picked out the Bayern Munich forward, who finished from close range.
Switzerland 1-0 Lithuania
  • Switzerland joined Italy at the top of Group C by edging Lithuania 1-0. After a delay to the game, Switzerland raced into the lead when Xherdan Shaqiri scored within 90 seconds. Lithuania were sloppy playing out of the back and they paid for it. Breel Embolo found Shaqiri and the Liverpool winger finished with ease. That would prove to be enough for Vladimir Petkovic's side to get their campaign off to a perfect start.

Rodriguez: Swiss see ourselves on equal terms with Italy

Ricardo Rodriguez of Switzerland during the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar qualifying match between Bulgaria and Switzerland at Vasil Levski National Stadium on March 25, 2021 in Sofia,
  • Rodriguez a mainstay for Switzerland despite relegation worries at club level
  • He set up the all-important opening goal against Bulgaria
  • Says Switzerland are "more unpredictable than other teams"

The past couple of seasons have not been particularly easy for Ricardo Rodriguez. Last year he went on loan to PSV Eindhoven from AC Milan, but while his stint there initially looked promising, it was soon brought to an end by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This term he is at Torino in Serie A, where the team have surprisingly become involved in a relegation battle. All the better, then, that the left-footer also plays for the Switzerland national team and is an experienced cornerstone of the side with 74 international caps to date, operating either at left-back, as a left midfielder or as part of a back three.

The Swiss began their FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ Group C qualifying campaign with a comfortable 3-1 win in Bulgaria, with Rodriguez teeing up the opening goal after just six minutes with an inch-perfect cross onto Breel Embolo’s head.

Before the team’s next match against Lithuania in St. Gallen on Sunday, the Zurich native took time out for an interview with FIFA.com.

SOFIA, BULGARIA - MARCH 25: Ilian Iliev of Bulgaria is challenged by Ricardo Rodriguez of Switzerland during the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar qualifying match between Bulgaria and Switzerland 

FIFA.com: What do you think is your best position at the moment? As part of a back three, as a winger in a formation with a back three, or as a more traditional full-back?

Ricardo Rodriguez: I can play in any role. As banal as it sounds, I’ll play wherever the coach puts me. I’d say that I’m pretty versatile.

You’ve got over 70 international caps and are one of the team’s most experienced players. How has your role developed?

I came into the national team when I was 18. I obviously can't deny that I've got older, if only from a biological point of view. I’ve gained experience and maturity over the years. I’ve shouldered responsibility and try to give back to the team and the coach by performing well.

Switzerland’s European Championship qualifying campaign went smoothly overall. What will be the key to World Cup qualifying?

That we focus on our own strengths. We aim to impose our game on every opponent, to express ourselves, to be efficient and to play as a team. I think we’re more unpredictable than other teams because we’re a unit and don’t depend on individual players.

Ricardo Rodriguez honours

What still needs to be improved with a view to having a successful World Cup qualifying campaign and European Championship?

I think we’re on the right track. Now it’s about being ready at the right moments and the important moments so that we can play to our best. We recently proved in the Nations League that we can hold our own against big teams. That is and should continue to be our benchmark.

What do you associate with Italy, where you’ve been playing for several years now?

In terms of football, the very well-drilled defensive and tactical approach in Serie A. In terms of everything else: I enjoy the Italian way of life, the food, the culture and the warmth.

Can we expect a tussle between Italy and Switzerland for top spot in Group C, or would that be too presumptuous?

Italy are certainly the favourites to win the group, but we see ourselves on equal terms with them. We have nothing to fear, and we won’t fear them.

What is your view on Italy rebuilding their national team? What are their strengths and what will be important for Switzerland in your matches against them?

Italy’s team has changed in recent years. There are new faces and some very good players. They’ve got a very good tactical understanding, scored a lot of goals in European Championship qualifying, and have had a good run recently. So we’ll need to be wary.

What sort of games are you expecting during World Cup qualification?

It’s the start of a new campaign so we’ll need to hit our stride and not make any mistakes. But I’m optimistic that we’ll get off to a good start if we focus on ourselves, keeping in mind that we’re going up against tough opponents.

In a separate interview, you recently commented on how quickly time flies as a footballer. What goals do you set yourself in your late 20s?

You pay even more attention to your body and to recovering well. In general, you pay more attention to things than you did before.