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Socceroos World Cup qualification chances, Robbie Slater column, best Australian line-up, analysis



Today marks one year to the start of next year’s FIFA World Cup finals and while the Socceroos have stumbled in recent weeks, don’t doubt that they will qualify for Qatar 2022.

The Socceroos’ still have their destiny in their hands.

Four wins from their final four AFC third-round Group B qualifiers will ensure them a top-two group finish and automatic qualification for Qatar regardless of results in other games.

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And with the current top two in Group B – Japan and Saudi Arabia – still to meet each other for a second time in this round, the Australians may not need four more wins to secure a top-two berth.

Let’s also not forget that at the same time in qualifying for the last World Cup, the Socceroos had one less point than they do now.

While the Australians had to be content with finishing third in its group, they still qualified for Russia 2018 via playoff success over Syria and Honduras.

All is therefore far from lost.

China and Australia go head-to-head | 00:39

Yes, last week’s 1-1 draw with China was a setback, but that’s in the past now.

Let’s look ahead to the qualifiers against Vietnam and Oman in January and February respectively. Victory in both those games are imperative.

Let’s also look forward to the start of next year’s World Cup and what a full-strength Socceroos line-up might look like for our first match of the tournament.

If I was coach, I’d opt for a 4-1-2-3 formation with the following personnel –

Goalkeeper: Mat Ryan – Our captain has shown his worth even without regular game time for his Spanish club Real Sociedad. Let’s hope he soon becomes Sociedad’s first-choice gloveman to ensure his sharpness.

Right-back: Rhyan Grant – He’ll face pressure from Fran Karacic for his spot, but he’s still our best option in the role. Working against the Sydney FC will be the likelihood of little club football heading into the World Cup.

Centre-back: Trent Sainsbury – Sainsbury’s experience and poise will be invaluable for the Socceroos. His combination in the heart of Australia’s defence with either Harry Souttar or Milos Degenek is consistently strong.

Centre-back: Harry Souttar* – Fitness and availability are the obvious question marks, with the towering Souttar out for nine to 12 months after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament less than two weeks ago. Let’s hope it’s a nine-month lay-off and he has time to regain his match fitness and sharpness. If not, Milos Degenek will serve his nation well.

Left-back: Aziz Behich – Of the candidates, Turkey-based Behich has the most experience and is likely to play the most first-team football. He’s reliable and won’t let the Australians down.

Holding midfielder: Kenny Dougall – This a bit of a problem spot for the Socceroos but Dougall gets the nod from me over Jackson Irvine. Ajdin Hrustic is the wildcard, but it’s hard to start Hrustic in an 11 that also contains Tom Rogic and Aaron Mooy.

Irvine’s near-identical missed chances | 00:28

Attacking midfielder: Tom Rogic – It’s such a shame he was injured and missed the Socceroos’ recent games against Saudi Arabia and China. Ange Postecoglou’s appointment as Celtic manager had been a Godsend for Rogic, who had rediscovered his best form for the Hoops before getting injured.

Attacking midfielder: Aaron Mooy – Some say Mooy and Rogic can’t be in the same starting team but I don’t agree. Mooy’s class is obvious and he too was missed Saudi Arabia and China. Would love to see him play with a smile on his face.

Right winger: Martin Boyle – Another player we’ve had to secure via his family heritage because we aren’t producing enough quality players, but that’s another story. Boyle continues to shine for Hibs in Scotland and has been a key Socceroos attacker since debuting in 2018.

Centre-forward: Jamie Maclaren – The Melbourne City marksman has a similar dilemma to Rhyan Grant in having to deal with the prospect of very little club football before the World Cup. However, his A-League goalscoring achievements make him our best option in the central attacking role.

Left winger: Mathew Leckie – Another A-League player who could have very little club football under his belt before the World Cup. However, the Melbourne City man’s experience and desire to perform for Australia can’t be questioned.

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Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, voting, past winners, reaction, analysis



Together, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have won 12 of the past 13 editions of the Ballon d’Or.

Messi’s triumph at the ceremony on Tuesday morning capped off what is now over a decade of dominance from the superstar pair.

But that dominance finally seems to be coming to an end, with even Messi hinting at as much in his acceptance speech.

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Kerr finishes third in Ballon D’or | 00:30

“It is incredible to be here again,” Messi said, the emphasis here on the word ‘again’.

It suggested an element of surprise from the Paris Saint-Germain superstar, which he would go on to address right after.

“Two years ago I thought that it was my last year and now I am here again,” he added.

“I am very happy, very excited and wanting to fight for new challenges.”

Some might question whether Messi really deserved to win his latest Ballon d’Or prize ahead of other worthy candidates, but the Argentinian has been rewarded for continuing to be so good for so long.

The most turbulent year of Messi’s glittering career, in which he was forced to tearfully bid farewell to Barcelona, ends with him — at the age of 34 — claiming a record-extending seventh Ballon d’Or for the best player in the world.

In Germany they thought it had to be Robert Lewandowski’s year after he missed out 12 months ago when the 2020 edition was scrapped due to the pandemic.

Karim Benzema might have had plenty of support in Spain for his remarkable performances with Real Madrid, and Jorginho could stake a claim following a year in which he won the Champions League with Chelsea as well as Euro 2020 with Italy.

Yet it is the enduring brilliance of Messi — who won the last award in 2019 — which stays in the minds of the jurors when it comes to voting.

Ronaldo’s role sparked HEATED debate | 01:51

That enduring brilliance though has faded at times this year, with his performances at PSG underwhelming.

More significant of course was Messi’s role in leading Argentina to their first Copa America triumph since 1993.

He was named player of the tournament, finishing with four goals and five assists to prove his worth once again on the international stage.

Messi’s hopes of a record-extending eighth Ballon d’Or will largely depend on Argentina’s success at the World Cup.

Otherwise, along with Ronaldo, the pair’s reign at the top of football world may be over with a new generation of talent being ushered in.

Although no-one is likely to ever top Messi’s incredible seven Ballon d’Or wins, solidifying his spot in the history books.

As for Ronaldo, 2021 saw him finish sixth in voting – the first time since 2010 he had polled outside of the top three.

Unreal action as Sancho and Vardy score | 01:09

It coincides with growing question marks over the 36-year-old striker’s role at Manchester United amid the arrival of interim coach Ralf Rangnick.

The Ballon d’Or, instead of holding more widespread significance, has for so long instead come to define Messi and Ronaldo’s tussle for the throne.

The voting system was and still is tied up in perception and global appeal.

While Robert Lewandowski may have become the first German-based player to finish in the top two since 1996, the fact the did not win speaks volumes itself.

Messi admitted as much himself.

“It is a huge honour to fight with Robert [Lewandowski],” he said.

“Last year you were the winner and I think France Football should give it to you.”

Lewandowski won the Bundesliga and was the European top scorer, while also breaking Gerd Muller’s 40-goal German record with 41 goals in 29 games.

Yet it did not happen in the Premier League or La Liga and for many, that was the difference between the Polish superstar and Messi, regardless of whether it is wrong or right.

The hope is that when the time comes, where Ronaldo and Messi no longer solely dominate Ballon d’Or discussions, it will force voters to adopt a more nuanced idea of what it means to be the ‘best’.

That time appears to have already come, with Lewandowski widely tipped to take out the top gong ahead of Messi.

That did not happen but his presence in the voting, along with Karim Benzema, Jorginho and N’Golo Kante hinted that times are changing.

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Lionel Messi wife, kids photo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski



Lionel Messi has won a record-breaking seventh Ballon d’Or award — but his family members were the real winners.

The Argentine footballer was recognised as the greatest footballer on the planet on Tuesday morning in a glamorous, black-tie affair in Paris.

Before even walking into the event, Messi had won in the eyes of the internet when the 34-year-old walked past the throng of cameras with wife Antonella Roccuzzo and their three sons.

A family photo showing Messi dressed in identical outfits to his three children pulled at the internet’s heart strings.

Unfortunately, it revealed all too much.

Fans around the world knew instantly Messi had won the award, judging by the family’s extravagant entrance.

Voting for the award is one of the closest-kept secrets in sport before the results are announced, but the secret was out before Messi had even sat down.

The Messi family coming in hot. Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP.Source: AFP
Meet the Messis. Photo by Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP.Source: AFP

It is rare that Roccuzzo, a 33-year-old Argentine model, is not the centre of attention when the family makes public appearances.

Roccuzzo and Messi were married in 2017 after going public with their relationship in 2008, although they are thought to have been together for some time before that.

It was their adorable children Ciro, Mateo and Thiago, that stole the show on Tuesday.

The internet could not get enough of it.

Ciro, Mateo and Thiago also produced an adorable moment during the ceremony when their father was again recognised as the world’s best footballer.

Their reactions to the announcement were too much.

The only time Messi broke a smile during his acceptance speech was the moment the cameras showed his children on the big screen.

“It is incredible to be here again,” Messi said after accepting the award.

“Two years ago I thought that it was my last year and now I am here again. I am very happy, very excited and wanting to fight for new challenges.

“I do not know how long I have left but I hope it will be a long time. I want to thank my teammates from Barcelona and PSG, and especially the Argentina team. I won this award and I had the feeling that I was missing something and this year I was able to achieve it.

“A large part of this trophy is because of what we did in the Copa America, so thanks to my teammates, this is also yours. My wife, my children, my father, my mother are here.

Lionel Messi with his family in Paris. Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP.Source: AFP

“It is a huge honour to fight with Robert [Lewandowski]. Last year you were the winner and I think France Football should give it to you.”

Messi won the last edition of the Ballon d’Or in 2019 before last year’s awards were cancelled due to the pandemic. He also won in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and in 2015.

The 34-year-old scored 38 goals in 48 games last season for Barcelona and won the Copa del Rey before captaining Argentina to Copa America glory in July.

That was the first major international title of his glittering career, which had been spent entirely with Barcelona before his tearful departure from the Camp Nou in August and subsequent move to Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi has played just 11 games for PSG so far, scoring four goals, but he was rewarded as much as anything for his continued brilliance down the years.

He has now won the Ballon d’Or twice more than his old rival Cristiano Ronaldo — between them they have won 12 of the last 13 editions with the exception coming in 2018 when Luka Modric claimed the prize.

Prolific Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski finished second and Chelsea and Italy midfielder Jorginho was third in the voting by a jury of journalists from around the world.

Ronaldo, meanwhile, came in sixth.

— with AFP

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Man Utd owners Glazers decide stance on making January signings for new boss Ralf Rangnick



MANCHESTER United have appointed Ralf Rangnick on an interim basis.

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