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Antonio Conte mourns passing of Gian Piero Ventrone

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Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte has opened up on the sudden passing of fitness coach and close friend Gian Piero Ventrone.

Spurs announced on Friday morning that Ventrone, nicknamed ‘The Marine’, had passed away at the age of 61 following a short illness.

Ventrone was a beloved member of the club’s backroom staff and was close with several first-team players – Son Heung-min notably ran to him in celebration after scoring a hat-trick against Leicester last month.

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Speaking after Spurs’ hard-fought 1-0 win at Brighton on Saturday, Conte revealed Ventrone was concerned more about any absence harming the team rather than his own health.

“This is how he was. He was more worried about missing training than anything,” Conte said.

“It was really difficult for everybody when I communicated the bad news to the players. We didn’t have a training session on Thursday because everybody was so emotional.”

A first-half header from Harry Kane saw Spurs end Brighton’s seven-match unbeaten run at the Amex Stadium – a streak which started off the back of Tottenham’s triumph on the south coast back in March.

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Conte added that he was full of admiration for his players for stepping up in such difficult conditions.

“I’m really proud about my players,” he said. “I have said many times the most important thing in a player is that he is a good person. I think in this circumstance they showed themselves to be really a good person. I am proud to be the coach of this team. They are top men.

“I have to be honest, it was really difficult for us to be focused on the game. The situation hurt me a lot, the players were devastated. In only ten months I think Gian Piero really got to their heart. Life sometimes is not good.

“Gian Piero was a really strong person, with a strong character. He doesn’t want to see us not happy. But it is difficult to make him happy because we are devastated by the pain.”

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Conte and his Spurs players will attend Ventrone’s funeral in Naples on Sunday. The club are planning further tributes to him ahead of their Champions League clash at home to Eintracht Frankfurt on Wednesday.



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Eric Dier on England’s penalty record

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Eric Dier has insisted that England have broken their ‘mental barrier’ in penalty shootouts ahead of their World Cup round of 16 clash with Senegal.

The Three Lions are set to face off against the AFCON champions at Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday evening, and while many expect England to see off Senegal in normal time, fears remain of the lottery of a penalty shootout if the game ends in a draw.

England’s record in penalty shootouts down the years has been well documented, with the victory over Colombia at the 2018 tournament the first time the nation has ever won a World Cup penalty shootout.

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Speaking about the Three Lions’ penalty hoodoo, Dier stated that through the shootout win over Colombia, England were able to get over their mental barrier: “There are ifs, buts and maybes aren’t there?

Harry Symeou hosts Andy Headspeath, Toby Cudworth & La Liga TV presenter Semra Hunter to look back on the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa – join us!

If you can’t see the podcast embed, click to download or listen to the episode in full!

“I feel like that World Cup, it’s difficult for me to say because I was involved, but I felt in that game we broke down a lot of mental barriers and stereotypes that exist in English football surrounding things like knockout games and penalty shootouts and playing against that type of opposition as well.

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“I think that game I remember it felt at the time like it was a weight off our shoulders and I think you saw that in the next game against Sweden (in the quarter-final).

“No one was talking about us winning it and that game was a moment in which we all felt like we had got over a few hurdles and now we were free to just play and some of the weight of history had been removed from our backs.

“I’m definitely not scared to take a penalty. I’d be nervous in the moment but I’m not scared to do it. To be honest, my pen against Colombia when Pickford saved the penalty before, it made my penalty a lot easier.

“It was to win it, not to get knocked out, so it’s a completely different psychology. When he saved his, it was a lot easier for me. He helped me a lot.”

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How many teams will play at the 2026 World Cup?

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The World Cup is the biggest event in global football, with nations across the planet dreaming of lifting the iconic trophy.

The tournament has changed in style and format over the years, though the 2026 edition has attracted attention for some key changes which may alter the playing schedule in a way we haven’t seen for decades.

With all sorts of talk over the number of teams playing and the tournament’s format, here’s what you need to know.

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In January 2017, the FIFA Council voted unanimously to increase the number of teams participating from 32 to 48. That decision was met with criticism, especially from organisations in Europe.

The European Club Association, La Liga president Javier Tebas and then Germany manager Joachim Low were among those who argued teams where already playing too many games.

It was also seen as a political decision from FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who had run his election campaign on the promise of involving more countries in the World Cup.

Given the increase of sides from the 2026 World Cup, a change of format is expected. The initial vote in 2017 declared there would be 16 groups each consisting of three teams, with the top two reaching the knockout stage which will include 32 teams.

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The overall amount of matches will increase from 64 to 80, though the finalists will still only play seven games each under the proposals.

In late 2022, it was revealed FIFA are becoming open to keeping the current group stage process involving four teams each, with some revealing concerns over potential dead rubbers on the final matchdays of each group.

The three-game group stage proposal has attracted criticism. There have been concerns over a potential rise in collusion as seen in previous group matches.

The 1982 Disgrace of Gijon saw West Germany and Austria play out a 1-0 win for the Germans, allowing both sides to go through at the expense of Algeria, who had played earlier in the day. The game was met with outrage, though FIFA denied any wrongdoing on either side.

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The 2022 World Cup delivered plenty of entertainment during the group stage, with Group D in particular throwing up drama in the Poland vs Argentina and Saudi Arabia vs Mexico games.

Qualification for a 48-team World Cup would also change as more teams can make the final cut. Asian, African and CONCACAF sides all have greater chances to reach FIFA’s flagship event, while a spot for an Oceania side is now guaranteed.

The USA, Canada and Mexico and jointly host the 2026 World Cup. 23 cities across the three nations will host games, with the US taking 60 matches. The joint bid comfortably saw off an effort from Morocco to host the tournament.



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Virgil van Dijk comments on Liverpool being put up for sale

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Virgil van Dijk has claimed Liverpool will remain one of the biggest clubs in the world regardless of FSG’s potential sale.

The centre-back is currently on international duty with the Netherlands at the World Cup in Qatar, helping his side safely navigate a round of 16 clash with USMNT to book a place in the quarter-finals.

Speaking at the press conference after that 3-1 win over the USA, Van Dijk was asked about the news that Liverpool’s owners FSG are preparing to sell the club.

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“I have full trust in Liverpool that they will be fine. We are a very established club, one of the biggest in the world and that will stay that way. Whoever comes in to fill in those roles, they will do very well. I am aware of everything that is happening.

Harry Symeou hosts Andy Headspeath, Toby Cudworth & La Liga TV presenter Semra Hunter to look back on the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa – join us!

If you can’t see the podcast embed, click to download or listen to the episode in full!

“Whether I am taking it in and doing something with it right now, I don’t think so because the full focus is on the World Cup but hopefully everything will be sorted and clarified when I am back. At this point, I am definitely not thinking about it.”

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The Fenway Sports Group recently announced Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were assisting with the potential sale of the Anfield club.

In terms of potential suitors, Saudi Arabia’s sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal has already expressed his desire for the nation to get involved with Liverpool.



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