Alexis Sanchez was on target as Manchester United defeated AC Milan on penalties in their International Champions Cup friendly here Wednesday.
Chilean international Sanchez was United‘s best performer in a low-key game at Carson’s StubHub Center which finished 1-1.
Sanchez fired United into the lead with a well-taken goal on 12 minutes before Spanish midifelder Suso equalised for Milan three minutes later.
Although Sanchez produced a lively performance for United, the Premier League giants were unable to find a further goal, sending the game to penalties.
A bizarre shoot-out was won 9-8 by United, with both teams having to recycle their penalty takers after a string of missed spot-kicks.
Ander Herrera fired United into the lead in sudden death with his second penalty before Ivorian youngster Franck Kessie chipped his spot-kick over the bar to give United the win.
United‘s Portuguese goalkeeper Joel Pereira, deputising for the absent David De Gea and Sergio Romero, said he hoped his performance in the shoot-out had helped his bid to win a place in manager Jose Mourinho’s squad.
“Obviously I have been the last 18 months here and the manager shows good faith and trust in me, he wants me to play and he thinks it’s the right thing for me,” Pereira said.
“I will find out next week where I play next season.
“I want to prove the manager the faith he put in me is right.”
Alexis Sanchez heads to Wembley for Saturday’s FA Cup final against Chelsea hoping the magic of the cup will again prove the inspiration needed for the Chilean to kickstart a slow start to his Manchester United career.
Sanchez is no plucky underdog. He reportedly signed the most lucrative contract in Premier League history when penning a four-and-a-half year contract at Old Trafford in January.
However, the home of English football and its end-of-season showpiece is where Sanchez has often shone brightest.
Sanchez arrived at United from Arsenal to much fanfare as his mid-season signing was a rare victory for United over cross-city rivals and Premier League champions Manchester City this season in winning the race for the his signature.
Yet, Sanchez has so far failed to deliver on that expectation — scoring just three times in 17 appearances.
By a distance his most important goal for United came in the FA Cup semi-final last month as his equaliser propelled Jose Mourinho’s men to a 2-1 win over Tottenham and his third FA Cup final in four seasons in England.
He scored in the 2015 and 2017 finals to inspire Arsenal to victories over Aston Villa and Chelsea.
It was also Sanchez’s eighth goal in eight appearances at Wembley for club and country.
– “Exhausted” –
Mourinho has been a fierce defender of his marquee recruit with the Portuguese blaming the timing of his move for Sanchez’s inability to yet hit top form.
“What is wrong is that he came at the worst moment of the season… that’s why I don’t like the winter market very much. I think this was a chance that we didn’t want to lose and we took it,” said Mourinho.
“Hopefully next season he will be better, which is what we think is going to happen.
“I am not a big fan of buying players in the winter market because of the period of adaptation, especially with attackers.”
Mourinho’s hunch that next season will see a significant improvement is helped by Chile’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, handing Sanchez a first tournament-free summer for four years.
Saturday will be his 301st game in the past five seasons for club and country.
On international duty in March, he admitted that toll had left him “psychologically and emotionally exhausted”, especially when at his best, Sanchez’s game relies on explosive bursts to get beyond defences.
“He’s not afraid to take responsibility,” Mourinho added. “Not afraid to try to make things to happen, when he feels that he’s not as dangerous as you’d like him to be, he drops back, he tries things, he tries to come to building-up areas. When he makes mistakes, he tries to compensate immediately.”
Despite his workload, Sanchez has made a habit of ending the season strongly in FA Cup finals.
Should he repeat his feat from last season by beating Chelsea and join very esteemed company by scoring in a third final, Sanchez’s mistakes since arriving in Manchester will be forgiven and forgotten.
Marcus Rashford showed Jose Mourinho just why he deserved his first Premier League start of the year by scoring both Manchester United’s goals as they beat Liverpool 2-1 on Saturday.
His double inside the first 25 minutes means Rashford scored more goals from one game than Alexis Sanchez has managed for United since signing the most lucrative contract in Premier League history in January.
The Chilean’s arrival has pushed Rashford down the pecking order despite Sanchez’s struggles to recreate the form that made him so in demand when he decided to run down his contract at Arsenal.
Sanchez has just one goal in nine games in a United shirt.
Indeed, had it not been for an impact injury suffered by Paul Pogba in what Mourinho described as “the final minute” of training on Friday, there is every chance Rashford would have been sidelined once more.
Instead, Sanchez moved inside to an advanced midfield role Pogba would likely have filled to create the space on the left for Rashford to win the game.
“He scored two goals in a big match against a top-class opponent,” said Mourinho. “Of course he was fundamental.”
His first goal, in particular, didn’t resemble a player short on confidence and without a goal in the league since early December.
Rashford burst onto Romelu Lukaku’s flick-on and turned inside Trent Alexander-Arnold before blasting past Loris Karius into the far corner.
– ‘We trusted him’ –
Boosted by breaking his drought, Rashford then swept home a second 10 minutes later with the Liverpool defence again scrambling after Lukaku had outmuscled Dejan Lovren.
“The good thing was the first chance he had, he got it, he scored because I think in the last two months that was not happening with him,” added Mourinho.
“Today, a big game, probably he didn’t expect it, but we trusted him and thought the game adapted to his qualities.”
Rashford’s return to form couldn’t have come at a better time not just for United — who face another two crucial games this week when Sevilla and Brighton visit Old Trafford in the Champions League and FA Cup respectively — but also for England.
England manager Gareth Southgate was among an impressed crowd just five days ahead of naming his squad for friendlies later this month against the Netherlands and Italy.
Those games will be Southgate’s last chance to experiment before naming his 23-man squad for the World Cup in Russia.
“It was nice that he was here to watch but there are a lot of players in contention,” said Rashford.
“He keeps in contact with us and let us know where we are at.”
Rashford is undoubtedly better placed to feature in Southgate’s plans after his performance on Saturday, but his World Cup prospects may still hinge on how much he features for Mourinho in the final months of the season.
Tellingly, despite his two goals, it was Rashford and not Sanchez who was sacrificed as the Portuguese looked to shut up shop in the final 20 minutes by introducing Marouane Fellaini.
Mourinho was booed by the United fans for his decision, which he defended by citing a fear Rashford could have seen a second yellow card.
However, with Pogba soon to be back from injury, Mourinho will most likely have to make a brave decision by dropping the £89 million ($123 million) Frenchman or Sanchez if he is to continue to show faith in Rashford.
Manchester United striker Alexis Sanchez has struck a deal with Spanish authorities to accept a 16-month suspended jail sentence for tax fraud in return for avoiding a trial.
Sanchez, who joined United from Arsenal last month, faced being tried over a one-million-euro ($1.23 million) fraud linked to image rights in 2012 and 2013 during his time at Spanish giants Barcelona, according to details of the deal seen by AFP.
Alexis Sanchez scored his first goal for Manchester United as Jose Mourinho’s men took advantage of a rare slip-up from Manchester City to close to within 13 points of the league leaders with a 2-0 win over Huddersfield Town.
City were made to pay for an extraordinary miss by Raheem Sterling as they dropped points for just the fourth time in the Premier League this season in a 1-1 draw at Burnley as Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s equaliser eight minutes from time cancelled out Danilo’s spectacular opener for City.
United manager Mourinho conceded his side were playing for second place after falling 15 points behind City with defeat at Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday, and showed his displeasure at that performance by dropping star midfielder Paul Pogba to the bench among four changes.
A minute’s silence preceded kick-off at Old Trafford as United paid tribute to the victims of the Munich disaster 60 years on from the tragedy that killed eight of the great United Busby Babes.
Mourinho had called on his players to mark the occasion by bouncing back in style, but the hosts had to wait until 10 minutes into the second half to make the breakthrough when Lukaku got across his marker to volley home Juan Mata’s cross from the left for his 19th goal of the season.
Sanchez was then given the chance to cap his home debut 21 minutes from time when he was brought down just inside the area Michael Hefele.
And much to the Chilean’s relief, he tapped home the rebound after Jonas Lossl had saved his initial effort from the penalty spot to open his United account after joining from Arsenal on reportedly the biggest ever contract in Premier League history.
– City pay for Sterling miss –
City were made to rue a slew of missed chances, most notably when Sterling failed to turn Kyle Walker’s low cross into an unguarded net from point-blank range as Burnley salvaged a valuable point despite seeing their winless league streak extended to nine matches.
“Of course we are frustrated in terms of the result but the performance was outstanding against a Burnley side who are the most British of teams in terms of long balls and the way they play,” said City boss Pep Guardiola.
“But football is about goals. We needed to score the second, third and fourth when we had the chance. When you arrive in the last 15 minutes at Burnley 1-0, this is what can happen.”
Leicester City missed the magic of star man Riyad Mahrez as they failed to beat Swansea City at home in a 1-1 draw.
The Algerian hasn’t trained since Leicester priced Manchester City out of a move for Mahrez on transfer deadline day on Wednesday.
Jamie Vardy smashed the hosts in front, but Swansea’s rise under Carlos Carvalhal continued as they extended their unbeaten run to seven games thanks to Federico Fernandez’s equaliser to edge out of the bottom three on goal difference.
In a big day in the battle to beat the drop at the bottom of the table, Southampton recorded their first win since November, 3-2 at West Brom, to move out of the relegation zone and up to 14th.
West Brom paid tribute to club legend Cyrille Regis, who died at the age of 59 last month, before kick-off and got off to a flying start through Ahmed Hegazi’s header.
However, three quickfire goals from Mario Lemina, Jack Stephens and James Ward-Prowse either side of half-time put Southampton in charge before Salomon Rondon’s consolation for West Brom, who remain bottom.
Brighton also bagged their first league win in seven games thanks to goals from Glenn Murray, Jose Izquierdo and Pascal Gross to beat West Ham 3-1.
And Bournemouth moved up to ninth as they came from behind to beat Stoke City 2-1 through strikes from Josh King and Lys Mousset in the final 20 minutes to drop Stoke back into the drop zone.
Manchester United on Monday confirmed the signing of Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan heading in the opposite direction.
“I am thrilled to be joining the biggest club in the world,” said 29-year-old Chile international forward Sanchez.
“I have spent three-and-a-half wonderful years at Arsenal and I bring with me very positive memories of that great club and its fans.
“The chance to play in this historic stadium and to work with Jose Mourinho was something I could not turn down.
“I am very proud to be the first Chilean player ever to play for United’s first team and I hope I can show our fans all around the world why the club wanted to bring me here.”
Sanchez is expected to be the highest ever paid player in the Premier League, with British media reporting a pre-tax salary of £500,000 ($695,000, 567,000 euros) a week.
The swap deal that sees Armenia international winger Mkhitaryan, also 29, head to the Emirates following a mixed 18 months at Old Trafford had been expected for several days.
Sanchez had joined Arsenal in 2014 for £31.7 million after three years at Barcelona.
“Alexis is one of the best-attacking players in the world and he will complete our very young and talented group of attacking players,” said United manager Jose Mourinho.
“He will bring his ambition, drive and personality, qualities that make a Manchester United player and a player that makes the team stronger and the supporters proud of their club dimension and prestige.
“I would like to wish Henrikh all the success and happiness that I am sure he is going to get. He is a player that we will not forget, especially for his contribution to our Europa League victory.”
Mkhitaryan joined United for around £30 million in 2016 after three years at Borussia Dortmund.
Arsenal also published the news of the swap deal on their website.
“I’m very happy that we could finish this deal and I’m very happy to be here,” said Mkhitaryan.
“It’s a dream come true because I’ve always dreamed of playing for Arsenal. Now that I’m here, I’ll do my best for this club to create history.”
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger added: “Henrikh is a very complete player. He creates chances, he defends well, he can absorb distances and he’s very committed as well.
“I must say he’s a player who has all the attributes.”
Alexis Sanchez arrived at Manchester United’s training ground ahead of his expected move from Arsenal on Sunday, reports said, as his swap deal with Henrikh Mkhitaryan edged closer.
Earlier, the Chile international posted a video on Instagram, apparently showing him walking across an airstrip towards a private jet following reports that he was due in northwest England for a medical.
Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper said Sanchez had been pictured arriving at United’s Carrington training complex to complete his move from the London club, widely expected to be finalised on Monday.
Sky reported that Mkhitaryan would have a medical in London on Sunday.
Chile’s Sanchez, 29, is set to become United’s best-paid player, with some reports putting his salary at £400,000 ($554,000) per week, prompting a warning from former England boss Steve McClaren that his high wages could create dressing-room disharmony.
“Wage parity is very important to players. Yes, they find out — at all levels — and if someone is paid a lot higher than others that can cause a problem,” he said.
Sky Sports News showed Armenian international Mkhitaryan, also 29, at a central London hotel on Saturday evening alongside agent Mino Raiola.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger and United manager Jose Mourinho both said they expected the two-way deal between the Premier League rivals to go through.
Wenger said Sanchez was absent from the Arsenal squad on Saturday because he was close to completing a deal that has been in the making since United out-bid Manchester City for the former Barcelona star.
“I expect soon or never,” Mourinho said after his side’s 1-0 win against Burnley. “I think it is so close, so close, so close that if it doesn’t happen it’s not going to happen.”
Sky said it understood it could be a straight swap deal but details were yet to be finalised.
McClaren, who was Alex Ferguson’s assistant when Manchester United won the treble in 1999, said the Sanchez signing would be a major coup for the club but warned his earnings could unsettle other players.
“If he (Sanchez) is on the wages that is being bandied about then other players will know that when their contracts come up or they are in demand from other clubs,” he said.
But McClaren believes United have struck a major blow by landing Sanchez, who has scored 80 goals in 166 appearances at Arsenal. “Any manager worth his salt would love to have Sanchez in their team,” McClaren told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“Sanchez coming in for the second half of the season at Manchester United is a huge boost to them.
“He has got that experience and toughness, he wins games and he is a leader. It will lift the level of the whole club.”
Arsenal proved they can thrive without Alexis Sanchez as the rampant Gunners scored four times in the first 22 minutes of their 4-1 victory over hapless Crystal Palace on Saturday.
With Sanchez left out of the squad as his blockbuster move to Manchester United inches closer, Arsene Wenger’s side gave an emphatic response to suggestions the Chile forward’s imminent departure would wreck their already rocky season.
The Gunners ended a five-match winless run in all competitions and tasted victory for the first time in 2018 thanks to their incredible goal blitz at the Emirates Stadium.
Their first win since Sanchez helped them beat Palace on December 28 was never in doubt after Nacho Monreal opened the scoring.
Alex Iwobi, stepping in for Sanchez, and Laurent Koscielny struck to put Arsenal three up in 13 minutes before Alexandre Lacazette netted to end his goal drought.
As Sanchez prepares to seal a £30 million switch that will reportedly see United midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan move to Arsenal as part of the deal, and possibly also prompt Wenger to sign Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, this was a well-timed reminder that the Gunners still have some talent in reserve.
It was also vital to Arsenal’s chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League as they move within five points of fourth-placed Liverpool.
“We played our real game in the first half, real pace and real combination,” Wenger said.
“For 45 minutes our fans have seen some great football.
“We know the challenge in front of us is very difficult, but it’s exciting as well.”
After so much angst this season, it was a rare uplifting day for Wenger, who had made four changes to the side that lost at Bournemouth last Sunday, with Mesut Ozil back after a knee problem that has sidelined him since January 3.
With t-shirts bearing Sanchez’s face being sold at half-price outside the Emirates, it appeared Arsenal fans were ready to move on from their unsettled star.
And Sanchez’s soon to be former team-mates didn’t seem fazed by his impending exit either as they raced into a sixth-minute lead.
– Confidence restored –
Iwobi won a corner with a fierce shot that Wayne Hennessey pushed away.
From the resulting set-piece, Monreal powered past Palace’s sloppy marking to head home from close-range.
After spluttering badly in recent weeks Arsenal were sweeping forward with real purpose and doubled their lead in the 10th minute.
This time it was young winger Iwobi who provided the finishing touch with a clinical close-range finish from Monreal’s cross.
Palace were in complete disarray and Wenger’s men punished more woeful defending to make it three in the 13th minute.
Monreal alertly hooked the ball into the six-yard box after Palace failed to deal with a cross and Koscielny was on hand to prod home for the French defender’s first goal of the season.
It was the first time a Premier League team had scored three goals in the first 13 minutes since Arsenal against Newcastle in 2011.
With confidence fully restored after so many setbacks of late, Arsenal took their frustrations out on Palace and even out-of-form Lacazette got in on the act in the 22nd minute.
Jack Wilshere teed up Ozil and his sublime back-heel sent France striker Lacazette clear to slot home his first goal in his last 10 appearances.
Monreal limped off with a knock before the interval, but Arsenal were in such command that Wenger could afford to send on 18-year-old forward Reiss Nelson for his Premier League debut in the second half.
Luka Milivojevic swivelled to drive in Palace’s consolation in the 78th minute, but the damage was long since done.
Anthony Martial proved the match-winner for Manchester United as Jose Mourinho took time off from his high-profile pursuit of Alexis Sanchez to mastermind a 1-0 victory at Burnley in the Premier League on Saturday.
The Frenchman scored in his third consecutive Premier League game for United — the first time he has accomplished that feat — on a day when the pending arrival of Sanchez from Arsenal was still very much the centre of conversation.
The Chilean forward is expected to complete that move, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan moving in the opposite direction, this week and he will join a United team still entertaining hopes of catching Manchester City at the top of the league table after this victory.
United took the lead after 54 minutes with a goal that owed everything to Romelu Lukaku’s strength and persistence as he won an apparently lost cause in midfield.
Lukaku shrugged aside Phil Bardsley in a challenge and won the chase to the loose ball before delivering a magnificent 30-yard pass for Martial, unmarked in the area, who finished clinically with an unstoppable, 15-yard right-foot strike.
It was the start of a far more entertaining second half than the first had been and the hosts might actually have equalised within two minutes, following a foul on the edge of the United area by Juan Mata on Ashley Barnes.
Johann Berg Gudmundsson delivered a skilful free-kick which clipped the United crossbar on its way over.
Gudmundsson was also in the thick of the action moments later when he met Charlie Taylor’s cross with a header which struck defender Chris Smalling and led to unsuccessful appeals for a penalty.
There were half chances for Paul Pogba and Lukaku and the unusual sight of Mourinho literally picking up Jesse Lingard and encouraging him to play on after being fouled by Steven Defour in front of the United bench.
Mourinho’s sense of urgency was justified with a dangerous set-piece header from Ben Mee being tipped over by David De Gea.
Defour also set up an opening for Barnes which the forward headed wide while United’s wastefulness continued when Lingard dithered and saw an effort blocked by Mee after a swift counter and Martial was denied in the closing minutes by home goalkeeper Nick Pope.
In a first half lacking any real clear-cut chances, the first, and best, had fallen to Burnley with just five minutes gone but James Tarkowski headed down and wide from a free-kick.
It took until the 41st minute for United to seriously threaten when Ashley Young, recalled in place of Luke Shaw, beat Bardsley and advanced into the home area before curling a shot just beyond the far post.
Young’s chip into the area found Pogba who lobbed the ball, first-time, over the goal and Pogba sent Martial away for a shot which was well blocked from a promising position.
On the stroke of half-time, Pogba again set up an opening for Martial with the winger this time placing a shot wide of Pope’s left-hand post from just inside the area.
Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus could be back in training within two to three weeks and is set to be fit for next month’s Champions League tie against Basel, manager Pep Guardiola said Friday.
Jesus was carried off with medial knee ligament damage during the 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace on December 31 and the initial diagnosis was that he faced up to six weeks out, leaving him in a race to be fit by mid-February.
But the Brazil international, 20, has responded well to a visit to Barcelona this week, to be treated by Ramon Cugat, the surgeon Guardiola regularly turns to when his players are battling serious injuries.
“Yesterday, he was in Barcelona with Dr Cugat, and at the end, the news was quite good,” said the City boss, who has been short of striking options since the injury to Jesus.
“When we play Basel in the Champions League, he could be ready. I think, in two or three weeks he’ll be ready and with us.”
City, who lead the Premier League by a gaping 15 points, play the Swiss side in the first leg of their round-of-16 tie on February 13.
Guardiola was reluctant to comment on his chances of signing Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal during the January transfer window, instead of saying that his focus was on maintaining City’s fine form when they travel to Liverpool in the Premier League on Sunday.
City remain favourites to sign the Chile forward, who is out of contract at the end of the season and has made clear that he wishes to leave the Emirates Stadium but Manchester United are reported to have joined the race for his signature.
“I understand completely why you ask this question, it’s your job,” said Guardiola. “But you know my answer. I am focused on Liverpool.”
“What’s important is what happens over 90 minutes on the field,” he added. “That is what I want to speak about.
“The players have two choices: Follow what you (the media) say, or follow me. I hope to convince them to follow what I am talking about. It’s about football, football, football on the pitch.”
The City boss said the match against in-form Liverpool at Anfield would give him a good idea of how far his team could go in the Champions League this season.
“It is a real test at Anfield, one of the most prestigious stadiums,” he said. “It’s a big game for us and we’re going to prepare as best as possible.
“If you want to achieve something good, win titles, you have to not just win but win at these kind of stages. At Stamford Bridge we were able. Old Trafford we were able.
“We’ve still got tough teams to come. It is such an important game to see if we are able to do big things — especially in the Champions League stages.
“It means a lot in terms of how complicated it is to play there.”
Arsene Wenger said Friday there is nothing “concrete” on Alexis Sanchez’s future despite reported interest from both Manchester clubs but stated he will only be sold this month if Arsenal can find a replacement.
Sanchez, out of contract at the end of the season, is expected to leave the north London club during the transfer window with young Bordeaux forward Malcom linked with a move to the Emirates.
Pep Guardiola’s bid to buy Sanchez collapsed at the end of the summer transfer window and City were widely expected to make another move for the Chile forward.
But Jose Mourinho’s United have reportedly thrown their hat into the ring, bidding around £25 million ($34 million, 28 million euros) to trump City’s £20 million offer as they seek to bolster their forward options and deny their bitter rivals.
When asked if United were interested in signing the player, Wenger said “nothing is really concrete at the moment”.
Questioned as to whether there was any truth in the rumour, the Arsenal manager was coy.
“You conclude that,” he said. “You could say that at the moment… it’s not that I don’t want to inform you, I don’t want to give you wrong information and at the moment I must say nothing is decided one way or the other.”
Wenger admitted a bidding war could help Arsenal but said that was not the current situation.
The Arsenal boss, whose side travel to Bournemouth on Sunday, said Sanchez would only be allowed to leave if they could get a new signing over the line.
“Of course I want a quick resolution,” he told reporters at Arsenal’s north London training base.
“Is he (Sanchez) replaceable in the way that we find exactly the same player? Certainly not, but there’s always a way to find a different balance.
“Alexis is an exceptional football player, he’s a world-class player and if that happens (and he leaves) we have to find a different balance in the team.”
Theo Walcott is another Arsenal player poised to leave this month, with Everton manager Sam Allardyce revealing on Friday that they are hopeful of sealing a permanent deal.
Wenger said he does not want the 28-year-old to leave, but conceded he cannot guarantee the forward playing time and an unlikely route into Gareth Southgate’s England squad for the World Cup.
“Sam Allardyce has made that statement but Theo Walcott is here,” Wenger added.
“I have a good relationship with Theo and I don’t want him to be frustrated or lose an opportunity to go to the World Cup.”
With Arjen Robben, Alexis Sanchez, Gareth Bale, and Gianluigi Buffon as the stars, it is possible to build an impressive team from players who will miss the 2018 World Cup.
In some cases, the players simply have the bad luck to represent nations who are unlikely to reach the World Cup, at least until it expands to 48 teams in 2026. Others, notably the Italians, Chilean and Dutch, may find it hard to believe that they will be watching the finals from their sofas.
The stars who symbolise shattered expectations of nations which believed they had realistic hopes of qualifying, make up this first XI. Their supporting cast and the stars of lesser teams, who few expected to see in Russia, are on the bench.
Goalkeeper: Buffon (Italy)
A monument and a global yardstick in his position, Buffon has been a seemingly ageless pillar of the Italy team over 175 caps spread across 20 years.
He was in goal when Italy won the World Cup in a penalty shootout against France in 2006 and dreamed of pulling on his gloves for a sixth World Cup at the age of 39. But defeat to Sweden in the playoff on Monday means his international career is over.
“I am devastated, devastated, devastated. Not for myself but for all football, because we have failed,” he told Italian television in tears. “That is the only regret I have, certainly not the fact that I must stop playing.”
“Time passes and it is a tyrant,” said the Juventus goalkeeper, as dignified in defeat as in victory.
On either side of the back four are two men who symbolise the qualifying failures of their African nations. Serge Aurier of Tottenham Hotspur had a terrible final match as Ivory Coast lost 2-0 at home to Morocco who, as a result, qualified for Russia instead.
Napoli’s Faouzi Ghoulam was not the worst player in a disastrous final stage as Algeria, who reached the last 16 in 2014 in Brazil, failed to win a single game in their group, but he is one of the stars who should lead.
To compound the humiliation three other North African teams — Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco — are going to Russia.
The famed Juventus “BBC” back three was broken up in the summer as the junior member, Leonardo Bonucci, moved to Milan, but he was back alongside Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini against Sweden.
Those two, both well past 30, epitomise old-school Italian defensive discipline and toughness. Barzagli, 36, like Buffon and midfielder Daniele De Rossi, retired from international football after the defeat.
Wales reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016, Chile lost on penalties to Brazil in the last 16 of the 2014 World Cup and then won back-to-back Copa America titles, while Bosnia, with a far shorter history, qualified for the first time when they reached the last World Cup. All three agonisingly missed out this time.
For Wales the journey ended with a 1-0 home loss to the Republic of Ireland in their final qualifier. Their injured Real Madrid star Bale could only watch as his country suffered their only defeat of the campaign. Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal was also absent for Chile at the key moment. He was suspended for the final group game away to Brazil. Chile lost 3-0 and dropped three places, surrendering a direct ticket to Russia and even missing out on a playoff place to Peru on goal difference.
Miralem Pjanic, of Juventus, was on the field as Bosnia, in a position to finish second in their group, blew a two-goal lead and lost in Cyprus in August, a result that opened the door for Greece.
The Netherlands may have missed Euro 2016 but Bayern’s Robben had helped them to two World Cup exploits: the final in 2010 and third place in 2014. He scored both goals as the Netherlands won their final group game 2-0 against Sweden but since the Dutch needed to win by seven to edge past the Swedes on goal difference, it was no more than a proud star fighting vainly to the end.
And time will beat Robben as it has Buffon. At 33 the “Flying Dutchman” has indicated he will retire from the national team.
Gabon’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the top scorer in the Bundesliga last season, was propelling his tiny nation towards a first ever World Cup, until they lost 3-0 in Morocco in a game that ultimately settled the group. The Borussia Dortmund striker found the loss hard to swallow. He blamed poisoned orange juice.
Arsenal’s Sanchez hit seven goals for Chile in qualifying, second only to Lionel Messi in the South American group. It was not enough and Sanchez, who has been persistently linked to Manchester City, will be able to spend the summer focussing on his future.
On the bench
Jan Oblak (Slovenia); Antonio Valencia (Ecuador), Virgil van Dijk (Netherlands), Stefan Savic (Montenegro), David Alaba (Austria); Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Armenia), Naby Keita (Guinea), Victor Wanyama (Kenya); Stevan Jovetic (Montenegro), Wilfried Zaha (Ivory Coast), Ciro Immobile (Italy)