Norway's failure crystallises the beauty of the World Cup and illustrates why it should be left untouched - The Warm-Up
Norway failed to qualify for the World Cup and there is a beauty in that. It is the sense of jeopardy that is what separates football’s blue riband event from every other event on the planet. Marca are absolutely fuming with Gareth Bale yet again. The Antonio Conte and Ryan Mason connection runs deep. And re-live the moment Nani induced some serious Cristiano Ronaldo rage.
Norway's players react after their defeat at the end of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying round Group G football match between Netherlands and Norway at the Feijenoord stadium in Rotterdam on November 16, 2021
Erling Haaland is already one of the best players in the world at the age of 21. However, after his Norway side were - in his absence - beaten 2-0 by the Netherlands, the Borussia Dortmund forward will have to wait until 2026 at the earliest to make his bow at the blue riband event. Alongside Norway, for example, European champions Italy could miss out on successive World Cups. That would mean a 12-year gap for the four-time winners.
In a world defined by its thirst for immediate gratification, a one-shot-every-four-years tournament gives the international game a sense of jeopardy that the club game lacks. The risk of not making a World Cup and the four-year gap between the tournaments imbues a tension and sense of importance that makes for the pure theatre and emotion that has been in full evidence this last week in qualifying.
It is something, for example, the Champions League can't provide - Manchester City lost the final in 2021 but will have another hit at it this year, and the year after and the year after that. It feels a matter of time before this cohort of players win it. Haaland may well never compete at a World Cup. The competitive nature of football at club level has been compromised but the international game remains a meritocracy, and that is evidenced by Italy's travails.
Reducing the cycle would fundamentally undermine the essence of the tournament. Leave it well alone.
Gareth Bale and Real Madrid. Tumultuous just about sums it up. The Welshman's latest perceived indiscretion? Another injury. He picked up a knock in late September, and returned to full fitness last week in time for the international break.
Bale is making fun of Real Madrid. It's nothing new. He has been doing it for years. It is not known whether he is a golf player who plays football in his spare time or if he is a footballer who plays golf in his spare time.
Now, the optics don't look great for Bale. But Real Madrid let him go on international duty, so, well, are they not partially culpable for the latest injury? He was either fit to go or not. Anyway, this relationship soured long ago and the sooner the summer and the expiration of Bale's contract comes the better for all parties.
The Conte-Mason connection
On first inspection, Ryan Mason may have seemed a left-field appointment to Antonio Conte's first team coaching staff. However, Conte's arrival at the club was not the only time either had first-hand experience of the other.
The Italian was coaching the Azzurri when Mason made his debut for England and, more poignantly, was in charge at Chelsea when Mason suffered his career-ending head injury. The then-Chelsea boss visited him in hospital.
Conte has - for better and worse - bore witness to career-defining moments for Mason. It is then perhaps fitting that the Italian may act as the catalyst for shaping the rest of the 30-year-old's career.
"I don’t know why, with Ryan and me, it was a strange situation," began Conte in an interview on the club's official website.
When we played the game (for Chelsea) against Hull City and he finished his career, I remember well that I went to the hospital to find him and his family, because it was a serious injury.
"Ryan had one call with the national team when they played against Italy. Then to arrive at Tottenham and find him… he’s a really good guy and this could be a good experience for him to sit together, to help me, my staff, to introduce in this club.
"Then, I followed him in the last season when he was the coach for two months. For sure, he’s a good guy and I like to have him in my staff."
Dani Alves is the new Barcelona number what, you say?
Now, The Warm-Up appreciates that this is man-shouts-at-cloud territory but Dani Alves has been given the number eight shirt at Barcelona.
The Warm-Up has registered the fact that, at his peak, Alves was a number 10 playing in - nominally - the right-back position. But even then, the number eight? Nah.
Right, time to bring this blog to a close as that cloud ain’t going to shout at itself.
'Home sweet home' - Alves and Xavi share big hug as Barca legend returns
It is Nani's birthday. The 35-year-old - how is he only 35? - plies his trade with Orlando City in MLS nowadays.
Here he is inducing rage - complete and utter rage - from Cristiano Ronaldo for, well, costing one of the greatest-ever goalscorers one of his greatest-ever goals.
Andi Thomas is here, fresh from not shouting at a cloud, to pick through - amongst other things - the on-goings from the Champions League, where Arsenal take on HB Køge.