VIDEO: Nothing compares to lifting the World Cup – Pirlo

World Cup-winner Andrea Pirlo says nothing will ever compare to the moment he lifted the World Cup trophy.

The legendary former Italy international helped his nation to their fourth world title in 2006, netting in the penalty-shootout that saw the Azzurri overcome France in the final.

And speaking at the launch of the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour by Coca-Cola, Pirlo said the feeling of lifting the biggest prize in football is unrivalled.

“It’s the best thing that can happen to a player,” he told Goal

“Being able to play at the World Cup is already the best, but then to raise the trophy to the sky is a dream.”

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Pirlo joined fellow former world champion Sir Geoff Hurst to provide the trophy a fitting send-off as it began its journey around the globe.

The tour will take in 91 cities and visit more than 50 countries over six continents.

For more information on the Trophy Tour head to the official FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour Instagram or Facebook page

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Conte accepts need for Batshuyai loan as Dzeko deal looms

Antonio Conte has publicly admitted that Michy Batshuayi will go on loan in January should Chelsea sign a striker this month.

The Blues have been linked with multiple names during the winter window with their prime target being Roma’s Edin Dzeko. 

Chelsea have also been targeting Emerson Palmieri as they look to add personnel at left-wing back. They are thought to have completed the Emerson deal but are waiting for the Dzeko situation to unfold. 

Conte had previously said that he wouldn’t allow players to leave unless he signed a replacement and Kenedy was formally announced as a Newcastle United player Tuesday with Emerson likely coming in for his spot. The Chelsea head coach admits that the same situation applies to Batshuayi. 

“It’s the same as for Kenedy,” Conte told reporters at Cobham Training Centre. “If another striker arrives, then Batshuayi will go on loan. I think he wants to have the opportunity to play with regularity. I think this is right.

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“If we stay with the same players from the start, it doesn’t change. One player goes out, one player comes in. One player comes in, one player goes out. It’s part of our job [to move players on]. I think we have to try in every moment to be honest with our players.

“I repeat, I don’t know if another striker will arrive for Chelsea. But, in this case, I don’t want to send away any player. But a lot of times it’s the player saying he prefers to go away to have the possibility to play regularly. Then you have to show you deserve to play every game.”

However, Chelsea have started Batshuayi for two consecutive games with Alvaro Morata initially rested and then getting a red card.

The 24-year-old Belgian was praised by Conte after his recent display in the 4-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion but says it doesn’t mean he will start again on Wednesday night at the Emirates Stadium against Arsenal. 

Pedro Batshuayi

“I don’t know if this is the right time [to play him versus Arsenal],” Conte said. “I think that every player had their chance to play and to show me their value.

“Now I think I have to make the best decision for the team. Every game is different. The quality of your opponent is different. I have to make the best decision to try and exploit my players in the best way. I repeat, our job is not simple, not easy. We have to try to make the best decision every time for the team. And to try to improve our players.

“Sometimes we are able, sometimes we are not able. But you have to do your best to reach your target.”

Morata is not set to return against Arsenal due to a lingering back injury that has already seen him sit out the Huddersfield Town game in December. The £58 million striker is also out of form with no goals in six games for Chelsea.

Conte was asked whether his back is getting in the way of his main striker reaching his previous high levels of performance. 

“If you remember, in the past, he stopped himself for a problem in his back. A pain in the back,” Conte said. “Now this pain has come back. I hope not serious. Nothing serious. But this is the second game that he stopped. He wasn’t available against Brighton because this problem was there the day before as well [regardless of his suspension].”

“I don’t know but, for sure, he’s having this problem now. Now it’s with the medical department to try and solve this problem and give him the opportunity to have a training session without pain. But this is the real problem now. Not that he’s not scoring or that his confidence is down. For every striker, you can pass this type of moment.

Alvaro Morata Chelsea

“But the real problem now is he has to overcome this problem in his back. I hope to solve this problem very quickly because we need Alvaro. We need Alvaro’s commitment.”

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Chelsea have completed one signing in January as they have brought in Ross Barkley on a £15 million deal from Everton. The 24-year-old has yet to make his debut after being ineligible against Norwich and being an unused substitute against Brighton.

Conte won’t start Barkley against Arsenal as he eases him back in from a seven month hamstring lay-off that required surgery. He did say that he is ready to use the England international from the bench against Arsenal on Wednesday in the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final. 

“He’s in the squad. I’m very happy because he’s showing he’s into our idea of football. It’s not easy because he’s only been working with us for a week, but now we’re going into the idea. For sure he’s on the bench. If there’s the opportunity and I need to consider him and give him the chance to play, he’s ready to play.”

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Chelsea couldn’t compete with Manchester clubs over Alexis – Conte

Antonio Conte admitted that Chelsea are no longer among the world’s richest clubs after losing out to the Manchester clubs for Alexis Sanchez in the January transfer window. 

Goal understands that Chelsea did try to sign Sanchez in the summer but dropped their interest ahead of the January transfer window, despite reports on the contrary after Manchester City gave United a free run to bring him in by dropping out fo the race.

Sanchez now earns more than double Chelsea’s highest paid player Eden Hazard with his £500,000-a-week salary, far above Hazard’s current £220,000-a-week contract. 

Manchester United’s financial might currently far exceeds Chelsea’s, while Manchester City are seeing on pitch success with Pep Guardiola at the helm and have outspent Chelsea every year since 2012-13. 

Conte wanted to make it clear that Chelsea have to find a cheaper way to win trophies at the moment. 

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“What happened three years, 10 years or eight years ago was totally different,” Conte told reporters at Cobham Training Centre. “Now I think that we have to fight. We have to fight with our work. I think last season we won the league and finished with £50m [profit, helped by player sales]. No one says this.

Antonio Conte, Pep Guardiola

“We won the league and reached the FA Cup final, and we finished with a profit of £50m in the transfer market. In the past, this had never happened. For this reason, the situation changed. When the situation changes, you have to fight to try to give all of yourself for Chelsea.

“Now, for sure, United and Manchester City stay there, stay there [at the top, financially]. The first thing is I trust in my work. And I think that, if I stay here, for this reason, it’ll be because the club trusts in my work. And not only the money.

“You can do two types of football: only with money and you pay a lot of money and take the best players; the other way is to try and put a bit of money in and then hard work. We are in the middle. We are working and trying to do our best during the transfer market.

“Last season I think we did a fantastic job and did a little miracle. I repeat, this season is showing this. For me, this is already a good season. Because we are doing 120 per cent. 

“I’m doing a fantastic job, the same as my players. It’s not important if you reach the final or win a trophy or win the league. The most important thing is to see if the coach and players are working very hard and very well. This, for me, is a successful season.

Antonio Conte Jose Mourinho Chelsea Manchester United

“I think, for sure, in this moment there are two teams in this league who are ‘top’. They stay there. The others have to fight. To fight for a place in the Champions League.”

Chelsea have roughly broken even in their past three transfer windows after announcing at the start of the month that they made a £69.2m profit on player trading ahead of last summer’s transfer window. 

The club are now looking to spend around £50 million before the end of the current winter market with Roma pair Edin Dzeko and Emerson Palmieri lined up. 

However, some fans have complained about their club not being in the running for Sanchez, who was unveiled by United in a swap deal with Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Conte says that Chelsea weren’t able to battle it out over financial terms with the clubs in Manchester and opted to stay away, despite his admiration for him.

“We never were in this race. Ever. Especially because, I repeat, one of the reasons was this amount of salary. I think, as you know very well, you go in the transfer market you have to know that, if you want the best, you have to spend a lot of money.

“Otherwise you have to go in the middle and spend £20-30m. If you want to reach the best targets, you must be prepared to spend a lot of money. This is the truth. Sometimes I’m surprised with this kind of question because I don’t understand why sometimes someone doesn’t want to see the truth. See the reality. 

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“This is the market. This is the market. It’s normal that, if you want to buy Neymar, you must be ready to give him €25m. If you want to buy [Lionel] Messi, [Cristiano] Ronaldo, now Sanchez the same, you must be ready to pay his salary. It depends upon the targets, the players you want to buy.

“Now, it’s not negative. It’s the truth. If you have money you can spend it and have the best players. Otherwise you find other ways to stand up and fight. I must be honest, if a player earns a lot of money, it’s because he is the best.

“Ronaldo scores 50 goals every season, Messi scores 50 goals every season, Neymar does the same. Every player has to understand his level. Not say: ‘Hold on, he takes €30m.’ Yes, because he scores 50 goals. If you score 10 or 15 goals, you’re in the middle. Stop.

“But it’s the same for the coach. If you don’t win or never win the league, or a trophy, you can say you are the best. But the best win. If you win, ask. If you don’t win, don’t ask [for a pay rise]. 

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“It’s the same now as the Sanchez buy. Now I think Manchester United and Manchester City stay at the top. We have to try and build something important to create a base, and then make success with our work. Not with money. With work.

“For sure United have paid it. But I don’t know [about] the other teams. But, I repeat, the most important thing is we’re not worried. If you trust in your work and have the patience, and you can understand the right moment, you can improve through work to try and fight these big teams.

“I think we have to do a big work, and we need to improve with this team. To improve the squad. To create this basis. Don’t forget, in the last couple of years, we lost a lot of old players who wrote the history of this club. There is… I don’t like this word, ‘transition’, but sometimes you have to stop yourself and see the truth.”

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Bristol City 2 Manchester City 3 (3-5 agg): Guardiola through to first English final

Manchester City reached their first final under Pep Guardiola after beating Bristol City 3-2 in the second leg of the EFL Cup last-four meeting on Tuesday.

Guardiola went trophy-less in his first season in charge, having amassed 21 from his spells at Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

But the first silverware of a possible quadruple is now within his grasp after his side extinguished any hope the Championship club had of springing a surprise after Guardiola’s men won the first leg 2-1.

There was a stroke of fortune about the opening goal as Leroy Sane’s 43rd-minute strike was deflected in, the hosts punished for some overly casual defending.

Yet there was nothing lucky about the second goal as Sergio Aguero, scorer of a hat-trick against Newcastle United at the weekend and first-leg matchwinner, fired home from a magnificent Kevin De Bruyne pass.

Marlon Pack pulled one back for Lee Johnson’s men, who knocked out Manchester United in the previous round, and appeared set to claim a draw on the night when Aden Flint levelled in stoppage time.

But De Bruyne, having received a new contract to keep him at the Etihad Stadium on Monday, quickly restored the lead, setting up a final with Chelsea or Arsenal at Wembley on February 25.

The visitors were in control from the start and almost took the lead in fortuitous fashion as Aguero’s cross from the left-hand side of the box clipped the crossbar.

John Stones then headed wide and Oleksandr Zinchenko missed the target with an errant long-range drive before Luke Steele was finally forced into action to deny David Silva with a strong save down low to his left after the Spaniard exchanged passes with Sane.

De Bruyne dragged wide and Bernardo Silva cut in from the right to force Steele into further action before the break.

But just as looked as if the promotion hopefuls would reach the interval on level terms, they were undone by a disappointing piece of defending as Hordur Magnusson was dispossessed by Bernardo Silva as he attempted to shepherd the ball behind, with the Portuguese then finding Sane, whose effort was inadvertently turned into the net by Flint.

And the tie was put to bed in fine fashion four minutes into the second half.

David Silva and Sane combined to start a counter that was finished off as De Bruyne artfully turned and switched the play with a pinpoint cross-field pass for Aguero, who took it in stride and rifled across Steele and into the bottom-left corner.

De Bruyne would have made it 3-0 three minutes later if not for the impressive reflexes of Steele, but the scoreline was made to look less comfortable in the 64th minute when Pack rose magnificently and powered an excellent header back across goal and beyond the dive of Claudio Bravo.

Hope of a miraculous turnaround was bolstered when Flint stabbed home from Bobby Reid’s header in the fourth minute of added time, but it came too late and De Bruyne restored order in the dying embers as the tapped in following good work down from the left from Sane.

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O’Neill signs Ireland extension after missing out on World Cup

Martin O’Neill has signed a two-year contract extension to remain as Republic of Ireland manager until 2020.

O’Neill guided Ireland to the play-off stage of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup but saw his side beaten by Denmark as they were thrashed 5-1 in the second leg in Dublin having claimed a goalless draw in the first leg.

The former Leicester City, Celtic and Aston Villa boss had been linked with the managerial post at Stoke City, but reportedly turned that down before the Potters opted to appoint Paul Lambert.

His new contract will take him up to seven years in the job if he sees it out, having first taken over Ireland in November 2013.

He will now lead Ireland in the newly formed Nations League and qualifying for Euro 2020. 

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Ireland reached the last 16 in Euro 2016 but were knocked out by hosts and eventual finalists France.

O’Neill’s backroom staff have also received extensions.

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