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England face possible 2026 World Cup nightmare scenario after Nations League debacle comes back to haunt Three Lions

ENGLAND’S Nations League debacle in 2022 could prove a major hurdle on the road to the next World Cup.

The expansion to 48 teams for the finals in the USA, Mexico and Canada means 16 European places will be available, up from 13 in Qatar.

England could be in for a tough World Cup qualifying campaign

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England could be in for a tough World Cup qualifying campaignCredit: Getty

But England’s relegation to League B of the Nations League after a campaign which saw them winless in six matches — including a 4-0 loss to Hungary at Molineux — will have repercussions.

Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions will discover their opponents when the Nations League draw takes place next month.

Uefa, though, has already determined that World Cup group rankings will be on the basis of Nations League performances only.

This means the 12 top seeds will come from League A.

So England, who will be in one of the five-team qualifying groups if they win their League B division, cannot be seeded even if they win every match.

With only the group winners certain of a finals place, potential opponents include Italy, France, Spain, Holland, Portugal or Belgium.

Finishing second would pitch England into a sudden death play-off series in March 2026, with 16 teams competing for four slots.

Maybe that will persuade the England players to take the Nations League more seriously when it kicks off in September.

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BECKS’ APPEAL

DAVID BECKHAM has snaffled Andy Murray’s long-term manager — in what seems a further signal the three-time Grand Slam champion might be ready to wind down his career.

Matt Gentry, who worked with Murray since 2008, is joining Authentic Brands Group to cover Beckham’s commercial business.

Murray, 36, remains on the books of sports management giant IMG.

RAINEING CHAMPS

THE drawn-out 13-month process that finally led to Sir Jim Ratcliffe taking control at Manchester United does not appear to have shaken the confidence in the Old Trafford dealmakers.

US-based Raine Group conducted the sale process on behalf of the Glazer family after taking the same role when Russian Roman Abramovich was forced to relinquish control of Chelsea in 2022.

Despite considerable criticism from bidders and United fans, Raine have now been appointed by Monaco owner, Russian billionaire oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev, to “work on a total or partial sale project” for the Ligue 1 club he has run since 2011.

Another big slice of a football deal heading to Raine chief Joe Ravitch, then.

OLYMPIC DREAM

THE success of the men’s and women’s hockey teams at the final Olympic qualifying tournaments mean a guaranteed 350-plus Team GB athletes have places in Paris.

Team GB are predicted by international experts to be in line for a third-place finish in the medals table. And with a likely overall tally slightly above the 64 they won in Tokyo — although potentially fewer golds.

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