John Newsome returns in time for the World Cup. Can hosts Russia avoid slipping on a banana skin, in the first match of the tournament?
RUSSIA v SAUDI ARABIA
The Opening game of Russia 2018 sees the host nation take on World Cup minnow’s Saudi Arabia. Russia haven’t had to qualify for the tournament and they come into the competition without a win in 7. Stanislav Cherchesov took charge of Russia immediately after a disastrous Euro 2016 campaign in which the team, led by Leonid Slutsky, finished last in their group, they need to improve performances in front of their home fans and this game against the Saudi’s will give them the perfect opportunity to kick off their campaign.
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Goalkeeper and Captain Igor Akinfeev is the mainstay of the team and has kept his place under Stan the Russian man. Defender Sergei Ignashevic is 39 now and was planning on watching the World Cup in front of his telly, but due to injuries to other players, Cherchesov asked the veteran defender to have one last hurrah and hopefully, will add to his 120 caps. Up front the goalscoring danger comes from Fedor Smolov as well as help from midfielders Aleksandr Samedov and Aleksandr Golovin who is a real emerging young Russian talent and one to watch. The Russian’s will know next to nothing about the Saudi Arabia Football team.
The Saudis will enter the World Cup as the worst team in the competition. Their FIFA ranking of 67th is the lowest of all the nations that qualified. The whole of the squad play in the Saudi Arabia League and have done remarkably well in qualifying for Russia 2018. Veteran Osama Hawsawi is the mainstay of the backline since coming into the team just after Saudi Arabia’s last appearance at the World Cup in 2006. Midfielder Abdullah al-Khaibari is a talented 21-year-old who could make an impact from the bench if he doesn’t start.
The main goal threat comes from Mohammad al-Sahlaw who spent 3 weeks at Manchester United in April. This was more to do with trying to hone his fitness and strengthen United’s commercial ties with the Saudi’s then realistically hoping for an Old Trafford contract. This game should get the host nation off to a winning start and give the Saudi’s a good run out.
Russia Win 2-0
EGYPT v URUGUAY
A great game to kick off the 2nd day of this prestigious tournament. These 2 will be fighting it out for 1st and 2nd position in the Group. Hopefully, Mo Salah will have recovered from his injury sustained in the Champions League final because Egypt definitely need the mercurial Liverpool man if they have any hope of proceeding from this group. The current Liverpool superstar takes on the former Liverpool superstar in Luis Suarez who has enjoyed a tremendous season in Spain winning the Spanish title with Barcelona.
Egypt have a few English based players in their squad such as Ahmed Elmohamady of Aston Villa, Ahmed Hegazi of West Brom, Mohamed Elneny of Arsenal, Ramadan Sobhi of Stoke and Sam Morsy who surprisingly played in the 3rd tier of English football this season helping Wigan win the league and gain promotion to the Championship. Sam also played for Barnsley FC in the 2016 season. Uruguay are 1 of only 8 Elite team’s to have won the World Cup, winning the inaugural tournament as Host Nation in 1930, then 20 years later they beat hot favourites Brazil in Brazil to collect the Jules Rimet trophy for a second and final time.
Uruguay come into the tournament fresh having only played 1 warm-up game. Their squad include some really talented individuals none of which play in England. Cristhian Stuani had a brief spell at Middlesbrough and Guillermo Varela was David Moyes first signing when in charge of Manchester United but only featured for the Red Devils a few times and quickly left Old Trafford. Along with Suarez, the main threat for Uruguay is another superstar in Edinson Cavani, who is 2nd in Uruguay’s all-time goal scoring chart behind Luis.
With Suarez and Cavani up front for the Sky Blues, they will take some stopping as the tournament progresses, but as this is the first game and with a fully fit Mo Salah a draw is forecast.
MOROCCO v IRAN
In theory, these 2 are just in Russia to make up the numbers, in reality, both will want to upset the chances of Spain and Portugal finishing top of the group. Morocco come into the tournament in excellent form having not lost a game for a year, the latest being a win against Estonia. The keeper is Bono, unfortunately not the U2 frontman. Romain Saiss has just enjoyed a spectacular season with Wolverhampton Wanderers winning the Championship and gaining promotion to the English Premier League, Nordin Amrabat is a Watford FC player currently on loan at Spanish La Liga side Leganes, Karim El Ahmadi spent a couple of seasons at Aston Villa and Manuel Da Costa had a brief spell at West Ham in 2010/2011.
The Manager or Coach of Iran is none other than former Manchester United assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson, Carlos Queiroz. Iran have played 3 warm-up friendlies, winning 2 and losing 1. They will come into this group as underdogs and no one outside Tehran will think Team Melli can progress further into the tournament. Ashkan Dejaga plays in England for Championship club Nottingham Forest and Saman Ghoddos plays in Sweden for Ostersund who recently played and surprised Arsenal in the Europa League, beating the Gooners 2-1 at the Emirates.
The star of the Iranians is Sardar Azmoun, also known as the Iranian Messi. Azmoun plays for Russian club, Rubin Kazan. The 23-year-old remains Carlos Queiroz’s principal striker and as he knows Russia pretty well, he could emerge as a breakthrough star in this campaign. Iran have notoriety at the World Cup, surprisingly getting a 1-1 draw in their first ever World Cup appearance against the Tartan Army in Argentina ’78. ”We’re on the march with Ally’s Army, we’re all going to Argentine” This should be a tight affair easing both teams into the competition.
Morocco Win 2-1
PORTUGAL v SPAIN
What a cracker of a game to round off day 2 of Russia 2018. Realistically both of these teams could easily win this year’s World Cup. Euro 2016 Champions Portugal come into the tournament with Captain Fantastic Christian Ronaldo recently winning his 5th European Champions League and wants that competition renaming CR7 European Cup in his honour.
Ronaldo is still the main man but players such as Man City’s Bernardo Silva, Leicester’s Adrien Silva, Southampton’s Cédric Soares and West Ham loanee João Mário are needed to support him now he’s 33. Coach Fernando Santos will want to add the World Cup to his CV and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility. He’s made some big calls omitting Nani and Renato Sanchez from the final 23 but Mr Santos will stand and fall by that decision and hope CR7 lights up Russia.
Spain are 3rd favourites to win this year’s competition behind Brazil and Germany and are another 1 of the 8 Elite team’s to have lifted the coveted trophy, winning in South Africa in 2010 for their 1 and only success after years and years of trying. Coach Julen Lopetegu took over in 2016 when legendary boss Vicente del Bosque stepped aside. Julen was a goalkeeper in his playing days so will know he has a serious advantage over the other teams in the best Number 1 in the World- David De Gea. Now 27, the Manchester United ace is coming into his prime and La Furia Roja ( The Red Fury) truly are in with a chance of winning the trophy. Spain have one of the strongest squads at the World Cup, with the midfield, led by Barcelona duo Sergio Busquets and the ageing yet majestic Andrés Iniesta, Real Madrid’s Asensio and Isco are particularly impressive.
Man City’s David Silva, Arsenal and Chelsea defenders Nacho Monreal and César Azpilicueta make up the English Premier League contingent. This will be a cagey affair with it being the opener and neither team will want to lose.
FRANCE v AUSTRALIA
Another team who are 1 of the 8 Elite team’s to have lifted the World Cup, France, have a squad to rival anyone. They lifted the trophy exactly 20 years ago in Paris as host nation beating the original Ronaldo’s Brazil 3-0. The attack is simply frightening with any 3 from Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappé, Olivier Giroud and Thomas Lemar in the starting lineup. To supply this awesome strike force, the midfield consists of Manchester United ace Paul Pogba, Chelsea dynamo N’Golo Kante, unsung hero Blaise Matuidi and ex Blackburn and Stoke star Steven Nzonzi.
Man City defender Benjamin Mendy will want to put an injury-hit first season at the Etihad behind him and start for Les Bleus. Captain of the team is Tottenham stopper Hugo Lloris who, whilst a fine goalkeeper, is not a patch on DDG.
Australia have become regular World Cup participants since 2006 when FIFA changed the qualifying structure and Australia left The Oceania Football Confederation and joined the ASEAN Football Federation. The Socceroos hold a World Cup qualifying record beating American Samoa 31-0 in 2002. 31-0, how bad must Western Samoa be? Bert van Marwijk only took charge of Australia in November 2017 after Ange Postecoglo quit due to the pressures involved in managing.
Included in his 23 man squad are Brighton goalkeeper Mathew Ryan, Millwall defender James Meredith, Queens Park Rangers midfielder Massimo Luongo, Hull midfielder Jackson Irvine, Celtic midfielder Tom Rogic, Aston Villa midfielder Mile Jedinak, Huddersfield supremo Aaron Mooy and the legend that is Tim Cahill. Mile will captain the Socceroos. This is a tough group and Australia will find it hard to progress but will put up a spirited display in all 3 games. France should be too strong.
France Win 3-0
ARGENTINA v ICELAND
Argentina had a difficult qualifying campaign and at one point it looked like they weren’t going to make Russia, but the mercurial and all-time legend that is Lionel Messi took control of the blue and whites and in the end qualified comfortably.
As well as Lionel, Coach Jorge Sampaoli has other stars such as Man City title winners Sergio Aguero and Nicolas Otamendi, former City teammate Wilfredo ’Willy’ Caballero is backup goalkeeper, Manchester United defender Marcos Rojo makes the squad but unfortunately West Ham ace Manuel Lanzini, who originally was in the squad, has been forced to withdraw due to injury. Other notable members for Argentina are Javier Mascherano, Gonzalo Higuaín, Angel Di María and Paulo Dybala. Again, Argentina are 1 of the Elite 8 who have lifted the World Cup firstly as Hosts in 1978 then for a 2nd time in Mexico in 1986.
They famously beat England in the quarterfinals at the Aztec Stadium with 2 goals from Diego Maradona, the 1st being with his hand and the 2nd, quite simply, the best goal ever at a World Cup. Although Maradona cheated England, he was sublime in that Argentina side of ’86 and could argue he single-handedly won the World Cup.
Iceland qualify for the World Cup tournament for the first time in their history. The country’s first-ever World Cup squad includes Everton’s Gylfi Sigurðsson and Cardiff’s Aron Gunnarsson who captains the side. They come off the back of a quarter-final at the 2016 Euros in France, beating England on the way. Aberdeen’s Kari Arnason is the veteran of the side, Hördur Björgvin Magnússon plays for Bristol City, Birkir Bjarnason is at Aston Villa, Burnley midfielder Jóhann Berg Gudmundsson and Reading striker Jón Dadi Bödvarsson also make the squad.
Heimir Hallgrímsson, who was assistant to Lars Lagerback in 2016, is now in charge and will try and continue the progression of the Icelandic side. This will be a tough introduction to a World Cup against one of the favourites to lift the trophy.
Argentina Win 2-0
PERU v DENMARK
Peru come into the tournament in fine form having not lost in 14 games stretching back to November 2016. The Coach Ricardo Gareca has made Peru play with discipline and creativity. The English Premier League had the pleasure of seeing just 1 member of the Peruvian squad, that of André Carrillo who was on loan at Watford from Benfica last term.
Edison Flores is a wonderful attacking midfielder. Jefferson Farfán and Paolo Guerrero are the star players on show for Peru who are gracing the World stage for the first time since 1982, 36 years in the World Cup wilderness. Los Incas memorably beat Scotland, at Argentina ‘78, 3-1 when the Scottish nation expected their team to win the World Cup, as they were on the march with Ally’s Army.
Denmark are back at a World Cup finals after not qualifying for Brazil 2014. They kick off this campaign against a very good Peru side. The main man for the Danes is Tottenham ace Christian Eriksen and manager Åge Hareide who has taken over from Morten Olsen, sets up the team to get the best out of Eriksen. The Denmark squad includes Chelsea starlet Andreas Christensen. They also have a superb goalkeeper in Leicester ace Kasper Schmeichel.
Back up ’keeper is Huddersfield Town stopper Jonas Lössl. Jonas has his Town teammate Mathias ‘Zanka’ Jørgensen joining him in the squad as well as Ipswich and Brentford defenders Jonas Knudsen and Henrik Dalsgaard. This will be a tight affair with not many goals.
CROATIA v NIGERIA
Croatia have become regular participants at the World Cup since the breakup of the old Yugoslavia Country. Entering the competition at France ’98 for the first time and surprisingly finishing 3rd, losing in the semi-final to hosts and eventual winners France. The only World Cup they have missed is South Africa 2010 when they failed to qualify under the leadership of Croatian legend and former West Ham boss Slaven Bilic. Bilic famously went down holding his face in the ’98 game against France, leading to the dismissal of France legend Laurent Blanc.
Larry White as Blanc is affectionately known missed the biggest game of his life, the World Cup final in his home country because Bilic feigned injury. Zlatko Dalic now leads Croatia who have their own superstar players, none other than Real Madrid and former Tottenham idol Luka Modric. Luka now is Captain of his country and Coach Dalik plays him in a slightly more advanced role then he plays at Real.
The only English Premier League based player in the squad is Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren, who coincidentally played and lost to Luka’s Real Madrid side in the Champions League final. Other notable players for Croatia are Barcelona ace Ivan Rakitic, Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic and a young starlet to keep an eye on, defender Tin Jedvaj who plays in Germany for Bayer Leverkusen and will want to showcase his talent to maybe gain a move to one of the big boys.
Nigeria have recently played a friendly against England at Wembley and were outplayed in the first half. Coach Gernot Rohr gave a great halftime team talk and the Super Eagles came out in the second half and played to their potential scoring an early goal by Arsenal youngster Alex Iwobi. As well as young Alex, new Brighton acquisition, defender Leon Balogun makes the squad. Leicester have 3 players representing the Super Eagles, Wilfred Ndidi, Ahmed Musa and Kelechi Iheanacho.
Former Chelsea ace John Obi Mikel joins current Chelsea ace Victor Moses in the squad as well as another Chelsea player, Kenneth Omeruo. Chelsea fans may be unfamiliar with Ken but he has been at Stamford Bridge since 2012, however, hasn’t made the first team yet and is loaned out regularly. This tournament might give him the platform he needs to make him a name in the industry. Croatia can get off to a winning start.
Croatia Win 2-1
COSTA RICA v SERBIA
Costa Rica, nicknamed the Coffee Beans have recently played Northern Ireland and England, as warm-up games, for this tournament in Russia, with mixed fortunes. They comfortably beat Northern Ireland in the heat of San Jose 3-0, then came over to England and lost in the heat of Yorkshire 2-0.
Óscar Ramírez leads Costa Rica at Russia 2018 hoping to improve on their surprise quarter-final position gained in Brazil 2014. Four years ago they were in the same Group as Italy, England and Uruguay and were considered as the easier team out of the 4, they surprised everyone, beating both Uruguay and Italy and drawing with England in a dead rubber final group game. In the last 16, they drew with Greece, eventually beating them on penalties.
They remained unbeaten in Brazil, drawing the quarter-final against Holland, but losing that penalty shootout, so can definitely hold their heads up high. In Kaylor Navas, they have a Champions League winning goalkeeper. Ex-Fulham and star player Bryan Ruiz captains the side, also included in the Los Ticos squad are Ex Everton star Bryan Oviedo who has just been relegated with current club Sunderland to the English 3rd division.
Ex-Arsenal star Joel Campbell and Celtic player Cristian Gamboa, although Cristian hasn’t played much for the Scottish Champions. Youngster Ian Smith (a traditional Costa Rican name) is one to watch and currently plays for Norrköping in Sweden and will be pushing for a move to a top club after the finals.
Serbia enter the tournament having missed Brazil 2014. They made South Africa 2010 and played in Germany 2006 under the guise of Serbia and Montenegro before splitting and becoming Serbia. Coach Mladen Krstajic only took charge in October 2017 and has installed ex-Man City star Alexander Kolarov as Captain. Manchester United Superstar Nemanja Matic will no doubt show his enigmatic class and Ex Chelsea star Branislav Ivanovic is in the squad but may not start for the Serbs. Goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic has played in England for Wigan and Nottingham Forest.
Included also is Fulham star Aleksander Mitrovic who has hit a bit of form in the English Championship helping Fulham gain Promotion to the English Premier League and will be hoping for a permanent transfer to the Cottagers from Newcastle. Southampton’s Dusan Tadic and Liverpool’s Marko Grujic also make the squad. Grujic spent most of last season on loan at Cardiff helping them gain automatic promotion to the English Premier League. The Eagles should be too strong for Los Ticos.
Serbia Win 3-0
GERMANY v MEXICO
Another team who are 1 of the Elite 8 to have won the World Cup and current holders of the coveted trophy Germany, come into the tournament with only 1 win out of the last 6 games. However, take a look at the 6 teams they have played. England (Draw), France (Draw), Spain (Draw), Brazil (Lost), Austria (Lost) and Saudi Arabia (Won). Historically Germany come to life in tournament conditions and won’t be worrying too much about the previous 6 games.
They have reached the final of the World Cup a record 8 times, winning in 1954, 1974, 1990 and 2014 and losing in 1966, 1982, 1986 and 2002.
Joachim Löw leads the team again for a 3rd consecutive World Cup campaign but has surprisingly omitted 2014 winning goalscorer Mario Götze and Man City’s Premier League winner Leroy Sane. Joachim will stand and fall by that decision.
Man City do have a participant in Ilkay Gündogan. Germany regulars Manuel Neuer, Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos, Mesut Özil, and Thomas Müller all make the squad. Mexico have reached the last 16 of the past 6 World Cups and the Mexico faithful will expect them to get out of the group this time too. Veteran Rafael Márquez makes the squad for his 5th World Cup at the ripe old age of 39.
He made his debut 21 years ago but missed the 1998 tournament in France, he has played every one since. Brothers Jonathan and Giovani Dos Santos make the squad, Giovani had spells at Tottenham and Ipswich. West Ham star Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez is the star man and Ex-Arsenal frontman Carlos Vela is also included in Juan Carlos Osorio‘s 23 man squad. This game will be a tough test and Mexico will be glad to get it out of the way as 2nd place in the group is a more realistic target.
Germany Win 2-1
BRAZIL v SWITZERLAND
Brazil are another 1 of the Elite 8 teams who have won the World Cup and have won it a record 5 times, however, they come into this tournament in Russia on the back of a dreadful 2014 campaign as Host Nation. The World Cup has now been held twice in Brazil and both times the hosts have failed to do what Uruguay, Italy, England, Germany, Argentina and France have done and that is win in front of their loyal home supporters.
Coach Adenor Leonardo Bacchi also known as Tite has an array of talent on show. Man City’s Premier League title-winning goalkeeper Ederson is only back-up to first choice Allison. Fellow Man City teammates Danilo, Fernandinho and Gabriel Jesus all make the squad along with Liverpool and Chelsea forward’s Roberto Firmino and William. New Manchester United signing Fred is included despite a late injury scare. The main threat up front comes from the mercurial Neymar who suffered an injury for Paris Saint Germain earlier in the year so should be fresh and fully recovered for the test in Russia. Ex Liverpool ace Philippe Coutinho should provide the creative force.
Switzerland came through a playoff against Northern Ireland to reach Russia 2018 and are unbeaten in their warm-up friendlies. Coach Vladimir Petkovic hasn’t changed much since the Euro 16 campaign so the squad know each other inside out. The Swiss could be nicknamed the Gooners of the Alps with Arsenal having an interest in several members of the squad. New signing Stephan Lichtsteiner joins existing gunner Granit Xhaka and Johan Djourou spent 9 years at Arsenal.
Valon Behrami had a couple of seasons at West Ham and spent part of the 2016/17 season on loan at Watford before going back to Udinese. The star man for Switzerland undoubtedly is Xherdan Shaqiri who really is in the proverbial shop window. Having been part of the Stoke side relegated from the English Premier League, he will not want to play in the 2nd Division and will be hoping to perform on the World stage to gain a move to a top-flight club, whether in England or Europe. The Swiss will know that Brazil are favourites to progress from the group as leaders and will put up a fight to try and secure 2nd spot.
Brazil Win 2-0
SWEDEN v SOUTH KOREA
Sweden enter Russia 2018 without enigmatic talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic and coach Janne Andersson’s team haven’t played a competitive tournament since 2000 without Zlatan. They are 1 of a limited number of nations who have hosted the World Cup, getting to the final in 1958 only to be beaten in front of their home fans by Brazil. Manchester United centre-back Victor Lindelöf makes the 23.
Swansea, who were relegated from the English Premier League, have 2 representatives in backup goalkeeper Kristoffer Nordfeldt and left-back Martin Olsson. Leeds send the giant central defender and self-proclaimed hardman Pontus Jansson. Hull are represented by the reliable veteran Sebastian Larsson and Scottish Champions Celtic, provide Mikael Lustig.
South Korea, like Sweden, have hosted the World Cup jointly with Japan in 2002 and as host nation got to the Semifinals under the guidance of Dutch Legend Guus Hiddink. They will rely heavily on Tottenham forward and star player for the South Koreans Son Heung-Min. A huge talent. The only attacker in the squad who can make a difference by himself. Coach Shin Tae-Yong will mould his team and tactics around the Spurs man.
Captain of the side, Ki Sung-Yeung has just left relegated Swansea but will be just as vital to the Warriors as Son Heung-Min. Both will want to provide width and supply decent crosses for the ‘Peter Crouch’ of the South Korean football team-Kim Shin-Wook. At 6 foot 6 inch, Kim will definitely provide a threat in Russia. This will be a cagey affair.
BELGIUM v PANAMA
Belgium come into the competition as one of the favourites due to the stunning squad Roberto Martinez has been able to assemble. That said can he get all these superstars to play as a team and reach the potential that has put them in the Top 5 of the FIFA rankings. The Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois will start with Liverpool number 2 Simon Mignolet as back up.
In defence, they have Tottenham duo Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, as well as Man City Legend and Captain Vincent Kompany, provided he stays fit, Vincent is one of the best defenders in Russia. Celtic treble winning defender Dedryck Boyata makes the squad as well as ex-Arsenal defender Thomas Vermaelen. Man City star Kevin De Bruyne will control the play in midfield along with West Brom’s Nacer Chadli. Out of contract at Manchester United, Marouane Fellaini will use the tournament to showcase his limited talent and get a good contract whether at United or elsewhere.
Tottenham are represented by Mousa Dembélé who has a wand of a left foot and is such a graceful player, making the game look effortless. Fellaini’s United teammate Romelu Lukaku will lead the line for Belgium with the mercurial Chelsea number 10 and Captain Eden Hazard supplying the bullets. Roberto has included Eden’s younger brother Thorgan in the 23, whether this is down to talent or to keep Eden company.
Former Manchester United starlet Adnan Januzaj makes the cut as well as ex-Chelsea forward Michy Batshuayi. On paper, Belgium have a fantastic squad but football isn’t played on paper, it’s played on grass and whether they go all the way, the Red Devil’s will surely be good to watch.
Belgium win 3-0
TUNISIA v ENGLAND
Tunisia were on a 9 game unbeaten run stretching back to March 2017, but have just lost their final warm-up game against Spain. Nabil Maâloul‘s men are now taking part in their 5th World Cup. Injury to the squad’s most creative player, Youssef Msakni, has left a huge creative gap for Nabil Maâloul to fill in attacking midfield and he will be relying on Ferjani Sassi to supply the frontmen and maybe chip in with a goal here and there.
Yohan Benalouane is a defender who currently plays for Leicester and star striker Wahbi Khazri is a Sunderland player, however, he wasn’t part of the recent disastrous relegation to the English 3rd Division. He spent the season on loan at Rennes and will use this shop window to get a permanent move away from the North East. The goal threat should come from Anice Badri and Fakhreddine Ben Youssef.
England are another 1 of the elite 8 who have won the World Cup. They are the 7th out of the 8 to be in Russia, unfortunately the 8th team, Italy didn’t qualify which is a shock in itself. The Three Lions have come into the tournament unbeaten in 12 having recently played Nigeria and Costa Rica. Significantly the Costa Rica game was played away from Wembley.
The FA decided to take the game to Yorkshire and Leeds Elland Rd Stadium put on a fantastic game in the evening sunshine. England played a friendly against Tunisia back in 1990. Italia ’90 is arguably the best performance by England at a tournament since lifting the Jules Rimet trophy in 1966. Twenty years ago almost to the day at France ‘98 England opened their World Cup campaign against Tunisia and beat them 2-0. Hopefully for England fans everywhere this is a good omen and can be repeated.
Coach Gareth Southgate has assembled a young inexperienced squad to go to Russia who should be free from the shackles of recent disastrous tournaments. Likely starting X1 Jordan Pickford in goal, a back 3 of Kyle Walker, John Stones and Harry Maguire. Kieran Trippier at Right wingback and Danny Rose at Left wingback. Eric Dier will sit just in front of the 3, with Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli supporting Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane. Gareth has plenty of options from the bench and it won’t be long before Marcus Rashford will get his bow at a World Cup. A win for England will go a long way to appeasing everyone after the Iceland disaster. We’re Playing For England, Engerland.
England Win 2-0
COLUMBIA v JAPAN
José Pékerman remains in charge after a brilliant performance 4 years ago at Brazil 2014. Pékerman has kept faith in Arsenal ‘keeper David Ospina even after a few shaky games between the sticks. Tottenham defender Davinson Sánchez makes the squad as does Brighton winger José Izquierdo who had an excellent season at The Amex. The main threats for Columbia are Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez.
At Chelsea, Juan Cuadrado couldn’t get a game but has excelled at Juventus and will be a threat down the right using his sensational speed. They could surprise a few people this time around too.
In April Japan made the surprising decision to replace Head Coach Vahid Halilhodzic who had guided the team to qualification for Russia with veteran Akira Nishino.
Southampton stalwart Maya Yoshida is the defensive mainstay and ex-Manchester United star Shinji Kagawa, who was out of favour under
Vahid Halilhodzic and spent a period out of the squad altogether after being deemed unsuited to the team’s tactical plans, is the star player. Leicester’s Shinji Okazaki is the main goal threat and Japanese legend Keisuke Honda makes one last hurrah. A real star of Japanese football whose prodigious left foot has contributed many important goals for the Samurai Blue. One thing for certain is the Japanese will have an abundance of energy and will be a fitness match for any team. Columbia should be too strong in this opening game.
Columbia Win 2-1
POLAND v SENEGAL
The final 1st Round Group game sees Poland, led by former player Adam Nawalka, come into the tournament in fine goalscoring form, unfortunately for the red and whites, they concede plenty too. In goal for Poland is former Arsenal number 1 Wojciech Szczesny and as back up, they have Swansea stopper Lukasz Fabianski and Ipswich goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski who had a brief spell as emergency ‘keeper at Barnsley FC.
In defence, the Poles have Jan Bednarek who played a key role in saving Southampton from relegation. Creative Midfielder Kamil Grosicki plays for Hull City in the English Championship and can get goals. Upfront they have a true superstar, Robert Lewandowski is one of the most lethal strikers in the world and should be ably backed up by Arkadiusz Milik, who actually cost more than Robert when he joined Napoli from Ajax in 2016 costing a Polish record of €33 Million. Robert wants a move from Bayern Munich and has the perfect shop window to sell himself.
Senegal Coach Aliou Cissé once plied his trade at Birmingham City and Portsmouth during the mid-noughties and brings The Lions of Teranga to a World Cup for the first time in 16 years. At that last appearance in Japan/South Korea 2002, he played in the midfield for Senegal when they famously beat holders France 1-0.
With Aliou Cissé being a defensive midfielder his tactics have been deemed as negative and this shows in the lack of goals scored by the Lions in recent matches. Notable stars for Senegal are Stoke duo Pape Alioune ‘Badou’ Ndiaye and Mame Biram Diouf, Everton midfielder Idrissa Gana Gueye, West Ham enforcer Cheikhou Kouyaté, Birmingham City midfielder Cheikh Ndoye and Liverpool superstar Sadio Mané.
They have tough-tackling defenders and midfielders and a goalscoring threat in star player Sadio Mané. It’s just a case of whether they play negative or not as to whether they will progress and be a threat. If Lewandowski is firing, Poland can prevail.
Poland Win 2-0
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