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Options for Argentina in last-change saloon – FIFA on GBP Sports

  • Argentina are expected to make changes for their must-win clash with Nigeria
  • Diego Zandrino assesses the battle to play in goal and up front
  • Will Di Maria, Dybala and Pavon start behind the forwards?
By Diego Zandrino with Argentina

In under 24 hours, Argentina have gone from feeling dejected to believing again. Nigeria’s win over Iceland means that La Albiceleste still have a shot at advancing to the Round of 16 at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.

To go through, Argentina have to defeat Nigeria in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday, while hoping that the encounter between Iceland and Croatia in Rostov goes their way.

The permutations:

  • If Argentina beat Nigeria and Iceland fail to overcome Croatia, La Albiceleste will progress.
  • If both Argentina and Iceland win, goal difference (currently -3 and -2 respectively) will come into play as the first tie-breaker.
  • If Argentina win 2-0 and Iceland triumph 2-1, the two teams will be level on points, goal difference and goals scored, both overall and in the head-to-head. It would therefore go down to whoever has the superior fair play record: Iceland have the edge at present, with 0 points to Argentina’s -3.
  • If Argentina fail to win, they will be knocked out whatever happens elsewhere.

Ahead of this must-win match, the onus is on Jorge Sampaoli to boost confidence in the camp and find the right blend on the pitch. This has been sorely lacking so far, especially in the second half against Croatia.

Despite using 18 of the 23 players he has brought to Russia, Sampaoli has been left with more questions than answers and has selection dilemmas in every department.

Between the sticks
Should he keep faith with Willy Caballero after his slip-up led to Croatia’s opening goal?

Waiting in the wings are Franco Armani, who remains uncapped, and Nahuel Guzman, who was only drafted in as a replacement for the injured Sergio Romero but has made six appearances for La Albiceleste and was ever-present in the squad during qualifying.

There is no clear frontrunner to get the nod if the coach decides to drop Caballero.

In defence
Should he play three, four or five at the back?

The formation is likely to dictate which players are picked, rather than the other way around. The defence has looked shaky thus far and, in his attempts to shore it up, Sampaoli has used every defender in the squad except fullback Cristian Ansaldi and centre-back Federico Fazio.

Though he was tipped as a starter before the tournament, Fazio has yet to see any action. Both Marcos Rojo and Gabriel Mercado have had a chance to stake their claim, playing in one game apiece. Only centre-half Nicolas Otamendi and left-back Nicolas Tagliafico appear to be assured of their places at the back.

In midfield
Should he stick with two holding midfielders or sacrifice one for a more attack-minded player?

Manuel Lanzini’s injury in the run-up to the competition threw a spanner in the works for Sampaoli, who had envisaged the West Ham schemer in a playmaking role, linking up with Lionel Messi. The tactician has toyed with fielding Giovani Lo Celso alongside Mascherano or further forward, but when push has come to shove, has paired Masche with less creative players: first Lucas Biglia and then Enzo Perez.

Moreover, when he took Perez off against the Croats, he opted to bring on Paulo Dybala in the hole. Lo Celso, the squad’s only natural playmaker, has yet to get on the pitch.

Ever Banega, who was introduced in the second half against Iceland, is another option combining industry and guile. Those same qualities have made Marcos Acuna a safe bet to start in a wide position.

© Getty Images

Attacking options
Who should he play on the flanks?

The wings are crucial for the way the coach wants to attack and whoever occupies them has a key role. Maximiliano Meza has not looked out of place and nor has Cristian Pavon when he has come off the bench, but neither has done enough to become an automatic pick. Sampaoli has said that he does not want to heap too much responsibility on the Boca Juniors youngster, but his pace could make a major difference up against fast, athletic defenders.

Angel Di Maria, meanwhile, is itching for a recall after going from starting against Iceland to warming the bench throughout against Croatia. His experience and leadership could prove priceless assets in this do-or-die match.

© Getty Images

Up front?
Sergio Aguero scored Argentina’s only goal at the World Cup to date and partnered Gonzalo Higuain up front in the latter stages of their opener, only to make way for him in their second encounter. Sampaoli may seek to deploy a penalty-box target man to mix it with the rugged Nigerian defence. Pipita‘s attributes set him apart in that area of the game. Another possibility is that Dybala might get his opportunity to take centre stage.

Despite all these question marks, the fact is that Argentina are still alive and kicking, something that seemed impossible amid the doom and gloom that followed the defeat by Croatia. Indeed, their fate is in their own hands and now they have to go all out to seize this lifeline in their final group fixture.

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Belgium dazzle in seven-goal thriller – FIFA on GBP Sports

Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard each scored twice and substitute Michy Batshuayi added a deserved fifth as Belgium cruised past Tunisia to edge closer to a place in the Round of 16.

Lukaku’s clinically taken brace, coming in the wake of a double against Panama in the Red Devils’ opening match, established him as Belgium’s most prolific scorer at a single FIFA World Cup™. Hazard kicked off the scoring by opening his account at Russia 2018 in the sixth minute from the penalty spot, before Lukaku doubled the Red Devils’ lead after 16 minutes with an angled left-foot finish.

The Carthage Eagles pulled a goal back courtesy of a Dylan Bronn header but Lukaku then made it 3-1 in first-half stoppage time with a dinked finish to convert Thomas Meunier’s clever through ball. Hazard then got his second in the 51st minute of a thrilling contest from a defence-splitting Kevin de Bruyne pass before Belgium substitute Batshuayi and Tunisia skipper Wahbi Khazri rounded off the scoring.

The North Africans’ World Cup hopes now hang by a thread and they will need Panama to beat England in tomorrow’s match to stand any chance of continuing in this competition.

Team reporter analysis
Simon Massart with Belgium [Twitter]
Belgium imposed themselves on this game, taking control of the play and clinically converting their chances. They looked to kill the contest quickly and counted on their individual attacking stars to do that. The defence and the midfield also kept their shape despite Tunisia’s early pressing. The Red Devils are living up to expectations.

Tarek Kadri with Tunisia [Twitter]
Tunisia actually fared well in the first half despite conceding three goals, with Belgium’s third coming somewhat against the run of play. But the early goal in the second half finished off the Carthage Eagles and they never recovered from that blow. Belgium thoroughly deserved their victory.

Budweiser Man of the Match
Besides bagging a brace for Belgium, Eden Hazard was lively throughout and initiated many of his team’s attacks.

The stat
40 Tunisia’s wait goes on. They have not won a World Cup game in 40 years, since beating Mexico 3-1 in the 1978 edition.

What’s next
England v Belgium – Group G, 28 June, Kazan
Panama v Tunisia – Group G, 28 June, Saransk

Have your say
Fans of Belgium | Fans of Tunisia

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10 CLEVER Skills Performed by Neymar Jr

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Swiss slip spurns lessons for Serbia – FIFA on GBP Sports

  • Serbia’s Russia 2018 ambitions took a blow in Switzerland’s comeback win
  • We look at some of the key areas in which Serbia may need to focus
  • They meet in Brazil in a must-win match on
​By Sonja Nikcevic with Serbia

After a bright start and an early Aleksandar Mitrovic goal, Serbia became the first team at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ to have a lead overturned. The 2-1 loss to Switzerland after an inspired late winner from Xherdan Shaqiri is not a display the team will be proud of, but the first match in Samara and all of the first half in Kaliningrad have shown that Serbia have the quality for sturdy positioning, set-piece danger and attractive football, if used well.

We look at the lessons Mladen Krstajic’s men can take from defeat as they attempt to pick themselves up and turn to a crucial third matchday meeting with Brazil.

Sitting back

Serbia started the match better than they could have imaged with a goal after five minutes. A powerful header from Mitrovic came after early initiative, energy along the wings and a cross for Serbia’s main target man – the game plan to take on the Swiss executed to perfection. However, the danger of an early goal lies in sitting back too quickly, and being drained of the energy needed to defend until the final whistle.

The initiative was handed to the Swiss, and while Serbia were still the more dangerous team on the counter, this team has the quality and the creative potential to be comfortable with proactive attacking football and have the confidence to, after scoring one, go for another goal.

Holding midfield

The motor behind Serbia’s first round win was the defensive midfield partnership between Nemanja Matic and Luka Milivojevic, who held Serbia’s lines together and left space for Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Dusan Tadic to push forward.

As the match against Switzerland was coming to a close, Serbia took a risk by taking off Milivojevic and putting in fast-paced debutant Nemanja Radonjic on the wing, in the hope of catching Switzerland on a surprise counter. What happened was the opposite, with Shaqiri finding space between Serbia’s attack and defense and securing victory on the counter. The 169cm tall midfielder was Switzerland’s most dangerous player throughout, constantly troubling Serbia with cutting runs through the center of the pitch.

Brazil is another team known for its pace and skill, with Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho all set to run at Serbia’s backline until they find a way through. The way to prevent that, is to have Milivojevic and Matic holding the midfield together, and building on the defensive support from the rest of the team. As a disappointed, but defiant Dusan Tadic said after the match: “If we defend like a team, we can beat anyone, even Brazil.”

Moving on

After the win against Costa Rica, Serbia’s coaching staff were quick to point out that the victory had been analysed and archived and that all thoughts were on Switzerland. The same should be said now. There is no time to dwell on what is no doubt a difficult defeat, but it is one that can be branded a learning curve and a place to grown from.

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“Is This The WORST World Cup Ever?!” | Germany vs Sweden | #HotTakes – Football Daily

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Rybus hoping for third time lucky – FIFA on GBP Sports

  • Maciej Rybus met his wife in Russia
  • Poland midfielder plays his club football for Lokomotiv Moscow
  • Praises Russia 2018 organisation & the host country’s performance
By Piotr Kozminski with Poland

Poland have never gone beyond the group stage when losing their first game at the FIFA World Cup™ (2002, 2006), but the whole team – including Maciej Rybus – believes it will be third time lucky.

“Russia is a good place for me,” Rybus said to “I not only found my football club here, but my wife too. The level of the organisation for this World Cup has been top and we would like to stay here as long as possible.”

Rybus plays as a left-back for Lokomotiv Moscow and won the Russian league this year. He went from joy to despair after Poland’s defeat by Senegal 2-1 in their opening match at Russia 2018.

“Of course it wasn’t the way we wanted to start the World Cup finals,” Rybus said. “We had thought that we would have at least one point after this game. Unfortunately, we did not show our qualities. I still don’t know what was the reason. Was it the pressure or maybe the fact we waited so long for this game? But I hope the worst is behind us.

“The game against Colombia will be like a final for both teams. It’s obvious that Polish fans feel disappointed after our first game, but I hope they will be with us because we need their support.”

The fact that Poland have never qualified for the second phase of the tournament after losing their opening game does not bother Rybus. “We don’t look at statistics, we don’t think about what happened in the past. We believe in our qualities, we are not at the World Cup finals by accident. We haven’t lost faith just after one bad game. We feel highly motivated to show what we have shown many times in the past.

“We definitely need to play more aggressively against Colombia, and we need to give much more than we did against Senegal, but we are ready for this.”

Finding love in Russia
Having spent multiple years playing in the Russian League, this is essentially a home World Cup for Rybus. But how would the Rybus household react—his wife is Russian—if Poland were to meet Russia at some stage in the tournament?

“No worries if either here or one day in the future there is a game where Poland faces Russia. We discussed it before the tournament and my wife declared that in such case she would stand with her husband and support Poland. So there’s no issue at home (laughs).”

Rybus said he admires the high level of organisation at the tournament along with the results of the Russian national team.

“From what I’ve seen and from what I’ve heard, the organisation has been perfect. People are enjoying football together. I spoke about it with Zbigniew Boniek, the president of the Polish FA, and he also rates the organisation very highly.

And as for the Russian team, there were worries as they lost a number of friendlies, but their coach said they would be ready for the finals and he kept his word because they are doing very well. And now, it’s our turn to also show positive, good football. I hope it will happen on Sunday.”

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Preview: England v Panama – FIFA on GBP Sports

For the first time in 12 years, England have started a FIFA World Cup™ campaign with a victory. They have their sights set on another three points against Panama, the aim being to seal – depending on the result in the other match in the group – their place in the last 16 and then, in all likelihood, battle it out with Belgium for top spot in their final game.

Though Harry Kane is on top form and their threat from dead-ball situations – the source of both their goals against Tunisia – remains intact, Gareth Southgate’s men will hope to sharpen their finishing. Despite carving out 17 chances against the Tunisians, they had to wait until the first minute of stoppage time before snatching the winner.

Panama will have other ideas, however. Though well aware they lack their opponents’ firepower, Los Canaleros intend to put up a fight and set up the same defensive blockade that kept the Belgians at bay in their first match. At the other end of the pitch, Hernan Gomez’s side are waiting for their maiden world finals goal. Will it come against England?

Team reporter analysis
Laure James with England (Follow on Twitter | Facebook)
Buoyed by making their first winning start since Germany 2006, England are growing in belief. They will not be underestimating Panama, however. There has been much speculation as to the possibility of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Marcus Rashford starting in place of Dele Alli, who has a thigh strain, and Raheem Sterling. Their inclusion could give England added strength, something they will need against a physical Panama side. Southgate has already warned his players to be ready for the challenge.

Samuel McCollin with Panama (Follow on Twitter | Facebook)
After making their World Cup debut, Panama can put their first-night nerves behind them and focus on the task of learning and competing with the best. In taking on a dangerous England side, the Panamanians will hope to show greater tactical discipline with their 4-1-4-1 formation and, above all, pose an attacking threat in a bid to stay in the competition.

Did you know?
Panama’s strong suit is their defence. The problem for Los Canaleros is that they are nowhere near as effective in front of goal, having scored just twice in their last seven matches, two of which ended in draws and the rest defeats.

*High spirits and jokes the order of the day in the Panama camp*

Possible line-ups:
England: Jordan Pickford; Kyle Walker, John Stones, Harry Maguire; Kieran Trippier, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Jordan Henderson, Jesse Lingard, Ashley Young; Marcus Rashford, Harry Kane

Panama: Jaime Penedo; Roman Torres, Fidel Escobar, Michael Murillo, Eric Davis; Gabriel Gomez, Anibal Godoy, Armando Cooper, Edgar Barcenas, Jose Luis Rodriguez; Blas Perez

Join in!
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Super Eagles and samba stars soar – FIFA on GBP Sports

Ahmed Musa (€7.5m) ran off doing the ‘The Little Aeroplane’ (grazie, Vincenzo). McDonald’s FIFA World Cup™ Fantasy coaches celebrated with the Nigeria forward in the knowledge his ten points had flown them up the standings (cheers, Ahmed).

Two of Musa’s cut-price team-mates also excelled. Defender Kenneth Omeruo (€4.5m), who recorded an assist, and goalkeeper Francis Uzoho (€4m) returned nine and seven points respectively. Philippe Coutinho (€9m) and Granit Xhaka (€7m) also managed seven points apiece, while Neymar (€12m) and Xherdan Shaqiri (€8.5m) left it late to score goals.

Change your captain

Round 2 matches will take place over six days, and you can change your captain ahead of each one. Only the player that finishes Round 2 in your armband will score double points.

So, if you have Philippe Coutinho in your armband, you may not want to risk making a change. But if your skipper did not do as well as planned, you probably want to select a new one before the Day 10 deadline (14:00 CET on Saturday).

Teams boasting Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Son Heungmin, Toni Kroos, Hirving Lozano and Thomas Muller are in action on Day 10. And if you choose one of them, and he doesn’t do well, you can always change your captain again ahead of the Day 11 deadline (14:00 CET on Sunday).

Make substitutions

If a player in your starting XI didn’t perform well, you can substitute him out for a player on your bench who hasn’t yet played. However, if you want to bring in Romelu Lukaku for Gabriel Jesus, you have up until the kick-off of the first game of the day (14:00 CET on Saturday).

Day 10 fixtures

Belgium-Tunisia  Live Blog
Korea Republic-Mexico  Live Blog
Germany-Sweden  Live Blog

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Coutinho’s moment has arrived – FIFA on GBP Sports

  • Philippe Coutinho’s second goal in Russia helps Brazil to first win
  • ​Playmaker showing his worth to the world in a big year for him
  • Brazil face crucial final group stage clash with Serbia on Wednesday
By Giancarlo Giampietro with Brazil

The tattoo on Philippe Coutinho’s left arm bears a simple message: “Never stop dreaming”. It is a short phrase that neatly sums up the resolve that Brazil needed to draw on in their dramatic 2-0 victory over Costa Rica on Friday in Saint Petersburg.

On a personal level, however, the three words also neatly encapsulate Coutinho’s career in football. The attacking midfielder has chosen an appropriate moment to suddenly take centre stage for his country. “It’s something that’s in me: never give up, whatever you’re going through,” he told FIFA when questioned about the tattoo. “The match today was proof of that.”

You could be forgiven for wondering exactly which obstacles life has laid in the path of a player who first shot to recognition in the English Premier League and is now starring for Barcelona. Indeed, life seems rosy for the midfielder, and even more so having played a crucial role in Brazil’s start to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia with two goals in two games.

But that is not to say that Coutinho’s road to the top has not taken some unexpected turns.

A disjointed journey
The attacking midfielder left Brazil when he was still only young, when Inter Milan reached a deal with Vasco de Gama to bring him to Italy in 2008. At the time Coutinho was still just 16 years old, therefore needing to wait two years before being able to sign as a professional and play at his new club. He never truly settled in Milan and, following a season on loan at Espanyol, he signed for Liverpool in 2013. The rest, as they say, is history.

But it was a story that was initially only played out in club football. Coutinho steadily rose to prominence with the Reds, but not quickly enough to earn a place in the national squad for Brazil’s home World Cup in 2014. Meanwhile Neymar, a former international team-mate at youth level, was already well on the way to becoming a national idol.

Still returning from a foot injury, the Paris Saint-Germain striker has had a difficult start to this year’s tournament in Russia – hence the superstar’s tears at the full-time whistle on Friday. But as Neymar works his way back to full fitness, Coutinho has emerged as Brazil’s key man.

Seleção’s shining star
First came his superb strike in the draw with Switzerland, a trademark curling effort from the edge of the penalty area. The contrast with the finish for his second goal, a toe-poke from close range against Costa Rica, could not have been greater. “It was the way it had to be hit,” he chuckled. “It worked out. Having opened the scoring we then grew, so it goes without saying that the goal was more important too.”

Coutinho’s exuberant celebrations on the field contrast with his shyness in front of the microphone. For the second consecutive game, he was chosen as the Budweiser Man of the Match. Yet it does not seem to bother him that he has scored two goals and, in truth, has come to the rescue of a team that is struggling in front of goal. Deep in the bowels of the Saint Petersburg Stadium, he once more paid tribute to his teammates.

Earlier in the week, in Sochi, Coutinho was asked whether he should already be considered as one of the best players in the world. “I don’t really like talking about myself,” he replied. “It’s not something that I’m thinking about. I’d rather leave other people to talk about that. I’m focused on preparing, improving and doing my best for A Seleção.”

“Happy to receive this prize again, but the win was the most important thing,” he said following the Costa Rica match. “We suffered right up until the end, but it was deserved.”

The victory means that a relieved Brazil squad can still dare to dream. We can but wonder about Coutinho’s own dreams, but one thing is for certain: at Russia 2018, he is already right up there with the very best.

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