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By Siavash Rahmani with IR Iran

With three points already in the bag, IR Iran had planned to “defend their point” against Spain, with an eye to playing on the counterattack against Fernando Hierro’s men. Although Iran were constantly under pressure, especially towards the middle of first half, they did not give Spain any significant chances.

“They normally wouldn’t have scored even if they had played until morning,” said Team Melli goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand. “But some days, you just get bad luck. Out of nowhere, there was a deflected goal.” It was the first goal that Beiranvand had conceded at Russia 2018.

Iran went onto the attack. “After the goal we played some good football, and created opportunities, even scoring a goal which was ruled offside,” said midfielder Vahid Amiri. But Team Melli couldn’t quite find the net, and the match finished 1-0. After scoring a lucky goal in the previous match against Morocco, Queiroz’s players conceded an unlucky goal today. “Iran did not deserve to lose today,” claimed the Iran coach, “but we are not here to get anything easily.”

Team pride  
Although Iran’s streets are obviously quieter tonight than after the Morocco game, Iranian media and supporters have expressed their pride in Team Melli for coming close to collecting a point against one of the very best national teams. In terms of qualifying from the group, things are still wide open. Beiranvand explains why his colleagues are not overly despondent: “Even if we had gotten a point, we wouldn’t have been able to qualify with a draw in our final match, because Spain won’t lose to Morocco.”

Now the objective is clear for Team Melli: to beat Portugal! Iran has a hard mission to accomplish, but after putting up such a fight against the former World and European champions, they will approach the encounter with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal with far more hope and confidence.

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By Siavash Rahmani with IR Iran

With three points already in the bag, IR Iran had planned to “defend their point” against Spain, with an eye to playing on the counterattack against Fernando Hierro’s men. Although Iran were constantly under pressure, especially towards the middle of first half, they did not give Spain any significant chances.

“They normally wouldn’t have scored even if they had played until morning,” said Team Melli goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand. “But some days, you just get bad luck. Out of nowhere, there was a deflected goal.” It was the first goal that Beiranvand had conceded at Russia 2018.

Iran went onto the attack. “After the goal we played some good football, and created opportunities, even scoring a goal which was ruled offside,” said midfielder Vahid Amiri. But Team Melli couldn’t quite find the net, and the match finished 1-0. After scoring a lucky goal in the previous match against Morocco, Queiroz’s players conceded an unlucky goal today. “Iran did not deserve to lose today,” claimed the Iran coach, “but we are not here to get anything easily.”

Team pride  
Although Iran’s streets are obviously quieter tonight than after the Morocco game, Iranian media and supporters have expressed their pride in Team Melli for coming close to collecting a point against one of the very best national teams. In terms of qualifying from the group, things are still wide open. Beiranvand explains why his colleagues are not overly despondent: “Even if we had gotten a point, we wouldn’t have been able to qualify with a draw in our final match, because Spain won’t lose to Morocco.”

Now the objective is clear for Team Melli: to beat Portugal! Iran has a hard mission to accomplish, but after putting up such a fight against the former World and European champions, they will approach the encounter with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal with far more hope and confidence.

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By Giancarlo Giampietro with Brazil

Gabriel Jesus was just 17 when his beloved Seleção suffered their crushing semi-final defeat to Germany at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. He was pictured back then painting the streets of his Sao Paulo neighbourhood green and yellow, an image that went viral online.

Asked by FIFA to recall that fateful day, Brazil’s current No9 was remarkably poised, keeping any emotions he might feel about it well in check: “I’ve been playing football since I was six. I was 17 and I’d been involved in a professional environment at Palmeiras. I knew what football was all about and so I didn’t take it as badly as some people who are outside the game.” 

Now 21, Gabriel will be the youngest member of the Seleção side that will take on Costa Rica on Friday in Saint Petersburg. Though as his answer above shows, he already sees himself as something of a veteran.

That mindset is probably the reason why he has not been singled out by the squad’s more experienced members for the kind of jokes typically played on new boys. As he himself says, he is no longer a child.  

His maturity also explains why the Brazilian Football Association (CBF) asked him to attend a press conference three days before the team’s opening match, when the most normal course of action would have been to send a more experienced member of the squad along. His media appearance came as even more of a surprise after a friend of his attended a closed training session in Sochi the day before and then posted a video of it online.

 “It’s a good job I scored with the header. If I’d missed, it would have been in the news,” he told the assembled media. “At least he didn’t post anything tactical. I’d have got a telling-off if he had,” he added to much laughter. 

The young striker faces bigger threats to his starting place than online video, not least as a result of Roberto Firmino’s superb season with Liverpool, which has led to a large section of the Brazilian media predicting a change up front. 

“Let me be clear about this: it’s a positive thing to have two centre-forwards who are good enough to start,” said Gabriel. “It’s healthy to have competition for places and I’m very happy he’s in such good form. I’ll be cheering him on if he plays.”

Firmino has a compelling claim to a starting place, but then so does the current first-choice front man, not least because of his constant movement in attack and his work rate. As well as pressing opposing defenders, Gabriel also tracks back tirelessly to help out in defence. 

Another important factor is the faith that Tite has in him, which the coach has shown since his first game in charge of A Seleção: a challenging trip to Quito, where the striker scored twice on his international debut to help Brazil beat Ecuador 3-0.

Along with Neymar, Gabriel is also Brazil’s joint top scorer in the Tite era with ten goals. That return has caught the eye of experts such as Ronaldo, who paid a visit to A Seleção in Rostov-on-Don. “I think he’s looking very good and he’s maturing fast,” said O Fenômeno.

Gabriel has all the support he needs and is in confident mood, though he is well aware that appearing in your first World Cup is no easy task. “It’s not exactly a relaxing experience,” he said. “It’s the biggest competition in football and there are bound to be nerves,” he added, speaking like a true veteran.

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  • Brazil look to resolidify favourites status after rocky start
  • Costa Rica hoping for third time lucky
  • THE LATEST: #BRACRC LIVE BLOG updating now

Riding in on a wave of expectation, with the painful end to the last FIFA World Cup™ seemingly just a footnote, Brazil did not get the all singing, all dancing start to Russia 2018 they were hoping for. Costa Rica, by contrast clinging onto the joyful memories from four years ago, similarly did not get going as they would have hoped.

Following an opening that promised much against Switzerland, Brazil’s spark fizzled as the clash in Rostov-on-Don progressed, before ultimately being pegged back by the resilient Alpine outfit. The team will have been buoyed by the news that Neymar trained on Wednesday having experienced some pain in his ankle the previous day.

There was always the chance of meeting the expectations superbly raised by Costa Rica’s run to the quarter-finals in Brazil. Serbia only edged them thanks to a sensational free-kick by Aleksandar Kolarov but they need to discover a cutting edge that was absent in their opener.

Team reporter analysis
Giancarlo Giampiero with Brazil [Follow: Twitter | Facebook]
The group stage offers national teams some margin of error but, with points left behind against Switzerland, Brazil are now required to embrace some urgency. Costa Rica are expected to provide another organised defensive unit, but hope to control the pace more. Tite still wants to see an electric performance, but with better decision-making and coolness in front of goal when the scoring opportunities come along.

Diego Picado with Costa Rica [Follow: Twitter | Facebook]
This is going to be the third meeting with Brazil at a World Cup and Costa Rica are all too aware they will be playing against the South Americans’ ‘Jogo Bonito’. While already difficult for Los Ticos, the fact Brazil will be looking for their first victory will likely only make getting a result even more challenging. But Costa Rica has an advantage, all too often they up their game against the big sides, so they will be saying ‘bring it on’ in the camp.

Did you know?
Zuber’s strike means Brazil have conceded in six consecutive World Cup games, having last kept a clean sheet in their second game of the 2014 edition, a 0-0 draw with Mexico. It equals their worst ever run, both between 1934-38 and 1998-2002.

Possible line-ups
Brazil: Alisson; Danilo, Thiago Silva, Miranda, Marcelo; Casemiro, Paulinho; Willian, Phillipe Coutinho, Neymar; Gabriel Jesus.

Costa Rica: Keylor Navas, Francisco Calvo, Oscar Duarte, Jhonny Acosta, Giancarlo González, Cristian Gamboa, Celso Borges, David Guzman, Bryan Ruíz, Johan Venegas, Marco Urena.

Join In!
Our Russia 2018 Fan Zone gives you access to World Cup games, contests and prizes. Play Fantasy, Predict Matches, Explore our Fan Movement, Collect Panini stickers and vote for World Cup awards.

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DAY REPLAYED – It has not taken long for the first two Round-of-16 places to be claimed. Uruguay beat Saudi Arabia to make it two wins out of two and progress to the knockout phase. In the process, they eliminated the Saudis and ensured that hosts Russia also advanced.

The first tears of this FIFA World Cup™ have also fallen. Despite their best efforts against the European champions, Morocco let themselves down with their finishing and fell to another defeat to become the first side to exit the competition. The man who condemned them to their fate was Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored his fourth goal of the tournament.

It was also a day for centurions, with both Luis Suarez and Gerard Pique winning their 100th caps. But while the Uruguayan celebrated with a goal to become the first Charrúa to score in three different World Cups, the Spaniard was made to suffer in what turned out to be a very tough assignment for La Roja against IR Iran.

The AFC side’s deep-lying defence thwarted the Spanish attack for long periods, while their lightning counter-attacks put David De Gea’s goal under threat on more than one occasion. Diego Costa forced a defensive error in the Iranian box to finally tilt the match in Spain’s favour and put them in a very strong position in Group B.

Did you know?
With 85 international goals now to his name, Cristiano Ronaldo overtook Ferenc Puskas to become the all-time leading European marksman. The only player on the global scene who has scored more is former IR Iran striker Ali Daei with 109.

Fan Zone
The Fan Zone is the go-to place for FIFA World Cup™ followers. Don’t miss out on our Fantasy, Bracket Challenge and Match Predictor games – they’re free, super fun and offer amazing prizes. Stick, swap and share Panini Digital Stickers, and vote for the Man of the Match for all 64 Russia 2018 contests and your best XI players of the tournament in the Fan Dream Team.
Visit the Fan Zone

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Cristiano Ronaldo (€12m), Luis Suarez (€10.5m) and Diego Costa (€9m) – the most expensive men on Moscow, Rostov-on-Don and Kazan grass – did the business on a day of few goals and, therefore, few McDonald’s FIFA World Cup™ Fantasy points. Their six-point returns put the Portugal No7 and the Spain No19 first and fourth on the overall player standings.

Rui Patricio (€6m) and Fernando Muslera (€5.5) were Wednesday’s highest scorers, with seven points apiece. David de Gea (€6.5m) and 12 defenders also seized six points, as did assist-providing midfielders Carlos Sanchez (€7.5m) and Joao Moutinho (€7.5m).

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 Costa, Ronaldo or Suarez 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 8 deadline (14:00 CET on Thursday).

Teams boasting Sergio Aguero, Christian Eriksen, Antoine Griezmann, Lionel Messi, Luka Modric and Paul Pogba are in action on Day 8. And if you choose one of them, and he doesn’t do well, you can always change your captain again ahead of the Day 9 deadline (14:00 CET on Friday).

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 Eriksen for Andres Iniesta, you have up until the kick-off of the first game of the day (14:00 CET on Thursday).

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  • ​Uruguay reach Round of 16 for third World Cup running
  • Saudi Arabia goalless again to break their own world finals record
  • RELIVE: As it happened, stats, more

Uruguay made sure of their place in the Round of 16 at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ after a 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in Rostov-on-Don.

With the temperatures reaching 32°C, La Celeste had good reason to conserve their energy. They took the lead after 23 minutes, when Luis Suarez sidefooted into an empty net after Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais had tried and failed to claim a corner. 

After moving into pole position to qualify for the next round, the Uruguayans paced themselves, continuing to probe but without exerting themselves too much, despite the fact that a draw with Russia in their final game will leave them second in Group A.

In the lead-up to the match, Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi had urged his players to be competitive, putting the emphasis more on the right mindset than on strategy and tactics. He has reason to be satisfied despite their elimination. Though not the strongest side in the competition, the Saudis battled hard and had chances to score.

Team reporter analysis
Florencia Simoes with Uruguay [Follow on Twitter | Facebook]
Uruguay made the most of their considerable defensive prowess and strength in the air to claim a win that did not come as easily as expected. Though they tried to kill the game off to avoid a nasty surprise, La Celeste were wayward in front of goal after Suarez’s opener, which proved enough for a place in the next round along with Russia.

Abdullah Alghazal with Saudi Arabia (Follow on Twitter | Facebook)
The team gave a better account of themselves than in their opening match. Despite conceding, the Saudi defence held the Uruguayan attack at bay for the rest of the game and enjoyed plenty of possession, without ever carrying a genuine goal threat.

Budweiser Man of the Match
Luis Suarez celebrated his 100th appearance for his country in typical fashion, scoring his 52nd international goal to become the first Uruguay player in history to find the back of the net at three World Cups. The front man scored three times at South Africa 2010 and twice at Brazil 2014.

The stat
366 – Saudi Arabia have beaten their own record for failing to score at the world finals, having now gone goalless in the competition for 366 minutes. Their previous worst mark was 343 minutes, between France 1998 and Germany 2006, when Al Jaber scored their most recent World Cup goal, against Tunisia.

What’s next
Uruguay-Russia: Group A, 25 June, Samara
Saudi Arabia-Egypt: Group A, 25 June, Volgograd

Have your say
Uruguay fans | Saudi Arabia fans

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Cristiano Ronaldo was the star man for Portugal at the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ for the second match running, scoring the winner against Morocco at the Luzhniki Stadium to eliminate the North Africans. After his hat-trick heroics against Spain in his side’s opener claimed a single point, one goal was enough to secure all three today.

Morocco played their part in an enthralling match, their vociferous fans cheering their side on for consistent waves of attack against the stern Portuguese defence. Younes Belhanda came closest for the Atlas Lions, but his header was superbly kept out by Rui Patricio.

In the end, it was a decisive header from Ronaldo that claimed the win, his strike coming after just four minutes. Portugal will come up against a familiar face in Carlos Queiroz in their final Group B fixture, while Morocco will have purely pride to play for when they face Spain.

Team reporter analysis
Raquel Branco with Portugal [Follow: Twitter]
Portugal’s first half was much more impressive than their second, not only for the Cristiano Ronaldo goal but for the fact that Fernando Santos’s side applied more pressure to Morocco. The continuous Morocco pressing on the Portuguese midfield meant some difficulties for A Seleção das Quinas. Rui Patricio put in a superlative performance, with some great saves that helped secure the victory.

Zineb El Houari [Follow: Twitter]
Morocco will leave the Luzhniki with plenty of regret. They created plenty of opportunities without scoring, due to their lack of cutting edge up front. Renard’s 4-3-3 tactic saw plenty of attacking threat, but placing Achraf Hakimi in an unfamiliar left-sided role ultimately proved costly with the Portuguese goal coming from that side. In the end, Portugal took revenge on Morocco for their victory at Mexico 1986.

Budweiser Man of the Match
Cristiano Ronaldo – While there was no repeat of his stellar showing against Spain, Ronaldo’s opener was the difference between the sides in Moscow, while also sending him back to the head of the top scorers table.

The stat
85 international goals for Cristiano Ronaldo is a new record for a European player, with Ronaldo passing Ferenc Puskas today to hold the record outright. He is now second on the all-time list of international goalscorers behind Ali Daei (109 goals).

What’s next
IR Iran v Portugal – Group B, 25 June, Saransk
Spain v Morocco – Group B, 25 June, Kaliningrad

Have your say
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By Cynthia Nzetia with Senegal

Few expected to see Alfred N’Diaye lining up for Senegal’s opening match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ against Poland, in place of the team’s talismanic captain Cheikhou Kouyate.

“Why did Alfred play? He performed well in the warm-up matches,” explained Tony Sylva, Senegal’s goalkeeping coach and an assistant to head coach Aliou Cisse. “Cisse studied Poland in depth and sent out the best possible team for the match. And Alfred was part of it. Obviously there were some technical errors and he can do better, but his performance was very encouraging in terms of what lies ahead.”

“When the coach told me I was starting, I said to myself that I had to rise to the occasion, which is what I tried to do,” said N’Diaye, who no doubt owed his place in part to his understanding with Idrissa Gana Gueye. The two combined to good effect in midfield on Tuesday. In dispatching their defensive duties and pressing their opponents at every opportunity, they did much to blunt the Polish threat, while also playing valuable attacking roles by starting moves and getting into goalscoring positions.

“Idrissa’s reading of the game and ball-winning ability are huge attributes in midfield,” said N’Diaye, who plays his club football for Wolverhampton Wanderers, of his Everton-based colleague. “He makes my job easier and we spoke a lot on the pitch.”

Senegal have often been accused of lacking a vocal presence, someone who is not afraid to raise their voice and spur the rest of the team on. But perhaps the Lions of Teranga have finally found that player in N’Diaye. Against Poland, the Paris-born midfielder never stopped urging his colleagues to do better.

A surprise inclusion in Cisse’s 4-2-3-1 formation, N’Diaye contributed to another unexpected development, as the Senegalese saw off a team sitting in the top ten of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Their win was all the more notable for the fact that the four other African representatives in Russia had all lost their opening games. “Senegal represent the whole of African football. The whole continent is behind us,” said Cisse after the match. “I’m getting calls from everyone and people believe in us. We’re proud to represent Africa. Winning the first match gets you going, but the second match is important too, and the third.”

Following his appearance against the Poles, N’Diaye can expect to play a part in Senegal’s remaining group games. Anything but overawed on his debut in a major competition, ‘Fred’ is setting his sights high: “We respect [Robert] Lewandowski. He’s a great player, like [Radamel] Falcao, James Rodriguez and Shinji Kagawa of Japan. But we’ve got some good players too. And every time we go back out on the pitch, there won’t be any respect for our opponents, no matter who they are: we’ll be going out to win.” Having crashed the Russia 2018 party in style, Senegal’s surprise guest is ready to confound expectations once more against Japan.


© Getty Images

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  • ​Iceland’s recent results have belied the “underdog” tag
  • Results have been better when they have had less possession
  • They intend to stick to their usual plan against Nigeria

By Petur Hreinsson with Iceland

Iceland’s status as the underdog team has gradually been fading away after the team’s performances in recent years. The Vikings narrowly missed the chance to qualify for the FIFA World Cup™ in Brazil after a playoff loss against Croatia, but have since then qualified for two consecutive tournaments, the UEFA European Championship in 2016 and now Russia 2018, for which they topped their qualification group.

After Iceland’s draw against two-time World Cup winners Argentina, one might think that this tiny island in the North Atlantic is not an underdog any more, and will not be considered as such in its upcoming match against Nigeria, even though the latter country has 556 times the population of Iceland, and players that play in more well-known teams and leagues.

“We are not of the opinion that we are at all better than Nigeria. We know our strengths, and need to make the best of them,” Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson told FIFA TV recently.

A question of possession
But even if this underdog reputation is fading away, how will Iceland cope with their new role? Will they take control of games, and look to keep possession? If we look at the team’s average possession in 26 competitive matches from 2014 to 2018, the Icelandic team has had 44 per cent possession on average, a little over 45 per cent when it wins and 47 per cent when it loses. 

When Iceland suffered its biggest loss in nine years in a competitive match, going down 5-2 to France in the UEFA Euro quarter finals, it had 47 per cent possession, higher than its average over recent years. When the team has achieved its best results in recent times, against Argentina, England, Austria and Portugal, it averaged scarcely 27 per cent.

“We knew [Argentina] would have the possession, they have many of the best attacking players in the world. But we have a team that is at its best when we have the opposition in front of us, and we have clinical attacking players when we attack,” Icelandic keeper Hannes Halldorsson said after the draw against Argentina. “We were happy with that match. It was not a thundering offensive display, but we knew how the game would unfold and we were ready to defend for 90 minutes. The boys did that well.”


© Getty Images

If the Icelanders want to get results against a highly talented Nigerian side on Friday in Volgograd, they have to stick to their game plan. Lie deep, close spaces, let the Nigerians keep most of the possession, and be clinical on the counter.

Coach Hallgrimsson elaborated on this strategy. “We look at everything with the mindset that we have found a formula that works for us today. And we try to get everybody to follow it. We’ve tried to find what kind of playing style, what kind of characteristics this Icelandic team needs to have, and what identity an Icelandic national player needs to have. And this is the way for Iceland to be successful.”

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