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Morocco set for early World cup win over Iran

 

The two underdogs to qualify for the knockout stages of the World Cup from Group B Morocco and Iran meet on Friday afternoon in St Petersburg.

Morocco have now qualified for the World Cup finals on five occasions. However, Russia 2018 will be their first finals appearance in two decades. Their biggest achievement at the finals to date is making it to the knockout stages back in 1986.

Their recent record at World Cup finals tournaments is not great, as they have recorded just one win from their last seven games while suffering five defeats in that poor run.

However, Herve Renard’s side has been in impressive form of late winning 14 of their last 18 games, while remaining unbeaten in the process. They have also been prolific in recent games, scoring at least two goals in seven of their last eight outings.

Like their opponents, this summer’s World Cup will also be Iran’s fifth appearance in a finals tournament. The Asian nation has failed to progress beyond the group stages in four previous finals appearances.

In fact, they have recorded just one win in their 12 games at the World Cup, which came back in 1998. They have also lost five of their last seven finals games, scoring just three goals in the process.

Iran has a mixed recent record in international football. However, they have lost just two of their last 16 games. Last time out the team from Asia recorded a 1-0 over Lithuania.

Interestingly, these two sides have never met in a competitive fixture. Both are underdogs to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition, with Spain and Portugal the other teams in the group. If either is to have a chance of making the last 16 of the competition then is a must-win game.

Sportseconds predicts that the North African side will record a victory in a tight and low-scoring encounter.

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Meet The 32 Captains Leading Their Teams Into Battle

From youngster, talented to wily veterans, the 2018 FIFA World Cup team captains grandstand their countries’ character, passion and ache to win.

Featuring on the list are dynamic captains, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and John Mikel Obi. In any case, these are just a couple of many remarkable captains competing for World Cup glory in Russia.

Igor Akinfeev (Russia). 32

Osama Hawsawi (Saudi Arabia). 32

Essam El Hadary (Egypt). 45

Diego Godin (Uruguay). 32

Sergio Ramos (Spain). 32

John Obi Mikel (Nigeria). 31

Thiago Silva or Neymar (Brazil). 33 and 26 (Rotation Policy* )

Stephan Lichtsteiner (Switzerland). 34

Bryan Ruiz (Costa Rica). 32

Branislav Ivanovic(Serbia). 34

Manuel Neuer (Germany). 32

Andres Guardado (Mexico). 31

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal). 33

Ashkan Dejagah (Iran). 31

Medhi Benatia (Morocco). 31

Hugo Lloris (France). 31

Mile Jedinak (Australia). 33

Paolo Guerrero (Peru). 34

Simon Kjaer (Denmark). 29

Leo Messi (Argentina). 30

Aron Gunnarsson (Iceland). 29

Luka Modric (Croatia). 32

Andreas Granqvist (Sweden). 33

Ki Sung-yueng (South Korea). 29

Eden Hazard (Belgium). 27

Felipe Baloy (Panama). 37

Wahbi Khazri (Tunisia). 27

Harry Kane (England). 24 

Robert Lewandowski (Poland). 29

Cheikhou Kouyate (Senegal). 28

Radamel Falcao (Colombia). 32

Makoto Hasebe (Japan). 34

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International Friendly: Belgium vs Costa Rica – Lineups, Preview and Prediction

Belgium and Costa Rica round off their World Cup preparations in Brussels looking to take momentum into their opening group games in Russia.
19:45 BST, Monday 11th June, King Baudouin Stadium (Brussels, Belgium)

Roberto Martinez finishes preparations for his maiden international tournament by hosting Costa Rica at King Baudouin Stadium on Monday night.

Belgium comfortably beat Egypt 3-0 on Wednesday night, even without their injured leader Vincent Kompany. They will be looking to extend their run of four consecutive clean sheets against Los Ticos.

Reuters/JASON CAIRNDUFF

Costa Rica looked jaded at Elland Road on Thursday night after a long flight from Central America. Coach Oscar Ramirez, a diminutive midfielder in Los Ticos’ 1990 World Cup campaign, will hope his side play more like they did in the dominant 3-0 win over Northern Ireland in San Jose last weekend.

Talismanic figures Bryan Ruiz and Christian Bolanos could make long-awaited returns to the starting XI.

Belgium Lineup

Laurent Ciman had a go at deputising for Vincent Kompany against Egypt, but expect Celtic’s Dedryck Boyata to be given the nod on Monday night.

Mousa Dembele is likely to return alongside Kevin De Bruyne after being rested last time out, with Martinez wary of keeping the fragile midfielder’s body in good health.

Skipper Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens should keep their places behind the lone frontman, with Michy Batshuayi possibly being handed his first start since April 15. The Chelsea forward has recovered remarkably well from tearing his ankle ligaments and assisted Marouane Fellaini from the bench against the Egyptians.

Costa Rica Lineup

Costa Rica are built on an experienced defence, commanded by Real Madrid’s number one Keylor Navas. The back five have an average age of 29.8, and they will have to use every ounce of nous to keep out this dangerous Belgium side.

Los Ticos will hope that they can frustrate Belgium into running out of ideas and catch them on the break with their own attacking talents.

Talismanic figure Bryan Ruiz hasn’t featured yet in Costa Rica’s warm-up matches but has such pedigree within his national team, and a wand of a left foot that can be dangerous.

On the other flank, Costa Rica have the unpredictable Joel Campbell. Remarkably still an Arsenal player, Campbell will hope to put himself in the shop window this summer, but he will have to play a lot better than he did against England on Thursday night.

Key Players: Eden Hazard (Belgium) vs Keylor Navas (Costa Rica)

Hazard is an outstanding player and a vital figure in Belgium’s side. Whilst most of the attention may be on Kevin De Bruyne after his season with Manchester City, Hazard can be the man that breaks sides down this summer, starting with this game against Los Ticos.

Costa Rica’s defence is ageing and Hazard’s pace, clever movement and outstanding ability on the ball could bamboozle Cristian Gamboa, who hasn’t featured for Celtic since February.

Reuters/FRANCOIS LENOIR

It seems trite to suggest Navas as Costa Rica’s key man, being the one that plays for Real Madrid, but he really is so important.

You would imagine he will be busy against the Belgians, and his calming presence and aura can help calm those in front of him, particularly if Costa Rica’s defence come under severe pressure.

Talking Points
Can Belgium extend their run of clean sheets?

Roberto Martinez sides have never been known for their defensive solidity. Belgium however, have quietly gone on a run of four clean sheets on the bounce, ever since the more typical 3-3 draw with Mexico.

Vincent Kompany is a major doubt for the tournament after hobbling off against Mexico, so it looks like it will be Dedryck Boyata who slots in between Tottenham duo Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld in Belgium’s back three.

This is obviously a step down in quality and leadership, but in Vertonghen and Alderweireld, Boyata will have two of the world’s very best to help him through.

How fit is Michy Batshuayi?

Having found form on loan at Dortmund, it was a sad moment when Michy Batshuayi tore his ankle ligaments in April, looking likely to miss the finals.

But after a remarkable comeback, Batshuayi has made the final 23, making his return as a half-time substitute against Egypt.

He could be given the opportunity to prove his fitness from the start against Costa Rica on Monday night. If he can, it will be a great option for Martinez,

Can Costa Rica break down a side of genuine quality?

Oscar Ramirez’s side have struggled to score against better sides and looked utterly toothless against England at Elland Road.

Reuters/PHIL NOBLE

They will lineup extremely defensively again in Russia, but they will need to show at least some threat going forward. Coming up against another side of genuine quality, it will be interesting to see if they can break the Belgian defence down.

Prediction: OVER 2.5 GOALS

Costa Rica will battle earnestly but Belgium will have too much for them in Brussels. Expect confidence boosting goals for some of Belgium’s attacking stars.

Los Ticos’ ageing defence won’t be able to cope with the pace, movement and creativity of Martinez’s Belgium.

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World Cup 2018: Egypt

 

Egypt will appear in their first World Cup in 28 years. The last time the Egyptians played in the tournament was Italia 1990.

This year’s appearance will mark just the third time Egypt have made the finals.

A fortunate draw in Group A against Russia, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay means Egypt have the opportunity to reach the round of 16 for the first time ever. Despite being Africa’s most successful national team in continental competitions, Egypt have never been able to translate that success over to the World Cup stage.

Star player Mohamed Salah was the driving force for Egypt’s World Cup qualification. His dramatic two goal performance against Congo sent the national team to the World Cup and a country into hysterics.

A shoulder injury sustained in the Champions League final looked to have ended Salah’s chances of playing at the tournament. However, the Egyptian ace has been working hard to rehab the injury. The national team will do everything it can to get Salah into the team. It looks likely that he will start Egypt’s World Cup opener on June 15 against Uruguay.

Egypt have been in poor form of late. The team hasn’t won a game since qualifying for the World Cup in October 2018. Hector Cuper’s team is winless in six matches and most recently lost 3-0 to Belgium in a World Cup warm-up friendly. The team didn’t have Salah available, and just like Liverpool last term, the Pharoahs rely heavily on the forward. Salah featured in just one Egypt friendly following the national team’s qualification for the World Cup. The team’s hopes of making the round of 16 will rest on his injured shoulder.

Fortunately, Egypt’s chances of qualifying are good. Russia are in poor form as well having gone winless in their World Cup tune-up matches. Saudi Arabia lost their three World Cup warm-up games, giving up seven goals and scoring just twice. Uruguay are expected to top the group and they are the only one of the four to be in-form.

 

Nine players called-up by Cuper play football outside of Africa or the Middle East. The nine foreign-based players will bring experience to the side. However, with so many players coming from African and Middle Eastern football leagues, Egypt will have weaknesses on the pitch and bench. Currently ranked 35th in the world, Egypt are still ranked higher than both Russia and Saudi Arabia.

 

Egypt’s hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages will come down to Salah’s fitness. If he can play all three group matches, the team could finish second behind Uruguay. However, if Salah isn’t able to play to his fullest, Egypt will struggle in the group stage.

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World Cup 2018: Colombia

 

Colombia will start their World Cup 2018 campaign in Mordovia against Group H rival Japan.

Colombia’s Group H draw was very fortunate and Jose Pekerman’s team is favoured to go through to the knockout round. Poland and Senegal round out Group H.

The Colombians made it to the quarterfinals four years ago in Brazil.There, the team was defeated by Brazil. This time around, a winnable group means Pekerman’s squad cannot only top its group, but it can go deep into the World Cup knockout rounds. Colombia have a squad of proven veteran players and rising stars in the club game. Captain Radamel Falcao is the undisputed leader of the side. Falcao has scored 29 goals in 73 international appearances. He may not score the team’s most goals in Russia, but he will make the attack tick.

James Rodriguez burst onto the international scene at the last World Cup. The attacking midfielder topped the scoring charts in Brazil. His performances influenced Real Madrid to pay £63 million for him. He has since moved to Bayern Munich, where he excelled last term. Rodriguez has 21 goals in 63 international tournaments. He will be counted on to create and score from the midfield.

Colombia’s biggest weakness could be in defence. Davinson Sanchez is still new to the senior national team. The Tottenham centre-back will be the anchor to the team’s defence. AC Milan’s 31-year-old Cristian Zapata will pair with Sanchez in central defence. Age could be an issue as defenders Oscar Murillo and Farid Diaz are also over 30.

Pekerman is an astute manager that is well versed in football tactics. Pekerman managed Argentina at the 2006 World Cup before moving into the club coaching ranks in Mexico. He then took over Colombia during 2014 World Cup qualifiers after the team’s two previous managers had been sacked. Pekerman led the national side into the tournament and has made Colombia a top South American team.

Colombia are a team full of stars and they are capable of repeating their feats from Brazil 2014. If Pekerman’s team get through Group H, the team will play a side from Group G in the knockout round. Belgium or England are the most likely teams to be waiting for Colombia in the round of 16. The quarterfinals would see a team from Group E or Group F waiting for them in the quarterfinals. Colombia could face off against Brazil for a second straight tournament in the last eight.

The Colombians are a very talented side. Colombia will need a bit of luck once they get to the knockout rounds when the competition gets more difficult, however.

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World Cup 2018: Japan

 

The World Cup 2018 marks the sixth straight World Cup Japan have qualified for.

On two of the team’s previous appearances at the tournament, the national team has qualified for the round of 16. The Group H team could qualify for the knockout round. However, Japan will need to play their best football to get past Colombia, Poland and Senegal.

Japan manager Akira Nishino has only been in the job since April. Despite leading the national team to qualification, the Japan Football Association sacked previous manager Vahid Halilhodzic with just two months to go until the tournament. Halilhodzic had been Japan’s manager since 2015. Halilhodzic did not get along well with the JFA and problems continued to mount between the two sides leading to his dismissal. There are large doubts over whether Nishino can lead the team to success. Nishino was out of coaching for nearly three years before taking over the role.

Nishino has been in charge of two friendlies and both saw the Samurai Blue lose. In fact, Nishino hasn’t seen his team score a goal in the two friendlies he has overseen. Japan lost to Ghana 2-0 in May and most recently to Switzerland in a World Cup prep match by the same scoreline. The Japanese have one more friendly before the tournament starts against Paraguay. If Japan lose to the South Americans, then the team and its fans should be very worried.

Japan do have good players within their ranks. Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa is capable of creating and scoring goals from midfielder. Eintracht Frankfurt’s Makoto Hasebe is a workhorse in the defensive midfield. He can protect the team’s defence and win the ball for counter-attacks. All three forwards Nishino has selected for the World Cup play in Europe.

Leicester City’s Shinji Okazaki is the highest profile of the three. He is a hard worker and has scored 50 goals in 112 national team appearances. Okazaki will play alongside Yuya Osako and Yoshinori Muto. Both are good professionals but neither have scored many international goals.

The national team’s turmoil is hard to overlook. Due to the sacking of Halilhodzic with just two months to go to the tournament and Japan’s lacklustre World Cup build up, getting through the group will be difficult. Making it even harder will be Colombia and Poland, the two sides are expected to go through. Senegal won’t be a pushover either. The African side has quality players in its ranks including Liverpool’s Sadio Mane. If Japan can reach the round of 16, it should be seen as a good performance at the World Cup.

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Poland vs Chile prediction

Statistical preview

Poland scored 1.33 goals per match in the last six home matches.

Poland conceded 1.17 goals per match in the last six home matches.

Chile scored 0.83 goals per match in the last six away matches.

Chile conceded 1.33 goals per match in the last six away matches.

Poland won against South Korea (Friendlies) in the last match.

Chile won against Serbia (Friendlies) in the last match.

 

Poland home form Result Over/Under Date
Poland – Albania 1 – 1 under 2.5 goals 2018-04-06
Poland – South Korea 3 – 2 over 2.5 goals 2018-03-27
Poland – Nigeria 0 – 1 under 2.5 goals 2018-03-23
Poland – Mexico 0 – 1 under 2.5 goals 2017-11-13
Poland – Uruguay 0 – 0 under 2.5 goals 2017-11-10
Chile away form Result Over/Under Date
Serbia – Chile 0 – 1 under 2.5 goals 2018-06-04
Romania – Chile 3 – 2 over 2.5 goals 2018-05-31
Denmark – Chile 0 – 0 under 2.5 goals 2018-03-27
Sweden – Chile 1 – 2 over 2.5 goals 2018-03-24
Brazil – Chile 3 – 0 over 2.5 goals 2017-10-10
Poland overall form Result Over/Under Date
Scotland – Poland 3 – 0 over 2.5 goals 2018-04-10
Poland – Albania 1 – 1 under 2.5 goals 2018-04-06
Poland – South Korea 3 – 2 over 2.5 goals 2018-03-27
Poland – Nigeria 0 – 1 under 2.5 goals 2018-03-23
Albania – Poland 1 – 4 over 2.5 goals 2017-11-24
Chile overall form Result Over/Under Date
Serbia – Chile 0 – 1 under 2.5 goals 2018-06-04
Romania – Chile 3 – 2 over 2.5 goals 2018-05-31
Denmark – Chile 0 – 0 under 2.5 goals 2018-03-27
Sweden – Chile 1 – 2 over 2.5 goals 2018-03-24
Brazil – Chile 3 – 0 over 2.5 goals 2017-10-10

Poland vs Chile prediction: under 2.5 goals

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Lithuania vs Iran prediction

 Statistical preview

Lithuania scored 0.5 goals per match in the last six home matches.

Lithuania conceded 1.67 goals per match in the last six home matches.

Iran scored 0.83 goals per match in the last six away matches.

Iran conceded 0.83 goals per match in the last six away matches.

Lithuania have drawn against Latvia (Friendlies) in the last match.

Iran lost against Turkey (Friendlies) in the last match.

 

Lithuania home form Result Over/Under Date
Lithuania – Latvia 1 – 1 under 2.5 goals 2018-06-05
Lithuania – Latvia 1 – 1 under 2.5 goals 2018-06-05
Lithuania – England 0 – 1 under 2.5 goals 2017-10-08
Lithuania – Scotland 0 – 3 over 2.5 goals 2017-09-01
Lithuania – Slovakia 1 – 2 over 2.5 goals 2017-06-10
Iran away form Result Over/Under Date
Turkey – Iran 2 – 1 over 2.5 goals 2018-05-28
Tunisia – Iran 1 – 0 under 2.5 goals 2018-03-23
Venezuela – Iran 0 – 1 under 2.5 goals 2017-11-13
Panama – Iran 1 – 2 over 2.5 goals 2017-11-09
Russia – Iran 1 – 1 under 2.5 goals 2017-10-10
Lithuania overall form Result Over/Under Date
Lithuania – Latvia 1 – 1 under 2.5 goals 2018-06-05
Lithuania – Latvia 1 – 1 under 2.5 goals 2018-06-05
Estonia – Lithuania 2 – 0 under 2.5 goals 2018-05-30
Armenia – Lithuania 0 – 1 under 2.5 goals 2018-03-27
Georgia – Lithuania 4 – 0 over 2.5 goals 2018-03-24
Iran overall form Result Over/Under Date
Turkey – Iran 2 – 1 over 2.5 goals 2018-05-28
Iran – Uzbekistan 1 – 0 under 2.5 goals 2018-05-19
Iran – Algeria 2 – 1 over 2.5 goals 2018-03-27
Tunisia – Iran 1 – 0 under 2.5 goals 2018-03-23
Iran – Sierra Leone 4 – 0 over 2.5 goals 2018-03-17

Lithuania vs Iran prediction: under 2.5 goals

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World Cup 2018: Brazil

 

Brazil go into the World Cup 2018 as the sportsbooks’ favourite to win the competition.

The Brazilians have a loaded team featuring Neymar, Marcelo, Alisson, Philippe Coutinho and more. The national team has experienced players combined with energetic, youthful members that make them a difficult side to beat.

Under manager Tite, Brazil stormed to the top of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying with 41 points from a possible 54. Forwards Gabriel Jesus, Neymar and Paulinho combined to score 19 of the team’s 41 goals on the way to Russia. Tite’s reign as manager has been a breath of fresh air. His predecessor, Dunga, was more defensive and his preference was for Brazil to be stronger rather than silky smooth. Tite has done away with Dunga’s pragmatism and sexy football with swagger has returned.

Forward Neymar is the team’s leader and how the Paris Saint-Germain man plays will determine how far Brazil go at the World Cup. In 2014, Neymar’s injury in the quarterfinal against Colombia curbed all hope the nation had for winning the World Cup. A 7-1 dismantling at the hands of Germany followed in the semifinals; and without Neymar, Brazil were beaten in the third-place game by the Netherlands. In Brazil’s last two matches at the 2014 tournament, the team was outscored 10-1.

Neymar will not be fit going into the World Cup, which immediately raises questions over how well Brazil will do in Russia. The forward suffered a foot injury in February and is only now back in training. Prior to the World Cup, he won’t have played a meaningful football match for club or country, and whether his body can hold up to the rigours of the tournament are unknown. The forward has already stated he could suffer foot injury relapse and be out the entire World Cup.

With or without Neymar, Brazil have a fantastic array of attacking footballers. Jesus has proven himself at Manchester City and he is only getting better at the international level. Countinho has come into his own with the national team and is finally performing for his country like he does for his club.

 But what about Brazil’s defence? The side gave up 10 goals in two games in 2014 World Cup. Is Brazil’s defensive unit any better?

The team gave up just 11 goals in qualifying, the lowest number in CONMEBOL. Brazil’s defence will see several of the players from the last World Cup reprise their roles this year. Thiago Silva and Marcelo are the two constants, and depending on injury, David Luiz could return – although fitness could keep him out. PSG centre-back Marquinhos is also expected to be a part of Tite’s back line. The team is expected to be without right-back and captain Dani Alves, however. Alves is suffering from a knee injury and his loss could affect Brazil’s defensive performances. In addition, the right-back’s personality will be a miss on the pitch and so will his leadership.

Brazil’s individual parts are exceptional, and when put together, Tite’s side is a formidable opponent. Against the world’s best teams, and not just South American rivals, Brazil may not be such an elite force going into the tournament. Of course, a lot higes on Neymar and just how fit the forward is in Russia.

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World Cup 2018: Germany

Germany head to the World Cup 2018 in Russia as one of the favourites to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy. The Germans won the 2014 edition of the tournament as the team outlasted Argentina in the final, 1-0.

Joachim Low’s team also had a memorable semifinal win on the way to championship game, dismantling host country Brazil, 7-1.

Germany have already started their preparations for the World Cup by extending Low’s contract. The manager will remain in the position until 2022. The move dashed all hope clubs like Arsenal had of snapping up the German’s signature.

In addition to signing a new deal, Low has released his provisional squad for this summer’s event. He has left Liverpool midfielder Emre Can and Borussia Dortmund attacker Mario Gotze out of his team. Can is still working his way back from injury and has missed out on Liverpool’s last two months of matches. Gotze scored Germany’s winning goal in the final four years ago, but the player’s form has declined in recent years following the goal.

In all, Germany have 27 players selected to the provisional side and four will be released before the team heads to Germany. One notable selection is Manuel Neuer. The goalkeeper has missed the club season due to a broken foot. It is hoped he can return to form even without playing a meaningful competitive game.

Germany will play in a difficult group on paper. Group F features Mexico, Sweden and South Korea alongside the reigning World Cup winners. Although it won’t be a group of death, the three remaining sides are very capable teams. Germany do have the better individual players, but their opponents won’t go easily.

If Germany have a weak point on paper, it is the squad’s forward line. Veterans Mario Gomez and Thomas Mueller are joined by Nils Petersen, Marco Reus and Timo Werner. Mueller’s selection to the final squad should be assured and Gomez brings plenty of international goal scoring experience to the team. His only drawback is consistency. Reus fought injury for much of the season but is an exciting creative player. The X-Factors for Germany will be Petersen and Werner.

Petersen scored 15 goals in the Bundesliga, the most by a German in the league. But it seems he is an outsider at this level. Werner tallied 13 for his club RB Leipzig. Both are talented strikers, but Werner is the player expected to go to Russia and be tasked with scoring goals. Quick, exciting and on the radar of Europe’s top clubs, Werner could earn a big money move with his performance in Russia.

Germany have a complete squad and Low’s side is well disciplined. The Germans will want to have a better showing than at Euro 2016 when they crashed out in the semifinal against France. Whether Germany can repeat as champions it is difficult to tell. The top teams at the World Cup all have immense talent. Germany have reach the semifinals or better at the last four World Cups. This year shouldn’t be any different.