World Cup Preview: Saudi Arabia v Egypt

Who? Saudi Arabia - Egypt
Where? Volgograd Arena, Volgograd
When? June 25, 16:00 (CET local time)

The Arab Derby was supposed to be one of the most fun games to watch in the 2018 World Cup Group Stage the, but due to the early exit of both teams, it is turned in to a sad symbol of the Arab teams failure in the tournament.

Egypt’s World Cup campaign has went down the hill after two losses to Uruguay & Russia, while the Saudi one hasn’t prompted to be from the first moment with a hammering loss at the firs game to the hosts and a positive display against the Uruguayans.

The match will take place with many stories and rumours around the Egyptian team. Few reports suggested that Mohamed Salah won’t join his friends to Volgograd; the fact that Ramzan Kadyrov handed the star a honorary citizenship of Chechenia; stories about the presence of celebrities, artists, friends and family members who were wondering around the team’s; Cúper’s contract talks and many more. If you’ll ask any Egypt fan about the way the World Cup was handled by the FA and all involved you won’t hear any good things.

Though, an Arab Derby against the Saudi is a good option to finish this experience in a good taste. Egypt is likely to let Essam El-Hadary play, in order that the veteran goalkeeper, will be able to break the record of the oldest player to play the World Cup at 45 years of age.

Nobody in the country would admit it, but gaining a victory on a the country that succeeded Egypt’s role as the Sunni leader of the region, would a great pleasure for the fans. In addition, many Egyptian players (8 in the squad) are playing in the Saudi league and Turki Al-Sheikh, the Saudi head of FA has donated to Al-Ahly in the past year, was given presidency of honour at the club, and eventually, due to the fans protests was removed from the title.

On the other side, the Saudis, who had an expected but weak tournament want to win as well. Pizzi, who is willing to continue after the World Cup, knows that only a victory on a better side as Egypt would be counted for him when negotiating with his bosses next month.

The Arab World Cup will finish with a regional derby, that was supposed to be festival of fans and Middle Eastern football, but instead will be a quiet farewell for two famous teams as the Pharaohs & the Green Falcons.

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World Cup Preview: Uruguay v Russia

Who? Uruguay - Russia
Where? Samara Arena, Samara
When? June 25, 16:00 (CET local time)

Uruguay (Gilad Seroussi)

La Celeste already won its place in the next phase before even playing their last match in the group stage. Yes, it is happy rare days in Uruguay. But after a decent performance in the first game the team didn't play well in the second one, and Tabarez is still searching for the right formula.

Facing the explosive host team, Uruguay are going to try a different game plan; no more trying to be the initiating side, but back to the familiar style of a team that lets the opponent take the initiative and then striks with quick counter attacks. The injured Josema Gimenez will probably be replaced with Sebastian Coates, playing alongside Godin and Caceres in a 3 man backline. Laxalt and Nandez will be the wide players, the position causing the biggest headache to Tabarez, with the second designated specifically to stopping Russian winger Cheryshev. While Laxalt will be very familiar with that role, the same he is completing in Genoa, Nandez is still struggling playing wide. Another change will be Lucas Torreira debut in the starting lineup of Uruguay, adding more vertical play to Vecino and Bentancur in the middle of the field. Upfront no changes; Suarez will lead the line and alongside him Cavani will look for his first goal in the World Cup.

Don't expect sexy football from Uruguay, unlikely any change in formation and lineup will do it, as they will try to be formidable in the back as they've been so far, and more clinical upfront. As the great Edinson Cavani put it: "Our joy is from giving all we got on the pitch". I wish la Celeste will enjoy it again.  

Russia (Eden Roitfarb)

The Russians have qualified from a group stage for the first time since the 1986 World Cup, then still known as the USSR. Amazingly, Stanislav Cherchesov’s men have produced another impressive attacking performance, this time dismantling Egypt 3-1. Again, Russia beat an Arab team, but unfortunately for them, Uruguay come from South America and are a whole different challenge. With two hard fought 1-0 wins, Oscar Tabarez’s team almost look like the international version of Atletico Madrid, a team you never want to play against in an important game.

With that in mind, it is very likely that an even tougher opponent would wait in the next round – Portugal or Spain are favorites to qualify from Group B, which faces Group A in the next round. The exact order would only be known after Russia would play, so it would be impossible to predict beforehand which spot would be more appealing. Therefore, Russia would want to get the best result possible, and a draw would be enough to secure first place.

One of the topics discussed around the team lately is the alleged suggestions by foreign journalists that there might be cases of doping within the squad. This is due to the surprising two victories, and also because the Russian players ran the greatest distance on pitch than any other team in the tournament. In response, team doctor Eduard Bezuglov said that his players undergo twice as many drug tests than other teams, and that they are in good shape because of their own training and the support of the whole country – which helps them perform well. Undoubtedly, Russia would need to work even harder to compete with Uruguay.

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World Cup Preview: Poland v Colombia

Who? Poland - Colombia
Where? Kazan Arena, Kazan
When? June 24, 20:00 (CET local time)

Poland (Eden Roitfarb)

The final second round match-up for the group stages has all the characteristics to become a classic. Poland faces Colombia, and there is no result that would satisfy both. After both lost their opener, the pressure is high and only a win would be acceptable – its do or die. When you combine this fact with all the attacking talent that will be present in the Kazan Arena, and perhaps also the goalkeeping naivety, we can expect some goals.

After getting the edge over Łukasz Fabiański in goal vs Senegal, Wojciech Szczęsny produced a terrible blunder that looked more like his old Arsenal self, rather than his current status as the Juventus No. 1. While the first goal was cruel and unlucky for Poland, the second one had Polish fans embarrassed and disappointed. They have expected more from the team.

One of these fans is Wojciech’s father and a former national goalie himself, Maciej, who blasted the player's performance - including his own son and leader Robert Lewandowski. According to dad, the younger Szczęsny was moving “as if to a liquor store”, and that Lewa “was probably not even on the field in the first half”.

Wojciech hasn’t responded to these comments, and the question is whether he will have the chance to do so on the pitch or whether coach Adam Nawałka will reinstate Fabiański to the lineup. Fabiański has signed this week for West Ham United from Swansea City and was one of the few bright spots in the Swans’ relegation campaign after producing a great individual season.

Another visible problem for the Polish was the absence of defender Kamil Glik. Although dressed and on the bench vs Senegal, it is likely he has not yet received a green light from team doctors to play, but that may change come Sunday due to the match importance.

Colombia (Idan Seggev)

No one, not even the most pessimist fans, could imagine this debut of Colombia in the World Cup. Except for the defeat, it was the horrible match that the team played which should concern the players, the staff and the fans. From a team with the potential to reach the quarter-final, Colombia lost to Japan and will play a crucial match against Poland in order to avoid elimination. More bad news? For Poland, it will be crucial as well, since they lost to Senegal. Prepare yourself for a World War III at the beautiful Kazan Arena stadium.

One change will be for sure in Colombia's lineup for Sunday match – Carlos Sanchez won't be in it. The midfielder who was sent off after only three minutes will be replaced most probably by Wilmar Barrios, although it still wasn't confirmed by Pekerman. There will be several questions due to the poor performance versus the Japanese:  Will Pekerman use again his center-back duo after their horrible form, especially Davinson Sanchez? Just a reminder, Colombia still has on the bench players like Yerry Mina and experienced Cristian Zapata. Another question is whether Muriel will start over Izquierdo who disappointed a lot? People will ask even if Mojica will receive more credit in such crucial match or will it be the 34-year-old veteran Farid Diaz?

The most important question will be if James Rodriguez 100% fit and start the match? When he entered in the second half against Japan, he looked more like 50% fit and was very slow. If he won't be completely able to play, It will be Juan Quintero again.

The answers to these questions will be given only few hours before the match just like Pekerman does always. This way or another, there's no second chance for Los Cafeteros who must win in order to keep their dream alive.

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World Cup Preview: Japan v Senegal

Who? Japan - Senegal
Where? Yekaterinburg Arena, Yekaterinburg
When? June 24, 17:00 (CET local time)

Japan (Yossi Medina)

Japan made one of the biggest surprises of the first matchday. No one could imagine that they will defeat Colombia in such an impressive play. Some will say that the early red card for Carlos Sánchez changed the game, but many times we saw that playing against 10 players could be more difficult.

After the game, one name has been repeated several times – the winning goal scorer, Yuya Osako. Japan has many representatives in the Bundesliga and Osako is one of them, while he played in the last season for FC Köln. After the relegation of his club at the end of the season, Osako signed for Weder Bremen and will start his fifth season in the German top flight.

Defeating Senegal will improve their chances to qualify for the next stage. Japan has some good memories of playing against African teams, like their win against Cameroon in the 2010 World Cup. That campaign was the last that they managed to qualify for the knockout stage.

The Blue Samurais are ready to have some good time in their next match. Unlike the expectation, Japan can find their way to a glorious World Cup appearance. All they need to do now it to give another great performance.

Senegal (Omri Tancman)

Before the tournament started, not many expected the game between Senegal and Japan to be considered as a clash over the leadership of group H. After the surprising victory of Japan and the very impressive performance of Senegal against Poland, the upcoming match can be decisive for both teams and probably send one of them to the next stage.

The impressive performance of Aliou Cisse’s players might have been seen as a surprise but Senegal’s dominance and bursts of attacks reminded to many pundits the team of 2002. It seems that the team of 2002 and its spirit overshadow this team. For example, the first match was dedicated to Bruno Metsu, Senegal’s coach in 2002. Moreover, in 2002 Senegal’s second match was against Denmark that has beaten Uruguay 2-1, a result which surprisingly made both teams leaders in their group. This scenario seems to be repeated up until now. Both Senegal and Japan managed to secure important and somewhat surprising wins against Poland and Colombia. According to this scenario, Senegal should end its match against Japan in a draw.

But the spirit of 2002 doesn’t overshadow the current squad only in possible similar scenarios. It lies with the guidance of players from that generation, such as Khalilou Fadiga, who praised the performance of Youssouf Sabaly and Mbaye Niang during the game against Poland. Furthermore, the spirit of 2002 lies in the need of players to be remembered as a generation of their own. As Kalidou Koulibaly, Senegal’s Central Defender stated after the match against Poland “we think a lot about the generation of 2002. Now there is a 2018 generation. We have shown it.” A win against Japan can be a first step to prove that Koulibaly is right.

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World Cup Preview: England v Panama

Who? England - Panama
Where? Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
When? June 24, 14:00 (CET local time)


It was a matter of a few seconds between England and opening the World Cup with an upset. The game against Tunisia, even though they eventually managed to win, was not one of their best games and England would like to recover against Panama.

If you will read some of the comments in England, you will find a new name that becomes the talented player to be pumped by the press. Harry Maguire, Leicester City's defender is that guy. His work against Tunisia was impressive, but in England you don't need too much time in order to be the hero that will save the nation's day.

In the game against Panama, England will face an interesting challenge, as they will try to win their second consecutive match for the first time since 2006 World Cup. At the last World Cup, England managed to have only one win out of seven matches. Another unbelievable record will be the fact that England didn't manage to win twice at the World Cup group stage since 1998.

In this situation, England cannot afford themselves a failure against Panama. With six points in the first two matches, England could take a deep breath and feel more comfortable for the next stages.


Nobody thought that Panama can be a strong opponent to Belgium. Even though they managed to keep a clean sheet during the first half and didn't fail completely until Lukaku's brace, the final score didn't surprised anyone.

Now everyone looks on Hernán Darío Gómez. The veteran Colombian coach faces England once again in the World Cup. In 1998, Gómez was Colombia's head coach while Los Cafeteros lost 0:2 to England, while Darren Anderton and David Beckham led England to the next stage.

The beginning for Panama was hard, but now, after they felt once what it means to play a World Cup game, they may be less stressed or excited. The tears of joy that has been seen during the national anthem in the previous match will disappear and Gómez will need to guide his players to an optimistic moment.

Although Panama is considered as the weakest team in the World Cup, they can't afford another bad result. They want to show to the world that they are still can to be competitive, even against strong team like England. If Tunisia managed to be until the additional time equaled, why wouldn't Panama do the same?

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World Cup Preview: Germany v Sweden

Who? Germany - Sweden
Where? Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi
When? June 23, 20:00 (CET local time)


Germany is facing a new unusual situation, losing in the group stage. Since 1990, Germany lost only once in the group stage out of 21 games. Now, after they dropped three points, the world champions need to be focused in order to get back to the race for the knockout stage.

Once upon a time, Germany and Sweden met three times in the World Cup, and in two out of these three matches, Germany won. The Germans hold a long streak of undefeated games against Sweden. They won their last 11 games, as the last Swedish win was in 1978. The last official match that Germany has lost to Sweden was in the 1958 World Cup.

If there is something that makes the German journey in Russia more complicated, it is the recent political controversy of Mesut Özil and Ilkay Gündoğan. The two German players met a month ago with the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and caused a lot of criticism among former players and the fans. Before the match against Mexico, while the German lineup was announced in the stadium, the fans shouted and booed in the moment that Özil's name was heard.

After France in 2002, Italy in 2010 and Spain in 2014, Germany doesn't want to be part of the recent tradition of World Champions with early eliminations. For Löw and his players, nothing but winning against Sweden is acceptable.


After the match against South Korea, Sweden believe that they have what it needs in order to qualify for the next stage. In their last three World Cup appearance they didn't fail to qualify through the group stage, and they wouldn't like to break this streak.

Sweden now will have to face few more records in their path for winning vs Germany. For example, Sweden didn't win two group stage matches in one World Cup since 1958. Moreover, Sweden failed to defeat an European opponent in the World Cup since the third place match in 1994 against Bulgaria. Since this match, they drew twice against England and lost to Germany in 2006, as said before.

The last match made Andreas Granqvist the key player of the team. Even though he was the one to score against South Korea, his main role against Germany is to prevent any conceding. Granqvist enjoys now his last travel in Russia after five years of playing in Krasnodar, before he will return to play for Helsingborg.

Sweden is dreaming about an upset against Germany. If it will happen, Sweden can find themselves in the interesting situation of being one step from knockout, or maybe clinching it, depending on the other results. For Sweden, it will be an amazing achievement.

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World Cup Preview: South Korea v Mexico

Who? South Korea - Mexico
Where? Rostov Arena, Roston-on-Don
When? June 23, 17:00 (CET local time)

South Korea (Yossi Medina)

Even in the worst-case scenario, South Korea couldn't imagine that they will begin the World Cup so badly. More than the defeat against Sweden, there is one thing that is bolder: South Korea didn't made a single shot on target during the game.

The Korean coach, Shin Tae-Yong will need to find a solution how to make his team more dangerous. It seems that Son Heung-Min, who usually has good performances in Tottenham Hotspur, is struggling to provide the same level in the national team. It's even harder when the center forward is Kim Shin-Wook, who plays in the K-League and scored 10 international goals in 51 caps.

A lot of pressure will be on Kim Min-Woo, the player who made the foul that led to the Swedish penalty kick. Kim plays in Sangju Sangmu, a club that representing the Korean army. If the coach Shin will make him to forget that incident, Kim Min-Woo will lead South Korea defense in this decisive match.

South Korea is fighting for their last chance in this World Cup. Another defeat will mark their way back home too soon.

Mexico (Meir Lozowick)

After beating Germany, Mexico find themselves in an unfamiliar situation: being the favourites of the group. Before the tournament, the match against Germany was the one that Mexico could loose up and yet fight for qualifying from the second place. Not that anyone in Mexico will complain, but this situation put a different type of pressure on the team. Euphoria, excessive over-confidence, and realization that the hardest hurdle is behind them could drop the positive tension & focus.

Unlike the match against Germany, Mexico will not arrive as an underdog but as a big favourite against South Korea. The coach Juan Carlos Osorio must prepare the team differently. South Korea is way less physical than the Germans and play in a total different way. If against Germany, Mexico played with counter attacks, against South Korea they will need to control the game with high possession and be the dominant team. Mexico has players like Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera that know how to hold the ball and distribute it to the attack, but the decision making on the last part of the pitch has to be much better than against Germany.

One of the players that could get into the action is Raul Jimenez. Jimenez is a completely different striker than Chicharito. Jimenez is a big and tall striker that can hold the ball, and more importantly can be the target man in the South Korean area. He was the super sub in Benfica and scored some several important goals that helped Benfica to win two titles in Portugal. Yet, Jimenez had enough of being substitute striker and just before the World Cup began, he moved to Wolves, the newly promoted team of the Premier league in England. Even before his new adventure, Jimenez would like to demonstrate that he can be decisive as a starter. There is no better place to demonstrate it other than the biggest stage of the world.

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World Cup Preview: Belgium v Tunisia

Who? Belgium - Tunisia
Where? Otkritie Arena, Moscow
When? June 23, 14:00 (CET local time)

Belgium (Yossi Medina)

Belgium passed their first test in this World Cup clearly with 4:0 against Panama and now they are ready for their next match against Tunisia. Once again, Belgium will be the obvious favorites in this match.

The brace of Romelu Lukaku in the previous match made him as one of the best World Cup scorers in Belgium's history. With another goal he scored in 2014, there are now only two Belgian players that scored more than him. The first is Jan Ceulemans with 4 goals and the top scorer is Lukaku's former national manager, Marc Wilmots, who scored 5 goals.

For the Belgian team, the game against Tunisia may bring some memories from another match they played against North African team. It was four years ago against Algeria. Belgium had a bad opening with an early goal of Sofiane Feghouli, who converted a penalty kick successfully. Only in the last minutes Belgium found the net twice, by goals of Marouan Fellaini and Dries Mertens. Belgium needs to do everything in order to prevent a repeat of it.

Roberto Martínez and his players are aiming to finish in the first place in group G. Before playing the decisive match against England, Belgium must ensure that they would not drop any single point against Tunisia.

Tunisia (Uri Levy)

After three Arab teams, two of them North Africans, are all out of the tournament, the last Arab representative, which is also North African, Tunisia will try to retain some of whats left from the lost respect for the Arab football in the 2018 World Cup. The Carthage Eagles already surprised with their performance against England in the first match day.

Then, they almost produced a famous upset but could not hold on. Despite losing to the Three Lions, with two of their star players out to injury, the Tunisians produced a combative half against a much more competent team. Nabil Maâloul and his players definitely have a reason to be disappointed to lose like this in the 91st minute, after Ferjani Sassi cooly converted a penalty that turned out to be the first Arab goal of the tournament that equalised the scoreboard.

Against Belgium they will look to produce the same aggressiveness, but this time to lock the goal safe enough until the final whistle. They have nothing to lose or any fraud expectations to prove right. They will scratch, kick, foul and do whatever it takes to stop Lukaku, Mertens, De Bruyne and the band. Their game after will be against Panama in Saransk, in what will be the last match of the group stage. Imagine if they’ll grab a point from the Red Devils, beat Panama by four goals, while England draw with the Central Americans and lose to Belgium. Maybe then, the Arab respect will be somehow back on the football pitches in Russia.

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World Cup Preview: Serbia v Switzerland

Who? Serbia - Switzerland
Where? Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad
When? June 22, 20:00 (CET local time)

Serbia (Eden Roitfarb)

The latest game of Friday features a European derby between Serbia and Switzerland, the two more impressive teams of Group E. And that group includes favorites Brazil. The Serbs come after a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica, the previous tournament’s biggest surprise and that hasn’t lost a game in Brazil 2014. Within the Serbian camp, the mood is great, and optimism is running high. A win vs the Swiss means a qualification to the next round for the first time since France 1998, when they were still called Yugoslavia. However, finishing first in the group might lead to a meeting with Germany in the round of 16 – a matchup everyone would want to avoid.

An interesting storyline worth following is how the Serbian fans would treat Switzerland’s three Kosovar born players: Valon Behrami, Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri. Before becoming an independent country, Kosovo was part of Serbia, and the Serbian fans are usually not shy to express their feelings towards political and state issues – with even some chanting “Kosovo is Serbia” in the streets of Russia. Coach Mladen Krstajic has been asked by Swiss journalists about this topic but refused to talk anything but football. He himself was born in Bosnia to a Bosnian mother and Montenegrin father and moved to Serbia in a late age due to the Bosnian War. As a player, Krstajic’s first goal for Serbia came against Switzerland in a 2002 World Cup qualifier, a fact he made sure to remind the Swiss journalists.

Although getting the edge over Costa Rica, Serbia did not show a brilliant display of football but was rather clinical. Striker Aleksandar Mitrovic has missed a few clear-cut chances and will need to put the previous game behind him, as he will need to be on top form against the tough Swiss defense.

Switzerland (Yossi Medina)

When Switzerland looks on the Serbian squad, they can share some memories with them. The Serbian squad includes six players who won the U-20 World Cup in 2015. With some cleverness, a national team can understand how to use its talented young generation. In Switzerland we are 9 years after such a success.

In 2009, Switzerland upset Nigeria and won the U-17 World Cup. Only eight players made later an international cap for a senior team, but three of them made it in other national teams. Among the players, you can find also players that lead the team nowadays: Haris Seferovic, Granit Xhaka and Ricardo Rodriguez.

Switzerland is enjoying one of its best ever generations. These players, alongside with others who made impressive performances in other youth teams, are building the bright future of the Swiss football. While aiming for another knockout stage appearance, Switzerland knows that Serbia is the main challenger for the second place.

They can find another interesting connections to former Yugoslavia, as their coach Vladimir Petković is a Bosnian Croat who was born in Sarajevo. Without facing any political issues, Petković will accept this challenge from Serbia and will try to do his best with the team. Such optimism is the reason the Switzerland will make this game interesting.

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World Cup Preview: Nigeria v Iceland

Who? Nigeria - Iceland
Where? Volgograd Arena, Volgograd
When? June 22, 17:00 (CET local time)

Nigeria (Yossi Medina)

The Nigerians are disappointed after their previous game against Croatia. Nobody thought that Nigeria are favorites, but they failed to even be a challenge for their opponents. Now the Super Eagles are looking to strike against Iceland.

Nigeria will have to look for more energy in the attack. Unfortunately, the Nigerian strikers are not at the same level as we used to see in the past. The team relied on Odion Ighalo and later added Ahmed Musa and Kelechi Iheanacho and all performed badly in this match. The coach, Gernot Rohr, will have to find a solution for that, as finishing another goalless game can be the end of the story for Nigeria.

The player who was marked as key player, John Obi Mikel, will need to bring his experience to the field. By playing against Iceland, he will make his 87th international cap and he will be the all-time third most capped player in Nigeria after Vincent Enyeama and Joseph Yobo. Obi Mikel will be the player that shows his skills and leads the team.

The game against Iceland will be the last chance for Nigeria. If they will know how to use their experience and talent, they even can break the frozen defense of Iceland. In any other case, Nigeria may face their early exit today.

Iceland (Eden Roitfarb)

Just like in Euro 2016, more incredible stories regarding Iceland’s players and population are being reported in the news and social media: For instance, the Argentina draw became the most-watched TV event in the history of Iceland, as 99.6% of the population who have watched TV tuned to the game. Striker Alfreð Finnbogason’s reply to this fact: “The other 0,4% was on the pitch!”.  Additionally, defender Birkir Már Sævarsson is probably the only player at the World Cup that had to ask permission from his work, a salt packing factory, to play in the tournament.

Coming off an impressive fighting performance combined with some tactical brilliance vs Argentina, it is a whole different ballgame for Iceland on Friday against the Super Eagles from Nigeria. The big question is how the Icelandic can perform coming from the favorite’s position and not the underdog? Yes, you read correctly – A team playing their second ever World Cup game are expected to beat a side that is participating in their 6th tournament. That is mainly due to the mood of both teams after their opening match, but also due to the apparent European domination in head to head matches vs non-Europeans this summer.

One of the key points that would be worth a look is ball possession. Most of Iceland’s recent successes came in games where they held relatively less of the ball, like vs England in 2016 or vs Argentina. However, when holding more possession, they are in risk of losing their game plan and tactical shape – just like in the 5-2 defeat to France in the Euros. It will be interesting to see how Iceland will deal with this issue vs Nigeria when they are suddenly expected to attack and win.

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World Cup Preview: Brazil v Costa Rica

Who? Brazil - Costa Rica
Where? Krestovsky Stadium, St. Petersburg
When? June 22, 14:00 (CET local time)

Brazil (Vitor Buratini Mendes)

Disappointment. This is the only word that can be used to describe the performance of the Brazilian team in their 2018 World Cup opener. Many expected for good football and a decent victory, but what was seen was a team that shot very badly and did not match the expectations. Neymar made a game much below average and several criticisms already appear to the team.

In order to win the next game and to stay in a good position, the influence of the manager Tite will be a key factor: he has to be fearless in the substitutions. He is an excellent coach, he has won important titles, but that does not make him clear of criticism. In the game against Switzerland, his changes were very pragmatic and none caused a real change in the course of the match. For example, two of the three substitutions were made to change the midfield and in both he switched players from the same position. Against Costa Rica, it's time for him to dare a little more: if Brazil are in a tie, why not put the team forward, putting Douglas Costa instead of Paulinho, for example? The starting lineup will be the same, except from one change - Fagner will be in the first XI insted of Danilo who got injured. This is really the best Brazil have. However, the options coming from the bench should be better chosen.

Brazil's game against Switzerland was not exactly bad: the Swiss played very well, but much more was expected from Brazil, especially by players like Neymar. During the game, he played with the ball a lot and suffered 10 fouls. The Swiss team did not let the best Brazilian player to appear and the team's creativity was compromised. Anyway, Neymar is not yet 100% recovered from his injury and we can understand that he is not yet at his best. There is still a concern with him, because at Tuesday's practice he limped away. Even so, he should be starting in the game on Friday, though, it will be a bit understandable if he would not meet the expectations.

Against Costa Rica, victory is a must, since the game against Serbia must be difficult. Anyway, the optimism on continues: Brazil have a strong and qualified squad to go far in the World Cup. However, it is necessary that Brazil will have kind of a fresh start. Brazil are capable of more and it is well known.

Costa Rica (Omri Tancman)

Costa Rica and Brazil have a long rivalry dating back to the 50’s. In fact, both teams have already played each other a couple of times in the World Cups. Their second and last meeting was in 2002 and Brazil crushed Costa Rica 5-2. One of two Costa Ricans who scored in that game was Paolo Wanchope. When asked about the upcoming game, Wanchope urged Costa Ricans players to give 100 per cent since they do not have the privilege against Brazil to lack enthusiasm and effort.

Nevertheless, Wanchope complained about the lack of a natural striker in the squad, and pointed out Marco Ureña and Joel Campbell as two players who should step up and offer some attacking ability. Against Serbia, the two strikers didn’t perform too well. Based on the analysis of “Twelve Football Analytics” both players didn’t have any influential attacking actions. Ureña, who started was even weaker than Campbell who came from the bench. Altogether, both players didn’t have any important attacking actions and only one important defensive action.

In order to have even the slightest of chances the Costa Ricans need much more contribution from their strikers. A possible solution can be to start with Campbell instead of Ureña, due to an overall better performance of Campbell against Serbia. No one expects from Costa Rica to challenge Brazil, but even a goal to remember, like Wanchope scored, can be a nice accomplishment.

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World Cup Preview: Argentina v Croatia

Who? Argentina - Croatia
Where? Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
When? June 21, 20:00 (CET local time)

Argentina (Yossi Medina)

The world is still waiting for the arrival of one of its best footballers. After missing the penalty kick against Iceland, a lot of doubts arose about the ability of Lionel Messi to lead Argentina for a second World Cup final in a row.

We need to remember that Messi was not the only player that played poorly last Saturday. The Argentinians looked nervous and barely could handle with the strong Icelandic defense. In the past, Argentina faced such challenges like games against Iran or Switzerland in the previous World Cup. Yet, back then they had the strength to keep and looking for the goal and in 2018 it seems that they lack it.

In order to change it, Jorge Sampaoli is expected to change the formation for this match. Unlike against Iceland, Argentina will use a front line of three, including Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero and Cristian Pavón. This change means that Ángel Di María is expected to start this game as a substitute.

If Argentina will fail to win against Croatia, the Albiceleste will be in an unusual situation with no wins after two group stage matches. Only once in the history Argentina started a World Cup campaign with such a record, it was in 1974 and Argentina qualified to the next stage only due to a better goal difference.

With all the pressure and the fact that Croatia believes in the opportunity to make a great result in this game, Argentina can feel that this game is a do or die match. Another bad result and the team will quickly become nervous, a win and Argentina will keep dreaming on their journey to Moscow. It's going to be a hard night for Argentina.

Croatia (Eden Roitfarb)

1.3.2006: Croatia and Argentina face in an international break friendly. One young Lionel Messi scores his first ever goal for the Albiceleste, yet the Croatians still won 3-2 on the night. Today, these two will square for a crucial game in the World Cup group stage. Undoubtedly, every Croatian would sign up for the same scenario from 12 years ago.

Besides Messi, only one player from that game is present in Russia 2018: Luka Modrić, which coincidentally marked his international debut. Modrić has similarly became the leader for his national team on the pitch and has played a massive part in Real Madrid’s 3 successive Champions League trophies. However, these credentials didn’t automatically earn him the love of Croatian fans, who do not appreciate his involvement in the local football corruption scandal, starred by former Dinamo Zagreb chief Zdravko Mamic. The tumultuous relationship between Modrić and the fans has known ups and downs, but after his man of the match performance and penalty goal against Nigeria, he might have softened up some of his critics. 

On the other hand, some internal turmoil sparked up in the Croatian camp after Saturday’s win: Striker Nikola Kalinić has been sent home after refusing to enter as a substitute vs Nigeria, perhaps due to frustration of not being in Zlatko Dalic’s starting 11. Croatian national teams were never known for maintaining a quiet atmosphere, and it is remained to be seen whether that might affect their progress. With that in mind, Croatia know their strengths. Exactly 2 years ago, they pulled out an impressive winning performance vs Spain during the Euros. Hopefully for them, they can reproduce that against a nervous Argentinian side.

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World Cup Preview: France v Peru

Who? France - Peru
Where? Yekaterimburg Arena, Yekaterinburg
When? June 21, 17:00 (CET local time)


In a recent article published by L’equipe, the French national team was analyzed according to the different ties and friendships of its players between them. Surprisingly or not, two of the main men were Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba. Both players are very close to many other players in the French squad and especially between each other. For example, on May 29th, Pogba invited Griezmann to a dinner at his mother’s house.

It seems that for many, the quality of the French squad and players such as Pogba and Griezmann by itself is enough to achieve great results this summer in Russia. One common saying is that with this abundance of talent French players do not need a coach, and if they do need one, Deschamps isn’t the right coach. According to some of the critics coach Deschamps doesn’t have enough quality in order to guide his players to success. These critics were even louder after the weak performance of ‘Les Bleus’ against Australia. In fact, the richness of talent in the French squad enables Deschamps to still experiment and probably change formation ahead of France’s game against Peru.

However, no matter what the formation will be, two players who are certain to start in the opening 11 are Pogba and Griezmann. These two superstars have already known ups and downs in their careers, good and bad managers and moments of success alongside moments of despair. But what they probably know is that Deschamps instructions and game plan may be important, but nonetheless the success of the French team relies heavily on their connection and linkage both in matches and after them. The upcoming game against Peru can be their opportunity to demonstrate it.


One of the most significant and moving phenomena of the first week of this world cup is the presence of South American fans in Russia. Thousands of supporters from all over Latin America have crowded Russian cities. Their effect was not overlooked by the players as well. As Miguel Trauco, Peru’s left back stated after Peru’s defeat against Denmark “It is beautiful to see 30 thousand Peruvians here in Russia. We will do everything in order to win for them.”

One important figure that can improve their chances to do so is Paolo Guerrero. After being linked with so many affairs and registered to the squad in the last minute, Peru’s captain and all time goal scoring leader was sitting on the bench in Peru’s first match against Denmark. However, against France, Guerrero is supposed to start and lead his fellow teammates against Griezmann, Pogba and their fellows.

Other than his goal scoring ability, Guerrero brings to the pitch a lot of grit and toughness. As the leader of the South American Qualification campaign in challenges and attacking aerial duels, Guerrero is no stranger to combat and dedication. These qualities, with the support of the Peruvian army of fans, may lead Peru to a surprise against France. You may say Peru fans are dreamers but as this world cup already demonstrates, they are not the only ones.

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World Cup Preview: Denmark v Australia

Who? Denmark - Australia
Where? Samara Arena, Samara
When? June 21, 14:00 (CET local time)


The Danish team began their World Cup with a win and now they are getting closer to qualify for the knockout stage. All they need to do is to win again, but it wouldn't be easy against the Australians.

After the match against Peru, Denmark need to get used to the fact that William Kvist will not return to play in the tournament. The player who will take his place in the lineup is the veteran Lasse Schöne, who always looks impressive and can play a major role in this match.

It's not the first time that Denmark plays against an AFC team. In 1998 they defeated Saudi Arabia 1:0. In 2010 they lost against Japan 1:3, a defeat that helped Japan to qualify for the next stage, while Denmark has been eliminated in the group stage.

Denmark will need to work hard in order to get the points. With the full confidence of the players and the coach Åge Hareide, Denmark is ready to do it for their fans and nation, all the way to first knockout stage appearance since 1998.


Nobody thought that Australia will defeat France, but the Socceroos made an impressive performance against one of the best teams in the World Cup. Even though their only goal was score by a penalty kick, Australia is optimistic before the next match.

The scorer of that goal, Mile Jedinak, reached an interesting mark as he is the second Australian to score in two World Cups. Jedinak's previous game made him also get two more milestones. With this goal, he got equaled to Graham Arnold in the 9th place of all-time top goalscorers of Australia. Moreover, he passed Toni Vidmar and he is ranked also in the 9th place of the most capped players in the team.

Another player that got some focus in the last days was Aziz Behich. The Australian left back got some bad news as FIFA decided to award the second French goal as an own goal by Behich instead of crediting it to Paul Pogba. Behich will need to avoid any thinking about it, as Australia will have to play with a strong defense in order to prevent any Danish chance for goal.

The Australian want to show that they are worth a place in the next stage. Winning against Denmark can be a great proof of that. Now they need to fight and dare to do anything to achieve that.

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World Cup Preview: Iran v Spain

Who? Iran - Spain
Where? Kazan Arena, Kazan
When? June 20, 20:00 (CET local time)

Iran (Uri Levy)

Who would have believed that after the first match day in Group B, Iran will be topping the table, watching Spain & Portugal from above. In general, Argentina, Brazil, Germany have also lost points and suddenly Team Melli are feeling confident they can surprise the world and advance to the knockouts.

With all the excitement, the Iranians have to be careful as they travel to Kazan to play Spain, who arrives after a dramatic game where they lost two important points. In this position, Iran has an important advantage, as veteran fox Carlos Quieroz is much more experienced than Hierro, and for sure will try to impose his famous tactics & mind games, as he did to Morocco’s coach Herve Renard in the first game.

In other Team Melli Squad news, defender Rouzbeh Cheshmi got injured in Monday’s practice and unfortunately will miss the rest of the World Cup. The Iranian fans present in masses in Russia, so expect a great atmosphere in the stadium, and a massive support for the team who got its 2nd ever World Cup victory just few days back.

Spain (Yossi Medina)

Even though the game ended with a draw, Spain can be satisfied with the result they achieved against Portugal. The coaching controversy is part of the past and Hierro's debut gave a lot of optimism before the next match.

Diego Costa's brace against Portugal gave him a chance to be a contender for this tournaments top scorer. In some way, it's the chance of Costa to show what he failed to do four years ago, when Spain failed to impress and eliminated after the group stage.

One player will mark an important milestone. If Gerard Piqué will play, he will make his 100 international cap, being the 13th Spanish player to reach this number of caps. Piqué is maybe one of the most controversial players in the Spanish team. He is well recognized as a Catalonian independence supporter. Yet, he is still part of the Spanish team and wants to be part of any further success, as he did in the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.

As Spain is aiming for their second World Cup title, they must finish in the first place in order to have better draw for the next stages. Winning tonight is a must for La Roja, especially after failing to defeat Portugal and the fact that they missed an option to get an advantage over the European champions.

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World Cup Preview: Uruguay v Saudi Arabia

Who? Uruguay - Saudi Arabia
Where? Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don
When? June 20, 17:00 (CET local time)

Uruguay (Gilad Seroussi)

La Celeste has won the first battle, in hope for many to come, with Josema Gimenez's powerful header hitting the Egyptian net very late in the game. It wasn't easy, nor was it pretty, but if it was so it wouldn't have been Uruguay right?

Maybe it wasn't the performance many hoped to see from Uruguay, especially with the unfamiliar title of group favorites and promising young talent in the squad, but for Edinson Cavani it was a positive one: "We created 5 scoring chances and the keeper (El Shenawy) was the MVP, what's not positive about it?" In addition, the defence was formidable as always, keeping the Egyptians far from Muslera's goal for the best part of the match. But Suarez forgot his shooting boots and El Shenawy dressed up as Superman, so Uruguay suffered till the end.  While it might not have been a poor performance, Tabarez knows he needs to change and mix things up, especially in midfield where the new guys didn't win his trust. Nandez looked out of position playing along the line, not for the first time, and De Arrascaeta didn't support the strikers as well as hoped. Both were subbed before the hour mark.

For today's game Tabarez is expected to drop Nandez and De Arrascaeta from the starting lineup, for more experienced and natural wide players Pato Sanchez and Cebolla Rodriguez. On Friday those changes worked well for Uruguay, increasing the threat on the opponent's defence from wide areas and specifically for scoring the winner; as set piece specialist Sanchez was the one to deliver the assist. With these changes Uruguay will play with seven players over 30 years old in the starting lineup, but Tabarez denies he's looking for more experienced players and says it's all about the current form.

Now it's time for the best 11 footballers Tabarez choose to win another battle in Russia 2018, and I just wish it won't be as stressing as it was on Friday. Uruguay noma!  

Saudi Arabia (Yossi Medina)

Less than a week has passed since their 0:5 defeat against Russia and the Saudis feel that they are on the road for a massive failure in this World Cup campaign.

It didn't took long until Turki Al Sheikh made a statement about this game. Al Sheikh recorded himself blaming the players for this poor match and asked for forgiveness from the Saudi Prince, who travelled to Moscow and watched that game. A few months after the bizarre deal with Spain, Al Sheikh seems to be hopeless with the Saudi football future.

If you thought that the humiliation feeling will end quickly, the Saudi FA gave us a reminder that everything is possible. Three players have been penalized by them, goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf, striker Mohammad Al-Sahlawi and defender Omar Hawsawi, and it's still unclear whether they will be available for the match.

The Saudis faced another problem, as their airplane caught fire while the team traveled to Rostov-on-Don. The FA said it happened due to an engine failure, but at least they landed safely in their destination.

Landing while your airplane is burning and say that everything is fine, that's the complete story of Juan Antonio Pizzi and his players. Even though they have no chance to win this game, the Saudis will have to do their best if they don't want another humiliation like in Moscow.

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World Cup Preview: Portugal v Morocco

Who? Portugal - Morocco
Where? Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
When? June 20, 14:00 (CET local time)

Portugal (Yossi Medina)

Portugal can be satisfied from their first match. They managed to end with a draw after long time that they saw a Spanish lead. The major headline is of course the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hattrick and showed to everyone that he came to Russia in order to lead Portugal.

Ronaldo can break one of the most iconic records in football history, as his next goal will be the 85th international goal in Ronaldo's career. If he will do so, he will be the European international top scorer, breaking the historic 56-years-old record of Ferenc Puskás.

If Fernando Santos dreams about the next stage, he will need to lead Portugal to six points in the next two games. Morocco will be the first rivals and sometimes it may considered as an easy rival. Portuguese history could decline easily it, as Portugal remember the 1:3 defeat against Morocco in 1986 World Cup.

Santos also knows that winning is not always the most important, after all he won the Euro two years ago without winning a single group stage match. This time he couldn't afford himself to drop more points if he wants to qualify for the next stage from the first place.

Morocco (Uri Levy)

After the loss to Iran, the disappointed Moroccan side is heading to Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow for a last chance to save the tournament.

Morocco, who promised a lot during the qualification without any loss and 0 goals conceded, hoped to be in much a stronger position after the game against Iran, but all of a sudden - the Persians are up with three points while the Moroccans stayed with nothing, despite producing a great game. “We came all the way here to watch our team making history and go far”, Bilal Selimi, a Moroccan fan, told BabaGol while in St. Petersburg before the ride to Moscow.

As for the line-up, Herve Renard plans few changes in the first eleven who started against Iran, and Ayoub El-Kaabi is planned to be benched in favour of Khalid Boutaib - who was not so long ago the favourite of the coach. Nordin Amrabat, who suffered a concussion against Iran has left the hospital, but will be sidelined against the Portuguese. The midfield that worked so well last match is likely to continue.

In defence, Manuel Da Costa has suffered an injury in training and he is in doubt. Morocco brought only four defenders to the tournament, and in this case it would be interesting in which formation Renard will play. Aziz Bouhaddouz is still suffering from that own goal he notched in, which cost his team a point. It will be interesting to see how Renard treat him, and will he play to over come the trauma.

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World Cup Preview: Russia v Egypt

Who? Russia - Egypt
Where? Krestovski Stadium, St. Petersburg
When? June 19, 20:00 (CET local time)

Russia (Eden Roitfarb)

They say that time flies by when you enjoy! The first round of group games is behind us, and here we are again with hosts Russia who face Egypt. And what a difference a few days can make: The Russians came into the opening game with clear pessimism and doubt of their team, who eventually smashed Saudi Arabia 5-0. Now, it feels closer to euphoria in the Russian camp, who know that a victory over the Pharohs would clinch a qualification through to the next round – for the first time since the Soviet Union collapse.

Another reason for the Russian optimism is due to the questionable fitness of opponent superstar Mohammed Salah. It is clear that without him running down the wing at full forces, Egypt are dramatically weaker, and that can tilt the odds towards the hosts. On the other side, the unlucky Alan Dzagoev has been ruled out for at least the rest of the group stage after injuring his hamstring vs Saudi Arabia. His replacement would be Denis Cheryshev, who produced a brilliant display on Thursday. His 2 goals were his firsts for the national team, and along with Yury Gazinsky’s goal, that marked the first time two players have scored their first goals for a national team in an opening World Cup match.

After pleasing the Moscow crowd, Russia move on to host in St Petersburg, the former capital of the Russian empire and Vladimir Putin’s hometown. These two facts alone should fire up Stanislav Cherchesov’s men to perform well and continue the momentum.

Egypt (Uri Levy)

After stretching Uruguay to the very last minute in Ekaterinburg, Egypt is now facing their most important in this World Cup. Some would say in their history. It won’t be easy. Russia, as seen in the tournament’s opening match, is very strong in front the home crowd, and in the city of St. Petersburg, the local fans are already preparing a hostile welcome to the Pharaohs.

The biggest question of course is whether Mohamed Salah will take part in the game or not, but one must acknowledge the fact that Egypt produced a great tactical performance against Uruguay. They hanged on to the match and almost scored versus a much better side. Abdalla Said, Ahmed Hegazy and even Amr Warda has done their job perfectly. The one who will now need to deliver is Hector Cúper, who made a huge mistake by making the last substitute in the last game.

Without Salah, Egypt actually has a psychological advantage over the rival - while the other team is worried from the moment Salah will join from the bench. If Cúper wouldn’t made the final change that convinced the Uruguayans that Salah won’t play, the result could have been different.

But it’s all over now. Egypt must win in order to progress from Group A, and nothing but a victory over the host in one of the best stadiums in the tournament will be counted as a success.

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World Cup Preview: Poland v Senegal

Who? Poland - Senegal
Where? Otkritie Arena, Moscow
When? June 19, 17:00 (CET local time)

Poland (Eden Roitfarb)

With the tournament being held at unpopular old rival Russia, Poland would hope to bring many fans to the nearby country that would push the team forward. Additionally, they also come with a loaded squad, notwithstanding some problems: Robert Lewandowski needs no introduction but is dealing with ongoing transfer rumors and his future in FC Bayern is unknown at the time. The Biało-Czerwoni need him focused and free-minded in order to succeed. Another issue is the condition of defensive anchor Kamil Glik, who injured his shoulder in training after attempting an irresponsible bicycle kick. Originally the belief was that he is going to miss the tournament, but currently his status is questionable.

Traditionally, a very strong position for the Poles is between the posts. The previous generation of Jerzy Dudek and Artur Boruc was succeeded by current top two Wojciech Szczęsny and
Łukasz Fabiański. The competition between them is ongoing for years as they played together in Arsenal and Legia Warszawa, and it is still widely unknown who coach Adam Nawałka will pick for number 1. Both have valid cases: Fabiański played more games this season and was great with Swansea City, but was ultimately relegated. Szczęsny played in a higher level for Juventus and was an understudy for legendary Gigi Buffon but recorded less appearances. To add confusion, both played 45 minutes each in last week’s friendlies, as it looks this decision would go down to the wire. Whichever goalkeeper will get the national responsibility, the Polish have a pair of gloves that can be trusted.

Senegal (Omri Tancman)

Senegal and Poland share some similarities. Both rely heavily on an attacking star player, Mane for Senegal and Lewandowski for Poland. Both present one of the fiercest midfields in their confederation. Poland won 63% of its challenges, which is the third best after Spain and Portugal in Europe. In Africa, Senegal was the most efficient tackling team with a winning rate of 61% of the tackles.

It might not be surprising that Senegal is very strong in tackling and in other attributes related to dedication and combat in midfield. This may result from the image shown by Senegal manager, Aliou Cisse. Cisse, Senegal’s captain in its first World Cup in 2002 was a strong commanding central midfielder. His charisma and know-how are well reflected in the toughness presented in the current Senegalese game.

But other than preaching for strength and commitment, Cisse’s role before Senegal’s match against Poland is far greater than tactical preparation and motivational speeches. Cisse was there. He led Senegal to its greatest win of all time against France and he encapsulates great memories from Senegal’s legendary campaign in 2002. Therefore, 16 years later and before the return of Senegal to the biggest stage of football, Cisse is a real time testimony for the capabilities of Senegalese football. When looking at the bench during the chant of the national anthems, what Senegalese players might see is not just their coach, but an inspiration that can lift them for further glory.

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World Cup Preview: Colombia v Japan

Who? Colombia - Japan
Where? Mordovia Arena, Saransk
When? June 19, 14:00 (CET local time)

Colombia (Idan Seggev)

Four years ago Colombia finished the group stage with a wonderful 4:1 victory over Japan and on Tuesday they will face the Japanese again, this time in the opening match of group H. Colombia landed in Kazan where they will stay during the tournament and was surrounded by many fans who waited for the players at the airport. They even came in the day after for the practice. The atmosphere is amazing and reminds a lot of the support Colombia had in Brazil which was very important to their success.

In the last few days there were some concerns regarding the fitness of both James Rodriguez and Wilmar Barrios. While all the team practiced together, they stayed at the gym with a doubt of not being completely fit for the first game. However, in the last couple of hours, the Colombian staff confirmed that both players overcame their minor injuries and will be fit to play. Barrios won’t start anyway, but James is probably the most important player of Colombia, so you can understand the sound of relief from the fans.  

According to the last practice, Pekerman will use his regular 4-2-3-1 formation with goalkeeper David Ospina, Mina and Davinson Sanchez as the center-back duo while Arias will be the right-back. The left-back will be chosen between Mojica and Diaz. Carlos Sanchez and Mateus Uribe should start in the middle of the field while Cuadrado, James and Muriel will be the attacking midfielders. Falcao in his World Cup debut will be the only striker up front.

In every World Cup tournament which Colombia won their opening match, they qualified to the next round. A victory over Japan will increase the chance to keep the statistics straight.

Japan (Yossi Medina)

Before the first game of Japan in this World Cup, it is clear now that the team is in trouble. The decision to sack Vahid Halilhodžić seems as a mistake, while Akira Nishino failed to impress his players. In the warm-up games, Japan lost twice to Ghana and Swtizerland, but at least ended them with a 4:2 win against Paraguay.

The Japanese squad includes players who play in Japan or Europe, but there is only one player that plays in a different place and will be the one that may help Nishino. Veteran Keisuke Honda will maybe play his last World Cup and get a chance while he plays for Pachuca from Mexico. While some may be deterred from his decision to play there, Honda gets another opportunity to be part of a Japanese success.

Eight years ago, Honda made a remarkable tournament, as he scored against Cameroon and Denmark in the group stage. These goals were important in securing the knockout stage spot back then. In a complete difference, in Brazil he scored only once against Ivory Coast. That goal was not enough, as Japan eventually lost this game and made a horrible performance that ended in the last place of the group.

These three goals put Keisuke Honda as Japan's World Cup topscorer. Alongside with another teammate, Shinji Okazaki, he will try to be the first Japanese to score in three different World Cups. Now it's the time to see whether he can give Japan another great tournament or it will be an early elimination for the Blue Samurais.

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