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  1. What's the extent you'd go to if you were really passionate about something? Think about it? If you really love something with all your heart, would you go all out and outdo every ounce of your passion? Okay, take your time to answer that but let me tell you that there are people in this world who are already living their dream and doing some really awesome stuff to fulfill them, when they're completely driven by their passion. Okay, I am going to stop sounding ambiguous and introduce ya'll to 31-year-old Gus Hully who did something crazy! He reached out to Twitter, travelled across Europe and asked his friends for help and he had...wait for it... 32 beers from all the 32 countries that are participating in the FIFA 2018 World Cup! Isn't that just swell? It may have taken Gus 8 months to complete his mission but according to him, it totally paid off his hard work and the fact that he's receiving viral fame for doing this extraordinary thing. (c)Twitter Gus has tracked down alcohol from completely remote locations to add to his collection and I am not even kidding, I am not sure how he even got the beer out of some countries where alcohol is actually prohibited! From hosts Russia, to Brazil to of course Germany to some distant countries like Panama and Senegal, Gus tracked down the beers from some incredibly remote locations. Saudi Arabia and most parts of Iran prohibit the consumption of alcohol but he managed to get beers from these two countries as well! Why would he take on such a mad adventure, travel some thousand miles and spend £500 you ask? Well, I am glad you did. Here's what Gus actually has to say: "I saw a guy try it a few years back and he didn't manage to complete it and I reckoned I could do it better. I did it for the last World Cup and I got 23 out of 32 which was pretty decent but not 100 per cent. I tried it again for Euro 2016 and managed to get 24 out of 24 but The World Cup is on a different level. I love all kinds of football from following the Premier League on Match of the Day to supporting Cheltenham Town in League Two but I bloody love The World Cup. Four weeks of constant football and everybody in the world getting involved? Go on!" (Gus told a popular online publication). Well, there is a method to Gus's madness we suppose. As soon as the teams qualified for the tournament, back in Novemeber 2017, the beer crazy man started his hunt too! "I had to go over to Barcelona to a South American supermarket to find a bottle of Uruguayan Patricia and a can of Brazilian Skol. I also had to go over to a specialist beer shop in Paris to pick up a bottle of Tunisian Celtia and then up to an area called Little Africa to pick up a bottle of Senegalese Biere La Gazelle. Also got a bottle of Moroccan Casablanca while I was out there! I was stuck on Egypt until I saw on Facebook that one of my friends was at a wedding there so I had to pester him to bring me a bottle of Sakara back. When I saw one of my friends was backpacking around Central American I asked her to help and so she managed to bring me back a can of Panama Lager and a bottle of Costa Rican Imperial." (Gus told a popular online publication). Of course the most difficult beer to get hold of was the one from Saudi Arabia but Gus's plea on Twitter didn't go unheard and a Libyan came to Gus's recue and got him a local beer from the Middle Eastern country. The Libyan guy sent him a non-alcoholic Hillsburg Regular from Saudi Arabia, which is actually Gus's proud purchase! (c)Twitter So, here's the game plan: Gus is going to drink each beer as soon as the countries representing the beer get knocked out of the tournament! That's one heck of a pledge, especially sitting through the group stages and the hangover is going to be terrible but I feel it's absolutely worth the effort. Here's Gus's beer list: (c)Twitter Gus's tweet has gone viral and has received over 33,000 likes and 8,000 retweets. This kinda stuff is unreal and quite awesome! Here's raising our pint, for an awesome football season, Gus! Also, please don't die from alcohol poisoning!
  2. There are different types of football fans that we have during a World Cup – while most will stay up till late to catch all the matches, some will even travel to where all the action is happening, if they can afford it. And then there are some people, whose passion to watch the match is so strong, that they will do anything to make it happen, even if they don't have the money for it at that point. This one person took the trip of a lifetime to go to Russia, where the FIFA World Cup 2018 is underway. We're talking about 28-year-old Indian Cliffin Francis, hailing from Cherthala, Kerala, who completed his goal of watching the World Cup action in person by cycling all the way to Russia. Yes, he travelled by a cycle till Russia. He started this exciting journey back in February 23 after saving up for a few months. Okay, so he didn't cycle all the way through; he took a flight to Dubai and started cycling from there, covering over 4,000km across UAE, Iran, Azerbaijan and finally reached Russia. Talking to The Times Of India, he said, “I loved football since childhood and Argentina is my favourite team. Watching a World Cup match was my dream, but it is very expensive. I will watch a group match between France and Denmark, spend some days in Russia and return home on my cycle.” Cliffin finally made it to Russia on June 5th after traversing through Iran and Azerbaijan. He said, “I hope to reach Moscow in a week to see the group match.” Further talking about his incredible journey, he said, “I stayed in a tent to save money and the officials and residents gave me a good treat when they realized I am an Indian. I also met Malayalis in Azerbaijan, who treated me like a brother.” His extraordinary experience has also inspired him to write a book – “This journey has turned into a wonderful experience and I will pen a book soon.” He's almost there and he's so close to his one 'goal' – to get his cycle signed by none other than Lionel Messi. Well, we sure hope he meets him and fulfils his dream. I think we can all agree he's worked hard enough for it.
  3. After topping Group F, England will look to Russia 2018 cautiously as a young team led by Harry Kane will look to get past the quarterfinals for the first time since 2006. Having crashed at the group stage in 2014 and Euro 2016, England will have to take one stage at a time. History © Reuters World Cup 2014 saw England crash out and finish last in a group containing Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica. 2010 saw Germany hand them a 4-1 thrashing in the Round of 16 stage. At Germany 2006, they lost on penalties to Portugal. England's golden generation, comprising of David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes, Wayne Rooney had failed to deliver after so much promise. Having won the World Cup 52 years earlier at the iconic Wembley stadium under the charismatic Bobby Moore, England have always flattered to deceive on the final stage ever since. A Paul Gascoigne inspired team went through to the semifinals of Italia 90, only to lose to eventual champions Germany on penalties. Four years earlier, a diminutive man known as Maradona bamboozled England in the quarterfinal. Senior players like Gary Cahill, Ashley Young need to take responsibility and lift some burden off captain Harry Kane, who will be leading England for the first time at an international tournament. Current Form © Reuters Having sailed through during the qualifiers, England have been in good form ever since. They have beaten Nigeria (2-1), drew with Italy (1-1) and beaten the Netherlands (1-0) in friendlies. England have a comparatively young squad of 26 years, with Brazil and Argentina are 28 years and 29 years, respectively. Gareth Southgate has used the same formation of 3-3-2-2 over these three games, with wing backs on both sides. Trippier on the right with the ever dependable Young on the left, who has had a renaissance of sorts since moving to the position at Manchester United. The attacking quartet of Sterling, Alli, Kane and Lingard will most likely start for England at the World Cup, having come off impressive seasons. In the game against Nigeria, England conceded a goal after Nigeria changed their formation from a back four to a back three, leaving the men in white hapless. Southgate needs to look after this. Expectations At the World Cup © Reuters Progression from the group stage is a must, and England need to focus on this. A titanic encounter against Belgium will most probably decide the group, but the remaining two fixtures are tricky. Tunisia, quick to adapt to different formations as per the game demands will knock on the door, with French born players Saif Eddine Khaoui and Ellyes Skhiri are combative in midfield. Panama, playing their first FIFA World Cup will be bold and courageous, and with having the oldest average squad of the tournament at 29 years, the CONCACAF can definitely spring a surprise here and there. Beyond the group stage, England should aim to reach the semifinals of this tournament with the youth and experience of this team. Certainly not favorites for this edition, England can pull off a mighty win against Brazil, Argentina or even the eternal rival, Germany. Southgate can look to build the squad for EURO 2020 if England put on a good show. Squad Goalkeepers: Jack Butland (Stoke), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Nick Pope (Burnley). Defenders: Kyle Walker (Manchester City) John Stones (Manchester City), Harry Maguire (Leicester), Kieran Trippier (Tottenham), Danny Rose (Tottenham), Ashley Young (Manchester United), Phil Jones (Manchester United), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool). Midfielders: Eric Dier (Tottenham), Dele Alli (Tottenham), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Crystal Palace), Fabian Delph (Manchester City). Forwards: Jamie Vardy (Leicester), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) Harry Kane (Tottenham), Danny Welbeck (Arsenal).
  4. After topping Group A during the CAF qualifiers with 4 wins and 2 draws, Tunisia secured their qualification directly. But in a group containing England and Belgium, the North African nation will find it tough to progress to the next round. Can coach Nabil Maaloul inspire them? History © Reuters Tunisia have qualified for the World Cup on four occasions, all of them being group stage exits. A first appearance in 1978 saw them to a 1-0 win over Mexico, culminating in their only World Cup victory. Having qualified for three consecutive times (1998, 2002, 2006), they failed to register a single win in all three World Cups. 1998 and 2002 saw them register a single point. 2006 was where they finished third, drawing 2-2 with Saudi Arabia before losing 3-1 and 1-0 to Spain and Ukraine respectively. Tunisia have had a troubled past with England, with the 1998 World Cup incident in Marseille leaving 32 people injured. Following the 2-0 England win on a Saturday, there was some isolated trouble. Sunday saw seven hours of violence with around 400 England supporters involved in pitched battles with Tunisian fans, according to the BBC. They met again this time in Volgograd on 18th June, with much having been changed over the past twenty years. Current Form © Reuters With a FIFA ranking of 14, Tunisia are the highest ranking African nation at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, ahead of Egypt, Senegal and Morocco. The Wahbi Khazri led team have had favorable results over the past five matches, with two wins and three draws. Two 1-0 wins over Iran and Costa Rica in March saw them draw 2-2 twice against much fancied Portugal and Iran. In the game against Portugal, Tunisia were pegged back twice and succeeded in equalizing against a side which contained Pepe, Andre Silva, Bernado Silva and Ricardo Quarsema. Having 44% possession, Tunisia managed six shots on target to Portugal's twenty. In their final four CAF qualifiers, Maaloul used three different systems according to the game. Needing to win against DR Congo at home, they used a 4-3-3, pushing forward and securing a vital win. In the return fixture, they used a defensive formation of 5-3-2, managing a 2-2 draw. Belgium and England will need to be wary of this. Expectations At the World Cup © Reuters Can Africa's best ranked nation pull off a surprise in Group G like Costa Rica did last time around? The plucky CONCACAF team topped a group containing Uruguay, Italy and England. Having never qualified for the knockout stage of a FIFA tournament, Tunisia will definitely be looking to sneak into the second round with an extraordinary result against Belgium or England. Coach Nabil Maaloul is an African treble winner with ES Tunis in 2011, having guided Tunisia to the World Cup since his appointment in april 2017. Tunisia are strong on the left flank where full back Ali Maaloul combines well with Youssef Msakni or Naim Sliti. Getting out of the tricky will be tricky, but once done, Tunisia can play without fear on the knockout stage. Their adaptability to situations is impressive, having done that in the World Cup qualifiers. Squad Goalkeepers: Aymen al-Mathlouthi (Al Batin/KSA), Mouez Hassen (Chateauroux/FRA), Farouk Ben Mustapha (Al Shabab/KSA). Defenders: Nagguez Hamdi(Zamalek/EGY), Dylan Bronn (Gent/BEL), Rami Bedoui (Etoile du Sahel), Yohan Benalouane(Leicester/ENG), Syam Ben Youssef (Kasimpasa/TUR), Yassine Meriah (CS Sfaxien), Oussama Haddadi (Dijon/FRA), Ali Maaloul (Al Ahly/EGY). Midfielders: Ellyes Skhiri (Montpellier/FRA), Mohamed Amine Ben Amore (Al-Ahli/KSA), Ghaylene Chaalali (Esperance), Ferjani Sassi (Al Nassr/KSA), Ahmed Khalil (Club Africain), Saifeddine El Khaoui(Troyes/FRA). Forwards: Fakheredine Ben Youssef (Al Ettifaq/KSA), Anice Badri (Esperance), Bassem Srarfi (Nice/FRA), Wahbi Khazri (Rennes/FRA), Naim Sliti (Dijon/FRA), Saber Khalifa (Club Africain).
  5. Having qualified at the expense of the highly-fancied USA, Los Canaleros will look to cause a mighty upset in Group G with coach Hernan Gomez looking to create history in Russia. History © Reuters Panama came close to qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, having led 2-1 after 90-minutes against the United States, only to concede two goals in injury time, with Mexico piping them to the final playoff spot. A sense of déjà vu on the final day of the World Cup qualifiers for 2018. But the 55th ranked side flipped the script. Panama qualified for their first ever World Cup, having defeated Costa Rica 2-1 on the final day, with the United States losing 2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago. Other honours include two runners-up finishes at the 2005 and 2013 Gold Cup, with a CONCACAF Championship win way back in 1963. Current Form © Reuters Three defeats to fellow World Cup playing nations, Iran, Denmark, and Switzerland have brought out the frailties of the Latin American side. Against Denmark, Gomez fielded two 37-year-olds, defender Felipe Baloy and striker Blas Perez. A chastening 6-0 defeat to Switzerland in March, who weren't full strength has brought serious concerns. “We were stripped naked," said Gomez after the game. Panama has the oldest squad at World Cup with an average age of 29, and the lack of speed which is another cause of concern. Los Canaleros (The Canal Men) stood penultimate in the number of goals scored by a qualifying nation for the World Cup. Panama scored a meager nine goals in 10 games, with Egypt scoring 8 and played fewer games-six. The latest 1-0 defeat to Norway on 6th June, saw them concede after 4 minutes, with Bournemouth striker Joshua King using his pace to outrun the 32-year-old Roman Torres. Expectations At The World Cup © Reuters Anything beyond the group stage will cause hysteria back in Panama, as the Canal Men face a formidable Belgium, a well-oiled England, and Africa's top-ranked side, Tunisia. A win against Tunisia, with draws against Belgium and England, might just propel them to second place, and stranger things have happened at World Cups. Senegal went all the way to the quarterfinals, beating France at the group stage and Sweden in the Round of 16. Gomez, having managed Colombia twice in his coaching career along with Ecuador, has a unique record to his name. He is one of four people to have led three different national teams to a World Cup (Colombia-1998, Ecuador-2002 and Panama in 2018). He even won the 2015 CONCACAF Men's Coach of the Year. President of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela declared a national holiday after their qualification was confirmed. Can Gomez turn his men into national legends and put Panama into football folklore? Squad Goalkeepers: Jose Calderon (Chorrillo FC), Jaime Penedo (Dinamo Bucharest), Alex Rodriguez (San Francisco FC). Defenders: Felipe Baloy (CSD Municipal), Harold Cummings (San Jose Earthquakes), Eric Davis (DAC Dunajska Streda), Fidel Escobar (New York Red Bulls), Adolfo Machado (Houston Dynamo), Michael Murillo (New York Red Bulls), Luis Ovalle (CD Olimpia), Roman Torres (Seattle Sounders). Midfielders: Edgar Barcenas (Cafetaleros de Tapachula), Armando Cooper (Club Universidad de Chile), Anibal Godoy (San Jose Earthquakes), Gabriel Gómez (Bucaramanga), Valentin Pimentel (Plaza Amador), Alberto Quintero (Universitario de Lima), Jose Luis Rodriguez (KAA Gent). Forwards: Abdiel Arroyo (LD Alajuelense), Ismael Diaz (Deportivo La Coruna), Blas Perez (CSD Municipal), Luis Tejada (Sports Boys), Gabriel Torres (CD Huachipato).
  6. A Hal Robson Kanu wonder goal sees Wales progress to the semifinals of Euro 2016 after beating Belgium 3-1. Are the Red Devils football's perennial underachievers? Roberto Martinez's side has all the ingredients to win football's biggest prize. Can they stitch it together this time? History © Reuters Belgium have qualified twelve times for the FIFA World Cup finals, appearing in the very first FIFA World Cup in 1930, finishing eleventh. Their best showing was at the 1986 World Cup, where they finished fourth, losing out to a Maradona brace in the semifinals. After a perfect record during the group stages at the 2014 World Cup, Belgium met the United States in the Round of 16. Even though they progressed via a 2-1 win in extra time, that match is remembered for the heroics of US goalkeeper Tim Howard, who made a record 15 saves. Their run came to an end at the quarterfinal stage, again at the hands of Argentina, courtesy a solitary Gonzalo Higuain strike. Failure to get out of the 1998 group stages saw a Marc Wilmots-inspired Belgium through to the second round in 2002, only to lose to eventual champions Brazil then. Belgium won the FIFA Fair Play award that year. Current Form © Reuters Qualification was relatively easy for the Red Devils, having topped Group H. The group, containing Greece, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, Estonia, Cyprus, and Gibraltar saw them unbeaten, ending with 28 points from 10 matches. Having played two friendlies over the past week against Saudi Arabia and Portugal, they presented a half-baked case. After a 4-0 win against Saudi Arabia, they struggled to deal with a Cristiano Ronaldo-less Portugal, scampering to a 0-0 draw. The team included De Bruyne, Lukaku, Hazard and Mertens and struggled to get past the Portuguese center backs, who are on the wrong side of 30. Their latest friendly saw them to a 3-0 win over Egypt, courtesy of an Eden Hazard masterclass. The Chelsea winger set up 1 and scored 1, before being substituted at half-time. Expectations At The World Cup © Reuters Belgium are placed in a tricky group, containing Panama, Tunisia, and England. Having qualified at the expense of the USA, Panama will be confident and daring, having nothing to lose. A clash against England will undoubtedly decide the group standings. Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul, an African treble winner with ES Tunis will definitely have a few tricks up his sleeve. Belgium will have to look at least beyond the quarterfinal stage this time and have the firepower to do so. Proven Premier League stars such as Hazard, De Bruyne, Lukaku, Alderweireld will have to perform if Belgium were to challenge Germany, Brazil, Spain towards the latter stages of the World Cup. Coach Martinez, with the 2013 FA Cup win to his name and a stint at Everton, had been found out of depth and no squad backing during his time in the Premier League. Can the Spaniard redeem himself? Squad Goalkeepers: Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool) Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Dedryck Boyata (Celtic), Laurent Ciman (Los Angeles), Leander Dendoncker (Anderlecht), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham) Midfielders: Yannick Carrasco (Dalian Yinfang), Nacer Chadli (West Bromwich Albion), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Mousa Dembele (Tottenham), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad), Youri Tielemans (Monaco), Axel Witsel (Tianjin Quanjian), Thomas Meunier (Paris Saint-Germain) Forwards: Michy Batshuayi (Borussia Dortmund), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia M'gladbach), Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United), Dries Mertens (Naples).
  7. The noise of the Swedish fans singing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" after the second-leg of the World Cup qualifying play-off at the San Siro was one of the highlights of the entire qualifying campaign. The chant was a clear depiction of sentiment, excitement and adrenaline as Janne Andersson's men had just beaten the Italians in the two-legged encounter (0-1 agg). Midfielder Jakob Johannsson's deflected strike in the first leg was the difference as the second leg in Italy ended in a goalless draw. The result meant that Sweden had reached their first World Cup since 2006 at the expense of the Azzurri. Just minutes after the final whistle in Milan, Eurosport's pitch-side setup was side crashed by the jubilant and exuberant Blågult players as they channelled their high spirits into an animated spectacle. It was a night to remember for the Scandinavian side, who achieved this feat without their talisman Zlatan IbrahimoviÄ. The La Galaxy forward had announced his retirement from international football after a disappointing campaign at the Euros in 2016, but that seems to have had a unifying impact on the team. History © Reuters Sweden's involvement in the World Cup always brings the '94 campaign into discussion, much to the delight of their fans. On the back of an extraordinary run in the European Championships two years earlier, where they defied odds by reaching the semi-finals, the Swedes carried that form on to the world stage. Captained by Jonas Thern, the side lost only one game throughout the tournament. The Blågult were denied off a place in the World Cup final by a neat finish from Brazilian playmaker Romário in the semi-finals. The Seleção went on to win the final against Italy on penalties, but it was the Swedish team, with the attacking exploits of Kennet Andersson and Martin Dahil, and the artistry of the baby-faced midfielder Tomas Brolin, that lit up America. Tommy Svensson's men finished the tournament in third place, behind only Brazil and Italy, and Andersson's goal-scoring fireworks saw him finish the tournament with five goals - the same as Romário, Roberto Baggio and Jürgen Klinsmann. Current Form © Reuters Sweden's last two friendlies against Chile and Denmark ended in defeat and a goal-less draw, respectively. They face Peru in their final pre-tournament game on the 9th of June before jetting off to Russia. The recent games suggest that, although, the team is well drilled and organised defensively, options going forward are limited. Aside Emil Forsberg, whose in-game intelligence and creative ability to pick an accurate pass and make the right decisions in the final third of the field often comes to Sweden's rescue in crucial games, there isn't much technical prowess in the attacking side of their game. The RP Leipzig winger's stakes rose sky high after a stellar 2016-17 season in the Bundesliga but a long-term injury lead to depleted production this past domestic campaign. His coming to form will be vital to Sweden's hopes of reaching the knockout stages of the World Cup. Expectations At The World Cup © Reuters In their last World Cup outing back in 2006, Sweden were knocked out in the second round where two goals in the opening 12 minutes from Lukas Podolski sent Germany to the last eight of the competition. Die Mannschaft may well play a big part in deciding their fate once again as the Swedes are part of the group that features the defending champions themselves, South Korea and Mexico. But, the quest for a place in the last 16 lies heavily on the outcome of their clash against Mexico. The El Tricolor have an incredibly consistent record in the group stages of the World Cups as they are one of the only three teams to make every knock out stage since 1994. Having breezed through the CONCACAF fifth round qualifying with just one loss in the entire campaign, Mexico present a formidable task for Sweden. It will take some tossing away from Mexico for the second spot, however a convincing win for the Swedes in their opening encounter against South Korea could change the scenario. Sweden's chances of making past the group stages of the World Cup are bleak, but their collective fight and togetherness, which was key in their qualifying run, could spring a surprise or two. Squad Goalkeepers: Robin Olsen (Copenhagen), Karl-Johan Johnsson (Guingamp), Kristoffer Nordfeldt (Swansea) Defenders: Mikael Lustig (Celtic), Victor Lindelof (Manchester United), Andreas Granqvist (Krasnador), Martin Olsson (Swansea), Ludwig Augustinsson (Werder Bremen), Filip Helander, Emil Krafth (both Bologna), Pontus Jansson (Leeds United) Midfielders: Sebastian Larsson (Hull), Albin Ekdal (Hamburg), Emil Forsberg (RB Leipzig), Gustav Svensson (Seattle Sounders), Oscar Hiljemark (Genoa), Viktor Claesson (Krasnador), Marcus Rohden (Crotone), Jimmy Durmaz (Toulouse) Forwards: Marcus Berg (Al Ain), John Guidetti (Alaves), Ola Toivonen (Toulouse), Isaac Kiese Thelin (Waasland-Beveren).
  8. Despite securing an automatic spot at the World Cup finals towards the end of their qualifying campaign, South Korea headed to Russia with minimal expectations. The Taeguk Warriors finished as Group A runners-up in the Asian zone, finishing seven points behind Iran, but crucially two points ahead of Syria. In the 10 qualification games, the team won four games and, alarmingly, picked up just a single point off their five games away from home soil. History © Reuters South Korea have been involved in nine editions of the FIFA World Cup previously (1954 and 1986-2014). In all editions, preceding Russia, the South-Asian side have gone past the group stages only twice (2002 and 2010). The 2002 tournament, in particular, co-hosted by the Taeguk Warriors with Japan, gave rise to an incredible underdog story. The Korea Republic team, managed by Dutch coach Guus Hiddink back then, reached the semi-finals of the competition. The 2-0 victory against Poland in the first group match was their first ever in a World Cup. The Warriors carried that momentum in the remaining group games as they drew 1-1 against the United States and came out victorious against Portugal, thanks to a goal from Ex-Manchester United midfielder Park-Ji Sung. South Korea's second round opponents were Italy, who they defeated 2-1 in a physical encounter. The hosts were awarded an early penalty but Ahn Jung-hwan's effort was saved smartly by Gianluigi Buffon but Jung-hwan redeemed himself as his goal in extra time ensured that the South Korean dream was still very much alive. They reached the semi-finals of the competition after seeing off Spain in the quarter-finals but any hopes of reaching a historic World Cup final were shattered by Germany in the semi-finals who oust their South Korean counterparts 1-0 . South Korea went on to finish the tournament in fourth place. Current Form © Reuters South Korea's qualifying campaign was tricky, as a place to Russia was only booked after a tense draw against Uzebkistan on the final day of the group stage, coupled with Syria's failings against Iran. In 2018, the side has won only two games out of their five friendly encounters. The victories came against Latvia and Hondorous. They will be looking to bounce back from this dismal run when they play Bolivia on 7th of June in Innsbruck, before travelling to Russia. Tottenham star Heung Min Son's performances will be key to changing their fortunes in the World Cup. Expectations At The World Cup © Reuters The team is managed by Shin Tae-yong, a former midfielder for South Korea, who also won the AFC Champions League with Seongnam Illhwa Chunma in 2010. Shin, who replaced Uli Stielike midway through the FIFA World Cup qualification, has been trying to enliven a side that is defensively poor and anemic in attack. The South Korea gaffer is not a master tactician, but is known to be a good motivator. The Asian side will need all the impetus from him as they are drawn in a group that includes Sweden, Mexico and defending champions Germany. However, it is highly unlikely that they will reach the knock-out stages of the tournament. Most supporters of the team are aware of the present difficulties, and are rather diverting their attention to the potential second coming of '02 mastermind Hiddink post the World Cup. Squad Goalkeepers: Kim Seung-gyu (Vissel Kobe), Kim Jin-hyeon (Cerezo Osaka), Cho Hyun-woo (Daegu FC). Defenders: Kim young-gwon (Guangzhou Evergrande), Jang Hyun-soo (FC Tokyo), Jung Seung-hyun (Sagan Tosu), Yun Yong-sun (Seongnam FC), Oh Ban-suk (Jeju United), Kim Min-woo (Sangju Sangmu), Park Joo-ho (Ulsan Hyundai), Hong Chul (Sangju Sangmu), Go Yo-han (FC Seoul), Lee Yong (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors). Midfielders: Ki Sung-yueng (Swansea City), Jung Woo-young (Vissel Kobe), Ju Se-jong (Asan Mugunghwa FC), Koo Ja-cheol (FC Augsburg), Lee Jae-sung (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors), Lee Seung-woo (Hellas Verona), Moon Seon-min (Incheon United). Forwards: Kim Shin-wook (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors), Son Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspur), Hwang Hee-chan (FC Red Bull Salzburg).
  9. Mexico's fans celebrate victory of their team after the match. Photo: ReutersMEXICO CITY: Mexicans jumping in jubilation on Sunday shook the ground hard enough to set off earthquake detectors and throngs danced in the streets after their team...
  10. Germany midfielder Toni Kroos says the holders must win their next two World Cup matches against Sweden and South Korea after losing their opening game to Mexico in Moscow. Photo: AFPToni Kroos and Mats Hummels slammed Germany's failings after the...
  11. The FIFA World Cup is well and truly underway. The quiet Swiss, a country with a population of a little over 3 lakh, and CONCACAF's most recognized team shed away all preconceived images and showed that they rightfully belong on the world stage, even pushing aside the established guard a bit. Hirving Lozano, top scorer for PSV in 2017-18, scored the lone goal for Mexico against the World Champions, film director and Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson saved a Lionel Messi penalty, and the Swiss showed their eagerness in a dogged battle against the Samba Boys. Here's what the underdogs did right against the big guns this weekend: Germany vs Mexico Reuters Hirving Lozano was Mexico's top goal scorer during their qualifying campaign and became the first player to score in 60 years against Die Mannschaft in their first World Cup Game as defending champions. Coach Juan Carlos Osorio was spot-on with his tactics: exploiting the tired legs of Sami Khedira and Germany's overtly possession based game. Everyone was questioning Loew when he dropped Sane, the PFA Young Player of the Year for the World Cup. But a player missing out on selection is Emre Can, having come off a decent season at Liverpool. Can tracks back quickly and would have played in a deeper role alongside Kroos. The Mexicans used the counter attack to perfection, with right back Joshua Kimmich missing for the goal. The Germans were way too confident in possession, with Mexico waiting to pounce. They had a chance also when Hernandez and Vela were through, only for them to miss. Germany switched to a 3-6-1 formation, leaving large gaps in midfield for the Mexicans to exploit. Khedira is a spent force in midfield, and ironically, will be replaced by Can at Juventus in the summer. Ozil was seen tracking back, raising larger questions of the German defence. El Tri are now top of the group, and should be looking to win atleast one game against Sweden or South Korea. Brazil vs Switzerland Reuters Appointed coach in June 2016, Tite led Brazil to top CONMEBOL qualifying with 41 points. But Brazil's opening group E match against Switzerland saw Tite on the opposite side of a masterclass. Tite had instilled the faith and physicality of this Brazilian squad, with Casemiro, Paulinho and Fernandinho forming the crux of the side. They tackle, use their body well and break up attacks quickly, leading to quick counters for the speedy wingers. Switzerland did the same with Valon Behrami doing an excellent job in midfield. He completed 41 out of his 44 passes, and fouled Neymar the most. The world's most expensive player was fouled 10+ times. Having led through a superb Coutinho strike, the Swiss kept their calm and scored an almost easy goal when the time came. Center half Zuber rose to meet a corner, with Alisson helpless. Even the normally attacking Swiss left back Rodriguez was seen in his own half, with the Swiss disciplined in their midfield. Brazil have now failed to win their opening match for the first time since 1978, a run stretching back 40 years. Argentina vs Iceland Reuters Their first ever World Cup, a meteoric rise from 131 in October 2012 to a present of 22, Iceland are winning hearts all over. Coach Hallgrimsson is a professional dentist and goalkeeper Hannes Haldorsson has an IMDB page to his name. In their first ever World Cup game, they thwarted 2014 runners up Argentina. Iceland let Argentina dominate possession and were effective on the counter. Argentina led through a superb Sergio Aguero strike, but a porous Argentine defence saw Alfred Fimbogason equalize after a rebound. They absorbed pressure, kept the midfield disciplined, not being awed by Argentina's possession. Messi, after the penalty miss had 11 shots on target, 2 lesser than Luigi Riva, who had 13 in 1966 and 1970. Iceland would look to repeat the glory of Euro 2016, where they reached the quarterfinals. Argentina on the other hand, need to gear up against Croatia and Nigeria. Coach Sampaoli has a tough two weeks ahead of him.
  12. The Socceroos had to undergo a rather complicated qualifying process before clinching their World Cup spot. But they have consistently managed to do the same since 2006 and have played in the last 3 World Cups. They've only entered the knockout stages once and will be hoping to change it this time. History Reuters Australia has been a dominant name in many sports, at the Olympics and otherwise. However, it has not been able to replicate the same when it comes to football. Some of it can be partially attributed to their geographic location. At a time when other nations were building their grassroots and playing practice games with other nations, Australia couldn't afford to travel far and wide, because of the high cost of intercontinental air travel in the 1970s. Also, other teams didn't prefer to travel to Australia either. One more factor that has hindered Australia's presence at the World Cups is the complicated qualification process that they have to undergo. If they fail to be among the top 2 teams in their group, they have to first play an Asian play-off, followed by a game with a CONCACAF nation. Australia has qualified for 4 World Cups till now. Their first qualification was in 1974, after which they failed to make it to the prestigious tourney for almost 32 years. They broke this unwanted record in 2006 and have since then managed to qualify for all the 3 World Cup that have taken place. Their best performance was in 2006, when they managed to reach the Round of 16. They lost out narrowly to Italy, by a 1-0 margin, and had to pack their bags. Current Form Reuters They were a part of a 10-match home and away group stage, with the top two teams directly getting a berth among the 32 teams in Russia. The Socceroos could have gained an entry into the top 32 by beating Thailand at Melbourne. Their failure to beat the Thais led them to 4 more games, 2 with Syria, and 2 with Honduras. But they managed to keep their nerves, and outclassed Honduras 3-1 in the final home leg at Sydney to secure a 4th successive World Cup appearance, and their 5th overall. The Socceroos have to their credit the distinction of being the only team to have won 2 confederation cups – the Oceanic Football Confederation (OFC) Nations Cup, and the AFC Asian Cup. The AFC Cup victory is a recent memory, as the Aussies lifted it in 2015. The Australians will be relying heavily on the quad of Tim Cahill, Aaron Mooy, Mat Ryan and Mile Jedinak – four players who bring rich experience of having played in the English leagues. Jedinak is in top form, having scored a hat trick in the final qualifying game against Honduras. In Tim Cahill, they have perhaps Australia's best player ever. Cahill has scored 45% of Australia's World Cup final goals alone – 5 out of 11. And even at 38, he will still be the man to watch out for. Expectations At The World Cup Reuters The Aussies may not enter the tournament as the favourites to qualify for the Round of 16, but their group members should not take them lightly. Apart from France, which is slated to at least reach till the semi-finals, they can put pressure on opponents Peru and Denmark (who will be without striker Bendtner), and even snatch a point or 3 from any of them! Apart from the quad of Cahill, Mooy, keeper Ryan, and Jedinak, 19-year old Daniel Arzani is slated to be the next big thing in Australian football. The teenaged winger has been prolific for his club Melbourne FC this year. He has everything that one expects from a seasoned winger – blistering pace, creative dribbling, and delicious crosses! Peru, Denmark, and France will definitely keep in mind Arzani if they have to neutralize Australia's attacking intent. Squad Goalkeepers: Brad Jones (Feyenoord), Mat Ryan (Brighton & Hove Albion), Danny Vukovic (KRC Genk) Defenders: Aziz Behich (Bursaspor), Milos Degenek (Yokohama F. Marinos), Matthew Jurman (Suwon Samsung Blue Wings), James Meredith (Millwall), Josh Risdon (Western Sydney), Trent Sainsbury (Grasshopper Zurich), Mark Miligan (Al Ahli) Midfielders: Daniel Arzani (Melbourne City), Jackson Irvine (Hull City), Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa), Robbie Kruse (VfL Bochum), Massimo Luongo (Queens Park Rangers), Dimitri Petratos (Newcastle Jets), Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield Town), Tom Rogic (Celtic), Mathew Leckie (Hertha Berlin) Forwards: Tim Cahill (Millwall), Tomi Juric (Luzern), Jamie Maclaren (Hibernian), Andrew Nabbout (Urawa Red Diamonds).
  13. The French squad is being considered as one of the most talented squads at the FIFA World Cup 2018. However, they come with the pressure of having been knocked out in the 2014 World Cup quarter finals by Germany and failing to secure the Euro '16 finals against Portugal. History Reuters Since 1932, the French national football team has featured in 18 of the 20 FIFA World Cups. They have always been a respectable name in world football, with legendary players like Michel Platini, Didier Deschamps, Zinedine Zidane, and Thierry Henry having been part of the squad at different points of time. However, when compared with their European neighbours Germany, Italy, they haven't been as dominant. Their first noticeable run at the World Cup came in 1958, when they finished 3rd because of the heroics of Just Fontaine. Fontaine holds the record for scoring the maximum goals in a single World Cup campaign when he smashed 13 goals in 6 games at the 1958 tourney. They were able to repeat this feat in 1982 when they reached the semi-finals, and 1986 when they finished third place. The 1986 World Cup, however, is more recalled for Diego Armando Maradona's Hand of God. Their quest for glory was finally realized in 1998, when under Didier Deschamp's captaincy and Zidane's heroics, they lifted the cup on their home soil in front of a packed audience at Stade de France. 8 years later, Zidane exceptional performances single-handedly got his team to the finals yet again. That game is now remembered more for Zidane's head-butt on Italian Marco Materazzi than his chipped penalty that beat one of the world's finest keepers, Buffon. Current Form Reuters The French national team got knocked out by rivals Germany at the quarter-final stage in World Cup 2014. The French can take little solace in the fact that they were beaten by the strongest squad that year, as Germany went on to hammer hosts Brazil 7-1 in the finals, and eventually clinched the title. At the Euro 2016, they were pipped as one of the favourites to lift the cup, which was taking place on their home soil. After a great run of games where they played with attacking flair, Deschamp's defensive tactics in the final surprised many. France held the possession for long periods of time but failed to create spaces. Portuguese keeper Rui Patricio's heroics in front of the goal dampened their chances further. France's run to the World Cup 2018 qualification include a 4-1 victory against Bulgaria despite being 1-0 down, a 4-0 victory over the Oranje squad (Netherlands), and a 2-1 victory against Belarus, where current Chelsea frontman Giroud and Athletico Madrid talisman Griezmann scored the first half goals. They have also played 4 friendlies in the last 3 months, of which they won 3 and lost 1. They lost 3-2 against Columbia, and won their next three games 3-1 against Russia, 2-0 against the Republic of Ireland, and 3-1 against Chiellini's Italy. Expectations At The World Cup Reuters Expectations are very high from this talented and young French squad. In the two years since the Euro '16 finals, they have definitely matured both professionally and personally, and can take on much more pressure. This French squad has grown up watching the 1998 triumph, and for many, that was a trigger to pick up this beautiful game. They need to show that they are worthy successors to the 1998 team. Coincidentally, the leader of that '98 squad, Deschamps, is currently the coach. He can definitely share a thing or two about winning World Cup finals with his squad! The French team has always relied on a leader personality, such as Deschamps in 1998 and Zidane in 2006. All eyes will be on Pogba to pick up the mantle and be a leader on the pitch. Griezmann will be expected to display his goal scoring prowess. Squad Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Steve Mandana (Marseille), Alphonse Areola (PSG) Defenders: Presnel Kimpembe (PSG), Benjamin Mendy (Man City), Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona), Raphael Varane (PSG), Lucas Hernandez (Athletico Madrid), Benjamin Pavard (Stuttgard), Adil Rami (Marseille), Djibril Sidebe (Monaco) Midfielders: Steven N'Zonzi (Sevilla), Blaise Matuidi (Juventus), Corentin Tolisso (Bayern Munich), Paul Pogba (Man Utd), N'Golo Kante (Chelsea) Forwards: Kylian Mbappe (PSG), Olivier Giroud (Chelsea), Antoine Griezmann (Athletico Madrid), Ousman Dembele (Barcelona), Thomas Lemar (Monaco), Nabil Fekir (Lyon), Florian Thauvin (Marseille).
  14. Wow! It's only Day 4 in Russia, and we've been treated to yet another World Cup classic. And this may just be the best one yet! Mexico, the sole carrier of North American hopes convincingly defeated the defending champions at the Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday. In what may seem like another miracle at the World Cup, it is anything but. Mexico have been perennial underachievers at the World Cup, having been cruelly denied in the Round of 16 in 2014, thanks to a last-minute Arjen Robben dive for the Netherlands. However, this time, they seemed to have redeemed themselves with a world class performance against Germany! German Frailties Reuters While Mexico executed their game plan to perfection, all was not well at Germany's camp. Joachim Lowe chose to stick to his stars of 2014, and they seemed to have been caught up in a group think. As the first half began, Toni Kroos, the chief architect for the Germans, played through passes all over the pitch hoping to somehow send Timo Werner or Thomas Mueller through on goal. However, it was clear from the start that the Mexican defenders had been instructed to sit back and mark the German strikers. Subsequently, frustration built up in the German dugout as the manager urged the players forward. Essentially, Germany fell perfectly into Mexico's trap as they looked vulnerable with every Mexican counter. And this callousness by the Germans was punished in the 35th minute as they fell prey to yet another brilliant counter by the Mexicans, finished off by their star player, Hirving Lozano. Second half brought no sweeping changes as Sami Khedira looked leggy and the rest of the German squad looked short of ideas. As the game neared conclusion, Germans got more desperate as they had a majority of the possession and 24 shots, with most going off target. Germany had conceded to Mexico's tactics. While Sweden and South Korea may still not pose a major threat to the Germans, this is a huge wake up call for the defending champions. The Mexican Wave Reuters As pundits hail the tactical genius of the Mexicans, Juan Carlos Osorio's team talk was relatively simple. Stop them from attacking and hit them on the counter. This plan required them to produce the performance of their lives. And boy did they deliver and how! Right from the kick off, Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera went into tackles in midfield as they caught a hapless Sami Khedira off guard on multiple occasions. As the game went on, the Mexicans went kept their shape as their fullbacks Jesus Gallardo and Carlos Salcedo nullified the German threat from the wings. Finally, as the ball broke free in midfield, Hirving Lozano, Carlos Vela and Javier Hernandez charged towards the German goal like a pack of hounds. On a more clinical day, the scoreline could have been embarrassing for the Germans, but the 35th minute goal from Hirving Lozano was enough to see them through. As the final whistle blew, the Mexicans celebrated as if they had won the World Cup. Mexican hero Javier Hernandez, overwhelmed with emotion, broke into tears as he wonderfully summarized what this win meant for his nation. After such a convincing performance, more things are expected from them. If this performance was anything to go by, we might just be in for a tequila-loaded summer!
  15. Mexico's Javier Hernandez celebrates their first goal with team mates. Photo: Reuters MOSCOW: Germany were stunned 1-0 by Mexico in the opening game of their World Cup defence on Sunday as Hirving Lozano finished off a sharp counter-attack that...
  16. Team Brazil's crusade for the highest honours in the world of football - the 2018 Football World Cup - began in a true sense when Tite replaced Dunga as their coach. The moment he came on board, Brazil swung from their sixth place in the campaign to capture 10 exhilarating victories and two draws booking their place on the way through the qualifiers. History Reuters Beginning with players like Pele, Vava and Garrincha Brazil in late fifties has etched its name on the collective conscience of football fans across the world. Brazil is credited as the only national team to have kissed the World Cup on four different continents: once in Europe (1958 Sweden), once in South America (1962 Chile), twice in North America (1970 Mexico and 1994 United States) and once in Asia (2002 Korea/Japan), not even once needing any play-offs. Consistently ranked in top five both by FIFa and Elo, team Brazil holds the honour along with France and Argentina to have won the three most coveted men's football titles: the World Cup, the Confederations Cup, and the Olympic tournament. What's more, they also have won 35 consecutive matches, a record it shares only with Spain. Current Form Reuters Brazil garners attention from Group E alongside Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia. They will clash with Switzerland on the 17th of June touted as the toughest group opponents in their maiden game of the tournament. Match with Costa Rica comes five days later, and last they meet Serbia five days after. Brazil has trounced Paraguay in qualifiers 3–0 to become the first team, like the hosts Russia, to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Team Brazil is all set to roar under the watchful eyes of the charismatic coach, their new messiah Tite aged 56. Appointed in June 2016, he has demonstrated ample intelligence by winning domestic as well as world titles and has spent time studying top-class European football. Team Brazil is blessed with a star performing team. The world looks up to Neymar for his dazzling form this season and with Paulinho, it could spell utter destruction for the opponents. Dani Alves and Marcelo will be in action rampaging attacks from full-backs while Debutant Gabriel Jesus looks promising at centre-forward provided he doesn't worn out due to the Premier League. Ederson in the role of a goalkeeper looks assuring as well. A different captain for every match-that's going to be Tite's strategy which seemed to have worked in Brazil's favour. Expectations At The World Cup Reuters What bothers most fans of the team is its temperament, particularly that of Neymar, who is at par with Messi and Ronaldo. Everyone has witnessed how Neymar scored more fouls against Ecuador. In the bargain he did make a few silly mistakes and even got himself a yellow card for a basic foul and faced suspension for four games. It remains to be seen whether he or others explode under pressure. The formation falling in place, Brazil can do wonders with its players and stake claim for the top honours. Stiffer challenges lie ahead as Brazil looks to bring back home the trophy after a long spell of drought beginning 2006. Squad Goalkeepers: Alisson (Roma), Ederson (Manchester City), Cassio (Corinthians). Defenders: Danilo (Manchester City), Fagner (Corinthians), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid), Thiago Silva, Marquinhos (both Paris St-Germain), Miranda (Inter Milan) Pedro Geromel (Gremio). Midfielders: Casemiro (Real Madrid), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Paulinho (Barcelona), Fred (Shakhtar Donetsk), Renato Augusto (Beijing Guoan), Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona), Willian (Chelsea), Douglas Costa (Juventus). Forwards: Neymar Jr (Paris St-Germain), Taison (Shakhtar Donetsk), Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool).
  17. When Mexico were drawn in a group featuring defending champions Germany, Sweden and South Korea, it was clear that they will come out of this group only if they are at their scintillating best. Their group stage record at the World Cups is, simply put, exemplary. They have made it to the knockout stage of the competition each time in the last six editions. However, their Group F compatriots will make life extremely difficult for the El Tri. Defending champions Germany are the biggest threat for all the other three teams in the group. Die Mannschaft ran riot in the qualifying round, winning ten games out of ten, and while they may not be the same formidable force that were crowned champions of the world in 2014, Germany still fall under the league of elite teams. The strength in-depth and talent that the Germans possess will pose a big hurdle for the Mexicans when the two teams face off against each other in the first game of Group F. Reuters However, they are far from being the only side that could trouble Mexico in the group stages. It will not be just to draw comparisons between the current Sweden squad and the one in the early 90s, but their consistent performances in the qualifying rounds will give them real belief heading into this tournament. They defeated Italy in their play-off tie that sent the 2006 world champions crashing out of the competition for the first time since 1958. Moreover, the victory against France in their road to Russia further highlights their competence on the big stage. If they can keep up resolute selves, they could be the dark horses of the Group. Then there is the South Korean team, who, despite their predicaments, have enough quality to hurt other teams in the group with their high-pressing game. Mexico have struggled against such opposition in the past, and boss Juan Carlos Osorio will have to get his counter-tactics right. Reuters In the department of experience and consistency, though, the El Tricolor standout. Hirving Lozano's strike against Panama capped a stellar run in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying Hexagonal in early September last year and sent Mexico to their 7th straight World Cup as Group toppers. Many will point fingers at their earlier-than-expected Copa Copa América exit two years back and their failings in the Gold Cup semifinals against Jamaica, but the Mexicans always seem to find an extra gear on the world stage. The side is lead by vastly experienced midfielder Andrés Guardado, who has been capped by his country 138 times. The skipper will be looking to regain full fitness before the opening game against Germany. He underwent surgery on his peroneal nerve on May 17 and didn't feature in Mexico's 1-0 victory over Scotland recently. Squad Reuters Goalkeepers: Guillermo Ochoa (Standard Liege), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca), Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul) Defenders: Diego Reyes (FC Porto), Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt), Hector Moreno (Real Sociedad), Miguel Layun (Sevilla), Jesus Gallardo (Pumas), Hugo Ayala (Tigres), Edson Alvarez (America) Midfielders: Hector Herrera (Porto), Andres Guardado (Real Betis), Rafa Marquez (Atlas), Jonathan dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Marco Fabian (Eintracht Frankfurt), Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy) Forwards: Javier Aquino (Tigres), Jesus Corona (Porto), Raul Jimenez (Benfica), Oribe Peralta (Club America), Javier Hernandez (West Ham United), Carlos Vela (LAFC), Hirving Lozano (PSV Eindhoven).
  18. It sure speaks a lot about the grit and determination of Serbia, who have been going through some civil and military tensions, to have qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup as group winners. And it is important to remember that before this they were not even able to make it to qualifying for three other major European tournaments. In this turmoil, the team's coach Slavoljub Muslin was sacked for being too defensive. HIstory Facing internal strife over the Yugoslavian wars in the 90's, and after the dissolution of Serbia and Montenegro, Serbia has played as an independent nation since 2006. So far they have qualified for the 2010 and 2018 World Cup. Football has been a national passion for the small country and its national team is nicknamed as the Orlovi (the Eagles). While being a part of the erstwhile Yugoslav national teams, it achieved considerable success, finishing fourth at the 1930 and 1962 World Cups respectively. Source: Reuters Interestingly, both FIFA and UEFA have accorded the Serbian national team the standing of a direct and sole successor of the Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro teams. Current Form Showcasing spectacular performance in the Sep 2017 qualifiers, Serbia held on to their lead over the Republic of Ireland when centre-back Nikola Maksimovic was sent off. Again in Oct 2017, after a bitter 3-2 defeat to Austria, just three days later, Serbia rose like a shooting star with the help of Aleksandar Prijovic's goal against Georgia and secured its position in group E. This season, Serbia will clash first against Costa Rica. A face off with Switzerland, and Brazil will follow on the 22nd and 27th of June respectively. The reins of the aggressive Serbian team are presently held by the caretaker coach Mladen Krstajic, aged just 43 years. Stars in their own right Serbia has a strong line-up of players. Dusan Tadic is surely bankable whereas Aleksandar Mitrovic who played only as a reserve at his club side Newcastle, has taken everyone by surprise by scoring six times in the qualifiers. The goalkeeper in the form of Vladimir Stojkovic is a blessing for the side and their captain Branislav Ivanovic is equally promising with his on-ground management. Nemanja Matic provides the assurance in his central position in midfield. Source: Reuters The back four will have to brace to face the attacking teams as they will be without the injured centre-back Matija Nastasic. The Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic along with Dusan Tadic, can be a lethal combination for Serbia as an attacking force. Expectations Much depends upon the centre forward Aleksandar Mitrovic and there is no clear replacement for him yet. Similarly, the newbie who scored the winning goal against Georgia and Andrija Pavlovic need somebody to look up to. If the defence is taken care of and Dusan Tadic is supported well Serbia can look to surge ahead albeit a tough game with Costa Rica. Going for the knockouts is going to be a daunting challenge indeed. Source: Reuters Serbia World Cup Squad GOALKEEPERS: Vladimir Stojkovic (Partizan Belgrade), Predrag Rajkovic (Maccabi Tel Aviv), Marko Dmitrovic (Eibar). DEFENDERS: Aleksandar Kolarov (AS Roma), Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St. Petersburg), Dusko Tosic (Guangzhou R&F), Antonio Rukavina (Villarreal), Milos Veljkovic (Werder Bremen), Milan Rodic (Red Star Belgrade), Uros Spajic (Krasnodar), Nikola Milenkovic (Fiorentina). MIDFIELDERS: Nemanja Matic (Manchester United), Luka Milivojevic (Crystal Palace), Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio), Marko Grujic (Liverpool), Adem Ljajic (Torino), Dusan Tadic (Southampton), Filip Kostic (Hamburg SV), Andrija Zivkovic (Benfica), Nemanja Radonjic (Red Star Belgrade). FORWARDS: Aleksandar Mitrovic (Newcastle United), Aleksandar Prijovic (PAOK Salonika), Luka Jovic (Benfica).
  19. Team Costa Rica had acquired the nickname 'The Gold Shorties' in the late forties and they have been regular at making their presence felt at all important football tournaments. Their expedition through the 2018 World Cup qualifying phase has had its fair share of ups and downs. Looking at the erratic performance the team has shown in the 2018 qualifiers, critics say that Costa Rica seems to have lost that golden touch they exhibited in Brazil 2014 and that their “golden generation” has already seen its best years pass. For 2018, the team qualified by beating USA and Trinidad & Tobago who were not competitive enough to reach even the play-offs. History With its long standing football culture and tradition, Costa Rica is unarguably a strong national football team that has had a lineage in the history of Central America. In the list of its achievements are three CONCACAF Championships (1963, 1969 and 1989) and a reputation of leading the pack with an impressive eight championships in the Copa Centroamericana. With an all-time highest Elo ranking in Central America, Costa Rica has the distinction of playing in four FIFA World Cup editions. Source: Reuters Finishing first in a group of all former World Cup champions-Uruguay, Italy, and England in 2014 would be remembered as Costa Rica's best performance in history. Current Form Undoubtedly, Costa Rica has had a superb start to the final qualifying round after beating Trinidad & Tobago (2-0) and USA (4-0). But apart from these two victories, defeat against Mexico and a draw with Honduras turned out to be a dampener on their winning streak. Placed in Group E, Costa Rica will play their first game against Serbia on followed by Brazil five days later, and finally with Switzerland five days after that. The talented midfielder Oscar Ramírez, aged 52, who was part of the Costa Rica squad that secured a place in the knockout stages at Italia 90, is now at the helm of the team's affairs as their coach. Source: Reuters Team Costa Rica is to a large extent, a repeat of the squad that made the world sit up and take notice at Brazil in 2014. Prominent names include Giancarlo Gonzalez, Oscar Duarte, Celso Borges, Yeltsin Tejeda, Christian Bolanos and Marcos Urena. Among these are also European-based stars such as Keylor Navas, Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell. Keeping in mind their poor performance in friendlies against Spain and Hungary, the team should improve upon their faults in formation and coordination. Expectations Being in the best of form is a concern with Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz owing to their injuries. It is expected that players such as Jimmy Marin, Randall Leal and Gerson Torres, all aged 20, would reverse the run of bad form. It could be expected that Costa Rica qualify for the knockout stage in second place behind Brazil. They have to focus on scoring really well in their matches against Serbia and Switzerland. Costa Rica will be one of the few teams that rely on five at the back, so that the goal defended by their star player, Keylor Navas gets full cover. Source: Reuters Costa Rica World Cup Squad GOALKEEPERS: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid), Patrick Pemberton (Liga Deportiva Alajuelense), Leonel Moreira (Herediano). DEFENDERS: Cristian Gamboa (Celtic), Ian Smith (Norrkoping), Ronald Matarrita (New York City), Bryan Oviedo (Sunderland), Oscar Duarte (Espanyol), Giancarlo Gonzalez (Bologna), Francisco Calvo (Minnesota United), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps), Johnny Acosta (Aguilas Dorados). MIDFIELDERS: David Guzman (Portland Timbers), Yeltsin Tejeda (Lausanne-Sport), Celso Borges (Deportivo La Coruna), Randall Azofeifa (Herediano), Rodney Wallace (New York City), Bryan Ruiz (Sporting Lisbon), Daniel Colindres, Christian Bolanos (both Saprissa). FORWARDS: Johan Venegas (Saprissa), Joel Campbell (Real Betis), Marco Urena (Los Angeles FC).
  20. When the moment finally arrived, 112 minutes into a long, wearing night at the iconic Maracanã, Mario Götze took down André Schürrle's cross on his chest with his first touch, and angled a left-footed volley into the net with his second. Those few seconds will always be remembered with the same tenderness as Bern in 1954, Munich in 1974 and Rome in 1990. Their victory run, guided them all the way from the dugout to the other side of the field where Schürrle had set up his teammate Götze. The team had been in the making for a long period, but it retained the fundamental qualities that laid down the foundations for the great German teams. They were every single bit worthy of the world crown. Like most finals, it was not about distinction and authority, it was about picking the right moment. German gaffer Joachim Löw, after the game, recalled what he said to Götze when he decided to bring him on for Miroslav Klose, "I said to Gotze, OK, show to the world that you're better than Messi and you can decide the World Cup. You have the possibilities to do just that,'" he recalled. "I had a good feeling with him," he added further. Defence Of The Crown Reuters In a few days time, Germany's defence of the World Cup begins in Russia. A lot has changed in the past four years in terms of personnel for the Germans. Both the players that orchestrated the historic moment in Rio, Schürrle and Götze, are not part of the 23-man squad for the tournament. Midfield powerhouse Bastian Schweinsteiger retired from international duty in 2016 and ex-skipper Philip Lahm called time on his playing days entirely at the end of the 2016-17 season. Yet, the holders head to the 2018 World Cup as firm favourites. Current Form And Expectations Reuters Die Mannschaft's overall form in the last year or so, has been phenomenal. They will kick-off against Mexico in their first World Cup encounter on the back of a flawless run that saw them pick up maximum points out of their ten qualifying games. Germany's Confederations Cup outing was also the talk of the town in 2017 as they won the tournament in spite of resting most of the first team starters. But, recent performances in games leading up to Russia have been jittery. The loss against Brazil in March, and most recently, against Austria on 2nd June has a few supporters worried. The experts, though, are strongly tipping Germany to get their business done once again. Squad Reuters Goalkeepers: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona), Kevin Trapp (Paris St Germain). Defenders: Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), Matthias Ginter (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Jonas Hector (Cologne), Mats Hummels (Bayern Munich), Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich), Marvin Plattenhardt (Hertha Berlin), Antonio Ruediger (Chelsea), Niklas Süle (Bayern Munich). Midfielders: Julian Brandt (Bayer Leverkusen), Julian Draxler (Paris St Germain), Leon Goretzka (Schalke 04), Ilkay Gündogan (Manchester City), Sami Khedira (Juventus), Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund), Sebastian Rudy (Bayern Munich), Mesut Özil (Arsenal). Forwards: Mario Gomez (VfB Stuttgart), Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich), Timo Werner (RB Leipzig).
  21. Brazil's Neymar is the focal point of one of the most menacing attacks at the World Cup. Photo: AFPBrazil star Neymar will make his World Cup bow today as the five-time champions kick off quest for redemption while holders Germany launch their bid...
  22. Denmark's forward Yussuf Poulsen reacts during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group C football match between Peru and Denmark at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk on June 16, 2018. ? AFPSARANSK, Russia: Yussuf Poulsen ruined Peru's first appearance at a...
  23. Iceland have just pulled off a real underdog story. Up against the might of Argentina led by Leo Messi, they pulled off a more than respectable 1-1 draw at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow. It might seem like a one off, but, on closer inspection, they might just be about to pull off a miracle. Source: Reuters The footballing world fell in love with Iceland at Euro 2016 as they topped their group which also included, Croatia who are in their current World Cup group too. Subsequently, they beat England in the Round of 16 in one of the biggest upsets in international football. It's clear that their status as a smallest nation in Russia has no bearing on what this team can achieve. Source: Reuters Over the years, Iceland have invested heavily in football infrastructure and created a conducive footballing environment for stars to flourish. Moreover, their manager Heimir Hallgrimsson has created a team not reliant on any one individual. The evidence of this was there for all to see. The defensive pairing of Ragnar Sigurdsson and Kari Arnoson, put in tackle after tackle and had countless defensive headers, as the entire team valiantly defended against the Argentine onslaught. Their star player, Gylfi Sigurdsson was everywhere on the pitch, dribbling past the Argentine midfield and delivering crosses, one of which found Alfred Finnbogasson who scored the equaliser barely minutes after Argentina scored. Finally, their Man of the Match was their goalkeeper, Hannes Halldorsson, who made one heroic save after another all throughout the game. His crowning moment came in the 64th minute when he saved Leo Messi's poorly placed penalty. Source: Reuters From thereon, the Argentinian players looked like they were losing hope and the Icelandic team kept looking for a fruitful counter attack. As the final whistle blew, the crowd roared for a team which had produced a performance worthy of the World Cup. If this performance is anything to go by, Iceland are destined for much bigger things this WC and anyone writing them off should do so at their own peril.
  24. Peru's last notable World Cup performance came in 1978 – a time when none of the current squad members were even born. Peru will be looking to finish 2nd in their group after France and give teams like Australia and Denmark a very tough fight. History Reuters Peru has its name in the history books. It was one of the only 13 nations invited to take part in the first ever FIFA World Cup, held in 1930 in Uruguay. It is quite surprising, therefore, that they have managed mere 6 appearances in World Cups thereafter. In fact, it is astonishing that after the inaugural tournament in 1930, their second appearance came 40 years later – in 1970! In spite of being an early footballing nation, Peru has failed to produce a team that can take them all the way to the World Cup. But being fair to them, the South American continent is full of giants like Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, and Chile. Playing qualification games against these nations has always proved to be tough. The South American giants play with an attacking flair that is difficult to neutralize, and if your team can't hold the ball during attack, it may be prone to counters, as Peru have been in the past. Peru's best performances at the World Cup were during two of their last three outings – in 1970 and in 1978. In both these campaigns, they reached the quarter finals. They are still remembered for the 1978 tournament, where they defeated Scotland 3-1 in a game that was one of their best performances in the World Cup. Current Form Reuters Peru have Brazil to thank for their World Cup qualification. Brazil's 3-1 hammering of Chile in the last game of CONMEBOL qualifiers, and Peru's 1-1 draw with Colombia saw them tie points with Chile. Peru had lost fewer games (6), as compared to Chile's 8, which meant that Peru grabbed the 5th place, and clung on to their hopes of qualifying for the World Cup. They had to play a qualifier against New Zealand over two legs - once in New Zealand and once in Peru to seal their World Cup fate. After a boring 0-0 draw where New Zealand played defensively, Peru was able to break their defence with a 2-0 victory during their home leg. One of the most relief inducing news updates for Peruvian fans and the Peru team is that they head into the World Cup with their captain Paolo Guerrero. Guerrero was almost on the verge of missing this World Cup after having been banned for allegedly consuming cocaine. However, just 2 weeks before the World Cup squads were announced, the court dramatically ruled in Guerrero's favour, thereby ensuring that Peru have the services of an experienced campaigner who had plied trade for Bayern Munich and Hamburger SV. Peru have been brilliant in defence, conceding just 7 goals in 8 games that they played in 2017. They are currently on a string of 5 wins, having won 2-0 against New Zealand, 2-0 against Croatia, 3-1 against Iceland away, 2-0 against Scotland, and 3-0 against Saudi Arabia away from home. Expectations At The World Cup Reuters Their defensive capabilities, possession-based football, presence of talismanic captain Paolo Guerrero, and recent run of victories will surely make them the 2nd favourites after France to qualify from Group C. In fact, it is the only one in group C that can contain France's counter attacking play, or even upset them. This Peru side is also being hailed as the strongest Peruvian team to take part in the World Cup. The players then, will be surely looking to better the 1978 record wherein they reached the Quarter finals! Apart from their captain Guerrero, experienced campaigners Jefferson Farfan who played for PSV Eindhoven and FC Schalke 04, and Andre Carrillo who played for Portuguese sides FC Porto and Sporting CP will have the onus of carrying their team over the line. Squad Goalkeepers: Pedro Gallese (Veracruz), Carlos Caceda (Deportivo Municipal), Jose Carvallo (UTC) Defenders: Aldo Corzo (Universitario), Luis Advincula (Lobos Buap), Christian Ramos (Veracruz), Miguel Araujo (Alianza Lima), Alberto Rodriguez (Atletico Junior), Anderson Santamaria (Puebla), Miguel Trauco (Flamengo), Nilson Loyola (Melgar) Midfielders: Renato Tapia (Feyenoord), Pedro Aquino (Lobos Buap), Yoshimar Yotun (Orlando City), Paolo Hurtado (Vitoria Guimaraes), Christian Cueva (Sao Paulo), Edison Flores (Aalborg), Andy Polo (Portland Timbers), Wilder Cartagena (Veracruz) Forwards: Andre Carrillo (Watford), Raul Ruidiaz (Morelia), Jefferson Farfan (Lokomotiv Moscow), Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo).
  25. The Video Assistant Referee or VAR technology has been one of the most talked about points leading up to the World Cup. FIFA passed the order to include VAR as part of the World Cup, even though this technology hasn't been used in many top football leagues yet. Not that the tech has received positive responses from associations or its fans It is still presumed to be at its initial stage and this World Cup is more of an experiment. Some blame it for killing the spirit of the game and fear it will break the rhythm of some high profile, intense games of football at the tournament. Source: Reuters VAR was promoted to eradicate cheating or wrong decisions which were costing teams precious points in meaningful games. The technology has hardly done anything to curb bad choices; instead it has stirred up controversies when it's been put to use. To be fair on the tech there was hardly any excitement when it was announced that VAR would be used at the World Cup and when it was finally used in the France-Australia game, it disappointed and possibly robbed the Australians of a hard-earned point. It looked like Australian defender Josh Risdon clipped France forward Antoine Griezmann just inside the penalty area, but the referee waved play on. Moments later VAR was called for and controversially decided to award France the penalty. Sure, replays showed there was contact on Griezmann, but nearly three minutes were wasted in making the decision itself. VAR is controversial because it could kill the tempo of a more high profile game, like the final. With France opening the scoring with that penalty, VAR didn't cause any more stirs during the game, although technology was to come in handy later on. Soon after the first goal, Australia was awarded a penalty and Mile Jedinak scored to equalise against France. Paul Pogba then emerged to be the star for France as he grabbed a late winner, after some brilliant short passing moves and the Manchester United midfielder clipping the ball over goalkeeper Ryan. Source: Reuters Technology again aided the match-winning goal after it was unclear if Pogba's shot had cleared the line. But goal-line technology, the less controversial cousin of VAR provided an accurate analysis of the shot and the referee awarded the goal to France. Ironically, Pogba who has been heavily criticised for his recent dip in form was aided by technology against Australia to prove his doubters wrong. He was also involved in the first goal as it was his pass to Griezmann that led to the initial penalty. As for VAR, it has a long journey to go in Russia. Many decisions ruled with the help of VAR might be accurate in some regards, but it sure is killing the game's tempo and momentum of teams who are on an offensive spree. Slowly it could become a highly dependable source for necessary decisions and effectively rule over the outcome of many forthcoming essential matches at the World Cup in Russia.