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  1. Japan has been regularly playing at the World Cup in recent tournaments. Also, they have been producing some valuable players since they erupted onto the World stage back in 2002, when they co-hosted the World Cup with South Korea. The Asian Island nation, despite having produced respectable players, have not been convincing enough to build a reputation as a feared side. Conveniently enough, it could be said that Japan is the least favourite among their Group H opponents to go into the next rounds of the World Cup. But this statement should not undermine the quality they have in their squad. Japan's team is filled with players who have tremendous amounts of experience, both at the club and international levels. Some of the well-known players have played at the biggest clubs and have always responded positively to their nation. History © Reuters The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia will be Japan's sixth appearance at the tournament. Back in 1938, they withdrew from entering the world cup, while they were banned for the 1950 edition. It took another 52-years for them to play in their maiden World Cup, and did so on home soil. Since the 2002 version, Japan has participated in each of the tournaments leading to the Russia edition. Their best finish came in the 2002 home tournament as well as in the World Cup held in South Africa in 2010, where they reached the Round of 16 stage, but were eliminated on both occasions. Japan, however, will be hoping not to repeat their display in Brazil at the last World Cup where they managed a meager two-goals in their 270 minutes on the pitch and subsequently eliminated at the group stages itself. Current Form © Reuters Japan's current coach who is also their technical director, Akira Nishino, was only installed 9-weeks ago, replacing Bosnian coach, Vahid Halihodzic. The move came as a shocker after Halohodzic had helped Japan qualify for the Russia World Cup, but there were concerns between the players and the coach, which ultimately cost the latter his job. Such a move will always pose question marks over the team to integrate into the new coach's plans at the big stage. Japan was among those teams that eased through their qualifying rounds to reach Russia. The reason for their fantastic form in the qualifiers was their former coach, whose strict system and rules meant the players followed their responsibilities to significant effect. Japan should stick to their old system and try not to create an experimental one under their new head coach. Such a move could harm their already depleted chances in Russia. Expectations At The World Cup © Reuters First of all, the World Cup is a box full of surprises. No team should be underestimated or be touted as clear favourites to either win the tournament or to go past the group stages. Japan, on the one hand, have the required quality to stun their opponents in Russia; on the other hand, they could be far too reliant on some of their star players like Okazaki, Honda, and Kagawa. From one perspective, it is difficult to see Japan advancing to the knockout phase, especially from a tight place like Group-H. The likes of Poland and Colombia are considered as clear favourites in this group, which also consists of Senegal who could spring up a surprise. For Japan to have a chance to progress from this group, they need to win at least one and draw the other to stand a genuine chance in the World Cup. Squad Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Metz). Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka), Kosuke Nakamura (Kashiwa Reysol). Defenders: Yuto Nagatomo (Galatasaray), Tomoaki Makino, Wataru Endo (Urawa Reds), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Hiroki Sakai (Marseille), Gotoku Sakai (Hamburg), Gen Shoji, Naomichi Ueda (Kashima Antlers). Midfielders: Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt), Keisuke Honda (Pachuca), Takashi Inui (Eibar), Shinji Kagawa (Dortmund), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Genki Haraguchi, Takashi Usami (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Gaku Shibasaki (Getafe), Ryota Oshima (Kawasaki Frontale). Forwards: Yuya Osako (Werder Bremen), Yoshinori Muto (Mainz), Shinji Okazaki (Leicester).
  2. 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).
  3. Argentina forward Lionel Messi takes part in a training session at the team's base camp in Bronnitsy, near Moscow. Photo: AFPMOSCOW: Lionel Messi´s Argentina aim to put a shambolic World Cup build-up behind them and make a statement in their...
  4. After enduring three massive defeats in the finals of 2014 World Cup, 2015 Copa America and 2016 Copa America Centenario, Argentina will be desperate to overcome those painful memories through a prolific showing in Russia. But, despite boasting of arguably the greatest player of all time in their squad, Argentina will have their work cut out this year. Reigning FIFA World Cup Golden Ball winner Lionel Messi has won it all, except a senior international tournament with Argentina. For a man who divides opinion even in his home country, Messi (30) is perhaps staring at his last chance to join someone like Diego Maradona in the pantheon of greats. History © Reuters Argentina are among the handful of national teams who have won the FIFA World Cup multiple times. Their World Cup wins in 1978 and 1986 rank them alongside Uruguay with two title triumphs and behind only Brazil, Italy and Germany. But it's been 32 years since they last tasted glory on the global stage – that sepia-tinted brilliance of Maradona still captures the Argentine fancy. The Albiceleste reached the final in 2014 only to succumb to a late Germany winner in extra time. They debuted on the global stage as early as 1930 and have featured in 16 out of the 20 World Cups so far. Argentina have finished as World Cup runners-up the second most number of times (3), the latest disappointment coming as recently as 2014. Current Form © Reuters Under the tutelage of coach Jorge Sampaoli who was appointed last year, Argentina's record so far stands at six wins, three draws and two losses. That said, Sampaoli hasn't been able to instil a game system to his attack-heavy outfit. Messi is undoubtedly the biggest name but his support cast has been far from convincing. Argentina's journey to the mega event has been a mixed bag, with two wins over Italy (2-0) and Haiti (4-0) alongside a heavy defeat at the hands of Spain (1-6). That defeat to Spain, in Messi's absence, has raised more questions and red flags for Sampaoli and Argentina. Subsequently, the Albiceleste – the second-best team four years ago – haven't received top billing this time around, with Brazil, Germany, Spain and France leading the list of favourites in the betting markets. Expectations At World Cup © Reuters Having someone as gifted as Messi in the team, the expectations are never short of ultimate glory, but Argentina is a different animal altogether. The expectations at the last World Cup weighed heavily on Messi's shoulders who did everything within his limits to take the Albiceleste to the final only to be let down by his teammates. In the four intervening years, Argentina lost two Copa America title matches leading to Messi's international retirement as well as coming out of it, proving even the best players are not exempt from the high pressures of representing Argentina. Things are similar this time out as well, but expectations have somewhat lowered given the strength of the squad. Progression to the quarter-finals is a realistic ambition for this team; anything better would be a bonus and Messi will certainly be expected to explode in the latter knockout stages, but anything worse would amount to a disaster and would, in all probability, draw curtains on the careers of many of the team's older warhorses, Messi included. The Albiceleste have Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria in their group and navigating the group stage should be relatively easier. However, a 4-2 loss against Nigeria last year exposed the soft underbelly of Sampaoli's team and they could ill-afford to take their opponents in the group lightly. Squad Goalkeepers: Willy Caballero, Nahuel Guzman, Franco Armani Defenders: Nicolas Otamendi, Federico Fazio, Gabriel Mercado, Nicolas Tagliafico, Cristian Ansaldi, Marcos Acuna, Javier Mascherano, Marcos Rojo, Eduardo Salvio Midfielders: Lucas Biglia, Ever Banega, Angel Di Maria, Maximiliano Meza, Manuel Lanzini, Giovani Lo Celso, Cristian Pavon Forwards: Lionel Messi (captain), Paulo Dybala, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain
  5. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz have sought five-day exemption from appearance before accountability in the three references against the Sharif family. Photo: fileISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and...
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