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NI KI 19-05-2018 05:48 PM

FIFA World Cup - Russia 2018
Group A: Hosts to face Arabic test


Key Game

Russia-Saudi Arabia (14 June 2018, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow)
The World Cup Opening Match is an event that football fans the world over eagerly tune-in to, marking the beginning of another exciting global finals. At Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, hosts Russia will take on Saudi Arabia in the eagerly-awaited curtain-raiser on 14 June 2018. The Saudis will be the first Asian team to take part in an Opening Match at the global finals.

What you need to know
  • Russia 2018 will mark Egypt’s first World Cup since Italy 1990. Star man Mohamed Salah bagged the goal which sealed qualification to the global finals in dramatic fashion, as he converted a 94th-minute penalty against Congo to get the party started in Alexandria.
  • Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad Al-Sahlawi netted 16 goals on the road to Russia. The 30-year-old frontman finished 2018 World Cup qualifying as joint-top scorer, along with Poland’s Robert Lewandowski and UAE’s Ahmed Khalil.
  • Uruguay are two-time champions of the World Cup. La Celeste were inaugural winners of the tournament in 1930, before winning it a second time, at Brazil 1950.

The stat
45 – The age that Egypt goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary will be when the Pharaohs take to the pitch at Russia 2018. Should he feature, El-Hadary would surpass Faryd Mondragon’s record as the World Cup’s oldest player. The Colombian goalkeeper set the current record when he appeared at Brazil 2014 at 43 years and three days.

Group B: European heavyweights to do battle


Key Game

Portugal-Spain (15 June 2018, Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi)
A mouth-watering tie in Sochi lies in store. You could hear the gasps at Moscow's State Kremlin Palace when these two European heavyweights – and neighbours – were drawn alongside each other in Group B. This is a game not to be missed.

What you need to know
  • Russia presents familiar territory for Portugal. As UEFA EURO 2016 winners, Portugal secured their berth to the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, where Fernando Santos’s side defeated Mexico in the play-off for third place.
  • IR Iran will be looking to Sardar Azmoun for goals. The 22-year-old striker, who plys his trade in Russia with Rubin Kazan, notched 11 goals in qualifying, the same number as Tim Cahill (Australia), Christian Eriksen (Denmark) and Romelu Lukaku (Belgium).
  • Morocco topped a tightly-contested African zone Group C to secure qualification to Russia 2018, pipping Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon and Mali.

The stat

3 – Iran were the third team to book their place at the 2018 World Cup after hosts Russia and 2014 hosts Brazil.

NI KI 19-05-2018 05:55 PM

Group C: Favourable draw for Les Bleus


Key game

Denmark-France, (26 June 2018, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow)
This duel between two highly fancied European sides will likely be given top billing during the third round of games in Group C. The countries know each other well, having gone head-to-head on the World Cup stage on two previous occasions, both times in the final match of the group. On the road to their sole triumph in 1998, France secured a 2-1 victory, but in 2002 it was the Danes who emerged victorious, 2-0, when the reigning world champions flattered to deceive.

What you need to know
  • France and Peru have only ever faced each other once before, on 28 April 1982 at the Parc des Princes. In what served as a preparatory match for the forthcoming World Cup in Spain, Michel Platini and Co lost 1-0, with Juan Carlos Oblitas scoring for the South Americans in the 82nd minute.
  • “Last time around, everyone said that it was a fantastic draw, even some of our players, but we’re not going to get through it just by clicking our fingers,” said Didier Deschamps after the Draw. The wily coach, who has a reputation for enjoying a little bit of luck during draws, was clearly keen to keep feet in the French camp firmly on the ground.
  • He may have reason to do so, as according to the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking in November, Group C is in fact the most challenging pool of Russia 2018, featuring France (ninth), Australia (39th), Peru (11th) and Denmark (12th).

The stat

3 – The number of World Cups in which Tim Cahill has found the back of the net. If he succeeds in scoring in Russia, the attack-minded Australian will enter an elite club, as only Uwe Seeler, Pele and Miroslav Klose have previously notched a goal in four different editions of the prestigious tournament.

Group D: Argentina and Croatia head tricky group


Key Game

Argentina-Croatia, (21 June 2018, Nizhny Novgorod Stadium)
The group's two strongest teams on paper will lock horns at a World Cup for the first time since 1998, when Argentina edged to a 1-0 win. The showdown between Barcelona team-mates Lionel Messi and Ivan Rakitic is one of the many intriguing subplots to what will be just the second meeting between the two nations on the global stage, one which could prove pivotal in deciding who qualifies and claims top spot. With France potentially lurking in the Round of 16 for the group runners-up, there will be plenty on the line.

What you need to know
  • Iceland and Croatia have met on six occasions in World Cup qualifying in the last eight years. The Croatians have the better of the head-to-head, with four wins from those games, but the Icelanders have the fonder memories of the most recent encounter, which they won 1-0 in June 2017.
  • Nigeria and Iceland have only faced one another once before, with the Europeans easing to a 3-0 victory in a friendly in 1981.
  • History will be made in two Group D fixtures: Argentina have never taken on Iceland before, while Croatia and Nigeria will also do battle for the first time.

The stat

4 - The number of times that Argentina and Nigeria have met in World Cup group action. La Albiceleste have triumphed in all four matches: 2-1 in 1994, 1-0 in 2002, 1-0 in 2010 and 3-2 in 2014.

NI KI 19-05-2018 06:01 PM

Group E: No easy task for five-time champions


Key game

Brazil-Switzerland (17 June 2018, Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don) This meeting will be crucial to both sides' hopes of winning the section and, if history is anything to go by, avoiding reigning world champions Germany in the last 16. It promises to be an attractive encounter too, as Brazil pitch their enterprising, attack-minded brand of football against a Switzerland side that might lack the same offensive firepower but nevertheless boasts plenty of pace and a fondness for possession.

What you need to know
  • Though the Swiss had to take the play-off route to reach Russia, they amassed an impressive 27 points in Group B of the European qualifiers and only missed out on top spot to Portugal after losing 2-0 in Lisbon in their final match.
  • The arrival of Tite as coach in June 2016 saw A Seleção rediscover their devastating form of old. By Matchday 8 Brazil had already jumped from fifth to second. Two games later they were on top of the group, where they stayed till the end.
  • Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia (competing as the former Yugoslavia) were all drawn in the same first-round group at Brazil 1950.

The stat

1 - After Russia, who qualified automatically as tournament hosts, Brazil were the first side to seal their place at Russia 2018, courtesy of their 3-0 defeat of Paraguay on 28 March 2017.

Group F: Tough to call behind Germany


Key game

Mexico-Sweden (17 June 2018, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow)
While nothing can be taken for granted at the World Cup, four-time world champions and current FIFA Confederations Cup holders Germany are widely expected to top this group. That means that this duel between Mexico and Sweden could play a vital role in determining who secures the second Round of 16 spot – although Korea Republic will also be keen to have a say in the matter.

What you need to know
  • Germany and Mexico met in the semi-final of the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia in June 2017. Although the Europeans were 4-1 winners on that occasion, Marco Fabian scored the most spectacular goal of the tournament during the match.
  • In an unexpected twist, Korea Republic have played Germany on three previous occasions and Sweden four times, but have contested a scarcely believable 12 games against Mexico. El Tri emerged victorious in six of these matches, including a 3-1 win in their only previous World Cup meeting at France 1998.
  • Having already overcome three former World Cup finalists in their bid to qualify for Russia 2018, Sweden now face a team with a record eight World Cup Final appearances – Germany. Many football fans may not remember that Sweden are also former finalists, having lost 5-2 to Pele’s Brazil on home turf in 1958.

The stat

16 - The number of goals scored in the two matches between Sweden and Germany during 2014 FIFA World Cup™ qualification. Joachim Low’s side threw away a 4-0 lead in an incredible game in Berlin in October 2012 that ultimately ended 4-4. A year later in Solna, the Germans turned a 2-0 deficit into a 5-3 win.

NI KI 19-05-2018 06:06 PM

Group G: Golden generations looking to shine


Key Game

Belgium-England (28 June 2018, Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad)
Belgium have been tipped for greatness for several years now, with the Red Devils possessing blistering potential in a superb crop of players. Their golden generation is not getting any younger, however, and their fans will be hoping they can hit their promised heights at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ – providing they do not stumble against a rejuvenated England team which has posted impressive results and earned widespread praise. Both teams are outside contenders for the title, and they are sure to serve up an engaging spectacle, particularly as many of Belgium's key players are based in the English Premier League.

What you need to know
  • Panama will be taking their maiden steps at a World Cup, becoming the first newcomers to qualify from CONCACAF since Trinidad and Tobago in 2006. The Soca Warriors left a positive impression in Germany, despite being knocked out in the group stage.
  • Tunisia faced England at the 1998 World Cup, the Carthage Eagles suffering a 2-0 defeat at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille.
  • Tunisia's one and only victory in 12 World Cup matches came in 1978, when they saw off Mexico to register the first ever win by an African nation on the global stage.

The stat

1 - England have lost just once in 21 meetings with Belgium, that sole reverse dating back to a friendly in 1936. Since then, the two sides have crossed paths twice at World Cup finals, drawing 4-4 in 1954 before David Platt's last-gasp goal earned England victory in 1990.

Group H: Poland head wide open group


Key Game

Poland-Colombia (24 June 2018, Kazan Arena, Kazan)
The clash between Poland and Colombia could prove pivotal, in terms of who will advance to the knockout stages. Both sides possess an array of talent that have the potential to set the tournament alight, and this match-up at the Kazan Arena may provide the platform for a memorable individual or team display.

What you need to know
  • Earning the last automatic qualification spot in South America, Colombia will be keen to better their performance at Brazil 2014 when they reached the last eight. Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez will be key players for Los Cafeteros.
  • Senegal’s previous lone appearance at the world finals was a memorable one, as the Lions of Teranga reached the quarter-finals of Korea/Japan 2002. Their maiden campaign included victories over then world champions France in the group stage and Sweden in the Round of 16.
  • Having edged Saudi Arabia and Australia to top Asian zone Group B in qualification, Japan will be aiming to have their best campaign at a global finals in Russia. In their previous five appearances, the Samurai Blue’s best achievement was reaching the Round of 16 as co-hosts in 2002 and at South Africa 2010.

The stat

16 - the number of goals that Poland captain Robert Lewandowski scored in ten appearances to top the European qualifying scoring charts.

NI KI 19-05-2018 06:07 PM

The computers have spoken

NI KI 19-05-2018 06:11 PM

OUT: Anthony Martial, Adrien Rabiot, Alexandre Lacazette
IN: Nabil Fekir, Florian Thauvin, Steven N’Zonzi France name their 23-man squad for Russia!

NI KI 19-05-2018 06:12 PM

Cristiano, Quaresma and the Portugal squad are set for Russia

NI KI 19-05-2018 06:13 PM

Sadio Mane leads the Senegalese charge to Russia!

NI KI 19-05-2018 06:15 PM

Real Madrid’s Achraf Hakimi and Juventus’ Mehdi Benatia headline Morocco’s World Cup squad

NI KI 19-05-2018 06:19 PM

Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have been named in England’s final squad for the 2018 World Cup!

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