We look at how the big nations from the two powerful confederations are gearing up for the World Cup.
With the FIFA World Cup 2018 right around the corner, tensions have been rising amongst the players and fans alike. The 32 teams taking part in the competition earned their place in Russia following a gruelling qualification process from their respective confederations.
The Union of European Footballing Associations (UEFA) had a qualifying round consisting of nine groups (A-I) with 54 teams battling for spots. France, Spain, Portugal and Germany are just some of the big names that confidently made it to Russia.
CAF or the Confederation of African Football has given the World Cup some of its most exciting sides in editions gone by. This time around, Mohammad Salah’s Egypt and Nigeria look like they can give any side a good run for their money.
The teams have been put through their paces with a series of International friendlies to make sure that they are in best possible condition for the World Cup finals. We at Khel Now take a look at the preparations of some of the teams from the two blocs.
Austria Vs Russia (1-0)
Russia Vs Turkey (1-1)
The hosts of the tournament will have all eyes on them when they take on Saudi Arabia in the first game. The loss to Austria came as a blow to the Russians with their manager, Stanislav Cherchesov, saying that his side would have to be more creative if they are to go far in the tournament.
The draw against Turkey was a much-improved performance by Russia, with an ultimately disappointing result. However, the display of Alexander Golovin will come as a much-needed source of inspiration for the hosts.
Spain Vs Switzerland (1-1)
Spain Vs Tunisia (1-0)
The Spanish National team are considered amongst the favourites to make it to the final stages of the tournament and can boast of a squad brimming with talent. The draw against Switzerland came after a rare error by star goalkeeper David De Gea gave a goal to the Swiss. However, Spain can be confident of a strong backline and a considerable amount of firepower going forward.
The draw against the Swiss was followed up with a victory against Tunisia on the back of a late Iago Aspas goal. La Roja’s strength lies in their balance of youth and experience and they are going into the competition filled with confidence.
However, the unexpected sacking of manager Julen Lopetegui has added a major and unwanted distraction to the Spaniards’ preparations ahead of their first game against European champions Portugal. His replacement, Real Madrid great Fernando Hierro will have to galvanize the squad and hit the ground running, if the team are to put the upheaval behind them and focus on an important campaign.
Belgium Vs Portugal (0-0)
Portugal Vs Algeria (3-0)
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal were held to a 0-0 draw in their friendly against dark-horses Belgium. However, the team will be heading to Russia in a confident mood following their 3-0 victory against Algeria.
This will most likely be the last World Cup that Portuguese talisman Cristiano Ronaldo will grace and we can be sure that he wants to leave his mark on the tournament. So, it is not out of the realms of possibility to see Portugal repeat their Euro 2016 heroics.
France Vs Ireland (2-0)
France Vs Italy (3-1)
France Vs USA (1-1)
The French look like a side that has it in them to go all the way in Russia. They have the firepower to blow teams away by outscoring them. However, they also have a tendency to let in goals through defensive errors as they did vs Italy and the USA.
Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann will be crucial in Russia. If the French can get the best out of the duo, Les Bleus will be serious candidates to take home the crown.
Iceland Vs Norway (2-3)
Iceland Vs Ghana (2-2)
The world will do well not to take the little Nordic nation lightly, something that England know all too well. The loss against Norway will take its toll on Iceland’s confidence before the World Cup. However, with two goals in both their pre-tournament friendlies, they have shown that they have what it takes going forward. Gylfi Sigurdsson will undoubtedly have to step up for his nation if Iceland are to win their uphill battle to get out of the group.
Croatia Vs Brazil (0-2)
Croatia Vs Senegal (2-1)
Croatia put themselves through an extremely gruelling pair of pre-tournament friendlies by facing favourites Brazil and a very strong team in Senegal. The loss against Brazil was made up for by the performance in the 2-1 victory over Senegal, ensuring that Croatia boarded the plane to Russia on a winning note.
Luka Modric will look to weave his magic in midfield for the Croatians to make sure they get through from what looks to be a tough group.
Austria Vs Germany (2-1)
Germany Vs Saudi Arabia (2-1)
The defending champions suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Austria as Manuel Neuer returned in goal for the Germans in place of the in-form Marc-Andre Ter Stegen. However, normal service was resumed when they beat Saudi Arabia 2-1 in their next fixture.
The likes of Mesut Ozil and Toni Kroos will have to be on top of their game to give the Germans strength and creativity in midfield, a platform from which the likes of Marco Reus can build.
Belgium Vs Portugal (0-0)
Belgium Vs Egypt (3-0)
With 45 goals in qualifying, Belgium are one of the most free-scoring teams going into the World Cup. They can also boast of one of the most creative midfields with Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard providing passing and industry for the Red Devils.
The victory against Egypt would have given Roberto Martinez’s side the boost they needed before their first game in Russia.
England Vs Nigeria (2-1)
England Vs Costa Rica (2-0)
England will head to Russia on the back of two very strong performances in their pre-tournament friendlies, with the likes of Harry Kane, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford finding form at just the right time.
The game against Costa Rica was lit up when Rashford scored a screamer past Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas. However, the Three Lions have a poor recent history in the quadrennial tournament and will look to set that record right in the upcoming edition.
Poland Vs South Korea (3-2)
Poland Vs Chile (2-2)
The Polish rely heavily on Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski to provide the goals for the side and so far, he hasn’t disappointed. However, conceding four in two games indicates that they still have work to do on their backline.
But, they will be encouraged by good performances against Chile and South Korea and will look to get out of a very competitive Group H.
Kuwait Vs Egypt (1-1)
Egypt Vs Colombia (0-0)
Egypt Vs Belgium (0-3)
Egypt have endured a tough spell of pre-tournament friendlies with the team finding the net only once in three games, in the absence of star player Mohamed Salah.
However, fans of the African nation will be heartened by the news that their talisman has returned to training and is expected to play some part in the Group stage in Russia.
Nigeria Vs DR Congo (1-1)
Nigeria Vs England (1-2)
Nigeria Vs Czech Republic (0-1)
Another team that has taken a few knocks before they take off to Russia is Nigeria. The African nation were held to a draw against minnows DR Congo, before losing to England and the Czech Republic.
Star players Victor Moses and Alex Iwobi will hope to put in better performances at the tournament.
The spotlight of the World Cup does strange things to a team. It sometimes energizes them to bring out performances that exceed expectations and at other times, teams crumble under the pressure. Anything can happen. That’s the magic of the tournament.