With the World Cup Group stages now heading towards their thrilling conclusion, we are none the wiser of how some groups will finish up. Group A, of course, has now concluded, with hosts Russia finishing second behind former champions Uruguay. It is with some contentment, then, that Uruguay stopper Fernando Muslera can be named the best goalkeeper of the tournament up until this stage.The 32-year-old, full name Néstor Fernando Muslera Micol, has excelled so far and has contributed to his team winning their group without having conceded a single goal in the process.
Pace, verve and energy should be synonymous with this Nigeria side, but as they showed in Kaliningrad on Saturday night, they lack bravery. Croatia ran out 2-0 winners; Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic are part of the ageing golden generation ready for one last push at a major tournament, but they didn’t need to play anywhere near their best to take the three points.
The next of our World Cup preview episodes sees Jamie and Dave discuss Groups D-F, with particular topics of note including the coaching position at Nigeria (8:28), the Serbian national team (17:48) and the interesting man that is Joachim Low (20:44).
Former World Champions Spain will be looking towards Russia this summer as a chance to regain their place at the top of world football. Having won three consecutive tournaments prior to the last World Cup (they won the Euros in 2008 and 2012, with the 2010 World Cup in between) they then dropped into the second pot of seeds at the draw for this one. With that aim in mind, head coach Julen Lopetegui took one or two gambles in the selection of his squad. Out were the likes of recognised internationals such as Alvaro Morata and Cesc Fabregas, as well as the inexperienced Marcos Alonso. Instead, some younger talent such as Marco Asensio and Saúl were included.
Continuing our series of looking ahead at this summer’s primary contenders in the World Cup in Russia, attention now focuses on Roberto Martinez’s Belgium. Often considered underdogs and outside bets, the Belgians have been improving regularly over the course of the past decade or so, and enter the competition this time around favoured ahead of the likes of former world champions England and Uruguay. While the improvement has been steady, it could be argued that this Belgium squad will be among the finest the nation have ever produced. A raft of stars ply their trade in one of Europe’s top flights, including several Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1 stars.
It is now time to take a look at another favourite for this summer’s World Cup in Russia. Following on from last week’s assessment of European champions Portugal’s chances, this week we are looking at the very team Portugal beat in the final of Euro 2016. That team, of course, is former world champions France, who are seeking their first World Cup triumph since winning it in their own back yard in 1998 – 20 years ago this year. If that isn’t a fact that makes you feel old, then I really don’t know what will. If France don’t win either this tournament or the Qatar 2022 competition, they could well be planning their own version of Three Lions discussing 30 years of hurt.
Next up in our look ahead to the World Cup in Russia this summer, it is the turn of European champions Portugal to rest under the spotlight. Having surprised many by winning the Euros in 2016 after a relatively sub-par tournament, Cristiano Ronaldo and company will be hoping they can build on their momentum and carry a great showing to the biggest tournament in football. Their 35 man preliminary squad features many stars who played in that title winning campaign two years ago, including Ronaldo, Ricardo Quaresma, Nani and goalkeeper Rui Patricio. Having won their previous major tournament, Fernando Santos’ men will have the expectations of a nation raised quite considerably this time around. Renato Sanches, however, misses out.
Another major tournament rolls around, and the hopes and dreams of England fans across the world once again dare to ignite in the name of hope and desire. England, who couldn’t play football – they had it in the bag 52 years ago, but to be fair they have struggled to get anywhere near replicating the glory days of 1966 since then. They may have managed to get to a few quarter-finals in World Cups – and indeed that seems to now be the benchmark for a decent tournament – but they haven’t got to within touching distance of the final in the intervening years. Following on from last week’s look at Argentina’s chances this summer, it is now time to take a look at just how Gareth Southgate’s men could fare in Russia.