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    FULL WORLD CUP RUSSIA 2018 GUIDE: Everything You Need To Know, Players, Analysis, Fixtures And Team By Team Guide



    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.

    The hosts are under pressure to perform but they are one of the lowest-ranked teams at the World Cup and the squad has been depleted by injuries.
    Star player: Igor Akinfeev
    Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov
    World Cup best: First round 1994, 2002, 2014 (Soviet Union finished fourth in 1966)
    How they got here: Russia qualified automatically as hosts and will be desperate to improve their poor recent record at major tournaments. They have not won a match since Euro 2012 and, since the break up of the Soviet Union, have not progressed from the World Cup group stage.
    Strengths: Russia have a clear gameplan and have benefited from a switch to a back three, which most players use at club level. There are also a number of good box-to-box players in the squad.
    Weaknesses: Russia will sorely miss the injured striker Aleksandr Kokorin while the wing-backs are arguably too old and the centre-backs too young and inexperienced.

    What is the realistic aim for Russia at the World Cup and why?
    A place in the last 16. After the draw Russians thought their team were lucky to be in such an easy group, but since December Mohamed Salah has become one of the strongest players in the world, which has planted seeds of doubt about the host nation’s ability to get through. Progress from Group A would probably be rewarded with a tie against Spain or Portugal – and Russia’s journey will almost certainly finish at that point .

    23-man final squad:
    Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Gabulov (Brugge), Andrei Lunyov (Zenit St. Petersburg).
    Defenders: Mario Fernandes (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Granat (Rubin Kazan), Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Fyodor Kudryashov (Rubin Kazan), Ilya Kutepov (Spartak Moscow), Andrei Semyonov (Akhmat Grozny), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit St. Petersburg).
    Midfielders: Denis Cheryshev (Villarreal), Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow), Yuri Gazinsky (FC Krasnodar), Alexander Golovin (CSKA Moscow), Daler Kuzyaev (Zenit St. Petersburg), Anton Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Alexander Samedov (Spartak Moscow), Alexander Yerokhin (Zenit St. Petersburg), Yuri Zhirkov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Roman Zobnin (Spartak Moscow).
    Forwards: Artyom Dzyuba (Arsenal Tula), Alexei Miranchuk (Lokomotiv Moscow), Fyodor Smolov (FC Krasnodar).

    Saudi Arabia
    Saudi Arabia have been much better in possession since Juan Antonio Pizzi took over from Bert van Marwijk and are less of a counterattacking team now.

    Star player: Fahad Al-Muwallad
    Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi
    World Cup best: Second round 1994
    How they got here: After qualifying for four consecutive tournaments between 1994 and 2006, Saudi Arabia missed out in 2010 and 2014 but are back after finishing ahead of Australia in their qualifying group.
    Strengths: The three attacking midfielders in Pizzi’s 4-2-3-1 – Salem al-Dawsari, Yahya al-Shehri and Fahad al-Muwallad – are talented players who will expect to test any defence in Russia.
    Weaknesses: The defence is experienced but susceptible to pace and rarely plays against the kind of top-calibre attackers you find at the World Cup.

    What is the realistic aim for Saudi Arabia at the World Cup and why?
    This is the side’s first showpiece in 12 years and although most people know it won’t be easy there is some hope, thanks to being placed in one of the easier groups (with Russia, Egypt and Uruguay), that they may sneak a place in the second round. Failing that, not finishing last would be welcomed.

    23-man final squad
    Goalkeepers: Mohammed Al Owais (Al Ahli), Yasser Al Mosailem (Al Ahli), Abdullah Al Mayouf (Al Hilal)
    Defenders: Mansoor Al Harbi (Al Ahli), Yasser Al Shahrani (Al Hilal) Mohammed Al Breik (Al Hilal), Motaz Hawsawi (Al Ahli), Osama Hawsawi (Al Hilal), Omar Hawsawi (Al Nassr), Ali Al Bulaihi (Al Hilal)
    Midfielders: Abdullah Al Khaibari (Al Shabab), Abdulmalek Al Khaibri (Al Hilal), Abdullah Otayf (Al Hilal), Taiseer Al Jassim (Al Ahli), Houssain Al Mogahwi (Al Ahli), Salman Al Faraj, Mohamed Kanno (both Al Hilal), Hattan Bahebri (Al Shabab), Salem Al Dawsari (Al Hilal), Yahya Al Shehri (Al Nassr), Fahad Al Muwallad (Al Ittihad)
    Forwards: Mohammad Al Sahlawi (Al Nassr), Muhannad Assiri (Al Ahli)

    Egypt’s World Cup campaign has, understandably, been overshadowed by the injury suffered by Mohamed Salah. The team need him if they are to get out of the group.

    Star player: Mohamed Salah
    Coach: Héctor Cúper
    World Cup best: First round 1934, 1990
    How they got here: Egypt will make only their third appearance at a World Cup finals and their first since 1990 after booking their place in Russia with victory over Congo. Runners-up to Cameroon in this year’s African Nations Cup.
    Strengths: Héctor Cúper, as always, builds his team on a solid defence and Egypt conceded only 18 goals in his first 32 games in charge.
    Weaknesses: With Mohamed Salah in a race to get fit in time for the finals, Egypt may struggle to score with Ahmed Hassan “Koka” often left isolated up front.

    What is the realistic aim for Egypt at the World Cup and why?
    Egypt fans will be hoping that Salah is fully fit and that his scintillating performances this season can inspire the rest of a rather lacklustre team to make it out of a group also featuring Uruguay, Russia and Saudi Arabia. The perception in Egypt is that the Pharaohs have the ability to reach the last 16 and anything less would be a disappointment. “Uruguay are the best team but after that we can all fight for second place and, if someone thinks otherwise, I will be ready to listen to their arguments in my office,” Héctor Cúper said recently.

    Squad news:
    Goalkeepers: Essam El Hadary (Al Taawoun, Saudi Arabia), Mohamed El-Shennawy (Al Ahly), Sherif Ekramy (Al Ahly);
    Defenders: Ahmed Fathi (Al Ahly), Saad Samir (Al Ahly), Ayman Ashraf (Al Ahly), Mahmoud Hamdy (Zamalek), Mohamed Abdel-Shafy (Al Fateh, Saudi Arabia) Ahmed Hegazi and Ali Gabr (both West Bromwich Albion, England), Ahmed Elmohamady (Aston Villa, England), Omar Gaber (Los Angeles FC, USA);
    Midfielders: Tarek Hamed (Zamalek), Shikabala (Al Raed, Saudi Arabia), Abdallah Said (KuPS, Finland), Sam Morsy (Wigan Athletic, England), Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal, England), Kahraba (Al Ittihad, Saudi Arabia), Ramadan Sobhi (Stoke City, England), Trezeguet (Kasimpasa, Turkey), Amr Warda (Atromitos, Greece);
    Forwards: Marwan Mohsen (Al Ahly), Mohamed Salah (Liverpool, England).

    The side have developed in recent years, with the midfield far more creative thanks to players such as Federico Valverde, Rodrigo Bentancur and Matías Vecino.

    Star player: Luis Suárez
    Coach: Óscar Tabárez
    World Cup best: Winners 1930, 1950
    How they got here: Uruguay’s last World Cup campaign was overshadowed by Suarez’s bite on Giorgio Chiellini and expulsion from the tournament but they qualified impressively for Russia and possess undoubted firepower.
    Strengths: The obvious strength of this team lies up front with Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani forming one of the tournament’s most potent partnerships.
    Weaknesses: No obvious weaknesses but the left-sided midfielder Cristian Rodríguez, at 32, is not getting any quicker and that sometimes leaves the full-back Martín Cáceres exposed.

    What is the realistic aim for Uruguay at the World Cup and why?
    The quarter-finals. Getting out of Group A (with Russia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt) should not be a problem but in the last 16 they could face Spain or Portugal. Get through that and France or Croatia may lie in wait. And that is probably the limit for this team.

    Squad news:
    Goalkeepers: Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray/Turkey), Martin Silva (Vasco da Gama/Brazil), Martin Campana (Independiente/Argentina)
    Defenders: Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid/Spain), Sebastian Coates (Sporting CP/Portugal), Jose Maria Gimenez (Atletico Madrid/Spain), Maximiliano Pereira (Porto/Portugal), Gaston Silva (Independiente/Argentina), Martin Caceres (Lazio/Italy), Guillermo Varela (Penarol)
    Midfielders: Nahitan Nandez (Boca Juniors/Argentina), Lucas Torreira (Sampdoria/Italy), Matias Vecino (Inter Milan/Italy), Rodrigo Bentancur (Juventus/Italy), Carlos Sanchez (Monterrey/Mexico), Giorgian De Arrascaeta (Cruzeiro/Brazil), Diego Laxalt (Genoa/Italy), Cristian Rodriguez (Penarol), Jonathan Urretaviscaya (Monterrey/Mexico),
    Forwards: Cristhian Stuani (Girona/Spain), Maximiliano Gomez (Celta Vigo/Spain), Edinson Cavani (PSG/France), Luis Suarez (Barcelona/Spain)

    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. 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.

    The European champions are no longer underdogs after their triumph in France but with Cristiano Ronaldo two years older they surely cannot go all the way again.

    Star player: Cristiano Ronaldo
    Coach: Fernando Santos
    World Cup best: Third place 1966
    How they got here: Portugal enjoyed a real battle with Switzerland for automatic qualification but came out on top. Looking to continue their unbeaten run at tournaments after winning their first major title at Euro 2016.
    Strengths: Ronaldo is still the focal point but players such as Bernardo Silva, André Silva and Gelson Martins have gained more experience and are able to support him better up front.
    Weaknesses: The central defence is a worry with only Pepe – who is not getting any younger – guaranteed a starting place, with Bruno Alves and José Fonte out of form.

    What is the realistic aim for Portugal at the World Cup and why?
    Although Portugal are European champions, the bar for the World Cup has to be at the usual height: pass the group stage and then think game by game. There are plenty of candidates who have a better chance but Portugal should beat Iran and Morocco to qualify with Spain from Group B, and with Group A opponents (Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay) to choose  from in the round of 16 it is realistic for Portugal to aim for the quarter-finals.

    Squad news:
    Goalkeepers: Anthony Lopes (Olympique Lyonnais/France), Beto (Goztepe SK/Turkey), Rui Patricio (Sporting CP)
    Defenders: Bruno Alves (Rangers/Scotland), Cedric (Southampton/England), Jose Fonte (Dalian Aerbin/China PR), Mario Rui (Napoli/Italy), Pepe (Besiktas/Turkey), Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund/Germany), Ricardo (Porto), Ruben Dias (Benfica)
    Midfielders: Adrien Silva (Leicester City/England), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City/England), Bruno Fernandes (Sporting CP), Joao Mario (West Ham United/England), Joao Moutinho (Monaco/France), Manuel Fernandes (Lokomotiv Moscow/Russia), William (Sporting CP)
    Forwards: Andre Silva (AC Milan/Italy), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid/Spain),Gelson Martins (Sporting CP), Goncalo Guedes (Valencia/Spain), icardo Quaresma (Besiktas/Turkey)

    La Roja have rediscovered their mojo under Julen Lopetegui, with players such as Isco and Marco Asensio emerging.

    Star player: David Silva
    Coach: Julen Lopetegui
    World Cup best: Winners 2010
    How they got here: The previously all-conquering Spanish suffered the ignominy of group stage exits at the 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship. The squad has seen evolution rather than revolution.
    Strengths: Spain have one of the strongest squads at the World Cup, with the midfield, led by Sergio Busquets, Andrés Iniesta, David Silva, Asensio and Isco, particularly impressive.
    Weaknesses: There is not a natural finisher in the squad, such as a David Villa, and Diego Costa has struggled to connect with the midfield when he has played.

    What is the realistic aim for Spain at the World Cup 2018 and why?
    La Roja has a squad to reach the final stages of the tournament. After the disappointments in Brazil (2014) and France (2016), the team have become competitive again. Lopetegui has kept the spine of the team and added, with great care, players such as Isco, Asensio, Lucas, Saúl, Aspas and Rodrigo. Spain can hope for the best again.

    Squad news:
    Goalkeepers: David De Gea (Manchester United), Pepe Reina (Napoli), Kepa (Athletic Bilbao);
    Defenders: Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Nacho (all Real Madrid), Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique (both Barcelona), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Odriozola (Real Sociedad);
    Midfield: Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta (both Barcelona) Saúl, Koke (both Atletico), Thiago (Bayern) Silva (Manchester City), Isco, Marco Asensio, Lucas Vázquez (all Real Madrid);
    Forward: Iago Aspas (Celta), Rodrigo (Valencia), Diego Costa (Atletico).

    The Atlas Lions are back on the biggest stage after a 20-year absence, the former Cambridge United manager Hervé Renard having instilled fighting spirit in the squad.

    Star player: Hakim Ziyech
    Coach: Hervé Renard
    World Cup best: Second round 1986
    How they got here: Well-travelled coach Renard will have relished beating his former employers Ivory Coast to top spot in a tough qualifying group. The North Africans are back at the finals for the first time since 1998.
    Strengths: They play with real belief under Renard and Ajax’s Hakim Ziyech is one of the most talented playmakers in Europe.
    Weaknesses: The first-choice goalkeeper, Munir Mohand Mohamedi, started only one league game for Numancia in Spain’s second tier and is bound to be rusty.
    What is the realistic aim for Morocco at the World Cup 2018 and why?
    Despite conceding only one goal in qualifying, Morocco will struggle extend their defensive streak. Everything depends on the first game, against Iran. They need to win, before facing Portugal and Spain, to have a chance of a place in the last 16, which could be the realistic aim.

    Squad news:
    Goalkeepers: Mounir El Kajoui (Numancia, Spain), Yassine Bounou (Girona, Spain), Ahmad Reda Tagnaouti (Ittihad Tanger);
    Defenders: Mehdi Benatia (Juventus, Italy), Romain Saiss (Wolverhampton Wanderers, England), Manuel Da Costa (Basaksehir, Turkey), Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce, Turkey), Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid, Spain), Hamza Mendyl (Lille, France);
    Midfielders: M’bark Boussoufa (Al Jazira, UAE), Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord, Netherlands), Youssef Ait Bennasser (Caen, France), Sofyan Amrabat (Feyenoord, Netherlands), Younes Belhanda (Galatasaray, Turkey), Faycal Fajr (Getafe, Spain), Amine Harit (Schalke, Germany);
    Forwards: Khalid Boutaib (Malatyaspor, Turkey), Aziz Bouhaddouz (St. Pauli, Germany), Ayoub El Kaabi (Renaissance Berkane), Nordin Amrabat (Leganes, Spain), Mehdi Carcela (Standard de Liege, Belgium), Hakim Ziyech (Ajax, Netherlands).

    This is a second consecutive World Cup for Team Melli and Carlos Queiroz says “they have improved”.

    Star player: Sardar Azmoun
    Coach: Carlos Queiroz
    World Cup best: First round 1978, 1998, 2006, 2014
    How they got here: This will be Iran’s fourth appearance from the last six World Cup finals, but their only victory came against the USA in 1998. Won their final qualifying group ahead of South Korea.
    Strengths: Iran look far stronger up front than they did in Brazil four years ago, with players such as Sardar Azmoun, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Karim Ansarifard and Saman Ghoddos in good form.
    Weaknesses: Central defence is a concern as Jalal Hosseini has been dropped, with Queiroz seemingly undecided about who is going to partner Morteza Pouraliganji.

    What is the realistic aim for Iran at the World Cup and why?
    Iran’s realistic aim is getting one or two points in the group stage. A draw against Morocco – and maybe Portugal – and a narrow loss against Spain. Even these results would mean elimination but that would be acceptable for Iran fans.

    Squad news:
    Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo, Portugal);
    Defenders: Ramin Rezaeian (Ostende, Belgium), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Alsaad, Qatar), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Seyed Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Roozbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal);
    Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm, Russia), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens, Greece), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds, Sweden), Mahdi Torabi (Saipa), Ashkan Dejagah (Notthingham Forest, England), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Hajsafi (Olympiacos, Greece), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis);
    Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar, Netherlands), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiacos, Greece), Mahdi Taremi (Al Gharafa, Qatar), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan, Russia), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Heerenveen, Netherlands).

    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.

    Didier Deschamps has one of the most talented squads at the World Cup but they blew hot and cold in qualifying and seem to lack consistency.

    Star player: Antoine Griezmann
    Coach: Didier Deschamps
    World Cup best: Winners 1998
    How they got here: Knocked out in the quarter-finals in 2014, France have built a hugely impressive squad and will hope to make up for their near miss on home soil in Euro 2016, when they lost in the final to Portugal.
    Strengths: The attack is simply frightening with players such as Anthony Martial and Alexandre Lacazette not even making the squad. Three out of Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappé, Olivier Giroud and Thomas Lemar will start up front.
    Weaknesses: Lack of consistency – they lost to Sweden and drew with Belarus and Luxembourg in qualifying – and the full-backs, Djibril Sidibé and Benjamin Mendy, have just returned from injuries.

    What is the realistic aim for France and why?
    The semi-finals. Anything less than the last showing in Brazil, when France were knocked out in a 1-0 defeat in the quarter-finals to the eventual champions Germany, would be considered a major underachievement. And it would call into question the future of Deschamps, whose renewed contract runs now until 2020.

    Squad news:
    Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur/England), Steve Mandanda (Marseille), Alphonse Areola (Paris Saint-Germain);
    Defenders: Djibril Sidibe (Monaco), Benjamin Pavard (Stuttgart/Germany), Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona/Spain), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid/Spain), Presnel Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain), Adil Rami (Marseille), Benjamin Mendy (Manchester City/England), Lucas Hernandez (Atletico Madrid/Spain);
    Midfielders: Paul Pogba (Manchester United/England), Corentin Tolisso (Bayern Munich/Germany), Blaise Matuidi (Juventus/Italy), Ngolo Kante (Chelsea/England), Steven Nzonzi (Sevilla/Spain);
    Forwards: Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid/Spain), Olivier Giroud (Chelsea/England), Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain), Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona/Spain), Florian Thauvin (Marseille), Nabil Fekir (Lyon), Thomas Lemar (Monaco);

    Going into the World Cup with a new manager after Ange Postecoglou quit in November. Bert van Marwijk has not had much time to get to know his players.

    Star player: Aaron Mooy
    Coach:Bert van Marwijk
    World Cup best: Second round 2006
    How they got here: Completing a quintet of qualifiers from the Asian groups, Australia conquered Honduras over two play-off legs. Were pointless at Brazil 2014 and long-serving talisman Tim Cahill is on the wane.
    Strengths: Van Marwijk will aim to tighten the defence and hope that pacy players such as Mathew Leckie and Robbie Kruse can cause damage up front.
    Weaknesses: This team are not used to playing opponents of the highest calibre and may be overwhelmed against France, Denmark and Peru.

    What is the realistic aim for Australia at World Cup 2018 and why?
    Van Marwijk has been tasked by Football Federation Australia with navigating the group stage, with a berth in the knockouts considered a success. But faced with three opponents ranked in the world’s top 12 (France, Peru and Denmark), only the most optimistic supporters might consider that a likely proposition. Still, it’s a less daunting group than that a World Cup 2014, where Australia drew Spain, the Netherlands and Chile. If Van Marwijk can instil a simple shared vision and sense of purpose in his players, there is no reason why the Socceroos can’t look to upset one or more of their more vaunted opponents.

    Squad news:
    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)
    Midfielders: Jackson Irvine (Hull City), Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa), Robbie Kruse (VfL Bochum), Massimo Luongo (Queens Park Rangers), Mark Milligan (Al Ahli), Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield Town), Tom Rogic (Celtic)
    Forwards: Daniel Arzani (Melbourne City), Tim Cahill (Millwall), Tomi Juric (Luzern), Mathew Leckie (Hertha Berlin), Jamie Maclaren (Hibernian), Andrew Nabbout (Urawa Red Diamonds), Dimitri Petratos (Newcastle Jets)

    The buildup was dominated by whether Paolo Guerrero would be able to play in Russia and now he is going hopes have been raised back home.

    Star player: Jefferson Farfán
    Coach: Ricardo Gareca
    World Cup best: Quarter-finals 1970
    How they got here: Will be appearing at their first World Cup since 1982 after they beat New Zealand 2-0 on aggregate in the play-offs.
    Strengths: Ricardo Gareca has made Peru go back to their roots and they now play with a blend of determination, discipline and creativity. Edison Flores is a wonderful attacking midfielder.
    Weaknesses: Guerrerro has not played since November and, no matter how important he is to the rest of the team, he will lack match practice when he steps on the pitch in Russia.

    What is the realistic aim for Peru at the World Cup and why?
    The round of 16. Peru’s decisive match will be their first, against Denmark in Saransk on 16 June. If Gareca’s side overcome this obstacle, they will be in an unbeatable position to reach the second round. Against a team as physically impressive as the Danes, Peru will have to cause damage through teamwork and effective treatment of the ball.

    23-man final 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)

    Åge Hareide has taken over from Morten Olsen and plays a more direct football than his predecessor while setting up the team to get the best out of Christian Eriksen.

    Star player: Christian Eriksen
    Coach: Åge Hareide
    World Cup best: Quarter-finals 1998
    How they got here: After missing out in 2014, Eriksen propelled Denmark back to the World Cup finals with a hat-trick in their play-off victory over the Republic of Ireland. The Danes failed to get out of their group on their last appearance in 2010.
    Strengths: Eriksen is one of the best playmakers in Europe and there is pace on the left side with Celta Vigo’s Pione Sisto.
    Weaknesses: Hareide’s first-choice defensive midfielder, William Kvist, has lost his place at his club, FC Copenhagen, and may not start in Russia, potentially leaving a gap for opponents to exploit.

    What is the realistic aim for Denmark at the World Cup and why?
    The draw was kind to Denmark, with Peru from pot two and Australia from pot four. The general feeling in Denmark seems to be that Peru have little World Cup experience and a team with players at smaller clubs, and that Australia have a new head coach after a weak qualification tournament. So, as far as the Danes are concerned, Hareide’s team are the favourites to go through from the group behind France. A game in the round of 16 against Croatia or Argentina is in sight.

    Squad news:
    Goalkeepers: Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester), Jonas Lossl (Huddersfield), Frederik Ronow (Brondby)
    Defenders: Simon Kjaer (Sevilla), Andreas Christensen (Chelsea), Mathias Jorgensen (Huddersfield), Jannik Vestergaard (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Henrik Dalsgaard (Brentford), Jens Stryger (Udinese), Jonas Knudsen (Ipswich)
    Midfielders: William Kvist (FC Copenhagen), Thomas Delaney (Werder Bremen), Lukas Lerager (Bordeaux), Lasse Schone (Ajax), Christian Eriksen (Tottenham), Michael Krohn-Dehli (Deportivo La Coruna)
    Forwards: Pione Sisto (Celta Vigo), Martin Braithwaite (Bordeaux), Andreas Cornelius (Atalanta), Viktor Fischer (FC Copenhagen), Yussuf Poulsen (RB Leipzig), Nicolai Jorgensen (Feyenoord), Kasper Dolberg (Ajax)

    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.

    Argentina have one of the most fearsome attacks in the world but so far Jorge Sampaoli has not been able to get the players to click.

    Star player: Lionel Messi
    Coach: Jorge Sampaoli
    World Cup best: Winners 1978, 1986
    How they got here: A nervy qualification campaign saw one of world football’s great powers book their place at the last opportunity with victory over Ecuador but the losing finalists in 2014 will be looking to go one better.
    Strengths: Lionel Messi deserves a mention but the Barcelona forward is backed up by players such as Sergio Agüero, Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuaín and Ángel Di María.
    Weaknesses: A central defence pairing of Federico Fazio and Nicolás Otamendi does not instil confidence and none of the goalkeepers had more than 10 caps going into the tournament.

    What is the realistic aim for Argentina at the World Cup and why?
    Despite having Lionel Messi, the best footballer in the world, a realistic aim for Argentina is to sneak into the quarter-finals. Many years of structural mismanagement have left scars. The coach, Jorge Sampaoli, has been in charge for a year and the team still lack a recognisable identity.

    Squad news:
    Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero, Willy Caballero, Franco Armani
    Defenders: Gabriel Mercado, Javier Mascherano, Nicolas Otamendi, Federico Fazio, Marcos Rojo, Nicolas Tagliafico, Marcos Acuna, Cristian Ansaldi
    Midfielders: Maximiliano Meza, Lucas Biglia, Ever Banega, Giovani Lo Celso, Angel Di Maria, Cristian Pavon, Eduardo Salvio, Enzo Perez
    Forwards: Paulo Dybala, Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain.

    Will be playing at their first World Cup after the success in France two years ago but are sweating on the fitness of Gylfi Sigurdsson.

    Star player: Gylfi Sigurdsson
    Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson
    World Cup best: Debut
    How they got here: The smallest nation by population ever to qualify for the World Cup finals, Iceland followed up their Euro 2016 heroics by topping a group featuring Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey.
    Strengths: The team are more flexible now that Heimir Hallgrimsson is in sole charge and the work ethic and togetherness that saw them eliminate England in France remain.
    Weaknesses: If Sigurdsson is not 100% then they may struggle to create chances. He is so important to this team.

    What is the realistic aim for Iceland at the World Cup and why?
    Qualification for the knockout stage is a realistic aim for Iceland but there is no room for error. The downside of having a team that has played for so long together, who know each other inside-out, is that much depends on these players being fit and ready.

    Squad news:
    Goalkeepers: Hannes Halldorsson (Randers), Runar Alex Runarsson (Nordsjaelland), Frederik Schram (Roskilde);
    Defenders: Ari Freyr Skulason (Lokeren), Hordur B. Magnusson (Bristol City), Ragnar Sigurdsson (Rostov), Kari Arnason (Aberdeen), Holmar Orn Eyjolfsson (Levski Sofia), Sverrir Ingi Ingason (Rostov), Birkir Mar Saevarsson (Valur), Samuel Kari Fridjonsson (Valerenga).
    Midfielders: Gylfi Sigurdsson (Everton), Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City), Emil Hallfredsson (Udinese), Birkir Bjarnason (Aston Villa), Johann Berg Gudmundsson (Burnley), Olafur Ingi Skulason (Karabukspor), Arnor Ingvi Traustason (Malmo), Rurik Gislason (Sandhausen)
    Forwards: Alfred Finnbogason (Augsburg), Bjorn Bergmann Sigurdarson (Rostov), Jon Dadi Bodvarsson (Reading), Albert Gudmundsson (PSV).

    Zlatko Dalic presides over a hugely talented squad but also one of the oldest in the tournament. Read a tactical analysis here.

    Star player: Luka Modric
    Coach: Zlatko Dalic
    World Cup best: Third place 1998
    How they got here: Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic make for one of the best creative midfields in the tournament but they have failed to make it out of their group on their last three appearances since reaching the semi-finals at France 98.
    Strengths: Any team with Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic in midfield are going to have a lot of possession and create chances.
    Weaknesses: Defence is a concern with Dejan Lovren likely to partner Domagoj Vida in the centre after injury to the veteran Vedran Corluka.

    What is the realistic aim for Croatia at the World Cup and why?
    “Anything is possible in the knockout rounds” has been the mantra of every Croatia team since the nation’s ascent to the big stage. Croatia can beat anyone on a good day; they can, however, also lose to just about anyone. Although they have not made it to the last 16 since 1998, getting that far is the minimum expectation for the most talented generation the country has produced in the two decades since.

    Squad news:
    Goalkeepers: Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Lovre Kalinic (Gent), Dominik Livakovic (Dinamo)
    Defenders: Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Domagoj Vida (Besiktas), Ivan Strinic (Sampdoria), Dejan Lovren (Liverpool), Sime Vrsaljko (Atletico Madrid), Josip Pivaric (Dynamo Kiev), Tin Jedvaj (Bayer Leverkusen)Duje Caleta-Car (Salzburg)
    Midfielders: Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic (both Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Milan Badelj (Fiorentina), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter), Filip Bradaric (Rijeka)
    Forwards: Mario Mandzukic (Juventus), Ivan Perisic (Inter), Nikola Kalinic (Milan), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim), Marko Pjaca (Schalke), Ante Rebic (Eintracht)

    Gernot Rohr seems to have instilled some much-needed team spirit and discipline into the Super Eagles squad since taking over in 2016. A hugely talented group of players.

    Star player: Victor Moses
    Coach: Gernot Rohr
    World Cup best: Second round 1994, 1998, 2014

    How they got here: A very impressive qualifying campaign booked Nigeria’s place in Russia. The Super Eagles have only missed one of the last seven tournaments but 2014’s victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina was their first since 1998.
    Strengths: Central midfield with Mikel John Obi as the conductor and Ogenyi Onazi and Wilfred Ndidi as ball winners offers excellent ballance.
    Weaknesses: The goalkeeping situation is far from ideal with the 19-year-old Francis Uzoho likely to start despite limited game time for Deportivo La Coruña and a mistake in therecent friendly against England.

    23-man final squad
    Goalkeepers: Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Enyimba), Francis Uzoho (Deportivo La Coruna), Daniel Akpeyi (Chippa United).
    Defenders: Abdullahi Shehu (Bursaspor), Tyronne Ebuehi (Den Haag), Elderson Echiejile (Brugge), Bryan Idowu (Amkar Perm), Chidozie Awaziem (Nantes), William Ekong (Bursaspor), Leon Balogun (Brighton), Kenneth Omeruo (Kasimpasa).
    Midfielders: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin TEDA), Ogenyi Onazi (Trabzonspor), Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester), Oghenekaro Etebo (Las Palmas), John Ogu (Hapoel Be’er Sheva), Joel Obi (Torino).
    Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Leicester), Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Odion Ighalo (Changchun Yatai), Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Simeon Nwankwo (Crotone)

    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.

    What a turnaround since the humiliating 7-1 defeat against Germany four years ago. Coach Tite has made them into one of the favourites to win the tournament.

    Star player: Neymar
    Coach: Tite
    World Cup best: Winners 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002

    How they got here: The five-time champions were the first team other than hosts Russia to qualify for the tournament after a very impressive campaign. Brazil have not made a World Cup final since their last title in 2002.
    Strengths: The attack is formidable with Neymar back after injury and backed up by players such as Philippe Coutinho, Willian, Gabriel Jesus and, of course, the left-back Marcelo.
    Weaknesses: Dani Alves’s injury is a huge blow, partly because of his influence in the dressing room but also because he is better than his likely replacement, Danilo.

    Squad news:
    Goalkeepers: Alisson, Ederson, Cassio
    Defenders: Thiago Silva, Miranda, Marquinhos, Geromel, Fagner, Danilo, Marcelo, Filipe Luiz
    Midfielders: Casemiro, Fred, Paulinho, Renato Augusto Fernandinho, Willian, Coutinho
    Forwards: Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, Roberto Firmino, Douglas Costa, Taison

    Not much has changed from the squad that contested Euro 2016 but there seems to be a bit more togetherness about them these days.

    Star player: Granit Xhaka
    Coach: Vladimir Petkovic
    World Cup best: Quarter-finals 1934, 1938, 1954
    How they got here: Qualified for their fourth straight World Cup by beating Northern Ireland in a play-off via a controversial penalty. They have made it out of their group in two of the previous three and that will be the minimum aim this time around.
    Strengths: The team collective. The coach, Vladimir Petkovic, says the team have grown together and keep working hard for each other.
    Weaknesses: Goals can sometimes be hard to come by and Haris Seferovic, who is likely to start up front, has not had the best of seasons at Benfica.

    Squad news: Petkovic is blessed with a near enough fully-fit squad to choose from with a shoulder problem for Valon Behrami his only slight concern.
    Goalkeepers: Roman Buerki (Borussia Dortmund), Yvon Mvogo (Leipzig), Yann Sommer (Borussia Moenchengladbach)
    Defenders: Manuel Akanji (Borussia Dortmund), Johan Djourou (Antalyaspor), Nico Elvedi (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Michael Lang (Basel), Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Jacques-Francois Moubandje (Toulouse), Ricardo Rodriguez (AC Milan), Fabian Schaer (Deportivo La Coruna)
    Midfielders: Valon Behrami (Udinese), Blerim Dzemaili (Bologna), Gelson Fernandes (Eintracht Frankfurt), Remo Freuler (Atalanta), Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke), Granit Xhaka (Arsenal), Denis Zakaria (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Steven Zuber (Hoffenheim)
    Forwards: Josip Drmic (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Breel Embolo (Schalke), Mario Gavranovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Haris Seferovic (Benfica)

    Óscar Ramírez has continued in Jorge Luis Pinto’s footsteps by focusing on a solid defence and quick counterattacks, just as they did four years ago in Brazil when they reached the last eight.

    Star player: Keylor Navas
    Coach: Óscar Ramírez
    World Cup best: Quarter-finals 2014
    How they got here: Finished second in CONCACAF qualifying, with the highlight being a 4-0 victory over the United States. Will be hard pushed to match their 2014 performance, when they beat Italy, Uruguay and Greece before losing to Holland on penalties.
    Strengths: The defence stands out, with Giancarlo González of Bologna and Espanyol’s Óscar Duarte having got better since Brazil 2014.
    Weaknesses: The team, whether set up in a 4-5-1 or 3-5-2 formation, are fundamentally not set up to attack and if they fall behind they may struggle to turn matches around.

    Squad news:
    Goalkeepers: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid, Spain), Patrick Pemberton (Liga Deportiva Alajuelense), Leonel Moreira (Herediano);
    Defenders: Cristian Gamboa (Celtic, Scotland), Ian Smith (Norrkoping, Sweden), Ronald Matarrita (New York City, USA), Bryan Oviedo (Sunderland, England), Oscar Duarte (Espanyol, Spain), Giancarlo Gonzalez (Bologna, Italy), Francisco Calvo (Minnesota United, USA), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps, Canada), Johnny Acosta (Aguilas Dorados, Colombia);
    Midfielders: David Guzman (Portland Timbers, USA), Yeltsin Tejeda (Lausanne-Sport, Switzerland), Celso Borges (Deportivo La Coruna, Spain), Randall Azofeifa (Herediano), Rodney Wallace (New York City, USA), Bryan Ruiz (Sporting CP, Portugal), Daniel Colindres (Saprissa), Christian Bolanos (Saprissa);
    Forwards: Johan Venegas (Saprissa), Joel Campbell (Real Betis, Spain), Marco Urena (LAFC, USA).

    The former Serbia international Mladen Krstajic has changed things since taking over from Slavoljub Muslin in October last year and favours a 4-2-3-1 formation.

    Star player: Nemanja Matic
    Coach: Mladen Krstajic
    World Cup best: First round 2010 (Yugoslavia finished fourth in 1930 and 1962, Serbia and Montenegro reached the second round in 1998)

    How they got here: Qualifying for a first major tournament since the 2010 World Cup was not enough to save manager Slavoljub Muslin from the sack. Finished top of a group featuring the Republic of Ireland and Wales.
    Strengths: The Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is one of the most sought-after players in the world and could, together with Dusan Tadic, ensure Serbia are an attacking force to be reckoned with.
    Weaknesses: The back four could struggle against pacier sides and they will also be without the injured centre-back Matija Nastasic.

    23-man 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).
    Strikers: Aleksandar Mitrovic (Newcastle United), Aleksandar Prijovic (PAOK Salonika), Luka Jovic (Benfica).

    Group F: Tough to call behind Germany


    Key game
    Mexico-Sweden (27 June 2018, Ekaterinburg Arena, Ekaterinburg)
    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.

    One of the favourites to win the World Cup, the strength in depth is remarkable. Won the Confederations Cup last summer in Russia with half of the first team rested.

    Star player: Toni Kroos
    Coach: Joachim Löw
    World Cup best: Winners 2014 (West Germany were champions in 1954, 1974 and 1990)
    How they got here: The reigning champions qualified in style, winning all 10 of their games, scoring 43 goals and conceding only four. Their golden generation is ageing but remains a force and has been enhanced by young blood.
    Strengths: The midfield is a smorgasbord of talented players with Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller hopeful of a starting berth. Leroy Sané didn’t even make the squad.
    Weaknesses: There is possibly a lack of leadership in the squad compared with the last World Cup when Joachim Löw had players such as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Per Mertesacker to count on.

    23-man final squad
    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 Suele (Bayern Munich).
    Midfielders: Julian Brandt (Bayer Leverkusen), Julian Draxler (Paris St Germain), Leon Goretzka (Schalke 04), Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City), Sami Khedira (Juventus), Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), Thomas Mueller (Bayern Munich), Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund), Sebastian Rudy (Bayern Munich), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal).

    Forwards: Marco Reus, Thomas Müller, Mario Gomez, Timo Werner

    El Tri have reached the last 16 of the past six World Cups and the nation expects them to get out of the group this time too.

    Star player: Javier Hernández
    Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio
    World Cup best: Quarter-finals 1970, 1986
    How they got here: Mexico are traditionally the strongest team in the CONCACAF region and again qualified comfortably. They have reached the second round at the last six tournaments without once going further.
    Strengths: The attack looks potent with Javier Hernández the obvious focal point but the PSV Eindhoven winger Hirving Lozano may well prove to be an even bigger threat.
    Weaknesses: Osorio has not yet found his ideal No 6, with Héctor Herrera often leaving too much space between defence and midfield, which the oppostion can exploit.

    23-man final squad
    Goalkeepers: Guillermo Ochoa (Standard), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca), Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul)
    Defenders: Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt), Diego Reyes (Porto), Hector Moreno (Real Sociedad), Hugo Ayala (Tigres), Edson Alvarez (Club America), Jesus Gallardo (Pumas), Miguel Layun (Sevilla)
    Midfielders:Rafa Marquez (Atlas), Hector Herrera (Porto), Jonathan dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Andres Guardado (Real Betis), Marco Fabian (Eintracht Frankfurt), Giovani Dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
    Forwards: Javier Hernandez (West Ham United), Raul Jimenez (Benfica), Oribe Peralta (Club America), Jesus Corona (Porto), Carlos Vela (LAFC), Javier Aquino (Tigres), Hirving Lozano (PSV)

    This will be the first major tournament Sweden have contested without Zlatan Ibrahimovic since 2000. Focus has shifted towards the collective.

    Star player: Emil Forsberg
    Coach: Janne Andersson
    World Cup best: Runners-up 1958
    How they got here: Sweden qualified for their first World Cup since 2006 with a play-off win over four-time champions Italy. They also finished above Holland in a tough qualifying group which was headed by France.
    Strengths: They are extremely organised under Janne Andersson, who prefers a straightforward 4-4-2, which was enough to finish above the Netherlands in the group and eliminate Italy in the play-offs. Emil Forsberg offers unpredictability.
    Weaknesses: The fear is that the forward-line will struggle. Marcus Berg plays in the United Arab Emirates these days and Ola Toivonen has been out of the team at Toulouse.

    Squad news:
    Goalkeepers: Robin Olsen (FC Copenhagen/Denmark), Karl-Johan Johnsson (Guingamp/France), Kristoffer Nordfeldt (Swansea City/Wales)
    Defenders: Mikael Lustig (Celtic/Scotland), Victor Nilsson-Lindelof (Manchester United/England), Andreas Granqvist (Krasnodar/Russia), Martin Olsson (Swansea City/Wales), Ludwig Augustinsson (Werder Bremen/Germany), Filip Helander (Bologna/Italy), Pontus Jansson (Leeds United/England), Emil Krafth (Bologna/Italy)
    Midfielders: Emil Forsberg (RB Leipzig/Germany), Albin Ekdal (Hamburg/ Germany), Viktor Claesson (Krasnodar/Russia), Gustav Svensson (Seattle Sounders/USA), Sebastian Larsson (Hull City/England), Jimmy Durmaz (Toulouse/France), Oscar Hiljemark (Genoa/Italy), Marcus Rohden (Crotone/Italy)
    Forwards: Marcus Berg (Al Ain/UAE), Ola Toivonen (Toulouse/France), John Guidetti (Celta Vigo/Spain), Isaac Kiese-Thelin (Waasland-Beveren/Belgium)

    Having qualified playing 4-2-3-1, Shin Tae-yong has recently flirted with a back three and two strikers but has not quite found the right balance.

    Star player: Son Heung-min
    Coach: Shin Tae-yong
    World Cup best: Fourth place 2002
    How they got here: South Korea qualified for their ninth consecutive World Cup finals despite an indifferent campaign. They have only won two matches since finishing fourth as co-hosts in 2002.
    Strengths: The forward line is pacy with danger across the line. Son Heung-min showed this season that he can play in a number of positions and did well when he led the line in Harry Kane’s absence at Spurs.
    Weaknesses: Lee Keun-ho and Kwon Chang-hoon were ruled out just before the World Cup and that has placed even more pressure on Son.

    23-man final squad
    Goalkeepers: Kim Seung-gyu (Vissel Kobe, Japan), Kim Jin-hyeon (Cerezo Osaka, Japan), Cho Hyun-woo (Daegu FC)
    Defenders: Kim Young-gwon (Guangzhou Evergrande, China), Jang Hyun-soo (FC Tokyo, Japan), Jung Seung-hyun (Sagan Tosu, Japan), 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, England), Jung Woo-young (Vissel Kobe, Japan), Ju Se-jong (Asan Mugunghwa FC), Koo Ja-cheol (FC Augsburg, Germany), Lee Jae-sung (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors), Lee Seung-woo (Hellas Verona, Italy), Moon Seon-min (Incheon United).
    Forwards: Kim Shin-wook (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors), Son Heung-min (Tottenham, England), Hwang Hee-chan (FC Red Bull Salzburg, Austria)

    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.

    Roberto Martinéz has a host of talented players to choose from and the team are ranked among the top five in the world.

    Star player: Eden Hazard
    Coach: Roberto Martínez
    World Cup best: Fourth place 1986
    How they got here: Unbeaten in qualifying, Belgium’s hugely talented squad will be hoping to build on their quarter-final appearance four years ago having reached the same stage at Euro 2016.
    Strengths: The front three, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Dries Mertens, are of the highest quality and they are backed up by Kevin De Bruyne in midfield.
    Weaknesses: There may be some tension in the squad if they do not hit the ground running, with De Bruyne having criticised Martínez’s tactics after last November’s wild 3-3 draw with Mexico.

    24-man squad*
    *Roberto Martinez said that World Cup rules allowed the final squad to be named 24 hours before they kick off their campaign
    Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Koen Casteels (VfL Wolfsburg).
    Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Thomas Meunier (Paris Saint-Germain), Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham), Dedryck Boyata (Celtic), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City).
    Midfielders: Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Axel Witsel (Tianjin Quanjian), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Nacer Chadli (West Bromwich Albion), Leander Dendoncker (Anderlecht), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Youri Tielemans (Monaco), Mousa Dembele (Tottenham Hotspur).
    Forwards: Michy Batshuayi (Chelsea/Dortmund), Yannick Carrasco (Dalian Yifang), Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad), Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United), Dries Mertens (Napoli).

    Will be at their first World Cup after dramatically finishing above USA in Concacaf qualifying.

    Star player: Gabriel Gómez
    Coach: Hernán Darío Gómez
    World Cup best: Debut
    How they got here: Panama have been edging closer to reaching the World Cup finals for the first time in recent tournaments and crossed the line this time thanks to a last-gasp 2-1 victory over Costa Rica in their final qualifier.
    Strengths: This team will not give up without a fight. They will work hard, sometimes on the limits of the rules, as they showed in a friendly against Denmark in March.
    Weaknesses: Román Torres, the forward who was arguably the star of the qualifiers, has been injured and will not travel to Russia in the best shape.

    23-man final squad:
    Goalkeepers: Jaime Penedo (Dinamo Bucharest), Jose Calderon (Chorrillo FC), Alex Rodriguez (San Francisco FC).
    Defenders: Michael Murillo (New York Red Bulls), Harold Cummings (San Jose Earthquakes), Fidel Escobar (New York Red Bulls), Roman Torres (Seattle Sounders FC), Adolfo Machado (Houston Dynamo), Eric Davis (DAC Dunajska Streda), Luis Ovalle (CD Olimpia), Felipe Baloy (CSD Municipal).
    Midfielders: Gabriel Gomez (Atletico Bucaramanga), Edgar Barcenas (Cafetaleros de Tapachula), Armando Cooper (Club Universidad de Chile), Valentin Pimentel (Plaza Amador), Alberto Quintero (Universitario Lima), Anibal Godoy (San Jose Earthquakes), Jose Luis Rodriguez (KAA Gent).
    Forwards: Blas Perez (CSD Municipal), Gabriel Torres (CD Huachipato), Ismael Diaz (Deportivo La Coruña), Abdiel Arroyo (LD Alajuelense), Luis Tejada (Sport Boys).

    Won African qualifying group A, finishing above DR Congo, Libya and Guinea, to reach the country’s fifth World Cup.

    Star player: Wahbi Khazri
    Coach: Nabil Maâloul
    World Cup best: Group stage 1978, 1998, 2002, 2006
    How they got here: After appearing at three consecutive finals without winning a single group game, Tunisia missed the last two editions. Unbeaten in qualifying, they defeated DR Congo to Russia by a point, with a last-round draw against Libya proving enough for a squad compromised largely of Tunisia-based players.
    Strengths: Wahbi Khazri has had an outstanding season on loan at Rennes from Sunderland and will lead the attack.
    Weaknesses: Injury to the squad’s most creative player, Youssef Msakni, has left a huge creative gap for Nabil Maâloul to fill in attacking midfield.

    Squad news:
    Goalkeepers: Mathlouthi Aymen (Al Batin, Saudi Arabia),Ben Mustapha Farouk (Al Shabab, Saudi Arabia), Moez Hassen (LB Chateauroux, France)
    Defenders: Hamdi Nagguez (Zamalek, Egypt), Dylan Bronn (Gent, Belgium), Rami Bedoui (ES Setif), Yohan Ben Olouane (Leicester City, England), Siyam Ben Youssef (Kasimpasa, Turkey), Yessine Meriah (CS Sfaxien), Oussama Haddai (Dijon, France), Ali Maaloul (Al Ahly, Egypt);
    Midfielders: Elyess Skhiri (Montpellier, France), Mohamed Amine Ben Amor (Al Ahly, Saudi Arabia), Ferjani Sassi (Al Nassr, Saudi Arabia), Ahmed Khlil (Club Africain), Seifeddine Khaoui (Troyes, France)
    Forwards: Fakhreddine Ben Youssef (Al Ittifaq, Saudi Arabia), Anice Badri (ES Tunis), Bassem Srarfi (Nice, France), Wahbi Khazri (Rennes, France), Naim Sliti (Dijon, France)

    Went through qualifying without a single defeat and there is a feeling Southgate’s team have got more about them than Roy Hodgson’s in 2016.

    Star player: Harry Kane
    Coach: Gareth Southgate
    World Cup best: Winners 1966
    How they got here: A comfortable qualification campaign did nothing to boost optimism for England’s chances in Russia. A first major tournament in charge for Southgate, with the Three Lions having failed to reach the quarter-finals at the last two World Cups.
    Strengths: Several players have picked up pleasing high-pressing habits from managers such as Jürgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino while Harry Kane is lethal up front.
    Weaknesses: The three-man defence favoured by Southgate nowadays has not been tested in competitive games against the toughest opposition.

    Squad news:
    Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford (Everton), Jack Butland (Stoke), Nick Pope (Burnley)
    Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Kyle Walker (Man City) Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose (both Tottenham), Harry Maguire (Leicester), Phil Jones (Man Utd), John Stones (Man City), Gary Cahill (Chelsea)
    Midfielder: Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Eric Dier, Dele Alli (both Tottenham), Jesse Lingard, Ashley Young (both Man Utd), Fabian Delph (Man City), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea)
    Forwards: Raheem Sterling (Man City), Jamie Vardy (Leicester), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Man Utd), Danny Welbeck (Arsenal)

    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.

    Ranked in the top 10 in the world, Poland won eight of 10 qualifiers and scored an average of 2.8 goals per game.

    Star player: Robert Lewandowski
    Coach: Adam Nawalka
    World Cup best: Third place 1974, 1982
    How they got here: Poland are back at the World Cup finals for the first time since 2006 after comfortably topping their qualifying group. The last time they progressed beyond the group stages was 1986.
    Strengths: Robert Lewandowski is one of the most lethal strikers in the world and should be ably backed up by Arkadiusz Milik, who is back from two serious knee injuries.
    Weaknesses: Had the worst defence of all European group winners in qualifying and Adam Nawalka is considering using a back three instead of his favoured 4-2-3-1.

    Squad news:
    Goalkeepers: Bartosz Bialkowski (Ipswich Town), Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City), Wojciech Szczesny (Juventus);
    Defenders: Jan Bednarek (Southampton), Bartosz Bereszynski (Sampdoria), Thiago Cionek (SPAL), Kamil Glik (Monaco), Artur Jedrzejczyk (Legia Warsaw), Michal Pazdan (Legia Warsaw), Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund);
    Midfielders : Jakub Blaszczykowski (Wolfsburg), Jacek Goralski (Ludogorets Razgrad), Kamil Grosicki (Hull City), Grzegorz Krychowiak (West Bromwich Albion), Rafal Kurzawa (Gornik Zabrze), Karol Linetty (Sampdoria), Slawomir Peszko (Lechnia Gdansk), Maciej Rybus (Lokomotiv Moscow), Piotr Zielinski (Napoli)
    Forwards: Dawid Kownacki (Sampdoria), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Arkadiusz Milik (Napoli), Lukasz Teodorczyk (Anderlecht)

    Back at the World Cup after a 16-year absence but the coach, Aliou Cissé, has been heavily criticised because of his perceived negative tactics.

    Star player: Sadio Mané
    Coach: Aliou Cissé
    World Cup best: Quarter-final 2002
    How they got here: The surprise package at the 2002 World Cup – they memorably beat hosts France – Senegal missed three editions of the tournament before securing their return by beating South Africa in a replayed group match. The original result was annulled after referee Joseph Lamptey was expelled by Fifa.
    Strengths: The team have an impressively strong spine with Kalidou Koulibaly in defence, Idrissa Gana Gueye and Badou Ndiaye in midfield and Sadio Mané up front.
    Weaknesses: There is a feeling in Senegal that Cissé does not get the best out of the attacking talent at his disposal and the friendly draws against Uzbekistan and Bosnia- Herzegovina in March did nothing to change that.

    Squad news:
    Goalkeepers: Abdoulaye Diallo (Rennes, France), Alfred Gomis (SPAL, Italy), Khadim Ndiaye (Horoya, Guinea);
    Defenders: Lamine Gassama (Alanyaspor, Turkey), Saliou Ciss (Valenciennes, France), Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli, Italy), Kara Mbodii (Anderlecht, Belgium), Youssouf Sabaly (Bordeaux, France), Salif Sane (Hannover, Germany), Moussa Wague (Eupen, Belgium);
    Midfielders: Idrissa Gueye (Everton, England), Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham United, England), Alfred Ndiaye (Wolverhampton Wanderers, England), Badou Ndiaye (Stoke City, England), Cheikh Ndoye (Birmingham City, England), Ismaila Sarr (Rennes, France);
    Forwards: Keita Balde (Monaco, France), Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke City, England), Moussa Konate (Amiens, France), Sadio Mane (Liverpool, England), Mbaye Niang (Torino, Italy), Diafra Sakho (Rennes, France), Moussa Sow (Bursaspor, Turkey).

    One of the teams of the tournament in Brazil four years ago, when they reached the quarter-finals. José Pékerman remains in charge.

    Star player: James Rodríguez
    Coach: José Pékerman
    World Cup best: Quarter-finals 2014
    How they got here: Colombia’s star has waned a little since their brilliant showing in 2014, when they reached the last eight and were narrowly and controversially beaten by Brazil. Finished fourth in South American qualifying.
    Strengths: The country’s two superstars, James Rodríguez and Radamel Falcao, have had good seasons at club level and arrive in Russia in good shape.
    Weaknesses: David Ospina has suffered from not playing regularly at Arsenal and has made high-profile mistakes for the national team recently.

    Squad news:
    Goalkeepers: David Ospina (Arsenal/England), Camilo Vargas (Deportivo Cali), Jose Fernando Cuadrado (Once Caldas).
    Defenders: Santiago Arias (PSV Eindhoven/Netherlands), Frank Fabra (Boca Juniors/Argentina), Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham/England), Cristian Zapata (AC Milan/Italy), Yerry Mina (Barcelona/Spain) Johan Mojica (Girona/Spain), Oscar Murillo (Pachuca/Mexico)
    Midfielders: Abel Aguilar (Cali), Wilmar Barrios (Boca Juniors/Argentina), James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich/Germany), Carlos Sanchez (Espanyol/Spain), Jefferson Lerma (Levante/Spain), Juan Fernando Quintero (River Plate/Argentina), Juan Guillermo Cuadrado (Juventus/Italy), Mateus Uribe (America/Mexico)
    Forwards: Radamel Falcao (Monaco/France), Carlos Bacca (Villarreal/Spain), Miguel Borja (Palmeiras/Brazil), Jose Izquierdo (Brighton/England), Luis Muriel (Sevilla/Spain).

    Made the surprise decision to relieve Vahid Halilhodzic of his duties in April and replace him with the veteran Akira Nishino.

    Coach: Akira Nishino
    Star player: Shinji Okazaki
    World Cup best: Second round 2002, 2010
    How they got here: Will be appearing at their sixth consecutive World Cup finals after winning their qualification group. Did not win any of their three group games at the 2014 tournament.
    Strengths: The high-profile trio of Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki are back after being sidelined by Halilhodzic and should lift the team on and off the pitch.
    Weaknesses: Nishino has tried 3-4-2-1 – a formation used by some top clubs in the J-League – in a few friendlies but the team have struggled to adapt to the changes.

    Squad news: Other than the drama over the manager’s position where Nishino replaced Vahid Halilhodzic at the beginning of April it has been a relatively calm run into the tournament for the Japanese. Defender Hiroki Sakai is nursing a knee ligament injury but should be fit.

    Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Metz), Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka), Kosuke Nakamura (Kashiwa Reysol).
    Defenders: Yuto Nagatomo (Galatasaray), Tomoaki Makino (Urawa Reds), Wataru Endo (Urawa Reds), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Hiroki Sakai (Marseille), Gotoku Sakai (Hamburg), Gen Shoji (Kashima Antlers), Naomichi Ueda (Kashima Antlers).
    Midfielders: Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt), Keisuke Honda (Pachuca), Takashi Inui (Eibar), Shinji Kagawa (Dortmund), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Genki Haraguchi (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Takashi Usami (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Gaku Shibasaki (Getafe), Ryota Oshima (Kawasaki Frontale).
    Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Leicester), Yuya Osako (Werder Bremen), Yoshinori Muto (Mainz).

    The fixtures (All Times In East African Time (EAT)

    Group stages
    Thursday 14 June
    Russia vs Saudi Arabia (Group A) – Moscow (Luzhniki) – 6pm

    Friday 15 June
    Egypt vs Uruguay (Group A) – Ekaterinburg – 3pm
    Morocco vs Iran (Group B) – St Petersburg – 6pm
    Portugal vs Spain (Group B) – Sochi – 9pm

    Saturday 16 June
    France vs Australia (Group C) – Kazan – 1pm
    Argentina vs Iceland (Group D) – Moscow (Spartak) – 4pm
    Peru vs Denmark (Group C) – Saransk – 7pm
    Croatia vs Nigeria (Group D) – Kaliningrad – 10pm

    Sunday 17 June
    Costa Rica vs Serbia (Group E) – Samara – 3pm
    Germany vs Mexico (Group F) – Moscow (Luzhniki) – 6pm
    Brazil vs Switzerland (Group E) – Rostov-on-Don – 9pm

    Monday 18 June
    Sweden vs South Korea (Group F) – Nizhny Novgorod – 3pm
    Belgium vs Panama (Group G) – Sochi – 6pm
    Tunisia vs England (Group G) – Volgograd – 9pm

    Tuesday 19 June
    Colombia vs Japan (Group H) – Saransk – 3pm
    Poland vs Senegal (Group H) – Moscow (Spartak) – 6pm
    Russia vs Egypt (Group A) – St Petersburg – 9pm

    Wednesday 20 June
    Portugal vs Morocco (Group B) – Moscow (Luzhniki) – 3pm
    Uruguay vs Saudi Arabia (Group A) – Rostov-on-Don – 6pm
    Iran vs Spain (Group B) – Kazan – 9pm

    Thursday 21 June
    Denmark vs Australia (Group C) – Samara – 3pm
    France vs Peru (Group C) – Ekaterinburg – 6pm
    Argentina vs Croatia (Group D) – Nizhny Novgorod – 9pm

    Friday 22 June
    Brazil vs Costa Rica (Group E) – St Petersburg – 3pm
    Nigeria vs Iceland (Group D) – Volgograd – 6pm
    Serbia vs Switzerland (Group E) – Kaliningrad – 9pm

    Saturday 23 June
    Belgium vs Tunisia (Group G) – Moscow (Spartak) – 3pm
    South Korea vs Mexico (Group F) – Rostov-on-Don – 6pm
    Germany v Sweden (Group F) – Sochi – 9pm

    Sunday 24 June
    England vs Panama (Group G) – Nizhny Novgorod – 3pm
    Japan vs Senegal (Group H) – Ekaterinburg – 6pm
    Poland vs Colombia (Group H) – Kazan – 9pm

    Monday 25 June
    Uruguay vs Russia (Group A) – Samara – 5pm
    Saudi Arabia vs Egypt (Group A) – Volgograd – 5pm
    Spain vs Morocco (Group B) – Kaliningrad – 9pm
    Iran vs Portugal (Group B) – Saransk – 9pm

    Tuesday 26 June
    Denmark vs France (Group C) – Moscow (Luzhniki) – 5pm
    Australia vs Peru (Group C) – Sochi – 5pm – ITV
    Nigeria vs Argentina (Group D) – St Petersburg – 9pm
    Iceland vs Croatia (Group D) – Rostov-on-Don – 9pm

    Wednesday 27 June
    South Korea vs Germany (Group F) – Kazan – 5pm
    Mexico vs Sweden (Group F) – Ekaterinburg – 5pm
    Serbia vs Brazil (Group E) – Moscow (Spartak) – 9pm
    Switzerland vs Costa Rica (Group E) – Nizhny Novgorod – 9pm

    Thursday 28 June
    Japan vs Poland (Group H) – Volgograd – 5pm
    Senegal vs Colombia (Group H) – Samara – 5pm
    England vs Belgium (Group G) – Kaliningrad – 9pm
    Panama vs Tunisia (Group G) – Saransk – 7pm

    Round of 16
    Saturday 30 June
    Group C winner vs Group D runner-up – Kazan, 5pm (Match 50)
    Group A winner vs Group B runner-up- Sochi, 9pm (Match 49)

    Sunday 1 July
    Group B winner vs Group A runner-up- Moscow (Luzhniki), 5pm (Match 51)
    Group D winner vs Group C runner-up – Nizhny Novgorod, 9pm (Match 52)

    Monday 2 July
    Group E winner vs Group F runner-up – Samara, 5pm (Match 53)
    Group G winner vs Group H runner-up – Rostov-on-Don, 9pm (Match 54)

    Tuesday 3 July
    Group F winner vs Group E runner-up – St Petersburg 5pm (Match 55)
    Group H winner vs Group G runner-up – Moscow (Spartak), 9pm (Match 56)

    Friday 6 July
    Winner match 49 vs Winner match 50 – Nizhny Novgorod, 5pm (Match 57)
    Winner match 53 vs Winner match 54 – Kazan, 9pm (Match 58)

    Saturday 7 July
    Winner match 55 vs Winner match 56 – Samara, 5pm (Match 60)
    Winner match 51 vs Winner match 52 – Sochi, 9pm (Match 59)

    Tuesday 10 July
    Winner match 57 vs Winner match 58 – St Petersburg, 9pm (Match 61)

    Wednesday 11 July
    Winner match 59 vs Winner match 60 – Moscow (Luzhniki), 9pm (Match 62)

    Third place play-off
    Saturday 14 July

    Loser match 61 vs Loser match 62 – St Petersburg, 5pm

    Sunday 15 July
    Moscow (Luzhniki), 6pm



    She Cranes Star Nuba Reveals Why She Decided To Play For Uganda Not South Sudan; Why She Regrets Giving Birth Early…



    She Cranes player Mary Nuba

    Born in South Sudan but grew in Uganda, that’s the story of the She Cranes goal shooter Mary Nuba Cholhok who was voted as the best shooter in the just concluded Fast5 Series tournament which was held in New Zealand.

    Uganda emerged in fifth position in the tournament. theGrapevine had a chance to talk to Nuba before she went back to England for her professional career.

    Grapevine: Why did you decide to play for Uganda and not for your native country South Sudan?

    Nuba: South Sudan is still lagging behind in Netball and I’m getting old, that’s why I decided to play for Uganda’s She Cranes.

    Grapevine: What challenges have you faced so far in your career?

    Nuba: Thinking about my five-year baby who stays in Uganda yet I’m in England playing for my professional club.

    Grapevine: Then what about your husband [the baby’s father] ?

    Nuba: I’m not married, though I gave birth.

    Mary Nuba was awarded Fans player of the Fast5 Series tournament

    Grapevine: How did you manage giving birth and playing Netball?

    Nuba: I realized that later that I made a mistake of getting pregnant. But I stood on my feet, forgot all the past and decided to move on with my child and my career.

    Grapevine: How do you manage those good performances?

    Nuba: I work very hard ever day in order to achieve my goals.

    Grapevine: Where do you see She Cranes in four years to come?

    Nuba: I see She Cranes winning the Netball World cup because we have good players who are still young.

    Grapevine: Tell us about the best game in your career?

    Nuba: When we defeated South Africa in the Common Wealth games in Birmingham.

    Grapevine: Who’s your role model in the game of Netball?

    Nuba: Peace Proscovia because of the way she managed to lift her life from a poor background. She is now superstar in the game.



    By Juma Ali


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    MIRACLE: All She Cranes Players Return After Incidents Of Players Disappearing While On Duty Abroad…



    She Cranes players and one of the start player Goal Shooter Mary Cholhok Nuba

    It was a miracle this time around after all the She Cranes players returned from New Zealand.

    It has been a habit for some Netball players to escape when the team travels for international tournaments.

    Just last month, two She Cranes players; Nakanyike Shakira, who was a Police Player and Rose Namutebi, who was a KCCA Player, disappeared in UK, during She Cranes international friendlies.

    The disappearance of these two players followed the disappearance of centre Player, Halimah Nakachwa, who disappeared in UK, in 2017 during another international friendly in UK.

    However, this time around, all the nine players who went for the first five series tournament in New Zealand, where She Cranes emerged fifth, after wining three games and losing three games, all returned with the team.

    National players disappearing while on duty abroad is also a habit in other sports disciplines like; boxing, table tennis, Rugby among others.


    By Juma Ali


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    It’s Time For Golola To Rest: I’m Going To Punch Him Into Retirement – General Fungu Vows…



    Moses Golola (L) and General Fungu (R)

    General Hamza Fungu has vowed to fight Moses Golola and send him into retirement come 26th December. 2022.

    Fungu said this during the launch at Akamwesi gardens today.

    Uganda’s middle weight kick boxing champion, Golola Moses is set to face his former trainer, General Hamza Fungu on bixing day at Akamwesi shopping mail gardens.

    Golola, who is known for his many words said that he has beaten many fighters who were better than Fungu, “now look at this piglet, I’m going to show him why I’m called Golola Moses ‘of Uganda ‘  and I call upon Ugandans to come and be witnesses on that day.”

    Though Golola said that he signed a contract which allows both fighters to fight until one gets tired, officials in charge of organizing the show said they will fight K-1 style for five rounds.

    Grapevine had a chance to sit down with Golola’s challenger General Fungu and and this is what he had to say;

    theGrapevine: How are you prepared for this fight?

    Fungu: I’m well prepared but they have also given us enough time. So, I’m going to prepare more.

    theGrapevine: Why, among fighters did you choose Golola?

    Fungu: I have been asking to fight Golola for the last five years but he has been dodging me. He one time asked for 20,000 dollars to fight me.

    theGrapevine: Why do you think he accepted this time around?

    Fungu: I think this time, he has been given a lot of money.

    theGrapevine: Which tactics are you going to use to defeat Golola?

    Fungu : Golola has words but I have the tactics which will defeat Golola.

    theGrapevine: Many people have come out to challenge Golola but he finally wins?

    Fungu : He has been favoured many times.

    theGrapevine: Is it true that the contract you signed for the fight allows you to fight until one of you gets tired?

    Fungu : The contract is a disadvantage to Golola not me because I was born a fighter.

    theGrapevine: What next after this fight?

    Fungu : After this fight, I will fight three more three bouts and retire.


    By Juma Ali


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