MOSCOW, June 9, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Neymar’s acclaimed return ahead of the
World Cup supplied Brazil with an immeasurable boost, but holders Germany and
Argentina arrive at the tournament confronting inconsistent form and
The Paris Saint-Germain superstar’s swashbuckling display in a 45-minute
appearance against Croatia last weekend largely dismissed lingering concerns
over his fitness after more than three months out with a fractured foot.
The 26-year-old admitted he was only at “80 percent” but promised he would
be raring to go come Brazil’s first game at the finals against Switzerland on
“For the first match back I actually expected less from him! I would have
been happy with a quieter performance,” Brazil coach Tite said of Neymar.
“What he did was really extraordinary.”
Brazil’s form under Tite, appointed midway through a faltering qualifying
campaign, suggests it will be difficult to stop the five-time world champions
from adding another title in Russia.
A reinvigorated Selecao have won 16 of 20 matches with the former
Corinthians boss at the helm, a 1-0 loss to Argentina last year in Melbourne
the only defeat since he took charge.
Spain, unbeaten since Julen Lopetegui was named coach after Euro 2016, are
back among the genuine contenders after a catastrophic 2014 World Cup and
another early exit the European Championship.
“Spanish football has lived through an extraordinary, historic period in
2008, 2010 and 2012, but after that the team has not found the same
consistency or success,” Lopetegui told AFP.
“We have to grow again as a team. We have the biggest ambitions but we are
also very aware that we arrive at this World Cup feeling humble and wanting
to prove ourselves.”
Spain cruised through a qualifying section featuring Italy, and delivered a
further warning to their World Cup rivals with a 6-1 demolition of Argentina
But they will be tested immediately in Russia when they launch their group
stage campaign against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal on June 15.
– Trouble ahead for Germany? –
Manuel Neuer’s comeback following eight months out with a foot injury has
given Germany a much-needed shot in the arm, with Joachim Loew’s side
struggling to hit their stride ahead of their title defence.
An unconvincing 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia on Friday halted a five-match
winless run, although Ilkay Gundogan was booed by Germany supporters after
meeting Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and calling him “my
president”. “The fact that a national player is booed like that helps
nobody,” Loew told broadcaster ARD, insisting the incident be put in the
“He took a picture, okay, but he has addressed it with the press and
underlined his support for German values.
“The topic has to be ticked off.”
Argentina’s build-up was jolted by the cancellation of a controversial
friendly against Israel in Jerusalem, a fixture set to be their final outing
ahead of the World Cup.
The sold-out game had been due to take place on Saturday but was hotly
opposed by Palestinians, who claim the eastern part of the city, annexed by
Israel, as the capital of their future state.
With goalkeeper Sergio Romero already ruled out, Argentina’s plans were
further complicated by the loss of Manuel Lanzini to injury, but team manager
Omar Souto believes all is in place for a successful competition.
“I have been at five World Cups and this is the best set-up because it has
everything… there’s never been a place like this for the national team,” he
told AFP, with Argentina due to arrive at their Bronnitsy training base, 40km
southeast of Moscow, later on Saturday.
– Pogba worry for France? –
A hugely talented France squad head to Russia with high expectations, but
Didier Deschamps is still struggling to find a system that will enable him to
unlock the full potential in his team.
Paul Pogba, who will have a huge role to play if France are to succeed, was
jeered by a smattering of home fans after an underwhelming performance in a
recent 3-1 win over Italy.
“People talk a lot about Paul. He’s a midfielder, he’s not a number 10, nor
a forward,” said Deschamps.
“He has the ability to score goals and create them, which he does often.
He’s a complete midfielder: he can do everything but he can’t do everything.”
Unburdened by modest expectations, England’s youthful side will go into the
tournament riding a 10-match unbeaten run that stretches back nearly a year.
Gareth Southgate admitted he faces a selection dilemma after Marcus
Rashford starred in a 2-0 win over Costa Rica, but a reasonable draw could
allow them to reach a first World Cup quarter-final since 2006.