World Cup talk is starting to dominate the conversation in football’s leading nations as the big kick-off on June 14 approches.
From favourites Brazil and Germany to hosts Russia and perennial under-achievers England, we shine the spotlight on all the main contenders; what shape are they in? How many injuries do they have? And what selection issues are keeping the managers up at night?
Germany lifted the World Cup back in 2014 – but who will emulate them in Russia this summer?
WHAT SHAPE ARE THEY IN
The first team to qualify for the World Cup back in March, Brazil have enjoyed an impressive renaissance since their 7-1 humiliation against Germany on home soil four years ago.
They can pick players from Europe’s top clubs all over the pitch; Ederson, Dani Alves, Marquinhos, Marcelo, Casemiro, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino included.
ANY BIG INJURY PROBLEMS?
Neymar is missing from the upcoming friendlies against Russia on Friday and Germany next week because of an ankle injury sustained at the end of February.
Though he should be fit for the finals, there will be a concern if he can get enough games for PSG to be 100 per cent match sharp.
Brazil are still haunted by Neymar’s back injury during the last World Cup which may have cost them home glory.
Brazil are still haunted by Neymar’s injury in the quarter-finals of their home 2014 tournament
WHAT ARE THE DECISIONS TO BE MADE?
Coach Tite has already named 15 of the players he will pick in his World Cup squad, a decision that exudes confidence. He even named his starting XI in February.
‘The 11 who will start are Alisson; Marcelo, Miranda, Marquinhos, Daniel Alves; Paulinho, Renato Augusto and Casemiro, Neymar, Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus,’ he said in an interview with UOL Esportes.
In reality, it might not be so simple. Injuries aside, Manchester City’s Ederson could push Alisson of Roma at goalkeeper, while Firmino or Jesus up front is a tough decision.
ONE REASON WHY THEY’LL STEAL THE SHOW IN RUSSIA
Nothing creates interest and excitement like seeing the yellow shirts of Brazil in a World Cup and it will be the same when they start against Switzerland on June 17.
Pele coined the phrase ‘Beautiful Game’ and it’s up to Neymar and Coutinho to carry on the tradition; of football being played as a samba, or on the beach, and to win of course.
Philippe Coutinho celebrates scoring for Brazil against Ecuador during qualification
WHAT SHAPE ARE THEY IN?
World Cup holders, No 1 ranked team with FIFA and bookmakers’ favourites to retain the trophy. In other words, they’re in pretty good shape!
A new generation of players headed by Leroy Sane, Joshua Kimmich and Timo Werner has been added to the 2014 stalwarts though there will be concern over the lack of a proven international striker to replace Miroslav Klose.
ANY BIG INJURY PROBLEMS?
Manuel Neuer, widely regarded as the best goalkeeper in the world, hasn’t played since September because of a fractured foot, though he is upbeat…