FIFA World Cup Latest News

Dembele is surprise Belgium pick as Matuidi returns for France

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Moussa Dembele was a surprise pick to replace the suspended Thomas Meunier in Belgium’s line-up and Blaise Matuidi was restored to the France midfield for Tuesday’s World Cup semi-final.

Matuidi missed the 2-0 quarter-final win over Uruguay due to suspension but has been recalled in place of Corentin Tolisso.

Belgium’s right wing back Meunier was cautioned for a second time in the tournament in their quarter-final victory over Brazil and Dembele takes his place in the starting side.

Dembele will play alongside Axel Witsel in the centre of midfield with Belgium coach Roberto Martinez moving Marouane Fellaini to the right.

Nacer Chadli goes from the centre to the left where he will try to nullify the threat of speedy France striker Kylian Mbappe.

Mbappe and midfielder Ngolo Kante were included in the France team despite sitting out training on Monday.

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Survivors Belgium brace for Brazil challenge

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At a World Cup rocked repeatedly by the fall of giants, Brazil and Belgium have managed to hold firm in the maelstrom and will meet in a blockbuster quarter-final in Kazan on Friday.

Most pre-tournament modelling has been put through the shredder by the eliminations of traditional heavyweights like Germany and Spain.

However, the clash of the fancied South Americans and Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’ has given the most casual of analysts reason to feel smug that, at least, they got one thing right in their scenario plotting.

The teams have progressed through different means but each arrives with confidence after rousing wins in their last starts.

Inspired by Neymar brilliance and the wiles of Willian, Brazil sent a tough Mexico side packing with a 2-0 defeat that cemented Tite’s side as favourites to claim a record-extending sixth World Cup trophy.

It was hardly such smooth sailing for the Belgians, who suffered a huge scare in their last-gasp 3-2 win over Japan.

But their marauding finish, banging in three consecutive goals late in the tie to erase a 2-0 deficit, was a sobering reminder of the firepower at Roberto Martinez’s disposal.

Against Brazil, however, Belgium’s formidable attack featuring captain Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku may be hard pressed to break down a stingy defence which has conceded one goal in their four matches at the tournament, and a total of six from their past 25.

Their win over Mexico showed textbook defending from the central pairing of Thiago Silva and Miranda, assisted by full backs Fagner and Filipe Luis.

If there is one glimmer of hope for Belgium, it might be the suspension of holding midfielder Casemiro, who picked up his second yellow card during the Mexico game.

The Real Madrid man has been key to Brazil’s structure, so his likely replacement, the 33-year-old Fernandinho of Manchester City, will have big shoes to fill.

MARCELO RECALL

Although Luis put in a solid display against Mexico, Tite may be tempted to recall his preferred left back Marcelo, who missed the match with a back injury but returned to training.

At the other end, Brazil’s attack has clicked after a disappointing start to the tournament, and even Neymar’s much-criticised histrionics could not completely overshadow a dominant performance against Mexico.

They will look to exploit a Belgium defence that has let through four goals and has a trio of big centre backs that may be exposed for pace by the nippy Neymar, Willian and Philippe Coutinho.

Belgium, bidding to reach their first semi-finals since 1986 in Mexico, face a huge challenge to knock off Tite’s men but after surviving Japan, they already feel they are playing with house money.

“We can enjoy it from the first minute,” Martinez said.

“I don’t think anyone expects us to go through to the semi-finals.”

The winner will bid for a place in the final against either France or Uruguay.

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World Cup success is becoming an addiction says Russia’s Kutepov

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World Cup hosts Russia were outsiders only weeks ago but their unexpected World Cup success has made them hungry for more as they eye a semi-final spot against Croatia, defender Ilya Kutepov said on Wednesday.

Russia edged Spain on penalties in last week’s round of 16 match after the Spaniards played more than 1,000 passes but failed to create any chances.

Kutepov, who has so far played every minute of their four matches, said his team was now allowed to dream big.

Since the end of the Soviet Union, which had reached the last four in 1966, Russia have never advanced as far as they have done in their home tournament.

“There are always chances. We are getting ready, focusing,” Kutepov said. “We have ambitions, we want to go further, everything is decided on the pitch. It is a kind of addiction – you want more and more.”

The Russians came into the tournament as the lowest-ranked team and making it through the group stage was their initial goal.

After their penalty shootout win over Spain, however, the country has been gripped by World Cup fever with Russian fans wanting more of that success.

That will require different tactics than the ones deployed against Spain where Russia sat back and soaked up the pressure with the Spaniards dominating possession but lacking a clinical edge in front of goal.

“We all understood that Spain will control the ball, it happens in every match they play with any team,” midfielder Aleksandr Golovin was quoted by Match TV as saying.

“We understood that. With the Croats we should play using our strong points, dictating our play.”

Russia face Croatia at Sochi’s Fisht Stadium on Saturday and the winner will play either England or Sweden for a spot in the July 15 final in Moscow.

“If the team has less control of the ball it doesn’t mean they are weaker,” Golovin said. “That’s just another style of play. They don’t aim to control the ball for the whole match, they aim to achieve a favourable result. From this point of view – it’s easier.

“The team that will show more muscle and will be more stubborn will win the game against Croatia.”

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England beat Colombia on penalties to reach quarterfinals

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England finally ended their penalties curse when they beat Colombia 4-3 in a shootout after drawing their World Cup last-16 clash 1-1 following extra time after the South Americans equalised in the 93rd minute.

England had previously lost all three World Cup shootouts and three of four in the European Championship but prevailed on Tuesday when Mateus Uribe and Carlos Bacca failed to convert, leaving Eric Dier to win the game for England

It was the first time Colombia had been involved in a World Cup shootout and they took first blood when Jordan Henderson missed his spot kick – but for once fortune smiled on England.

Earlier Harry Kane smashed in a 57th-minute penalty, his sixth goal of the tournament, and England looked to be through until Yerry Mina headed an equaliser in the third minute of stoppage time.

It was England’s first win in a knockout game since 2006 and earns them a quarter-final with Sweden, who were far from impressive in beating Switzerland 1-0 earlier on Tuesday.

Then comes a potential semi-final against hosts Russia or Croatia with Tuesday’s win appearing to vindicate – just – coach Gareth Southgate’s decision to field a second-string side in the the final group game loss to Belgium to secure an easier route.

Colombia’s hopes suffered a huge setback before kickoff when key playmaker James Rodriguez was ruled out with a calf injury and without him they took a defensive approach and never rarely threatened.

England were always the more purposeful side but they lacked the key final ball and needed a gift to take the lead.

The South Americans had been getting away with blatant holding and wrestling at each of England’s many corners and the referee’s patience finally snapped when Carlos Sanchez hauled down tournament leading scorer Kane once too often.

After four minutes of mayhem as the Colombians protested, Kane kept his cool and smashed in his third spot kick of Russia 2018.

When Juan Cuadrado blazed horribly over the bar with the goal gaping 10 minutes from time with Colombia’s first chance of the match it looked all over for them but there was a fiery sting in the tail of normal time.

England keeper Jordan Pickford made a superb save to touch wide a furious long shot by Uribe but from the following corner – Colombia’s first of the match – giant defender Mina rose highest to head in the equaliser and send the massed Colombian fans into a frenzy.

England substitute Dier missed the best chance of the extra period when he headed over the bar but he made up for it in emphatic fashion with the winning penalty in the shootout.

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Brazilian pair ruled out of Sunday warm-up vs Croatia

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Renato Augusto

Renato Augusto and Douglas Costa will miss Brazil’s World Cup warm-up friendly against Croatia in England this weekend due to injury, the Brazilian Football Confederation said on Friday.

Costa will travel with the squad to Liverpool, but will not play in Sunday’s match due to a thigh strain.

However, Renato Augusto, the Beijing Guoan midfielder who has been a regular starter under coach Tite, will stay in London to have physiotherapy on an injured left knee.

Brazil play Croatia at Anfield on Sunday in what will be their penultimate warm-up before heading to Russia.

The five-time World Cup winners also face Austria in Vienna on June 10.

Striker and talisman Neymar, who has not played since injuring his foot in a league match for Paris St Germain back in February, is expected to feature in both games, although reports said he will start on the bench against Croatia.

Brazil kick off their World Cup campaign against Switzerland on June 17 and also play Costa Rica and Serbia in Group E.

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‘Don’t cry for me,’ says injured Alves who promises to be back

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A day after he was ruled out the World Cup with a knee injury, Brazil’s Dani Alves sent an inspiring double message to his fans: Don’t Cry for Me, and I’ll be Back.

Alves, who plays for Paris St Germain, limped off near the end of Tuesday’s French Cup Final win over Les Herbiers and doctors said he could be out for as long as six months with an injury to his right anterior cruciate ligament.

But Alves, who has won three Champions Leagues, a Copa America and league titles in Spain, Italy, and France, was not dwelling on his misfortune.

“I don’t want anybody to cry for me. I don’t want anybody to feel sorry for me. I have lived my dreams,” he said.
In an upbeat piece penned for The Players Tribune, the famously irreverent former Barcelona and Juventus right back said he believes Brazil can win the World Cup for an unprecedented sixth time in Russia. And the 35-year old warned against anyone ruling him out of the World Cup in Qatar in 2022.

“I don’t consider myself a veteran. As you can see, my spirit is about 13 years old. Who knows, maybe when the 2022 World Cup comes around, I will still be competing for a place on the team. My body will be 39, but my spirit will have only turned 17.”
Brazil kick off the World Cup on June 17 with a game against Switzerland before facing Costa Rica and Serbia.

National team doctor Rodrigo Lasmar told reporters on Saturday that Neymar should be back in time for the first of Brazil’s two warm-up friendlies on June 3.

The PSG player has been out since February with an injured foot but was back in training this week.

Lasmar said Neymar should be fit to face Croatia in Liverpool on June 3 and Austria in Vienna a week later, according to the Globo Esporte web site.

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