Ranking every World Cup team heading into the group stage draw as Russia land at 28th

Alex Rea 29/11/2017
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Russian roulette: Fyodor Smolov

The World Cup draw takes place in Moscow on Friday with each of the 32 teams set to find out their group stage fate.

From the four pots eight groups will be drawn from A-H with the opening clash featuring hosts Russia to be played on June 14.

The allocation of the pots is done by using the FIFA rankings system and of course, have been dissected and debated.

But the rankings don’t necessarily reflect the true position of the 32 sides so we’ve gone ahead and analysed is 1-32 with their actual ranking in brackets.

First up is teams 25-32…

25. Costa Rica (26)

Spain’s 5-0 thrashing of the Costa Ricans in a friendly last month hardly bodes well but when stakes are riding high, the underdogs can bite.

They set the United States on the way to a surprise qualifying exit after coming away with a 2-0 victory from New Jersey and held runaway group leaders Mexico to a draw at home.

And if you need reminding of what they did three years ago, only penalties prevented Costa Rica from advancing to the World Cup semi-finals at the expense of the Netherlands.

Their strength is in their experience as the average age of players among their qualifying squad, marshalled by former Fulham midfielder Bryan Ruiz.

Oscar Ramirez has carried on the good work of 2014 coach Jorge Luis Pinto but with little fresh talent to emerge since then, it is reasonable to wonder if lightning can strike twice.

Costa Rica captain Bryan Ruiz

Costa Rica captain Bryan Ruiz

26. South Korea (59)

South Korea became the only side outside of Europe and South Korea to have featured in every tournament since 1986, despite a rocky qualification.

They needed Syria’s failure to beat Iran to get through the Asian qualifiers after a 0-0 draw with Uzbekistan and they don’t look strong enough to fair any better than their weak surrender in the group stage four years ago.

The Premier League trio of Tottenham’s Son Heung-min, Swansea’s Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace’s Lee Chung-yong, give them crucial experience from Europe.

Son in particular will be their dynamic star man and is the top-scoring player in Premier League history.

Son Heung-Min of South Korea

Son Heung-Min of South Korea

27. Tunisia (27)

A fifth World Cup beckons for Tunisia and it will be their first in 12 years but for the Eagles of Carthage to take flight they will need to avoid significant resistance in the form of a tough group.

Wahbi Khazri has rebounded from his nightmare spell at Sunderland with Ligue 1 club Rennes and he heads up a new generation of Tunisian stars while former Monaco man Aymen Abdennour carries their main goal threat.

Only two players called up for the last round of African qualifying games had more than 50 caps so inexperience is their main issue.

But having beaten the likes Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea to make it to Russia they’ll be entering the tournament with little fear.

Tunisia's midfielder Wahbi Khazri

Tunisia’s midfielder Wahbi Khazri

28. Russia (65)

As a host nation, expectation will be high but it really shouldn’t be.

National pride will be at stake and with the luxury of being in Pot 1 they will hope to make an impression in the group stages at the very least.

The complexion of this side has changed drastically since reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2008 and they are actually the lowest-ranked of the 32 teams.

As captain, Igor Akinfeev bears the burden of pressure but his shoulders have collapsed when it comes to the big games with mistakes tarnishing an otherwise talented stopper.

There are problems off the pitch, too with reports of disputes between senior players and coach Stanislav Cherchesov refusing to go away.

They lack any creative guile and will pin a lot of their hopes on the resurgent Krasnodar forward Fyodor Smolov.

Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev

Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev

29. Peru (11)

Peru possess one of the meanest defences in South American football with Ricardo Gareca’s men only conceding seven goals in eight games in 2017.

However, there are huge concerns even before they step foot in Russia next year.

Paolo Guerrero is likely to be banned for a FIFA doping offence and although he’s appealing it’s unlikely the 33-year-old captain will be successful.

Their aging winger Jefferson Farfan is beginning to see his powers wane now aged 33 and despite Gareca bringing a sense of organisation they lack any real attacking thrust.

The Peruvian’s are somewhat destined to fall flat in Russia.

Peru's Jefferson Farfan

Peru’s Jefferson Farfan

30. Saudi Arabia (63)

Saudi Arabia are onto their third coach in three months with Bert van Marwijk’s replacement Edgardo Bauza sacked after a series of poor post-qualifying friendly results.

Former Chile boss Juan Antonio Pizzi has now taken charge but a tall order awaits despite Saudi Arabia topping their qualification group to edge out Japan and Australia.

Mohammed Al-Sahlawi is the talisman. He scored 16 goals in qualification – joint highest throughout all the confederations – but the squad lacks European experience and the managerial chaos has hardly helped matters.

Saudi's Mohammed Al-Sahlawi

Saudi’s Mohammed Al-Sahlawi

31. Australia (39)

The foot of the post denied Syria progression to the final play-off at Australia’s expense with the rising star Omar Al Somah cruelly thwarted.

However, the Soceroos made no mistake against Honduras winning 3-1 over the two legs.

They’ve since had manager Ange Postecoglou step down and their softening attack still relies on a 37-year-old Tim Cahill.

Australia's record scorer Tim Cahill

Australia’s record scorer Tim Cahill

32. Panama (56)

Panama celebrated their qualification to a first-ever World Cup by declaring a national holiday.

They won’t catch any breaks in Russia, though.

Luis Tejada is their key man with 43 goals for his country but they are a veteran side who have been known to crumble with their 4-0 thrashing by the USA a testament to that.

Panama forward Luis Tejada (L)

Panama forward Luis Tejada (L)

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Cazorla suffers devastating setback as Arsenal midfielder undergoes more surgery

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Down and out: Santi Carzola

Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla has been forced to have another operation on his Achilles, prolonging his long injury nightmare and delaying his return to action.

Cazorla has not played for the Gunners since October last year and said earlier this month he almost lost his foot due to a serious infection.

Arsene Wenger had expressed hope Cazorla might recover in time to feature again in January but the 32-year-old has suffered a fresh setback.

“Due to some discomfort in the tendon the last few days, I have had to undergo surgery,” Cazorla tweeted on Wednesday.

“It is delaying the date of my return to the field. I maintain my hope and motivation to enjoy my great passion, football.”

The message was accompanied by a picture of Cazorla making a gesture of prayer while in action for Arsenal.

Wenger has admitted Cazorla’s injury is the worst he has ever known, with the player’s foot requiring a series of operations, as well as a skin graft from his arm.

Cazorla joined Arsenal in 2012 from Malaga and has made more than 150 appearances for the club.

Provided by Press Association Sport

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United and City linked with Sevilla defender while Luiz is wanted by Real Madrid

Alex Rea 29/11/2017
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Wanted man: Sevilla defender Clement Lenglet

The transfer window may not open again until January 1 2018 but that hasn’t put an end to plenty of speculation throughout Europe.

Here, we take a look at three big stories dominating the headlines on Wednesday.

Will any of the following deals happen?

Let us know your thoughts.

Get in touch via Twitter and Facebook.

CLEMENT LENGLET

Manchester United and Manchester City are taking a look at Sevilla defender Clement Lenglet, reports the Daily Mail.

The 22-year-old Frenchman has a contract until 2021 and reportedly has a buyout clause worth £28million.

RATING: 6/10

VERDICT

Barcelona have been linked with the France U21 international with his ability on the ball and his adeptness at bringing the ball out of the back seeing him naturally rumoured to be moving to Camp Nou.

He’s quickly developing into one of the most talented defenders in Europe and the two Manchester clubs won’t be alone in their pursuit of Lenglet.

AHMED HEGAZI

Liverpool are exploring the possibility of signing West Brom centre-back Ahmed Hegazi, according to ESPN.

On loan from Egyptian club Al Ahly, Leicester are also interested with West Brom having an option to make the deal permanent for €5million.

RATING: 7/10

VERDICT

One position Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp will be in for in the January transfer window is centre-back and Hegazi has been a tower of strength since joining West Brom.

The link up with fellow Egypt international and good friend Mohamed Salah would be one of a variety of reasons the 26-year-old swaps clubs in the New Year.

Ahmed Hegazi (r) in action against Newcastle in midweek

Ahmed Hegazi (r) in action against Newcastle in midweek

DAVID LUIZ

Chelsea defender David Luiz is a shock target of Real Madrid, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Luiz has fallen down the pecking order with the Premier League champions after Andreas Christensen’s emergence as a first-team regular and could be moved on in January.

RATING: 7/10 

VERDICT

Injuries and the inconsistent form of Jesus Vallejo have left Real looking dreadfully short at centre-half and Luiz could be the man to bolster their backline.

The Brazilian was frozen out of the first-team fold altogether by boss Antonio Conte after a falling out but despite returning to the squad has been sat on the bench for the last two Premier League games.

Chelsea defender David Luiz

Chelsea defender David Luiz

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