Brazil much better now than in 2014, says Toni Kroos

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Toni Kroos rates Brazil “two grades” higher than when Germany hammered the Selecao 7-1 at the 2014 World Cup.

Kroos scored twice in the Belo Horizonte semi-final at Brazil 2014 when Germany blitzed the hosts, who were missing superstar forward Neymar, with five goals in a dramatic opening 30 minutes of what became the heaviest home defeat in Brazil’s history.

Ahead of the teams’ meeting on Tuesday, Germany midfielder Kroos is not expecting a repeat: “When I look at the current team in comparison to 2014, they are two grades better.

“They have really good people, my (Real Madrid) team-mate Casemiro is doing well – they have come together well.

“Brazil are definitely one of the World Cup favourites.”

Germany face Brazil at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium after the Selecao beat Russia 3-0 in Moscow on Friday, with Neymar again sidelined by injury.

Second-half goals by Miranda, Paulinho and a Philippe Countinho penalty sealed the win at Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium, which hosts the World Cup final on July 15.

The Germans warmed up with a 1-1 draw against Spain in Duesseldorf to extend their unbeaten run to 22 matches.

Rodrigo Moreno’s goal after just six minutes was cancelled out by Thomas Mueller’s superb first-half strike on Friday.

With one eye on their World Cup defence, Joachim Loew consoled himself with the “very, very important lessons” Germany learnt, but his senior stars were unhappy.

Centre-back Jerome Boeteng said “everything” was wrong in the opening 20 minutes when Andres Iniesta gave the German midfield a masterclass as Spain dominated.

“Our pressing didn’t work, then they played cat and mouse with us,” Boateng fumed.

“We wanted to play better from the back, use our chances, pass well, not lose the ball so fast.

“Our counter-attacking game must be better, we were hit three or four times on the counter, you can’t have that.

“It’s not all bad, but we have a lot of work and we must come together as a team.”

Kroos agreed: “In the first 20 minutes we were just chasing after them.”

The Spanish provided Loew with the tough test he wanted as Germany count down to their first World Cup match against Mexico in Moscow on June 17.

“It was worth the risk, even when we didn’t always manage to put pressure on them up front,” said the Germany boss.

Now comes another ‘outstanding test’ in the shape of Brazil.

“These are the teams who want to – and can – play a decisive role at the World Cup,” said Loew.

A win over Brazil would boost German confidence following recent draws with top teams England (0-0), France (2-2) and now Spain.

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Andres Iniesta's display against Germany proves he still has plenty to offer Spain

Tom Allnutt 24/03/2018
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Andres Iniesta may be considering international retirement and winding down his club career in China but Spain’s creator-in-chief demonstrated on Friday why he might be leaving too soon.

Iniesta’s threaded pass in the sixth minute, disguised by a contradictory glance and weighted so precisely that Rodrigo Moreno did not need to bother with a controlling touch, was not one of a player struggling to keep up.

This was Germany and the defence of the world champions, whom Spain could face again in the semi-finals at the World Cup, where Iniesta’s craft, eye and experience could prove similarly precious.

By the summer, Iniesta will be 34, perhaps about to trade La Liga for the Chinese Super League, where, he has said, he has an offer. He will decide by the end of April whether to call time on a glittering 16-year career at Barcelona.

“I don’t want to be around just because of who I was,” Iniesta told Spanish radio station Cadena SER on Thursday.

Barca would miss him, even with Philippe Coutinho – his anointed successor – in place, but perhaps the greater loss would be felt by Spain, for whom no player has been more instrumental over the last decade. Iniesta played in all the victorious finals – 2008, 2010 and 2012 – scoring the winner in one and claiming man-of-the-match in two.

All distinguished careers come to an end but few among the sold-out crowd in the Espirit Arena in Dusseldorf could argue that Iniesta does not have more to give.

His key contribution did not prove decisive, cancelled out by a superb 25-yard shot from Germany’s Thomas Muller in a 1-1 draw that pointed to two sides ready to go deep in Russia.

Spain are unbeaten in 17 matches under coach Julen Lopetegui. The former Rayo Vallecano goalkeeper hardly revolutionised this talented squad but made tweaks and gradually restored belief following the disappointments of 2014 and 2016.

“Spain senses its rebirth”, crowed Madrid daily AS on Saturday, signing off with the bullish conclusion that “we have sent a message we are equal to the champions”.

It was certainly an encouraging Spanish display, high on energy, purpose and creative vigour, even if perhaps lower than expected on resilience and defensive steel without the injured Sergio Busquets.

In his absence, it was a brave call from Lopetegui to place Thiago Alcantara alongside Koke and Iniesta in an expansive midfield three. Villarreal’s Rodri, a more cautious option, came off the bench late on.

Isco showed again that he plays better in the Spanish red than the white of Real Madrid while David Silva’s place off the left of the attacking trio is surely assured.

Rodrigo Moreno started up front for Spain vs Germany

Rodrigo Moreno started up front for Spain vs Germany

It is the central striking position, left vacant by Fernando Torres and David Villa 10 years ago, where Spain remain without a stand-out first-choice.

Diego Costa is the most likely incumbent but he has not convinced at the last two major tournaments and instead, Valencia’s Rodrigo Moreno was handed the starting berth on Friday.

He took his chance, converting Iniesta’s pass with a crisp early finish, and Moreno has the advantage too of history with Lopetegui, under whom he won the Under-21 European Championships in 2013.

So too does Alvaro Morata, left out of the latest squad entirely because of his faltering form at Chelsea, although it would still be a surprise if he did not make the final list.

Iago Aspas, the former Liverpool forward and Spain’s highest scorer this season with 16 goals for Celta Vigo, is another option. He may be given a chance to stake a claim against Argentina at the Wanda Metropolitano on Tuesday.

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Man City star David Silva leaves Spain squad for personal reasons

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Manchester City midfielder David Silva has been released from the Spain squad for personal reasons, the national team has announced.

Silva started for Spain in their 1-1 draw against Germany in Dusseldorf on Friday before coming off in the 71st minute for Real Madrid’s Lucas Vazquez.

The Spanish team’s official Twitter account posted on Saturday: “David Silva (@21LVA) has been released from the squad for personal reasons.”

Silva’s withdrawal means he is unlikely to play in Spain’s second friendly at home to Argentina on Tuesday, which takes place at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid.

Manchester City, meanwhile, travel to Everton four days later in the Premier League.

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