Mesut Ozil and an Arsenal transfer target headline World Cup Group F players to watch

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Can Joachim Low’s Germany side successfully defend their 2014 World Cup crown this year in Russia? That’s the big story in Group F.

The defending champions are the favourites to top the group and with the players at his disposal, Low will be expecting three wins from the opening stage.

Battling for second place will be three nations with realistic hopes of progressing to the knockout rounds.

This is Mexico’s seventh successive World Cup appearance and they haven’t failed to progress to the knockout stages since 1966, so they’ll be confident of making it through.

Sweden will have something to say about that as they return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. They qualified by producing a shock playoff victory over 2006 winners Italy.

South Korea will fancy their chances of causing a shock in Russia just as they did on home soil in 2002 when they finished fourth in the tournament.

Here are the key players to keep an eye on in this group.

1) Germany – Mesut Ozil

The Arsenal playmaker always seems to find an extra gear when representing his country and he thrives in Joachim Low’s 4-2-3-1 system.

He’s been capped 90 times for Germany and is one of the first names on the team sheet. Ozil tends to be the one to provide the decisive through ball and loves to operate between the lines of the opposition midfield and defence.

When in form, his close control, balance and pinpoint passing make him almost impossible to stop and the whole of Germany will be hoping to see Ozil dominate the pitch in Russia.

Mesut Oezil of Germany

2) Mexico – Hirving Lozano

The PSV Eindhoven forward’s performances this season have seen him attract interest from some of Europe’s biggest clubs. He netted 17 times in the Eredivisie to help his side win the league title and is going into the tournament in Russia with a point to prove.

The 22-year-old’s dribbling, crossing and set-piece speciality makes him a key component of this experienced Mexico side, who will look for his pace and creativity to help them advance into the knockout stages.

Lozano is nicknamed ‘Chucky’ and knows that his performances at the tournament could see him secure a dream move to a Premier League side with Arsenal said to be interested.

Lozano is set to be a breakout star at the World Cup.

Lozano is set to be a breakout star at the World Cup.

3) Sweden – Emil Forsberg

The RB Leipzig attacking midfielder is the beating heart of this Sweden side. Janne Andersson’s men are very strong defensively but when it comes to attacking, most of the good work comes through Forsberg.

The playmaker didn’t have the best of seasons for his club, scoring five times in all competitions, with two coming in the Champions League.

However, his passing, dribbling and long-range shooting could prove to be crucial in Sweden’s hopes of making it through this group.

Forsberg is now Sweden's star player

Forsberg is now Sweden’s star player

4) South Korea – Son Heung-min

The winger had his best season in a Tottenham shirt this year and will be looking to continue his blistering form in Russia.

He managed to find the back of the net 12 times in the Premier League to help Spurs secure Champions League football for another season.

His pace and skill on the counter attack will be crucial in Russia, as South Korea look to make up for a dreadful 2014 campaign in which they failed to win a single match.

Heung-min son will hope he can replicate his club form for his country.

Heung-min son will hope he can replicate his club form for his country.

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John Stones hopes Man City team-mate Vincent Kompany is fit for the World Cup

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John Stones is willing Manchester City team-mate Vincent Kompany back to fitness for the World Cup, even though that would strengthen England’s Group G rivals Belgium.

Kompany’s injury curse struck again over the weekend when he hurt his groin during a pre-tournament friendly against Portugal.

The fragile 32-year-old was forced out of Euro 2016 on fitness grounds and has been left sweating over his spot in Russia following his latest setback.

Belgium boss Roberto Martinez has named Kompany in his 23-man squad but Laurent Ciman is standing by to replace him if he does not make it.

A fully fit Kompany would be a huge asset, and potentially a thorn in England’s side, but Stones is pulling for the City captain.

“I hope Vinny gets back as soon as possible, his health is the main thing,” the defender told Press Association Sport.

“He’s a great player and a great leader and it’s sad to hear he’s got a little injury. I don’t know the extent of it but I’d definitely love to see him – and anyone from City – at the World Cup.

“I never want anyone to get injured. It’s a blow for Belgium, for City and for me because I’m his friend. He’s got to get back and I hope he does as soon as possible. It’s sad news to hear but he has been named (in the squad) so fingers crossed for Vinny.”

Stones suffered his own share of injury problems in the second half of City’s Premier League title-winning season.

He missed games with knee and abductor issues, as well as suffering a concussion with England in March, contributing to his peripheral part in City’s triumphant run-in.

And while that was a frustration, at least there is no prospect of the 24-year-old complaining of excess fatigue once the tournament begins.

“I’m definitely not burned out,” he said ahead of Thursday’s final friendly against Costa Rica in Leeds.

“I’m excited about my football, I want to be out in training or playing if there’s a game.

“People don’t realise when you’re injured you’re working twice as hard but I’m not mentally burned out or anything. I’m excited to get going.

“This is my first World Cup, it’s a massive honour for me and I definitely want to try and enjoy every second on and off the pitch.”

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Spain World Cup 2018 squad and team guide as Real Madrid star Isco is key man

Alex Rea 6/06/2018
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There have been varying shades of red emblematic of Spain in recent years.

Drained from triple triumphs in 2008, 2010 and 2012, Brazil brought out a pale portrayal with the sombre tone one of an era ending.

A crimson rage inevitably followed but boss Vicente Del Bosque persevered until their Euro 2016 last-16 exit to Italy.

Julen Lopetegui was headed for Wolves until his country called and his succession was met with a lukewarm reception.

But the former Porto boss has revamped Spain, splashing his side with youthful exuberance through the likes of Isco, Marco Asensio and Saul Niguez while maintaining an experienced core with Andres Iniesta, Sergio Ramos and Sergio Busquets.

They were expected to struggle in qualifying but breezed through to top a group containing Italy with nine wins and one draw.

A marriage of intense pressing and clinical finishing has already resulted in full-throttle performances to rip apart Argentina 6-1 and they are in ominous form heading to Russia.

Largely bolted to a 4-3-3, David De Gea arrives as arguably the world’s best goalkeeper while in front of him the formidable but contrasting pairing of Gerard Pique and Ramos remains tighter than ever.

In Jordi Alba and Dani Carvajal, Lopetegui possesses flying full-backs while the midfield is quintessentially La Furia Roja.

Iniesta is likely embarking on his final tournament in a Spain shirt but is still so sharp.

His former Barcelona teammate Busquets, as ever, has been a master of tempo this season while Isco has been mystifying for Real Madrid but mesmeric for Spain.

The only real question mark is who operates at No9 with Alvaro Morata’s indifferent form for Chelsea seeing him miss the plane.

Diego Costa has been in fine form for Atletico Madrid this season but he doesn’t link up well enough for the fluidity of Spain’s attack.

Don’t be surprised if Iago Aspas and Rodrigo are afforded chances.

Still, Lopetegui has talent and ability from 1-23 and there is genuine optimism in Spain for a red rising, one which will banish the memories of four years ago and draw upon the success of South Africa in 2010.

KEY PLAYER

Isco

FBL-FRIENDLY-ESP-ARG

Andres Iniesta is arguable the greatest midfielder Spain have ever produced and while the 33-year-old will still be integral, it is Isco’s dancing feet which will make this side beat. Indifferent with Real Madrid, the playmaker comes to life with Spain, displaying immaculate form.

COACH

Julen Lopetegui

Spain v Switzerland - International Friendly

The former Porto boss has injected renewed vigour in the aftermath of Vicente Del Bosque’s demise two years ago. Received a tepid reception when appointed but his soothing presence inspired an 18-game unbeaten run.

CAPTAIN

Sergio Ramos

Germany v Spain - International Friendly

A formidable competitor and an inspirational leader, Ramos has over 150 caps for his country and remains Lopetegui’s most trusted on-pitch commander despite the Real Madrid man turning 32 this year.

YOUNG STAR

Marco Asensio

Germany v Spain - International Friendly

A seductive package of dizzying footwork and a mallet of a left-foot, the 22-year-old is the present and future of Spanish football. Has yet to truly carve out a role with La Roja but he can be a game-changer.

KEY FACTS AND STATS

– Isco has scored 10 goals for Spain with eight of those coming under the stewardship of Lopetegui

– Julen Lopetegui enjoyed an unbeaten start to his term as Spain boss with La Roja not tasting defeat in 18 games

– Spain were the fifth reigning champions to exit the following World Cup in the group stages in 2014

FIFA Rating

85 DEF 86 MID 84 ATT

World Cups competed at

15 (First in 1934)

World Cup record

P59, W29, D12, L18

Best finish

Champions (2010)

Qualification record

P10, W9, D1

World ranking

8

SQUAD

Spain v Argentina - International Friendly

Goalkeepers: Pepe Reina (Napoli), David de Gea (Manchester United), Kepa Arrizabalaga (Athletic Bilbao).

Defenders: Nacho Fernandez, Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal (all Real Madrid), Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba (both Barcelona), Alvaro Odriozola (Real Sociedad), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea).

Midfielders: Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets (both Barcelona), Saul Niguez, Koke (both Atletico Madrid), Isco, Marco Asensio (both Real Madrid), Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), David Silva (Manchester City).

Forwards: Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Rodrigo (Valencia), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid), Lucas Vazquez (Real Madrid).

VERDICT

There are five favourites to win and Spain are chief among them. They have X-Factor, a biting blend of experience and youth but no clear spearhead could be their downfall.

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