Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Tunisia will represent the Arab nations at the World Cup this summer.
With less than one week to go until football’s greatest showpiece gets underway, the Arab nations will be stepping up their preparations with warm-up games before departing for Russia.
With Tunisia and Morocco in action in Saturday’s friendlies, we take a look at how the respective nations fared.
SPAIN 1-0 TUNISIA
Tunisia suffered a late 1-0 defeat to Spain in their final World Cup warm-up match in Krasnodar, Russia.
Nabil Maaloul’s side looked set to prepare for the tournament with an impressive draw, only for Celta Vigo striker Aspas to come off the bench and strike with five minutes remaining.
Tunisia had the first decent effort of the game as Ferjani Sassi’s strike was saved by David De Gea, before Naim Sliti fired over when well-placed.
The Eagles will take positives from their defeat as they start their World Cup campaign against England on June 18, before going on to play Belgium and Panama.
ESTONIA 1-3 MOROCCO
The North African side finished their World Cup preparations with a comfortable win over Estonia in Tallinn.
It was their third positive result from their warm-up matches, having already beaten Slovakia and drawing with Ukraine.
They took the lead within 11 minutes through Galatasary’s Younes Belhanda.
The Lions went 2-0 up seven minutes before half-time after Ajax star man Hakim Ziyech converted a penalty.
Midway through the second-half, Morocco added a third, with Malaga’s Youssef En-Nesyri netting from close range.
Estonia, however, pulled a consolation goal back four minutes later as Ats Purje’s shot beat goalkeeper Mohamedi.
Morocco will begin their World Cup against Iran on June 15, before they take on group favourites Spain and Portugal.
Neymar‘s Brazil put the finishing touches to their World Cup preparations against Austria on Sunday in a game coach Tite described as the “most difficult” of all their warm-ups on the road to Russia.
Neyamr proved his fitness with an explosive return after injury, his stunning strike inspiring a 2-0 win over Croatia in Liverpool last weekend.
The Paris Saint-Germain star was introduced in the second half against the Croats but is due to have his first start against Austria since spraining his ankle in late February.
Tite is approaching the game with a certain amount of trepidation.
“Emotionally this match could be the most difficult,” he explained at a press conference on Saturday.
“That’s because it falls one week before our first World Cup game, and there’s a risk of injury, of a loss of confidence.”
Although Neymar has trained normally this week, he may not play the full 90 minutes in Vienna, the Selecao’s doctor Rodrigo Lasmar said.
“But he’s sure to play more time than he did in the last match.”
There are three consistent premier players in Russia who will not just have to shoulder the burden of their expectant nation, but embrace and
thrive on that pressure. Neymar with Brazil is one, Lionel Messi and Argentina the other, but Ballon d’Or favourite Cristiano Ronaldo arguably bares the heaviest load.
Fernando Santos’ side didn’t have the best start to qualifying after losing 2-0 in Basel in September 2016, but they then won nine on the bounce, including a pivotal final fixture against Switzerland in Lisbon, by the same scoreline, to snatch automatic qualification. People will label them a one-man team.
‘What happens if Ronaldo gets injured?’, they’ll say. Well, a) that won’t happen, Ronaldo is a tank. And b) more importantly, that’s also not true.
There are pockets of talent across the rest of the squad, with Santos having a wealth of exciting young players at his disposal, including emerging stars like AC Milan forward Andre Silva, Gelson Martins at Sporting and Valencia’s loanee from Paris Saint-Germain, Goncalo Guedes.
He also has seasoned old heads like Ronaldo, Pepe, Jose Fonte, Joao Moutinho and Ricardo Quaresma to help guide the new generation and balance out the squad.
Let’s also not forget that Portugal played the majority of the Euro 2016 final without their talisman, after he was forced off 25 minutes into the game with a knee injury. His side were without him for over 95 minutes as the game went to extra time – scenes of him animatedly hopping on the touchline alongside Santos truly memorable.
Two important things stand out. This is a side that now know how to play tournament football; success in France proved that.
They’re also battle-hardened, proving their worth as an elite nation after years of threatening to be just a flash in the pan.
At Euro 2016 they were solid yet unspectacular, progressing to the knockouts by the skin of their teeth following three draws.
The only team they beat by more than one goal was Wales in the semi-final.
Far from using this as a stick to beat Portugal with, it proves their resilience. Able to go deep in the latter rounds, they are one of only a handful of sides to take with them the experience of success.
In previous major finals, they’ve impressed but ultimately fallen short. They crumbled as heavy favourites against Greece in Euro 2004 and wilted in a semi-final penalty shootout against Spain eight years later.
In 2006 a stacked team fell to France in the World Cup semis.
For the sake of Ronaldo and his Ballon d’Or bid, Portugal will need to draw on their 2016 success.
The iconic Real Madrid star was said to be suffering a slump this season. Yeah, right. Despite the criticism he has fought back emphatically to show his enduring, indomitable class, leading Los Blancos to a fourth Champions League final triumph in five years and scoring 42 goals in 40 games.
A hulk of a man who wouldn’t look out of place as a villain in a James Bond film, Santos will hope to direct another cinematic spectacular for Portugal, two years on from their epic European Championship victory.
Say what you will about a man who is often accused of letting his ego overshadow his undoubted talent, but Ronaldo is all about the collective. His driven attitude and ferocious will are apt qualities in a leader.
The 21-year-old enjoyed a superb season on loan at the resurgent Valencia, announcing himself as a star in the first half of the season offering raw explosive power and bursts of speed. A great profile to make an impact from the bench.
KEY FACTS AND STATS
– Milan youngster Andre Silva became the youngest player to score a hat-trick for his country during qualifying, aged 20 years, 11 months and four days when he netted three in a 6-0 win against the Faroe Islands in October 2016
– Cristiano Ronaldo scored 15 goals in European qualifying, second only to Robert Lewandowski’s 16
– Eusebio holds the record of scoring most goals for Portugal at a World Cup, bagging nine at the 1966 tournament in England
82 DEF 83 MID 88 ATT
World Cups competed at
7 (First in 1966)
World Cup record
P26, W13, D4, l9
P10, W9, L1
Anthony Lopes (Lyon), Beto (Goztepe), Rui Patricio (Sporting Lisbon).
Bruno Alves (Rangers), Cedric Soares (Southampton), Jose Fonte (Dalian Yifang), Mario Rui (Napoli), Pepe (Besiktas), Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund), Ricardo Pereira (Porto), Ruben Dias (Benfica).
Adrien Silva (Leicester), Bruno Fernandes (Sporting Lisbon), Joao Mario (West Ham), Joao Moutinho (Monaco), Manuel Fernandes (Lokomotiv Moscow), William Carvalho (Sporting Lisbon).
Andre Silva (AC Milan), Bernardo Silva (Man City), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Gelson Martins (Sporting Lisbon), Goncalo Guedes (Valencia), Ricardo Quaresma (Besiktas).
Always had the quality, but tended to be a level below the elite. Now with a major trophy to their name, they could be real contenders.