Relationship with Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli is 'normal', says Javier Mascherano

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No problem at all: Javier Mascherano

Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano has claimed the team’s relationship with coach Jorge Sampaoli is “just like normal” despite rumours of a player revolt at the World Cup.

Following Argentina’s 3-0 defeat to Croatia which left them battling to avoid elimination from the World Cup at the group stage there were reports that the coach would be sacked and the team selection for the final group game against Nigeria on Tuesday would be decided by the players.

But at a press conference on Sunday Mascherano said the players had raised their concerns at a meeting with Sampaoli.

The Hebei China Fortune midfielder said: “The relationship with Sampaoli is totally normal, but if we feel uncomfortable, we will raise it, otherwise we would be hypocrites.

“The opposite would be to harm the team, we must seek the collective benefit, we are 23, also those of the squad.

“We are not playing well and we take charge of the results. We will not be responding to things that others do.”

Mascherano revealed that at the meeting with Sampaoli the coach had sought the views of his players.

“At the meeting, we talked about football to help us and get this out of the game, we have to make positive things, there’s a lot of myth in the meetings, the best technicians ask the players for advice too, because we are the ones who decide in the field,” added the former Barcelona player.

“The coach is the one who gives us the tools alone to be comfortable in the field but you have to talk, it happens in all places, also in Barca.

“He wants to know what happens to you on the field to be able to make decisions, they are basic soccer concepts.”

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Watch: Stats from day 10 of the World Cup, highlighted by Germany's thrilling win over Sweden

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Toni Kroos scored the game-winner against Sweden.

Day 10 of the World Cup produced more compelling action, highlighted by Germany’s thrilling 2-1 win over Sweden.

Toni Kroos smashed the winner in injury time to give Germany a deserved win after they held possession for 71 per cent of the game.

Check out that stat and more in a round-up of day 10 action in the video below.

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Iran will need three key elements to stop Portugal and Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo

Alex Rea 24/06/2018
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Spain and Portugal were expected to progress from Group B with relative ease. But the job is far from complete.

The two powerhouses sit on four points apiece but Iran linger just behind on three points, meaning a historic last-16 spot at World Cup 2018 is also within their grasp.

They can take solace from their own performance against a slightly fortuitous Spain and also Portugal’s insipid display to grind out a 1-0 win over pointless Morocco.

With that in mind, we examine some of the key tactical talking points as Team Melli face Seleccao das Quinas at Mordovia Arena in Saransk.

CAN RONALDO BE STOPPED?

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Cristiano Ronaldo has been a picture of focus at this tournament, a testament to his developing fitness through the season.

The 33-year-old appears to be peaking in Russia while other big names arrived in brittle condition from punishing campaigns. Indeed, Ronaldo is tearing through teams and attempting to stop him is akin to dancing with a tornado – opponents are being left in ruin.

For Iran to smother his influence, it will require a combination of concentration, coordination and cohesion. And it starts with plugging the supply chain, which while it may seem rather prosaic actually carries the greatest gravitas.

Iran’s five-man midfield has to be perfectly positioned to close off the penetrating passing lanes because if the ball finds Ronaldo – who smartly sits furthest up the pitch when Portugal don’t have possession then drops for the outball – he’s difficult to stop in transition.

Having morphed into a more traditional No9, he now plays the width of the box so concentration will be key to ensure he’s tightly marked.

It’s a huge challenge for Team Melli boss Carlos Queiroz but as one of the better defensive tacticians, you can be sure his team will be supremely organised. They need to be for the full 90 minutes against Ronaldo, though.

TO THE AZMOUN AND BACK

Iran v Spain: Group B - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

One of Iran’s under-utilised weapons in this tournament is the aerial prowess of 23-year-old frontman Sardar Azmoun.

The Rubin Kazan striker won nine headers against Spain and seven against Morocco – both were game highs – and they are not aimless flick-ons either because Azmoun, at a modest 6ft, has superb spring.

But against Spain in particular, Iran struggled to get team-mates close enough to him to prosper from his intelligent knock-downs.

Given Queiroz sets up his side to abandon thoughts of winning the ball in the opposition half and instead press in packs once they bolt back into their two defensive blocks, it means Azmoun is the first receiver out of the back.

Left on his own, the ability to win the initial battle is going to waste and if he can dominate a frangible Portugal pairing of Pepe and Jose Fonte, Iran have to get a team-mate in his vicinity to build their attacks.

PORTUGAL’S 4-4-2 BECOMING A 4-3-3 IN ATTACK

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In their opening two encounters, Portugal have been comfortable in ceding possession to their more enterprising opponents with the aim of hitting back on the counter.

But on Monday, they will be expected to take the initiative as Iran set-up in a compact 4-5-1 and won’t deviate away from their defensive mindset with the pressure on Portugal.

That could result in a change of shape when Fernando Santos’ side attack. The European champions are glued to their 4-4-2 but with a dominance of possession, they could transition into a 4-3-3 with Bernardo Silva pushing further up the right to join Ronaldo and Goncalo Guedes or Andre Silva in the front three.

The impressive William Carvalho is the fire blanket in front of the defence with Bruno Fernandes tucking in alongside Joao Moutinho to feed an explosive attack. Doing this, will help Portugal push necessary numbers in between the lines with the width coming from their full-backs.

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