Cesar Azpilicueta confident Spain can go far at the World Cup

David Cooper 30/06/2018
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Cesar Azpilicueta (right) says Spain can go all the way

Cesar Azpilicueta believes Spain possess enough quality to mount a strong title challenge in the World Cup despite their recent problems in Russia.

The 2010 champions saw Julen Lopetegui sacked on the eve of the tournament after the Spanish Football Federation were angered by the manner of his move to Real Madrid.

Spain then drew 3-3 with European champions Portugal but still qualified as group winners. They will face hosts Russia on Sunday in the last-16 stage and the Chelsea defender say they have put those problem behind them.

“It’s clear that it’s an unusual circumstance that doesn’t happen often, but that’s what happened and you have to take things as they are,” Azpilicueta was quoted as saying by AFP.

“You can’t shy away, you have to accept the reality. We must do our work in the best way we can and go as far as possible.”

Former Real Madrid captain Fernando Hierro was appointed as Lopetegui’s replacement despite having never taken charge of an international side.

But Azpilicueta has been impressed with the ex-Bolton player.

“Fernando has shown great enthusiasm, he’s very involved. He had to face up to this situation and he is giving everything he has to help us, to improve the team,” he said.

Andres Iniesta’s strike in the 2010 final sealed World Cup glory for the Spanish eight years ago. In what is the 34-year-old’s final World Cup, Iniesta has only played the full 90 minutes once despite starting all three group games.

But Azpilicueta played down suggestions about the former Barcelona midfielder and is convinced he will be a key player for them.

“Andres is a special player who can make the difference at any moment. He controls the game, he said.

“If we’d won our first three matches perhaps we wouldn’t be talking about that. We know when not everything goes as planned people look everywhere for problems.

“I really have no doubt that Andres is a key player and is going to continue to be.”

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How Sergio Aguero and Ever Banega can help Lionel Messi excel in France v Argentina

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Argentina take on France at the World Cup in a round of 16 clash on Saturday.

Lionel Messi will be expected to deliver the goods against one of the tournament’s favourites and if Ever Banega retains his place in the starting line-up and Sergio Aguero replaces Gonzalo Higuain, he may have the tools to do so.

Check out the video below as Sport360’s Brendon Netto analyses the key tactics for both sides.

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Goncalo Guedes must play if Cristiano Ronaldo is to fire Portugal past Uruguay

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We’re into the business end of the tournament now with the World Cup entering the round of 16 phase.

It can often be a chess match between oppositions at this stage and two compact – largely 4-4-2 – outfits in Uruguay and Portugal may make for a cagey encounter with the winner set to face either Argentina or France in the quarter-finals.

GOLDEN GODIN

Only a few players have really taken this World Cup by storm. Luka Modric has bossed Croatia’s formidable midfield, Eden Hazard gleefully ran riot in Belgium’s opening two games and Philippe Coutinho popped up with key contributions for Brazil.

All three make a case as early contenders for the prestigious Golden Ball but perhaps Diego Godin deserves to be part of the conversation as well. The Uruguayan skipper has always been exceptional for club and country and is producing his very best in Russia.

Not only are La Celeste the only team yet to concede at the World Cup but owing to Godin’s excellence, their defence hasn’t been breached all year. In fact, the last time they conceded a goal was in October last year during a 4-2 win over Bolivia in qualifying. The 32-year-old veteran isn’t an all-action centre-back who tends to make a series of crunching tackles or clearances, he doesn’t have to. The old warhorse marshalls his back-line with complete authority and is the glue holding the team together.

Uruguay have been far from expansive, even with a star-studded front pairing, but Godin’s leadership at the back makes them formidable opponents for any team. If Cristiano Ronaldo and Co thought Iran were a tough nut to crack, they’ve got another thing coming.

GUEDES EXTRACTS RONALDO’S BEST

Andre Silva got the nod over Goncalo Guedes in Portugal’s final group game against Iran and though he started reasonably well, running the channels with some purpose, Carlos Queiroz’s side never gave anything away and he quickly drifted out of the contest.

His link-up play with Ronaldo as well left a lot to be desired as he wasn’t able to use his movement to aid the Real Madrid superstar the way Guedes managed to in the opening two fixtures. The Valencia winger is a superb talent in his own right and is somewhat sacrificed in this role as Ronaldo’s wingman.

However, Portugal need the security and organised shape their current 4-4-2 provides and Guedes does a great job as his skipper’s accomplice in attack. It’s almost like there’s an invisible string between the two with neither one straying too far from the other and always aware of their partner’s position.

Every time Ronaldo comes short, Guedes is either on hand for him to lay the ball off to or make a dummy run so the 33-year-old’s give-and-go can be more effective. In turn, when Guedes receives possession, his first instinct is always to look for Ronaldo’s run or to lay it off to him if he’s in the vicinity.

With the attention Ronaldo commands from opposing defenders, someone like Guedes is pivotal to getting him more involved and that can lead to a match-winning moment for Portugal.

SET-PIECE SCENES

Every goal Uruguay have scored so far in the tournament has arrived from set-pieces. Having scored from two free-kicks – one of them a direct hit from Luis Suarez – and three corners, the South Americans have earned a reputation alongside England as this World Cup’s dead-ball specialists.

Edinson Cavani and Suarez up front are often left to feed off scraps in open play. Oscar Tabarez has therefore identified set-pieces as one of their best routes to goal. Carlos Sanchez and Lucas Torreira are both capable of quality delivery. Meanwhile, with the likes of Godin, Jose Gimenez, Suarez and Cavani in the box, there’s no shortage of targets.

Portugal however, are no slouches from set-piece scenarios either. Ronaldo scored a fine header from a corner kick to beat Morocco 1-0 with a clever bit of movement in the box.

They’re well-equipped to defend from dead-ball situation as well with both Pepe and Jose Fonte proving to be dominant in the air. Among defenders, only Nicolas Otamendi and Salif Sane (both 18) have won more aerial duels than Fonte (17).

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