Rodrigo to solve striker problem for Spain and other key issues ahead of World Cup 2018

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Spain before Tunisia tune-up.

World Cup 2018 is now just a matter of days away and several major contenders have already landed in Russia after they completed their final warm-up matches.

But how are they shaping up? Which players are in form and will the head coaches be forced into any last-minute tactical tweaks?

Here, we review where Spain find themselves ahead of Friday’s Group B opener against Portugal at Fisht Stadium:

FRIENDLY RESULTS

A 1-1 draw against Switzerland to start the month contained the worrying sight of Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea uncharacteristically fumbling for AC Milan left-back Ricardo Rodriguez’s leveller. Their friendly commitments wound up with Saturday’s slender 1-0 victory against Tunisia, courtesy of a late goal from Celta Vigo’s Iago Aspas.

WHO IS IN FORM AND WHO IS IN A SLUMP?

Real Sociedad flyer Alvaro Odriozola’s rocket against the Swiss looked to have ended worries about Real Madrid right-back Dani Carvajal’s fitness. But a slip-up against the Tunisians would have been punished by Cristiano Ronaldo in Friday’s Group B opener versus Portugal. Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul will be frustrated by just 35 minutes of action.

TACTICAL TWEAKS

Head coach Julen Lopetegui appears convinced by the merits of his 4-2-3-1 formation. Within this, Nacho’s superior defensive acumen should see him get the nod as Carvajal recuperates for at least the first two games. Up top, it is a three-way battle between Atletico’s Diego Costa, Aspas and Valencia’s Rodrigo. Barcelona veteran Andres Iniesta should hold on at left wing.

BURNING QUESTION

Spain’s pass masters represent an orchestra in full sync – that is until you reach centre forward. Lopetegui started Costa versus the Swiss, but his heavy metal approach jarred with the aesthetes that surrounded him. Even though Aspas came off the bench to score against Tunisia, expect that game’s starter – Rodrigo – to get the nod this week.

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Manuel Neuer and Mesut Ozil injury worries plus other key issues for Germany at World Cup

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Germany v Saudi Arabia.

World Cup 2018 is now just a matter of days away and several major contenders have already landed in Russia after they completed their final warm-up matches.

But how are they shaping up? Which players are in form and will the head coaches be forced into any last-minute tactical tweaks?

Here, we review where Germany find themselves ahead of Sunday’s Group F-opener against Mexico at Luzhniki Stadium:

FRIENDLY RESULTS

The World Cup holders roared to a perfect 10 wins from 10 qualifiers, yet they headed into Friday’s final warm-up against Saudi Arabia on the back of a five-match winless streak. This followed the 2-1 loss at neighbours Austria on June 2. Unsurprisingly, the Saudis were downed 2-1. But Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos bemoaned their sloppy play at BayArena.

WHO IS IN FORM AND WHO IS IN A SLUMP?

RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner appears to have ended the debate about whether he or Bayern Munich’s Thomas Muller should start up top in the 4-2-3-1 formation. His predatory goal against the Saudis should have sealed his starting spot, with Muller on the right. A nagging knee injury for Arsenal playmaker Mesut Ozil remains a worry.

TACTICAL TWEAKS

Germany appear a settled outfit. Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer started both this month’s friendlies after an injury ravaged 2017/18. At centre-back, head coach Joachim Low has given Niklas Sule opportunities against both Austria and the Saudis to break up the Mats Hummels-Jerome Boateng axis he also disrupted at club level during 2017/18.

BURNING QUESTION

The only nagging doubt for Low ahead of Sunday’s kick-off in Group F against Mexico will be how his injured contingent holds up when the serious action begins. Neuer got 135 minutes under his belt, but saw Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen save a penalty against the Saudis. Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus filled in well for Ozil on Friday in a central role.

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Who plays around Lionel Messi and other questions for Argentina ahead of World Cup 2018

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Argentina ahead of Haiti friendly.

World Cup 2018 is now just a matter of days away and several major contenders have already landed in Russia after they completed their final warm-up matches.

But how are they shaping up? Which players are in form and will the head coaches be forced into any last-minute tactical tweaks?

Here, we review where Argentina find themselves ahead of Saturday’s Group D-opener against Iceland at Spartak Stadium:

FRIENDLY RESULTS

The beaten 2014 finalists have experienced an odd build-up. Two cancelled friendlies sandwiched a 4-0 routing of Haiti – minnows ranked 104th in the world by FIFA. This strange state of affairs means that head coach Jorge Sampaoli has had plenty of time on the training pitch to eradicate the mistakes from March’s 6-1 routing by Spain.

WHO IS IN FORM AND WHO IS IN A SLUMP?

Lionel Messi looks in fine fettle. Ahead of this potentially defining event, the 30-year-old got a hat-trick against Haiti and set-up Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero’s fourth. Boca Juniors forward Cristian Pavon impressed and could be pushing for a start. Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain came off after a goalless hour, making it eight scoreless internationals.

TACTICAL TWEAKS

The serious knee injury suffered last week by West Ham United schemer Manuel Lanzini has opened up opportunity for the likes of Pavon in Sampaoli’s highly calibrated 2-3-3-2 formation. Manchester United centre-back Marcos Rojo is pushing to start, while Higuain should remain in the XI despite his drought. No other striker offers the same ability to hold ball up.

BURNING QUESTION

A torturous qualifying campaign and the humiliation in Spain were meant to be the the last indignities suffered by La Albiceleste. Yet cancellations of two friendlies, plus international furore caused by the Israel clash, means they now come into the tournament severely undercooked. Just which Argentina will turn up for Saturday’s Group D opener versus Iceland?

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