Marcus Rashford welcome problem for England and other key issues before World Cup 2018

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England before Costa Rica.

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 England find themselves ahead of Monday’s Group G opener against Tunisia at Volgograd Arena:

FRIENDLY RESULTS

It’s been a good month for Gareth Southgate. Nigeria visited Wembley on June 2 and suffered a 2-1 defeat. The only worry will be how a tactical change by the visitors to combat their 3-5-2 formation led to a nervous second half. World Cup 2014 nemesis Costa Rica were then brushed aside 2-0, Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford lashing in a wonder strike.

WHO IS IN FORM AND WHO IS IN A SLUMP?

Southgate was happy to run through his options, only handing successive starts to Manchester City centre-back John Stones – a pivotal player who needed this game time after falling out of favour at club level. Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy only touched the ball eight times in the first half against Costa Rica. Odds of a start in Russia are tiny.

TACTICAL TWEAKS

Southgate has been welded to this shape since October and he has zero intention of changing it. Only one anchorman between Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson or Tottenham’s Eric Dier will likely start Monday’s Group G opener against Tunisia. Chelsea’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek or United’s Jesse Lingard are battling to be the attacking force in midfield that links play.

BURNING QUESTION

Handed a free role up top against Costa Rica, Rashford wowed. The 20-year-old forward possesses unbridled talent and the question now is whether this is unleashed from the start or off the substitutes’ bench. With Tottenham talisman Harry Kane and Man City forward Raheem Sterling locks, Rashford presents a welcome problem.

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Renato Augusto injury may unsettle Brazil and other key issues ahead of World Cup 2018

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Brazil line-up before Austria win.

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 Brazil find themselves ahead of Sunday’s Group E-opener against Switzerland at Rostov Arena:

FRIENDLY RESULTS

Brazil kicked off with a confident 2-0 win against Croatia that saw Paris Saint-Germain superstar Neymar come off the bench and score a stupendous opener after more than three months out injured. The lethal attacking trio of Neymar, Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus and Barcelona playmaker Philippe Coutinho then inflicted a 3-0 defeat on Austria.

WHO IS IN FORM AND WHO IS IN A SLUMP?

The experienced centre-back pairing of Thiago Silva and Miranda both kept clean sheets upon their starts. Will the former now keep out PSG club-mate Marquinhos when the competitive action starts, despite head coach Tite’s stated preference? Otherwise, Juventus flyer Douglas Costa was restricted to six minutes because of injury and appears well behind Chelsea’s Willian.

TACTICAL TWEAKS

Brazil are a settled unit. In February, Tite revealed his starting XI within a 4-3-3 system. Beijing Guoan centre midfielder Renato Augusto is a pillar, but a knee injury kept him out of both games. If he’s not ready when Group E kicks off on Sunday v Switzerland, it’s likely the creative Coutinho will drop back. Man City battler Fernandinho will stay on the bench.

BURNING QUESTION

With such ludicrous talent dotted throughout their squad, no playing questions can be levied at this Brazil. It is the mental battle that could be their toughest opponent in Russia. Deep scars were left by the 7-1 semi-final humiliation on home soil against Germany four years ago. There is also an arrogant streak that could yet see them run away with themselves.

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Poland World Cup 2018 squad and team guide as Robert Lewandowski looks to carry on from qualifying

Matt Jones 10/06/2018
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For a nation that has such a rich World Cup tradition woven into its core, Poland’s recent performances or lack thereof at the game’s blue riband event has bordered on shameful.

Third-place finishes were recorded in the space of three editions not all that long ago, with Grzegorz Lato’s seven goals leading the 1974 tournament in Germany, where defender Wladyslaw Zmuda was named best young player.

Eight years later in Spain, the Eagles soared into the semi-finals – eclipsing eventual champions Italy in the tournament’s initial group phase before having their wings clipped by a vengeful Azzurri in the last four. But this Polish side is very different to their forefathers.

They have qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 2006, having packed their bags early in both Korea and Japan four years previously and then Germany. But they certainly made an impression reaching Russia, particularly Robert Lewandowski, who scored a UEFA leading 16 goals.

Poland qualified five points in front of Denmark in Group E, recording the sixth-most points (25) and netting the fifth-most goals (28) in Europe. Key to that tally was Bayern Munich behemoth Lewandowski, who bagged a whopping 57 per cent of Poland’s goals.

It’s been a restless season for ‘Lewa’, with continued speculation over a possible move to Real Madrid and the firing of his long-time agent, Cezary Kucharski.

He reached 150 Bayern goals, entered the Bundesliga’s top-10 goalscorers ever and was voted Poland’s Footballer of the Year for the seventh time in a row, so it’s not all bad.

Lewandowski aside, coach Adam Nawalka has other talents to call upon, like Piotr Zielinski who’s had a growing impact at Napoli, and a fresh Grzegorz Krychowiak to anchor their midfield after being underused by relegated West Brom following a loan move from Paris Saint-Germain.

The real test will be whether Nawalka can find more creative solutions when going forward as opponents have become adept at dealing with hopeful long balls up to Lewandowski.

KEY PLAYER

Robert Lewandowski

Robert Lewandowski 4

Not many players carry the hopes of a nation more singularly than Lewandowski. Perhaps Cristiano Ronaldo, but even he as an all-star support cast. But having entered the Bundesliga’s top-10 goalscorers of alltime and passing legend Lubanski’s mark of most goals for Poland, pressure isn’t a word you’d imagine Lewandowski is afraid of.

COACH

Adam Nawalka

Adam Nawalka

Three defeats in their last 25 competitive games, and those coming against Germany, Portugal in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals and admittedly a 4-0 hammering at the hands of group rivals Denmark in qualifying, is decent. Nawalka has lost just eight times in 45 matches.

CAPTAIN

Robert Lewandowski

Robert Lewandowski 5

He spearheads the side and leads with a reputation as one of the most feared forwards on the planet. Has indicated a desire to leave Bayern Munich in the summer and placing himself in the shop window will no doubt be to the betterment of Poland’s chances of progressing out of the group.

YOUNG STAR

Karol Linetty

Karol Linetty

Emerged during the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign and has become a key building block for the future. The Sampdoria dynamo is an all-round midfielder, but is more dangerous in an attacking role and will be given the task of sparking Polish attacks if given a prominent role.

KEY FACTS AND STATS

– Grzegorz Lato is the only polish player to have won the golden boot at the world cup. he found the net seven times as poland went on to finish third in the 1974 tournament, only losing to eventual winners West Germany.

– Poland beat two-time defending champions Hungary to win the gold medal at the 1972 Olympic Games in Germany

FIFA Rating

78 DEF 78 MID 83 ATT

World Cups competed at

8 (First in 1938)

World Cup record

P31, W15, D5, L11

Best finish

Third place (1974 & 1982)

Qualification record

P10, W8, D1, L1

World ranking

10

SQUAD

Poland 1

Goalkeepers: B. Bialkowski (Ipswich), L. Fabianski (Swansea City), W. Szczesny (Juventus).

Defenders: J. Bednarek (Southampton), B. Bereszynski (Sampdoria), T. Cionek (SPAL), K. Glik (AS Monaco), A. Jedrzejczyk (Legia Warszawa), M. Pazdan (Legia Warszawa), L. Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund).

Midfielders: J. Blaszczykowski (Wolfsburg), J. Goralski (Ludogorets Razgrad), K. Grosicki (Hull City), G. Krychowiak (West Bromwich), R. Kurzawa (Gornik Zabrze), K. Linetty (Sampdoria), S. Peszko (Lechia Gdansk), M. Rybus (Lokomotiv Moscow), P. Zielinski (Napoli).

Forwards: D. Kownacki (Sampdoria), R. Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), A. Milik (Napoli), L. Teodorczyk (Anderlecht)

VERDICT

With Lewandowski at the tip, Poland are capable of opening up bigger teams, and would be a dangerous prospect in the knockout stages.

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