Romelu Lukaku could fire Belgium to success and other key issues ahead of World Cup 2018

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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 Belgium find themselves ahead of Monday’s Group G-opener against Panama at Fisht Stadium:

FRIENDLY RESULTS

Belgium began this month with a goalless draw against a Cristiano Ronaldo-less Portugal in Brussels that saw key Manchester City centre-back Vincent Kompany aggravate a groin problem and the players whistled off the pitch upon the final whistle. Egypt, minus Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah, were then beaten 3-0 and Costa Rica downed 4-1.

WHO IS IN FORM AND WHO IS IN A SLUMP?

Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku is revelling in a superior production line. He struck three times, the highlight coming with a brace and assist against Costa Rica. Dalian Yifang’s Yannick Carrasco is also growing into his left wing-back role. Stand-in centre-backs Laurent Ciman of Los Angeles FC and Celtic’s Dedryck Boyata both struggled in place of Kompany.

TACTICAL TWEAKS

Boss Roberto Martinez will not deviate from his preferred 3-4-2-1 formation. The only area of uncertainty is the two centre-midfield spots. City’s Kevin De Bruyne is a certainty to start Monday’s Group G kick-off against Panama. A choice – probably dependent on opposition – will then be made between Tottenham’s Mousa Dembele and Tianjin Quanjian’s Axel Witsel.

BURNING QUESTION

Belgium have one of the best squads – yet this statement has been true since the preceding event four years ago. But stories of unchecked egos and epic mismanagement by Marc Wilmots torpedoed the following tournaments. It has not all been plain sailing under Martinez, with De Bruyne airing displeasure about his tactics. Will De Rode Duivels implode again?

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Paul Pogba must repay France faith and other key issues before World Cup 2018

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France before Italy game.

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 France find themselves ahead of Saturday’s Group C-opener against Australia at Kazan Arena:

FRIENDLY RESULTS

Two wins out of three isn’t bad for France, but the fact their last fixture was a 1-1 draw against the United States has killed some momentum. Ireland were first seen off in an effortless 2-0 victory. Italy were then put to the sword on the Cote d’Azur with a 3-1 friendly, prior to Paris Saint-Germain striker Kylian Mbappe saving the day v the USA.

WHO IS IN FORM AND WHO IS IN A SLUMP?

An odd season for Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba has continued. The 25-year-old was booed when hooked against Italy, but seemingly retains boss Didier Deschamps’ faith. In the battle to start at right-back in Saturday’s Group C kick-off against Australia, Stuttgart’s Benjamin Pavard outshone injury struck Monaco star Djibril Siidibe.

TACTICAL TWEAKS

A regulation 4-3-3 formation from Deschamps has morphed into a 4-3-1-2. This allows Chelsea target man Olivier Giroud, Mbappe and Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann to be played centrally. There is a battle in midfield between Juventus’ Blaise Matuidi and Bayern Munich’s Corentin Tolisso to slot in next to Pogba and Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante.

BURNING QUESTION

France boast many of the globe’s greatest attackers. Yet they possess a boss who puts the handbrake on. This worked perfectly as a player during the wins at World Cup 1998 and Euro 200.0. But his gloriously gifted side should have swept to success at Euro 2016. Deschamps must learn to strike a balance between his instincts and necessity.

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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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