Colombia look critically undercooked and other key issues ahead of World Cup 2018

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Colombia v Egypt.

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 Colombia find themselves ahead of Tuesday’s Group H-opener against Japan at Mordovia Arena:

FRIENDLY RESULTS

Colombia’s preparations have been alarming. A flat 0-0 draw on June 1 against Egypt in Italy was meant to be followed by at least one more friendly. Yet, games with Greece and Uzbekistan fell through leading to a scratch match with Genoa’s Under-19s. This means 18 days will have gone by without a fixture, prior to Tuesday’s Group H-opener versus Japan.

WHO IS IN FORM AND WHO IS IN A SLUMP?

First-choice left-back Frank Fabra of Boca Juniors will be absent after suffering a serious knee injury. AC Milan centre-back Cristian Zapata and Deportivo Cali veteran Abel Aguilar also missed much of the camp. The 2014 quarter-finalists must hope a lack of activity doesn’t hamper stars such as Monaco striker Radamel Falcao, 32, eager to play his first World Cup.

TACTICAL TWEAKS

Coach Jose Pekerman’s faith in the old guard is being tested. Deportivo Cali’s Aguilar made seven starts in qualifying, but his spot in the centre-midfield pairing of the 4-2-3-1 formation alongside Espanyol’s Carlos Sanchez is threatened by Levante’s Jefferson Lerma. Barcelona’s Yerry Mina and Tottenham’s superb Davinson Sanchez should keep out Zapata.

BURNING QUESTION

Even though Falcao remains one of Europe’s most-lethal strikers, as 24 goals for Monaco attests last term, a dull air surrounds Colombia. A sterile stalemate against Egypt followed a qualifying run that contained just 21 goals in 18 matches – 2014 hero James Rodriguez scored six of them. Can the likes of Club America winger Mateus Uribe ease the burden?

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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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