Who will win the World Cup? Wozniacki, Muguruza, Thiem and Cilic have their say

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

Ahead of the FIFA World Cup, we put some tennis players on the spot asking them to pick their favourites for the Russia showpiece.

Find out who Caroline Wozniacki, Garbine Muguruza, Dominic Thiem and Marin Cilic think will be lifting the trophy next month in Moscow.







Most popular

Uruguay's Juventus star Rodrigo Bentancur will be key in midfield engine room World Cup battle with Egypt

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

Egypt and Uruguay face-off in their World Cup Group A opening match on Friday (16:00 UAE time).

The two teams are tipped to finish one-two, with the South American side topping proceedings, in a quartet also containing hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Our pre-match talking points cover the important plotlines before they clash at the Ekaterinburg Arena in Yekaterinburg, but here, we take a closer look at the tactical side of the fixture.

Midfield battle will be decisive

While the star-studded front pair of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani grab all the headlines, the youthfulness and versatility of a well-oiled and cultured midfield should not be forgotten.

Oscar Tabarez’s side look settled, well-drilled and have benefitted from a long build-up at home, choosing to travel to Russia late, compared to most teams, last Friday.

Giorgian de Arrascaeta’s emergence as a chief playmaker behind the main two strikers has helped take some of the creative workload off of Suarez’s shoulders, he no longer needs to drop back and make lung-busting dribbles from deep.

Indeed, the young midfield threesome of Nahitan Nandez (22), Matias Vecino (20) and Rodrigo Bentancur (20) bring legs, energy and a fluid structure to allow the forwards to shine.

Bentancur, in particular, enjoyed a breakthrough season for Juventus and could become one of the stars of the tournament. His towering presence, as well as acute passing range, should see him gain an upper-hand against an Egyptian midfield duo of Mohamed Elneny and Tarek Hamed.

Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi (L) vies with Juventus' midfielder from Uruguay Rodrigo Bentancur and Juventus' midfielder from Italy Claudio Marchisio (R) during the UEFA Champions League Group D football match Juventus Barcelona on November 22, 2017 at the Juventus stadium in Turin. / AFP PHOTO / Filippo MONTEFORTE (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)

Bentancur featured largely from the bench last term but was impressive.

An opportunity for others to become heroes

Should he not feature, Mohamed Salah and his troublesome shoulder injury has given other men a chance to shine and hog the Pharaohs’ limelight.

While Ramadan Sobhi is set to take up Salah’s void from the right, 23-year-old starlet Trezeguet is the man who could do the damage for Egypt.

Operating from the left-hand side, the Anderlecht star, who has spent the past two campaigns out on loan, brings pace, trickery and movement akin to that of Salah when he reignited his career at Fiorentina.

More importantly, Trezeguet bagged 16 goals and six assists in a stunning past season on loan at Kasimpasa in Super Lig. He arrives into the tournament with confidence and Egypt need to try and get him one-on-one with Guillermo Varela.

The right full-back loves to get forward and bomb on, potentially opening up some space to exploit, splitting and dragging Atletico Madrid and international central defenders Jos Gimenez and Diego Godin out of position.

Egypt's midfielder Trezeguet (L) vies for the ball with Belgium's defender Jan Vertonghen (R) during the international friendly football match between Belgium and Egypt at the King Baudouin Stadium, in Brussels, on June 6, 2018. (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP) (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Trezeguet is a man who could shine in Salah’s absence.

Can Egypt shackle Suarez?

West Brom pair Ahmed Hegazi and Ali Gabr will need to put Premier League relegation behind them and try to limit Suarez’s influence, as well as Edinson Cavani.

Neither star particularly has the pace to significantly blow away a defender now, but failure to stay tight and close down, especially around the box, will prove to be fatal.

The Egyptian centre-back pairing will need the help of Elneny and Hamed ahead of them to act as a shield and try and pinch the odd ball.

It is easier said than done against a player who will be determined to go out on a high in what could be his last World Cup. Let’s not forget, eight years ago, Suarez famously handled the ball on the goalline to prevent a goal against Ghana and was subsequently sent-off. Then four years ago in Brazil, he was banned for biting Giorgio Chiellini.

What does the 2018 edition of the event hold in store for Suarez?

Most popular

Morocco v Iran talking points as minnows look to give Spain and Portugal headache

Matt Jones 13/06/2018
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
Carlos Quieroz (c)

Morocco and Iran will feature in the third game of the 2018 World Cup and kick-off the action in Group B – otherwise known as the Group of Death.

Both sides come into the tournament under the radar in the sense that both are immediate underdogs with the reigning European champions Portugal and 2010 world champions Spain in their midst.

With the two super powers featuring in the other Group B game on Friday, this encounter is a chance for both Team Melli and the Atlas Lions to pounce on a priceless three points.

It all comes down to this

Ayoub El Kaabi has scored 11 goals in his first 10 Morocco appearances.

Ayoub El Kaabi has scored 11 goals in his first 10 Morocco appearances.

Group B has been deemed 2018’s Group of Death. And the opening fixtures have thrown up some intriguing battles, with the two favourites to progress, Spain and Portugal, going up against each other, while underdogs Morocco and Iran clash.

Both of the latter sides have a chance but one won’t if there is a victor in the group opener on Friday.

This begs the question; will we see a tense and turgid, perhaps typical, opening encounter? Or will we get a fast-paced goal feast in which two talented teams will feel they simply have to go for it? Let’s hope for the latter.

It certainly should be entertaining and both teams boast impressive forward lines.

The Atlas Lions will be slight favourites to secure victory in Saint Petersburg, with a star-studded attack spearheaded by Ayoub El Kaabi, 24, who has started his international career at a frightening pace – bagging a breakneck 11 goals in just 10 appearances.

They came through African qualifying superbly – finishing top of a group that contained 2015 Africa Cup of Nations champions Ivory Coast, whose three successive runs to the World Cup finals was halted.

Iran have their own emerging young talent in 23-year-old Rubin Kazan frontman Sardar Azmoun, whose 23 goals in 33 internationals have already fired him into fifth place on his nation’s all-time top scorers’ list.

Another intriguing layer to this tantalising tussle is that the two sides have never met before, either at a competitive level or in friendlies.

A case for the defence

Jalal Hosseini (l) has surprisingly been left out of Iran's World Cup squad.

Jalal Hosseini (l) has surprisingly been left out of Iran’s World Cup squad.

If Iran are to stand a chance of emerging from the group, then their stingy defence is going to have to be absolutely key.

Iran had the meanest backline in Asian qualifying – at one stage going almost 1,000 minutes without conceding a goal.

Throughout the third and fourth rounds of Asian qualifying they conceded just five goals – in 18 games. This included allowing just two in 10 games in the third round as they became the third team to reach the tournament – including Russia who qualify automatically as hosts, and Brazil.

Carlos Queiroz’s side didn’t even concede those two goals until the 10th and final game of Group A – in a 2-2 draw with Syria.

With this in mind, it was a massive surprise when long-term Iran coach Queiroz – who has been at the helm of the number one ranked team in Asia since 2011 – left out veteran centre-back and captain Jalal Hosseini.

Hosseini, who played at the 2014 tournament, was a surprise omission after the 36-year-old had started half of Iran’s matches in the final round of qualifying and was a key member of a defence that conceded those miserly two goals.

Although he last started a qualifying match in June 2017, the third to last game against Uzbekistan (2-0 win), he has remained an integral part of Queiroz’s squad.

He also remains a key component at club level for Persepolis, who won the most recent Persian Gulf Pro League title, and scored a late winner that saw them beat the UAE’s Al Jazira to earn them an AFC Champions League quarter-final berth, in May.

Rouzbeh Cheshmi has lined up alongside Hosseini’s regular centre-back partner Morteza Pouraligani in recent friendlies, and is expected to start – but only has 10 caps.

Making history for their nations

Ajax's Hakem Ziyech is part of a formidable Morocco attack.

Ajax’s Hakem Ziyech is part of a formidable Morocco attack.

While the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Spain are considered the favourites to lift the World Cup trophy in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on July 15, the tournament hosts plenty of nations who have no chance of success but will be content to simply make an impact.

Iran will be making their fifth finals appearance and are yet to go beyond the first round.

Morocco, meanwhile, have the distinction of being the first team from Africa to win a group. They are also making their fifth appearance but their first in 20 years.

How both must yearn to be this year’s Colombia, who stole the hearts of neutrals four years ago in Brazil, or Ghana’s Black Stars who shone so brightly in South Africa in 2010.

Most won’t give either side a glimmer of hope of being able to make that impact, with European giants Spain and Portugal in the same group.

But neither Team Melli nor the Atlas Lions will provide easy prey for the powerhouses.

Morocco boast a string of talented high-profile players like Juventus defender Mehdi Benatia, former Al Jazira schemer Mbark Boussoufa, rising Real Madrid talent Achraf Hakimi, emerging national team goal machine El Kaabi and Ajax talent Hakim Ziyech.

Iran, meanwhile, also possess a wealth of attacking talent in Azmoun, as well as Mehdi Taremi, former Premier League man Ashkan Dejagah and AZ Alkmaar’s Alireza Jahanbakhsh, who was this season’s top scorer in the Eredivisie.

They may be considered minnows but they can cause mighty headaches for both of the big boys.

Most popular