Jordan Pickford appears to have won the race to be England’s first-choice goalkeeper at the World Cup after being handed the number one jersey.
The Everton stopper seemed to be in pole position as he was handed the gloves for Saturday’s 2-1 warm-up victory at home to Nigeria.
Pickford has just three senior caps but has been backed by Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate and now looks set to start in Russia.
The 24-year-old has enjoyed a fine season for a struggling Toffees side, making 45 appearances.
Jack Butland and Nick Pope are England’s other goalkeepers for the tournament after Joe Hart, who featured in nine of the 10 qualifiers, was left out.
The World Cup is just a week away, and apart from all the wonderful football about to come our way, the tournament is always an explosion of colour, with fans from all corners of the globe coming out to get behind their teams.
From some of the finest players on the planet like Argentina’s Lionel Messi, Brazil’s Neymar, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and France’s Antoine Griezmann to some of the most star-studded teams in defending champions Germany, Spain and Belgium.
As ever there’s sure to be some surprises too, with Senegal, Croatia and Costa Rica having all caused a stir in recent years. Meanwhile, what an occasion it will be for everyone concerned with Panama and Iceland who make their debuts on the biggest sporting stage imaginable.
But while certain teams will be instilled as favourites and others possess a glut of talent, who can boast the best nickname?
There are some truly mesmerising ones among the 32 teams who have made it to Russia. Then again, there’s are also some drab and unimaginative ones too.
Here we list our top-10.
1 DENMARK – Danish Dynamite
An explosive nickname for a national team that burst onto the scene by sensationally winning the European Championships in 1992 – beating the Netherlands on penalties and then stunning Germany 2-0 in the final.
Won silver at the Olympics in 1908, 1912 and 1960, but didn’t even qualify for a maiden World Cup until 1986.
2 SOUTH KOREA – Taegeuk Warriors
South Korea take their name from the ‘Taegeuk’ symbol of two hands clasped together in the middle of the Korean flag. Taegeuk also represents a spiritual balance, similar to China’s yin and yang symbol.
Also known as The Reds due to the team’s red outfits, fans have called themselves the Red Devils since 1995. Will be appearing at their ninth consecutive finals.
3 SPAIN – La Furia Roja (The Red Fury)
A formidable name for a powerful team. “La Roja” comes from the team’s red kit, while “La Furia” describes Spain’s direct, aggressive and spirited style of play in the 1920s.
Thankfully their style of play is championed more for its beauty these days, with some of the finest players on the planet in this squad.
4 COLOMBIA – Los Cafeteros (The Coffee Growers)
Colombia’s nickname loosely translates to “one who makes or drinks coffee”. And while the English version might not sound like the most exciting nickname, it is symbolic of the country’s roots in exporting goods and, let’s be honest, in the country’s native Spanish, the name is immensely cooler.
The Coffee Growers produced a rich blend of eye-catching football four years ago and much is expected of them again.
5 SENEGAL – The Lions of Teranga
Senegal only qualified for their first World Cup back in 2002 but the Lions of Teranga roared loudly as they began by beating France – of which they are a former colony. They made it all the way to the quarter-finals, losing eventually to Turkey in extra-time.
After a few barren years roaming the wilderness, however, the lions are back on the prowl, with Liverpool’s Sadio Mane leading the pride.
6 MOROCCO – The Atlas Lions
The ploy of many African teams it seems is to just pick the name of a formidable creature from the animal kingdom and use that to frighten opponents. And why not? It’s cool and intimidating.
Morocco’s nickname is taken from the Atlas Mountains that stretch across the country. They have prowled the World Cup proudly, becoming the first African team to win a group in 1986, and subsequently the first to make it to the second round. Appearing for the first time in 20 years.
7 NIGERIA – The Super Eagles
A reference to the eagle in the country’s Coat of Arms, the name was changed from Green Eagles to the Super Eagles, adopting the new moniker after losing to Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions in the 1988 Africa Cup of Nations final.
Reached fifth in the FIFA rankings in 1994 – the highest ever achieved by an African team. Three time Africa Cup of Nations winners but have never gone beyond the last 16 at a World Cup.
8 SAUDI ARABIA – The Green Falcons
Also referred to as Ouilad Al Sahraa (“the Sons of the Desert”) in Arabic, the Green Falcons are flying back to the World Cup this summer after an eight-year absence.
On debut in 1994 they defeated Belgium and Morocco to emerge from the group, falling in the last 16 to Sweden who would finish third.
9 BELGIUM – Rode Duivels (The Red Devils)
The Red Devils is a frighteningly good nickname in itself but when it’s pronounced in Dutch, it’s even better. After a 1905 match, a Dutch reporter wrote that three Belgian footballers “worked as devils” and a year later Leopold FC manager Pierre Walckiers nicknamed the players Red Devils.
Were temporarily known as the White Devils in the 1970s due to wearing white shirts.
10 TUNISIA – Les Aigles de Carthage (The Eagles of Carthage)
Carthage was the capital city of the ancient Carthaginian civilisation, on the eastern side of the Lake of Tunis in what is now Tunisia.
They have qualified for four World Cups, the first one in 1978, and created history in that tournament in Argentina by becoming the first African side to win a World Cup match, beating Mexico 3-1. Appearing in Russia for the first time in 12 years.
BEST OF THE REST
Switzerland – La Nati (National Team) or the much cooler Rossocrociati (The Red Crusaders)
Panama – Marea Roja (The Red Tide). Also known as El Equipo Canalero (The Canal Team)
Japan – Samurai Blue
Australia – The Socceroos, a hybrid word from Soccer and Kangaroo
Egypt – the Pharaohs
England – The Three Lions
Argentina – La Albiceleste (The White and Sky Blues)
Brazil – Canarinho (Little Canary) or Selecao (The Selection/Team)
Costa Rica – Los Ticos, Spanish slang for natives of Costa Rica
Croatia – Vatreni (meaning The Blazers or Fiery boys. Also sometimes known as Kockasti (The Chequereds)
France – Les Bleus (The blues)
Mexico – El Tri. They are also less commonly referred to as Los Aztecas
Peru – La Blanquirroja (The White and Reds) or Los Incas
Poland – Bialo-Czerwoni (White-Reds). Also known as Polskie Orly (The Polish Eagles)
Portugal – Selecao das Quinas (The Selection of the Shields), which refers to the five shields (the “quinas”) and the five dots within each shield on the country’s flag
Uruguay – Charruas (a warrior tribe in Uruguay). Also known as La Celeste Olimpica (The Olympic Sky Blue) or La Celeste (The Sky Blue)
MUST DO BETTER
Germany – Die Mannschaft (The National Team)
Iceland – Strakamir Okkar (Our Boys)
Russia – Sbornaya (Team or Selection)
Serbia –Plavi (The Blue) or Orlovi (The Eagles)
Sweden – Blagult (The Blue and Yellows). Also Kronos (The Crowns)
Iran – Team Melli (The National Team) Should adopt much cooler monikers like Shirants Perse (The Persian Lions) or Princes of Persia
Tagliabue has never earned international honours for his country, but the lethal marksman was at his blistering best in 2017/18 – posting scorching figures of 42 goals in 40 games in all competitions.
Individually, the campaign ended on a high for the veteran striker as Tagliabue beat the Boss’ Marcus Berg – who is going to this summer’s World Cup with Sweden – to the Best Foreign Player award at the Arabian Gulf League Awards, earning the accolade for a second time in five seasons.
And as Berg – who finished above Tagliabue on 25 goals – prepares for Russia, the Argentine is left to lament the best season of his career, at 33, not being good enough to earn a call-up to the national team.
“Of course I wait for the phone call but it is very, very difficult for him (Sampaoli) to call me. He doesn’t watch the Gulf competition,” said Tagliabue of La Albiceleste’s former Chile and Sevilla coach.
Barcelona magician Lionel Messi will spearhead Argentina’s attack in Russia and he will be joined by a stellar cast including dynamic Juventus duo Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala, as well as lethal Manchester City marksman Sergio Aguero.
There was little chance therefore that Tagliabue’s form would result in a call-up, which the affable Wahda warrior is sad about.
“They should consider me maybe one time,” said the man who originates from the city of Olivos, part of the capital Buenos Aires’ metro area, and who will nevertheless be watching the progress of the compatriots closely in Russia.
“We have to go game by game. We don’t have an amazing team but we can reach far (like we did four years ago).
“I don’t know any of the national team players, but I like (Nicolas) Otamendi, (Gabriel) Mercado, (Javier) Mascherano, (Fernando, left out of final 23-man squad) Gago, but he is coming back from big injury and is not ready.
“(Sergio) Aguero, if he is in the best condition, I like him too.”
To label Tagliabue a journeyman striker would do a disservice to his prolific scoring record in – he has netted at a ratio of at least one goal in two games throughout the majority of his career, apart from his first club, Paraguay’s Colegiales from 2003-08 where he netted 37 times in 123 appearances.
Since then he has played across South America, in both Chile and Colombia, and has been in the Middle East since 2010, featuring for Saudi Arabia sides Al Ittifaq and Al Shabab, before settling in Abu Dhabi in 2013 – where he has been a sensation.
His unbelievable season included Tagliabue firing seven hat-tricks throughout 2017/18 – which included a scorching four trebles in his final 10 games of the campaign. It was enough to see him overtake former Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan as the leading foreign goalscorer in UAE history in the professional era.
He recently signed a two-year contract extension to stay at Al Nahyan Stadium. And, having led the Clarets to a second Arabian Gulf League Cup title in three years, as well as the President’s Cup in 2016/17, Tagliabue is desperate to lift the title before he leaves the UAE.
“I’m so happy to renew here. This is my second home in football,” said Tagliabue, an AGL runner-up with Wahda this season to Al Ain and Al Ahli in 2013/14.
“And after five years they still want me and they show me, so for that and because my family want to stay (of course me too) it was enough to decide to renew and stay.
“I’m looking every year when we start, to be champion with Al Wahda and after to be top scorer. Of course I will try to score more than this year and try to win everything personally and as a team. I won everything here but I still have to win the league.
“I work a lot in the club and out of club. Before pre-season I work with my wife (she is personal trainer) and I was ready for pre-season. After I continue it with the staff, coach and also I add a very good nutritionist to help me with food, all this plus my attitude is always the same, it is go in front and don’t stop.”
Wahda finished seven points adrift of the Boss – who lifted a first league title in three years under Zoran Mamic.
After going toe to toe with the Garden City side for the majority of the campaign, a 6-2 defeat on March 1 proved pivotal – Wahda fighting back from 2-0 down to level, before Al Ain shell-shocked Reghecampf’s men by netting four in the final 18 minutes.
“We did a good season, we won two titles from four (AG Cup and beat Al Jazira 2-0 in the Arabian Gulf Super Cup), we were knocked out of the AFC Champions League, but we could do better,” insists Tagliabue.
“The game against Al Ain was strange because we were ready to play it but we didn’t play well. But Al Ain scored four goals on the counter-attack and one of them was offside. So this game broke our chances to win the title.
“Al Ain in the first six months wasn’t good, and in the second six months they were good but not amazing.
“If we bring two or three local players to be ready to play in the first 11 we will have a better team than last year next season and we will be ready to fight for the title.”
And on finishing the season as the AGL’s Best Foreign Player for a second time and beating the Boss’ Berg to the title, he added: “I feel very good because I could be top scorer and it was more difficult to win. It is a special gift from the people because it means I score and I did other good things too. I’m very happy. But I don’t like to say I beat Berg, I don’t like this sentence, I was best foreign player.”