URUGUAY LEAD AT HALF-TIME
Uruguay are 45 minutes away from a place in the last-16 of the World Cup after taking a 1-0 lead into the half-time break of their game against Saudi Arabia.
As it stands, the South Americans and hosts Russia will be left to battle it out for top spot in Group A while Egypt and Saudi Arabia will join Morocco on the plane back home.
RUSSIAN PAPERS ROUND-UP
Alex Marrow is out in Russia, and here is his round-up of Wednesday’s local newspapers.
“The Russian papers lauded the achievement of their players after their 3-1 win over Egypt all but sealed their safe passage to the last-16.
“Sovetskiy Sport lead with an image of Denis Cheryshev and a headline paying tribute to manager Stanislav Cherchesov, whose moustache has become something of a symbol of the Russian team.
“In Sport Express the paper chose to focus on Russia becoming the first team to reach the last 16, something they haven’t achieved since the days of the Soviet Union.
“Kommersant made the point that this was the first time Russia had made it to the knockout stages of football’s major tournament.
“Below that, an article examining the poor start to the tournament by many of the favourites. The table reveals that the big seven teams of Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Germany, England, Italy and France have not had a worse opening round since 1982. The table omitted Belgium from their list of favourites.”
Absolutely nobody will be surprised to see Uruguay are beating Saudi Arabia by a goal to nil.
Luis Suarez, derided for his shoddy display against Egypt last week, turned home a corner to give his side the lead.
Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais did his team no favours by coming for – and completely missing – the ball, giving Suarez an empty net to aim at.
SANTOS FRUSTRATED DESPITE WIN
Portugal inexplicably lost control of the game and were lucky not to get themselves in more trouble against Morocco, coach Fernando Santos said.
“We have to look at this and we have to talk about it,” Portugal coach Santos said. “We lost control of the game, we misplaced a lot of passes, we lost confidence.
“It was inexplicable. If in a match against players like they have, if you don’t have the ball, they will wear you down and you get into trouble.”
100 UP FOR SUAREZ
Luis Suarez earns his 100th cap for Uruguay this afternoon as he starts up front alongside Edinson Cavani once more in their match against Saudi Arabia.
The Barcelona striker cut a frustrated figure in their opening 1-0 win against Egypt, and will hope to return to goalscoring ways in Rostov from 4pm.
NEYMAR BACK IN TRAINING
Neymar has returned to practice two days before Brazil’s World Cup game against Costa Rica.
The Brazilian star joined the rest of the squad in a training session in Sochi on Wednesday, a day after he limped out of practice because of pain in his right ankle.
Brazil’s practice session was closed to the media but the Brazilian soccer federation says Neymar “participated normally in the team’s activity.” It also posted photos of him practicing , including one showing the playmaker touching the ball with his right ankle.
So with a game to go, Morocco can no longer reach the knockout stages.
Herve Renard’s side sit fourth in Group B with no points, and while Portugal only top it with four, the fact that Spain or Iran will join them on at least four points after their game this evening means it’s mathematically impossible for Morocco to qualify.
FULL-TIME: PORTUGAL 1-0 MOROCCO
It’s all over in Moscow, and that man Cristiano Ronaldo has given Portugal all three points thanks to his fourth-minute header.
Morocco pushed and pushed and pushed for the equaliser, but they’re now the first team out of the World Cup. Portugal, meanwhile, move onto four points.
‘COMMENTS A LOW BLOW’
Germany have hit out at “under the belt” criticism of Mesut Ozil as the under-fire holders attempt to get their World Cup campaign back on track against Sweden.
Joachim Low’s team have faced a fierce backlash after their poor first-half display in the 1-0 defeat to Mexico on Sunday.
Attacking midfielder Ozil was singled out in some quarters, with ex-Germany captain Lothar Matthaus accusing him of “no heart, no joy, no passion” in a woeful display.
“We have to live with the criticism after the Mexico defeat, the main body of which is justified,” said team director Oliver Bierhoff.
“I just find it a pity that a few comments have gone under the belt, not just for Mesut Ozil, but in general. Hard criticism is OK, but malicious comments against deserving world champions are not.”
VAN MARWIJK COY ON CAHILL
Australia’s coach would not say whether all-time leading scorer Tim Cahill would play on Thursday against Denmark.
“There’s always a chance for all the players,” Bert van Marwijk said Wednesday when asked if Cahill might play or even start.
The 38-year-old Cahill is Australia’s top career scorer with 50 goals in 106 appearances. He has been on Australia’s roster four World Cups, and could join an elite club with four other players who have scored in four straight editions of soccer’s top tournament.
With his hat trick against Spain in Portugal’s opener, Cristiano Ronaldo joined the group. Others who have goals in four consecutive World Cups include Pele, Uwe Seeler and Miroslav Klose.
RASHFORD: IT REALLY IS A TEAM
Marcus Rashford says the England squad are relishing this opportunity to show people how far they have come, saying Gareth Southgate’s World Cup group “really is a team” compared to Euro 2016.
“I think the mood around the camp is a lot calmer from what I can remember of that last tournament,” he said, comparing this squad to his first major tournament experience with England.
“But I think that’s as expected. We were all fairly new to each other in that tournament and now we’ve managed to build relationships and the team really is a team now.
“I think that only puts us in good stead for this tournament and future tournaments.”
GUDMUNDSSON’S WC IN DOUBT
Iceland winger Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s World Cup adventure is in doubt after it was confirmed he has torn a calf muscle.
The 27-year-old Burnley midfielder was injured during Saturday’s 1-1 Group D draw with Argentina and is being monitored by medical staff ahead of Friday’s showdown with Nigeria.
Iceland assistant coach Helgi Koldvidsson told a press conference: “Johann Berg Gudmundsson has torn a muscle. It remains a question whether he will be fit, but we’ll see on match-day.”
Gudmundsson and his team-mates are due to complete their group fixtures against Croatia on June 26, with the last-16 fixtures for the top two teams in their pool scheduled for June 30 and July 1.
‘GERMANY TOOK THINGS TOO LIGHTLY’
Germany’s easy-going approach to their World Cup warm-up matches may have contributed to their opening day defeat against Mexico, striker Thomas Muller said on Wednesday.
The world champions played six friendlies between last November and the start of the tournament in Russia, winning only one, against Saudi Arabia.
“I think we took things a bit too lightly after the warm-up games,” Muller told reporters. “Internally we made no bones about it, we were self critical and said we need to do this, that and the other.
“And in warm-up games we had just hoped that in a non-training camp context, without tough and lengthy training sessions, we hoped that when the World Cup came around we could raise our game. And we haven’t been able to. We need to get back to being prepared to walk that extra mile. That’s it.
“What is important now is that we look ahead to the two major tasks lying ahead of us in this group. The heat is on.”
Goal No 4 for the Portugal captain in Russia, and they lead Morocco 1-0 early doors.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s facial hair appears to be getting social media in a tizz. He’ll be looking to add to his three-goal World Cup tally very soon…
‘YOU NEED MORE THAN ONE COUNTRY’
“They will be candidates I’m sure. With 48 teams, you need more than one country. Definitely,” says Blatter.
Last week, FIFA vice-president David Gill said England’s hopes of hosting the 2030 World Cup were boosted by the decision to grant the 2026 tournament to North America.
Meanwhile, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has already publicly encouraged England to bid for the tournament either alone or as part of a joint British bid, and he repeated that message last week.
“England has fantastic infrastructure, experience and everything else so we, as much as we are trying to be neutral now, we will certainly not be neutral if anyone from Europe bids,” he said.
BLATTER BACKS ENGLAND TO HOST WC
Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter told Sky Sports News that England, or a joint UK and Ireland bid, would deserve to host the 2030 World Cup.
‘I’M JUST A DEFENSIVE PLAYER’
He may be regarded as one of the best midfielders in the world, but France and Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante has been playing down his role…
“I’m just a defensive player. It’s the lowest position. I’ve got the ball-carriers in front of me, and it’s our job as midfielders to link up with the defence and pick out the forwards so we can create chances,” he told FIFA.
Up next for Kante and France – who won their opener 2-1 against Australia – are South American side Peru. “They play with a lot of intensity and commitment and give it all they’ve got,” Kante added.
PANAMA PROMISE PHYSICAL GAME
Panama have promised to adopt a physical approach in order to “impose” themselves when they play England on Sunday.
The Central Americans were beaten 3-0 by Belgium on Monday in their first-ever World Cup match, meaning they need to avoid defeat against England if they want to realistically keep their hopes of reaching the last 16 alive.
Following his side’s win, Belgium manager Roberto Martinez was unhappy with Panama’s physical style, and expressed concern that the approach could lead to injuries.
However, Panama captain Roman Torres says his side have no intention of altering their approach.
GERMANY ON A MISSION
And how about this for a setting…
That’s Toni Kroos you can see in the forefront as Germany train in front of the impressive Bogatyr Hotel in Sochi.
The reigning world champions – who lost their opener 1-0 to Mexico – are back in action against Sweden on Saturday.
MESSI RIDING SHOTGUN
Argentina are busy preparing for their second World Cup encounter on Thursday against Croatia, and they will be desperate to right the wrongs of their opening 1-1 draw with Iceland.
Lionel Messi missed a penalty as Argentina ended the day two points behind Croatia in Group F, but he still gets shotgun privileges when it comes to buggy rides to training… Marcos Rojo meanwhile is resigned to the boot!
WORLD CUP: RUSSIA REPORT
Potential problems for England, Brazil boost and Iceland’s fear of flies.
Get all the latest news from day seven of the World Cup in Russia.
FABIANSKI THE HAMMER
Poland goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski is officially a West Ham player.
TOP PERFORMERS SO FAR
Poland’s meeting with Senegal in Group H marked the end of the opening round, with 38 goals scored in 16 games overall.
But who were the standout performers?
Which player impressed you the most?
And which goal will live longest in the memory?
NEYMAR BACK IN TRAINING?
Neymar left Brazil training early on Tuesday after feeling pain in his right ankle, and we will wait to see whether he trains with his team-mates later today.
The 25-year-old also missed an outdoor training session on Monday after feeling pain from Brazil’s opening match against Switzerland in which he picked up a knock after being repeatedly fouled.
The Paris Saint-Germain forward missed a large spell of the French season after breaking a bone in his foot in February and returned just in time for the Russia tournament.
TUNISIA ‘KEEPER OUT OF WORLD CUP
Tunisia goalkeeper Mouez Hassen’s World Cup is over after just 16 minutes of action due to an injured shoulder suffered in Monday’s 2-1 loss to England, team officials said.
Hassen was forced off early in Volgograd and will not recover in time to continue in the tournament. He will instead return to his French second division club Chateauroux for further treatment.
The injury occurred when Hassen collided with England midfielder Jesse Lingard and he was replaced by Farouk Ben Mustapha, who conceded a last-minute Harry Kane goal as England won the Group G encounter.
French-born Hassen switched his international allegiance to Tunisia earlier this year and made his international debut in March. He had previously played for France at under-21 level.
LOFTUS-CHEEK CALM ON STARTING PLACE
Ruben Loftus-Cheek is staying calm at the prospect of a first World Cup start as England continue to monitor the fitness of Dele Alli.
When asked if he is hoping to start against Panama on Sunday, Loftus-Cheek told England’s official YouTube channel: “I am happy if I start or if I don’t. I will be ready to come on again if I get the opportunity.
“When the game is like that, [when there is] not long left, you have to try and make stuff happen and take risks rather than just go on and be direct.”
‘NEYMAR HAS BEEN TARGETED’
Philippe Coutinho says Neymar has been unfairly targeted by Brazil’s opponents at the World Cup.
WHY MARQUEZ WEARS NO SPONSORS
He is the joint-record holder for playing in the most World Cups but Mexico veteran Rafael Marquez (R) wears special training gear for another reason.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that this means Marquez cannot wear any of the Mexico team sponsors on his training gear, or engage in sponsorship work or even drink from the same branded bottles as his team-mates.
KANE TARGETS RONALDO, MESSI
“Ronaldo is the best in the world, up there with Messi, but the challenge is there to be with them.”
England captain Harry Kane wants to be up there with the very best.
DAY SIX: RUSSIA REPORT
Miss anything from day six? Get up to date with the latest news from the World Cup on a day where Japan, Senegal and the hosts Russia recorded victories…
And so we move on to Day Seven in Russia. All 32 nations have now played their first games, while Russia impressed last night when kicking off the second round of fixtures with a 3-1 victory over Egypt.
It means there could be just one more game of Mohamed Salah at the World Cup, but we can rejoice in knowing that Wednesday sees Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal return to the fold, with Uruguay and Spain also in action later.
Get yourself a brew and stay here for all the latest news, as well as England updates as they prepare for the Panama clash on Sunday.