Preview: Japan vs. Croatia

Resident World Cup 2022 giant killers Japan will endeavour to pull off another impressive scalp at the tournament when they tackle Croatia in Monday’s last-16 clash at the Al Janoub Stadium.

Hajime Moriyasu’s men remarkably finished first in Group E above Spain and Germany, while the 2018 runners-up were forced to settle for second in Group F behind Morocco.


Match preview

Japan's Ao Tanaka celebrates scoring against Spain at the World Cup on December 1, 2022

It was camera angles galore when Ao Tanaka found himself in the right place at the right time to prod home Japan’s second goal in their 2-1 win over Spain, who had taken the lead against the Asian nation before Moriyasu’s half-time substitutions paid dividends once more.

Alvaro Morata took just 11 minutes to break the deadlock for Spain before substitute Ritsu Doan’s venomous leveller, and fellow half-time change Kaoru Mitoma just about managed to keep the ball in play for Tanaka to settle the contest and book Japan’s last-16 place in dramatic fashion.

Any team that beats the 2010 and 2014 world champions in one tournament no doubt deserves a place in the knockout rounds, and Japan have finally broken their cycle of a last-16 place followed by a group stage exit, having also got to the knockout phase in Russia four years ago.

The Samurai Blue are far from the finished product, as evidenced by their disappointing 1-0 loss to Costa Rica on matchday two, but they could now set up an all-Asian quarter-final with South Korea, although their near neighbours must first eliminate Brazil in their last-16 battle.

Japan are still waiting for their first quarter-final appearance at a World Cup and are no strangers to having their backs against the wall – averaging just 32.3% possession in Qatar so far – and Moriyasu’s super subs must continue to prove as effective as ever if history is to be made on Monday.

Croatia and Belgium in action at the World Cup on December 1, 2022.

Had Romelu Lukaku been able to finish one of the plethora of gilt-edged chances he inexplicably wasted against Croatia, the Chequered Ones could very well have been heading out of the competition, but the Chelsea attacker’s profligacy worked in their favour to the extreme.

tSteadfast defending from in-demand RB Leipzig starlet Josko Gvardiol also helped get Zlatko Dalic’s side over the line in a 0-0 draw, which saw the 2018 runners-up finish second in Group F behind Morocco and qualify for the knockout rounds by the skin of their teeth.

Putting four goals past Canada is all well and good for Croatia – as is their stellar defensive record, with just one goal conceded in the tournament so far – but they have already failed to score in as many games at this World Cup as they had done in their previous 13 matches.

Nevertheless, the Chequered Ones now come into the last-16 clash on a nine-game unbeaten run across all tournaments and progressed from both of their previous ties at this stage of the competition, but Dalic’s side can take nothing for granted against the counter-attacking machine that is Japan.

Since suffering a 4-3 loss in their first meeting with Japan 25 years ago, Croatia have since beaten the Samurai Blue at the 1998 World Cup before playing out a goalless draw in the 2006 edition, and yet another low-scoring affair in Qatar is not beyond the realm of possibility in this last-16 showdown.


Team News

Japan's Ritsu Doan celebrates scoring against Spain at the World Cup on December 1, 2022

Japan manager Moriyasu witnessed defender Ko Itakura pick up his second yellow card of the World Cup in the win over Spain, meaning that he will be suspended for the last-16 battle, so Takehiro Tomiyasu should come in to deputise after also performing well off the bench in midweek.

Stuttgart midfielder Wataru Endo shook off a fitness concern to come on as a substitute in that game, and right-back Hiroki Sakai has also rejoined training, but Takefusa Kubo is a fresh doubt due to muscular discomfort.

Not for the first time in Qatar, the Japan boss is facing the best kind of selection dilemma in the final third, where Doan has surely done enough to come in for the stricken Kubo, but Mitoma’s efforts may not be enough to edge out Daichi Kamada.

As for Croatia, Dalic is unsure if left-back Borna Sosa will be available for the contest as the Stuttgart man battles a fever, while fellow defender Josip Stanisic is set to miss out with a muscular problem.

Dalic should otherwise have all of his options available, but veteran pair Luka Modric and Dejan Lovren will miss any potential quarter-final if they are booked here.

Neither man will lose their place in the XI here, though, with Dalic set to stick with his tried-and-tested 4-3-3 formula, but there could be scope for a change or two in the final third.

Andrej Kramaric and Marko Livaja both failed to shine in the goalless draw with Belgium, and Dalic is not short of options in attack, where Bruno Petkovic, Mislav Orsic, Nikola Vlasic and Mario Pasalic are all vying for opportunities.

Japan possible starting lineup:
Gonda; Tomiyasu, Taniguchi, Yoshida; Ito; Morita, Tanaka, Nagatomo; Doan, Maeda, Kamada

Croatia possible starting lineup:
Livakovic; Juranovic, Lovren, Gvardiol, Barisic; Kovacic, Brozovic, Modric; Kramaric, Livaja, Perisic

Preview: Serbia vs. Switzerland

Serbia face Switzerland at Stadium 974 in their final Group G game on Friday, with the Eagles knowing that they need to win to stand any chance of progressing to the knockout stages.

A point is likely to be enough for second-placed Nati, as long as Cameroon fail to beat Brazil in the other remaining game in the group.

Match preview

Serbia's Sergej Milinkovic-Savic celebrates scoring against Cameroon at the World Cup on November 28, 2022

Serbia still have a fighting chance of progressing to the knockout stages, but they will be disappointed not to be in a better position heading into the final game.

In the opener, the Eagles fell to an expected defeat against Brazil, managing to hold the star-studded side off for quite some time, but a second-half Richarlison brace ensured that they took nothing from the match.

Despite the result, Dragan Stojkovic’s side could still have been in a far better position, had they just beaten Cameroon in their last game, and at one point they looked almost certain victors against the African side.

After Jean-Charles Castelletto opened the scoring for the opposition, goals from Strahinja Pavlovic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic meant that Serbia went in at the break with a 2-1 lead.

Aleksandar Mitrovic added a third shortly after the restart, but two goals in quick succession from the Indomitable Lions mean that nothing but a win is good enough for Serbia, and even that would not grant them progression automatically, as it will come down to goal difference if Cameroon beat Brazil.

Switzerland manager Murat Yakin pictured on on November 24, 2022

Switzerland are in a very good position to progress to the knockout stages, courtesy of a 1-0 victory against Cameroon in their first game in Group G.

Breel Embolo scored the only goal of the game early on in the second half, securing a vital three points for his national side against the country of his birth.

That remains the only goal that Nati have managed to conjure up in their opening two games, falling to a 1-0 defeat against Brazil in their last match, despite holding them out for the majority of the game.

Casemiro struck late to deny Murat Yakin’s side an important point, but they are still in a very strong position at present, only needing to avoid defeat, unless Cameroon beat Brazil.

However, Ecuador were in the same position as Switzerland on Tuesday, as they only needed to avoid a defeat against Senegal to secure progression, which should serve as a reminder to Yakin’s players that there is still work to be done.

Team News

Serbia coach Dragan Stojkovic in September 2022

Aleksandar Mitrovic scored his first goal of the tournament against Cameroon, and the talisman is now back to full fitness, ready to lead the line in the Serbia attack.

The supporting cast are likely to come in the form of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who is enjoying an impressive season with Lazio, while captain Dusan Tadic should feature on the right flank.

The Eagles will likely line up with a back three consisting of Strahinja Pavlovic, Milos Veljkovic and Nikola Milenkovic, who have been the choices in the previous two matches.

As for Switzerland, Noah Okafor is the only injury concern for Murat Yakin, as he currently has a muscle issue, although he was not a guaranteed starter anyway, having featured for fewer than 20 minutes against Cameroon.

Considering a point should be enough to secure progression for Nati, the manager may implement the same, more cautious approach he opted for against Brazil, with Granit Xhaka and Remo Freuler sitting in front of the back four.

Breel Embolo should be the choice in attack, as the only player to score for Switzerland up to this point, being supported by Djibril Sow through the middle, while Ruben Vargas and a returning Xherdan Shaqiri could support in advanced wide roles.

Serbia possible starting lineup:
Milinkovic-Savic; Milenkovic, Veljkovic, Pavlovic; Zivkovic, Maksimovic, Lukic, Kostic; Tadic, Milinkovic-Savic, Mitrovic

Switzerland possible starting lineup:
Sommer; Widmer, Akanji, Elvedi, Rodriguez; Xhaka, Freuler; Shaqiri, Sow, Vargas; Embolo

Preview: Canada vs. Morocco

Morocco have the chance to extend their stay in Qatar beyond the group stages when they face Canada at the Al Thumama Stadium on Thursday in a World Cup Group F tie.

Canada are already eliminated, but there are potentially huge implications on this fixture for the North African side.

Match preview

Morocco celebrate scoring against Belgium at the World Cup on November 27, 2022.

There are many permutations surrounding the final matchday in Group F, which remains incredibly tight and tough to call.

However, things can be relatively simple for Morocco – win or draw and they progress regardless of what happens in the other match in the group.

If they lose though, then things do become very complicated, as they would then need either Croatia to lose by at least two goals more than they do, or for Belgium to lose in order to progress.

If Morocco were to lose by four goals or more, then a draw in the other group match would knock them out too.

Either way, Morocco just need to get the job done themselves, but would be incredibly unfortunate not to go through having already taken points off both sides vying for a last 16 spot with them.

However, based on their performances so far, that will be no problem for the Atlas Lions, as they comfortably shut out both Croatia and Belgium with little fuss.

While the 0-0 with the Vatreni was a drab affair, they showcased their attacking capabilities against Belgium, with Zakaria Aboukhlal scoring a fabulous late clinching goal to seal a 2-0 win.

Walid Regragui’s side have arguably been the best surprise package of the tournament so far given the calibre of opponents they have taken points off.

They will be unfortunate to be paired up in the last 16 with a side from Group E should they progress, with the likelihood of it being Spain or Germany, so even if they are to win the group, they will still meet a very stern test.

Canada have also been impressive and easy on the eye, creating many chances with pace out wide and presence up front, but unfortunately for them, their journey is already over.

Croatia celebrate scoring a goal against Canada at the World Cup on November 27, 2022.

Being very naive at the back and in their structure saw them picked apart ruthlessly by a talented Croatia side in a 4-1 defeat on Sunday.

If it were not for some smart saves from goalkeeper Milan Borjan, it may have been six or seven to Zlatko Dalic’s side too.

They at least have a World Cup finals goal to their name though, as at the fifth attempt they finally broke their duck, and it was the man who agonisingly missed a penalty against Belgium in their opening fixture who got it, Alphonso Davies.

They will be able to reminisce about that moment, and the fact that they led the 2018 finalists for over 30 minutes, as they now turn their attentions to 2026.

They should definitely have got a result against a lacklustre Belgian side, having missed a penalty and squandered numerous more openings but could not take them, becoming just the second side after hosts Qatar to exit the competition.

They will hope not to finish the tournament on zero points again like they did in 1986, but there is no doubting that there are good foundations in place and a solid youthful squad available to take forward to the next World Cup, which they will co-host.

This year, the Maple Leafs were just unfortunate to be drawn against the second and third-placed sides from 2018, and possibly Africa’s strongest nation at these finals.

Team News

Canada boss John Herdman during World Cup fixture against Belgium on November 23, 2022.

Canadian boss John Herdman has the choice of either going all out for some points in what is essentially a dead game for them, or whether to give some fringe players an opportunity to feature.

Ismael Kone has featured as a substitute twice and could come in for 39-year-old Atiba Hutchinson, who may struggle to start in a third game this week.

Cyle Larin did not make much of an impact from the start in place of Junior Hoilett against Croatia, so the latter may come back in with Davies moving further forward alongside Jonathan David.

Moroccan keeper Yassine Bounou was a very late casualty before their tie with Belgium, as he was replaced by Munir Mohamedi following the playing of the national anthems after feeling unwell.

Noussair Mazraoui passed a late fitness test to start at full-back despite going off injured against Croatia in their group opener.

Regragui named an entirely unchanged side initially until the late change in goal, and he will likely stick with the same 10 outfield players again from the start here.

Canada possible starting lineup:
St. Clair; Johnston, Steven Vitoria, Miller, Adekugbe; Buchanan, Kone, Eustaquio, Hoilett; Davies, David

Morocco possible starting lineup:
Bounou; Hakimi, Aguerd, Saiss, Mazraoui; Amrabat, Ounahi, Amallah; Ziyech, En-Nesyri, Boufal

Preview: Poland vs. Argentina

Argentina will be looking to leapfrog Poland to the top of Group C and qualify for the last 16 of the 2022 World Cup when they do battle at Stadium 974 on Wednesday.

The two-time world champions currently sit level on three points with Saudi Arabia, just one point behind Poland at the summit heading into their final group fixture.

Match preview

Poland's Robert Lewandowski celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates on November 26, 2022

At the age of 34, Robert Lewandowski finally celebrated his first World Cup goal at the fifth time of asking as Poland secured a 2-0 victory against Saudi Arabia on Saturday.

After missing a penalty in the goalless draw with Mexico, the Barcelona striker redeemed himself when he capitalised on a defensive error to wrap up the points for the Eagles eight minutes from time, after Piotr Zielinski had opened the scoring on the stroke of half time.

Lewandowski said after the match that he has now ‘fulfilled his dream’ on the biggest international stage, but there is still unfinished business for both himself and his teammates, with Czeslaw Michniewicz’s side bidding to reach the last 16 of the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

Poland’s strengths at the back have been evident in Qatar, as they are one of only two nations who are yet to concede a goal after their first two group matches at the time of writing. Indeed, the Eagles have now kept a clean sheet in each of their last four internationals.

However, keeping Argentina quiet could prove challenging for Poland, as they have conceded in each of their 11 previous meetings with the two-time world champions. Their last encounter against La Albiceleste was successful, though, as they secured a 2-1 friendly win back in 2011.

Victory for Poland on Wednesday would secure top spot in Group C and guarantee their place in the last 16, while a draw could also be enough to finish at the summit if Saudi Arabia fail to beat Mexico. However, defeat will end their World Cup journey if Saudi Arabia claim maximum points.

Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates scoring their first goal on November 26, 2022

Four days on from their shock 2-1 defeat against Saudi Arabia, Argentina boosted their hopes of reaching the knockout rounds courtesy of a crucial 2-0 victory against Mexico on Saturday.

After an underwhelming first-half showing, star man Lionel Messi stepped up when it mattered, with the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner breaking the deadlock in the 64th minute with a low-driven strike from outside the area, before setting up Enzo Fernandez in the closing stages to secure their first three points in Group C.

Jubilant scenes were sparked in the dressing room after full time and Lionel Scaloni’s men – regarded by many as one of the pre-tournament favourites to go all the way in Qatar – appear to have restored their belief heading into their final group clash with Poland.

Indeed, Argentina could do with claiming maximum points from Saturday’s contest with the Poles if they are to avoid finishing second in Group C, which could result in a potentially difficult last-16 tie with holders France, who beat La Albiceleste 4-3 in a thrilling showdown at this stage four years ago.

Argentina, who have progressed to the knockout rounds in 12 of the last 13 World Cup finals, have lost their last two meetings with European nations, both of which were at the 2018 tournament in Russia, when a 3-0 group-stage defeat to Croatia was followed by the aforementioned loss to France in the last 16.

Argentina will finish at the summit of Group C and qualify for the knockout rounds if they secure all three points against Poland, and if Saudi Arabia fail to beat Mexico by a larger margin than Scaloni’s side. A draw, meanwhile, could be enough for them to progress in second place if Saudi Arabia fail to win.

Team News

Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates scoring their first goal on November 26, 2022

Poland boss Michniewicz is expected to name an unchanged starting lineup against Argentina, with Arkadiusz Milik set to continue his partnership in attack with Lewandowski.

Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – who saved a first-half penalty in the win over Saudi Arabia – is set to be protected by a back four of Matty Cash, Kamil Glik, Jakub Kiwior and Bartosz Bereszynski, who all started Poland’s first two Group C fixtures.

Grzegorz Krychowiak, who is just four appearances away from receiving his 100th international cap, could be joined in centre-midfield by seven-cap Birmingham City man Krystian Bielik, while Zielinski and Przemyslaw Frankowski are set to operate on the flanks.

As for Argentina, Scaloni could tinker with his starting lineup once again, with alterations expected in defence and midfield in particular.

Lisandro Martinez could retain his place at centre-back alongside Nicolas Otamendi, but the full-back spots are up for grabs, with Gonzalo Montiel, Nahuel Molina and Juan Foyth all battling for a place at right-back, while one of Nicolas Tagliafico or Marcos Acuna is set to get the nod at left-back.

Fernandez has made an impression as a second-half substitute in both of Argentina’s first two group games and the 21-year-old could be handed his first start of the tournament in centre-midfield, while Leandro Paredes will also be pushing to start after being dropped to the bench against Mexico.

Lautaro Martinez and Angel Di Maria are the two most likely candidates to continue in attack with Messi, but Julian Alvarez and Paulo Dybala will both be hoping to force their way into the first XI.

Poland possible starting lineup:
Szczesny; Cash, Glik, Kiwior, Bereszynski; Zielinski, Bielik, Krychowiak, Frankowski; Milik, Lewandowski

Argentina possible starting lineup:
E. Martinez; Molina, Otamendi, Li. Martinez, Tagliafico; Fernandez, Paredes, De Paul; Messi, La. Martinez, Di Maria

Preview: Ecuador vs. Senegal

Ecuador will be looking to seal qualification for the knockout stages of the World Cup on Tuesday, when they take on Senegal in what will likely be a winner-takes-all clash at the Khalifa International Stadium.

La Tri have been majorly impressive in Group A, with a win over Qatar on the opening day and a stalemate against the Netherlands on matchday two, while Senegal recorded a victory over Qatar in their second match of proceedings following a loss to the Netherlands in their first fixture.

Match preview

Netherlands' Denzel Dumfries and Ecuador's Piero Hincapie in action at the World Cup on November 25, 2022.

Ecuador have enjoyed an excellent start to World Cup Group A so far and lead the table with four points from their two matches played, which has put them within touching distance of the last 16.

Gustavo Alfaro has been lauded around the world for his tactical capability, setting up his side with a balance to attack with fluency and also defend in numbers when needed.

On matchday one, Ecuador secured a 2-0 victory over Qatar thanks to a double from star man Enner Valencia, who once again proved to be the hero in their second match against the Netherlands, securing a draw with his 49th-minute strike to cancel out a stunning opener from Cody Gakpo.

Unsurprisingly, talisman Valencia sits top of the World Cup scoring charts on three goals and will be heavily relied upon again this Tuesday against a tricky Senegal backline, should he be passed fit for the game.

Should Ecuador claim all three points, they will qualify for the knockout round of the tournament and could finish as Group A winners if they better the Netherlands result, with the Oranje facing competition hosts Qatar on the same day.

Senegal forward Famara Diedhiou celebrates scoring against Qatar in their World Cup game on November 25, 2022.

Senegal have also given themselves a fighting chance of qualifying from Group A, owing to their classy victory over Qatar on matchday two of the World Cup.

In a clinical display, the Lions of Teranga dispatched their Qatari opposition by a score of 3-1, as strikes from Boulaye Dia, Famara Diedhiou and Bamba Dieng grabbed all three points at the Al Thumama Stadium.

Undoubtedly, this triumph over Qatar was absolutely imperative to their chances of making it through to the last 16, following a disappointing late collapse to the Netherlands in their first Group A encounter.

Of course, the Senegalese will once again have to contend without their star man Sadio Mane, who was ruled out of competing on the World Cup stage due to injury. Manager Aliou Cisse will hope his strike force of Dia and Diedhiou can continue to shine in his absence in their final group match.

Realistically, only a win will do for Senegal against Ecuador on Tuesday, as even a draw is likely to end their hopes of tournament glory.

Team News

Ecuador celebrate their equaliser against Netherlands at the World Cup on November 25, 2022.

Ecuador will be expected to name a strong side once again as they eye a spot in the knockout rounds of the World Cup against Senegal.

Nevertheless, they could have to do without star man and top scorer Enner Valencia, who was stretchered off in the 1-1 draw against the Netherlands putting his availability for the tie in serious doubt.

If Valencia is not available, Ecuador have a decision to make in terms of who will come in to aid their endeavours offensively. Right now, it is looking like a toss-up between Brighton & Hove Albion forward Jeremy Sarmiento or Imbabura man Kevin Rodriguez to fill the void.

For Senegal, they have more or less a full deck of cards to play with heading into their final group A match against Ecuador.

Despite being rocked at the beginning of the tournament with the injury of Sadio Mane, they have quality in attack and defence that will be difficult for Ecuador to break through.

Kalidou Koulibaly and Abdou Diallo are certain to start in central defence, while Ismaila Sarr and Krepin Diatta will provide the width for strikers Boulaye Dia and Famara Diedhiou.

Ecuador possible starting lineup:
Galindez; Porozo, Torres, Hincapie; Preciado, Mendez, Caicedo, Estupinan; Plata, Sarmiento; Estrada

Senegal possible starting lineup:
Mendy; Sabaly, Koulibaly, Diallo, Jakobs; Sarr, Mendy, Gueye, Diatta; Dia, Diedhiou

Preview: Iran vs. USA

After keeping their World Cup hopes alive by defeating Wales dramatically on Friday, Iran face an impressive USA side at the Al Thumama Stadium on Tuesday, with three points enough to take either team through to the knockout stages.

Team Melli looked like a different team against Rob Page’s men to the one that was thrashed by England in their opening game, whereas the Stars and Stripes will be rueing missed chances that forced them to share the points with the Three Lions last time out.

Match preview

Iran manager Carlos Queiroz is thrown into the air by players after their win over Wales on November 25, 2022

Iran seemed to be back to the performance levels that earned them a place at the World Cup during the 2-0 victory over Wales, with any ideas of Team Melli being the whipping boys of the group after a heavy defeat to England swiftly banished thanks to late goals from Roozbeh Cheshmi and Ramin Rezaeian.

The availability from the start of Bayer Leverkusen forward Sardar Azmoun against Wales gave Carlos Queiroz’s side more attacking threat, with the 27-year-old combining well with talisman Mehdi Taremi who unlike the first match of the group had a capable partner in crime at the top end of the pitch.

Azmoun has been sidelined for his club side since early October with a calf injury and was down receiving treatment on three separate occasions before miraculously rising to his feet to continue, with the 40-goal international eventually being forced off after 68 minutes as his side chased a winner.

Now sitting second in Group B with three points from two matches, Iran know a win against USA secures passage to the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time in their history – although even a draw on Tuesday would be enough if Wales fail to beat England.

Fellow Asian qualifiers Japan and Saudi Arabia have caused significant upsets within the first week of this World Cup, and Iran could add to the success stories from that region by advancing past the group stages for the first time on Tuesday night.

Christian Pulisic shoots for the USA against England on November 25, 2022

Despite not being able to return maximum points from any of their two opening games at this tournament, Gregg Berhalter’s USA side have shown they are set to be a new prospect in international football with a young crop of energetic and athletic stars.

After decades of Americans competing at the top level in Europe being a rare sight, 10 such players donned the stars and stripes on Friday night and overran England for large parts of the encounter, with only poor finishing preventing Berhalter’s men from earning their first World Cup win over the Three Lions since 1950.

Weston McKennie blasted a strike over from inside the box after evading the attention of Bukayo Saka, whilst shortly after Christian Pulisic struck the bar with a ferocious effort which had Jordan Pickford scrambling to deflect the ball away from goal.

What really stood out for USA was their athleticism and sharpness compared to their English counterparts, with full-backs Sergino Dest and Fulham’s Antonee Robinson providing pace on the wings whilst Tyler Adams kept Jude Bellingham and Mason Mount under wraps in the midfield.

A knockout tie with either Netherlands, Ecuador or Senegal awaits Berhalter’s side should they defeat Iran on Tuesday, and if the Stars and Stripes can find their ruthlessness in front of goal they could be a real threat to the elite nations in the latter stages of this competition.

Team News

Wales defender Joe Rodon tackles Iran's Sardar Azmoun on November 25, 2022

Iran will be without the services of Alireza Jahanbakhsh in their final game of Group B as the former Brighton & Hove Albion man received a second yellow card of the tournament after a high-footed challenge on Wales’ Chris Mepham during the closing stages of proceedings on Friday afternoon.

Star man Azmoun is a doubt for Team Melli after visibly struggling throughout his 68 minutes on the pitch against Wales, although Queiroz may risk the attacker from the start on Tuesday considering how much quality he adds to the side.

Alireza Beiranvand sat out of the Wales clash due to concussion protocol after a nasty head injury in Iran’s first match of the World Cup with England, but the 30-year-old is available to return in this vital fixture if Queiroz decides to drop Hossein Hosseini, who kept a clean sheet on Friday.

USA have no fresh injury concerns ahead of Tuesday’s match, with the large majority of fan and media attention focused on the lack of gametime for Borussia Dortmund’s Giovanni Reyna, who has only seen 15 minutes of World Cup action so far.

Haji Wright replaced Josh Sargent in the USA starting XI against England in the only change from the Wales match, with the striker position for the Americans yet to find a consistent occupier as Berhalter attempts to discover his side’s clinical touch.

Leeds United’s Brenden Aaronson has played his part off the bench in the last two matches and looks set for a similar role on Tuesday with a midfield trio of Adams, McKennie and Yunus Musah impressing massively so far in this World Cup.

Iran possible starting lineup:
H Hosseini; Rezaeian, M Hosseini, Pouraliganji, Mohammadi; Ali Gholizadeh, Nourollahi, Ezatolahi, Hajsafi; Taremi, Azmoun

USA possible starting lineup:
Turner; Dest, Zimmerman, Ream, Robinson; Adams, Musah, McKennie; Pulisic, Weah, Wright

Preview: South Korea vs. Ghana

Ghana are facing the prospect of an early elimination from World Cup 2022 Group H when they travel to the Education City Stadium to face South Korea on Monday.

The Black Stars fell to an agonising 3-2 defeat to Portugal on the opening day, while their Asian counterparts impressively held Uruguay to a goalless draw.

Match preview

Uruguay's Diego Godin heads at goal in the World Cup clash with South Korea on November 24, 2022

A total of four goalless draws were played out on matchday one of the 2022 World Cup, and while South Korea put in a good shift in their scoreless stalemate with Uruguay, the woodwork did have come to their aid on a couple of occasions.

Federico Valverde and Diego Godin both saw efforts crash off the frame of the goal as Paulo Bento’s side held on for a point against their South American foes, demonstrating their defensive solidity that was also present in their most recent games before Qatar.

South Korea and Uruguay cannot be separated by points, goals or fair play points after matchday one, as the former seek to give their hopes of a top-two finish a major boost with victory over Ghana and edge closer to a knockout berth for the first time since 2010.

By avoiding defeat in their opening battle, the Tigers of Asia come into their clash with Ghana having only lost one of their last 10 in all competitions, and the Kim Min-jae-marshalled defence has kept three clean sheets in succession during a four-game unbeaten run.

Despite their prowess in the defensive third, South Korea failed to post a shot on target for the second time in four World Cup games during the Uruguay stalemate, and Ghana certainly knew a thing or two about keeping teams at bay during the build-up to Qatar.

Ghana coach Otto Addo in September 2022

Another World Cup group game, another goal for Cristiano Ronaldo, but the five-time Ballon d’Or winner could only watch on from the bench in horror as A Selecao very nearly threw away a two-goal lead against Ghana on Thursday evening.

Following Ronaldo’s penalty, Joao Felix and Rafael Leao struck either side of Andre Ayew’s response before Osman Bukari reduced the deficit further, and the howler of the tournament award very nearly went to Portugal goalkeeper Diogo Costa, who rolled the ball out without knowing that Inaki Williams was behind him.

The Athletic Bilbao forward immediately tried to pounce on that gilt-edged chance right at the death, but he slipped at the vital moment as Ghana succumbed to a 3-2 loss, which leaves them bottom of the Group H standings and at real risk of an exit before the final matchday.

No matter what transpires in Uruguay’s showdown with Portugal, Ghana will be out if they suffer defeat to South Korea at the Education City Stadium, but a six-game scoring streak at the World Cup does stand the Black Stars in good stead.

Monday’s game will mark the 10th meeting between South Korea and Ghana in all competitions, with the last six yielding three wins apiece for both nations, but Ghana ran out convincing 4-0 winners during the most recent battle in a 2014 friendly.


Team News

South Korea's Son Heung-min serving gimp mask on November 22, 2022

South Korea fans rejoiced in the return to fitness of Son Heung-min, who donned a protective mask against Uruguay after his recent eye socket fracture and came through the game unscathed.

However, fellow Premier League attacker Hwang Hee-chan – who was an unused substitute on Thursday – is dealing with hamstring discomfort and will not be able to feature here.

Bento has also been handed a concern over key centre-back Kim Min-jae, who has been dealing with calf discomfort and is classed as a doubt for the contest.

As for Ghana, Otto Addo lined up in a defence-heavy formation for the showdown with Portugal, which very nearly paid dividends, but the need for victory could see the Black Stars shift to a four-man defence here.

Addo should be working with all 26 players for Monday’s meeting, where any change in system would likely put Mohammed Salisu’s place at risk as Bukari and Kamaldeen Sulemana push to return in a more attacking setup.

Andre Ayew won the battle of the brothers with Jordan Ayew to start in the loss to Portugal, and the Al-Sadd man’s goal last time out should be enough to see him retain his place alongside Williams.

Andre Ayew did train separately from the team alongside right-back Alidu Seidu on Friday, but there is nothing to suggest that the duo will not be ready for Monday.

South Korea possible starting lineup:
Seung-gyu; Moon-hwan, Min-jae, Young-gwon, Jin-su; Jung, In-beom; Na, Lee, Son; Ui-jo

Ghana possible starting lineup:
Ati Zigi; Lamptey, Amartey, Djiku, Baba; Partey, Abdul Samed; Sulemana, Kudus, A. Ayew; Williams

Preview: Uruguay vs. South Korea

Two-time winners Uruguay open their 2022 World Cup campaign against South Korea at the Education City Stadium on Thursday.

La Celeste have been in excellent form since Diego Alonso took over from Oscar Tabarez at the end of last year.


Match preview

Luis Suarez in action for Uruguay on September 27, 2022

The sacking of Tabarez as Uruguay boss following 15 years in the job has thrown their preparation into disarray, despite the positive results they are getting on the pitch.

Alonso has come in and completely transformed a side which was on the floor following some woeful results in South American qualifying, but he still does not know his best starting XI or best system.

Tabarez was dismissed as manager with qualification in serious doubt after four successive defeats, including a humiliating 4-1 loss in Brazil and a 3-0 defeat away in the notoriously difficult altitude of Bolivia.

However, with four qualifiers left after the New Year, Alonso came in and won all four, with impressive away wins to Chile and Paraguay being the highlights, and Luis Suarez still at the centre of everything good in the national side.

He is still undecided on which formation best suits his side though, as 4-4-2 and a 4-3-2-1 have both been used often, but are ultimately untested against strong opposition.

The finer details will not matter as long as they keep up this level of performance in attack and defence though, as they have conceded just twice in his nine games in charge.

Getting the best out of their wide array of attacking options will be important, and Suarez, Darwin Nunez, Edinson Cavani and Maxi Gomez have all been among the goals this year, with Uruguay averaging two goals per game.

Alonso has repeatedly stated pre-tournament that they are aiming to be world champions, and on current form they cannot be discounted.

South Korea, meanwhile, come into the tournament with an under-fire manager and a squad which has underwhelmed in the build up to Qatar.

South Korea coach Paulo Bento in September 2022

In addition to this, the worst possible turn of events struck the side on the eve of the tournament, with Son Heung-min going off injured in the Champions League, requiring surgery on a fractured eye socket.

He has stated he will do whatever it takes to play, because without him, it will affect South Korea both mentally and ability-wise on the pitch.

If manager Paulo Bento opts to risk him from the start, there is also the chance he will not be 100% having had such a disruptive preparation to the tournament.

With their attacking star a doubt, that will put more pressure on their solid defence, but after conceding just three goals in their 10 AFC final stage qualifiers, they have proved they can be relied upon.

Despite their famous win over Germany in Russia, they were left massively disappointed following losses to Mexico and Sweden which saw them eliminated at the group stage.

They find themselves in a very competitive group once again in which they will need to cause at least one upset if they are to progress.

Team News

Son Heung-min celebrates scoring for South Korea on September 23, 2022

Ronald Araujo may not be risked in this group opener for Uruguay as the Barcelona defender has been fast-tracked back into training following a thigh operation, so Diego Godin may come in to deputise alongside his old partner Jose Maria Gimenez.

Manager Alonso has a decision to make in goal, as Fernando Muslera, who has been a regular for over 13 years, has been ousted recently by Sergio Rochet, who has played in many of the internationals under the new manager.

The formation he chooses to go with will have a huge bearing on the squad selection too, as Nunez will only get a start out wide given the undroppable stature of Suarez up front.

However, Facundo Pellistri and Giorgian de Arrascaeta are more in favour with the manager to start in attack alongside Suarez, meaning Cavani is expected to be a substitute too.

Son has said he will happily “take a risk” in order to play whenever he is needed at this World Cup, and he is desperately needed in this South Korea side, but there remains doubts about his level of fitness and preparation.

Kim Min-jae played every qualifier, being instrumental behind their excellent defensive record while impressing for Fenerbahce, and he is now doing the same at the top level with a Napoli side dominating in Serie A and the Champions League.

Bento continues to be criticised for his style of play though, as Korea are often not adventurous enough, and that is blamed on the manager opting not to pick many creative players in his side.

Lee Kang-in is one of those players who has proved his creative capabilities in La Liga with Real Mallorca this season, but he is underused by Bento to the frustration of the fans.

Uruguay possible starting lineup:
Rochet; Varela, Godin, Gimenez, Olivera; Bentancur, Vecino, Valverde; De Arrascaeta, L Suarez, Nunez

South Korea possible starting lineup:
Kim Seung-gyu; Kim Moon-hwan, Kim Young-gwon, Kim Min-jae, Kim Jin-su; Jung Woo-Young, Hwang In-beom, Lee Jae-sung; Hwang Hee-chan, Son Heung-min, Hwang Ui-jo

Preview: Morocco vs. Croatia

Morocco and Croatia get their 2022 World Cup campaigns underway when they meet in a Group F fixture on Wednesday.

The meeting at the Al Bayt Stadium starts the daily schedule with group rivals Belgium and Canada squaring off nine hours later.


Match preview

Morocco coach Walid Regragui in September 2022

Since the turn of the millennium, Morocco have failed to qualify for the World Cup on four of their five attempts, their only appearance coming in Russia in 2018.

Although just one point was collected from three group matches, the African nation performed better than their record suggests, only going down 1-0 to Portugal and being denied a famous win over Spain by an injury-time equaliser.

Since that early exit, Morocco have under-performed at the Africa Cup of Nations, posting last 16 and quarter-final finishes, but they head into this competition on a five-match unbeaten streak.

Victories have been posted against the likes of South Africa, Chile and Georgia, while they also collected a goalless draw against Paraguay in September.

With the nation now ranked 22nd in the FIFA World Rankings, head coach Walid Regragui will be delighted with the trajectory of his team, feeling that Belgium and Croatia should not necessarily expect to qualify for the knockout stages.

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic in September 2022

In the case of the latter, they are playing their first World Cup fixture since losing in the final four years ago, going down by a 4-2 scoreline to France.

A combination of a fortunate draw and over-achievement contributed to that run, and there are signs that Croatia are getting back to their best after losing in the last 16 at Euro 2020.

Zlatko Dalic’s side recently won four successive UEFA Nations League fixtures, a run which included an away victory over France, to top a group which also included Denmark and Austria.

Since losing 5-3 to Spain at Euro 2020, Croatia have lost just once in 16 games, a defeat that they avenged by prevailing 3-1 in Austria in their most recent competitive outing.

The Checkered Ones warmed up for this tournament by beating Saudi Arabia by a 1-0 scoreline last Wednesday, Andrej Kramaric netting the only goal of the game eight minutes from time.

Team News

Morocco's Achraf Hakimi in September 2022

While Regragui will likely opt for much of the team which impressed in a 3-0 win over Georgia, some changes are expected with Sofyan Amrabat due to return in midfield.

Noussair Mazraoui should deputise at left-back, with Achraf Hakimi a certainty on the opposite flank, and the star names in the team will keep their places elsewhere.

Romain Saiss will skipper the team and play alongside Nayef Aguerd in the middle of defence, while Youssef En-Nesyri will be supported by Hakim Ziyech in the final third.

Meanwhile, Dalic is expected to opt for much of the Croatia team which begun the success over Austria in September, with Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic featuring in midfield as expected.

Josip Stanisic appears in line to get the nod at right-back, with Dalic’s biggest decision seemingly being who to start in attack out of Bruno Petkovic and Kramaric.

Morocco possible starting lineup:
Bono; Hakimi, Saiss, Aguerd, Mazraoui; Ounahi, Amrabat, Amallah; Ziyech, En-Nesyri, Boufal

Croatia possible starting lineup:
Livakovic; Stanisic, Lovren, Gvardiol, Barisic; Modric, Brozovic, Kovacic; Vlasic, Petkovic, Perisic

Preview: Mexico vs. Poland

Mexico take on Poland in a potentially pivotal encounter in Group C on Tuesday.

The match will kick off at 4pm GMT in Doha, Qatar, at Stadium 974, which is the first temporary venue in World Cup history, having been constructed from 974 recycled shipping containers.


Match preview

Mexico coach Gerardo Martino before the match on November 9, 2022

Mexico are heading into their eighth consecutive World Cup appearance, having been eliminated at the last 16 stage in each of their last seven entries.

Former Argentina boss and player Gerardo Martino is the man tasked with breaking that cycle in Qatar, having been in charge of El Tri since January 2019.

The 60-year-old, who spent a season with Barcelona before taking the Argentina job in 2014, guided Mexico to their eighth Gold Cup triumph by beating USA in the final in 2019, before the Americans gained their revenge on his side two years later.

Mexico’s place at the World Cup was secured with a 2-0 win against El Salvador on the final matchday, as they finished level on points with Canada at the top of CONCACAF qualifying, and crucially three points clear of Costa Rica in the playoff spot.

Whether they have the talent at their disposal to make a serious fist of reaching the last eight for the first time since hosting the tournament in 1986 remains to be seen, but their upcoming fixture against Poland could be crucial in terms of advancing from Group C.

Poland's Robert Lewandowski celebrates after the match on September 25, 2022

Poland, meanwhile, are aiming to progress beyond the group stage for the first time since Mexico ’86, with their opening game against that nation likely to be crucial given that outright second favourites Argentina are also in their group.

The Eagles have fallen at the first hurdle in each of their last three World Cup appearances in 2002, 2006 and 2018 – winning one match and losing two in each of those editions – having failed to hit the heights of finishing third in 1974 and 1982.

Former Legia Warslaw boss Czeslaw Michniewicz was appointed as head coach earlier this year, making himself an almost instant hero in the position by guiding the Poles to a 2-0 win against Sweden in a qualifying playoff to reach Qatar.

As has often been the case in the past decade or so, their hopes of performing well at a major tournament heavily hinge on the form of legendary forward Robert Lewandowski, who is still yet to score at a World Cup having blanked in all three matches in 2018.

The 34-year-old will be determined to rectify that unwanted record against Mexico on Tuesday, and potentially put his nation in the driving seat for second spot in Group C in the process.


Team News

Raul Jimenez for Mexico in June 2022

Star striker Raul Jimenez, who has scored 29 goals for Mexico, made his first appearance for almost three months when coming off the substitutes’ bench at half time of Mexico’s 2-1 defeat to Sweden in a friendly on Wednesday.

The 31-year-old has not featured for Wolverhampton Wanderers since August due to an ongoing groin issue, which makes his place in the starting XI against Poland on Tuesday a serious doubt.

Henry Martin is ready and waiting to lead the line should Jimenez be deemed only fit enough for the bench, while Jesus Corona has been ruled out of the entire tournament due to an ankle injury.

Poland, meanwhile, have seen Bartlomiej Dragowski, Jacek Goralski and Adam Buksa withdraw from their squad due to injury.

Lewandowski was an unused substitute during his nation’s 1-0 win against Chile in a friendly on Wednesday, with Michniewicz preferring to keep his talisman fresh for the tournament.

Aston Villa’s Matty Cash, who only made his international debut a year ago after applying for a Polish passport through his mother’s descent, should shake off a shoulder issue to be available for selection, but he faces plenty of competition at right wing-back.

Mexico possible starting lineup:
Ochoa; Sanchez, Montes, Moreno, Gallardo; Alvarez, Herrera, Guardado; Lozano, Martin, Vega

Poland possible starting lineup:
Szczesny; Bednarek, Glik, Kiwior; Bereszynski, Krychowiak, Zielinski, Szymanski, Zalewski; Swiderski, Lewandowski