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How the World Cup impacts MLS LAFC and others

Major League Soccer’s contingent of World Cup-bound players will say goodbye to their teams subsequent this weekend’s slate of matches, at least for the next thirty day period or so. MLS will play on, save for a nine-day hiatus close to the get started of the tournament. From the May 28 required launch day until finally the end of the group phase, MLS will nonetheless play 42 matches.

Agenda-wise, MLS is in a tricky location, of a system. The season previously lasts into December. There are summertime friendlies, U.S. Open up Cup matches and Canadian Championship matches to consider to shoehorn in amid the frequent season schedule. Other global fixture dates will dot the calendar as nicely later in the year.

But make no oversight, the competitive integrity of the frequent season will be impacted because of to the World Cup absences and the influence will be uneven, to say the least. Many thanks in aspect to the failure of the U.S. men’s national team to qualify for the World Cup, eleven teams will not be impacted at all, although the trio of friendlies the U.S. will play in the next number of weeks could make a distinction.

For now, there are 12 other teams that usually are not so fortunate, and their depth will be examined at various levels. Foremost amid the teams that will be impacted is growth facet LAFC. Bob Bradley’s team is set to lose four players, and even though Omar Gaber has been a little bit-aspect performer so far, Belgium’s Laurent Ciman, Costa Rica’s Marco Urena and Mexico star Carlos Vela have been vital contributors.

Vela in an individual has been in scintillating sort with seven goals and five assists. Ciman’s contribution in the again, not to point out his potential to score from set parts, maybe even tougher to replace.

Yet Bradley has been incorporating to his roster piece by piece. The acquisition of Lee Nguyen from the New England Revolution is timely and ought to soften the blow of losing Vela for an extended period. The same is real of ahead Adama Diomande, who ought to consume up some of the minutes taken by Urena, although the Costa Rican has just lately been sidelined by facial fractures.

At a minimum, LAFC will be grateful for a spectacular start to the season, just one that has observed it accumulate twenty points in eleven games. If the loss of players like Vela and Ciman impacts benefits, LAFC ought to nonetheless have adequate of a cushion that it will nonetheless be in the playoff places when its players return.

The Seattle Sounders‘ predicament is a little bit different, and not just simply because they find themselves in the abnormal position of getting near the bottom of the standings. Panama defender Roman Torres and Uruguayan playmaker Nico Lodeiro have equally been working with accidents. But the absence of Sweden’s Gustav Svensson is a large blow provided how he’s played in equally the again line and in midfield.

Orlando City figures to truly feel the pinch of losing two starters in midfielder Yoshi Yotun as nicely as defender Amro Tarek, even though the Portland Timbers will be with no the products and services of Daniel Guzman — who has missed time because of to damage — as nicely as midfielder Andy Polo. New York City FC (Ronald Matarrita, Rodney Wallace), the New York Red Bulls (Michael Murillo, Fidel Escobar) and the San Jose Earthquakes (Anibal Godoy, Harold Cummings) will lose numerous players as nicely.

There are instances where a looming World Cup will not always deliver out the best in players. The risk of obtaining a lifelong aspiration, as nicely as a robust drive to prevent damage, can do unusual factors to a player’s sort and performances. And, as a result, their club may well not always be shedding any tears because of to a departure.

The player with the most virulent strain of “World Cup-itis” just may well be Minnesota United defender Francisco Calvo. The sort of the Costa Rica global has been definitely wretched for substantially of the season, leaving numerous to wonder what it will get for manager Adrian Heath to fall him from the lineup. San Jose’s Godoy has been a bit far better but has nonetheless drawn the ire of some segments of the Quakes faithful.

Then there are the Dos Santos brothers — Jonathan and Giovani — who have not accurately set the world on fire with their performances for the LA Galaxy, and equally, have been working with nagging accidents during the season. Specified the glut of midfield possibilities, the collection predicament for manager Sigi Schmid may well simplicity a little bit if equally players do without a doubt make Juan Carlos Osorio’s Mexico roster.

An oft-neglected facet of losing players to the World Cup is their condition when they return. Some have challenging times to conquer, like the Earthquakes’ Chris Wondolowski did subsequent his miss out on against Belgium at the 2014 World Cup. Other folks choose up accidents. And then there can be an emotional letdown that can conveniently get a place in the wake of reaching the pinnacle of the sport.

These types of aspects can bleed into performances down the line, and managers will need to be aware of how substantially to force their World Cup players, specifically amid the searing summertime months. For now, the teams impacted by World Cup call-ups will have to journey out the tournament and hope they really don’t lose much too substantially floor in the standings.

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Neymar attends PSG schooling to move up recovery from metatarsal injury

Neymar attended Paris Saint-Germain‘s schooling session at the Camp des Loges on Saturday as he nears a return from a broken bone in his right foot.

The Brazil worldwide had been recuperating in his native Brazil considering that going through surgery on a fractured fifth metatarsal and returned to Paris on Friday to finish the last phase of his rehabilitation.

He was not existing as PSG have been held to a 2-2 draw absent at Amiens on Friday but was at schooling on Saturday to eventually reunite with his teammates and get back to do the job.

Neymar put in most of his time in the fitness centre, but he could not resist a handful of touches of the ball as he juggled barefoot on the grass.

Brazil national team medical doctor Rodrigo Lasmar told L’Equipe that “if Neymar is in a position to play for PSG in advance of the conclude of the season, then he will play.”

Neymar is aiming to be cleared to return by May 17, meaning he could characteristic in PSG’s last game of the season at Caen, and that may not be his last visual appearance for the club.

Neymar, clearly show your heart,” Lizarazu explained. “The PSG supporters need indicators of passion from you.”

Even so, not every person is that thrilled to see Neymar return. Christian, who performed for PSG from 1999-2001, told L’Equipe that he thinks the forward’s conduct has been disrespectful and considered he should really have been in attendance for the 7-1 win around Monaco last month that gave PSG the Ligue 1 title.

“Not becoming with the squad during the title-successful match was a strategic mistake,” Christian explained. “It was a lack of respect in direction of his teammates, the club and the fans.

“It is Neymar’s fault — PSG is not organized enough with him and the media give him as well significantly electrical power. I hope that he will reveal and apologise.”

In the meantime, Barcelona‘s Luis Suarez turned down the concept that his previous teammate remaining Camp Nou entirely for fiscal motives.

Talking with Radio Rincon, Suarez explained Neymar’s exit was challenging to consider but that it was a private selection.

Neymar‘s departure hurt us,” Suarez explained. “We have been teammates, buddies, but he took the selection with his soul and conscience. Even so, we realized that he would be skipped.

“I do not believe that he went for the cash, but as an alternative the aims that he would like to obtain in Paris.”

Regardless of Suarez’s beliefs, previous Barca and Lyon midfielder Edmilson told Cadena Ser that he thinks Neymar could leave PSG for Real Madrid this summer time.

“It would not shock me significantly if, following the World Cup, Neymar remaining for Madrid,” he explained. “I really don’t know how it would happen, but it would not shock me simply because he did not leave Barca in an incredibly fantastic way.”

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Vieira: The France-Brazil games had been excellent for football

Patrick Vieira has raved about France’s upset of an “incredible” Brazil facet in the 1998 FIFA World Cup™ Final and rued their decline to Italy in the exact fixture eight yrs later on.

The hulking midfielder, then 22, arrived off the bench shortly soon after Marcel Desailly’s dismissal in the Stade de France decider. In injuries time, his beautifully-weighted, initial-time go enabled Arsenal team-mate Emmanuel Petit to seal a 3- victory.

“When you play against Brazil, the coach does not have to clarify everything, he does not have to speak,” Vieira explained to Globo Esporte. “Because when you speak about football, you speak about Brazil, the Brazilians, the Seleção.

“When you get the prospect to play against them in the [World Cup] Final, in your home nation, it is excellent. It is excellent for us, the French, and excellent for football.

“That Brazil team was amazing. Ronaldo was one of the finest players of our generation. Beating them is a little something that will stick in our minds for good.”

At Germany 2006, the two heavyweights fulfilled for the fourth time in the World Cup – Pele and Garrincha experienced inspired Brazil to a thrilling 5-2 victory in the Sweden 1958 semi-finals before France won on penalties in another thriller in the Mexico 1986 quarters. And, with Zinedine Zidane delivering an extraordinary effectiveness, Les Bleus won 1- to book a last-4 day with Portugal.

“It was truly difficult,” explained Vieira. “When you meet Brazil in a World Cup, you have to play an excellent game to win. I believe that, in 2006, we performed a fantastic game. I believe all of us Frenchmen had been at our greatest. We experienced one of the greatest players in the world (Zidane), who was at his greatest.

“But I believe we exceeded ourselves producing that victory materialize, nevertheless facing Brazil is never ever easy. I believe it was one of France’s greatest-ever performances in the World Cup.”

A Zidane penalty edged France previous Deco, Luis Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo and Co, and another one place Raymond Domenech’s fees in advance in the Final. Italy equalised and, soon after Zidane was sent off, Fabio Grosso’s spot-kick clinched 5-3 goals for them in the Olympiastadion shootout.

“Our generation was really privileged to play in two World Cup Finals,” explained Vieira, who limped off in the next half against Italy. “We had been dreaming of winning it against Italy. The game was determined by penalties, and the luck wasn’t on our facet. The Italians had been stable. But I believe when you search the way they performed the complete competitiveness, they deserved it as substantially as we did.

“So it was really complicated to consider, but which is the way football is. In some cases, you win from time to time you lose. We gave it our greatest, we experimented with, but it is nonetheless complicated to believe and speak about it.”

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Neymar has not called because PSG clinched Ligue 1 title – Unai Emery

Paris Saint-Germain coach Unai Emery has disclosed that superstar Neymar has not called him because past weekend’s Ligue 1 title triumph in excess of Monaco.

The French money club thrashed next-placed Monaco 7-1 to verify their seventh French crown past Sunday and the Brazil intercontinental showed himself actively playing poker with the match on a display screen in the track record for the duration of the rout.

French 1998 World Cup and 2000 European championship winner Christophe Dugarry, previously a Barcelona player, made headlines on Tuesday right after accusing Neymar of “spitting” on PSG by way of his conduct.

And when questioned by Cadena Cope radio if Neymar experienced called or messaged him because PSG’s title-clinching victory on Sunday, Emery reported no.

“I spoke with Neymar two or 3 months in the past to see how he was and what strategy he experienced of becoming a member of the group in schooling,” reported Emery. “The players have a chat, so Neymar has a direct conversation with the players, as well as the club and I.”

Emery, who didn’t point out he took an issue with the frequency of conversation with Neymar, went on to emphasise his excellent connection with the former Barcelona man and the dedication Les Parisiens‘ No. 10 has towards club and place.

“I have a pretty excellent connection with Neymar,” Emery reported. “He is fully committed to the team, to Brazil and he is worried about his recovery. Neymar is pretty eager to return and to play 1 game right before the conclusion of the season, that is what he told me when we chatted two months in the past.

“I see Neymar in Paris [in the long run], I truthfully experience that — the union in between him and PSG will continue. Neymar has distinct [in his head] what he needs at a particular person and collective stage, we spoke about it at the beginning of the season with him and the president and that venture stay in place.

Neymar is browsing to have the greatest part at PSG and PSG is browsing to have a large starring part with Neymar’s support. I would not understand a PSG with no Neymar and Neymar would not understand himself with no PSG.”

Having said that, Emery admitted his belief that Neymar will stay with PSG earlier the summer season could not discourage elite European clubs from screening the waters.

“It is standard that best clubs are fascinated by him,” reported the former Sevilla manager. “He is viewed as to be and is proving to be, amongst the most effective 3 players in the entire world. Of training course, at some point, best clubs can knock on the doorway.”

On his individual long run, Emery has been closely connected with a return to formative club Real Sociedad as the coach but pressured that PSG and any possible agreement talks come very first.

“I do not see myself as in or out [at PSG this summer season],” the 46-yr-outdated reported. “I imagine we have experienced an excellent season. I have been right here for too many years and I continue to function.

“When I sit down with the president and the club administration, to communicate about the long run, which we have not performed yet, we will take into consideration what is most effective for the club and for me.

“Against Real Madrid [in the Champions League spherical of sixteen], it was not to be. But the team reacted well. We have been regular. We received the league title against Monaco. We will sit down in the shorter-term and go over what the long run is heading to be.”

Emery rejected present-day backlinks with Sociedad but did not disguise he adore for the club, nor his excellent connection with the present-day management.

“I have not gained an offer you from La Real,” he reported. “I have a excellent get hold of with [Sociedad sporting director] Roberto Olabe.

“I have a dialogue pending with PSG mainly because I finish my agreement in June and we will see if we continue. I want to discuss with PSG right before I make a determination.

“I was with Real Sociedad for 10 many years. I normally say that 50 percent of my coronary heart is with the club.”

Emery can lead PSG to a next consecutive Coupe de France last underneath his management if the team can beat Caen away on Wednesday, with semi-skilled outfit Les Herbiers awaiting at Stade de France.

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England squad will be weak without Lallana – Jurgen Klopp

Liverpool Manager, Jurgen Klopp has stated that he will be extremely shocked if Adam Lallana is left out of England’s World Cup squad.
The former Southampton midfielder has missed the majority of the season so far as he only returned after battling with a serious thigh injury.
He has seen only 129 minutes of League football for the Reds this season and he has made two starts after his return at the tail end of November.
The reason for his slow integration back into the team is clear to all as he has been out for a long-term and the German Manager believes that the 29-year old will get enough game time before the end of the season following Coutinho’s transfer to Barcelona.
It will then be up to England Manager, Gareth Southgate to decide if Lallana will provide better options for the Three Lions side. England has lined up friendlies against Netherlands and Italy in March and that can be a good opportunity for the Liverpool midfielder to prove himself if he is called up.
Klopp, while speaking before his side’s clash with Swansea asserts that even as Lallana works towards full physical fitness, he deserves a place in the English team.
“If Mr Southgate can leave Adam out of his squad, wow, then really I congratulate you already for winning the World Cup!” Jurgen Klopp said in a very sarcastic mood. “Because then it is a squad like I can’t imagine how strong.
“Adam was out for half-a-season and like all players, he needs all his physical strength. In a few weeks, he will be 100 percent. He is really close. He could play so far but you saw when he played with all the genius moments he had, very decisive moments, you could see that he really feels the intensity.
“He had a big muscle injury so we cannot push him through, and say ‘Come on, try it again, try it again’. That is impossible.
“It is not that Adam is the replacement for Coutinho but he is back. Cool. It is another creative, offensive midfield player. Does he have the same free-kick as Philippe? No, but there are a lot of things he can do. He can make us stronger in these situations.”

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Pele tips Brazil for World Cup Glory

Football legend Pele has stated that his country, Brazil are favourites to claim the World Cup for the sixth time in Russia this summer, just four years after their intense humiliation in the hands of Germany on home soil.

The Brazilians were dismantled 7:1 in the 2014 semi-finals at the Maracana, but Pele who is arguably the best football player ever has insisted that new coach, Tite has built a team that can really compete on the biggest stage.

“Those who are Brazilian and believe in Brazil always point to Brazil as the favourites,” the 77-year-old said while attending the opening ceremony of the Rio de Janeiro league on Monday. The Selecao outplayed all to qualify as winners of the South American group, with Tite building a thrilling side featuring the world’s most expensive player Neymar and new Barcelona acquisition Philippe Coutinho.

“One of the good things that happened was the arrival of Tite, he’s making a team,” Pele added. “In the last World Cup, we had the best players in the world but the team was disorganized. “It seems that now we’ll have a team and a Selecao that gives us confidence.”

Pele in his illustrious career won three World Cups with Brazil in 1958, 1962 and 1970 and has been battling with ill health, Monday was his first public appearance after some few weeks as he has attended the World Cup draw in December in a wheelchair. “I’m fine, thank goodness, and I want to thank all those who sent me messages wishing me a good recovery from all over the world,” he said.

Pele scored over 1,000 goals during his career. He also said that modern football has produced fewer great players than in his era, despite the brilliance of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Neymar. “Today, there are only three players who really stand out; Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Neymar,” he said. “Before, at the time of Cruyff or Beckenbauer, there were three in each team.”

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England will spring a major surprise in Russia – Kane

24-year old Tottenham striker, Harry Kane has stated that the English National team will spring a major surprise at this summer’s World Cup in Russia.

While speaking with ESPN Brazil, the England International who is expected to lead the line for the Three Lions in Russia this summer is hopeful about his country chances.

England has lifted the most glamorous trophy in World football only once, at home in 1966 World Cup as they have suffered a similar disappointment in European competitions which they have never won, Kane believes that this year competition which will begin in only six months’ time will mark a new beginning for the English team.

Even as he was quick to acknowledge that people hold low expectations of them though they finished the qualifiers unbeaten, Kane insists that they have learned from Portugal, who won Euro 2016 against all odds and can turn the low expectations to an advantage.

“It’s going to be amazing — I’m really excited,” Kane said of the World Cup. “Growing up and watching these things, I was just hoping one day to be there. From an England point of view, we’ve got some players doing great in the Premier League. We’ve just got to go there [to Russia] with a clear mind, play like we’ve been playing in Premier League and see where it takes us.”

“There’s going to be no pressure. Of course, there’s going to be some sort of expectation. But not having won it in so long, no-one expects us to win it. As players, we have to go and first of try to get out of the group, see how we’re playing, see who we get [in the knockouts] and go from there.”

“Portugal weren’t playing the best football at the time when they won the Euros but they found a way to win games and win [the tournament]. Anything can happen at the World Cup and we’ve got to be ready for it.”

When questioned which team his favorite will be to win the tournament, Kane answered: “Of course, I’d choose England! But I’m not saying we’re going to win it, I’m just saying we’ve got to be ready because anything can happen.

Jack Wilshere keeps World Cup Hopes Alive

Jack Wilshere made his first start for Arsenal in the premier league after a long time last week and thereafter believes that he can make it to the Three Lions World Cup squad.

The Arsenal midfielder, who was considered one of the best English youngsters a few seasons ago has struggled badly with series of injuries over the past four seasons as he spent last season on loan at Bournemouth to have more game time and also recuperate well before returning to Arsenal.

The 25-year-old hasn’t featured for England since their surprising 2:1 loss to Iceland at Euro 2016, but as he gets better and better for the Gunners, he believes he only has to keep World Cup hopes alive.

While speaking with Sky Sports News, he said “I think I have proved to myself that I can play in the premier league, I have trust in my body again and I am confident going into games that I can affect them.

“That is all I can do, I can have a positive effect on this team and then we will see if the England Manager picks me”

From the new year day which also doubles as his birthday, Wilshere can talk to foreign clubs as his contract with Arsenal will be due by the end of the season and although Wenger has confirmed that contract talks with the midfielder will start this month, he believes Arsenal is his home.

“This is where I want to be, this is where I see myself in the future, whether I will be or things sort themselves out then we will see in the next couple of weeks I suppose but Arsenal is definitely my home”.

“I am enjoying my football and am playing in the Premier League now and I want to help Arsenal get to where it ought to be.

“I think the biggest thing for any footballer, even more so for me because of the injuries and the games I’ve missed in the past, is that you are playing.

“Aside from that, there are a few small things to sort out but as long as I am playing I am happy, I have missed too much football and I just want to be playing, really.

“I have a solid mentality at the moment, I want to continue that and improving on my form, affecting the team, having a positive impact on the team and helping the team try and get into the top four and challenge for trophies,” Wilshere concluded.

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Russia 2018 colourful installation built on Manezhnaya Square



A colourful new installation dedicated to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia was opened in front of the Moscow Manege exhibition centre before the Final Draw on Friday, when the competing nations discovered their fate in the Russia 2018 group stages.

The outdoor exhibition on Manezhnaya Square comprises 11 figures that symbolise the main sites of interest in each Host City of the upcoming tournament.

All of the statuettes are connected by a path paved with neon lighting underfoot, creating the impression of a fairy-tale journey around the Host Cities of Russia 2018. The journey starts with the Official Mascot of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Zabivaka the Wolf, and ends with the magical football that is a central feature of the tournament’s Official Emblem.

Furthermore, the path to the magic ball is not just an enchanting trip around the cities that will attract fans from all over Russia and the rest of the world next summer. The route also offers an informative football excursion: both Muscovites and tourists alike will be able to read about former winners of the FIFA World Cup, get to know the competing nations in 2018 and see the Official Poster of next year’s tournament.

The installation will be open until 15 July next year, when the World Cup Final takes place at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, the final act of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia.



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World Cup rivalries reprised – FIFA.com



  • Russia 2018 Final Draw took place on 1 December in Moscow
  • Argentina-Nigeria is the most played World Cup fixture from the draw
  • ARG-NGA and JPN-COL faced each other as early as 2014

While Iceland and Panama represent a new chapter for the FIFA World Cup™ as the two newcomers at Russia 2018, Friday’s Final Draw pitted several teams together whose head-to-head histories reach far back into the archives.

FIFA.com highlights some of the ‘throwback’ matches we can expect to see at the world finals in Russia next summer.

Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, IR Iran
A 21-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo scored a late penalty to secure a 2-0 victory in Frankfurt for Portugal over Iran in Group D at Germany 2006. The Best FIFA Men’s Player 2017 will be looking to repeat that feat when Portugal face Iran and fellow countryman Carlos Queiroz in Saransk on 25 June 2018. 

Also in this group, one of Morocco’s most famous World Cup wins came against Portugal at Mexico 1986 when they won 3-1 and eventually finished top of a tight Group F. Portugal finished bottom of the group during that edition. The most recently-played World Cup fixture in this group is Portugal-Spain, as the two teams came up against each other in the Round of 16 at South Africa 2010. Spain booked a quarter-final date with Paraguay by beating a Portugal side, led by none other than the aforementioned Queiroz, thanks to a 63rd-minute David Villa goal.

Group C: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark

There’s a real sense of deja vu in this group. Denmark and France will meet for the third time in the group stage. And the two will face each other in the last match of the group, just as they did on the two previous occasions. At France 1998, Les Bleus won 2-1, while Denmark beat France at the next World Cup in Korea Republic. What will happen in the latest chapter of this fixture in Moscow on 26 June 2018?

Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria

One of the most played World Cup fixtures that will take place at Russia 2018 will be Argentina-Nigeria. The football gods must really enjoy this one, as the two nations will face each other for the fifth time. The Super Eagles must be sick of the sight of La Albiceleste, as Argentina have beaten them all four previous times, all by one-goal margins (2-1 in 1994, 1-0 in 2002, 1-0 in 2010 and 3-2 in 2014). Remarkably, Nigeria have drawn Argentina four times out of their five campaigns. The most recent encounter saw Lionel Messi score a first-half brace to ultimately lead the Argentinians to a thrilling 3-2 win in Porto Alegre.

Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia
Brazil and Costa Rica have met twice before at the World Cup. Most notably, Costa Rica’s coach Oscar Ramirez played in the side that fell to the Brazilians 1-0 at Italy 1990. Switzerland and Brazil played to a 2-2 draw in 1950, which was the World Cup that the hosts ultimately finished runners-up.

Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, Korea Republic

This group features the most head-to-head history. You can call the Germans the ‘party spoilers’. Germany ended then-hosts Korea Republic’s Cinderella story in 2002 when Michael Ballack scored a late winner in Seoul in the semi-finals. Back in 1986, they knocked out hosts Mexico 4-1 in a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-finals. Peculiarly in both editions, Germany finished as runners-up. The Germans also ended Mexico’s campaign in 1998 when two late goals from Jurgen Klinsmann and Oliver Bierhoff sealed a 2-1 comeback win in Montpellier.

Sweden’s history against teams in this group goes all the way back to 1934, when they were defeated by Germany 2-1 in Italy. When they hosted in 1958, they beat Mexico 3-0 in the opening match and then Germany 3-1 in the semi-finals before losing to Brazil in the final.

Group G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England

Any football fan will hope that Belgium and England serve up the kind of thriller they did all the way back in Basel in 1954. Their opening match in Group 4 ended 4-4 with three different players scoring braces. Their only other fixture at a World Cup came in 1990 when England edged Belgium 1-0 thanks to a 119th-minute winner from David Platt. If history is any indicator, we’ll have a thriller in Kaliningrad on 28 June 2018. 

Just like they did in 1998, England and Tunisia will play their opening match of the tournament against one another. Last time out in France, it was England who got the better of the Eagles of Carthage 2-0. Starting that afternoon in Marseille? Current England coach Gareth Southgate.

Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan
Japan and Colombia do not have to think back too far to their last meeting at a World Cup. The two sides played out an entertaining match in Cuiaba at Brazil 2014, with Los Cafeteros putting in a stylish display to win 4-1, as they marched on to the knockout round and sent Japan home. The Japanese get an immediate shot at revenge, though, as these two open Group H play in Russia.



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Bayern Munich pair James Rodriguez and Robert Lewandowski to meet when Colombia face Poland at the World Cup



Bayern Munich duo James Rodriguez and Robert Lewandowski will meet on Sunday, 24 June in Kazan when Colombia take on Poland at the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018.

Lewandowski took to Twitter once the draw was made, telling James that he remembers his “great goals during the last World Cup,” as the Colombian finished top scorer with six goals at Brazil 2014, before stating: “I hope you will remember mine from Russia.”

Colombia and Poland are in a group alongside Senegal and Japan, with Wolfsburg‘s Jakub Blaszczykowski and Borussia Dortmund‘s Lukasz Piszczek likely to feature for Adam Nawalka’s side, who were top seeds at the tournament.

Hannover defender Salif Sane represents Senegal, while Japan boast plenty of Bundesliga stars, including Shinji Kagawa (Dortmund), Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt), Genki Haraguchi (Hertha Berlin), Takuma Asano (Stuttgart), Yoshinori Muto (Mainz), Gotoku Sakai (Hamburg) and Yuya Osako (Cologne).

Watch: Enjoy all of Lewandowski’s Bundesliga goals in the video below!

Full Group H fixtures

Poland vs. Senegal – 19 June 2018 (14:00 CEST/12:00 GMT), Moscow
Colombia vs. Japan – 19 June 2018 (17:00 CEST/15:00 GMT), Saransk

Japan vs. Senegal – 24 June 2018 (17:00 CEST/15:00 GMT), Yekaterinburg
Poland vs. Colombia – 24 June 2018 (20:00 CEST/18:00 GMT), Kazan

Japan vs. Poland – 28 June 2018 (16:00 CEST/14:00 GMT), Volgograd
Senegal vs. Colombia – 28 June 2018 (16:00 CEST/14:00 GMT), Samara

Click here for more Bundesliga news, views and features!



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Southgate: We have a lot of potential



  • England coach Gareth Southgate reacts to Friday’s World Cup Final Draw
  • Three Lions drawn in Group G with Belgium, Panama, and Tunisia
  • England open against the Tunisians in Volgograd on 18 June 2018

Following Friday’s Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, England coach Gareth Southgate gave his reaction to being drawn with top seed Belgium, debutants Panama, and African qualifiers Tunisia in Group G.

“We know Belgium really well. Most of their players play in the English Premier League,” Southgate said. “Panama is a team we’ve never played, so for us, it’s interesting to find out more about the team. Tunisia personally takes me back to 1998 and the first game of the World Cup in France, because as a player, my first game was against them.”

The Three Lions’ opening match against Tunisia in Volgograd on 18 June 2018 is a repeat of their opening contest at France 1998 when Alan Shearer and Paul Scholes gave England a 2-0 victory over the North Africans in Marseille. Southgate’s side will then face the Panamanians in Nizhny Novgorod on 24 June 2018 before completing their group schedule against the Belgians in Kaliningrad four days later.

“We’re quite a young team,” Southgate said. “We don’t have huge experience of tournament football, but as a team, we have a lot of potential and a team that we think will improve in the next few years.”



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Group H: Poland head wide open group



There will be a global feel to Group H at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, with top seed Poland drawn alongside African qualifiers Senegal, Colombia from South America and Asian powerhouse Japan. It is the only group not to have a team that has won football’s biggest prize.

Teams
POLAND | SENEGAL | COLOMBIA | JAPAN

Key Game
Poland v Colombia (Sunday 24 June, Kazan Arena, Kazan)

The clash between Poland and Colombia could prove pivotal, in terms of who will advance to the knockout stages. Both sides possess an array of talent that have the potential to set the tournament alight, and this match-up at the Kazan Arena may provide the platform for a memorable individual or team display.

What you need to know

• Earning the last automatic qualification spot in South America, Colombia will be keen to better their performance at Brazil 2014 when they reached the last eight. Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez will be key players for Los Cafeteros.

• Senegal’s previous lone appearance at the world finals was a memorable one, as the Lions of Teranga reached the quarter-finals of Korea/Japan 2002. Their maiden campaign included victories over then world champions France in the group stage and Sweden in the Round of 16.

• Having edged Saudi Arabia and Australia to top Asian zone Group B in qualification, Japan will be aiming to have their best campaign at a global finals in Russia. In their previous five appearances, the Samurai Blue’s best achievement was reaching the Round of 16 as co-hosts in 2002 and at South Africa 2010.

The stat

16
– the number of goals that Poland captain Robert Lewandowski scored in ten appearances to top the European qualifying scoring charts.



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Group B: European heavyweights to do battle



After beating Italy to top spot in Europe’s Group G on the road to the 2018 FIFA World Cup™, Spain now face another stern test after being pitted against European heavyweights Portugal, as well as Africa’s Morocco and Asia’s IR Iran.

Teams
PORTUGAL | SPAIN | MOROCCO | IR IRAN

Key Game
Portugal v Spain (15 June 2018, Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi)

A mouth-watering tie in Sochi lies in store. You could hear the gasps at Moscow’s State Kremlin Palace when these two European heavyweights – and neighbours – were drawn alongside each other in Group B. This is a game not to be missed. 

What you need to know
Russia presents familiar territory for Portugal. As UEFA EURO 2016 winners, Portugal secured their berth to the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, where Fernando Santos’s side defeated Mexico in the play-off for third place.

IR Iran will be looking to Sardar Azmoun for goals. The 22-year-old striker, who plys his trade in Russia with Rubin Kazan, notched 11 goals in qualifying, the same number as Tim Cahill (Australia), Christian Eriksen (Denmark) and Romelu Lukaku (Belgium).

Morocco topped a tightly-contested African zone Group C to secure qualification to Russia 2018, pipping Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon and Mali.

The stat
3 – Iran were the third team to book their place at the 2018 World Cup after hosts Russia and 2014 hosts Brazil.  



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Group A: Hosts to face Arabic test



After learning they would host the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ in December 2010, Russia finally learned their long-awaited opponents on 1 December 2017. Stanislav Cherchesov’s side will take on Asia’s Saudi Arabia, Africa’s Egypt and South American nation Uruguay. 


Teams
RUSSIA | SAUDI ARABIA | EGYPT | URUGUAY

Key Game
Russia v Saudi Arabia (14 June, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow)

The World Cup Opening Match is an event that football fans the world over eagerly tune-in to, marking the beginning of another exciting global finals. At Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, hosts Russia will take on Saudi Arabia in the eagerly-awaited curtain-raiser on 14 June 2018. The Saudis will be the first Asian team to take part in an Opening Match at the global finals.

What you need to know
Russia 2018 will mark Egypt’s first World Cup since Italy 1990. Star man Mohamed Salah bagged the goal which sealed qualification to the global finals in dramatic fashion, as he converted a 94th-minute penalty against Congo to get the party started in Alexandria.

Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad Al-Sahlawi netted 16 goals on the road to Russia. The 30-year-old frontman finished 2018 World Cup qualifying as joint-top scorer, along with Poland’s Robert Lewandowski and UAE’s Ahmed Khalil.

Uruguay are two-time champions of the World Cup. La Celeste were inaugural winners of the tournament in 1930, before winning it a second time, at Brazil 1950. 

The stat
45 – The age that Egypt goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary will be when the Pharaohs take to the pitch at Russia 2018. Should he feature, El-Hadary would surpass Faryd Mondragon’s record as the World Cup’s oldest player. The Colombian goalkeeper set the current record when he appeared at Brazil 2014 at 43 years and three days.



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Group E: No easy task for five-time champions



After qualifying first from the always-difficult South American qualifying competition, five-time FIFA World Cup™ winners Brazil will now have designs on topping Group E at Russia 2018. To do so, however, they will need to get the better of Switzerland, Serbia and Costa Rica, one of the sensations of Brazil 2014.

Brazil | Switzerland | Costa Rica | Serbia

Key game
Brazil v Switzerland 17 June 2018 (Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don)
This meeting will be crucial to both sides’ hopes of winning the section and, if history is anything to go by, avoiding reigning world champions Germany in the last 16. It promises to be an attractive encounter too, as Brazil pitch their enterprising, attack-minded brand of football against a Switzerland side that might lack the same offensive firepower but nevertheless boasts plenty of pace and a fondness for possession.

What you need to know

  • Though the Swiss had to take the play-off route to reach Russia, they amassed an impressive 27 points in Group B of the European qualifiers and only missed out on top spot to Portugal after losing 2-0 in Lisbon in their final match.
  • The arrival of Tite as coach in June 2016 saw A Seleção rediscover their devastating form of old. By Matchday 8 Brazil had already jumped from fifth to second. Two games later they were on top of the group, where they stayed till the end.
  • Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia (competing as the former Yugoslavia) were all drawn in the same first-round group at Brazil 1950.

The stat
1 – After Russia, who qualified automatically as tournament hosts, Brazil were the first side to seal their place at Russia 2018, courtesy of their 3-0 defeat of Paraguay on 28 March 2017.



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Group D: Argentina and Croatia head tricky Group D



Group D looks likely to be one of the most fiercely-contested groups at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. It pits historic giants Argentina against two blossoming European sides in Croatia and Iceland, plus the ever-unpredictable Nigeria, who are sure to be a tough nut to crack.

Teams
Argentina Iceland Croatia Nigeria

Key Game

Argentina-Croatia, (21 June, Nizhny Novgorod Stadium)

The group’s two strongest teams on paper will lock horns at a World Cup for the first time since 1998, when Argentina edged to a 1-0 win. The showdown between Barcelona team-mates Lionel Messi and Ivan Rakitic is one of the many intriguing subplots to what will be just the second meeting between the two nations on the global stage, one which could prove pivotal in deciding who qualifies and claims top spot. With France potentially lurking in the Round of 16 for the group runners-up, there will be plenty on the line.

What you need to know
• Iceland and Croatia have met on six occasions in World Cup qualifying in the last eight years. The Croatians have the better of the head-to-head, with four wins from those games, but the Icelanders have the fonder memories of the most recent encounter, which they won 1-0 in June 2017.

• Nigeria and Iceland have only faced one another once before, with the Europeans easing to a 3-0 victory in a friendly in 1981.

• History will be made in two Group D fixtures: Argentina have never taken on Iceland before, while Croatia and Nigeria will also do battle for the first time.

The stat
4 – The number of times that Argentina and Nigeria have met in World Cup group action. La Albiceleste have triumphed in all four matches: 2-1 in 1994, 1-0 in 2002, 1-0 in 2010 and 3-2 in 2014.



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Group C: Favourable draw for Les Bleus



Just like in 2014, France were placed in what appears, on paper at least, to be a favourable group during the Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. Les Bleus will kick off their campaign against Australia and Peru, two teams they have never faced before at the World Cup finals, and finish off by locking horns with Denmark.

Teams
France Australia Peru Denmark 

Key game
Denmark-France, 26 June 2018 (Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow)
This duel between two highly fancied European sides will likely be given top billing during the third round of games in Group C. The countries know each other well, having gone head-to-head on the World Cup stage on two previous occasions, both times in the final match of the group. On the road to their sole triumph in 1998, France secured a 2-1 victory, but in 2002 it was the Danes who emerged victorious, 2-0, when the reigning world champions flattered to deceive.

What you need to know 
France and Peru have only ever faced each other once before, on 28 April 1982 at the Parc des Princes. In what served as a preparatory match for the forthcoming World Cup in Spain, Michel Platini and Co lost 1-0, with Juan Carlos Oblitas scoring for the South Americans in the 82nd minute. 

“Last time around, everyone said that it was a fantastic draw, even some of our players, but we’re not going to get through it just by clicking our fingers,” said Didier Deschamps after the Draw. The wily coach, who has a reputation for enjoying a little bit of luck during draws, was clearly keen to keep feet in the French camp firmly on the ground.

He may have reason to do so, as according to the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking in November, Group C is in fact the most challenging pool of Russia 2018, featuring France (ninth), Australia (39th), Peru (11th) and Denmark (12th). 

The stat
3 – The number of World Cups in which Tim Cahill has found the back of the net. If he succeeds in scoring in Russia, the attack-minded Australian will enter an elite club, as only Uwe Seeler, Pele and Miroslav Klose have previously notched a goal in four different editions of the prestigious tournament.



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Group G: Golden generations looking to shine



Top spot in Group G looks set to be disputed by two teams boasting gifted generations of talent. Belgium and England will both be calling on an impressive pool of players as they each target first place – and that could make life difficult for debutants Panama and a Tunisia side no doubt hoping for a kinder draw after qualifying for the first time in 12 years.

Teams
BELGIUM | PANAMA | TUNISIA | ENGLAND

Key Game
Belgium-England (28 June 2018, Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad)

Belgium have been tipped for greatness for several years now, with the Red Devils possessing blistering potential in a superb crop of players. Their golden generation is not getting any younger, however, and their fans will be hoping they can hit their promised heights at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ – providing they do not stumble against a rejuvenated England team which has posted impressive results and earned widespread praise. Both teams are outside contenders for the title, and they are sure to serve up an engaging spectacle, particularly as many of Belgium’s key players are based in the English Premier League.

What you need to know

  • Panama will be taking their maiden steps at a World Cup, becoming the first newcomers to qualify from CONCACAF since Trinidad and Tobago in 2006. The Soca Warriors left a positive impression in Germany, despite being knocked out in the group stage.
  • Tunisia faced England at the 1998 World Cup, the Carthage Eagles suffering a 2-0 defeat at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille.
  • Tunisia’s one and only victory in 12 World Cup matches came in 1978, when they saw off Mexico to register the first ever win by an African nation on the global stage.

The stat
1 – England have lost just once in 21 meetings with Belgium, that sole reverse dating back to a friendly in 1936. Since then, the two sides have crossed paths twice at World Cup finals, drawing 4-4 in 1954 before David Platt’s last-gasp goal earned England victory in 1990.



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World Cup stars congratulate each other in exclusive video



Ahead of Friday’s Final Draw, 32 key players representing each of the teams that have qualified for the FIFA World Cup™ have taken time to congratulate each other based on the order of qualification for Russia 2018. From host country star Fyodor Smolov to Jefferson Farfán, who booked the last World Cup spot with Peru, all players recorded the following statement – the first part in their mother tongue and the second in the language of the team being congratulated:

Congratulations (name of country) – see you in Russia!

The video features a mosaic of languages and includes, among others, Neymar doing his best to speak Farsi, Robert Lewandowski congratulating Egypt in Arabic, and Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Elneny giving a good account of himself in Icelandic. To see the outcome, watch the video above.



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Neymar: The Brazil everyone respects is back



  • Brazil qualified for Russia 2018 by topping the South American standings
  • The FIFA World Cup Final Draw takes place in Moscow on Friday 1 December
  • Neymar: “Brazil are ready to face anyone”

True to their past, Brazil are a formidable side once again. Following the disappointment of the last FIFA World Cup™ and the ensuing aftermath, the national team went back to their roots and rebuilt their reputation with a swashbuckling campaign to qualify for Russia 2018.

Neymar has been one of the pillars of that renaissance. Arguably in the best form of his career right now, the No10 is the team’s leader both on and off the pitch. At the next World Cup he is relishing the prospect of expanding on the promise he showed at the previous edition, before injury ended his tournament prematurely.

Ahead of the Final Draw, Neymar spoke to FIFA.com about the Brazilian national team, regaining the respect they had lost, the role luck plays in winning the World Cup and the extent to which the traumatic experience at the last finals influenced the player he has become.

I think this World Cup is going to be huge for Brazilians. Personally, I’m going to give everything I’ve got to win it.

Neymar

FIFA.com: Looking ahead to the draw for Russia 2018, is there any team Brazil would like to avoid?
Neymar: No. Brazil are ready to face anyone. We train so that we’re not afraid of anyone we might go up against. It’s a World Cup, so the best teams are there. They’re well-prepared sides with tremendous quality. You can’t pick one team over another, thinking that they’ll be weaker. You just have to be ready when you go to a World Cup.

How do you follow events like the Final Draw?
Obviously you can’t wait to find out who you’re going to play against. But I don’t think it matters too much. It’s one of those occasions where you put the popcorn in the microwave and call your family and friends together to watch it on television (laughs).

You say that the outcome of the draw does not matter so much, but how much luck is involved for a team to win the World Cup?
Luck? Very little. I don’t think luck itself can help a team win it. I think the eventual champions are the ones that put in the hard work a long time beforehand, and are ready to face anyone in their group or in the knockout rounds.

Brazil seem to have regained the respect they lost in the wake of the 2014 World Cup. Do you agree?
Yes, I do. The respect towards the team now is different to what it was three or four years ago after the World Cup. People see us differently. The Brazil that everyone respects and admires is back; a team that enjoys good football. And that makes us happy. The mood of our fans and our country has changed. Everyone’s confident and happy looking ahead to the World Cup. You can’t put a price on that.

What role will Russia 2018 have on your career, after the abrupt way your tournament ended in 2014?
(Pauses to think) It’s strange because I didn’t finish that World Cup the way I wanted to. Obviously I wanted to crown it with the title, but I neither won nor lost. I didn’t finish the World Cup. My tournament ended with a serious injury and, unfortunately, I had to pay for that.

What are your memories of that time?
That was a really bad week for me. I cried a lot and asked myself many times why it had happened. But eventually you understand that everything that happens in life makes you stronger, even if it’s not something you want at that particular time. It helps you to learn and prepare yourself better in future. I think this World Cup is going to be huge for Brazilians. Personally, I’m going give everything I’ve got to win it.

In addition to being a goalscorer, you are providing increasing numbers of assists. Which of the two do you prefer?
Both of them make me very happy. I like it when things go well for my team, whether that’s with Paris Saint-Germain or Brazil. While the objective is always to score, giving a pass to a team-mate to find the net also makes me happy. Both give you a similar feeling, it’s practically the same.

Is that something players are born with? Or is it learned?
It’s something you should learn as a child. You shouldn’t be big-headed and only think about yourself because at the end of the day football is a team game. The desire to help and to set up your team-mates to score is something that’s instilled in you as a child. There are obviously times when I finish off moves, that’s one of my traits, but I’m also happy giving passes and assists. It’s always been that way.

Finally, can you finish off this sentence? In 2018, Neymar will…
(Laughs) In 2018 Neymar will be very happy at the World Cup.



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Andrés Iniesta’s lifetime Barcelona deal: a salute – UEFA Champions League – News


From academy graduate to midfield metronome in the all-conquering Barcelona and Spain sides that broke record after record, Andrés Iniesta was on Friday has given a lifetime contract by the club with which he has won 28 trophies and counting. UEFA.com takes a look at what makes the 33-year-old so special.

What they say:

“Over the last 20 years I can’t remember players as good or complete as Iniesta. It’s incredible, he never messes up play, he’s the most complete in the world. Maybe he misplaces just one pass in the whole game.”
Former Italian international Dino Baggio


©Getty Images

“He’s the best midfielder I’ve ever seen play. For his quality, for everything. For being a good guy, for being a legend, he doesn’t need a Ballon d’Or. He’s incomparable because he’s very different. He has an elegance and incredible class that makes him different to everyone else.”
Former Barcelona team-mate Neymar

“Nobody is like Andrés Iniesta, neither in our squad nor in world football; that’s the problem.”
Former Barça boss Luis Enrique on dealing with Iniesta’s injury absence

Current tally:
International caps: 121 appearances, 12 goals
UEFA club competition: 132 appearances, 11 goals
Liga: 418 appearances, 34 goals

Trophies:
UEFA Champions League (4): 2006, 2009, 2011, 2015
UEFA Super Cup (2): 2011, 2015
FIFA Club World Cup (3): 2009, 2011, 2015
Spanish Liga (8): 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016
Copa del Rey (5): 2009, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017
Spanish Super Cup (6): 2005, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2016
FIFA World Cup (1): 2010
UEFA EURO (2): 2008, 2012
U19 EURO (1): 2002
U16 EURO (1): 2001

Claims to fame:

Barcelona

  •  Joined Barcelona at the age of 12 after catching the eye of scouts for local club Albacete.
  • Iniesta admits he “cried rivers” the day he left for La Masia and struggled being separated from his parents.
  • His childhood idol Pep Guardiola witnessed a 15-year-old Iniesta playing for Barça’s youth teams. Stood next to Xavi Hernández on the sidelines, Guardiola said: “You will retire me, but this kid will retire us both.”
  • He also has eight Liga crowns, five Copa del Rey and three FIFA Club World Cup titles.


©Sportsfile

  • Iniesta won the UEFA Best Player in Europe award in 2012, and was also chosen as the Best Player of the 2011/12 UEFA Champions League.
  • Iniesta has been chosen in the UEFA.com users’ Team of the Year six times (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016), the most selections ever in midfield.

Spain

  • Played at every level for Spain’s junior sides from U16 to U21.
  • Won the UEFA European Under-16 Championship in 2001 before helping La Rojita lift the U19 title 12 months later.
  • A mainstay in the national team, he was pivotal as Spain won a historic treble of titles, with UEFA EURO 2008 and 2012 triumphs being sandwiched by the 2010 FIFA World Cup win.


©Getty Images

  • In 2008 he was selected in the team of the tournament, play every game as Spain went on to defeat Germany 1-0 in the final. He went one better at UEFA EURO 2012 as he was named player of the tournament.
  • In 2010 he scored the winner in extra time as Spain beat the Netherlands 1-0 to claim their first World Cup. In celebration he ripped off his shirt with the message “Dani Jarque, siempre con nosotros” (Dani Jarque, always with us) as a tribute to his friend, the former Espanyol player who sadly passed away a year earlier

What you might not know:

  • Despite becoming a national hero in 2010, Iniesta almost missed the World Cup through injury. How different things might have been had Vicente del Bosque not gone with his instincts.
  • Despite being Barcelona club captain, there is footage of a young Iniesta bashfully admitting to TV cameras he grew up a Real Madrid fan.
  • A big cinema fan, Iniesta had a cameo role in Spanish film ‘Quien mató a Bambi’ (Who killed Bambi – while it sounds nasty, we are assured it’s a comedy) in which he is pictured on the football pitch – where else?
  • Made his Spain debut at the ground of Albacete; his first club.


©Getty Images

  • While Iniesta himself is regarded as one of the best midfielders of all time, he has never hidden his admiration for former team-mate Xavi: “There’s not enough words of praise for Xavi. I can’t find high enough praise to explain what he represents as a player and person”

He says …

“Me a hero? No! I feel very loved, obviously. The fans show some their support all the time. But a hero is someone who has to fight against a disease or has to emigrate in order to feed their children. I’m privileged to be able to play football and sometimes I’m lucky enough to make people happy.”

What he might achieve yet:

  • This season will be looking to add to his 28 club trophies (which might have been more had he not missed the 2009 Spanish and UEFA Super Cups injured) and after an impressive 100% start in the Liga and UEFA Champions League, you would not be surprised if he did, with a fifth European Cup (only one off the competition record) a possibility.
  • Old mate Xavi has the all-time Barcelona record appearances (767). In second on 639, Iniesta will be determined to get as close as possible to his former team-mate and keep third-placed Lionel Messi (594) at bay.
  • Next summer’s World Cup is in his sights, while a third title with Spain at UEFA EURO 2020 is not beyond the realms of possibility.



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Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta tells Spanish and Catalan leaders to talk


Josep Bartomeu says if a declaration of independence would take place then the board of directors would have to meet and analyse what to do.
Gerard Pique threatens to retire from Spain’s national team if anyone deems his support for Catalonian independence disruptive.

Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta has called for dialogue between Catalan and Spanish leaders in the uncertain aftermath of Sunday’s referendum on Catalan independence.

On Sunday, Barcelona‘s home game against Las Palmas was played behind closed doors in protest at the violence used by Spanish police during a vote that was deemed illegal by the Spanish government.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has since promised to move forward with plans to announce independence after more than 90 percent of 2.3 million voters backed it.

However, Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy and King Felipe VI refuse to acknowledge the referendum result and have accused Catalan authorities of attempting to break “the unity of Spain.”

Iniesta, who was born in the south of Spain but has spent more than half his life in Catalonia, wrote on his Facebook page: “I never have and I never will publicly address such complicated situations and diverse feelings, but the situation we are currently experiencing is an exceptional one.

“And before we do more damage to ourselves: Dialogue. Those responsible must talk. Do it for all of us. We deserve to live in peace.”

Iniesta’s post came hours after teammate Gerard Pique was whistled by supporters as the Spain team arrived in Alicante for Friday’s World Cup qualifier against Albania.

Pique voted in the referendum and was in tears when he spoke to reporters about the political situation after the game against Las Palmas.

On Wednesday he called a news conference at which he also urged dialogue and pointed out that he was not necessarily pro-independence but was in favour of people’s right to self-determination.

He has been whistled regularly by sections of Spain’s support in recent years and announced last year that he would retire from international football after the 2018 World Cup.

On Wednesday, he said he would not move that date forward despite recent events because it would give satisfaction to those who “whistle and insult.”

Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.



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