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XINHUA NEWS SERVICE REPORTS FROM THE AFRICAN CONTINENT

 

What to look out for on World Cup match-day six    

By Michael Place MOSCOW Russia  (Xinhua) -- Xinhua identifies four things to look out for on matchday six of the FIFA World Cup in Russia on Tuesday.

·         Will James Rodriguez play?

Mystery surrounds whether Colombia’s influential playmaker will be available for his side’s tournament opener against Japan in Saransk.

The Bayern Munich star has barely trained since the team arrived in Russia last week as he struggles to recover from a calf injury. At a press conference on Monday, Cafeteros coach Jose Pekerman said medical staff would wait until the last minute to evaluate the 26-year-old.

Rodriguez will be key to Colombia’s chances of advancing beyond the group phase here. He won the golden boot in Brazil four years ago by scoring six times, including the goal of the tournament in their round-of-16 victory over Uruguay.

Pekerman’s team are unbeaten this year amid a run that has included a 3-2 victory over France in Paris.

·         Japan’s experience

Japan are ranked 61st in the world compared to Colombia’s 16th and the Blue Samurai’s manager Akira Nishino said it would be a “small miracle” if his team overcome the South Americans.

The Japanese squad includes three players with more than 100 caps: Yuto Nagatomo, Shinji Okazaki and captain Makoto Hasebe.

In April, the Japanese Football Assocation sacked coach Vahid Halilhodzic and replaced him with 63-year-old Akira Nishino.

The former national team midfielder has since recalled Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Okazaki, who were controversially sidelined by Halilhodzic.

·         Can Senegal surprise again?

Senegal are making their second appearance in football’s flagship tournament, 16 years after their first in Japan and South Korea.

On that occasion, the African side beat defending champions France in the opening match and went on to reach the quarterfinals.

A repeat of those heroics seem unlikely however the team is not short of quality, led by Liverpool forward Sadio Mane and midfielders Idrissa Gueye and Badou Ndiaye.

Their coach is 42-year-old former Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Aliou Cisse, who captained the team in 2002.

·         Salah set for return

Egypt’s Liverpool forward has not played since suffering a shoulder injury in the Reds’ Champions League final loss to Real Madrid in May.

Egypt coach Hector Cuper opted not to risk the 26-year-old in the team’s World Cup opener against Uruguay, which they lost 1-0 after a late Jose Gimenez strike.

However Salah looks set to start against hosts Russia in Saint Petersburg, with Egypt’s team doctor and his agent declaring declaring him 100% fit.

Russia, who kickstarted their campaign with a 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia, will be without key midfielder Alan Dzagoev because of a hamstring injury.

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EARLIER REPORT:

Winners and losers from first four days in Russia World Cup

By Sportswriter Paul Giblin MOSCOW  Russia (Xinhua) -- The end of the first round of group games has almost arrived and it gives us a chance to look back on what we have seen in the opening days of the World Cup finals which have already given us some big surprises: here are some things we have learned since the tournament kicked off on June 14.

·         VAR: not perfect, but it is a help

The use of a video refereeing system (VAR) for the first time in a major tournament was always going to cause some controversy and there have been some controversial decisions, with disagreements over Switzerland’s equalizing goal against Brazil where the video officials didn’t feel the need to intervene despite an apparent push VAR and in France’s penalty against Australia, where they did.

It’s clear that any new system will need time to run smoothly and fans need to remember that is only meant to be used in the case of an obvious error, meaning it still won’t really affect borderline decisions which are open to interpretation, such as the Swiss goal and the penalty Cristiano Ronaldo won against Spain.

Some will argue it may take some of the momentum from matches; but bear one thing in mind: without VAR and goal-line technology (also in use here), Australia could have beaten France 1-0, with technology it ended 2-1 in favor of France. Surely it’s better to have the right result with technology than the wrong one without it.

·         It’s looking good for...

Russia: as the hosts got off to a morale boosting 5-0 win to Saudi Arabia, while the Saudi’s were very poor, the hosts were inspired by the home support to put in a high-tempo display, which means they should at least get out of the group and have hopes for the last 16.

Croatia: their midfield of Modric, Peresic, Kovacic and Rakitic is arguably as good as any in Russia as they showed with an easy win against Nigeria.

Spain: the Spanish only drew with Portugal in their opening match, but that 3-3 draw was the game of the tournament so far and showed the sacking of Julen Lopetegui two days before kickoff has not had the destabilizing effect many expected.

Iceland: less than 300,000 inhabitants in the country - a good proportion of whom appear to be in Russia and they held Argentina in their first ever World Cup game, showing their 2016 European Championship heroics were not a flash in the pan.

Mexico: they beat the reigning World Champions in their opening game, arguably the biggest win in the country’s footballing history.

Switzerland: most expected them to lose to Brazil, but the Swiss continued the good form they showed in warm-up with a solid draw against the favorites and maybe we would do well to remember they are sixth in the FIFA rankings and deserve a bit more respect.

·         Not so good for...

Brazil: ‘the Jogo Bonito’ lasted the 20 minutes it took for Philippe Coutinho to open the scoring against Switzerland and then it all went wrong. Coach Tite said after their 1-1 draw in Roston-On-Don that the pressure got to his players: well if you want to win a World Cup, pressure is something you have to deal with.

Germany: not only did they carry their poor form from their warm-up games to Russia, but defeat to Mexico sets up the very real chance they could meet Brazil in the last 16.

France: although they beat Australia 2-1, Didier Deschamps’ side were far from convincing in their opening World Cup game, lacking coordination and playing in fits and starts in their victory.

Argentina: they were held 1-1 by Iceland and although many will focus on Leo Messi’s missed penalty, it would also be a good idea to take a look at the Argentina starting 11 which had veteran Javier Mascherano and Luis Biglia in a very uncreative midfield, meaning Messi had to drop deep to try and make things happen.

Saudi Arabia: a 5-0 thrashing by Russia, voices questioning the commitment of their players and next up to face Uruguay...

·         Ronaldo, player of the first round

It’s hard to argue with a hat-trick in your opening World Cup game and that is what Ronaldo scored against Spain: a penalty, a goalkeeping error and a stunning free kick meant he stole all of the headlines (even in Spain) after that 3-3 draw in Sochi. Add to that the fact his rival Leo Messi had a penalty saved as Argentina were held by Iceland and it has been a good few days for the striker, in football terms at least.

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