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Spain need a convincing win in last group game against Morocco

By Paul Giblin MOSCOW (Xinhua) -- Spain make the 2,000 kilometer flight from their training ground in Krashnodar to Kaliningrad on Sunday knowing a point in their final Group B match against Morocco on Monday will see them into the knockout stage of the World Cup with a game against either hosts Russia or Uruguay.

The Spanish currently share leadership of their group with Portugal, who will also reach the last 16 with a draw against Iran.

Both the Spanish and Portuguese have the same number of points and the same goal difference and if that is still the case after Monday’s matches, their positions would be decided by the number of yellow cards each side has seen so far in Russia.

By the time the game kicks off in Kaliningrad, Spain will know whether Russia or Uruguay have won Group A and have a better idea of their next possible rival, but the fact they can’t risk a heavy defeat means coach Fernando Hierro will pick his strongest possible 11.

The Spanish struggled to break down Iran in their recent 1-0 win in Kazan and Hierro needs midfielders such as David Silva, Andres Iniesta and Isco to try and get closer to the Morocco penalty area.

Diego Costa has been Spain’s main threat so far with 3 of the 4 goals they have scored so far in Russia. Costa will again lead the line, while the coach could try something different, perhaps with Lucas Vazquez given a chance in a wide role.

In theory the Spanish defense will be unaltered with Alba, Ramos, Pique and the fit again Dani Carvajal in defense and David de Gea continuing in goal.

Morocco showed in their games against Iran and Portugal that they are a tough side to face, but that they lack punch in attack. That lack of a threat has seen them fail to take the chances which could have given their World Cup a very different storyline than an early ticket home and the Spanish will have to be careful of being caught on the break as they seek to control possession.

In theory Spain could suffer a narrow defeat and still make the last 16 if Portugal beat Iran or that game ends in a low scoring draw, but after the concerns their struggles against the Iranians provoked a few days ago, they need a convincing win to march into the last 16 in style.

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UPDATES:

Saudi Arabia coach Pizzi takes Egypt game seriously

VOLGOGRAD Russia (Xinhua) -- Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said on Sunday that his team will take the game against Egypt seriously even though both teams were already knocked out from the ongoing World Cup.

“Tomorrow’s game is important to Saudis and I will field the best 11,” Pizzi said.

The two sides both conceded two losses in Group A actions and will play against each other for glory in Monday’s game.

Uruguay and Russia have already secured the last 16 berths from the group.

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Experts: Arab football still has a long way to go

By Mahmoud Fouly CAIRO Egypt (Xinhua) -- The 2018 FIFA World Cup has seen the competition’s last Arab hope disappear thanks to Tunisia’s 5-2 loss against Belgium on Saturday, adding more evidence to the argument that Arab football has a long way to go to demonstrate real competition on the world’s biggest stage.

The Tunisian squad is preparing to go home along with fellow Arab competitors Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, each of which have suffered defeats in their first two matches.

Following the match against Belgium, Tunisian national team coach Nabil Maaloul told reporters that Arab teams had a long way to go before they could compete effectively at the World Cup.

While Tunisia were beaten by Belgium and England, both Saudi Arabia and Egypt were defeated by Uruguay and Russia, and Morocco lost against Iran and Portugal in Group B.

“For Arab teams, qualifying for the World Cup itself is an accomplishment, but our levels don’t allow us to compete,” said Taha Ismail, football expert and former striker for Egypt’s Al-Ahly football club.

Most experts attributed the Arab sides’ poor performances at the World Cup to a lack of fitness and effort on the players’ part, rather than any strategic or tactical inadequacy.

“Arab teams lack professionalism and seriousness in their World Cup preparations. We don’t have sufficient training camps or enough finance. We have a long way to go,” Ismail told Xinhua, adding that “our level in football is low and we should admit that.”

Non-Arab African teams like Nigeria and Senegal have acquitted themselves better, with each of them having won one match so far in the World Cup group stage.

“African teams have capabilities lacking in the Arab world. Their players are physically fit, tall, strong and fast. They have many footballers playing at high levels in Europe, which makes a big difference too,” said Ismail.

Farouk Gaafar, a retired star of Egypt’s popular Zamalek football club, described the performance of Arab teams in the World Cup as “so weak.”

“For many Arabs, merely qualifying for the World Cup has become an achievement, rather than demonstrating good abilities and distinguished performances in the competition,” Gaafar told Xinhua.

“The players don’t try hard enough in training or in matches. Many of them don’t regularly attend training camps and friendly games. All these factors affect the general performance,” added the former midfielder.

The 2018 World Cup opener on June 14 saw Saudi Arabia lose 5-0 to hosts Russia.

“The big scorelines and the fact that many goals were scored against Arab teams indicate the big difference between Arab soccer and that of European and Latin American teams,” Gaafar noted.

Arab soccer fans have been surprised and disappointed by the results in Russia, with some of them posting mockingly on social media websites that FIFA should stand for “football isn’t for Arabs.”

“The Arab defeats at the World Cup are not a surprise. The surprise is when an Arab team advances to the round of 16 or beyond,” said renowned Egyptian sports critic and writer Hassan al-Mestikawi.

The pundit argued that Arab footballers lack the physical fitness of their Western counterparts, as well as being lacking in teamwork, effort and persistence.

“I have always been saying that our performance in the World Cup is more important than taking part in the competition,” Mestikawi told Xinhua, stressing the need for well-built, fast and tall Arab players to be able to face strong teams and compete effectively at the World Cup.

He continued that the poor standard of Arab football also has to do with technological and scientific levels, arguing that Arabs will be good at football when they’re more developed and advanced. “Football is a small model of our development.”

“We Arabs have a long way to go to have a real presence at the World Cup and to compete for the title,” said Mestikawi.

             

 

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