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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
teams like Nigeria and Senegal have acquitted themselves better,
with each of them having won one match so far in the World Cup
“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
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
“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
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.