France and Argentina cruise to victories in warm-up matches
Liam Flin finds the World Cup clues from this week's friendlies
Italy 2-1 Saudi Arabia Monday, May 28
Despite defeat to Roberto Mancini’s revitalised Italy, Saudi Arabia showed positive signs in their World Cup warm-up encounter and should fancy their chances in arguably the weakest group in the tournament.
The Green Falcons edged possession in the game and Yahya Al Shehri’s consolation, a swift break after Italy lost possession in their half, proved they have alternative sources of goals to Mohammad Al-Sahlawi, who was their top scorer in qualifying with 16 goals.
Nigeria 1-1 Congo Monday, May 28
Nigeria boss Gernot Rohr still has multiple dilemmas regarding his first-team selection for the World Cup and he would have been left unimpressed by his team’s draw with Congo.
The internationally inexperienced Simeon Nwankwo and Junior Lokosa lacked innovation in the final third either side of Kelechi Iheanacho and frequent defensive blunders, culminating in the concession of a late penalty, do not bode well for the Super Eagles.
Portugal 2-2 Tunisia Monday, May 28
Despite Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence, Portugal mustered 20 shots in their penultimate World Cup warm-up match against Tunisia but a move towards a youthful side perhaps had something to do with them relinquishing a two-goal lead.
With Belgium and England in their World Cup group, Tunisia look up against it to make the last 16 but they made the most of their three shots on goal in this game and their rally from two goals down demonstrated a team unity suited to international competition.
France 2-0 Ireland Monday, May 28
France are among the favourites for the finals in Russia and they reminded spectators why that’s the case with their emphatic display against Ireland.
Les Bleus dominated with 76 per cent of possession and 18 shots in the match and demonstrated their remarkable squad depth, winning with Paul Pogba, Hugo Lloris, N’Golo Kante and Antoine Griezmann starting on the bench. Olivier Giroud strengthened his bid to start France’s first game in Russia by netting the opener.
Argentina 4-0 Haiti Wednesday, May 30
Lionel Messi’s unprecedented domestic form has often eluded him on the international stage but he netted a hat-trick in his side’s demolition of a weak Haiti team.
Naturally victory was expected from the South Americans but the match provided insight into how Jorge Sampaoli will organise a strong attacking contingent. Messi partnered Gonzalo Higuain in a front two, with Manuel Lanzini and Angel di Maria on the flanks, in a direct set-up.
Austria 1-0 Russia Wednesday, May 30
Little is expected of hosts Russia at this summer’s World Cup and they did nothing to alter that opinion in their loss to Austria, when they failed to register a shot on goal.
Coach Stanislav Cherchesov highlighted poor passing as a weakness of his Russia team but their defensive frailty was just as striking. Vladimir Granat, a potential replacement for the retired Vasili Berezutski, gave Marko Arnautovic too much space leading to the goal and Russia cannot afford to be so complacent on the big stage.
Best of the rest
Peru navigated their way past Scotland 2-0 in the absence of skipper Paolo Guerrero, while Japan’s World Cup preparations hit a stumbling block when they lost by the same scoreline to Ghana.
Drawn in one of the most open groups at this summer’s tournament, Senegal were held to a goalless stalemate by Luxembourg and Morocco’s clash with Ukraine also ended 0-0.
World Cup quizzes
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