The first-ever winter edition of the World Cup is now within touching distance, with hosts Qatar getting the tournament underway on Sunday. VIP Magazine’s IKENNA OKAFOR begins a daily countdown to the biggest football event on the planet with incisive and precise updates._
News and titbits
Mane finally ruled out
Senegal star Sadio Mane has lost his race to be fit for the 2022 World Cup and has been withdrawn from their squad, the country’s football federation announced on Thursday.
His club Bayern Munich added later that the 30-year-old, who was voted second in the Ballon d’Or last month behind Karim Benzema, had undergone “successful surgery” in Innsbruck where “a tendon was reattached to the head of his right fibula”.
Bayern said Mane “will begin his rehab in Munich in the next few days”.
The absence of the talismanic Mane is a massive blow to the Senegalese. He scored the winning penalty in a shootout victory against Egypt in the African Cup of Nations final and repeated the feat against the same opponents to qualify the Lions of Teranga for the World Cup.
Mane was voted African footballer of the year for his feats and has scored 33 times in 92 matches for Senegal. The Lions of Teranga had originally hoped the forward would be fit in time for their opening game on 21 November against the Netherlands. They will also take on hosts Qatar and Ecuador in Group A.
Correa replaces injured Gonzalez
Argentina forward Nicolas Gonzalez suffered an injury in training on Thursday and is out of the World Cup, his country’s football federation (AFA) said. The 24-year-old Fiorentina forward has been replaced by Angel Correa of Atletico Madrid. “In training today, Nicolas Gonzalez tore a muscle and has been withdrawn from the list for the World Cup,” the AFA said in a statement. Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said on Wednesday after his team thrashed the UAE 5-0 in their final warmup game that “some players are not 100 per cent, we have a few small problems”.
Gonzalez, 24, was one of the players who sat out the match in Abu Dhabi as Argentina extended their unbeaten run to 36 matches.
Argentina faces Saudi Arabia on Tuesday in their first Group C match, followed by Mexico and Poland.
Must watch group matches
Croatia vs Belgium
Two European heavyweights meet in a clash which could determine the fate of Group F. Belgium’s golden generation might be slightly past their peak, but they are still in with a puncher’s chance. However, they will face a Croatian side that reached the final four years ago in Russia. The midfield battle promises to be crucial with arguably the world’s two best midfielders in Luka Modric and Kevin De Bruyne going head-to-head.
Spain vs Germany
The biggest game of the group stage in terms of the quality of the show. So many battles to watch. The midfield battle between Germany’s Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka and Ilkay Gundogan and Spain’s Sergio Busquets, Pedri and Gavi will be interesting to watch.
Brazil vs Serbia
The favourites coming up against a team that is a dark horse for a deep run stand out as one of the low-key high-potential great games of the first phase of the World Cup. An all-star Selecao with quality in every area of the pitch figure to be there at the pointy end. Serbia is solid all around but has plenty of firepower going forward in the likes of Dusan Tadic and Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Most shocking moment
Roy Keane leaves World Cup
Republic of Ireland captain Roy Keane was sent home from the 2002 World Cup after falling out with manager Mick McCarthy. Keane had criticised the team’s training facilities and programme in the build-up to the tournament and emotions spilt over in a meeting with his boss in Japan.
Maradona drug test
In 1994 Argentina superstar Diego Maradona tested positive for ephedrine and was expelled from the World Cup in the United States. In the aftermath, a picture of him celebrating a goal against Greece became infamous.
World Cup Squads
Goalkeepers: Shuichi Gonda, Daniel Schmidt, Eiji Kawashima.
Defenders: Miki Yamane, Hiroki Sakai, Maya Yoshida, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Shogo Taniguchi, Ko Itakura, Hiroki Ito, Yuto Nagatomo.
Midfielders: Wataru Endo, Hidemasa Morita, Ao Tanaka, Gaku Shibasaki, Kaoru Mitoma, Daichi Kamada, Ritsu Doan, Junya Ito, Takumi Minamino, Takefusa Kubo, Yuki Soma.
Forwards: Daizen Maeda, Takuma Asano, Shuto Machino, Ayase Ueda.
Goalkeepers: Jose Sa, Rui Patricio, Diogo Costa.
Defenders: Joao Cancelo, Diogo Dalot, Pepe, Ruben Dias, Danilo Pereira, Antonio Silva, Nuno Mendes, Raphael Guerreiro.
Midfielders: William, Ruben Neves, Joao Palhinha, Bruno Fernandes, Vitinha, Otavio, Matheus Nunes, Bernardo Silva, Joao Mario.
Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo, Joao Felix, Rafael Leao, Ricardo Horta, Andre Silva, Goncalo Ramos.