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World Cup team profiles: Star player, fixtures, kits, how each nation qualified for Russia 2018 (PART I)

World Cup team profiles: Star player, fixtures, kits, how each nation qualified for Russia 2018

Here’s every team profile for the World Cup in Russia this summer…

Argentina

Manager: Jorge Sampaoli

Star man: Lionel Messi – Is this the year the Barcelona forward finally tastes international glory? After losses in the World Cup (2014) and Copa America (2015, 2016) finals, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner will hope to end his nation’s 32-year wait for victory.

How they qualified: Finished third in the South American standings, with a Lionel Messi hat-trick against Ecuador on the final matchday lifting Argentina from the brink of a shock failure.

History: Two-time winners in 1978 and 1986, having featured at 16 World Cups. Three-time runners-up, having lost the final in 1930, 1990 and most recently to Germany in 2014.

Fun fact: No nation has featured in more World Cup penalty shootouts than Argentina – they have won four out of five.

Best World Cup moment: That Diego Maradona double against England in the 1986 quarter-final. A moment of sheer audacity saw the little Argentine score his infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal, where he punched the ball in ahead of the onrushing Peter Shilton. Just four minutes later, Maradona scored arguably the greatest ever World Cup goal. On this occasion it was a moment of sheer class, as his mazy run took him past five players before rounding Shilton and slotting it home from a narrow angle.

Player you’ve never heard of: Giovani Lo Celso – The 21-year-old PSG midfielder will hope to break into Argentina’s starting XI at the World Cup, having made his debut last year.

Kit: Home – sky blue and white; Away – black.

Group D fixtures: Iceland (2pm, June 16, Moscow), Croatia (7pm, June 21, Nizhny Novgorod), Nigeria (7pm, June 26, St Petersburg)

Australia

Manager: Bert van Marwijk

Star man: Tim Cahill – The evergreen 38-year-old broke Syrian hearts in October when scoring an extra-time winning goal in the second-leg play-off.

How they qualified: Prevailed 3-1 aggregate winners over Honduras in the intercontinental play-off.

History: Having first reached the World Cup in 1974, Australia have gone on to appear at every World Cup since 2006. Their best showing of those four appearances was a last-16 finish in 2006, where they lost 1-0 to Italy.

Fun fact: Tim Cahill has scored 45 per cent of Australia’s goals at World Cups – five of 11.

Best World Cup moment: After ending their 32-year wait to appear at a World Cup, Australia found themselves 1-0 down going into the final 10 minutes of their opening group game against Japan in 2006. Step up Tim Cahill, who netted twice in five minutes before an injury-time John Aloisi goal sealed a famous 3-1 win, in what was their first ever victory at the finals.

Player you’ve never heard of: Robbie Kruse – The Vfl Bochum forward netted in Australia’s first-leg play-off against Syria in October – the Socceroos won that tie 3-2 on aggregate before beating Honduras to qualify.

Kit: Home – yellow; Away – dark green.

Group C fixtures: France (11am, June 16, Kazan), Denmark (1pm, June 21, Samara), Peru (3pm, June 26, Sochi)

Belgium

Manager: Roberto Martinez

Star man: Eden Hazard – The Chelsea forward scored six goals in qualifying for Belgium, and is expected to captain the side in Russia.

How they qualified: Group H winners in European qualifying, winning nine games and drawing one, scoring a staggering 43 goals in the process.

History: 12 World Cup appearances to date, with their best showing coming in 1986 when reaching the semi-finals, losing to eventual winners Argentina.

Fun fact: Belgium’s last eight World Cup goals have come in the 70th minute or after.

Best World Cup moment: A shock 1-0 group-stage win in 1982 against a Diego Maradona-led Argentina side, who were the reigning world champions. Erwin Vandenbergh scored in front of a 95,000-strong crowd at the Nou Camp, in what was the opening game of the tournament in Spain.

Player you’ve never heard of: Laurent Ciman – The defender, now of Los Angeles FC, impressed for Montreal Impact between 2015 and 2017, featuring in two MLS All-Star games (2015 and 2016).

Kit: Home – red; Away – yellow.

Group G fixtures: Panama (4pm, June 18, Sochi), Tunisia (1pm, June 23, Moscow), England (7pm, June 28, Kaliningrad)

Brazil

Manager: Tite

Star man: Neymar – The PSG forward faces a race to be fit for the World Cup, but will be desperate to feature after missing the damaging 7-1 semi-final defeat to Germany in 2014 through injury.

How they qualified: Topped the South American standings, becoming the first nation to join hosts Russia after an impressive campaign. Ended the 18-match group stage with 12 wins and just one defeat.

History: The most successful nation with five World Cup titles. Brazil have also finished runners-up twice in 1950 and 1998, having featured in all 20 tournaments since its inception in 1930. Have progressed from the initial group stage on each occasion from 1970 onwards.

Fun fact: The only side to feature at every World Cup, Brazil are also the last side to have successfully defended their title – winning in 1958 and 1962.

Best World Cup moment: Older football fans wax lyrical over Brazil’s 1970 World Cup side, and their crowning moment came in last moments of the final against Italy, when Carlos Alberto rounded off a fine team move to seal a 4-1 win. It’s regarded as one of the greatest goals in World Cup history.

Player you’ve never heard of: Pedro Geromel – The Gremio centre-back has just two caps for Brazil but earned a surprise call-up after impressing in their Copa Libertadores victory.

Kit: Home – yellow, Away – royal blue.

Group E fixtures: Switzerland (7pm, June 17, Group E), Costa Rica (1pm, June 22, St Petersburg), Serbia (7pm, June 27, Moscow)

Colombia

Manager: Jose Pekerman

Star man: James Rodriguez – The breakout star at the 2014 World Cup went on to score six goals in qualification for this summer’s tournament.

How they qualified: Finished fourth in the South American standings, confirming their spot on the final matchday thanks to a 1-1 draw in Peru.

History: Five World Cup appearances, with their best showing coming in 2014, when they exited at the quarter-final stage to Brazil.

Fun fact: None of Colombia’s last 18 World Cup matches have ended goalless.

Best World Cup moment: James Rodriguez announced himself to the world in 2014, and on his way to picking up the Golden Boot, a stunning volley on the turn against Uruguay saw him claim Goal of the Tournament, while it also won him the Puskas Award. A move to Real Madrid followed his star showing in Brazil.

Player you’ve never heard of: Duvan Zapata – Has broken into the national side after impressing on a loan spell at Sampdoria from Napoli.

Kit: Home – yellow; Away – blue.

Group H fixtures: Japan (1pm, June 19, Saransk), Poland (7pm, June 24, Kazan), Senegal (3pm, June 28, Samara)

Costa Rica

Manager: Oscar Ramirez

Star man: Bryan Ruiz – Now in the 100-cap club, the Sporting winger will look to lead Costa Rica out once more in Russia, having netted twice in the 2014 World Cup.

How they qualified: Finished second behind Mexico in the North, Central America and Caribbean standings.

History: Four World Cup appearances (1990, 2002, 2006, 2014), most recently reaching the quarter-finals four years ago, where they lost on penalties to the Netherlands.

Fun fact: Costa Rica were one of three unbeaten teams (before penalties) at the 2014 World Cup, along with Germany and the Netherlands, who beat Costa Rica on penalties in the quarter-finals.

Best World Cup moment: No one gave Costa Rica a chance when drawing Uruguay, Italy and England in 2014’s ‘Group of Death’. However, victories over Uruguay and Italy, followed by a 0-0 draw with England, saw them top the group against all the odds.

Player you’ve never heard of: Marco Urena – The 28-year-old forward, who recently moved to Los Angeles FC, scored three goals during qualification, and was on target in their 3-1 win over Uruguay in 2014.

Kit: Home – red; Away – white.

Group E fixtures: Serbia (1pm, June 17, Samara), Brazil (1pm, June 22, St Petersburg), Switzerland (7pm, June 27, Nizhny Novgorod)

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