France opens World Cup defense, Wales to Belgium

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France opens World Cup defense, Wales to Belgium


A look at what’s going on during the 2022 World Cup qualifiers in Europe on Wednesday:

GROUP A

Portugal have an exhausted defense for their game against Azerbaijan, with goalkeeper Rui Patricio and defenders Pepe and Raphael Guerreiro having been excluded from the squad due to injuries. Guerreiro was the last to be excluded from the squad on Tuesday after failing a medical exam. Portugal are the home team but the match will be played in Turin, Italy due to the coronavirus pandemic situation in Portugal. Stephen Kenny is still awaiting his first victory as Ireland coach and will face Serbia in their ninth game, seeking to guide the country to their first World Cup since 2002.

GROUP D

France begin their World Cup defense against Ukraine at the Stade de France with the focus on two forwards – Olivier Giroud and Kylian Mbappe. The latter became the youngest player – at 22 – to score 100 goals in the French league including two against Lyon for Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday, while Giroud struggles to even land a match for Chelsea. Yet Giroud, 34, is approaching the all-time record for France. Giroud has already passed the goal of former French great Michel Platini by 41 goals by three, leaving only Thierry Henry’s national record of 51 to aim for. Coach Didier Deschamps also recalled Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele after an absence of more than two years, giving France another option to attack. Deschamps noted that the 23-year-old Dembele is scoring goals again, although there is room for improvement. Finland face Bosnia and Herzegovina in the other match.

GROUP E

Belgium, the world’s top-ranked team that finished third at the 2018 World Cup, are looking to end a four-game winless streak against Wales that dates back to 2013 and includes a quarterfinal loss. Euro 2016 final. Kevin De Bruyne has been in compelling form for Manchester City and the midfielder poses the greatest danger for Wales. In contrast, Welsh star Gareth Bale has endured a mixed season on loan at Tottenham from Real Madrid, scoring six goals since February but finding himself on the bench too often. Estonia face the Czech Republic in the other group match.

GROUP G

The preparations for the Netherlands’ trip to Turkey were dominated by the striker selections of coach Frank de Boer. De Boer has defended his decision to pick Sevilla’s Luuk de Jong ahead of fit Wout Weghorst, who has scored 17 Bundesliga goals this season for Wolfsburg. De Boer told national broadcaster NOS that not including Weghorst in his team was “by far the most difficult decision I have had to make.” But he added: “Luuk has never disappointed me. Norway have an easy start against Gibraltar with Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland the key to sending their country to a first World Cup since 1998 – before the 20-year-old striker was born. Latvia also hosts Montenegro.

GROUP H

Croatia heads to Slovenia with the same captain and coach who led the team to the final in 2018. Now 35, midfielder Luka Modrić is without a long-time creative partner Ivan Rakitić, who put end of his international career. Coach Zlatko Dalić has since led the team to the postponed 2020 European Championship tournament. Two other Euro 2020 teams, Russia and Slovakia, also start with away games. Russia, who as hosts of the 2018 World Cup lost in the quarter-finals to Croatia, are in Malta and Slovakia play in Cyprus. The Russian team can be called “Russia” in the qualifiers but not in the final phase. An arbitral tribunal for sports punishment for state-sponsored doping, the team should probably be called “Russian Football Union Team” in Qatar.

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