WORLD CUP DRAW: Guide to Pot 3 featuring newcomer Iceland
MOSCOW (AP) — A guide to the teams in Pot 3 in Friday’s draw for the 2018 World Cup in Russia:
The tiny Central American country reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout.
This will be Costa Rica’s fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin.
Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary.
Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) — Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper’s strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014.
Coach: Oscar Ramirez — Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight.
One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot.
Denmark hasn’t played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championship but is unbeaten in 11 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016.
Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the playoffs second leg.
In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark’s fortunes in Russia.
Key player: Eriksen (Tottenham) — Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark’s unbeaten streak.
Coach: Age Hareide — The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country.
Egypt waited a long time to be back at the World Cup. The record seven-time African champions had to watch on the sidelines since last qualifying in 1990.
The team hit new lows recently, failing to even qualify for the African Cup of Nations — a tournament it once dominated — from 2012-15. It’s back now, reaching the final of this year’s African Cup and following that up with a long-awaited World Cup return.
Key player: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) — Delivered when it counted with five goals in six games in the final round of qualifiers, including the late penalty that took Egypt to the World Cup.
Coach: Hector Cuper — There have been murmurs of discontent over the conservative style favored by the Argentine. His team focusses on defense first and counterattacks when it can. There can be no denying Cuper’s tactics have been successful, though.
With just 330,000 people, Iceland is the smallest country ever at the World Cup.
The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland’s entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers.
Last year’s run to the Euro 2016 quarterfinals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland’s team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved last year wasn’t a one-off.
Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland’s passionate fans and their “thunderclap” chant, nothing can be ruled out.
Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) — Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team.
Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson — Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland isn’t most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year.
The first team to qualify from Asia, Iran sealed its spot with a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan in June.
The Iranians went unbeaten in 18 qualifying games across two rounds. In the last round, Iran didn’t concede a goal in nine games but finished with a 2-2 draw against Syria.
Iran will be playing its fifth World Cup, qualifying back-to-back for the first time.
Iran went winless at the 2014 World Cup, but this time coach Carlos Queiroz is targeting the knockout stages and has vowed Iran will “not go to Russia as tourists.”
Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) — The 22-year-old forward emerged as a scoring threat at the 2015 Asian Cup and has already tallied 22 international goals.
Coach: Carlos Queiroz — The veteran Portuguese manager retained his job after the 2014 World Cup and has rebuilt the squad, bring in young players such as Azmoun.
Senegal is back at the World Cup for the first time since its stunning debut in 2002, when it beat defending champion France on the way to the quarterfinals, then only the second African team to make the last eight.
This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by FIFA to order a replay of its 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group.
Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) — With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool.
Coach: Aliou Cisse — Senegal will take a reminder of its dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country.
Sweden had just stunned Italy in the playoffs to qualify for its first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country’s best player: “We are Zweden.”
The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team.
The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after last year’s European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back?
Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seems more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can.
Watch this space.
Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) — Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden’s inspiration in attack.
Coach: Janne Andersson — Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic.
Unbeaten during its qualifying campaign, Tunisia is making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years.
The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia.
Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) — The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea.
Coach: Nabil Maaloul — A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia’s World Cup qualifying campaign.
The draw at the State Kremlin Palace in Moscow, starting at 1500 GMT Friday. The 32 finalists will be split into eight groups featuring a team from each of the four pots. Only Europe can have two teams in the same group.
FIFA changed how it allocated teams in the draw and now uses rankings alone for all four pots. At previous World Cups, only Pot 1 was for seeded teams, and the other three pots were decided by a geographical spread.
Russia will play the tournament opener on June 14, 2018 The World Cup final will be held on July 15. Both showpiece games are at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
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