WORLD CUP DRAW: Guide to 8 teams in Pot 2 featuring Spain
MOSCOW (AP) — A guide to the teams in Pot 2 in Friday’s draw for the 2018 World Cup in Russia:
Reached the quarterfinals four years ago in Brazil and has the talent to do it again.
This will be Colombia’s second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia.
Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) — A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup.
Coach: Jose Pekerman — gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarterfinals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Croatia had to squeeze through the playoffs for the second straight World Cup despite having at its disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia is on paper a tough team to beat.
It needs the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament.
Key player: Modric (Real Madrid) — Croatia looks at Modric, its undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup.
Coach: Zlatko Dalic — Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the playoffs.
The country that invented soccer no longer sits at the sport’s top table.
Expectations in England have plummeted because of the national team’s embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments —exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016.
Having the world’s richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from.
A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can be hoped for.
Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) — Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 12 goals in 23 games for England.
Coach: Gareth Southgate — Skeptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn’t afraid to make bold decisions.
Mexico has been a regular at the World Cup, but always comes up just short. It has played in the last six World Cups, and was knocked out each time in the round of 16.
Reaching the quarterfinals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice — 1970 and 1986 when they were host.
Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and was impressive in qualifying this time, doing it with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Archrival the United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this.
Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) — Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano.
Coach: Colombian Juan Carlos Osorio — Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer’s Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup.
Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America’s fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017.
Much of the team’s base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo.
Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) — The 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a FIFA doping ban.
Coach: Ricardo Gareca — The 59-year-old Argentine scored in 1985 a goal that eliminated Peru in South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organized and well-paced Peruvian team to first World Cup participation since 1982.
The managerial change from Vicente del Bosque to Julen Lopetegui has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after it failed to defend its world title in 2014 and its European crown in 2016.
With a surplus of talented midfielders and forwards, David de Gea in goal, and Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique anchoring its defense, the one possible doubt may be who spears the Spaniards’ attack.
Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain’s striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid’s transfer ban finishes at the start of January.
Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) — Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year’s tournament.
Coach: Julen Lopetegui — The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy.
Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarterfinals are a realistic goal.
Don’t call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience.
However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the Round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group playoff as host nation.
Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a playoff against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call.
A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel’s Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender.
Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) — Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland’s three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal.
Coach: Vladimir Petkovic — The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld.
Only Brazil had a more solid performance in South American qualifying than Uruguay. Though some of the team’s stars started fading, new players have emerged for the World Cup.
Defender Diego Godin (31) and strikers Edinson Cavani (30) and Luis Suarez (30) still trouble opponents. But now youngsters like midfielders Federico Valverde (19) and Nahitan Nandez (21) have become frequent starters. Coach Oscar Tabarez, who leads Uruguay’s recovery since 2006, believes a paced renovation will bear fruit in 2022.
Key player: Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain) — Top goal scorer of the South American qualifiers with 10 goals in 18 matches, Cavani has been more deadly for Uruguay than Barcelona’s Luis Suarez.
Coach: Oscar Tabarez — Will coach Uruguay for his fourth World Cup, the third in a row. The 70-year-old Tabarez has used a wheelchair since he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 2016.
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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