The World Cup is here! Well, almost. Still, you can feel the excitement in the air. The countdown is coming to an end. This is a competition that connects just about everyone, regardless of race, gender, or belief. And even though this edition is unique based on the timing, the enthusiasm remains the same.
The qualified teams have announced their squads; some expected names have made the cut, yet there have been notable absences. Training camps are open in preparation for the biggest football tournament on the planet.
But just before a ball is kicked in Qatar, some friendlies are set to go down this week to help coaches fine-tune their tactics and achieve clarity. Indeed, for most teams, these matches will be played at recovery paces. After a gruelling few months of club football, it seems logical to keep it simple and avoid injuries.
Still, some matches have higher probabilities of producing over 1.5 goals. Punters can therefore take advantage of these games to earn great rewards this midweek.
UAE vs Argentina
The UAE will not be at this World Cup. Not many people would have expected them to. After all, they have qualified for the tournament just once in their history. It has been 32 years since that time.
Still, this gives them an opportunity to compete at a level they aim to attain. Rodolfo Arruabearrena’s men will compete in the Gulf Cup of Nations in January. In effect, this is a required test match.
For the UAE manager, the objective will be to stay in the game for as long as possible. They’ll also look to take advantage of Argentina’s peculiar defensive high line with swift transitions in attack.
The South American champions, on the other hand, will go into this fixture with a bit more seriousness. They face a similar side on the 22nd in Saudi Arabia. Lionel Scaloni’s side is one of the favourites to win the title, according to the bookmakers.
This will be Lionel Messi’s fifth World Cup outing and certainly his last. The PSG forward will be desperate to leave on a high.
Now, the Argentine manager has brought stability to this team, both in terms of a style of play and the quality of players called up. It is therefore no surprise that they have not lost since 2019.
This friendly might yet provide a clue to Argentina’s starting XI at the competition. Rodrigo de Paul will be crucial in dictating the play in midfield. Lautaro Martinez should lead the line, alongside Messi and Dybala.
A comfortable victory is on the cards for the 2021 Copa America winners. Scaloni will be keen to get his side scoring early to enable him to make as many changes and rotations as possible.
Poland vs Chile
Poland have the opportunity to weigh their quality against a tough opponent at home. The visitors, unfortunately, will not be in Qatar, having failed to qualify from the CONMEBOL region.
The hosts needed to overcome Sweden in the playoff final after finishing second behind England in the qualifiers.
Czesław Michniewicz’s men have had the luxury of facing some top sides this year thanks to the UEFA Nations League. Michniewicz must know how much is needed to compete favourably against Argentina, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico after struggling against Belgium and the Netherlands in the Nations League.
Poland will need to be incisive with their passing against a very physical Chile side. Grzegorz Krychowiak and Piotr Zielinksi will be tasked with the job of finding the spaces and servicing Robert Lewandowski.
Chile come into this on the back of a streak of poor performances, most of which are responsible for their lack of qualification for a second consecutive World Cup.
There is very little to play for, apart from pride and confidence. Eduardo Berizzo’s team remains aged, perhaps needing young and fresh additions.
Gary Medel will have his work cut out for him against Lewandowski. Arturo Vidal remains crucial in helping to retrieve possession, while Alexis Sanchez will likely lead the line.
On account of the quality of these teams, there will be goals in this fixture.
Croatia vs Saudi Arabia
Both teams will be at the Qatar tournament. Hence, this encounter should be quite competitive, at least for the first half.
Croatia will be confident of earning a comfortable win against the Gulf team. The Croats have been in impeccable form this year, which saw them qualify for the finals of the Nations League. Indeed, they finished top of the group in the qualifiers.
As Zlatko Dalic’s men aim to go one better than their second position, which they achieved four years ago in Russia, they will conclude preparations tonight.
Andrej Kramaric and Ivan Perisic will fancy their chances in front of goal. However, the real job will be Marcel Brozovic’s. The Chequered Ones will need his creativity and poise to carve open a rather defensive Saudi Arabian team. If Dalic opts to play Luka Modric, then the Real Madrid midfielder will also be pivotal in creating chances.
Herve Renard, on the other hand, has built a solid defensive team since his appointment. The downside, of course, is a team struggling to score.
Against a top side like Croatia, Renard will opt for his trusted strategy: commit numbers at the back and hope for a clear-cut chance on the break.
Based on form and quality, Croatia should do enough to win and score over 1.5 goals.
Portugal vs Nigeria
Portugal take on one of Africa’s best sides, Nigeria, tomorrow night. Fernando Santos’ men had to go through the long playoff route to qualify for the World Cup. But they are here now and will hope to go past the round of 16 in this edition, a stage they have not scaled since 2006.
In truth, the 2016 Euro winners have huffed and puffed this year, only finishing in second place in the Nations League.
Yet, this is a star-studded team capable of taking out any side on their day. Santos will be keen to achieve cohesion with this friendly against Nigeria.
Bruno Fernandes, who has been in decent form for Manchester United, will hope to start against the Super Eagles. His vision and pin-point passing will be pivotal in finding spaces behind the defensive pair of Chidozie Awaziem and Calvin Bassey.
While Cristiano Ronaldo might not start, AC Milan forward Rafael Leao will be desperate to prove a thing or two to the manager.
Santos will aim to control and dictate the pace of the game. The 68-year-old will be banking on Vitinha for this job. Rafel Guerreiro’s industry at fullback will be pivotal.
Nigeria will be playing mostly for pride after being pipped by Ghana in the playoffs for the World Cup. Perhaps Jose Peseiro might also see this as an important game in preparing for the 2023 Nations Cup.
In-form Napoli forward Victor Osimhen has withdrawn from this encounter due to an injury. However, Alex Iwobi, who has remained one of Frank Lampard’s trusted soldiers, will hope to make his mark in midfield. Ademola Lookman will also be eager to impress.