World Cup – Things to look out for

Hosts Russia will launch the 2018 World Cup at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Thursday with the tournament’s opening match against Group A rivals Saudi Arabia.

Here, FP highlights what to look out for on Friday.

Portugal v Spain, Group B match, 7pm

Spain’s preparations were thrown into chaos when they sacked head coach Julen Lopetegui on Wednesday and placed Fernando Hierro in charge.

The 2010 World Cup winners must put their off-field troubles behind them if they are to make a winning start against the reigning European champions.

Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portugal team-mates will be ready to take full advantage if Spain’s world-class stars have lost their focus.

Egypt v Uruguay, Group A, 1pm

Russia’s group rivals Egypt and Uruguay start their World Cup campaigns in Friday’s early kick-off at the Ekaterinburg Stadium.

Egypt’s hopes rest heavily on the shoulders of Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah, who has been announced as fit to start after recovering from the shoulder injury he suffered in last month’s Champions League final.

Two more of the world’s best strikers, Barcelona’s Luis Suarez and Paris St Germain’s Edinson Cavani, are short odds to make goalscoring starts for Uruguay.

Morocco v Iran, Group B, 4pm

Iran are expected to be backed by a large following of fans when the two minnows complete the opening round of matches in Group B.

It will be the first meeting between the two nations, who are both appearing in their fifth World Cup, and is likely to be a tight affair.

Morocco qualified unbeaten and did not concede a goal in six matches, while Iran also finished top of their qualifying group and were undefeated in 10.

Media focuses on ‘big guns’

France and Argentina, among the favourites to lift the trophy, will hold their final media conferences before their opening games on Saturday against Australia and Iceland respectively.

Didier Deschamps will provide the latest update on Kylian Mbappe’s ankle injury and his team’s preparations from the Kazan Arena at 1.15pm.

Argentina counterpart Jorge Sampaoli will preview his team’s opening match from the Spartak Stadium at 7pm.

Also in the spotlight…

Australia (3pm) and Iceland (1.15pm) will also hold their final media briefings, as will Group C rivals Peru (11.15am) and Denmark (5pm), who face off in Saransk on Saturday.

Group C pair Croatia (7pm) and Nigeria (5pm) will also be staging media conferences ahead of their opening match in Kaliningrad on Saturday.

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Football Paradise Staff Reporter

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