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  Sports   Football  09 Jun 2018  European teams set to rule semis line-up

European teams set to rule semis line-up

THE ASIAN AGE. | NOVY KAPADIA
Published : Jun 9, 2018, 12:18 am IST
Updated : Jun 9, 2018, 12:18 am IST

In the 20 previous World Cups, only twice has a non-European or South American country qualified for the semi-finals.

Mohammed Salah
 Mohammed Salah

In the 20 previous World Cups, only twice has a non-European or South American country qualified for the semi-finals. They are USA in the inaugural edition in 1930 and South Korea when they co-hosted the World Cup in 2002 and enjoyed considerable home advantage. It is extremely unlikely that this trend will change in the 21st World Cup in Russia starting on June 14.

The expected semi-finals line up will be either two from South America and two from Europe or three from Europe and one from South America. In case Brazil are upset earlier (they could face a tricky quarter-final against Belgium), then in Russia 2018 like in Spain 1982 and Germany 2006 there could be all four European countries in the semi-finals.

There are five African and five Asian nations in the fray. The best chance for an African nation to progress is Egypt in Group A. However it will all depend on ace forward Mohammed Salah’s fitness and form. He is likely to miss the opening game against Uruguay (June 15). If his damaged shoulder recovers, he could play against Russia on June 19. The hosts are considerably weakened as two of their main central defenders Victor Vasin and Georgiy Dzhikiya are injured and unavailable.

If Salah is fully fit and can penetrate with speed from the flanks and combine well with either striker Kouka or Ramadhan Sobhi, Egypt could trouble the ageing Russian defence. Most of the Russian back four are over 30 years old and expectations are limited. Former USSR defender Alexander Bobonov has said that it is the weakest Russian national team in history.

So Egypt need at least a point against Russia and then hope for all three points against Saudi Arabia in their last group match on 25 June. But to progress they need Salah to be fully fit.

Iran are Asia’s best team but they are in the toughest group along with favourites Spain and Euro 2016 champions Portugal and Morocco. Iran and Morocco face off in their opening fixture on 15 June. If it ends in a draw, both will get eliminated in the group stage.

Similarly a much improved Nigeria, with their 64 year old German coach Gernot Rohr, have an outside chance of qualifying from Group D. Their opening two matches against Croatia on June 16 and debutants Iceland on June 22 are crucial. They need points as their last game is against Lionel Messi and Argentine on June 26.  Nigeria have never beaten Argentina in five previous World Cup appearances. The chances of Tunisia qualifying from G and Senegal from Group H are slim.

Among Asian nations Saudi Arabia, Iran and Australia can at best hope to come third in their group. South Korea coached by Shin tae Young, the Asian Jose Mourinho, can progress if they get points in their opening two fixtures against Sweden on June 18 and Mexico on June 23. They play world champions Germany in their last game on June 27.

Japan need to beat Senegal in the third of the Asia vs Africa clashes in the group stage on 24 June to entertain hopes of reaching the knock outs from Group H.

Tags: world cup, mohammed salah