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MOSCOW, June 24, 2018 (News Wires) - France forward Antoine Griezmann is confident his World Cup form will pick up following a slow start.

Although he earned and scored a penalty as France opened its campaign with a 2-1 win against Australia, he had a quiet game otherwise and was substituted by coach Didier Deschamps with 20 minutes remaining.

Griezmann was taken off with 10 minutes left in the 1-0 win against Peru, following another frustratingly below-par performance.

But Griezmann, the European Championship's top scorer two years ago, is confident he can repeat his Euro 2016 exploits.

He tells French soccer show Telefoot, "I will get better and better. It was the same at the Euros. It was only after the (second round) that I started to play very well."

Les Bleus take on Denmark in their final World Cup group-stage outing on Tuesday.

Midfielder Paul Pogba praised Griezmann for his "enormous" work-rate when tracking back to defend against Peru.

Pogba says, "He's fighting for the team."

 

SOCHI, Russia, June 24, 2018 (News Wires) - Needing a win and plenty of goals to stay alive at the World Cup, Australia could finally call upon veteran Tim Cahill.

The 38-year-old striker has a chance to make his debut in Russia on Tuesday when Australia plays Peru.

The Socceroos need to beat already-eliminated Peru and hope France defeats Denmark in the other Group C match. If that happens, goal differential would determine which team moves on to the next round along with the French.

Cahill knows a thing or two about scoring in soccer's showcase event. He can become only the fifth player to score in four World Cups, joining Cristiano Ronaldo, Pele, Miroslav Klose and Uwe Seeler.

A spot in the Australia attack opened when forward Andrew Nabbout dislocated his shoulder in the 1-1 draw against Denmark. Tomi Juric and Jamie Maclaren are the other two players hoping to make it to the starting lineup in Sochi.

MOSCOW, June 24, 2018 (News Wires) - Toni Kroos’s last-gasp winner ensured that Germany remain right in World Cup contention but the holders are not yet safe from the threat of an ignominious group-stage exit.

A 95th-minute free-kick from Kroos gave Joachim Loew’s side a dramatic 2-1 victory over Sweden in Sochi Saturday, after a Marco Reus strike had cancelled out Ola Toivonen’s opener.

After beginning the defence of the trophy with a 1-0 defeat against Mexico in Moscow, another loss by the Black Sea would have eliminated Germany in the first round of the World Cup for the first time since 1938.

The spectre of the champions’ curse has been hanging over the Germans, who were in serious danger on Saturday of following France (2002), Italy (2010) and Spain four years ago in becoming the fourth holders this century to be humbled in the group stage.

The intervention of Kroos means now it is all to play for in Group F.

The four-time world champions must win by a margin of two goals against South Korea in Kazan to be absolutely sure of progressing. Failure to do so would mean relying on the outcome of the other match between Mexico and Sweden.

For now, at least, there is renewed optimism after a turbulent week.

Hummels to return

“We will look at the videos and see what we have to do better, but of course for our emotional side it was a very good thing today, because now if you have a game like this you start believing,” defender Mats Hummels said as he left Sochi’s Fisht Stadium.

Of the winning goal from Real Madrid midfielder Kroos, who had earlier been at fault for Sweden’s opener, Hummels added: “Something like this can be a big moment in the tournament.

“But if we lose against South Korea or don’t make it to the next stage, the goal isn’t worth anything, so we have to know that we got a little bit lucky and we have to show and to prove that we can be way better than we have been.”

The good news for Loew is that Hummels is likely to return for the final group game after being forced to sit out Saturday’s match with a neck problem.

“The doc said it was too much of a risk that something very serious could happen,” said the 29-year-old, who was replaced by Chelsea’s Antonio Ruediger.

Germany’s other first-choice centre-back, Jerome Boateng, will be suspended in Kazan after being sent off against the Swedes.

Rudy breaks nose

More changes will therefore be required after Loew dropped the underperforming Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira, bringing in Reus and Sebastian Rudy.

While Reus scored and came away with the man-of-the-match award on Saturday, Rudy lasted just 25 minutes before coming off with a bloodied nose.

“We have to take stock now, see what the situation is. We are tired,” said the coach.

“Reus started having cramp in his legs, Boateng will not be in the line-up, Rudy broke his nose and we probably need a day of rest.”

Germany are defending a proud record of always reaching at least the last eight at the World Cup since winning the trophy in 1954.

They have made it to at least the semi-finals at each of the past six major tournaments, going back to when Loew was Jurgen Klinsmann’s assistant in the 2006 World Cup.

Yet it is looking increasingly possible that Germany could be on course for a last-16 showdown with Brazil, four years after the 7-1 of Belo Horizonte.

“Right now I don’t think this is the time to start ruminating about that. There are still various possible outcomes,” insisted Loew.

ISTRA (Russia), June 24, 2018 (News Wires) - France midfielder Paul Pogba said the finals in Russia might be his last World Cup but he hopes he will be fit for more.

“It might be my last World Cup,” the Manchester United player, 25, told a news conference ahead of Tuesday’s Group C final game against Denmark.

France have already qualified for the last 16 and will secure top spot if they avoid defeat.

“I’m realistic, we don’t know if I’ll be called up, maybe other players will be better than me,” added Pogba.

“I hope I’ll play more. I’ve already had the chance to play two, some can only dream to play one.”

ROSCHINO, Russia, June 24, 2018 (News Wires) - They are hardly the words Lionel Messi and Argentina wanted to hear with their World Cup future hanging in the balance.Dejan Lovren raised the likelihood of Croatia resting players for its last group game against Iceland, as much to protect the six who are threatened by suspension via an accumulation of yellow cards than to rest anyone ahead the knockout stage.

That is bad news for Argentina, which needs to beat Nigeria in St. Petersburg and hope that Croatia avoids a loss against Iceland in Rostov in games that are being played simultaneously. Croatia is already guaranteed a place in the last 16 after two wins, while Argentina and Iceland are tied on one point.

"I fully understand Argentina's concerns and their wish for us to play a full team for the next game as well," Lovren said through a translator Sunday at Croatia's training base in Roschino, outside St. Petersburg.

"But we must also think about the fact that we should not be playing the players who have yellow cards. That's also our concern we need to keep in mind. The head coach is the one who will make the final decision. All of our players are ready."

Ivan Rakitic, Ante Rebic, Sime Vrsaljko, Mario Mandzukic, Marcelo Brozovic and Vedran Corluka are the six Croatia players who are one booking away from being suspended for the last 16. And with the Croats heavy favorites to top the group, coach Zlatko Dalic could yet play a virtual reserve side against Iceland. Players who have received one caution have it erased after the group stage. A second yellow card in the group stages means a suspension.

Having beaten Argentina 3-0 on Thursday to cause one of the biggest tremors so far at this World Cup, Croatia would be dealing another hammer blow to Argentina's ambitions.

Croatia's first-choice lineup is full of stars playing at Europe's top clubs, such as Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona) and Mario Mandzukic (Juventus), but the back-ups have had little exposure at major tournaments.

"No matter who is playing," second-choice goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic, who could get a start ahead of Danijel Subasic, said, "no matter who is in the first XI or not, we will try to continue and get three points."

With back-to-back wins, five goals scored and none conceded, Croatia has been one of the most impressive teams in Russia - so much so that some are starting to talk of Dalic's side as an unlikely world champion.

Especially with the likes of Argentina, Brazil and Germany heading into their last group games still not sure of advancing.

"Of course it has been a surprising tournament and there are no favorites right now, or no teams that are likely to be easy winners," Lovren said. "We must, of course, respect teams like Germany, Brazil, Spain and Belgium, who are all incredible teams.

"Right now, no one is showing on the pitch that they are far superior than any other team. Right now, Croatia is a dark horse, a bit of an underdog."

And no team with a central midfield of Modric and Rakitic can ever be discounted. Lovren even suggested Modric would be a contender for the world's best player of the year award if he played for one of the supposed powers of international football.

"Modric would probably be getting more attention than he is right now if he was a German or Spanish player," the center back said. "He would maybe even be a Ballon d'Or winner.

"Because we are a smaller country, he does get less attention than he deserves. We are all football lovers and we know Modric is an incredible player. He is one of the best in the world right now."

 

SARANSK, Russia, June 24, 2018 (News Wires) - Cristiano Ronaldo has scored Portugal’s all-four goals in the World Cup so far and the European Champions will be heavily dependent on the talismanic forward to see them through against a stoic Iran side in their final Group B match on Monday.

Ronaldo’s hat-trick in the 3-3 draw against Spain gave Portugal a vital point while an early headed strike, which made him Europe’s all-time top international goal scorer, against Morocco proved enough to bring home three points.

Portugal and Spain, who take on already ousted Morocco, are on four points and need a draw from their respective matches. But Iran are a point behind with three and must beat Portugal to progress.

The European sides will not only aim for victory but will also try to outscore each other with the top spot in the group set to be decided on goal difference.

The 33-year-old Real Madrid forward’s individual brilliance has glossed over Portugal’s dour performances in their first two matches and Fernando Santos’s side have mostly appeared like a one-man team.

In 26 matches competitive matches since Santos took over in September 2014, Portugal have won 20 and lost twice, with one of those being a penalty shootout defeat by Chile in the 2017 Confederations Cup. Of those 20 wins, 10 have been by a single goal and most of the others were against weaker opponents.

They lost the ball numerous times against Morocco which left Santos unimpressed. “We have to look at this, we lost control of the game,” Santos said. “We misplaced a lot of passes, we lost confidence... it was inexplicable.

“If in a match against players like they have, if you don’t have the ball, they wear you down and you get into trouble.”

On Monday, Portugal’s players will meet a familiar face in the opposition technical area in Iran coach and compatriot Carlos Queiroz, who coached the side from 2008 to the South Africa World Cup in 2010.

The stability and pragmatism of Queiroz’s seven-year reign, which will come to an end after the tournament with the Portuguese deciding to quit, has firmly established Iran as Asia’s number one team.

Iran benefited from a late own goal by Morocco to get their World Cup off to a winning start in St. Petersburg but then lost 1-0 to Spain in a hard-fought match in Kazan.

Stopping Ronaldo from scoring will be the team’s primary objective, while young Sardar Azmoun will lead the attack hoping to take the side past the group stage for the first time.

Queiroz has declared the Portugal match as the most interesting and important match in his seven years with Iran.

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