VOLGOGRAD, June 22, 2018 (News Wires) - Ahmed Musa returned to the line-up with devastating effect as he scored both goals for Nigeria to help them resuscitate their World Cup hopes in a 2-0 win over Iceland at the Volgograd Arena on Friday.
Left out of his country's opening Group D game at the tournament in Russia, Musa showed his worth with two outstanding strikes that put the Africans back in contention for a second round place.
The opening goal, soon after a drab first half, saw him pluck the ball out of the air with his first touch before blasting it home. The second goal came in the 75th minute, when after a break down the wing, Musa cut inside and waltzed around the goalkeeper before firing the ball into the net.
Iceland's Gylfi Sigurdsson shot an 82nd minute penalty over the top of the bar, denying his team a chance to try to force a late comeback.
All three other teams in the group remain in the hunt to go through with Croatia, but Argentina and Iceland know they have to win to have any chance of progressing.
MOSCOW, June 22, 2018 (News Wires) - Belgium take on Tunisia on Saturday with their eyes set on the knockout round of the 2018 World Cup but fearful that star forward Eden Hazard is set for another bruising encounter.
The Belgians want to win at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow to avoid making their final group game against England on June 28 a make-or-break qualification affair.
The Red Devils opened their account in Russia with a 3-0 win over Panama on Monday, when Romelu Lukaku netted twice, but Hazard was tightly marked and occasionally clattered by the Central American opponents.
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez hopes the Chelsea player will not get the same treatment from Tunisia.
"It is a worry that in any of those tackles he could really get hurt," said Belgium's Spanish coach. "It doesn't worry me if that is just their way of trying to stop him."
History favours the Belgians. They are yet to lose to African opposition at a World Cup, while Tunisia have never beaten a European side at a finals.
The experienced Oussama Haddadi is set to replace Ali Maaloul at left-back in the Tunisian defence and Martinez saw plenty of danger for his team in the north Africans' opening 2-1 defeat to England.
"They have a lot of bravery and they're very dynamic," Martinez said.
"The players have a good understanding between each others and they can bring energy and intensity on counter-attacks. They play direct, efficient football."
After seeing Lukaku and Dries Martens grab the goals against Panama, Hazard wants to add some goals of his own.
Hazard, whose younger brother Thorgan is also in a squad considered to be Belgium's best for decades, is aware of the thirst for success back home.
"We knew it before the tournament. People say that Belgium would win every game but it's not that simple," said Hazard.
"We want to win, we won the first game and have another one Saturday against Tunisia. We take it game after game."
Belgium, ranked third in the world, reached the quarter-finals of Brazil 2014 and are aiming to match their previous best of reaching the semi-finals at Mexico 1986.
There was some good news for Martinez on Thursday when Barcelona centre-back Thomas Vermaelen trained for the first time in Russia.
Likewise Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany, who like Vermaelen is 32, is expected to return on Friday.
However, Tunisia will not make life easy for Belgium as they seek to provide a bright spot in a poor World Cup for African sides, with Egypt and Morocco already out.
"We lost a battle, but not the war," said Tunisian forward Fakhreddine Ben Youssef of the England game.
YEKATERINBURG, Russia, June 22, 2018 (News Wires) - Japan will look to further explore their attacking potential when they face Senegal in a battle of the surprise contenders to advance to the knockout stage from Group H on Sunday.
The Blue Samurai have largely worked on keeping things tight at the back since head coach Akira Nishino took over from the sacked Vahid Halilhodzic in April but saw their attack shift gears in Tuesday's 2-1 win over 10-man Colombia in Saransk.
"We had to start by building the base, which is defence," midfielder Genki Haraguchi told Kyodo news agency. "But with that base in place, our ability to attack and respond to different situations is increasing."
Victory saw Japan become the first Asian side to beat South American opponents at the World Cup but they are fully aware that Senegal, who scored an upset 2-1 win over Poland, could pose a sterner test at the Ekaterinburg Arena.
"We must keep our feet on the ground... we have to take into account that we played against 10 men for almost 90 minutes," skipper Makoto Hasebe said, referring to Carlos Sanchez's dismissal which gave Japan the advantage against Colombia.
"The next game will be a different story, we have to think about that," the defensive midfielder added.
Senegal come into the match equally high on confidence after a strong defensive display in Moscow helped them neutralise the Polish attack led by Robert Lewandowski.
"Senegal won due to discipline," coach Aliou Cisse, captain of the side which beat holders France in their first ever World Cup match in 2002, said. "You saw a Senegal team very solid, very compact."
With 10 of their starting XI from the last match playing in Europe, including Liverpool forward Sadio Mane and Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly, Senegal resemble a well-drilled European side and could make life tough for Japan.
Playing in their first World Cup in 16 years, Senegal carry the hopes of Africa with Egypt and Morocco out while Nigeria and Tunisia both losing their opening games.
Japan, who will bank on goalscorers Shinji Kagawa and Yuya Osako as well as Keisuke Honda to provide thrust going forward, are confident they have what it takes to seal a third trip to the last 16 -- the furthest they have reached at a World Cup.
Progress could result in a possible meeting with England or Belgium but Nishino is not looking too far ahead. "We'll focus on showing our strength in the next match," he said.
MOSCOW, June 22, 2018 (News Wires) - France might not have impressed in their first two World Cup matches, but they have already secured their last-16 spot and will use their last Group C game against Denmark to improve before the knockout phase.
Les Bleus needed a penalty, given by the video assistant referee, and goal-line technology to beat Australia 2-1 in their opening game, and they were shaken up by Peru on Thursday but won 1-0 thanks to a Kylian Mbappe goal.
They need to avoid defeat against Denmark on Tuesday to top the group.
With Argentina struggling in group D, Les Bleus could face Jorge Sampaoli's side in the last 16, but winning against Denmark is their only priority.
"Our mindset is to win this game, to finish what we've started, to improve," said striker Olivier Giroud, whose deflected shot led to Mbappe's goal against Peru.
Giroud believes France have to be more efficient, offensively and defensively, after Les Bleus failed to sparkle in their first two matches.
"We need to be more efficient in attack, and in defence. We have to improve and find that 'killer instinct'.
"But let's not forget that Peru were a very good team, who had conceded only three goals in their last matches, who beat Croatia, Uruguay, Iceland. We suffered but to me, 1-0 is the best possible result."
After their opening game, some France players had questioned Deschamps' tactics, saying they had no clear idea of what they were supposed to do, but the game plan appeared to be clearer against Peru as Les Bleus defended well.
"With Antoine Griezmann, we had been tasked to block the Peru centre backs, with Antoine also having to be in the zone of their number 6," Giroud explained.
"Everything was very clear and well oiled, we had worked on it at training and were ready to be aggressive and determined, which is paramount in modern football."
France know that they can rely on midfielder N'Golo Kante, who was pivotal against Peru, winning 13 tackles and creating space for his teammates.
"He's got 15 lungs. Football is so much easier with players like him," said Paul Pogba.
MOSCOW, June 22, 2018 (News Wires) - Mohamed Salah will not leave the World Cup early despite Egypt's elimination from the competition with one group game remaining, the country's Football Association has said.
Salah returned from an injury suffered in the Champions League final to feature in the 3-1 defeat against Russia on Tuesday, a result that ended their participation in the tournament and led to reports that he could be released before the final group game against Saudi Arabia on Monday.
However, Egyptian FA president Hany Abo Rida said Salah would not be leaving early in order to recover from his injury.
"I have no idea about Liverpool," he said. "But we have our captain Mohamed Salah and, under the rules, FIFA requires him to be inside his camp and requires him to stay with his team.
"He is happy to mingle with his teammates and he was shocked by what the press has written about him and denied it all on social media.
"We're all perplexed by what has been published and have no idea where it came from."
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, June 22, 2018 (News Wires) - Philippe Coutinho and Neymar scored injury-time goals to help Brazil beat Costa Rica 2-0 Friday at the World Cup.
Coutinho poked the ball past goalkeeper Keylor Navas in the first minute of injury time, and Neymar volleyed in another with virtually the last kick of the game six minutes later.
Neymar then broke down in tears and sobbed for several moments. His teammates helped him off the ground to celebrate.
It had looked like Brazil, after drawing its opening game 1-1 with Switzerland, was heading for another stalemate.
Brazil attacked relentlessly in the second half and was awarded a penalty in the 78th when Neymar was impeded as he cut inside defender Giancarlo Gonzalez. But referee Bjorn Kuipers went over to look at the sideline monitor and reversed the decision.
Brazil has four points heading into its final group game against Serbia on Wednesday.