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SOCHI (Russia), June 18, 2018 (News Wires) - Dedryck Boyata replaces the injured Vincent Kompany at the heart of the Belgium defence for their Group G opener against Panama on Monday.

With Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen injured, Boyata was chosen to start in a talent-packed side that includes Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku.

Panama, who are playing their first ever World Cup match, start with a 4-1-4-1 formation with 37-year old striker Blas Perez, who scored the goal that secured their qualification, leading the line up front.

England and Tunisia are also in Group G and play each other later on Monday.


NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia, June 18, 2018 (News Wires) - Sweden won an opening World Cup game on Monday for the first time since 1958 and ended their worrying goal drought with a 1-0 victory over South Korea that was a must-win if they want to progress from a tricky-looking Group F.

After dominating the game but missing a string of chances, Sweden won a 65th-minute penalty when Kim Min-woo brought down Viktor Claesson in the box. Salvadoran referee Joel Aguilar initially waved the Swedes away, before being called to consult the Video Assistant Referee system.

In the second VAR-awarded penalty of the World Cup, Sweden's 33-year-old captain Andreas Granqvist stepped up to sweep the ball low and left of otherwise impressive goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo.

That fired up the hordes of yellow-clad Swedish fans, who had been fearful their team would misfire again after failing to score in any of their previous three games. Sweden had not won an opening game at any World Cup since 1958, when they were runners-up in their best performance to date.

The Asians actually began the game far brighter, pressing and harrying for the first 15 minutes against an initially sluggish-looking Sweden.

But the Scandinavians quickly found their rhythm, coping comfortably with Korea's attacks despite the absence of defender Victor Lindelof through illness.

The Swedes created a string of chances, most falling to Marcus Berg, who had one close-range side-foot shot spectacularly saved by Cho off his knee in the 21st minute.

As expected, both teams' single star players were at the heart of their best moves, the silky Son Heung-min busting a lung to try and drive Korea forward from the left flank, and the pacy Emil Forsberg constantly feeding Sweden's big frontmen.

Although not the most attractive of the World Cup games so far, there was a terrific atmosphere in the 42,300-strong crowd at the blue-and-white Nizhny Novgorod stadium next to a cathedral at the confluence of the Volga and Oka rivers.

Sweden next face Germany, while Korea take on in-form Mexico who pulled off a major shock by beating the world champions in their Group F opener. Few will give a chance to Korea, who have now only won one of their last 10 World Cup games.

MOSCOW, June 18, 2018 (MENA) - The Egyptian embassy in Moscow said on Monday that it has allocated in cooperation with Presentation Sport company a "Fan Zone" in St. Petersburg for the Egyptian football fans to watch the World Cup games.

In a statement, the embassy asserted that Egyptian folkloric shows are organized in the Fan Zone which runs from 12:00 pm till 12:00 am over the days of the tournament.

The Fan Zone is located in "‏Filologicheskiy Pereulok, 1, Sankt-Peterburg, Russia, 199034", the statement read.

MOSCOW, June 18, 2018 (News Wires) - Boosted by 2014 Golden Boot winner James Rodriguez and top scorer Radamel Falcao, a confident Colombia will be looking to demolish low-ranked Japan on Tuesday before moving on to tougher Group H rivals Poland and Senegal.

The Andean nation is ranked 16th to Japan’s 61st, and history is on their side too - Colombia beat the “Blue Samurais” 4-1 in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup.

“We’re going to conquer Russia,” Falcao posted on Instagram recently alongside a picture of the South Americans decked out in ties on their plane to Russia.

Yellow-shirted Colombia definitely conquered fans in Brazil four years ago with scintillating counter-attacking style and salsa-infused goal celebrations which propelled them to quarter-finals, their best result ever.

But they went on to have an uninspiring World Cup qualifying campaign for Russia. They scored just 21 goals during the grueling two-year, 18-match South American qualifiers and limped over the line with three points from their last four games to claim fourth spot.

The squad led by Argentine coach Jose Pekerman are vowing to boost their attacking prowess in the hard-to-call Group H and prove that their run in Brazil was not just a one-off.

“We have to take the initiative. We’re a team that’s characterized itself for that. We need to have confidence to go up front. But we also can’t lose defensive strength,” midfielder Abel Aguilar said on Friday.

Fresh from losing several friendly matches since qualifying for the World Cup, Japan is nervous at the prospect of facing AS Monaco’s Falcao and Rodriguez - on loan from Real Madrid at Bayern Munich.

Japan head coach Akira Nishino, a former international midfielder who took over in April, said last month that beating Colombia would be a “small miracle.”

Nishino has named an experienced World Cup team - including three players with more than 100 caps - Yuto Nagatomo, Shinji Okazaki and captain Makoto Hasebe.

“The quality of the Colombian team has gone up, and they have height and athleticism,” said Fortuna Duesseldorf’s Takashi Usami this month. “We have to adjust the quality of our ball delivery and the recipient’s timing to meet the ball.”

MOSCOW, June 18, 2018 (News Wires) - Robert Lewandowski and Sadio Mane face off in a mouthwatering World Cup shootout between two of European football’s most lethal forwards on Tuesday as Poland take on Senegal.

Bayern Munich’s Lewandowski finished the season as the Bundesliga’s top scorer for the third time with 29 goals, netting 41 times in all competitions.

Mane scored 10 Champions League goals - including one in the final in Kiev - forming a devastating strike force at Liverpool alongside Egypt’s Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino of Brazil.

“I believe Sadio can be one of the stars of the tournament,” said former Senegal player El Hadji Diouf, who played in Japan and South Korea in 2002, the only previous time the country has reached the World Cup.

Poland go into the Group H match at Moscow’s Spartak Stadium as favourites and are expected to emerge from a section also featuring Colombia and Japan.

Ranked eighth in the world, it is Poland’s eighth appearance at the World Cup, with coach Adam Nawalka’s side desperate to improve on the third-place finishes in 1974 and 1982.

Lewandowski admits he has a point to prove after a disappointing Euro 2016, when he scored only once as Poland exited at the quarter-finals stage.

The 29-year-old is finally reproducing his prolific club form at international level, setting a European qualification record with 16 goals in 10 matches to secure Poland’s place in Russia.

Lewandowski said he was entering the tournament in a different frame of mind from 2016. “I’m sure that training will be better now and that I’ll be fresh and dynamic at the right time,” he said.

“I started preparing for the World Cup much earlier.”

Poland received a boost in the lead-up to the tournament when defender Kamil Glik was cleared to play after an unexpectedly quick recovery from a shoulder injury.

The centre-back is one of the team’s leaders and his job will be to keep Mane quiet while remaining alert to other threats such as Monaco teammate Keita Balde.

Senegal will hope to emulate the pioneering team of 2002 captained by Aliou Cisse, now the national coach.

Cisse’s men opened that tournament with one of the great World Cup upsets, a 1-0 win over defending champions France, and went on to become one of only three African teams ever to reach the quarter-finals.

Cisse described it as “a great adventure” and wants his charges, ranked 27 in the world, to adopt the same fearless approach in Russia.

ST. PETERSBURG, June 18, 2018 (News Wires) - Egypt's Mohamed Salah is a looming obstacle as Russia attempt to virtually secure their place in the knockout stages of the World Cup in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday at 8:00pm Cairo Local Time.

Fears that poor performances from the home side could dampen enthusiasm in the host nation were blown away by a 5-0 demolition of Saudi Arabia in the opening game.

The seven-time African champions will pose a much tougher task, but a lot will depend upon Salah's fitness.

Liverpool star Salah has not featured since leaving the field in tears early in the Champions League final just over three weeks ago after landing heavily on his left shoulder and had to watch from the bench as Egypt lost 1-0 to Uruguay in their opening game.

Salah has been declared 100 percent fit by Egypt's team doctor and his agent, leaving little doubt he will be thrown back into action in the Pharaohs' hour of need.

However, as he returned to training Saturday, Salah was seen at Egypt's training camp in Grozny needing help from teammates to lift a training top over his head.

"Salah participated in training with his teammates for the entire session and he is ready to play against Russia according to technical staff," Egypt's team manager Ihab Leheta told FIFA.com.

Egypt coach Hector Cuper's decision not to risk Salah against Uruguay may have been influenced by the fact his side held out for 89 minutes before conceding to Jose Gimenez, by which time the Argentine had made all three of his substitutions.

"Russia's game is fateful and difficult because of our defeat against Uruguay," said Leheta. "Winning is our only choice".

If fully fit, the sight of Salah, who scored 44 goals in a remarkable debut season at Liverpool, will strike fear into the Russians.

Concerns Russia could become just the second host nation to bow out of the World Cup at the group stage after a seven-game winless run ahead of the tournament have been alleviated by a perfect start.

With Uruguay favourites to top the group, though, Russia are keen not to have to rely on getting something from their final group game against the two-time former world champions.

"The second game will be our most important one in the group stage," said Russia's deputy prime minister and former football federation president Vitaly Mutko after attending Russia's training session on Sunday.

A close ally of President Vladimir Putin, Mutko oversaw preparations for the tournament at a cost of more than $13 billion.

"In the first match, everyone saw how much the players cared. If we play up to our level, I don't see any problems."

Denis Cheryshev was Russia's hero against Saudi Arabia as he came off the bench to score twice.

And the Villarreal winger accepted it will be a more "interesting" clash if Salah is fit.

"If he's not there, does that mean our task becomes easy? Not at all," he told FIFA.com "If he plays, it will be hard but more interesting. He's one of the best and you always want to compete with the best and win."

Russia will be without one of their key players, with Alan Dzagoev expected to miss the rest of the tournament with a hamstring injury.

Tuesday's matches all times Cairo Local Time:
2:00pm         Colombia     vs      Japan    
5:00pm         Poland        vs      Senegal    
8:00pm         Egypt          vs      Russia   

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