The days are counting down to the start of the World Cup in Qatar, with the host nation kicking it all off on Nov. 20, when they take on Ecuador.

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All 32 finalists are making their closing plans for the tournament, hoping that star players head into the World Cup in top form and don’t get struck down by injury. Away from that, there are plenty of players desperately hoping to break into their country’s 26-man squad, which has to be named by Nov. 13.

World Cup finals bracket and fixtures schedule

Each week, we’ll take a look at the favourites to see how they are shaping up and also check in with other nations as their players either shine or struggle.

The final friendlies and UEFA Nations League fixtures take place this month, so how are the teams doing as the games approach?

Jump to: England | United States | Argentina | Brazil | France | Germany | Spain | Portugal | Netherlands | Belgium | Mexico | Ghana | Cameroon | Morocco | Tunisia | Senegal | Australia | IR Iran | South Korea | Japan

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Nations League fixtures: Italy (Friday), Germany (Monday)


Ivan Toney: Now has a real chance to impress in this international break. The role of backup forward to Harry Kane is up for grabs, and Toney is in good form, becoming the first Brentford player to receive a senior England call-up since Les Smith in 1939. Tammy Abraham is ahead of him in the pecking order at present, however.



Ivan Toney shares his pride after being called up to the England senior squad for the Nations League matches against Italy and Germany.

Aaron Ramsdale: With Everton‘s Jordan Pickford sidelined by a thigh problem, Arsenal goalkeeper Ramsdale can stake a claim to be England’s No. 1 in Qatar.

Ben Chilwell: The Chelsea full-back is back in the squad for the first time since November after a serious knee injury. Left-back — or wing-back, depending on the system — is another hotly contested position. and the 25-year-old could rival Luke Shaw over the next week.


Kalvin Phillips: The Leeds United midfielder may require surgery on a shoulder problem that could force him to miss the tournament. It would be a major blow for manager Gareth Southgate, who relied heavily on Phillips and Declan Rice in central midfield throughout last year’s delayed Euros.

Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho: Rashford will miss upcoming matches against Italy and Germany due to injury and his place in the World Cup roster is in doubt, as is the case for his Manchester United teammate Sancho.

Trent Alexander-Arnold: He is included but a series of mistakes at Liverpool will fuel Southgate’s preexisting doubts over his defensive reliability.


Expectations are high after reaching the World Cup semifinals in 2018 and the Euros final last summer. However, that optimism is tinged with self-doubt given some alarming recent performances, not least a much-changed team losing 4-0 at home to Hungary in June. The form of several key players is also a concern, but the depth of talent at Southgate’s disposal has never been greater during his six-year tenure. — James Olley

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International friendly fixtures: Japan (Friday), Saudi Arabia (Tuesday)


Ricardo Pepi: He was something of a surprise inclusion in the latest U.S. squad given that he hadn’t scored for either club or country in 11 months. But he has settled in well since being loaned to FC Groningen from Augsburg, and he scored his side’s only goal in a 2-1 loss to Sparta Rotterdam, giving him a valuable boost of confidence heading into the U.S. camp.



Matt Turner and Brenden Aaronson speak about preparing for the World Cup with games vs. Japan and Saudi Arabia.


Jordan Pefok: Pefok has done just about everything he could do to earn a call-up. He has scored four goals in all competitions and has been a huge part of Union Berlin topping the table in the Bundesliga. Yet it wasn’t enough to get included in the latest U.S. squad. Coach Gregg Berhalter insists that the door hasn’t closed on anyone, but Pefok’s exclusion doesn’t bode well.


There is still the expectation that the U.S. will reach the knockout stages. But the group is — at least on paper — the toughest in the tournament, meaning the U.S.’s chances of advancement are 50/50. Health also remains a concern. Midfielder Yunus Musah, center-backs Cameron Carter-Vickers and Chris Richards, and left-back Antonee Robinson are all missing out on friendlies against Japan and Saudi Arabia due to injury. The absences along the backline will rob the U.S. of developing some valuable chemistry during this window.

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International friendly fixtures: Honduras (Friday), Jamaica (Tuesday)


Thiago Almada: The big winner of the latest Argentina squad. The Atlanta United FC attacking midfielder is the only player to force his way in from outside. That aside, there are few changes on this roster — which is not hard to understand given the team’s recent record.

Lisandro Martinez: In the battle to put pressure on Nicolas Otamendi as the left centre-back, the profile of Martinez has almost certainly risen as a result of his move to Manchester United.


Marcos Senesi: The move from the Eredivisie to the Premier League may prove beneficial for Martinez, but the same does not apply to Senesi, a direct competitor for a place in the squad. He made his debut in the last match, but now pays for a cruel introduction to life at Bournemouth, where, barely knowing his new teammates, he was sent out to face Arsenal (lost 3-0) and Liverpool (lost 9-0). Facundo Medina of Lens has taken his spot.

Paulo Dybala: An injury with new club AS Roma has come at an unfortunate time — just when he finally was starting to look more comfortable in an Argentina shirt.


Unbeaten over the past three years (33 games), Argentina are looking extremely good, with a possession-based midfield bringing Lionel Messi into play close to the opposing goal, Angel Di Maria fizzing around to good effect and Messi forming an important relationship with centre-forward Lautaro Martinez. There might be question marks about the defence, but this is a team that have only conceded two goals in the past 12 games. Especially after their destruction of Italy at Wembley in June, Argentina have earned the right to dream of glory. — Tim Vickery

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International friendly fixtures: Ghana (Friday), Tunisia (Tuesday)


Pedro: There is always a desire to see home-based players in the Brazil squad, and the great hope is Flamengo centre forward Pedro, the in-form top scorer of the Copa Libertadores, who will certainly be handed a chance against Ghana or Tunisia this week.

Alex Telles and Renan Lodi: The long-term injury to reserve left-back Guilherme Arana sets up a battle to replace him — made even sharper by the fact that first-choice Alex Sandro has had to pull out of this squad. The competitors are Telles, loaned from Manchester United to Sevilla, and recent Nottingham Forest signing Lodi. The late inclusion of Serie A centre-backs Bremer of Juventus and Ibanez of AS Roma is also intriguing.


The Gabriels: The three Arsenal Gabriels have all been left out of current action. The absence of Gabriel Jesus is mystifying, as he has always been part of the squad while he was struggling — his last competitive goal for his country was more than three years ago — and it is hard to explain why he has been left out now that he is flying at club level. Gabriel Martinelli is squeezed out by the sheer number of options in his position, while centre-back Gabriel must be very disappointed after spending a year in the squad without making an appearance.

Philippe Coutinho: A firm favourite of coach Tite, Coutinho also has been handed a warning, replaced by Everton Ribeiro, another in-form Flamengo player. He has responded well at Aston Villa and still has chances of making the plane to Qatar.


Since losing the final of the Copa America last year, Brazil are 10-3-0, with 30 goals for and just four against. The rise of Vinicius Junior, Raphinha and Antony supplies plenty of attacking options and takes some of the pressure off Neymar, while the defensive unit has been performing so well that Brazil are barely conceding, and rarely look like conceding. A year and a half ago the mood was downbeat. It is now very optimistic. — Tim Vickery

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Nations League fixtures: Austria (Thursday), Denmark (Sunday)


Olivier Giroud: Many thought that the national team was over for Giroud, who turns 36 in 10 days. Yet he has been called back by Didier Deschamps. His form with AC Milan so far this season (four goals and one assist in seven Serie A matches) and the fact that no real alternatives have emerged brought him back into the squad. Now he has a good chance of making the World Cup.

Dayot Upamecano: The Bayern Munich defender has had a weird career with France so far. His last game with Les Bleus was back in November 2021, and it has been a bumpy ride for him since at club level too, being in and out of the Bayern team. There is a lot of competition for a centre-back place with France, and he needs to seize this chance.

Eduardo Camavinga: Two years after his last cap, the Real Madrid midfielder is back in the squad. More playing time, positive performances in the Champions League last season, and so far in this campaign as well, have convinced Deschamps to call him up again. With the injuries in midfield (Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Adrien Rabiot), he will have the opportunity to prove himself.


Anthony Martial: His last two caps, back in September 2021, were actually quite good and included a goal, but injuries have prevented the Manchester United forward from having a good run with the national team. He is still injured and it feels like, despite all his talent, Deschamps has lost faith and patience with him.

Moussa Diaby: Unlike others, he is fit and playing well with Bayer Leverkusen, as we saw against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League last week. Yet no Diaby in the squad this time. Deschamps preferred calling back Ousmane Dembele while Kingsley Coman is out injured. It doesn’t look good for Diaby before the World Cup.

Ibrahima Konate: We will never know if Deschamps would have called him up had he not been injured since the start of the season, but he was part of the last squad in June when France had a shocker (two losses against Denmark and Croatia, two draws against Austria and Croatia.) Time is running out for Konate.


Not great. French football is in absolute turmoil at the moment with plenty of scandals and incidents at the Federation involving president Noel Le Graet, around Pogba, loads of injuries to key players, the Kylian Mbappe image rights row. Les Bleus are under big pressure before their two Nations League games against Austria on Thursday and in Denmark on Sunday to save their place in the competition top tier. — Julien Laurens

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Nations League fixtures: Hungary (Friday), England (Monday)


Armel Bella-Kotchap: The inclusion of Bella-Kotchap, the 20-year-old central defender who joined Southampton from Bochum in the summer, is proof positive that coach Hansi Flick is not averse to springing a surprise.

Benjamin Henrichs: The RB Leipzig full-back can do his hopes a power of good after getting a late call-up, having won only seven caps for Germany after making his debut six years ago.


Mats Hummels: He has been left out of the squad despite consistently strong performances for Borussia Dortmund. Can he work his way back in?

Florian Wirtz: Dortmund captain Marco Reus misses this international window with an ankle injury, although it doesn’t appear as serious as first feared, and he should make the World Cup. It will be harder for Leverkusen’s Wirtz to win his race against time due to ongoing recovery from a torn cruciate. His club teammate Jonathan Tah has paid the price for the malaise that has enveloped the Werkself and wasn’t selected.


Hopes remain high that Germany can go far at the World Cup, although the lack of a pure centre-forward remains a conundrum with no obvious solution. — Derek Rae

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Nations League fixtures: Switzerland (Saturday), Portugal (Tuesday)


Borja Iglesias: Celebrated his first Spain call-up by scoring twice as Real Betis beat Girona 2-1 on Sunday. His six goals this season — making him LaLiga’s top-scoring Spaniard — have launched Betis up to third in the table. Iglesias, 29, has never represented his country at any level, but he now has the chance to convince coach Luis Enrique that he deserves to lead the line in Qatar in Spain’s Nations League games against Switzerland and Portugal.

Nico Williams: The 20-year-old has been called up in part to reduce the risk of him following older brother Inaki in choosing to represent Ghana, but it’s also a just reward for an electric start to the season. The Athletic Club forward scored his first LaLiga goal against Elche this month, and then joined Inaki on the scoresheet in Saturday’s 3-2 win over Rayo Vallecano. Williams has benefited from coach Ernesto Valverde’s more attack-minded style that has seen the Basques outscored by only Real Madrid and Barca this season.


Ansu Fati: His exclusion was the single most surprising element of this latest squad. He was previously viewed as so important that he was called up in June — the last time the national team played — despite not being fully fit, just to make him feel like part of the setup. It seems as though Fati is being penalised for a lack of minutes with Barcelona. He has been a substitute in all six LaLiga games, only starting against Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League. Luis Enrique says he’ll need to find his pre-injury form to make it to Qatar.

Sergio Ramos: A dramatic return for Ramos may have been unlikely — he last played for Spain in March 2021 before being left out of the rescheduled Euro 2020 given fitness concerns — but his increased role at PSG, starting seven of eight Ligue 1 games, had put him back into contention much to the excitement of the Madrid media. Instead, Luis Enrique left him out, preferring to look to the future with the likes of Pau Torres and Eric Garcia while avoiding the baggage and outsized influence that Ramos brings to the squad.

Iago Aspas: The 35-year-old hasn’t featured for Spain since 2019 despite being one of the most consistently prolific Spanish forwards around. If 51 league goals over the past three years — and five so far this season — haven’t convinced Luis Enrique, nothing will. Nobody questions Aspas’ talent, but opinions remain divided over whether his continued absence is down to a personality clash or a feeling that his playing style is more suited to Celta Vigo, where he’s the main man, rather than as a role player for his country.


Spain are unbeaten in eight games, a run stretching back to October 2021 and their controversial defeat — thanks to Kylian Mbappe’s ‘”offside” goal — to France in the Nations League final. That narrow loss, coupled with the way they impressed in a penalty shootout exit against Italy in the Euro 2020 semifinals, suggest Spain should be considered serious contenders to make the latter stages at the very least. This is a young, talented squad — just look at Pedri and Gavi — that lacks established world-class players, but is galvanised by the presence of Luis Enrique. He’s a controversial figure at home given his abrupt demeanour and past antagonistic relationship with Real Madrid, but it’s hard to argue he isn’t among the best coaches working at international level, with a clearly defined playing style and a willingness to make bold, unpopular decisions for the good of the team. — Alex Kirkland

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Nations League fixtures: Czech Republic (Saturday), Spain (Tuesday)


Goncalo Ramos: The 21-year-old, who has eight goals in 12 games for Benfica this season, has been called into the squad after Rafa Silva — named in the squad for the games against Czech Republic and Spain and a near-certainty to go to the World Cup — decided to quit international football. Ramos has been linked with a future move to Manchester United.

Tiago Djalo: The Lille defender has been named in the latest squad after a fine start to the season in Ligue 1. The 22-year-old has yet to win a senior cap for Portugal but could make the World Cup squad.


Cristiano Ronaldo: Out of favour at Man United and unable to find a move away from Old Trafford in the transfer window, it seems the Portugal captain will have to get most of his minutes before the World Cup in the Europa League. It’s not a situation he would have envisaged when returning to the Premier League club 12 months ago.


Santos still has many decisions to make over his midfield, with several options including William, Ruben Neves, Joao Palhinha, Vitinha, Otavio, Matheus Nunes and Renato Sanches — the latter of whom would be key if he were getting minutes at PSG. There remain question marks over the coach’s ability to get the best out of a squad full of attacking talent. — Dale Johnson

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Nations League fixtures: Poland (Thursday), Belgium (Sunday)


Remko Pasveer & Andries Noppert: Who will be the goalkeeper in Qatar? Jasper Cillessen is the most likely candidate, but recently the performance of Ajax goalkeeper Pasveer and Heerenveen‘s Noppert stand out. Pasveer kept Ajax in contention at Liverpool in the Champions League. Noppert is the most unknown, having played only 38 professional matches for smaller clubs in the Netherlands and Italy, but he gets his big shot at the age of 28.

Kenneth Taylor: The Ajax academy talent is called up for the very first time. The 20-year-old midfielder has made an impressive start to the season with three goals in seven Eredivisie matches and two good performances in the Champions League.


Memphis Depay: Had a stormy summer with reports of leaving Barcelona for Juventus. He chose not to go to Juve, and although he scored a goal while in the first XI against Elche, he has largely been benched. He is the most important striker, and coach Louis van Gaal explained during his news conference earlier this week he wants Depay to get more minutes (2 of 8 starts for Barca, average 16 minutes per game).

At the moment it is not about playing poorly when we talk about Dutch players, but that they are actually playing. Frenkie de Jong (4 of 8 starts for Barca, average 59 minutes), Matthijs De Ligt (6 of 11 starts for Bayern Munich, 61 minutes) and Stefan de Vrij (6 of 9 for Inter Milan, 63 minutes) will all need to play 90 minutes in Qatar.

Justin Bijlow: The Feyenoord goalkeeper had been a first pick for Van Gaal but is not in this squad. Van Gaal thinks he’s not in top form, despite four clean sheets in his first seven matches. He still joins the group in midweek for the scientific test to work on saves from penalties, along with under-21 keeper Kjell Scherpen.

Georginio Wijnaldum: Injured (broken shinbone) and is unlikely to be part of the final squad. But while PSV’s Luuk de Jong is also injured, he is likely to be back in a few weeks.


Denzel Dumfries (Internazionale), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) and Steven Bergwijn (eight goals in 10 games for Ajax) are all playing well domestically. Midfielder Teun Koopmeiners (Atalanta) is among the top goal scorers in Serie A and didn’t miss one single minute for his team. Tyrell Malacia is making his mark at Manchester United and could play at left wing-back, but Daley Blind (Ajax) seems to be Van Gaal’s first choice. But there are real concerns about those players who aren’t playing regularly.– Max Toemen

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Nations League fixtures: Wales (Thursday), Netherlands (Sunday)


Jason Denayer: The defender is still without a club this season after leaving Lyon in the summer, yet he has been called up by Roberto Martinez. The Belgium head coach has already announced that the former Manchester City centre-back will train with the team but not play the matches. Nevertheless, it is a huge vote of confidence for him to be there.

Lois Openda: The Lens striker has started the season so well in Ligue 1 (four goals in seven starts) and he is rewarded with the call-up. At 22, he is new in the Belgium senior setup (first cap came in May) but Martinez likes his pace and his energy. There is big competition for the forward places, but he has the momentum.

Wout Faes: The new Leicester centre-back has only one cap for his country, in November 2021, but his move to England from Reims will play in his favour. In a highly competitive position, he will not start at the World Cup, but he could be a good option from the bench.


Jeremy Doku: The big absentee in this squad. He has been struggling for form with Rennes so far this season (five appearances in Ligue 1, but just one start with no goals or assists), meaning no call-up. So close to the World Cup and with other players in great form in his position, it is not looking good for him.

Romeo Lavia: The 18-year-old Southampton midfielder got injured at the wrong time. He had started his Premier League career so well (five starts and a goal against Chelsea) and Martinez would have called him if he had not injured himself at the end of August. He will be back playing soon, but it might be too late for the World Cup.

Divock Origi: His current injury probably helped Martinez to make his mind up because had he been fit, what would the head coach have done? The Milan striker has experience but is not playing enough in Italy (47 minutes so far in Serie A, 33 in the Champions League) and Belgium have many more options in attack.


The injury to Romelu Lukaku at the end of August is really the only bad news for Belgium. For the rest, things are good. Roberto Martinez called up an extensive squad for their games against Wales and Netherlands, with 30 players. Eden Hazard is having some game time at Real Madrid for a change, Kevin De Bruyne is on fire at Man City, and the new generation (Amadou Onana, Openda, Charles De Ketelaere, Arthur Theate, Zeno Debast) is doing well at club level. — Julien Laurens

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International friendly fixtures: Peru (Saturday), Colombia (Tuesday)


Henry Martin: It wasn’t too long ago when there was widespread doubt whether Martin was even worthy of a call-up to the national team, but now he’s charging through the Liga MX season with 10 goals and five assists in 16 appearances for league leaders Club America. Keeping in mind that Wolves striker Raul Jimenez is overcoming injury concerns, Martin can prove that he’s worthy of a more significant role for Mexico in upcoming international friendlies.


Luis Rodriguez: Once a guaranteed starter for Mexico at right-back, Rodriguez has yet to even regain his starting role with Tigres after an injury setback earlier this summer. Coupled with a new generation of full-backs coming through for the national team, Rodriguez was left out of the latest international squad and is now a serious doubt for the World Cup.


After reaching the round of 16 in the last seven World Cups, just making it out of the group stage would now be seen as a success. A jittery run through World Cup qualifying and less-than-exciting friendly performances have led to a wealth of criticism toward manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino, who is reportedly looking to leave the national team setup after Qatar. — Cesar Hernandez

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International friendly fixtures: Brazil (Friday), Nicaragua (Tuesday)


Mohammed Kudus: Began the season out of Ajax’s first XI, and skipped training in an attempt to push through a deadline-day move. After that failed, he has gone on to enjoy the form of his career and has had a hand in seven goals in his past five matches. Now Kudus, not Thomas Partey, is Ghana’s great World Cup hope.


Joseph Paintsil: A bright light during a miserable Africa Cup of Nations campaign (where Ghana finished bottom of a group which contained Comoros), and with four league goals for Genk this season, Paintsil has the potential to be Ghana’s X-factor in Qatar. His omission from the squad for this international window is utterly baffling.


Ghana have improved dramatically since their AFCON debacle, defeating Nigeria in the World Cup playoffs and adopting a more nuanced approach under coach Otto Addo. The 4-1 defeat by Japan in June was a reality check, but newly converted call-ups such as Tariq Lamptey and Inaki Williams should immediately improve the side. — Ed Dove

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International friendly fixtures: Uzbekistan (Friday), South Korea (Tuesday)


Bryan Mbeumo: The Brentford forward has committed to Cameroon having represented France at youth level, and he’ll bring tenacity, dangerous movement and (hopefully) goals.

Nicolas Nkoulou: He returns for the first time since retiring from international football after the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations success. He has already featured at two World Cups — alongside current head coach Rigobert Song and Federation president Samuel Eto’o in 2010 — but has played just 19 minutes for Aris in Greece this season.


Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting: Song has overlooked two-time Bundesliga winner Choupo-Moting as the forward works individually with Bayern Munich’s fitness coaches to improve his physical condition. He has received assurances that he remains a key figure but has played just 33 minutes this term and made just one league start for Bayern in 2021-22.

Andre Onana: The No. 1 swapped Ajax for Inter Milan in the summer but has been restricted to Champions League duties as he has failed to dislodge Samir Handanovic in Serie A.


Eto’o has urged Cameroon to aim for the trophy in Qatar, although his decision to replace Le Coq Sportif as the team’s kit supplier with little-known One All Sports has overshadowed the Indomitable Lions’ World Cup preparations so far. There’s an element of chaos around the squad, but Cameroon are capable of scintillating spells. — Ed Dove

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International friendly fixtures: Chile (Friday), Paraguay (Tuesday)


Hakim Ziyech: Replacing coach Vahid Halilhodzic with Walid Regragui so close to the World Cup is a gamble, but it has opened the door for those players who fell out with the Bosnian to return. Chelsea’s Ziyech may be struggling at club level, but he could take this talented squad to a new level.


Nayef Aguerd: The influential centre-back sustained an ankle injury soon after making a £30 million move to West Ham United, and while there’s cautious optimism he could return to action ahead of schedule, he has his work cut out to get back to his best. This window is a vital opportunity for Regragui to assess his understudies: Badr Benoun, Jawad El Yamiq and Achraf Dari, among others.


Regragui is highly rated, and even though he lacks experience at this level, he has brought new optimism to a Morocco squad that didn’t always appear a happy camp under Halilhodzic. This is a squad brimming with quality and no shortage of match-winners, with Achraf Hakimi starring at Paris Saint-Germain. — Ed Dove

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International friendly fixture: Brazil (Tuesday)


Chaim El-Djebali: The wunderkind signed his first professional contract this summer and has only represented Lyon’s second team in the French fourth tier. He was part of the Coupe Gambardella-winning side and has represented France at U16 level but could now line up against the land of his birth in Qatar on Nov. 30. Angers defender Yan Valery, another player to have represented France at youth level, has also been handed his maiden call-up.


Mohamed Ali Ben Romdhane: The Esperance midfielder misses out after being taken to hospital for urgent treatment for appendicitis.

Hannibal Mejbri: The Man United player has hardly set the world alight on loan at Birmingham City, with just four substitute outings to date.


Wahbi Khazri has maintained his high standards after signing for Montpellier from relegated Saint-Etienne, and other key players such as Youssef Msakni and Seifeddine Jaziri continue to excel — albeit away from Europe’s biggest leagues. — Ed Dove

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International friendly fixtures: Bolivia (Saturday), Iran (Tuesday)


Noah Fadiga: Aliou Cisse handed Fadiga a maiden call-up after he broke into the Brest team this season. He’s the son of former Senegal midfielder Khalilou Fadiga and could provide a spiritual link to the iconic 2002 Teranga Lions team who reached the quarterfinals, even if an injury means he’ll have to wait to make his debut.


Sadio Mane and Edouard Mendy: Both enduring a slump in form at the wrong time. There won’t be too many concerns about the reigning African Footballer of the Year Mane; he went over 13½ hours without finding the net for Liverpool before firing Senegal to the AFCON title. For Mendy, a testing few months at Chelsea will get even worse if Graham Potter continues to stick with Kepa Arrizabalaga. He also misses this window with a knee problem.

Keita Balde: He has been ruled out of the World Cup after a doping violation.


A decent World Cup draw means Africa’s champions remain confident of making their mark in Qatar. However, Senegal are contending with injuries in key areas, while several members of the AFCON-winning XI — Nampalys Mendy, Saliou Ciss, Famara Diedhiou, Bouna Sarr — have been cut due to struggles at club level. It’s an unwanted disruption for this fine team. — Ed Dove

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International friendly fixtures: New Zealand (Thursday, Saturday)


Cameron Devlin: Garang Kuol and Jason Cummings may have grabbed the headlines of the first-time call-ups for a double-header of friendlies against New Zealand, but the terrier-like Devlin is playing week-in and week-out for Hearts in Scotland and could challenge for a midfield place in the World Cup squad.


Jason Davidson: He ended seven years in the international wilderness when he was called into the Socceroos squad for playoffs against United Arab Emirates and Peru but didn’t feature in either. Despite moving to Belgium and playing regularly for Eupen, he has missed selection for the New Zealand friendlies.


Coach Graham Arnold has been talking up his goals of a second-round berth, but the immediate target remains to secure a first World Cup win since 2010. Set to open their tournament against France, they’ll be eyeing every bit of drama coming out of Les Blues’ camp with glee. – Joey Lynch

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International friendly fixtures: Uruguay (Friday), Senegal (Tuesday)


Mehdi Taremi: Having established himself as one of the most effective strikers in the Portuguese league over the past three seasons, Taremi has continued his free-scoring ways in the 2022-23 campaign with five goals in Porto’s first seven matches. Sitting third in the league, the defending champions would be far worse off without their Iranian spearhead, who rescued them from what would have been a humiliating loss to Estoril at the weekend with a 99th-minute equaliser from the penalty spot.


Sardar Azmoun: Taremi’s strike partner for Team Melli has not had such a happy start to the new season. Having completed what looked to be a dream move to Bundesliga outfit Bayer Leverkusen last winter, Azmoun netted just once in 11 games in the second half of the 2021-22 campaign and has yet to open his account after 10 outings in all competitions this term.


Iran’s prospects of doing well at the World Cup recently received a huge boost — and not from anything related to playing personnel. The return of coach Carlos Queiroz to the dugout has been widely welcomed given his track record at previous tournaments, as well as the affinity he has with the squad. At Russia 2018, Queiroz memorably led Iran to a 1-1 draw against Portugal and only a narrow 1-0 loss to Spain, as they missed out on a round-of-16 berth by a solitary point. — Gabriel Tan

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International friendly fixtures: Costa Rica (Friday), Cameroon (Tuesday)


Son Heung-Min: It was almost certain that Son’s stock would be falling — until he promptly produced a 13-minute hat trick off the bench in Tottenham’s 6-2 triumph over Leicester. With that, last season’s joint-top scorer in the Premier League looks to be back in form, which will be a huge boost for South Korea’s World Cup prospects given he is clearly capable of performing at a level above the rest.


Jo Hyeon-Woo: The hero of South Korea’s memorable 2-0 win over Germany at the last World Cup after he produced save after save to keep the then-champions at bay, Jo looked destined to be the Taegeuk Warriors’ No. 1 for the foreseeable future. Since then, he has faced stiff competition from Kim Seung-Gyu and had to pull out of the upcoming international action due to injury. Forget being first choice — even a spot in the 26-man squad could be under threat.


As long as Son is in form, South Korea will always have a chance of causing an upset — even against the likes of Portugal and Uruguay. Other Europe-based stars such as Kim Min-Jae (Napoli) and Lee Jae-Sung (Mainz) are also in decent form, although Hwang Hee-Chan‘s tepid start to the campaign with Wolves could be cause for concern. — Gabriel Tan

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International friendly fixtures: United States (Friday), Ecuador (Tuesday)


Takefusa Kubo: After failing to break into the Real Madrid first team over the past three seasons, Kubo is enjoying a new lease on life at Real Sociedad. He continued to shine for Sociedad in the weekend’s 2-1 LaLiga win over Espanyol, assisting Alexander Sorloth’s 17th-minute opener after showing good determination to force opposition goalkeeper Alvaro Fernandez into an error. The 21-year-old is thriving with regular starting XI action, including a star turn in a recent 2-1 Europa League triumph over Manchester United.


Kaoru Mitoma: As one of Japan’s brightest prospects, Mitoma was primed for a breakout season after returning to Brighton following a year-long loan spell in Belgium with Union SG. He was always going to need some time to adapt, but the fact that he has thus far been restricted to four substitute appearances in the Premier League would still be disappointing. While his lack of action is unlikely to cost him a place in Hajime Moriyasu’s World Cup squad, Japan would certainly prefer for him to be firing on all cylinders.


The Samurai Blue will always be one of Asia’s strongest contenders at the World Cup, but there is a feeling this might be a transitional year for them. The likes of Maya Yoshida and Yuya Osako still offer a wealth of experience but are arguably no longer at the peak of their powers, and it could be down to the younger brigade such as Kubo, Ritsu Doan and Daichi Kamada to step up. — Gabriel Tan

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