Bellingham on rise; Ronaldo faces doubts ahead of World Cup

Bellingham on rise; Ronaldo faces doubts ahead of World Cup

The countdown is on 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.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, more (U.S.)

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 before the World Cup have taken place. How are the teams and players looking?

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 | Uruguay


Nations League results: Italy 1-0 England, England 3-3 Germany


Jude Bellingham: The clamour for his inclusion has grown over recent months, but two bright displays against Italy and Germany in this international break should have removed any doubt in Gareth Southgate’s mind over whether the 19-year-old starts in Qatar. Phil Foden was one of England’s better performers, but Bukayo Saka‘s lively cameo against Germany leaves the battle to partner Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling up front in Southgate’s 3-4-3 system finely poised. Luke Shaw justified his manager’s faith against Germany and is the front-runner to start at left wing-back.

Jude Bellingham showed that his hype is justified. Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images


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Trent Alexander-Arnold: Not starting is one thing. Not being in the matchday squad at all for England’s second game was quite another. Southgate then followed that up by declaring that Kieran Trippier is ahead of the Liverpool defender in England’s seemingly bottomless list of high quality right(-wing)-backs. That effectively means Alexander-Arnold is fourth choice behind Reece James, Kyle Walker and Trippier, making his spot in Qatar look very doubtful. Harry Maguire continues to enjoy Southgate’s support, but being at fault for two of Germany’s goals will only increase the wider scrutiny on the Manchester United centre-back.

– Olley: England’s players still believe in Southgate
– Ogden: England fail to prove they’ll contend for the World Cup



James Olley explains his reasons for leaving Trent Alexander-Arnold out of his England World Cup squad.


Southgate would have made the “stock down” section himself but for England’s second-half fightback against Germany in which the players showed they remain firmly behind a manager who has presided over a six-game winless run. Regardless, now the pressure is on to maximise the talent he has at his disposal, but perhaps one key factor above the rest explains his approach: England continue to lack a midfield pivot capable of knitting this team together. Therefore, whether they can retain the ball sufficiently against the best teams remains the biggest unknown. Improved individual form of several key players over the next two months would help, too. — James Olley


International friendly results: Japan 1-0 USA, Saudi Arabia 0-0 USA


Matt Turner: The Arsenal goalkeeper was about the only U.S. player to come out with this reputation enhanced following a 2-0 defeat to Japan and a 0-0 draw with Saudi Arabia. The Arsenal keeper was sharp and did plenty to keep the U.S. in both matches. Was it enough to stake a claim to the starting goalkeeper position? Manager Gregg Berhalter was tepid in his praise and still seems to have a soft spot for Middlesbrough keeper Zack Steffen, but Turner is certainly making the decision difficult with his performances.

Matt Turner staked his claim to be first choice in Qatar. Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images


Sam Vines: There were a lot of candidates to choose from, but the Antwerp left-back just shades it. Vines struggled in the Japan match, so much so that Berhalter opted to give usual right back Sergiño Dest a runout at left back. Things didn’t go much better with Dest there, but it still amounted to a missed opportunity for Vines to cement his position on the U.S. roster.

– Carlisle: USMNT creates little optimism in dour draw


It’s not quite full-blown panic mode, but it’s getting close. The U.S. managed just two shots on target across the two games, and any optimism surrounding the team’s World Cup prospects has evaporated. Is there any reason for hope? There is, but it centers around the likes of Fulham’s Antonee Robinson, Valencia’s Yunus Musah, Lille’s Timothy Weah and Crystal Palace’s Chris Richards all recovering from injury and getting some minutes with their clubs. — Jeff Carlisle


International friendly results: Argentina 3-0 Honduras, Jamaica 0-3 Argentina


Julian Alvarez: A striker with a great deal to offer in the years to come who scored the second goal of his international career in the win over Jamaica. The Manchester City striker linked up well with second-half substitute Lionel Messi, who scored two late goals, which could bode well for the World Cup.

Julian Alvarez showed signs that he could have a prolific future with Argentina. ANDRES KUDACKI/AFP via Getty Images


It is now 35 games unbeaten for Argentina, and one of the most interesting aspects of this latest triumph was that they ended it with a three centre-back formation — Lisandro Martinez coming off the bench to play on the left of a trio with Nicolas Otamendi in the middle and Cristian Romero on the right. Coach Lionel Scaloni may have half an eye on a post-Messi future but his focus is clearly on Qatar, and it was fascinating to see him experiment with a formation that he might use as a surprise in the course of the World Cup. — Tim Vickery

– Vickery: South America’s World Cup stars shine


International friendly results: Brazil 3-0 Ghana, Brazil 5-1 Tunisia


Pedro: There is always a clamour to see home-based players in the national team, and the focus in recent months has fallen on Flamengo’s in-form centre-forward Pedro, the leading scorer in the Copa Libertadores. He was called up to the squad for the September friendlies, but he had to sit on the bench for the game against Ghana and also the first half of Tuesday’s match against Tunisia. On he came at half-time with the game already won, Brazil 4-1 ahead and Tunisia a man down. This could have worked in his favour — the game would clearly be taking place in and around the Tunisia penalty area, where Pedro is strongest. The possible problem was that, with everything decided, the intensity of the match would drop off. This was surely the case, and Pedro had few opportunities to shine. He had a couple of dangerous headers, but was hardly involved in the buildup play. But he had his moment. When the ball looped to him he met it with a characteristically well-taken volley to score a goal that almost certainly seals his place in the squad for Qatar.

Pedro did his chances of selection no harm at all with a goal against Tunisia. Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images


Gabriel Jesus: It is hard to think of anyone in the Brazil squad who would be unhappy with recent developments — apart, of course, from those who were left out. The absence of Jesus was indeed mystifying. It is strange indeed that he has been a fixture in the squad, only to be dropped at the very moment that he has found his best form. It will be a shock indeed if the Arsenal striker does not go to the World Cup. But with Richarlison looking so sharp, Jesus can hardly hope to make the starting lineup.

– O’Hanlon: The flaws of the World Cup favourites



Alejandro Moreno explains why Brazil are the clear-cut favorites to win the World Cup in Qatar.


Everything is going right for Brazil. Every tactical formation used by coach Tite — he now has used three different setups — seems to work. But truly victorious teams have to play their way through the toughest challenges — something that Brazil have not had to do over the past year. Whether potential becomes reality might depend on the emotional control of the team when the going gets tough. — Tim Vickery


Nations League results: France 2-0 Austria, Denmark 2-0 France


Olivier Giroud: He became the oldest-ever player to score for France against Austria, at almost 36, and he showed again what he could do for this team. Coach Didier Deschamps is still not sure about calling him up for the World Cup squad, but at least the AC Milan striker has given him a lot of food for thought, even if he was more disappointing in the defeat to Denmark — like the whole team.

Youssouf Fofana: Despite a difficult second half in Denmark after replacing Eduardo Camavinga, it was a positive 10 days for the Paris-born-and-bred midfielder. He did well against Austria, who were very average, and he showed that he could be a good bench option for Deschamps. If he continues to play well with Monaco, he will be on the plane to Doha.

Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante: They were not there and that’s why their stock is up. Their absence confirmed how difficult it is to replace them and right now Deschamps is praying to have them both back fully fit and ready for the World Cup. Fofana did well on his debut and Aurelien Tchouameni is very talented too but they are not at the same level yet, as we saw against Denmark.

Olivier Giroud scored in France’s win over Austria. Tnani Badreddine/DeFodi Images via Getty Images


Dayot Upamecano: The Bayern Munich defender had a big chance to seize his place against Denmark on Sunday and he didn’t take it. He’s had to wait almost a year for his seventh cap, but he was at fault on the first goal and looked very fragile. In a highly competitive position, he will have to be very good with Bayern Munich now to convince Deschamps to take him to Qatar.

Eduardo Camavinga: This is similar to Upamecano. He had to wait two years for another cap, but he was poor against Denmark. He gave the ball away, looked lost and confirmed the reservations that Deschamps and his staff have about him. He is still so young at 19, and he will have time to play in World Cups — but it doesn’t look like it will in 2022.

Ferland Mendy: With Lucas Hernandez, Theo Hernandez and Lucas Digne all out, Mendy was the first-choice left-back for these two games. Overall, he was too disappointing, both defensively and offensively. It might be due to playing in a back five when he is in a back four with Real Madrid, but still, it was an opportunity missed.


Deschamps didn’t not learn much. The coach has too many players missing through injury and he played two quite experimental teams, both in a 3-4-1-2 formation. There were positives and negatives, but at least Les Bleus managed to finish third in their group and stay in the top division of the Nations League. — Julien Laurens


Nations League results: Germany 0-1 Hungary, England 3-3 Germany


Kai Havertz: With his brace against England, Havertz gave coach Hansi Flick food for thought in terms of how to configure his attack at the World Cup. Havertz at centre forward could end up being the preferred solution in Qatar.

Jamal Musiala: Continued his trend as the German player with the capacity to make exciting things happen.

Kai Havertz scored a superb goal in the 3-3 draw with England. Marvin Ibo Guengoer – GES Sportfoto/Getty Images


Serge Gnabry & Leroy Sane: There are worries internally at Bayern Munich about the form of both Gnabry and Sane, and this also plays into the national team narrative.

Nico Schlotterbeck: The Borussia Dortmund defender had an uncertain time against England which may bolster the case for his club teammate, Mats Hummels.


More doubts than positives about this team after a ponderous and ineffective night in a home defeat against a Hungary team with a plan, and then a topsy-turvy evening at Wembley. Can Germany smooth it all out? The clock is ticking. — Derek Rae


Nations League results: Spain 1-2 Switzerland, Portugal 0-1 Spain


Alvaro Morata: The latest international break served to show that Morata is still Spain’s best option at No. 9. The Atletico Madrid striker capped a decent performance against Portugal on Tuesday with the only goal in a 1-0 win to take his tally for Spain to 27 in 57 caps.

Nico Williams: After making his debut in the disappointing defeat to Switzerland, Williams, the younger brother of Athletic Club teammate Inaki, helped change the game off the bench against Portugal. His ability to run at the opposition posed a different threat after a one-dimensional performance from Spain for the first 70 minutes. He also set up Morata’s winner with a deft header back across the box to stake his claim for a place in Qatar in what was his first camp with Spain.

Rodri: Luis Enrique quite clearly has his eye on a Barcelona midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Pedri and Gavi, but Manchester City‘s Rodri will be giving the Spain coach a headache, and he was one of the best players against Portugal. There are no doubts about his place in the squad, but can he make his way into the XI? Veteran full-backs Dani Carvajal and Jordi Alba also strengthened their cases for going to the World Cup.

Alvaro Morata sent Spain to the UEFA Nations League final with his late goal against Portugal. MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images


Ferran Torres: Barcelona forward Torres remains the top scorer for Spain under Luis Enrique — now tied on 13 with Morata — but he has now gone seven games without a goal for La Roja. Couple that with the fact he has lost his place in the Barca side, with Ousmane Dembele and Raphinha preferred alongside Robert Lewandowski, and there are doubts about how big his role will be at the World Cup.

Borja Iglesias: The Real Betis striker is in great form in LaLiga, where he has already netted six times this season, but he was handed just 27 minutes against Switzerland and none in Portugal, despite Spain’s need for goals. While Iglesias will celebrate a first international cap at the age of 29, it looks like he may just miss out on the World Cup on this evidence.


It was a Jekyll and Hyde international break for Spain, who lost at home to Switzerland for the first time, ending an eight-game unbeaten run, before winning in Portugal for the first time to top their UEFA Nations League group and advance to the final four. Those results created more uncertainty around Luis Enrique’s side heading into the World Cup than there was before. It is obvious they will have plenty of possession in Qatar, but they still lack a cutting edge. They are prone to lapses in defence, too. In terms of personnel, not many players are nailed on to start, either, although the spine is likely to consist of Unai Simon, Pau Torres, Busquets, Pedri and Morata. — Sam Marsden


Nations League results: Czech Republic 0-4 Portugal, Portugal 0-1 Spain


Diogo Dalot: Scored twice in Portugal‘s 4-0 thrashing of Czech Republic in the UEFA Nations League. Dalot will continue to be second choice to Joao Cancelo but enhanced his reputation offensively at least. Cancelo, who was suspened against the Czechs and returned for the defeat to Spain, has never really reproduced his club form with Manchester City at international level, but is still expected to play in Qatar.

Ruben Dias: Returned to the defence alongside Danilo Pereira against Czech Republic and Spain. The Man City star was effective and could yet get the nod in Qatar.

Diogo Dalot scored a brace but is likely to be on the bench in Qatar. MICHAL CIZEK/AFP via Getty Images


Cristiano Ronaldo: Has come in for a huge amount of criticism in Portugal this week. The Manchester United forward missed a number of good chances, including in the final moments against Spain after coming off the bench. With a whole host of attacking options at coach Fernando Santos’ disposal, the discussion has now turned, as it has at club level, to whether Ronaldo is now more of a hindrance than a help.


Doubts over Santos refuse to go away after Portugal again failed to secure the home draw they required in a final group game. Last November, an injury time Aleksandar Mitrovic goal sent Serbia to the World Cup, and this week it was Morata who scored in the 88th minute to end Portugal’s Nations League hopes. With so much talent at his disposal, the fear is Santos isn’t the man to make Portugal contenders. — Dale Johnson


Nations League results: Poland 0-2 Netherlands, Netherlands 1-0 Belgium


Remko Pasveer: Surprisingly, coach Louis van Gaal selected the Ajax goalkeeper for the two Nations League victories. The 38-year-old, who made his debut against Poland, became the oldest player with at least two caps to play for Netherlands. He did very well, earned two clean sheets and made a couple of good saves. Nevertheless, Dutch analysts are 100% sure that Jasper Cillessen of NEC Nijmegen will be Van Gaal’s first choice in Qatar.

Nathan Ake and Jurrien Timber: In the Netherlands, everyone is proud of the number of quality defenders who are now at Van Gaal’s disposal. Both Ake and Timber did very well and are likely to be starting at the World Cup.

Cody Gakpo: The PSV Eindhoven star has now shown his capabilities at international level by scoring the first goal against Poland and assisting the only goal against Belgium. He is top scorer in the Eredivisie and been directly involved in 14 of the 28 goals PSV have scored.

Cody Gakpo further enhanced his reputation against Poland and Belgium. James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images


Frenkie de Jong & Memphis Depay: The two most prominent Dutch players left the squad early, having both suffered hamstring injuries in the game against Poland. De Jong’s injury looks less problematic than Depay’s. The World Cup, though, shouldn’t be a problem for either player.

Bruno Martins Indi: The AZ Alkmaar defender will now miss the World Cup due to an injury picked up in the Eredivisie match against Ajax.

Matthijs de Ligt: He is having a hard time under Louis van Gaal and didn’t play a single minute. Since Van Gaal took charge, De Ligt has only started six out of 15 matches, and he isn’t likely to be starter in Qatar. There was also bad news for Stefan de Vrij, who played just 25 minutes.


There are many reasons to be optimistic after Netherlands won their UEFA Nations League group with the most points (16) in League A. But while fans are getting optimistic, pundits saw many weaknesses when Netherlands were without key players De Jong and Depay against Belgium. Without them, the chances of an Oranje party in Qatar are slim — so they need both to recover from their hamstring problems. — Max Toemen


Nations League results: Belgium 2-1 Wales, Netherlands 1-0 Belgium


Kevin De Bruyne: There is no surprise in the fact that he was once again the most important player in his team. He can’t do it all on his own, unfortunately for Belgium, as we saw in the loss against the Netherlands (1-0) and when his magic doesn’t work, not much works for the Belgians. He will need support at the World Cup, but if he gets there fully fit and on top form, he will carry this team.

Amadou Onana: The Everton midfielder has made a good start in his Premier League career, and he had a chance to prove his progress with the national team and he did just that against the Dutch with a very solid performance, despite the defeat. He is still young and has a lot to learn but he complements Axel Witsel very well.

Michy Batshuayi: In the absence of Romelu Lukaku and with Dries Mertens and Charles De Ketelaere on the bench, Batshuayi had to make the most of his game time, and he did with one goal and an assist against Wales. It was tougher against the Netherlands, and he came off at half-time but he had a positive international break.

Michy Batshuayi enhanced his chances with a goal against Wales. JOHN THYS/AFP via Getty Images


Eden Hazard: The good news is that he played two games in a row, 65 minutes each time. The bad news is that he is still miles away from his best form. He probably will not get there for the World Cup, as he will not play much with Real Madrid between now and mid-November, when the team will fly to Qatar.

Thomas Meunier: His first half against the Dutch was very difficult, and he was taken off at half-time and replaced by Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco, who is more attacking. He played the whole 90 minutes against Wales, but he didn’t create much either in that game. He will be in the squad for the World Cup but not sure to start.

Youri Tielemans: He started against Wales but was dropped on the bench against the Dutch. It might just be rotation, but it doesn’t look good. He has been poor with Leicester this season and was not much better in these two games with the national team. There are plenty of options for Martinez in midfield, and his place in the starting XI is not guaranteed.


The win against Wales (2-1) was expected, but it was far from convincing. The loss against the Netherlands (1-0) had a bigger impact because of the quality of the opposition. Belgium didn’t play badly but showed their limits as well. Collectively, outside of De Bruyne, there is not enough with the ball, and defensively, the starting back three of Vertonghen (35), Alderweireld (33) and Debast (18) is not reassuring at all. — Julien Laurens


International friendly results: Mexico 1-0 Peru, Mexico 2-3 Colombia


Alexis Vega: Although Mexico lost 3-2 to Colombia on Tuesday night, one silver-lining is the inspiring performance from Vega on the left wing. Along with his goal, the 24-year-old was brilliant with his movement and passing in the final third, arguably having the best individual performance from a Mexican player in the international break. Manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino is a believer as well. After slipping up and saying that the Guadalajara player “could be a starter in the World Cup,” Martino quickly took steps back on revealing any possible final 26-man roster secrets: “Well, that is if I take him.”

Alexis Vega now looks certain to be on the plane to Qatar. Omar Vega/Getty Images


Fernando Beltran: There’s just too much midfield depth for El Tri. In a national team setup that seems to have no lack of central players, Beltran was one of the very few callups who didn’t receive a single minute over the international break. Of the current roster options who are the leading candidates to be left off the final 26-man squad, the Chivas player is now near or at the very top of that list.

– Hernandez: Collapse leaves a sour taste for ‘Tata’ Martino’s side


One step forward, two steps back. Following a vital but unconvincing 1-0 win over Peru last Saturday, Mexico then shot themselves in the foot by letting a 2-0 lead against Colombia turn into a calamitous 3-2 defeat. Anxiety and pessimism remains for a team that once aimed for the quarterfinals of the World Cup, but now might be fortunate just to make it out of the group stage. — Cesar Hernandez


International friendly results: Brazil 4-0 Ghana, Nicaragua 0-1 Ghana


Inaki Williams: Six years after playing his sole international match for Spain, Williams made his Ghana debut in as a second-half substitute in their 3-0 defeat by Brazil, and followed that up by starting their 1-0 win over Nicaragua. His interplay with Mohammed Kudus was one of the highlights of an international window that brought the Black Stars down to earth, and there’s little doubt now that the Athletic Club stalwart will be a key player in Qatar.

Inaki Williams will now be a key player for Ghana. Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images


Thomas Partey: He just can’t seem to get a break as far as injuries are concerned, with the midfielder being withdrawn from the starting XI against Brazil only minutes before kick off after feeling a problem in his knee. It remains to be seen whether Partey will be fit to return to action for Arsenal against Tottenham Hotspur in this weekend’s North London derby, but this was a reminder that coach Otto Addo must bear the 29-year-old’s frailties in mind while finalising his World Cup plans.


This international break was a reality check for Ghana, who were thoroughly outclassed by Brazil in the first half of their friendly, and then laboured to a narrow 1-0 victory over lowly Nicaragua, ranked 139th in the world. At least Addo was able to integrate new faces Tariq Lamptey, Mohammed Salisu and Williams, all of whom are contenders to start against Portugal on Nov. 24. — Ed Dove


International friendly results: Cameroon 0-2 Uzbekistan, South Korea 1-0 Cameroon


Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa: His value to this Cameroon side became even more apparent in his absence, with a series of would-be replacements for the rested Napoli man only serving to demonstrate how inferior they are. Beveren’s Georges Mandjeck was jittery against Uzbekistan, Martin Hongla of Hellas Verona struggled to impose himself against South Korea, while Samuel Oum Gouet of Mechelen was consistently ruffled by the intense press. Zambo Anguissa should be the first name on coach Rigobert Song’s teamsheet.

Nicolas Nkoulou’s return from international retirement did not go according to plan. JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images


Nicolas Nkoulou: He made his long-awaited return to the international squad, having previously announced his retirement in 2017. However, it was clear that the Aris defender is well short of match sharpness, and his error led to Uzbekistan’s opener in Cameroon’s penultimate friendly before the World Cup. He should have arguably done better for Son Heung-Min‘s winner for South Korea as well, and unless he can start featuring regularly for his club, it would be a gamble for Cameroon to start Nkoulou in Qatar.


Cameroon never feel too far away from crisis, and back-to-back defeats during this international break will likely prompt a pre-World Cup inquest from FA president Samuel Eto’o. Even though he bullishly claimed after the Uzbekistan defeat that Cameroon were still aiming to reach the World Cup final, this has been a bruising week. At least the Indomitable Lions will be stronger when Zambo Anguissa returns. — Ed Dove


International friendly results: Morocco 2-0 Chile, Paraguay 0-0 Morocco


Hakim Ziyech: The Chelsea forward had announced his international retirement in February when it became clear that the Moroccan FA were planning to stick with then-head coach Vahid Halilhodzic, who he had fallen out with. However, a change in the dugout led to Ziyech’s return, and he stepped straight into a key role. Against Chile, Morocco enjoyed the Ziyech of old — lively, inventive, confident, and making a major defensive contribution as well. Welcome back!

Hakim Ziyech’s return gives Morocco a new dimension. Fran Santiago/Getty Images


Youssef En-Nesyri: Fitness issues prevented the Sevilla striker from making his mark at the AFCON earlier this year, but the 25-year-old appears no closer to getting his career back on track. Zero goals in five league outings so far this term, and he struggled against Chile, with En-Nesyri’s poor control and body language suggesting a player low on confidence.


A victory over Chile and a draw with Paraguay is an excellent return for this international window, not to mention the vibrancy and the energy of the team under new head coach Walid Regragui. His arrival was always going to freshen things up after Vahid was dismissed, and his decision to restore Ziyech to the starting XI for the Chile game paid off. — Ed Dove


International friendly results: Comoros 0-1 Tunisia, Brazil 5-1 Tunisia


Taha Yassine Khenissi: He returned to the fold in March following more than two years out of the national team, and against Comoros scored his first international goal since July 2019. A former top scorer of both the Tunisian top flight and the CAF Champions League, the 30-year-old Kuwait SC frontman should still have something to offer in Qatar.

Dylan Bronn was sent off against Brazil. Justin Setterfield/Getty Images


Dylan Bronn: He lost his head against Brazil in an admittedly tempestuous atmosphere at the Parc des Princes, and his 43rd-minute red card for a foul on Neymar reduced the value of this fixture for both parties. Tunisia’s morale will also be dented by their 5-1 defeat, and Brazil took their foot off the gas too; Bronn’s lack of composure and concentration nearly cost them even more dearly.



There was such a gulf between Brazil and Tunisia in Tuesday’s friendly that it felt like a training match at times for the Selecao, who scored four goals inside the first 40 minutes. On one hand, Tunisia are unlikely to face a more rampant side at the World Cup, but how much will this mauling affect their confidence? — Ed Dove


International friendly results: Bolivia 0-2 Senegal, Senegal 1-1 IR Iran


Boulaye Dia: Now appears in pole position to lead the line for Senegal at the World Cup after being chosen by coach Aliou Cisse for both matches during this window. It was Famara Diedhiou who started the victorious Africa Cup of Nations final, but as the Turkey-based striker works his way back to full fitness, Dia was handed an opportunity to impress. His goal against Bolivia, coupled with a diligent, proactive pressing display against Iran, bodes well for his chances of starting against Netherlands.

Boulaye Dia has provided a fresh attacking option for Senegal. CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP via Getty Images


Ismaila Sarr: He could have had several goals in Senegal’s meeting with Iran, but despite the creative work of Sadio Mane and Krepin Diatta, the forward was guilty of several glaring misses as the Teranga Lions were unable to make it two wins out of two. Sarr will still start in Qatar, and has the potential to make a big impact, but this was an international break to forget for the Watford man.


It’s been a successful week for Senegal, with Cisse handing out debuts, assessing some of the fringe members of his squad, and overseeing two clean sheets despite the absence of first choice stopper Edouard Mendy. Even Nampalys Mendy, without a minute of league action to his name at Leicester City this season, was influential against Bolivia, and will forge a strong midfield unit alongside Idrissa Gueye. — Ed Dove


International friendly results: Australia 1-0 New Zealand, New Zealand 0-2 Australia


Jason Cummings: The Scottish-born attacker made his long-anticipated and deserved national team debut as a second-half substitute in the Socceroos’ 2-0 win over New Zealand in Auckland. He then quickly demonstrated why the masses had been calling for coach Graham Arnold to give him his chance by winning and scoring a penalty within 17 minutes. Cummings and fellow bolter Garang Kuol’s Central Coast Mariners side will only face one team that finished above them in the first six games of the A-League Men season before the squad is named, giving the attackers plenty of opportunities to press their case.

Thomas Deng: Australia’s under-23 captain put in a man-of-the-match performance in Auckland, providing a reminder of the talent that would have earned the 25-year-old far more than his two senior caps if it weren’t for a number of injury battles in the past few years. Set to return to a month of action with promotion-bound J2 League side Albirex Niigata before the squad is named, Deng will benefit not just from Arnold’s desire to foster a pathway from the Olyroos to the senior team during deliberations, but also from his ability to play as both a centre-back and right-back.

Jason Cummings of Australia thanks the fans. Fiona Goodall/Getty Images


Trent Sainsbury: As a veteran leader who has started for the Socceroos at previous World Cups and was an oft-called-upon contributor during qualifying, Sainsbury will almost certainly be picked by Arnold for the World Cup. His performance against New Zealand in Brisbane, however, where he made a number of errors that on another day could have easily led to a Kiwi opener, would have done little to assuage fears surrounding the amount or level of competition he has been getting since signing Al-Wakrah in Qatar. The 30-year-old is still an odds-on starter next to Harry Souttar — if the latter can get fit — come the Socceroos’ opening game against France, but it’s no sure thing.

– Lynch: Who will deliver on Arnold’s vision?


Two wins from two against New Zealand mean that the Socceroos will head to Qatar riding a five-game winning streak. However, as demonstrated by this very team setting a new world record for consecutive wins in qualifying, only to subsequently suffer a skid that forced them to go through the playoffs, such runs can be misleading. Three of the four halves against New Zealand – including two which featured what likely shapes as Arnold’s starting XI against France on Nov. 23 — suggest that all the foibles remain, particularly in possession that led to that slide in results. Arnold will have them believing heading into the tournament and they’ll be suited to playing against higher-fancied sides on the counter, but it’s going to be very, very difficult. — Joey Lynch


International friendly results: IR Iran 1-0 Uruguay, Senegal 1-1 IR Iran


Ehsan Hajsafi: The only player to feature for the full 180 minutes against Uruguay and Senegal, Hajsafi looks poised to once again play a pivotal role for Iran now that Carlos Queiroz is back at the helm, after a rumoured fractured relationship with previous coach Dragan Skocic. The AEK Athens man’s versatility will come in handy for Team Melli, having been deployed in central midfield against the Uruguayans before filling in at left-back against the Senegalese.

Ehsan Hajsafi is a versatile option for Iran. Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images


Morteza Pouraliganji: Having been one of Iran’s two first-choice centre-backs at the last World Cup, it looks increasingly likely that Pouraliganji will have to settle for a reserve role this year — especially following his own goal after coming on as a substitute against Senegal. Hossein Kanaanizadegan and Majid Hosseini started in the heart of defence in both games and did decent enough jobs, with Queiroz known for being loathe to tinker excessively once he has settled on something that works.


A 1-0 triumph over an Uruguay outfit boasting the likes of Luis Suarez and Darwin Nunez will come as a huge confidence boost, as would their 1-1 draw with a Sadio Mane-led Senegal. Iran have every reason to believe they can reach the knockout round of the World Cup for the first time this year. — Gabriel Tan


International friendly results: South Korea 2-2 Costa Rica, South Korea 1-0 Cameroon


Hwang Hee-Chan: While Son Heung-Min stole the show with a stunning effort in a 2-2 draw with Costa Rica, the fact that Hwang was also on the scoresheet would have delighted South Korea coach Paulo Bento. Hwang has faced a real battle to force his way into the Wolves starting XI and is yet to score for his club this season, so it was pertinent that he showed he has not lost his scoring touch for the Taegeuk Warriors.

Hwang Hee-Chan will now hope to get more minutes back at his club, Wolves. Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images


Lee Kang-In: The Golden Ball winner at the 2019 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Lee was heralded as the next big thing in South Korean football — with some even suggesting he had the potential to surpass Son. The fact that Lee is still plying his trade in LaLiga suggests he isn’t doing too badly, but his failure to feature for even a single minute against Costa Rica and Cameroon highlights how he remains down Bento’s midfield pecking order.


Notching two wins from two usually makes for a satisfactory international window, especially given both came against opponents who will also be featuring at the World Cup. Tougher tests arguably lie ahead for South Korea in Qatar but they are travelling fine at the moment. — Gabriel Tan


International friendly results: Japan 2-0 United States, Japan 0-0 Ecuador


Daichi Kamada: With Japan crying out for a playmaker-in-chief since Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa exited the international stage, Kamada is slowly but surely emerging as a genuine option. Already with four goals in just five starts for Eintracht Frankfurt in the new Bundesliga season, the 26-year-old continued his free-scoring ways with the opener in a 2-0 win over United States and could make the No. 10 position his by the time the World Cup comes around.

Daichi Kamada scored for Japan against United States. Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images


Takumi Minamino: Speaking about heirs to Honda and Kagawa, the prime candidate a few years ago was Minamino after an impressive spell with FC Salzburg led to a dream move to Liverpool, which did not work out. Minamino remains a favourite of Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu but he has been underwhelming since his summer move to AS Monaco, and featured for just 67 minutes across the Samurai Blue’s two games.


A 2-0 win over United States — albeit with the Americans looking thoroughly uninspired — has to be seen as a positive result, especially with how Japan’s press seemed to work to good effect. The 0-0 draw with Ecuador that followed provided less to write home about but back-to-back clean sheets bode well for a team that will be coming up against both Spain and Germany in Qatar. — Gabriel Tan


International friendly results: IR Iran 1-0 Uruguay, Canada 0-2 Uruguay


Nicolas De La Cruz: The River Plate attacking midfielder did his chances a power of good with a wonderful free kick that put Uruguay on the road to a comfortable win over Canada. De La Cruz has not had an easy year, with problems of fitness as well as loss of form. But he would seem to have found his game at the best possible moment.

Nicolas De La Cruz was on target in the win over Canada. Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images


Ronald Araujo: Pulled up in the first 20 seconds of last Friday’s game against Iran. The diagnosis: a thigh muscle problem that needs surgery and leaves him racing against time to be fit for the World Cup. It leaves Uruguay with a centre-back crisis. Captain Diego Godin is also out of action, hoping to recover in time for Qatar. His usual defensive partner Jose Maria Gimenez is injury prone, and was forced out of this month’s matches along with the next in line, Sebastian Coates.


The standard formation for the last few years has been 4-4-2, with the attacking spearhead of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. Now they are ageing it is unlikely that the pair will be used together. But even if they were firing on all cylinders, there is pressure in the ranks to try something else. What to do? Can a team with Suarez, Darwin Nunez and Cavani really play just one up front? Is the balance of the side better that way? Or will they go with the tried and trusted two-man attack? Decision day is approaching for Alonso. — Tim Vickery

Author: Edward Smith