Home Football Mount, Weah rise; Busquets, Jota fall

Mount, Weah rise; Busquets, Jota fall

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Jurgen Klopp confirms Diogo Jota will miss the World Cup with Portugal after sustaining a calf injury.

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

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.

World Cup finals bracket and fixtures schedule

JUMP TO: United States | France | Germany | Spain | Portugal | Netherlands | Argentina | Brazil | Uruguay | Mexico | Australia | Senegal | Tunisia | Morocco | Cameroon | Ghana | Japan | South Korea


ENGLAND
Fixtures: IR Iran (Nov. 21), United States (Nov. 25), Wales (Nov. 29)

Squad announcement date: Nov. 10

STOCK CLIMBING

Ivan Toney: Pressed his claims for the role as Harry Kane’s backup with a brace in Brentford‘s 2-0 win over Brighton. Another demonstration of his impressive penalty technique was particularly timely given England’s history of tournament shootout drama.

Trent Alexander-Arnold: Returned from an ankle injury earlier than expected as a late substitute in Liverpool’s win over Manchester City. Given the fierce competition at right-back, Reece James’ knee injury is inadvertently a boost for Alexander-Arnold’s hopes.

Joe Gomez: Impressed for Liverpool against City, although his chances of making a late run for the squad are remote.

Mason Mount: Is certain to travel to Qatar, but his place in the starting XI is less clear. He scored both goals in Chelsea’s win at Aston Villa, with coach Gareth Southgate watching on, and showcased his talent. Bukayo Saka is in a similar position and also made a match-winning contribution as Arsenal beat Leeds 1-0.

STOCK FALLING

Reece James: Has not given up hope of making England’s squad, but news that a knee injury has ruled the Chelsea defender out for up to eight weeks makes his involvement doubtful.

Jordan Pickford: The Everton goalkeeper made two mistakes in a matter of seconds against Tottenham, first failing to hold Matt Doherty’s tame shot before clumsily colliding with Kane to concede a penalty. Aaron Ramsdale excelling for Arsenal in that hard-fought win at Leeds might narrow the gap between them in Southgate’s thinking.

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

James was a probable starter, and so his absence is a significant blow to Southgate, compounded by the fact Kyle Walker is in a race against time following groin surgery. England’s defence already looked vulnerable, and it will concern Southgate that his options appear to be narrowing further with the tournament just over a month away. — James Olley


UNITED STATES
Fixtures: Wales (Nov. 21), England (Nov. 25), IR Iran (Nov. 29)

Squad announcement date: Nov. 9

STOCK CLIMBING

Timothy Weah: Plenty of eyes have been anxiously gauging the extent to which Weah has recovered from an ankle injury. Last weekend revealed some positive signs. Weah played 25 minutes off the bench in a 3-0 win for Lille against Strasbourg, assisting on two goals that put the game out of reach. While Weah’s spot on the roster isn’t in doubt, the fact that he’s getting on the field and contributing to his team’s attack could be enough to push him into the starting lineup.

STOCK FALLING

Aaron Long: The New York Red Bulls center-back struggled during the September friendlies for the U.S. and his run of subpar form continued with this club last weekend. The Red Bulls were eliminated from the MLS Cup playoffs due to a 2-1 defeat to FC Cincinnati, with Long showing both a lack of situational awareness and recovery speed when he allowed FCC’s Brandon Vasquez to run past him and slot home the game-winner. The loss means Long won’t have any games until possibly the World Cup. With Celtic’s Cameron Carter-Vickers back on the field, and with Mark McKenzie enjoying a solid run of form with Belgian side Genk, Long could be sliding down the depth chart.

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

It was a mixed bag over the weekend. In addition to Weah’s impressive performance off the bench, Joshua Sargent was on the scoresheet again for Norwich City in a 2-1 loss to Watford, his eighth goal of the season. Haji Wright bagged two for Antalyaspor, but the sight of Union Berlin forward Jordan Pefok hobbling off with an injury is a blow, even if he’s on the outside looking in for a roster spot at the moment.

There are also concerns in the back. Not only will Long be idle for the next month, the same is true for fellow center-back Walker Zimmerman, whose Nashville SC side were eliminated from the MLS Cup playoffs in a 1-0 defeat to the LA Galaxy. Manager Gregg Berhalter is holding a training camp for MLS players not in the playoffs, but who are in the running to make the final roster. The hope is that will somewhat mitigate the lack of competitive fixtures for some players.


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Craig Burley says Kylian Mbappe’s ego has taken over after rumours of his desire to leave PSG.

FRANCE
Fixtures: Australia (Nov. 22), Denmark (Nov. 26), Tunisia (Nov. 30)

Squad announcement date: Nov. 9

STOCK CLIMBING

Paul Pogba: Finally some good news around Paul Pogba! The Juventus midfielder is back at training this week after his knee surgery a few weeks ago and it is a massive boost for his World Cup participation. There are still question marks over how fit he will be comes mid-November but if everything goes according to plan and he doesn’t suffer any setbacks, he should be good to go.

Aurelien Tchouameni: For his first Clasico on Sunday against Barcelona, he dominated the midfield and showed so much personality and maturity that you would have never believed that it was in debut in the biggest game in the world, and that he is still only 22. Tchouameni was outstanding. He continues to get better and better at Real Madrid and will be the perfect replacement for N’Golo Kante.

STOCK FALLING

N’Golo Kante: This is the bad news that Didier Deschamps was dreading. Kante has a hamstring injury and is out of the World Cup. It is a huge blow for France as Kante has been so important for Les Bleus. His experience would have been very valuable too in such a tournament. It is a real shame and a big miss. France will have to find the perfect replacement for him.

Kylian Mbappe: After making sure that the whole world knew last week that he was not happy in Paris and wanted to leave PSG as soon as possible, Mbappe put a lot of extra pressure on himself. He was still good on the pitch with a goal and an assist in his last two games but he unconvincingly denied the reports about his future and his image is damaged too.

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

There is always so much happening around this team. Between the Kante injury and the Mbappe drama, the France head coach is kept on his toes the whole time. At least, the positive news of Paul Pogba returning to training made him happy.


GERMANY
Fixtures: Japan (Nov. 23), Spain (Nov. 27), Costa Rica (Dec. 1)

Squad announcement date: Around Nov. 11

STOCK FALLING

Leroy Sane: After another sterling performance, scoring a goal and providing two assists in Bayern Munich‘s 5-0 win over SC Freiburg, he has suffered a left hamstring muscle injury. He’ll be out until further notice and has to be a doubt for the World Cup. After being one of the form players in the Bundesliga, it could be a major blow for Germany. — Derek Rae


SPAIN
Fixtures: Costa Rica (Nov. 23), Germany (Nov. 27), Japan (Dec. 1)

Squad announcement date: Around Nov. 10

STOCK CLIMBING

Borja Iglesias: “The Panda’s” stock continues to rise. He produced the perfect No. 9 performance, goal included, to help Real Betis beat Almeria 3-1 on Sunday and climb into the Champions League places. With seven goals in LaLiga this season — only Robert Lewandowski has scored more — he is making it very difficult for Luis Enrique not to pick him for Qatar after he was handed his first-ever international cap last month.

Ansu Fati & Ferran Torres: If both were fit and playing regularly, they would be automatic picks. However, Ansu is still making his way back from two seasons of injuries and Torres has lost his place in the Barca side to Raphinha. However, both came off the bench in Sunday’s Clasico defeat to Real Madrid to remind club coach Xavi Hernandez, as well as Luis Enrique, that they can be useful players. Ansu brilliantly set up the goal which was converted by Torres and briefly gave Barca hope of a comeback.

STOCK FALLING

Sergio Busquets: Save injury, Luis Enrique will pick Busquets, but he must be concerned by his captain’s form. Busquets has made mistakes against Inter Milan and Madrid in the last week, costing Barca in both games. Xavi took him off on the hour mark each time. — Sam Marsden


PORTUGAL
Fixtures: Ghana (Nov. 24), Uruguay (Nov. 28), South Korea (Dec. 2)

Squad announcement date: Around Nov. 10

STOCK FALLING

Diogo Jota: The Portugal has been ruled out of the World Cup due a calf injury after being taken off on a stretcher deep into stoppage time during Liverpool’s 1-0 Premier League win against champions Manchester City at the weekend. It’s another injury blow for the Portuguese, with Wolves midfielder Pedro Neto having his World Cup dream ended last week too. — Dale Johnson


NETHERLANDS
Fixtures: Senegal (Nov. 21), Ecuador (Nov. 25), Qatar (Nov. 29)

Squad announcement date: Nov. 13

STOCK CLIMBING

Virgil van Dijk & Nathan Ake: The two Dutch defenders performed excellently in Sunday’s big Premier League clash between Liverpool and Manchester City. Van Dijk in particular produced an important headed clearance to prevent Erling Haaland from scoring a late equalizer.

Frenkie de Jong: Played the full 90 minutes for Barcelona against Real Madrid, but he couldn’t make the difference in a 3-1 defeat at the Bernabeu. It’s the first time in a month that he has played the whole match, and the midfielder was important in trying to cover Luka Modric.

Arnaut Danjuma: Once again proved his value for Villarreal. The attacker, who has recently returned from a long injury, scored both goals in a 2-0 win against Osasuna.

STOCK FALLING

Noa Lang: Was left out of the Club Brugge squad this weekend as coach Carl Hoefkens tried to “send a signal” to the talented winger. Lang was linked with a move to bigger clubs in the summer transfer window but has found himself on the bench this season. Hoefkens explained that Lang is having a hard time coming to terms with being a substitute.

Mark Flekken: The SC Freiburg goalkeeper suffered a 5-0 loss at the hands of Bayern Munich, which may affect his confidence. But he did have five clean sheets in his previous seven matches. — Max Toemen


ARGENTINA
Fixtures: Saudi Arabia (Nov. 22), Mexico (Nov. 26), Poland (Nov. 30)

Squad announcement date: Nov. 13

STOCK FALLING

Lionel Messi: He has won the Ballon d’Or seven times, including last year. This time, though, he was not even nominated. Messi has never been obsessed by individual awards, and this year the issue is almost certainly even less important to him than usual. It seems undeniable that the club game is not currently his priority, and that he has at least one eye and a half firmly fixed on the World Cup — when the biggest prize possible would be the chance to lift the trophy at the fifth attempt. — Tim Vickery


BRAZIL
Fixtures: Serbia (Nov. 24), Switzerland (Nov. 28), Cameroon (Dec. 2)

Squad announcement date: Nov. 7

STOCK CLIMBING

Richarlison: A shudder went through Brazil’s coaching staff on Saturday when Richarlison limped out of Tottenham Hotspur’s game against Everton, and things got worse when the player, in tears, said that the last time he had suffered a similar calf injury he had been out of action for two months — too long to be in consideration for the World Cup. The news on Monday, then, came as a great relief. The injury is less serious than feared, and Richarlison is only expected to be out for two weeks. This is important for him, as playing in a World Cup is his childhood dream, but also for the country. Richarlison has seven goals in the last six games, a run of form which has changed the way that Brazil are likely to line up in Qatar.

A few months back the most likely formation was with two wingers and Neymar as a false No. 9. Richarlison has obliged them to go with a centre-forward. They are not looking for someone to set up the play, they already have plenty of players to do that who can make the chances for Richarlison to finish. He is a straightforward, uncomplicated goal scorer with penalty area presence, and Brazil have no one else with his exact characteristics. His stock has risen even higher after 48 hours of contemplating Qatar without him.

STOCK FALLING

Bremer: The fight to be the fourth centre-back in Brazil’s squad will go to the wire. In theory, it is not especially important to a World Cup campaign. In practice it could be vital; on the eve of USA ’94, Brazil lost their first-choice pair of centre-backs to injury, and another went down in the opening game. The trophy was won with a duo who never imagined they would see action. Coach Tite appears unconvinced by Arsenal’s Gabriel, who was left out of the squad for last month’s friendlies. For the first time, Ibanez of AS Roma and Bremer of Juventus were brought into the squad. Bremer saw most action, playing the entire second half against Ghana. The injury that he picked up at the weekend, then, is a blow. The muscle strain does not look serious, but the timing is not good. — Tim Vickery


URUGUAY
Fixtures: South Korea (Nov. 24), Portugal (Nov. 28), Ghana (Dec. 2)

STOCK CLIMBING

Federico Valverde: The evidence of the weekend’s Clasico would seem to be clear: Valverde is now a star, with teammate Toni Kroos heaping praise on the young midfielder. Valverde is a number of players in one, with a combination of formidable lung power, solid technique, vision and mental strength. He is a big-occasion player, and his occasion is coming. Injury forced him out of the last World Cup but he now looks like the most important player in the Uruguay side. One of the tasks of coach Diego Alonso is to leave him sufficiently free to get the best out of him — even if it means three in central midfield and only one striker.

Edinson Cavani & Diego Godin: This will be the last World Cup for a group of Uruguay players who hauled their country back to football’s top table in South Africa in 2010. Have some of them hung around for too long? At the weekend, Cavani showed that he is playing himself into form and fitness at the right time with two goals for Valencia. And captain Godin was back on the team sheet — though he did not see action — for Velez Sarsfield in Argentina. Godin had a knee operation at the end of August so he will hope to have some game time at the weekend in the last round of the Argentine league, and prove to himself and others that he is fit enough for one final World Cup. — Tim Vickery


MEXICO
Fixtures: Poland (Nov. 22), Argentina (Nov. 26), Saudi Arabia (Nov. 30)

Squad announcement date: Nov. 13

STOCK CLIMBING

Hirving Lozano: The Napoli striker continued his recent exciting run of form with a goal during Sunday’s 3-2 win over Bologna. The 27-year-old winger has now scored three times in his last three appearances and is set to be a key figure in this weekend’s match vs. AS Roma.

STOCK FALLING

Diego Lainez: He spent another game on the bench for Braga, this time watching his side earn a narrow 2-1 victory against Felgueiras in the weekend’s Taca de Portugal clash. The young midfielder has struggled to claim minutes this season and didn’t make an appearance in his club’s last two matches.

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

With question marks regarding Lainez and other attack-minded names for Mexico, it’s highly important for someone like Lozano to continue his momentum ahead of Qatar. If El Tri make it out of the group stage, it’ll likely be due to a game-changing performance or two from the Napoli player. — Cesar Hernandez


AUSTRALIA
Fixtures: France (Nov. 22), Tunisia (Nov. 26), Denmark (Nov. 30)

STOCK CLIMBING

Harry Souttar: Playing his first competitive minutes since rupturing his ACL against Saudi Arabia almost a year ago, Souttar’s return to football with Stoke City’s under-21s was noted with a keen interest in his adopted nation, as well as observed in-person by Australia’s assistant coach, Rene Meulensteen. His attempts to work his way back into Alex Neil’s first team before the Championship breaks for the World Cup will be watched with an even keener eye.

The Scottish-born defender’s injury against the Saudis represented a sliding door moment for the Socceroos during qualification and, if fit, he figures as an almost certain starter for Graham Arnold in Qatar. Given that the Socceroos will open their campaign against newly crowned Balon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, Arnold can do with all the defensive help he can get.

Daniel Arzani: The youngest player at the 2018 World Cup, a disastrous four years followed battling injury and making ill-suited loan moves from Manchester City. Arzani has returned to Macarthur FC in the A-League Men in an attempt to rejuvenate his career. And judging by his goal and assist in a man-of-the-match performance against Adelaide United on Sunday, that’s going well. The question surrounding Arzani has never been if he has the talent to be a member of the Socceroos squad in Qatar.

The Iranian-born attacker’s willingness and ability to take on his defender set him apart from his peers. Instead, the question has always been if he could produce enough quality football in the opening weeks of the ALM season to justify taking him over his peers. And with Marco Tilio stuck on the bench at Melbourne City and Garang Kuol yet to feature for Central Coast due to Australia under-20s duty, performances like Sunday’s will help.

STOCK FALLING

Nathaniel Atkinson: Engaged in a fierce battle with Fran Karacic for the Socceroos’ starting right-back role, Atkinson departed from Hearts’ Europa Conference League tie with Fiorentina with an ankle injury after only 16 minutes, and subsequently left the stadium on crutches. Even if he’s able to make a recovery in time for Qatar, any extended period on the sidelines will open the door for his Croatian-born rival to surge ahead in the race to start.

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

The chaos and injuries afflicting Didier Deschamps’ France are giving Australian fans scope to whimsically dream, but the task ahead of Arnold’s side to even register a point in Qatar, let alone progress from the group, is still significant. Should Ajdin Hrustic‘s injury suffered with Hellas Verona prove serious, the outlook would worsen even more so. — Joey Lynch


SENEGAL
Fixtures: Netherlands (Nov. 21), Qatar (Nov. 25), Ecuador (Nov. 29)

STOCK CLIMBING

Sadio Mane: Despite overall Ballon d’Or disappointment, Mane was given the inaugural Socrates award, in recognition of his charity work, to cap off a fine weekend. He’s now had a hand in five goals in his last five games after scoring a deft close-range chip in Bayern Munich’s 5-0 victory over Freiburg, and appears to be firmly rediscovering top form as the World Cup approaches. Full-back candidate Noah Fadiga — son of 2002 World Cup hero Khalilou — netted his first Ligue 1 goal for Brest on Sunday, but was unable to help them avoid a 4-1 defeat at Nantes.

STOCK FALLING

Edouard Mendy: A seventh consecutive Chelsea game for Kepa Arrizabalaga between the sticks means Mendy hasn’t featured for the Blues since Sept. 3 and that controversial victory over West Ham United. Will he play again before the squads assemble for the World Cup?

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

Kepa’s sterling display for Chelsea against Aston Villa appears to have extinguished any hope Mendy had of making a return for the Blues under Graham Potter any time soon. What was a concern for coach Aliou Cisse is now turning into a crisis, with the keeper now likely to be without a game for a whopping 11 weeks by the time the Teranga Lions face Netherlands. — Ed Dove


TUNISIA
Fixtures: Denmark (Nov. 22), Australia (Nov. 26), France (Nov. 30)

STOCK CLIMBING

Hannibal Mejbri: A potential World Cup wildcard, Mejbri had previously been resigned to a substitute role at Birmingham City after moving to the second tier from Manchester United on loan earlier in the campaign. However, he’s now started their last two matches, playing 86 minutes in their 2-0 victory at Hull City, representing the first time in his career that he’s made the starting line-up for consecutive fixtures.

STOCK FALLING

Aissa Laidouni: Has now been absent for Ferencvaros’ last three fixtures — even though the club initially communicated his injury setback was not serious. Tunisia will be desperate to see the midfielder back in action.

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

Not only is wonderkid Mejbri now starting for Birmingham, but he’s also starring as well, with fans purring over his tenacious and controlled display against Hull. On recent form, he could prove to be a direct upgrade on Tunisia’s current starting midfield options, particularly if Laidouni’s injury is more serious than first feared. — Ed Dove


MOROCCO
Fixtures: Croatia (Nov. 23), Belgium (Nov. 27), Canada (Dec. 1)

STOCK CLIMBING

Nayef Aguerd: He hasn’t yet returned to action for West Ham United, but Aguerd posting a photo to Instagram of his return to Hammers training on Monday fuels optimism that he’ll be in World Cup contention. The defender, who underwent surgery for an ankle injury in July, will be an undisputed starter for Morocco in Qatar … if he can prove his fitness over the next month.

STOCK FALLING

Hakim Ziyech: Currently laid out with a virus, Ziyech missed Chelsea’s 2-0 victory at Aston Villa, but could be in contention to return against Brentford on Wednesday. The playmaker has only played four minutes in the league since late August, and as rumours of a January exit continue to swirl, Netherlands legend Marco van Basten has called on him to leave the club. Mason Mount’s excellent recent form means that Chelsea — unbeaten in the league since Ziyech’s last outing — aren’t exactly missing the Moroccan.

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

Defensively, the imminent return of Aguerd as well as Yassine Bounou‘s masterclass for Sevilla as they defeated Mallorca — the keeper made five saves and kept a clean sheet — should give Morocco optimism they can keep the likes of Belgium and Croatia at bay in Qatar. Besiktas’ Romain Saiss, however, still remains absent due to a thigh strain. — Ed Dove


CAMEROON
Fixtures: Switzerland (Nov. 24), Serbia (Nov. 28), Brazil (Dec. 2)

STOCK CLIMBING

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting: Marked his first start of the season with an outstanding display as Freiburg were pummelled 5-0 by Bayern Munich, with Choupo-Moting both finding the net and contributing an assist in a vivacious attacking display. At 33, the forward cannot expect to be a regular starter for Bayern, but he took this rare opportunity emphatically, demonstrating his match sharpness and enduring qualities. This was the kind of unselfish, intelligent display that should ensure he returns to the Cameroon squad for Qatar.

STOCK FALLING

Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa: The midfielder was again sidelined this weekend, having picked up an injury in Napoli’s Champions League victory over Ajax. After being diagnosed with a muscle injury in his thigh, he sat out the Partenopei‘s win against Bologna, and will also be missing for the AS Roma showdown on Sunday. Cameroon now face an anxious wait to see what his condition will be in come November.

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

Cameroon and Napoli have both had to manage Zambo Anguissa’s fitness issues already this season, so another setback for the influential midfielder is definitely a blow. Andre Onana‘s strong display and first Serie A clean sheet — he started his second league game as Inter Milan defeated Salernitana 2-0 — should ensure he remains coach Simone Inzaghi’s first choice until the World Cup break. — Ed Dove


GHANA
Fixtures: Portugal (Nov. 24), South Korea (Nov. 28), Uruguay (Dec. 2)

STOCK CLIMBING

Mohammed Kudus: Among Africa’s revelations of the season so far, Kudus netted his eighth goal for Ajax across the Eredivisie and Champions League — a remarkable turnaround considering he was pushing to leave the club before transfer deadline day — as they smashed Excelsior 7-1. Bursting into the box only seven minutes after being introduced, Kudus stabbed home from close range; just how valuable could this in-form goal-getter be for Ghana in Qatar?

STOCK FALLING

Richard Ofori: The Orlando Pirates keeper sustained an injury in Friday’s 1-1 draw with AmaZulu, yet another setback for a player who has struggled with his fair share of injury problems in recent years. A scan this week should determine whether he’s out of the World Cup, which would be a blow for Ghana considering his influence in the dressing room — he’s among the squad’s vice-captains — more than his on-field contribution.

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

Jordan Ayew returned to action for Crystal Palace against Leicester City despite an injury scare, while Daniel Amartey also got some game time for the Foxes as he returned to the starting XI. Both players could have key roles to play for Ghana, and coach Otto Addo certainly needs his experienced campaigners to be fit and sharp if they’re to escape Group H. — Ed Dove


JAPAN
Fixtures: Germany (Nov. 23), Costa Rica (Nov. 27), Spain (Dec. 1)

STOCK CLIMBING

Daichi Kamada: As question marks continue to be raised over the form and fitness of Japan’s primary attacking options, it is becoming increasingly difficult for coach Hajime Moriyasu to ignore Kamada — even if the 26-year-old is yet to earn himself an automatic starting XI berth. The Eintracht Frankfurt man’s penalty brace in the weekend’s 5-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen took his tally in the Bundesliga this season to six goals — joint-fourth highest in the entire league. Already one of his team’s playmakers-in-chief, Kamada is now thriving under increased responsibility playing for a side also featuring in the Champions League.

STOCK FALLING

Ko Itakura: Through no fault of his own, Itakura is now running a real risk of missing out on Japan’s World Cup squad — having previously looked a certainty to at least be one of the main defensive backups. Currently recovering from a ligament strain in his left knee, which halted a fine start to the season with new club Borussia Monchengladbach, Itakura is not only facing a race against time to regain full fitness but his spot is now under pressure with the improving form of Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu and Kawasaki Frontale captain Shogo Taniguchi.

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

How Japan fare at the World Cup will really depend on how open Moriyasu is to deviating from the tried-and-tested. He has a favourite starting XI that has undeniably gotten the job done in the past, but as their form heading into the tournament wavers, it remains to be seen if he can be convinced to give players like Kamada a deserved chance to play a leading role — even if they have not proven they can do so previously. — Gabriel Tan


SOUTH KOREA
Fixtures: Uruguay (Nov. 24), Ghana (Nov. 28), Portugal (Dec. 2)

STOCK CLIMBING

Lee Kang-In: Once regarded as the next big thing in South Korean football, Lee’s stock did drop in the previous international window after he failed to get a single minute of action in friendlies against Costa Rica and Cameroon. Nonetheless, the 21-year-old can hardly do more to impress South Korea coach Paulo Bento with Mallorca, racking up three assists in nine games so far (joint-second in LaLiga) despite his team’s inconsistent performances thus far. Lee should make Bento’s squad, but he should already have been given a chance to show what he can offer his national team.

STOCK FALLING

Jung Woo-Young: One player Bento clearly likes is Jung, and it is not difficult to see why — as the deepest midfielder in a team that like to push forward with pace, he offers a vital shield in front of the back four with his contentment for doing the dirty work. But Jung is not enjoying the best of times at club level, with Al Sadd making a surprisingly poor start to the new Qatar Stars League season, winning just two of their opening seven games after going unbeaten in the entirety of the past two campaigns.

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

The narrative surrounding South Korea will always be centred around Son Heung-Min and how his displays will directly influence the Taegeuk Warriors’ prospects, but in Lee they have a viable alternative capable of also producing a star turn. There is a way that Bento can fit Lee into his starting XI without losing that extra bit of security which Jung offers, with Hwang In-Beom also capable of playing in a deep-lying position. But like with Moriyasu and Japan, it remains to be seen how adventurous Bento is willing to be with little time left to prepare for the World Cup. — Gabriel Tan

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