World Cup brief: Part two

We continue our look at the Chelsea players invovled at the World Cup and which countries they will be up against in Russia...

Belgium – Michy Batshuayi, Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard

Despite the return to their squad of Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard is set to lead Belgium’s World Cup challenge as captain. They may not be among the very top favourites, but they are one of the strongest sides in the next tier capable of moving to the next level and challenging the likes of Brazil and Germany in Russia. That was shown during qualifying, as amazingly they won nine of their 10 matches, a 1-1 draw with Greece in March 2017 the only thing between them and a 100 per cent record. That cause was helped massively by the Chelsea presence at both ends, with Courtois conceding just six goals – three of them in one crazy 4-3 win over Bosnia & Herzegovina – and Hazard scoring the same number in attack. They will also be helped in Russia by Batshuayi, who recovered from the injury he suffered on loan at Borussia Dortmund to be included in the Belgium squad, making his comeback as a substitute in their 3-0 friendly win over Egypt last week.

Group G opponents
Panama, 4pm, 18 June
Tunisia, 1pm, 23 June
England, 7pm, 28 June

Brazil – Willian

After a shaky start to the long-running South American qualification campaign, Brazil hit their stride after the appointment of Tite as manager and Willian has been at the heart of it. Playing predominantly on the right wing, our number 22 has featured in all but one of the Selecao’s matches in the last two seasons. Having started Brazil’s last four games, and captained his country for the first time back in November, Willian also seems to be in with a strong chance of making their XI in Russia. So impressive has his form been, it seems he has persuaded Tite to rethink his formation to give both Willian and Philippe Coutinho a chance to shine alongside Neymar and Gabriel Jesus in one of the World Cup’s most potent attacks. If they can continue the form that has seen them lose just once since the 2016 Copa America – including a run of eight consecutive qualifying wins, scoring 24 goals and conceding just twice in the process, Willian and Brazil will take some stopping.

Group E opponents
Switzerland, 7pm, 17 June
Costa Rica, 1pm, 22 June
Serbia, 7pm, 27 June

England – Gary Cahill, Ruben Loftus-Cheek

England will have been very satisfied with a qualifying campaign which saw them finish undefeated with eight wins and two draws, and Blues captain Cahill in particular after helping them concede just five goals in those 10 matches. He lost his place earlier this season after featuring less at Stamford Bridge, but has since fought his way back into the team at both club and international level. Following an assured performance and impressive headed goal in the warm-up match against Nigeria, Cahill seems to have the edge of Leicester’s Harry Maguire in the fight for the last spot in the Three Lions’ defence. Similarly, Loftus-Cheek is battling for a place in the starting line-up for England’s opening match against Tunisia, with just one spot seemingly available for him and Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli. He may just miss out this time, having only made his international debut in March after qualification was already secured, but with manager Gareth Southgate clearly a fan, don’t bet against Loftus-Cheek making an impact later in the tournament.

Group G opponents
Tunisia, 7pm, 18 June
Panama, 1pm, 24 June
Belgium, 7pm, 28 June

Germany – Antonio Rudiger

Despite his impressive showing in a tournament setting at last summer’s Confederations Cup, Rudiger may have to settle for a place on the bench in Russia this year, with the experienced Bayern Munich centre-back pairing of Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng proving difficult to dislodge in the German starting line-up. That was the role he played for the majority of a superb qualifying campaign, which Germany finished with a 100 per cent record by winning all 10 matches, scoring 43 goals and conceding just four, two of them after they had already qualified. However, having played all but one of their matches as they lifted the Confederations Cup, Rudiger is in prime position should Joachim Low decide the time is right for a change at the back.

Group F opponents
Mexico, 4pm, 17 June
Sweden, 7pm, 23 June
South Korea, 3pm, 27 June

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