Malta Independent

England wary of World Cup upset against US


England scor e d six g oals in its opening World Cup game against Iran, but it w as the tw o it conceded that concern coach Gareth Southgate and provide hope f or the United States.

"By the e nd we looked sloppy," said Southg ate of the 6-2 win over Ir an on Monda y. He also warned the U.S. would be coming "full-throttle" in Friday's Group B match.

The t ournament has alr eady produced some shocking results, including Saudi Ar abia's win against Ar gentina and Japan 's upset over Germany.

A win for the U.S. over England would not be on the scale of

Saudi Arabia's win - but Gr egg Berhalter's team is undoubtedl­y the underdog against one of the tournament favorites.

The two goals conceded against Iran gave Southgate something to focus on in an otherwise encouragin­g performanc­e.

His message to the players has been clea r: They will need t o be better against the U.S. team that tied 1-1 with Wales in its opening group game.

"They're a top nation with a lot of top players who have played in the Pr emier League and w ho we've come up against," said England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. "But it's about us as a squad being 100%. It's about us takin g the r esult fr om Ir an and going into the U.S. game positive."

One of those Pr emier League plays is Chelsea winger Christian Pulisic, a point of f ocus for England's defense.

"He's good with both f eet, very clinical," Pickford said. "We've got to be wary of him."

A win f or England would see it qualify f or th e r ound of the 16 with a game still to play - but the fate of L ionel Messi and Argentina is pr oof nothing can be taken for granted.

"It's what World Cup football is all about," said Pickford. "There are going to be surprises."

U.S. goalkeeper Matt Turner is predicting more of them at the World Cup.

"You see that the world of football is levelling out in a lot of ways," he said. "Teams have game plans. Teams have been investing in their youth academies over a number of years."

Striker contest looming as Dutch face Ecuador at World Cup

The contest between Ecuador striker Enner Valencia and Netherland­s forward Memphis Depay could help decide who wins their match at the World Cup on Friday.

The two forwards have different styles — Valencia is more powerful and direct, Depay more subtle and skilled — but are equally important to their sides.

A win for either team would move it onto six points and put it in command of Group A with one game to play.

Valencia scored both of his side's goals in the first half when it beat tournament host Qatar 20 in the tournament's opening game, taking his internatio­nal tally to 37 and extending his record as La Tri's all-time leading scorer.

Although he came off against Qatar after taking a knock to his knee, coach Gustavo Alfaro says "Enner will play against the Netherland­s, there is no doubt about that."

Returning from a nagging hamstring injury, Depay came on in the second half to spark the attack as the Dutch scored two late goals to beat Senegal 2-0.

Although Depay could again be decisive off the bench, he'll be hoping coach Louis van Gaal gives him a starting place.

After all, the 28-year-old Depay played a massive part in helping his nation qualify, netting 12 goals and six assists. No other European player had more goals and assists combined.

"He is a player who can make the difference," Van Gaal said. "He will want to play, but I have to assess his form."

Depay has added incentive to start because he needs one more goal to reach 43 internatio­nal goals.

That would move him one past striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar — nicknamed "The Hunter" for his ruthless finishing — on the list of all-time leading scorers for the national team. Depay is not far away from Robin van Persie's record of 50.

The first two of Depay's internatio­nal goals came at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where Valencia also netted twice during the competitio­n. Neither forward played at the last World Cup because their nations failed to qualify.

Iran will likely have backup keeper in match against Wales

With goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand likely sidelined after a scary injury in Iran's World Cup opener, backup Hossein Hosseini has a tall task against Wales and star Gareth Bale.

Iran, in last place in Group B after a 6-2 loss to England, faces Wales on Friday at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.

Hosseini has already faced a daunting opponent in Qatar, taking over when Beiranvand was stretchere­d off in the first half of the tournament-opening loss on Monday before England had opened the scoring.

Beiranvand was allowed to continue playing by Iran's training staff after a collision with a teammate, but later collapsed to the field and was taken to a local hospital.

Iran was not commenting on his status, except to say that he had a nose injury, he was back with the team and he had undergone tests.

The injury called attention to FIFA's concussion protocol. If it is determined that Beiranvand had a concussion, he'd be ruled out under FIFA's return-to-play rules.

The draw gave Wales a point in its first World Cup match since 1958 and a shot at the knockout round within reach. Bale, who played for Major League Soccer's LAFC this past season, now has 41 goals in 109 internatio­nal appearance­s.

Bale struggled with injuries and fitness for most of the year, but scored on a header for LAFC in the MLS Cup championsh­ip earlier this month. LAFC won on a penalty shootout after a 3-3 draw with Philadelph­ia.

He is not Wales' only threat. Kieffer Moore, a striker for Bournemout­h, could make his first World Cup start. Moore was a second-half sub against the United States and immediatel­y made an impact.

World Cup host Qatar must conquer nerves before Senegal

There's a good chance the World Cup will go from bad to worse for the Qatar team if the players don't conquer their nerves when they face African champion Senegal in their second group match.

The Qataris are already the first hosts to lose the opening game of a World Cup after they were overwhelme­d by their nation's biggest sporting occasion in a 2-0 Group A defeat to Ecuador on Sunday.

That puts them in danger of also being only the second host after South Africa in 2010 to be eliminated in the group stage.

But what about losing every game? Or the dismal prospect of failing to score a goal at their home World Cup?

That would likely pile even more criticism on FIFA's decision to award the World Cup to the small but very wealthy Gulf emirate that had never qualified for the game's biggest tournament before winning the right to host it 12 years ago.

Qatar's next chance to show it deserves a place on a World Cup field comes Friday against Senegal, a team still boasting an array of players from the top leagues in England, Spain, Italy and France even if it is missing injured forward Sadio Mane.

Qatar's struggles also stand out after other teams from Arab countries have made themselves more at home at the first World Cup in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia's colossal upset defeat of Argentina was followed by impressive performanc­es from Tunisia and Morocco in the tournament's first week.

Kouyate is likely out of the Qatar game but Senegal coach Aliou Cisse said the focus for his team is up front, where he has high expectatio­ns for a new forward line combinatio­n of Ismaila Sarr, Boulaye Dia and Krepin Diatta.

They didn't quite get it right in their first game together after Mane was ruled out, but if they do against Qatar as Cisse expects it could be another long day at the World Cup for the hosts.

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