World Cup picture takes shape on global day of drama

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GENEVA (AP) The World Cup is truly taking shape.

A dramatic day of qualifying matches ended with 23 of the 32-team lineup confirmed to play next year in Russia.

Lionel Messi will be there. Cristiano Ronaldo, too. The United States will not, for the first time since 1986.

The remaining nine spots will be decided next month, but the eight top-seeded nations for the Dec. 1 draw in Moscow are now known. There are still four European playoffs, two intercontinental playoffs and three African qualifying groups to be decided.

Here are some things we learned about the next World Cup:

STAR POWER

Before games kicked off Tuesday, Messi and Ronaldo were not sure of advancing.

It all worked out, to the relief of Argentina, Portugal, FIFA and social media users everywhere. World Cup sponsor Adidas and Nike – who provide the uniforms for Messi and Ronaldo, respectively, on international duty – should also be relieved.

Messi was a savior for Argentina, which likely had to win in the high altitude of Ecuador and trailed in the first minute. The only Argentina player to score in qualifying games this year, Messi’s hat trick led the way to a 3-1 win and a spot at the World Cup.

Ronaldo did not add to his 15 goals in qualifying, but Portugal’s 2-0 win over Switzerland extended the European champion’s winning streak and ensured first place in the group on goal difference.

Not all of the world’s best players will be in Russia: Wales forward Gareth Bale, Chile striker Alexis Sanchez and rising American star Christian Pulisic all were eliminated.

Also missing? At least 20 unfilled sponsor slots in FIFA’s planned commercial program.

TOP-SEEDED TEAMS

Portugal and Argentina went from the fringes to the top-seeded pot of teams as the Nos. 3 and 4 teams in the FIFA rankings.

The top seven-ranked teams – FIFA will confirm the list on Monday – join host Russia in Pot 1. They include top-ranked Germany, the defending champions, Brazil, Belgium, Poland and France.

Russia’s ranking, somewhere in the 60s, could be worst in the draw, but is because the host nation has not played high-value competitive qualifying games.

Spain won’t be one of the seeded teams, and should be the one to avoid from Pot 2.

FIFA picked a new draw format with seeding pots entirely decided by October’s rakings instead of geographical divide. No two teams from the same confederation can be drawn together, except for Europeans. With 14 UEFA members in the draw, FIFA allows a maximum of two in each of the eight groups.

If Serbia lands as an outlier in Pot 4, it could set up the toughest group with either Brazil or Argentina and another European team.

NEW BOYS

Iceland and Panama are the two World Cup newcomers so far.

Iceland is beloved worldwide after its run to the 2016 European Championship quarterfinals and will be the smallest nation by population – only 330,000 – ever to play at a World Cup. Expect the country’s trademark thunderclap salute between players and fans to be admired and copied across the tournament.

Panama’s unlikely 2-1 win Tuesday over already-qualified Costa Rica relied on a “goal” that never crossed the line, and an 88th-minute strike from Roman Torres.

Panama took the last direct qualifying place in CONCACAF region, and the United States fell away after a surprising 2-1 loss at Trinidad and Tobago.

VIBRANT VISITORS

Expect many of Iceland’s population to land in Russia, and most will be personal friends of the team.

Iceland’s blue and white hordes were a must-see experience at Euro 2016 even before their team eliminated England in the last 16.

For sheer euphoria, Egypt’s qualification this week to end a 28-year absence was hard to beat. Egypt already ranks in FIFA’s top 10 of nations whose residents have requested tickets to the 64 games in Russia.

Color and noisy good cheer would also be guaranteed if either or both of Ireland or Northern Ireland advance through the European playoffs next month.

POLITICS

The elimination of Ukraine this week removed a huge potential problem for FIFA.

Teams from Russia and Ukraine have been kept apart for security reasons in competition draws since 2014. It would have struck an awkward tone at the Dec. 1 draw at the State Kremlin Palace.

Syria’s exit against Australia on Tuesday also removes the chance of the team’s impressive run being used for propaganda by the regime of President Basher Assad, an ally of Russia.

Russian organizers say there will be no repeat of violent clashes involving its fans at the past two European Championships, including against Poland in Warsaw and England in Marseille.

Russia cannot be in a group with top-seeded Poland, but could draw England from Pot 2.

VIDEO REVIEW

On the field, FIFA still has issues to resolve in refereeing games.

It wasn’t up to FIFA to prevent Panama’s “ghost” goal, but the technology system will be used at all 12 Russian stadiums for the World Cup.

FIFA is on the clock to decide if referees should get help from video review, however.

Decision-making was slow and often confused at the eight-nation Confederations Cup in Russia this year. Reviews once predicted to last mere seconds stretched to three minutes, and still seemed to get things wrong.

Top-level German and Italian league games are using Video Assistant Referees this season and, again, have provoked anger from team officials.

FIFA’s rule-making panel is scheduled to make a decision in March, maybe based more on hope than expectation.

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Morocco vs Spain live! Score, updates, live stream link, video highlights

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Morocco and Spain clash in a mouth-watering last 16 clash as the exciting Moroccan side will fancy their chances of causing an upset.

Remember: there is just 8 miles between Spain and Morocco and there is a lot of shared history and rivalry between these two nations.

STREAM LIVE MOROCCO v SPAIN

After winning Group F and going unbeaten, Morocco have been a pleasant surprise at this tournament. They have a talented core and their relatively new head coach Walid Regragui has done a superb job to knit them together as a unit and they have been so tough to break down.

As for Spain, they started the World Cup in stunning fashion with that 7-0 win against Costa Rica but their performances in a draw against Germany and a defeat against Japan left a lot to be desired. After finishing as runners up in Group E, Luis Enrique will be wary of an upset here as his side will have plenty of the ball but they have to regain their clinical edge.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub

Here is everything you need for Morocco vs Spain. 


How to watch Morocco vs Spain live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10am ET – Tuesday, December 6 
Stadium: Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Morocco’s stars have shone at this World Cup with Hakim Ziyech so dangerous in attack, plus Achraf Hakimi exceptional at right back, while Sofyan Amrabat has been a rock in central midfield and Romain Saiss has led by example in defense. The main thing to love about this Morocco side is their unity and they are so tough to play against and are very well-organized. But when they get the chance to get on the ball, they are direct and their wide players come to life quickly.

Spain’s talents are well known as Gavi and Pedri run the show in midfield but Enrique needs more from his attackers. Morata has finished off chances well so far but the likes of Dani Olmo, Ferran Torres, Marco Asensio and Ansu Fati need to kick on if Spain are going to make a deep run in this tournament.


Morocco quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 22
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 6
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CAF
Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic
Key players: Achraf Hakimi, Yassine Bounou, Youssef En-Nesyri, Romain Saiss, Hakim Ziyech
At the 2022 World Cup – Won Group F with 7 points from 9 (+3 GD)

Spain quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 7
World Cup titles: 1 (2010)
World Cup appearances: 16
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Luis Enrique
Key players: Rodri, Pedri, Pau Torres, Jordi Alba
At the 2022 World Cup – Finished second in Group E with 4 points (+6 GD)


Portugal vs Switzerland: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Portugal and Switzerland meet Tuesday with a 2022 World Cup quarterfinal berth on the line in Lusail.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portuguese have a EURO during his tenure with the team but have never won the World Cup. That, of course, can change this month with Bruno Fernandes now the focal point of the attack.

STREAM LIVE PORTUGAL v SWITZERLAND

Switzerland, meanwhile, will feel it has as good a chance as any to make a run in the tournament having beaten Cameroon and Serbia while staying within a goal of world No. 1 Brazil in a close group stage loss.

Portugal opened the tournament with a slim and thrilling 3-2 win over Ghana, then topping Uruguay 2-0 before further dooming the Uruguayan side by falling 2-1 to South Korea in Al Rayyan

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for Portugal vs Switzerland.


How to watch Portugal vs Switzerland live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Tuesday Dec. 6
Stadium: Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Portugal’s complete team is something to behold as Ruben Dias, Ruben Neves, and Bruno Fernandes give the side a robust spine that can be topped just as robustly by Cristiano Ronaldo when the great player is at his best in terms of defying the age 37.

The Swiss have seen Breel Embolo as a threat up top but the backs and midfield have so many tough nuts to crack with Granit Xhaka operating atop Manuel Akanji and Fabian Schar.


Portugal quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 9
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 8
How they qualified: Qualified from UEFA via playoffs
Coach: Fernando Santos
Key players: Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruben Neves, Bruno Fernandes, Joao Cancelo

Switzerland quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 15
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 12
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Murat Yakin
Key players: Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri, Yann Sommer, Remo Freuler

Follow @NicholasMendola

Brazil turns on samba style, dances into World Cup quarterfinals

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Five-time world champions Brazil turned in a five-star performance as they dismantled South Korea 4-1 in the round of 16 at the 2022 World Cup on Monday.

WATCH FULL MATCH REPLAY

Up next for Brazil is a quarterfinal clash with Croatia, who survived 120 minutes and penalty kicks to beat Japan earlier on Monday.

The goals came early, they came often, and they came in style.

Vinicius Junior opened the scoring in the 7th, with an exquisite, composed finish through a sea of bodies and Neymar, who returned from the ankle injury he suffered 11 days earlier, made it 2-0 from the penalty spot just six minutes later. That’s when the samba style came out, with the game effectively already in hand and 77 minutes of must-watch television entertainment left to deliver.

Richarlison, who already scored the probable goal of the tournament in Brazil’s opener, perhaps one-upped himself with a sensational piece of flair and skill (and a decent bit of passing from some equally brilliant teammates), making it 3-0 just before the half-hour mark and reminding the rest of the world that Brazil were pre-World Cup favorites for a reason.

Lucas Paqueta got goal no. 4 after another sensational, liquid counter-attack of yellow shirts washing forward in numbers. Vinicius lifted the final ball over a crowd and picked out the West Ham midfielder, who applied the perfect finish with the inside of his right foot.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Paik Seung-Ho scored a fantastic consolation goal with 15 minutes left in the second half, but that was the extent of South Korea’s joy, as they come up short of reaching the quarterfinals for the first time since co-hosting the World Cup in 2002, when they went to the semifinals.

Brazil vs South Korea
Photo: FotMob.com

[ MORE: World Cup schedule | World Cup odds ]


How to watch Brazil vs South Korea live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Monday Dec. 5
Stadium: Stadium 974, Doha
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Well, first off: Neymar. One of Brazil’s all-time heroes is missing a World Cup from his resume and rightly or wrongly, that’s a marker as to whether the player will be considered one of the best Brazilians to ever do it. When healthy he’s among the five best attackers in the world. But how healthy is he? And how much can Richarlison, Vinicius Jr. and company take pressure off the oft-fouled Neymar?

South Korea will have hope that Heung-min Son’s slow tournament is on the upswing after the Tottenham star played well late in delivering the win over Portugal to seal a group stage place. Look out for 26-year-old Napoli center back Min-jae Kim, whose name is dancing through the Premier League transfer rumor mill with renewed vigor following strong performances in Qatar.


Brazil quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 1
World Cup titles: 5 (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
World Cup appearances: 22
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONMEBOL (1st place)
Coach: Tite
Key players: Neymar, Thiago Silva, Casemiro, Alisson Becker

South Korea quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 28
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 10
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from AFC
Coach: Paulo Bento
Key players: Heung-min Son, Young-gwon Kim, In-beom Hwang, Woo-yeong Jeong

Follow @NicholasMendola

Croatia eliminates Japan in 2022 World Cup’s first penalty shootout

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Croatia is through to the quarterfinals of the 2022 World Cup after defeating Japan in the tournament’s first penalty shootout (1-1 AET, 3-1 PKs) on Monday.

WATCH FULL MATCH REPLAY

After reaching the knockout rounds just once in their first five World Cup cycles as a nation, Croatia is through to the quarterfinals for the second straight tournament. Japan, meanwhile, will look to 2026 to achieve their first-ever knockout-round victory.

Scoring chances were at a premium in the first half, as each side managed just three shots, but the quality of chances was very high, evidenced by the xG numbers (0.74 for Japan and 0.61 for Croatia, again, on just three shots each). All three of Japan’s shots came from within seven yards of goal, as did two of Croatia’s three.

The breakthrough came, as so many goals have done at this World Cup, in the final moments just before the end of the first half. Japan won a free kick down the right side and though Croatia defended the initial ball in well enough, they didn’t manage to clear it and it fell to Maeda seven yards out.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Perisic made it 1-1 with a sensational, long-ranger header in the 55th minute. Dejan Lovren played a dipping cross from deep and it found Perisic near the penalty spot, leaving the Tottenham utilityman with so much still to do. The ball bounced once, just in front of the goalkeeper, beating with him both power and precision to the bottom corner.

Dominik Livakovic began the penalty shootout with two straight saves, first denying Takumi Minamino, and then Kaoru Mitoma. 2-0 to Japan after two rounds. Marko Livaja put Croatia’s third attempt off the post, but Livakovic followed that up with save no. 3 against Maya Yoshida. Mario Pasalic converted to make it 3-1 to Croatia after four rounds.

Runners-up in 2018, Croatia into the round of 8 in 2022.

Japan vs Croatia
Photo: FotMob.com

[ MORE: World Cup schedule | World Cup odds ]

Follow @AndyEdMLS


How to watch Japan vs Croatia live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10am ET – Monday, December 5
Stadium: Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Japan’s comeback wins against Germany and Spain have been a joy to watch and anybody who watched them before this tournament will not be that surprised. Moriyasu has created a squad which has a total ‘team first’ mentality and so many players are stepping up to deliver in midfield and attack. From Maya Yoshida captaining the side and dominating at center back to Mitoma, Doan, Endo and Tanaka dazzling in midfield and attack whenever they feature, this is a joy to watch. The energy Japan plays with is dizzying and they will create plenty of chances against Croatia. The big question: can they be more clinical?

As for Croatia, the likes of Dejan Lovren, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic have been here before. They exude confidence and Josko Gvardiol is a fine young center back and the likes of Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic add extra class. This is a side which always seems to overdeliver and they will be thinking another deep run at the World Cup is on the cards. Surely they can’t get to the final again, right?


Japan quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 24
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 7
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from AFC
Coach: Hajime Moriyasu
Key players: Maya Yoshida, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ritsu Doan
At the 2022 World Cup – Won Group E with 6 points (+1 GD)

Croatia quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 12
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 6
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Zlatko Dalic
Key players: Luka Modric, Andrej Kramaric, Mateo Kovacic
At the 2022 World Cup – Finished second in Group F with 5 points (+3 GD)