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Video: Eriksen volley has Denmark ahead inside 10 minutes

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Denmark is well on its way to another three points on Thursday, and this time it’s Christian Eriksen who has finally broken through at the World Cup.

 MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Eriksen put the Danes in front in the seventh minute after a tremendous volley that gave Australia goalkeeper Maty Ryan no chance at keeping it out.

After a sloppy turnover in their own half, Australia could only watch as the ball fell to Nicolai Jørgensen, who cleverly back-heeled to Eriksen at the top of the box.

The Danes pulled off a 1-0 victory in their first Group C match against Peru, while Australia fell 2-1 to France.

Germany looks to become first to repeat at World Cup in half-century

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MOSCOW (AP) After raising the World Cup eight miles from Copacabana Beach four years ago, Germany hopes to lift the trophy four miles from the Kremlin on July 15 and become the first repeat champion in more than a half-century.

[ MORE: PST’s 2018 FIFA World Cup roundtable ]

The soccer world gathers at 12 stadiums in 11 cities across the European portion of Russia starting Thursday for a 32-day, 64-match championship. Much has changed since Die Mannschaft humiliated the host Selecao 7-1 in the 2014 semifinals, then left Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium with a 1-0 extra-time win over Argentina on Mario Goetze’s 113th-minute goal.

The United States will be missing from soccer’s showcase after seven straight appearances. Four-time champion Italy will be watching from home for the first time since 1958, its streak of 14 consecutive appearances ended by a playoff loss to Sweden. The Netherlands, which lost the 2010 final to Spain, missed out after slumping to third in its qualifying group. And Chile failed to qualify after consecutive Copa America titles.

Iceland and Panama are World Cup debutantes, Peru is back for the first time since 1982, and Egypt ends an absence dating to 1990.

Germany and Brazil are the pretournament favorites, and France is fancied behind them with a young roster . England will try to end more than five decades of hurt since winning its only major title on home soil in 1966. Mexico will try to advance past the second round for the first time since 1986, but El Tri opens against Germany and its likely second-round opponent is Brazil.

There also has been a generational change within FIFA. Many of its leaders have moved from penthouses to prisons following indictments by the U.S. Department of Justice that detailed kickbacks to be as much a part of soccer as free kicks.

Expect controversy on a regular basis.

FIFA’s Congress votes June 13 on the host of the 2026 tournament, and a joint bid by the U.S., Mexico and Canada is competing against Morocco – where most of the infrastructure would have to be built – on a ballot that includes a none-of-the-above option.

Following the drug-testing scandal that engulfed the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, FIFA’s medical committee chairman said no Russians will be involved in collection of urine and blood samples, which will be flown to Lausanne, Switzerland, for analysis.

VAR will be the acronym of the moment: video assistant referees in soccer-speak, instant replay for most viewers at home.

And as soon as the final whistle of the tournament is blown at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, attention will shift to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, moved to Nov. 21 through Dec. 18 because of summer desert heat and compressed to 28 days because it is in the middle of the European club season. Gianni Infantino, who succeeded the disgraced Sepp Blatter as FIFA president in 2016, has discussed increasing the World Cup field from 32 to 48 in 2022, four years ahead of schedule.

Some of the top storylines likely to dominate play in Russia:

MESSI AND RONALDO

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have split the last 10 FIFA Player of the Year awards, and this is likely their last chance to win a World Cup. Messi turns 31 on June 24, two days before Argentina finishes the first round against Nigeria, and has lost four finals with the national team. Ronaldo, 33, helped Portugal win the 2016 European Championship for its first major title.

BREAKOUT STARS?

Brazil’s Neymar, England’s Harry Kane, Egypt’s Mohamed Salah, France’s Antoine Griezmann and Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne are stars who could lift themselves into Player of the Year contention with stellar World Cups.

BACK TO BACK

Italy in 1934 and `38, and Brazil in 1958 and `62 are the only teams to win consecutive World Cups. Germany was 10-0 in qualifying, the only European team with a perfect record, and outscored opponents 43-4.

PLAY IT AGAIN

Following the first use of goal-line technology at a World Cup in 2014, FIFA has expanded off-the-field decision-making. A video assistant ref can notify the referee by headset of the need to reverse a decision if there is a “clear error” involving goals and their buildups, penalty kicks, straight red cards, and mistaken identify for red and yellow cards.

ICE ICE BABY

Iceland at about 335,000 becomes the least-populous nation to appear in a World Cup, a mark that had been held since 2006 by Trinidad and Tobago at 1.3 million.

MISSING

Injured players missing the tournament include Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero and midfielder Manuel Lanzini; France defender Laurent Koscielny; Serbia defender Matija Nastasic; Brazil right back Dani Alves; and England midfielder Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain.

SPLIT SCREEN?

The World Cup final starts two hours after the beginning of the Wimbledon men’s singles final. If Spain and Rafa Nadal are playing for titles, and the tennis isn’t decided in straight sets, which event do fans watch?

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

World Cup, Group E preview: Brazil, Costa Rica, Serbia, Switzerland

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Costa Rica: Los Ticos made a magical run four years ago in Brazil, but can they repeat that feat this time around? With one of the oldest squads in the tournament, Costa Rica will be reliant on many veterans with World Cup experience, however, if they are to advance they’ll be in a tight battle for second. READ FULL TEAM PREVIEW

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Serbia: The nation hasn’t reached the knockout phase in 20 years, but the European side will hope the likes of Sergej Milinković-Savić and Serbia’s youthful attack will be able to compliment their veteran back line. READ FULL TEAM PREVIEW

Switzerland: A run to the Round of 16 four years ago gave the Swiss the confidence needed to duplicate the feat this time around, however, the Euro side has never reached the knockout phase in back-to-back World Cups. READ FULL TEAM PREVIEW

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


Who’s going through: Brazil and Costa Rica

 [ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

Who’s going home: Serbia and Switzerland

Marquee match: Brazil vs. Costa Rica, Saint Petersburg

Top 5 players to watch
1) Neymar — Brazil
2) Gabriel Jesus — Brazil
3) Sergej Milinković-Savić — Serbia
4) Keylor Navas — Costa Rica
5) Xherdan Shaqiri — Switzerland

2018 World Cup preview: Panama

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Getting to know Panama: Los Canaleros don’t have a lot of expectations placed upon them, and perhaps that could benefit the CONCACAF side. Panama will forever be associated with finishing ahead of the U.S. Men’s National Team in World Cup qualifying, but now that the big competition has arrived, Panama looks to build off of its qualifying success.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

For more on Panama’s history, click this link.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

What group are they in? Los Canaleros reside in Group G with England, Panama and Tunisia.


Game schedule – Group G – Full 2018 World Cup schedule, here

Monday, June 18: Belgium v Panama, Sochi 11 am, ET

Saturday, June 23: Panama v England, Moscow  8 am, ET

Thursday, June 28: Panama v Tunisia, Kaliningrad 2 pm, ET


Projected lineup (4-1-4-1)Check out the 23-man squad list in full

 

Penedo

Machado ——- Torres ——- Escobar —— Davis

Gomez

 Herrera —– Cooper —- Godoy—— Rodriguez

Perez


Star player: Blas Perez — The 37-year-old striker is still kicking it with Panama, and he’ll need one last bit of magic if Los Canaleros are to advance out of Group G, which isn’t being projected by many. Perez has scored 43 international goals, so the production is there, however, it remains to be seen if he can crack top defenses like Belgium and England.


Manager: Hernan Dario Gomez — He’s an interesting manager, given his track record on the international scene. Gomez has brought three different nations to the World Cup, with Colombia and Ecuador preceding his current venture with Panama. During qualifying, he certainly got the most out of his squad, who managed to finish above the U.S. Men’s National Team.


Secret weapon: Ismael Diaz — The Deportivo B player has shown a lot of promise since beginning his career with Tauro, and has risen to a top Spanish side at the age of 21. Diaz has already represented Panama at several youth international competitions, including the Under-20 World Cup in 2015, so he could be a vital presence for a side that needs all the spark it can get from its attack.


Prediction: It’s very hard to see anyone other than Belgium and England reaching the Round of 16 from Group G. Panama is solid and compact defensively, but it’s hard to imagine them being able to score enough goals to make any real noise in the competition.

2018 World Cup preview: Belgium

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Getting to know Belgium: If there’s a country that needs to validate itself in 2018 it is Belgium. Many nations go through phases of “golden generations” and for the Red Devils, that time is now. In Brazil, Belgium earned its best finish since the 1986 World Cup, when the team reached the quarterfinals. However, expectations have risen further for Roberto Martinez’s side as they approach this summer as one of the tournament’s favorites.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

A host of Premier League stars, including Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku lead a front line for Belgium that might be unmatched in the global game. Meanwhile, familiar faces in the back like Jan Vertonghen and captain Vincent Kompany provide a stable defensive unit to sit in front of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

For more on Belgium’s history, click this link.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

What group are they in? The Red Devils reside in Group G with England, Panama and Tunisia. That makes Belgium — currently ranked third in the latest FIFA World Rankings — the clear-cut favorites to top the group.


Game schedule – Group G – Full 2018 World Cup schedule, here

Monday, June 18: Belgium v Panama, Sochi 11 am, ET

Saturday, June 23: Belgium v Tunisia, Moscow  8 am, ET

Thursday, June 28: England v Belgium, Kaliningrad 2 pm, ET


Projected lineup (3-4-3)Check out the 23-man squad list in full

Courtois

Alderweireld ——- Kompany ———- Vertonghen

 Meunier —– De Bruyne —- Witsel —— Carrasco

Mertens —- Lukaku —- Hazard

 


Star player: Kevin De Bruyne — This is so tricky because you could easily make the case for four or five players in Belgium’s squad, but after the season De Bruyne had at Manchester City, a lot will be expected of the playmaker in Russia. He’s quick, skillful and deadly accurate in distribution, which makes him one of the most interesting talents to watch at the World Cup.


Manager: Roberto Martinez — Although he often receives heat for some of his past inconsistencies at Everton, Martinez has done quite well under Martinez’s brief tenure. That said, he hasn’t had the opportunity to manage a major competition to this point, and with the amount of skillful players in the Red Devils squad, he could be on a short leash.


Secret weapon: Michy Batshuayi — For all the skill and grace in the Belgium starting XI, there is a bit of a drop off on the bench, particularly in terms of attacking players. Batshuayi is an intriguing player because he was brilliant after moving to Borussia Dortmund on loan in 2017-18. An unfortunate injury halted him from having more success, but if he can regain his form from the Bundesliga side, Martinez could have a legitimate threat off the bench or potentially use him alongside Lukaku up front.

AP Photo/Martin Meissner

Prediction: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Belgium should be among the favorites to hoist the World Cup, which would be the nation’s first in its history. They’re getting out of the group stage, and probably unscathed. England is solid, but if Belgium is at their best, they’re winning that match. If things shape up as expected, the Red Devils could get Brazil in the quarterfinals, which would obviously be tricky, but there’s strong belief from us that they could get beyond the last eight.