S6 SCORE with theSun June 20, 2018

German alarm for Spain World Champions’ stunning defeat toMexico awarning for La Roja ahead of Iran clash S pain came through a t o u g h World Cup o p e n e r happen to anyone,” Hierro told reporters yesterday. “The 32 teams here are very good and the firstgameisalwaystough.Anxietyplays a big role. We got a point against the European champions and now we’ve got Iran ...” Morocco in their opener last Friday but their realwork starts inKazan, where theyplay the firstmatch in a double-header against Iberian teamswithPortugal to followfive days later. Coach Carlos Queiroz, the former Real Madrid boss, will be able to recall Saeid Ezatolahi after theholdingmidfielder, dubbed the “Persian Pogba”, missed the Morocco match through suspension.

Croatia’sKalinicsenthome Croatia striker Nikola Kalinic has been sent home from the World Cup after refusing to come on as a substitute in the team’s opening game against Nigeria, coach Zlatko Dalic said yesterday. “During the Nigeria encounter, Kalinic was warming up and was supposed to come on in the second half,” Dalic said in a statement. “However, he then stated that he wasn’t ready to come on due to a back issue. The same thing happened during the Brazil friendly in England, as well as before the prac- tice session on Sunday. I have calmly accepted that, and since I need my players fit and ready to play, I have made this decision,” he added. The Croatian Football Federation (HNS) said that Dalic had taken the decision after consul- tation with his coaching team. Dalic declined to answer any questions over the issue. Kalinic cannot be replaced so Croatia will continue in the tournament with a 22-man squad.

Egypt 1-0 thanks to a late goal. Bizarrely, two-time World Cup championsUruguay have never beaten the “Green Falcons”. Saudi Arabia won a friendly in 2002while a 2014 friendly ended in a draw. In another potential source of reas sur ance f or the perenn i a l l y underachieving Saudis, the usually ruthless Suarezmissed three chances against Egypt on Friday in their opening game. But GroupA favouritesUruguay are still widely expected to clobber Saudi Arabia, the second-lowest World Cup team in the FIFA rankings at No. 67. Nevertheless, the South Americans are guarding against complacency. Asked by a reporterwhether beating the Saudiswould essentially guarantee passing the group stage, defender Jose Gimenez pushed back. “Easy, easy.Weneed tokeepa cool head. We know that any game here is very hard, andwe need to think of it that way. “I think that if Uruguay do things right we have a lot of chances of passing,” said Gimenez, who scored the 89th-minute header against Egypt. Saudi Arabia seem unlikely to emulate the surprisingly strong performances of underdogsMexico and Switzerland, and the players themselves seemto be preparing the ground for another defeat. If there were causes of anxiety for Hierro they might be in the form of goalkeeper David de Gea, who made an uncharacteristic blunder to gift Cristiano Ronaldo one of his three goals in Sochi. Defender Nacho Fernandez also had a mixed night with a brilliantgoalmakingupforgiving awayapenaltyandDaniCarvajal could be fit again to offerHierro another option at right back. Hierro’s main concern, however, will be that Spain are able to breakdownanobdurate Iraniandefence that conceded only five times in 18 qualifiers and get the goals they need to give them the best chance of topping GroupB. ThedisruptionstoIran’spreparations for the tournament were more geo- political in nature with US sanctions against the nation costing them a couple of theirwarm-upmatches and their kit dealwith Nike. They needed a late own goal to beat

Injury concerns over midfielder Omid Ebrahimi and prolific striker Alireza Jahanbakhsh have also eased but central defender Rouzbeh

against Portugal in impressive styleas the aftershocksofthesack- ingof their coachwere still reverberating and they will need to keep the pedal firmly to the floor when they meet Iran today. Thethrilling3-3draw with Portugal in Sochi eased concerns that

Cheshmi is amajor doubt because of a muscle injury. Queiroz’stactic

against the North Africans was to f r u s t r a t e t h e opposition in the hopes of triggering a “mental collapse” but the Portuguese admittedtheywould needaverydifferent approachforthe2010 world champions. “Against Spain, everybody from the


Julen Lopetegui’s sudden departure would derail Spain’s campaign and reports coming out of the camp indicate an upbeat mood under his makeshift replacement Fernando Hierro. On paper, Spain should be able to deal comfortably with Iran in the first meeting between the two countries but Germany’s loss toMexico in the firstmatchof their title defence on Sunday was a warning to all the game’s heavyweights. “What happened to Germany could

Qu eiroz

goalkeeper to the striker can create things, so we need to think of a different strategy,” Queiro said. –Reuters

BlattertodefyFIFAban Disgraced former FIFA chief Sepp Blatter will defy a ban to attend two World Cup matches and also meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, his spokesman said yesterday. Blatter is being investigated by Swiss prosecu- tors for alleged corruption during his 17-year reign at the head of FIFA. The 82-year-old was suspended for six years by FIFA in February 2016 from any football-related activity over a €1.8m (RM9m) payment toMichel Platini. Blat- ter was replaced at the head of FIFA by Gianni Infantino. Despite his ban, Blatter has on several occasions said he would respond favourably to an invitation from Putin to come and see theWorld Cup in Russia. Contacted by AFP, FIFA said it had no comment on Blatter’s trip, the Swiss national slated to fly toMoscow ahead of today’s Portugal-Morocco Group B match in the Russian capital. Hewas also sched- uled to attend Brazil’s Group E match against Costa Rica in St Petersburg on Friday before returning to Switzerland. For a player who has made so many headlines at theWorldCup, it is appropriate that Luiz Suarezwill makehis 100th appearance for Uruguay at football’s biggest tournament. Barring any last minute disasters the Barcelona strikerwill reach his century of games for the Celeste todaywhen theyplay Saudi Arabia inRostov-on-Don in Group A’s second round of matches. Thematch should be routine and could secure Uruguay’s passage to the knockout stage, but with Suarez football fans know that very few things are mundane. The last two World Cups have seen Suarez exit in ignominy. In 2010, the forwardwas sent off after making a last minute “save” against Ghana, which helped avoid defeat and saw the South Americans progress to the last four. In2014, hewas banned fromall football for fourmonths and fined after biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini, the third biting incident of his career. Redemption time for Suarez

After thrashing, Green Falcon’s face fearedUruguay

After shipping five goals against hosts Russia – the lowest-ranked team in the WorldCup, Saudi Arabia couldprobablydo with facing a rival other than South American powerhouse Uruguay and its star f o r w a r d L u i s Suarez. The two Group A

past defeats. The Saudis gaveCarlosAlbertoParreira the chop after a 4-0 loss to hosts France in the group stages in 1998 – even though four years earlier he had won the World Cup with his native Brazil. – Reuters

teams will face off today in Ro s t ov - on - Don , w i t h Ur u g u a y hoping to a p p e a s e some worries after only beating

“There is no doubt that facing the Uruguayan team is difficult and that it is known for its international stars, but we are determined to improve our image from the previous match and the joy of theSaudi fans,” saidSaudi Arabia midfielder Taisir Al-Jassim. A victory may cement Uruguay’s position as the group’s leaders, lining them up most probably for a tough second-round clash

Suarez is a player loved and loathed in equal measure; his on-fieldbehaviour has been questionable but not so his talent. Despite theever-present controversies, the 31-year-old is Uruguay’s record goalscorer, scoring 51 times in 99 matches. Five of those have come in the World Cup and despite a sluggish start inUruguay’s 1-0 opening game win against Egypt, thematch against a weak Saudi Arabia side may offer him the chance to celebrate his cente- nary in style. – AFP

against Spain or Portugal. If history is anything to go by, Saudi Arabia’s Argentine-born coach Juan Antonio Pizzi could become the next coaching casualty if Saudi authorities react with the anger displayed after

Luiz Suarez

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