Germany, England arrive for WCup

Reigning champion Germany arrived in Russia yesterday to join the World Cup party as Belgium downplayed an injury scare over star player Eden Hazard in its final warm-up match.

Brazil’s national team players break an egg on the head of teammate Philippe Coutinho (center) as they celebrate his birthday, during a training session at Sochi Municipal Stadium in Sochi, Russia, yesterday, ahead of the 2018 World Cup that kicks off tomorrow in Moscow. 

Reigning champion Germany arrived in Russia yesterday to join the World Cup party as Belgium downplayed an injury scare over star player Eden Hazard in its final warm-up match.

Gareth Southgate’s youthful England team also touched down as excitement mounted ahead of tomorrow’s opening fixture in Moscow between host nation Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Germany, aiming to join Brazil as a five-time winner of the World Cup, landed near Moscow, ahead of its first match against Mexico on Sunday.

The Germans are among a select group of favorites alongside Spain, France and Brazil but there are lingering questions over their form.

Joachim Loew’s side went five games without a win before laboring to a 2-1 victory over Saudi Arabia in its final warm-up and first-choice goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has been injured and hardly played since September.

But the Germans have made at least the semifinals in each of the past four World Cups and have a habit of finding form when they need it most.

The defending champion opens its World Cup against Group F opponent Mexico in Moscow on June 17. It also plays Sweden and South Korea.

Loew warned Germany’s rivals had all made strides since 2014. “There will be a high standard of opposition. Spain have improved, while Brazil and Argentina are up there,” he said.

England is not among the favorites in Russia but the third-youngest Three Lions squad to head to a World Cup boasts English Premier League stars such as Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling.

“We have a young, hungry team that wants to achieve greatness. We want to bring the country together and achieve something great,” said Tottenham Hotspur forward Alli.

England’s Group G opponent Belgium showcased its talents in a 4-1 victory against Costa Rica in Brussels on Monday, featuring two goals from Manchester United forward Romelu Lukaku and a glittering performance from Chelsea’s Hazard.

Hazard limped off with 20 minutes to go but coach Roberto Martinez brushed off concerns, saying there was “nothing to worry about”.

“He’s very strong, he just had a dead leg towards the end of the match,” the Spaniard said.

Brazil and Neymar attracted an army of excited youngsters — including one who managed to break onto the pitch for a selfie — as they held their first training session on Russian soil.

Around 5,000 locals turned out to watch the relaxed session next to the Brazilians’ hotel in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.

The 222-million euro (US$261 million) Paris Saint-Germain forward made his first start on Sunday, against Austria, since undergoing surgery on a foot fracture at the start of March.

“Neymar’s doing great, thanks to God,” said goalkeeper Alisson. “I think the way the whole process has been dealt with was perfect. He has fully recovered.”

But before the action on the pitch gets under way, today FIFA members must choose whether to award the 2026 World Cup to North America or Morocco.

They will choose between a joint US-Canadian-Mexican bid or the North Africans to host a tournament that will feature 48 teams for the first time.

A FIFA evaluation report earlier this month classified the North African nation’s stadiums, accommodation and transport as “high risk”, leaving the North American bid as the clear frontrunner.

But the North American bid has been dogged by concerns that the vote could become a referendum on the popularity of US President Donald Trump.

On Monday, bid leader Carlos Cordeiro urged FIFA members to vote on the “merits” of the bid, and not on Trump.

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