Each of the 31 qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup plus the hosts will name their 23-man squads for the tournament by the deadline on May 14, exactly a month before the opening game between Russia and Saudi Arabia on June 14 at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Before finalising their selections, most will select provisional squads of up to 30 and those who do not make the cut are likely to be placed on standby in case they are needed to replace any injured players. Replacements can be made at any point until 24 hours before each team’s first World Cup game. Here is what we know so far about who is available and who is struggling to make it.
No significant injury worries for Héctor Cúper, not even over the 45-year-old goalkeeper and captain Essam El-Hadary who is firmly on course to become the oldest player in finals history. There are wider concerns over the form of West Brom’s shell-shocked Ahmed Hegazi but it is countered by Mohamed Salah’s during his outstanding debut season at Liverpool.
Stanislav Cherchisov has been tasked with taking the hosts to the last four at least, which will be difficult given their results in a very taxing build-up programme - defeated by Portugal, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and France. Aleksandr Kokorin, the 27-year-old Zenit winger who scored Russia’s goal in the draw with Algeria during the 2014 tournament, is all but certain to miss the World Cup having damaged his ACL in mid March. Igor Denisov, the Lokomotiv defensive midfielder and Russia captain under Fabio Capello, fell out with Cherchisov years ago at Dynamo Moscow and the manager has refused to pick him while arguments between Cherchisov and the 6ft 5in striker Artem Dzyuba threaten his involvement. CSKA twins Aleksei and Vasily Berezutski retired after Euro 2016 and have refused the manager’s entreaties to return to the squad at the age of 35 following the serious knee injuries suffered by Viktor Vasin and Georgi Dzhikiya.
The only team at the tournament ranked lower than the hosts, it’s a fortuitous coincidence for Russia that they were drawn out to play the curtain-raiser. A resounding defeat by Belgium in March was forgivable but their 4-1 loss inIraq the month before has provoked understandable disquiet. Decisions to send the midfielders Yahya Al-Shehri, Salem Al-Dawsari and Fahad Al-Muwallad on loan to Leganes, Villarreal and Levante respectively in January has backfired. None of the national team stalwarts had played a minute of Liga football by the end of March 2018.
Oscar Tabárez’s team looks as powerful as ever, built around the relentless, uncompromising defensive work of Diego Godín, the attacking prowess of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez supplied by Gastón Ramírez and now with the young, athletic Juventus midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur to add drive to the usual steel. Veteran defender Martín Cáceres has a calf injury that had restricted him to only one appearance by the end of March following his transfer from Verona after that dreadful year at Southampton and remains the major doubt.
Ashkan Dejagah, a Bundesliga title-winner with Wolfsburg and fondly remembered by Fulham fans who elected him player of the year in 2013-14, returned to England with Nottingham Forest as a free agent in January but suffered a knee injury the following month that will keep him out until the end of April. The 31-year-old midfielder, who played all three group matches in Brazil four years ago, is Carlos Queiroz’s only significant injury worry. Captain Masoud Shojaei has returned to the squad after seven months and has so far overcome opposition from the deputy sports minister and another parliamentarian for playing for Panionios against Maccabi Tel Aviv in a Europa League qualifier. A national team life ban for playing against a representative of a state Iran does not recognise had been proposed but Queiroz ignored the calls.
The African Nations champions qualified without conceding a goal and three-quarters of the defence that earned them their enviable record – Nabil Dirar, Mehdi Benatia and Romain Saiss – are all fit and in impressive form. The versatile Real Madrid prodigy, Achraf Hakimi, however, was withdrawn from the squad for the March friendlies when injured on the first day of training and is likely to miss a few weeks while the midfielder Ait Bennasser, who hurt his thigh while playing for Caen against Angers in March, is not expected to be back on contention until the beginning of May at the earliest. Zouhair Feddal, who plays at left-back for Real Betis, ruptured his Achilles in February and, barring a miracle, will miss the World Cup.
Renato Sanches, who was so sensational at Euro 2016 that Bayern Munich agreed a deal to sign the teenage midfielder that committed them to spending as much as £72m for him, has endured a wretched run of form and fitness ever since. His latest hamstring injury while on loan at Swansea has kept him sidelined since mid January and the Premier League club sent him back to Munich at the end of March for treatment, admitting he might not return. But, to much surprise, he returned to the matchday squad for the visit of Chelsea on April 28 but didn’t get on in the 1-0 defeat. Major concerns persist over the durability of the veteran central defenders – Jose Fonte and Bruno Silva, 34 and 36 respectively – who are currently fit but have had lengthy lay-offs in recent months while the 35-year-old Pepe is nursing a broken toe.
No significant injury concerns so far for Julen Lopetegui but the form of Alvaro Morata at Chelsea has been a worry and led to him being left out of the squad for the spring friendlies. Diego Costa, in the rudest of health and spirit at Atlético Madrid, should lead the line which may make a romantic recall for Spain’s top-scorer, New York City’s David Villa, at the age of 36 far more remote than it seemed last autumn. Cesc Fabregas and Bayern Munich’s Javi Martínez have been notable omissions from Lopetegui’s squads ever since he took over from Vicente del Bosque in 2016 and while neither are resigned to missing out, recalls at this late stage are extremely unlikely.
Bert van Marwijk, appointed in January on a seven-month contract, recalled the goalkeeper Brad Jones after four years out of international football in his first squad and the former Liverpool reserve, now with Feyenoord, has a good chance of making it to Russia in place of Adam Federici, the Bournemouth back-up, who has not played for 15 months after suffering back-to-back knee injuries. Matthew Spiranovic, a free agent since his release by Zhejiang Greentown in February, will pay the price for not heeding former manager Ange Postecoglou who repeatedly warned him that playing in the Chinese second division was not adequate preparation for a World Cup place. Melbourne Victory centre-half Rhys Williams, hoping to make his first World Cup after injury ruled him out of South Africa and Brazil, tore his calf on April 29 and looks like making it third time unlucky. Kaiserslautern’s Brandon Borrello ruptured his ACL during a training session in the last week of April and has no chance of making it.
Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen and Brentford’s Henrik Dalsgaard were sent home early from the squads for the spring friendlies, the former because of ‘exhaustion’ and the latter excused to spend some time with his newborn daughter. Both have been told that they are certainties for Age Hareide’s 23.Central defender Andreas Bjelland has been troubled by an achilles injury but has returned to the Brentford squad while Lasse Vibe, who left Griffin Park in February for the Chinese Super League’s Changchun Yatai, is running out of time to prove his fitness and sharpness after heel and hamstring injuries blighted the first half of his season.
Benjamin Mendy has been out since September with a cruciate ligament injury but has been training with Manchester City’s first-team squad since the beginning of March and should be back before the end of the season. If the left-back makes it he may go straight into the starting XI given Layvin Kurzawa’s recent loss of form at PSG. Florian Thauvin, who has gone from zero to hero on his return from Newcastle to Marseille, should overcome a hamstring injury to make it but squad stalwarts Alexandre Lacazette, Moussa Sissoko and Dimitri Payet may all miss out after disappointing domestic seasons. Djibril Sidibe has injured the meniscus in his right knee and will miss the end of Monaco’s season but the right-back hopes to be back in time to make Didier Deschamps’ XXIII.
First-choice goalkeeper Pedro Gallese had knee surgery to correct a meniscus problem last February and though he is behind schedule to return for his Mexican league club Veracruz, remains confident that he will be ready for the friendly against Scotland on May 29. Veteran striker and captain Paolo Guerrero is currently serving a six-month ban after testing positive for cocaine and other banned drugs following Peru’s draw with Argentina last October.
His suspension, reduced on appeal, ends on May 3 but his second appeal will be heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport before then as he continues to maintain he was the victim of contaminated food.
Ramiro Funes Mori’s return to Everton’s bench on the last day of March after more than a year out with a knee injury is a fillip to Jorge Sampaoli and his creaking defence. Roma winger Diego Perotti should return from a calf strain by the middle of April but Boca Juniors’ playmaker Fernando Gago and centre-forward Dario Benedetto have been ruled out by their club who hope to have them back for pre-season training though neither severe knee-injury victim has given up hope of 11th-hour breakthroughs in their recovery regimes.
Veterans Danijel Subasic, Dejan Lovren, Marcelo Brozovic, Ivan Perisic, Luka Modric, Nikola Kalinic and Mario Mandzukic all withdrew from last month’s two-match tour to the United States to conserve their energies but they are fit and certainties for the squad barring any late setbacks. Ante Rebic, the Eintracht Frankfurt winger, and Fiorentina’s defensive midfielder Milan Baldelj have missed games in April with a torn calf and rib injuries respectively but are due back before the end of the month and should take their places in Zlatko Dalic’s 23.
The medial ligament injury Gylfi Sigurdsson sustained in his right knee when playing for Everton against Brighton at the beginning of March was expected to end his domestic season while keeping a glimmer of hope alive that he would be fit for Russia. Sam Allardyce said he would personally deliver a ‘b———‘ to the employee who released a statement saying he was out for eight weeks and countered it by suggesting that the playmaker was a quick healer and may be back before May which gives Heimir Hallgrimsson grounds for optimism. Alfreð Finnbogason, the Augsburg centre-forward, who has been out since the end of January with a calf injury, is expected to make his comeback in mid April.
Wilfred Ndidi will miss the end of Leicester’ season with a hamstring damaged during their walloping by Crystal Palace on April 28. His team-mate Kelechi Iheanacho broke his hand while playing for the Super Eagles during their defeat by Serbia last month but returned to bench duty for Leicester after missing only one Premier League game. Henry Onyekuru, the Everton forward who is spending 2017-18 on loan at Anderlecht, underwent knee ligament surgery in December but insisted he would be in contention to make the squad. On April 2 he returned to first-team training and says he will be ready to play and add to his nine league goals in 19 appearances before the month is out.
Neymar’s metatarsal injury on Feb 25 threatened to turn into another bout of national self-flagellation and despondency but the initial prognosis that he would be out for 12 weeks still gives him time to recover and subsequent revisions of his estimated absence that have shaved four weeks off his return date should allow him to find some sharpness, too. Philippe Coutinho’s ropey form since moving to Barcelona will not discourage Tite, who will use the Anfield friendly against Croatia at the start of June to reacquaint him with his best days alongside familiar faces in familiar surroundings. Filipe Luis, the Atlético left-back and back-up to Marcelo, fractured his fibula in mid-March but is hopeful of returning should Diego Simeone’s team qualify for the Europa League final. Tite has never had much time for David Luiz’s qualities and though the centre-back, whose knee injury has kept him out of Chelsea’s squad since the middle of February, is striving to put himself in contention, his quest will probably be in vain.
Joel Campbell, remarkably still an Arsenal player, injured his ankle while playing on loan for Real Betis at the end of October and has not played since. The forward reported that he was fit at the end of February and has returned to full training so seems likely to make the cut for the squad even if he will be woefully lacking match fitness, not that it did Paolo Rossi much harm in 1982 nor Marco van Basten at Euro 88. New York City left-back Ronald Matarrita has a hamstring injury that has hampered his preparations and Portland Timbers’ defensive midfielder David Guzman has missed the past fortnight with a sprained knee sustained on international duty.
Vladimir Petkovic expects Udinese’s Valon Behrami to recover from his shoulder injury in a couple of weeks and has no other pressing concerns. Eren Derdiyok. Admir Mehmedi and Xherdan Shaqiri all sat out the recent friendlies (a 1-0 victory over Greece and a 6-0 thrashing of Panama) but should make the final squad when it is announced on May 14.
Matija Nastasic damaged knee ligaments on April 12 playing for Schalke and the best prognosis for the centre-half is a six-week recuperation. Mladen Krstajic, a fine defender for Partizan, Werder Bremen, Schalke and the national team but a rookie coach appointed to this, his first job, only last December, has all his core players fit and only Benfica’s Ljubomir Fejsa, the defensive midfielder who has won 10 successive league titles across three countries, suffering from recurring but minor, niggling problems. Fejsa has not played for Serbia since 2016 and would be a back-up only to Nemanja Matic and Luka Milivojevic if he makes the squad but would be a contender for tattoo of the tournament for the chest tableau that commemorates his return from serious injury while playing for Partizan and his later triumphs with Olympiakos and Benfica.
Borussia Monchengladbach’s Lars Stindl is out with an ankle injury but Manuel Neuer returned to full goalkeeper training on April 5 after six months out having fractured a metatarsal in his left foot for the third time in a year and undergone surgery to insert a plate to protect the bone. The Bayern Munich and Germany captain has manged only three Bundesliga appearances this season yet, although Joachim Löw has benefited from his absence by exploiting it to give Marc-Andre Ter Stegen valuable international experience, the world champions will go to the wire to include Neuer.
Jerome Boateng, though, is a serious doubt after injuring his knee during the first leg of Bayern Munich’s Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid.
Marco Reus, who missed the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016 with ankle and groin injuries, made his comeback from cruciate ligament surgery in February after eight months out and Borussia Dortmund have nursed his return, allowing him time off to recover from soreness, over the past few weeks. “With Marco,” said Löw, “it’s important to us that he is brought to the top level carefully and without further pressure and that he gains in stability.” Mario Götze, the scorer of the winning goal at Maracana, was left out of the squad for the spring friendlies after a dip in form while his Dortmund team-mate and World Cup final goal-provider Andre Schürrle, finally free of knee and achilles injuries, has impressed Löw sufficiently to reassure him that he still has a chance but has yet to earn a call-up.
Giovani Dos Santos should be back for LA Galaxy by the end of April after his hamstring injury in early March and will resume his place in Mexico’s midfield alongside Porto captain Hector Herrera who travelled with the national team for the spring double header against Iceland and Croatia but was sent back to his club for treatment because of an unspecified muscle injury. Starting central defender Carlos Salcedeo broke his collarbone during the defeat by Croatia and had surgery to have it pinned but is expected to return for Eintracht Frankfurt just before the end of the season. Another key defender, Nestor Araujo who plays for Santos Laguna, was also injured in the same match and has had keyhole surgery to repair meniscus damage. He, too, is expected to make a first-team comeback before the squad deadline of May 14.
Shin Tae-yong’s greatest concern last month as he prepares for his first tournament since moving up from U-20 manager to secure qualification centred not on fitness but the fatigue of Son Heung-min after a long season and a gruelling buil-up to it. “For most Europe-based players, they are used to getting in shape in August before the new season starts. I’m really worried that Son’s form might go down from May, with his concentration waning and him becoming physically exhausted,” he said. Former Middlesbrough striker Lee Dong-gook, a member of the France 98 squad at the age of 18, harbours hopes of a place after a recall last September for the final qualifier against Uzbekistan but he has not been picked since. The sitter he missed against Uruguay at the 2010 World Cup haunted him for years but most supporters seem to have forgiven him and would welcome the selection of the K-League’s highest scorer.
It would be unfair for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who played no part in qualification having retired after Euro 2016, to overshadow the preparations of the squad in making it to Russia but his possible return, despite his controversial link-up with a betting firm that would seem to preclude him being recalled under Fifa regulations, is dominating their build-up. “Just as with the national team, if I want to play, I’ll play,” he said.
“This is not a question for Fifa, it’s a question for me and what I want.” Janne Andersson has no injury worries with a month to go but the inexperience of all his goalkeepers must be a cause of some disquiet. Robin Olsen performed heroically against Italy in the second leg of the play-off but he has only 16 caps and the manager has tried several alternatives in pursuit of an undisputed No1.
Michy Batshuayi, having scored nine goals in 14 games during a terrific loan spell at Dortmund, left the field on a stretcher on April 15 after sustaining an ankle injury during the derby defeat by Schalke that has ended his season but not his World Cup chances even if they are now very slim indeed. Vincent Kompany’s return to form and fitness has removed Roberto Martínez’s most long-standing doubt though Christian Benteke’s travails in front of goal for Crystal Palace had put his chances of a squad place as a back-up to Romelu Lukaku at serious risk until Batshuayi’s injury. Nacer Chadli has missed West Brom’s doomed ‘fight’ against relegation since December with hip and thigh injuries but Albion report that he is ready to return on April 21 after an impressive showing in training. Thibaut Courtois has recovered from the hamstring injury that kept him out of the spring friendlies and Chelsea’s defeat by Spurs for whom Toby Alderweireld remains on the peripheries, which must be a worry for Martínez.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain misses the tournament with a knee injury sustained playing for Liverpool against Roma but team-mates Joe Gomez and Nathaniel Clyne are making gradual returns to first-team football and may be late contenders for a squad place. Phil Jones has suffered recurrent hamstring injuries this season and, although he is now fit while Jack Wilshere, who withdrew from the spring squads, remains an outsider as does Ruben Loftus-Cheek who has returned to Palace’s side after three months out with an ankle injury and knee pain.
Nathaniel Chalobah joined the England squad in March to continue his rehabilitation from a fractured knee-cap but is unlikely to play for Watford before the season’s end while Daniel Sturridge was out for two months with a hamstring injury that has turned his loan move to West Bromwich into an exorbitant farce. Adam Lallana has gone to South Africa for rehab therapy on his injured hamstring and Gareth Southgate is understood to be willing to give him until May 13 to prove he can make it but that has to be a serious doubt after a couple of injury-wrecked seasons.
The World Cup finals debutants have no injuries to report and Hernán Darío Gómez has a full-strength squad of relatively unknown but remarkably experienced players – the 24 men picked for the spring friendlies averaged 59 caps each – ready for Russia.
Tunisia have suffered the worst blow of all 32 teams to date, losing their playmaker Youssef Msakni, who suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury on April 7 that will keep him out for at least six months. The attacking midfielder, who has 49 caps, tore an anterior ligament playing for his Qatar Stars League club, Al-Duhail, against Al-Sailiya. Nabil Maloul, Tunisia’s manager, was asked in March what Msakni’s absence would mean when the player could not feature in the spring friendlies because of a minor meniscus problem that required 10 days’ rest, he said it would be like Argentina going to Russia without Lionel Messi.
Juan Cuadrado gave Jose Pekerman a scare by injuring his groin back in January and the initial prognosis, that he would be out for at least three months after surgery, possibly six, was discouraging. But the winger made his return for Juventus ahead of schedule last month while Sampdoria’s Duvan Zapata, who missed their match with Cagliari on April 28, should also make it back before the end of the season.
Turmoil at management level – Akira Nishino replaced Vahid Halilhodzic at the beginning of April – contrasts with relative serenity over options for selection. Second-choice keeper, Masaaki Higashiguchi, fractured his cheekbone on April 21 but is likely to make the World Cup 23 even if he has to play in a face mask for precautionary reasons. Marseille defender Hiroki Sakai was ruled out for three weeks in April with a medial collateral ligament strain in his left knee and misses both legs of their Europa League semifinal against Red Bull Salzburg but is confident of recovering in time to participate in Russia.
Veteran midfielder, the live blogger’s friend Jakub Blaszczykowski, made his first start for Hamburg since February on April 28 and should be fit to make a squad that has no major current concerns about its key components. Artur Boruc, who had 60 caps, announced his international retirement last year bur had long since taken the role of third banana behind Lukasz Fabianski and Wojciech Szczesny.
Monaco’s fiery forward Keita Balde has been out since April 7 with a hamstring injury but should be back for the St Etienne game on May 12.The principal worry for Aliou Cisse concered his centre-back and vice-captain Kara Mbodji, who has not played since before Christmas following knee surgery for an injury he picked up playing for Anderlecht. After thrice-daily rehab sessions, Kara says he hopes to be involved for their final league game against Club Brugge on May 6.
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