Portugal coach Fernando Santos says he isn’t planning to rest too many key players in the match against South Korea, but Cristiano Ronaldo may be an exception. Three games in nine days could prove to be too much for the 37-year-old striker, who hasn’t played significant minutes this season for Manchester United — which recently terminated its contract with the football star. Ronaldo missed team training on Wednesday and there is a chance he is saved for the last 16. That would give the likes of Gonçalo Ramos or Andre Silva a rare opportunity to start up front. Also set to be missing are centre back Danilo Pereira, who broke three ribs in training last week, and left back Nuno Mendes, who was substituted in the first half against Uruguay because of a muscle injury. Japan scored a controversial winning goal in their final group game against Spain on Thursday, drawing confused reactions over the camera angles covering the action.
Replays appeared to show the ball going out of play in the build-up, but after lengthy consultations using VAR – the video assistant referee – the goal was allowed to stand. Many are questioning whether VAR’s verdict should be final or if it is all a matter of perspective. Cameroon are faced with the difficult prospect of needing to beat Brazil at the Lusail Iconic Stadium to progress to the knockout stages of the World Cup on Friday. Having picked up just one point from their first two games, the Indomitable Lions must win and hope for either a draw, or for Serbia to beat Switzerland by a one-goal margin in the other game in Group G, while Selecao only need a point to finish top. Cameroon kicked off the group stage with a 1-0 defeat to Switzerland, with Breel Embolo scoring the only goal of the game against the country of his birth, in the eighth straight World Cup defeat for the African side.
The Indomitable Lions did create chances, registering as many shots on target as their opponents, but they came up just short, meaning they had to get at least a point in their second match, against Serbia. Despite at one point looking like they were heading for an early exit from the tournament, Rigobert Song’s side fought back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game up at 3-3, after Jean-Charles Castelletto had initially opened the scoring. Vincent Aboubakar and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting struck within quick succession in the second half to ensure that Cameroon have something to play for on Friday, showing the determination that will be required if they are to get anything against one of the tournament favourites. While they will no doubt still be outsiders, Song will be hoping his side may be able to capitalise on playing a Brazil team which may not be as strong as in previous matches, owing to the fact that they are very likely to progress as group winners.
As expected, Brazil have booked their place in the round of 16, winning their first two games at the World Cup for the first time since 2010, in which they reached the quarter-final. Selecao are yet to concede a goal in the tournament, kicking off with a 2-0 victory against Serbia, in which Tottenham Hotspur striker Richarlison bagged a second-half brace to wrap up the three points. Following that, Tite’s side left it late but again secured a victory, this time against Switzerland, with the goal coming from a perhaps unexpected source, given their array of attacking talent, as Casemiro struck late to seal a 1-0 victory. The two sides last met in competitive action in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup, in which Brazil emerged 4-1 victors thanks to a Neymar double and additional goals from Fred and Fernandinho. That scoreline would be more than enough for Selecao on Friday, setting up a round of 16 clash against the team that finishes second in Group H, most likely either Ghana or Uruguay.
Andre Onana will not feature in goal for Cameroon, having been sent home for disciplinary reasons after a disagreement with the manager regarding style of play. As a result, the more inexperienced Devis Epassy should get the nod between the sticks, as he did in the last match, while Vincent Aboubakar may be brought in to the frontline, having scored from the bench last time out. Brazil have a number of players unavailable due to injury, with Alex Sandro the latest player to be ruled out after undergoing a scan regarding the hip issue that forced him off against Switzerland. In his absence, Alex Telles is likely to come into the team at left-back, having been brought on for the final five minutes last time out. Key player Neymar is also set to miss out due to an ankle injury which ruled him out of the last game, while another problem in the same area means that Danilo will not be in contention for a place in the backline.
Tite may also choose to rest a few Brazil players as a result of already qualifying for the knockout stages, so Bruno Guimaraes, Gabriel Jesus and Antony could be given some more minutes. There were wild celebrations at Al Thumama Stadium after Morocco became the only Arab team to progress to the next stage of the tournament in Qatar. The Atlas Lions reached the knockout stage for the second time after defeating Canada 2-1 on Thursday. Portugal need a point in their last Group H match against South Korea to guarantee finishing at the top. “If we had to face each other, it would be a game between two great teams,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said. “But our wish, and Brazil’s, is that we meet later on.” A win or a draw would enable them to avoid the five-times champions in the last 16. But South Korea will need to go all out and beat Portugal to have a chance to progress to the knockout stage.
German football league (DFL) chief executive Donata Hopfen believes the World Cup in Qatar will have a lasting effect on football due to the many political debates that came with it. “The World Cup will certainly change things, has changed things. It will draw attention to many topics that are important,” she told the German Press Agency (dpa) on Thursday. “Nevertheless, it’s the biggest football tournament in the world, and at the end of the day, we always have to remember that it’s about sport – and sport must be at the centre of it,” she added. A group of European nations, including Germany, were planning to use the One Love armband as a sign of equality and diversity during the tournament in Qatar, whose human rights record has come under heavy criticism.