History lessons caution Brazil hopes

History lessons caution Brazil hopes

Brazil’s 1-0 win over world champions Germany gave the South Americans a modicum of revenge for their 7-1 semi-final humiliation four years ago but the confidence boost comes with a caveat for the five-times World Cup winners.

Argentina so Messi dependent

Argentina so Messi dependent

Argentina's Lionel Messi looked on from the stands for as long as he could, but with 10 minutes remaining he had seen enough.

Tunisia step up hunt for players

Tunisia step up hunt for players

As Tunisia prepared this week for a pair of World Cup warm-up games, coach Nabil Maaloul had to juggle languages as he issued instructions on the training field, reflecting how wide the north Africa nation have cast their net.

Boussoufa will lean on Russian experience

Boussoufa will lean on Russian experience

2017 was quite a year for Mbark Boussoufa.

Elmo's long road to Russia

Elmo's long road to Russia

“To be honest, it was the most difficult five minutes in my career.”

World Cup group analysis

World Cup group analysis

Analysis of the eight World Cup groups:

Germany comfortable with favourites tag

Germany comfortable with favourites tag

Joachim Loew is comfortable with Germany carrying the favourites tag for next year's World Cup, but the head coach has a few areas to strengthen before his team's title defence in Russia.

England or Spain are lurking in pot two as potential group-stage opponents for the world champions in Friday's draw in Moscow.

Loew talked about the 2018 finals as being "the hardest tournament so far" of his 12-year reign in charge, because the Germans will be the team to beat.

"I am completely relaxed and don't have any sleepless nights," insisted Loew after a 2-2 draw against France in their final friendly of 2017 a fortnight ago.

Germany are in rude health and unbeaten in their last 21 internationals, dating back to the defeat by France in the Euro 2016 semifinals.

"We have worked on building an incredibly good base. We know what we can do, so I am not nervous anymore about our preparations," he added.

Loew's goal is to arrive in Russia with every position covered, but he needs key players to return from injury and to find understudies for wing-backs Jonas Hector and Joshua Kimmich.

Borussia Dortmund playmaker Marco Reus has been out since May with a knee injury, while captain and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is not expected back until January at the earliest after fracturing his foot.

Juventus defender Benedikt Hoewedes and Dortmund winger Andre Schuerrle, both of whom played in the 2014 final victory over Argentina, are out of form.

MIDFIELD OPTIONS

However, he is not short of options, especially in midfield.

Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan is back fit after a serious knee injury while Mario Goetze, whose extra-time goal won the final three years ago, is shining in a struggling Dortmund team after recovering from a metabolic disorder.

Loew's gamble to rest all of his 2014 stars and take an inexperienced squad to the Confederations Cup in Russia earlier this year paid off when they beat Chile 1-0 to win the tournament.

Midfielder Leon Goretzka and forward Lars Stindl forced their way into Loew's World Cup plans with strong displays.

Timo Werner proved himself as a fleet-footed striker with great finishing, ending Germany's wait for a replacement for Miroslav Klose.

The World Cup's all-time top-scorer with 16 goals retired from international duty after Brazil, and will carry the trophy onto the stage for the draw.

The Germans cruised through qualifying with 10 wins, and Loew has secured tough opponents for friendlies next March, against Spain in Duesseldorf and Brazil in Berlin, to further test his plans.

This will be his last chance to look at potential combinations before the squad is announced in May and by his own admission, Germany are not yet firing on all cylinders.

In November friendlies, Gareth Southgate's England were unlucky to finish with only a goalless draw after largely outplaying the Germans at Wembley.

Only a last-gasp equaliser from Stindl rescued another draw with France in Cologne.

"Even after this outstanding year, our game still needs to click, things need to become automatic," said Loew.

It is still unclear where the Germans will be based for the World Cup, the main options being Moscow and Sochi.

Team manager Oliver Bierhoff preaches the practicalities of Moscow, the main hub for flights around the world's biggest country.

However, the players raved about the benefits of Sochi's beach and sea-air when they were based on the Black Sea for the Confederations Cup.

"One has to look at lots of aspects, also the logistics," said Bierhoff.

Easy passage looks good for Tunisia

Easy passage looks good for Tunisia

Tunisia were handed a relatively easy passage to their fifth World Cup but they went through the African preliminaries with a proficiency that augurs well for next year’s finals in Russia.

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