Vinicius Jr., Dembele rise; Rashford, Di Maria fall


We are less than a month away from the World Cup in Qatar, when the host nation will kick off the tournament on Nov. 20 against Ecuador.

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All 32 finalists are making their closing plans for the tournament, hoping that star players don’t get struck down by injury and head into the World Cup in top form. Away from that, there’s plenty of players who are desperately hoping to break into their country’s 26-man squad, which has to be named by Nov. 13.

Each week, we’ll take a look at the favourites to see how they are shaping up and also check in with other nations as their players either shine or struggle.

World Cup finals bracket and fixtures schedule

JUMP TO: England | France | Germany | Spain | Netherlands | United States | Mexico | Argentina | Australia | Senegal | Tunisia | Belgium | Morocco | Cameroon | Portugal | Ghana | South Korea


BRAZIL
Fixtures: Serbia (Nov. 24), Switzerland (Nov. 28), Cameroon (Dec. 2)

Squad announcement date: Nov. 7

STOCK CLIMBING

Vinicius Junior: It might seem hard to believe, but Vinicius Junior is not guaranteed a place in Brazil’s starting line up. With a tweak here and there, the team has three different selections. Vini appears in two, but in the other — which is probably the most likely formation — he is on the bench. His task over these next few weeks, then, is to use every Real Madrid match as a stage from which to proclaim his merits — and he certainly did that at the weekend, with an outstanding display in the 3-1 win over Sevilla. A few more matches like that and it will be hard for Tite to leave him out next month.

STOCK FALLING

Lucas Paqueta: If last week the injury worry was Richarlison, this time it is Paqueta, who is possibly even more important to the team. In those tactical switches, Paqueta is the joker in the pack, able to operate as an attacking midfielder, a false winger and in a deeper midfield role — and also at centre forward if required. The rib injury he suffered for West Ham has Brazil worried. Neymar, his on-field partner, went to social media to tell Paqueta that “I need you.” The injury would seem unlikely to keep Paqueta out of the World Cup, but Brazil are taking no chances. Next Monday the team doctor will fly to London to check on his progress. — Tim Vickery


ENGLAND
Fixtures: IR Iran (Nov. 21), United States (Nov. 25), Wales (Nov. 29)

Squad announcement date: Nov. 10

STOCK CLIMBING

Callum Wilson: The race to win a place in Gareth Southgate’s squad as cover for centre-forward Harry Kane is intensifying, so it was a good weekend for Newcastle forward Wilson to score as his team climbed into the Premier League top four with a 2-1 against Kane’s Tottenham. Wilson, 30, has not played for England since winning the last of his four caps in the 6-0 win against Bulgaria in Sofia in Oct 2019, but having overcome a number of injury problems, he has now thrust himself back in contention to go to Qatar.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin: The Everton forward is the player most likely to fill the slot as Kane’s understudy in Qatar, but injuries have restricted him to just four appearances for Frank Lampard’s team this season. However, Calvert-Lewin has enjoyed a consistent run of games in October and he scored his first goal of the season in Saturday’s 3-0 win against Crystal Palace at Goodison Park.

Dean Henderson: Gareth Southgate is expected to take three goalkeepers to Qatar, with Everton’s Jordan Pickford a certainty as first-choice if he stays fit. But the race to be the second and third keepers is arguably between Arsenal‘s Aaron Ramsdale, Newcastle’s Nick Pope and Nottingham Forest‘s Dean Henderson. Henderson, on a season-long loan from Manchester United, was outstanding in the 1-0 win against Liverpool at the weekend and back in the shake-up for a World Cup spot.

Trevoh Chalobah: With England beginning to worry about defensive injuries, especially at centre-half, the performance of Chelsea defender Chalobah in the 1-1 draw against United will have done the 23-year-old no harm in his bid to make a late surge into the squad. Chalobah dominated his battle against Marcus Rashford and enjoyed one of his best performances for the club.

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Mark Ogden reacts to the notable absentees from Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad.

STOCK FALLING

Jadon Sancho: The Manchester United winger struggled to make an impact during Saturday’s 1-1 draw. The former Borussia Dortmund player has made just one England appearance since Euro 2020 and that came as Southgate shuffled his squad for a 5-0 win in Andorra 12 months ago, so he has fallen out of the picture. But any chance he had of forcing way back into the squad now seems to have gone completely.

Marcus Rashford: He was singled out by United manager Erik ten Hag for missing two easy chances in the 1-1 draw at Chelsea and he was similarly wasteful in the 2-0 win against Spurs in midweek. Rashford’s finishing is not simply good enough, but his pace and experience might just enable him to sneak into the squad to give Southgate an impact sub in Qatar.

Raheem Sterling: The Chelsea forward is guaranteed a seat on the plane to Qatar, but his club means he may be losing his grip on a starting spot for the opening game against Iran. Sterling was anonymous and substituted in the United game and has now scored just once in his last nine games for Chelsea.

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

This could be a good week for Southgate with Manchester United defender Harry Maguire back in training and potentially in contention for an appearance in Thursday’s Europa League clash against Sheriff Tiraspol. — Mark Ogden


FRANCE
Fixtures: Australia (Nov. 22), Denmark (Nov. 26), Tunisia (Nov. 30)

Squad announcement date: Nov. 9

STOCK CLIMBING

Ousmane Dembele: Incredible performance from the Barcelona winger on Sunday night against Athletic Club. Dembele scored once and assisted three other goals in Barca’s emphatic 4-0 win at the Camp Nou. This was his best game of the season and he is looking sharp and at his best at the right time. With Varane’s injury, Didier Deschamps might return to a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2 formation and he would have a big role to play in it.

Antoine Griezmann: Now that his contractual situation is sorted and he is an Atletico de Madrid player again, he is reborn! He was outstanding again at the weekend with two goals and a superb display. He is playing up front off Alvaro Morata, a role perfect for him and he is almost back to his best level too.

STOCK FALLING

Raphael Varane: This weekend has brought another blow to France with the injury of Varane. The centre back injured his hamstring and will be out between three to four weeks. It means he would miss Les Bleus’ first game of the tournament against Australia. Will Didier Deschamps include him in the squad knowing this? It is likely but his fitness will be a worry until the second game against Denmark.

Olivier Giroud: After an average performance against Verona the previous weekend, the Milan striker didn’t come on at all in the win against Monza (4-1). It is worrying as his place in the squad for the World Cup is not nailed on yet and he needs strong displays with his club to fully convince Deschamps to take him to Qatar. Let’s see if he starts against Salzburg in the Champions League.

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

Another week and another piece of bad news for Didier Deschamps with the injury to Raphael Varane. The Manchester United centre back should still make the squad because Deschamps needs his experience and his leadership. After N’Golo Kante, it is a blow. However, overall the French players are in great form as we could have mentioned Adrien Rabiot, Youssouf Fofana, Kylian Mbappe, Christopher Nkunku or Dayot Upamecano who have all shone in the last seven days. — Julien Laurens


GERMANY
Fixtures: Japan (Nov. 23), Spain (Nov. 27), Costa Rica (Dec. 1)

Squad announcement date: Around Nov. 11

STOCK CLIMBING

Jonas Hofmann: The Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder recently injured his shoulder, and some feared he might not be available for the World Cup. But Hofmann has returned to running training in recent days and is expected to make a full recovery in time. The 30-year-old is important to Germany’s plans, as national coach Hansi Flick can use him in various roles on the right side — from right-back to right winger.

Mario Gotze: The former golden boy of Germany fell from grace years ago, but following his return to the Bundesliga this summer, he has regained the love from fans. As a part of Eintracht Frankfurt’s energetic attack, the technician can once again show his extraordinary skills and prove that he is still as gifted as he was when he first emerged on the professional scene over 10 years ago. Gotze has been included in Germany’s preliminary squad list.

STOCK FALLING

Julian Draxler: Missing on that list is Julian Draxler. Due to his mediocre form for a long time and the fact that he has not consistently made the starting XI of Benfica, which have loaned him from Paris Saint-Germain, Draxler is essentially relegated to the status of “former international.” The playmaker once was one of Joachim Low’s favorite pupils, but Flick does not seem to share the same fondness for him.

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

The preliminary squad list that has been leaked to the media and will be slimmed down from 44 to 26 by 10 November includes a couple of intriguing names, besides those who are expected to lead the team in Qatar, i.e. Joshua Kimmich, Jamal Musiala and Thomas Muller. The 17-year-old striker Youssoufa Moukoko or 19-year-old left-back Luca Netz could be interesting choices given their raw talent and carefreeness which, in a way, might be valuable in close games on the biggest stage possible. Germany does not lack talent, but putting the pieces together remains a huge task for coach Flick. — Constantin Eckner


SPAIN
Fixtures: Costa Rica (Nov. 23), Germany (Nov. 27), Japan (Dec. 1)

Squad announcement date: Nov. 11

STOCK CLIMBING

Ferran Torres: Two goals off the bench in a week — against Real Madrid in El Clasico and now in Sunday’s 4-0 thrashing of Athletic Club — plus a midweek start against Villarreal will have Luis Enrique hoping Ferran has recovered his goalscoring touch just in time for the World Cup. Spain lack reliable finishers and only Alvaro Morata has scored more goals for the national team than Ferran over the last two years.

Marco Asensio: Asensio’s lack of game time at Madrid might make him an outside bet to make Spain’s squad, but he’s carving out a useful club role as a game-changing impact sub which could be useful in Qatar. Asensio scored his first LaLiga goal of the season against Elche last Wednesday, and then inspired Madrid’s 3-1 win over Sevilla on Saturday by creating their crucial second goal just two minutes after coming on.

Alejandro Balde: Balde would be a surprise late call-up given the competition at left-back, with club teammate Jordi Alba and Valencia‘s Jose Gaya the two leading candidates, but Balde’s Barcelona form — starting nine games in LaLiga and excelling against Athletic on Sunday — is doing him no harm at all. Luis Enrique has a track record of identifying and trusting in young Barca players, too: just look at Gavi and Pedri.

Kepa Arrizabalaga: Kepa has fallen from being Spain’s first choice goalkeeper in 2019 to not even making recent squads, with Luis Enrique backing Athletic’s Unai Simon as his number one and Brighton’s Robert Sanchez and Brentford‘s David Raya as two preferred back-ups who excel with the ball at their feet. Kepa’s consistent performances for Chelsea over the last month — he’s started all seven of their games in October — might just give the coach pause for thought.

STOCK FALLING

Sergi Roberto: The Barca veteran was always going to be an unlikely candidate for Qatar, with Dani Carvajal and Cesar Azpilicueta expected to be Luis Enrique’s two options at right-back. Sergi Roberto’s form over the last week — especially in the 4-0 win over Athletic — might have made him a dark-horse option given his versatility, but a dislocated shoulder means he is out for the foreseeable future. — Alex Kirkland


NETHERLANDS
Fixtures: Senegal (Nov. 21), Ecuador (Nov. 25), Qatar (Nov. 29)

Squad announcement date: Nov. 13

STOCK CLIMBING

Mickey van de Ven, Svet Botman & Xavi Simons: Van de Ven is the only field player of Wolfsburg who didn’t miss a single minute so far this season, as he is one of the fastest players of the Bundesliga. Sven Botman, who is captain of U21 of Holland, has performed well since he moved to Newcastle United. His physicality proves that he can compete with the big names in the Premier League as the data shows that he is part of the top defenders in (aerial) duels won. Xavi Simons impressed in the Eredivisie, as he is the most productive player of PSV besides key player Cody Gakpo. No midfielder got involved in so many goals (11) as Simons this season, where he belongs to the top segment talking about created chances, shots (on target) and duels won.

Frenkie de Jong: He has played his third consecutive match as a starter at FC Barcelona. Especially midweek against Villarreal he showed an outstanding performance for his club. Jeremie Frimpong (Bayer Leverkusen), who is part of the group of Louis van Gaal, showed another time that he should be part of the final selection. He scored his 5th goal of the season, which made him the most scoring defender of all top-5 leagues in Europe, as no defender had more successful dribbles compared to the right wingback.

Steven Berghuis: He is one of — or maybe just the most important player for his club. He scored twice and assisted one in the 1-4 win. Brian Brobbey was responsible for the two other goals. The 20-year-old talented striker scores every 64 minutes (min. 5 goals in total) in the league, which makes him the most effective player in the history. Because of the win, Ajax created a gap of four points as other competitors for the league title dropped points.

STOCK FALLING

Tyrell Malacia: The defender stayed on the bench for the fourth match in a row in the Premier League. The Dutch talented defender started strongly in Manchester but after a bad performance against Man City and Omonia Nicosia, Erik ten Hag preferred Luke Shaw over Malacia.

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

Memphis Depay is still recovering from his hamstring injury. He will be back before the World Cup, but people are questioning if he’ll play enough minutes so the striker will be on top of his form. Memphis is the most important player (top scorer) of the Dutch national team. Marten de Roon had to substitute himself as he suffered a hamstring injury last weekend. At this moment it’s unclear if he can make it to Qatar next month. Luuk de Jong just came back from an injury. He is one of the possibilities to be part of the final 26 player as an impact sub. — Max Toemen


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Ale Moreno praises Gio Reyna after Borussia Dortmund win 5-0 vs. Stuttgart in the Bundesliga.

UNITED STATES
Fixtures: Wales (Nov. 21), England (Nov. 25), IR Iran (Nov. 29)

Squad announcement date: Nov. 9

STOCK CLIMBING

Gio Reyna: The health of the U.S. attacker has been on the mind of many U.S. fans for the past 14 months, and when he hobbled off in last month’s friendly against Saudi Arabia after 30 minutes, those worries kicked into overdrive. But last weekend, Reyna scored his first goal in 421 days and played 66 minutes. The performance hints that Reyna may yet be counted on to start matches for the U.S. in Qatar, where his skill on the ball would provide a boost to the Americans’ attack.

STOCK FALLING

Ethan Horvath: Horvath wasn’t solely to blame for Luton’s 4-0 loss to Watford. In fact, he made a few first half saves to keep his side in the game. But his gift of a pass to Joao Pedro allowed the home side to score their third goal of the match, and put the result beyond doubt. Horvath is in a battle with NYCFC’s Sean Johnson for the third goalkeeper spot, and with Johnson looking sharp in the MLS playoffs, every error counts.

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

After a brutal September, the month of October has brought some hope that the U.S. — or at least some of its players — might be not only healing but peaking at the right time. In addition to Reyna scoring, Weston McKennie found the back of the net in Juventus‘ 4-0 win over Empoli. Valencia‘s Yunus Musah, Fulham‘s Antonee Robinson and Lille‘s Tim Weah continue to see the field after injury layoffs. The only downer was the fact that Tyler Adams missed Leeds United‘s 3-2 defeat to Fulham due to injury, but the ailment isn’t thought to be serious. There are now just a little over two weeks to go until the U.S. roster announcement on Nov. 9. — Jeff Carlisle


MEXICO
Fixtures: Poland (Nov. 22), Argentina (Nov. 26), Saudi Arabia (Nov. 30)

Squad announcement date: Nov. 13

STOCK CLIMBING

Kevin Alvarez: With reports of Ajax scouts keeping tabs on him at the Liga MX semifinal match, the 23-year-old right-back was instrumental in Sunday’s 1-0 victory for Pachuca over Monterrey that helped push the Liga MX club into this week’s two-legged final. After another standout season in Mexico’s top flight, Alvarez appears set to guarantee his spot in Qatar.

STOCK FALLING

Diego Lainez: Lainez has now gone three matches in a row in all competitions without minutes for Portugal’s Braga. Despite proving to be a game-changer off the bench for Mexico in early 2022, a severe lack of playing time in recent months may end up leaving him out of the final World Cup roster. At the moment, he’s on the outside looking in.

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

Alvarez’s latest Liga MX playoff performance, as well as that of fellow Pachuca/Mexico internationals Erick Sanchez and Luis Chavez, will be excellent news for national team manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino. Although it’s unexpected that Alvarez, Sanchez or Chavez would be starters for El Tri in the World Cup, they’ll provide much-needed depth in the aging roster. — Cesar Hernandez


ARGENTINA
Fixtures: Saudi Arabia (Nov. 22), Mexico (Nov. 26), Poland (Nov. 30)

Squad announcement date: Nov. 13

STOCK FALLING

Angel Di Maria: Out of action since picking up an injury in the Champions League two weeks ago, Angel Di Maria has angered Juventus fans by going on social media to post a photo of the boots he will be wearing in Qatar. Supporters of his club replied that they would like to see him wearing his boots on the field for Juventus, and reminded him that the club pay his wages. But with such little time between the pause in club action and the start of the World Cup, it is little wonder that Di Maria is one of the players who is almost certainly thinking more about his national team in the run up to Qatar. — Tim Vickery


AUSTRALIA
Fixtures: France (Nov. 22), Tunisia (Nov. 26), Denmark (Nov. 30)

STOCK CLIMBING

Cameron Devlin & Kenny Dougall: Aaron Mooy and Jackson Irvine appear to be locked in for coach Graham Arnold’s squad in Qatar, but a combination of injuries and a lack of minutes at club for many of his other midfield options has opened the door for Devlin and Dougall to force their way into contention.

A regular part of Robbie Neilson’s Hearts side this season, Devlin returned from a red-card suspension and won two penalties in his side’s pulsating 4-3 loss to Celtic. Despite only making his Socceroos debut in September is increasingly being touted as a possible start in Qatar should Ajdin Hrustic be ruled out with injury and Mooy moves further up the pitch.

Dougall, meanwhile, has been playing week in and week out across Blackpool’s midfield in the Championship and has registered two goals and an assist in his last three games.

Nathaniel Atkinson, Harry Souttar & Ajdin Hrustic: All potential starters, Atkinson, Souttar, and Hrustic have been under injury clouds as of late but the past week brought some promising news.

After fears he would miss the World Cup with an ankle injury, Neilson declared that Atkinson “won’t be out long-term” and he should be available for the Socceroos in Qatar. Souttar, meanwhile, got through another appearance with Stoke’s U23 team in his recovery from an ACL rupture and is approaching a return to senior football.

Hrustic still remains under a much more significant cloud but Arnold recently told The ABC that had spoken to the attacker and declared that “he’s very positive about the ankle. He’s already back walking on it.”

STOCK FALLING

Jason Cummings & Garang Kuol: On paper, lowly Perth Glory represented a perfect opportunity for Cummings and Kuol to pad their case for selection but, unfortunately for the Mariner duo, both misfired as their side failed to force opposition goalkeeper Liam Reddy into a single save in the last 70 minutes of a 2-1 defeat.

Needing to fill his boots during this early season stretch to convince Arnold to take four centre-forwards to Qatar, Cummings will now have to do something special in the final two games before the squad is announced to earn a place. Kuol, meanwhile, will have significant sentiment behind his case but will need to be better than he was against Glory across those games to justify a spot as an inexperienced off-the-bench weapon. — Joey Lynch


SENEGAL
Fixtures: Netherlands (Nov. 21), Qatar (Nov. 25), Ecuador (Nov. 29)

STOCK CLIMBING

Nicolas Jackson: He extended his fine form with a 94th-minute winner as Villarreal defeated Almeria 2-1 in what turned out to be Unai Emery’s last match in charge of the Yellow Submarine. The attacker had never started a top flight game before this season, but has already had a hand in four goals and — despite not yet being capped — could be primed to make a late run into Aliou Cisse’s squad.

STOCK FALLING

Kalidou Koulibaly: Absent for Chelsea’s weekend draw with Manchester United, Koulibaly continues to recover from a knee injury sustained against Brentford and is still to return to training. The centre-back is expected to be back in sessions from the middle of the week according to Graham Potter, but is unlikely to be risked for the Brighton & Hove Albion game on Saturday.

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

Cisse will be encouraged by Cheikhou Kouyate‘s sound defensive display in Nottingham Forest‘s shock victory over Liverpool, with the towering campaigner a key element of the engine room alongside Nampalys Mendy — steadily returning to favour under Brendan Rodgers at Leicester City — and Idrissa Gueye. However, Koulibaly’s ongoing injury problems, as well as Edouard Mendy’s fall from grace at Stamford Bridge, continue to represent major concerns. — Ed Dove


TUNISIA
Fixtures: Denmark (Nov. 22), Australia (Nov. 26), France (Nov. 30)

STOCK CLIMBING

Aissa Laidouni: The influential midfielder made his Ferencvaros return after over a fortnight sidelined with injury as they dispatched Puskas 4-2 away. He registered an assist during an accomplished comeback, before being replaced just after the hour mark as he works his way back to full fitness.

STOCK FALLING

Wahbi Khazri: Arguably Tunisia’s best player of the last decade, Khazri has fallen out of favour at club level at just the wrong time for the Carthage Eagles, with new Montpellier head coach Romain Pitau not using the summer arrival at all as MHSC were defeated 2-1 at home by Lyon. Khazri hasn’t featured for Montpellier since October 15, and is without a start since mid-September.

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

Khazri’s loss of form is worrying, not least because it’s hard to see exactly how he fits into Pitau’s new tactical schema at Montpellier. He’s impressed at international tournaments before despite struggling at club level — notably at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, while on Sunderland’s books — but will his Ligue 1 inactivity affect him in Qatar? — Ed Dove


BELGIUM
Fixtures: Canada (Nov. 23), Morocco (Nov. 27), Croatia (Dec. 1)

STOCK CLIMBING

Thibaut Courtois: There was a time where the back problem of the Real Madrid was a bit of a worry but normal service has been resumed. Courtois is in the Real Madrid travelling squad to Leipzig and he is back fit now. He will build his fitness in the next few weeks to be at his best for the start of the World Cup. And Roberto Martinez is happy.

Youri Tielemans: Finally, you would say! After a tough start of the season, the Leicester midfielder is finally hitting form and at the right time as well, just a few weeks before the start of the World Cup. His goal against Wolves at the weekend was sensational and his all-around performance showed that he is almost back to his best.

STOCK FALLING

Eden Hazard: It is staring to be a habit for him to be in this category now unfortunately. He still doesn’t play enough to arrive in good form at the World Cup. This last 30 days, the former Chelsea star has only featured 57 minutes for Real Madrid. Less than an hour in a month is bad. He has not played the full 90 minutes of a game since December 2021. The situation is very worrying.

Thorgan Hazard: And things are not much better for his younger brother Thorgan either. The Borussia Dortmund winger has lost his place in the starting XI and only comes on for 20 minutes at the end of games (apart from the German Cup where he started). Is that enough to jeopardise his place at the World Cup?

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

There is still a lot of worry over Eden Hazard of course but otherwise, things are looking good for Belgium and Roberto Martinez. Last weekend, Kevin De Bruyne was great with Manchester City, Divock Origi scored with Milan while 23-year-old Mike Tresor has a superb game for leaders Genk against Antwerp. Tresor has been great so far this season and could be Martinez’ surprise in the squad. — Julien Laurens


MOROCCO
Fixtures: Croatia (Nov. 23), Belgium (Nov. 27), Canada (Dec. 1)

STOCK FALLING

Imran Louza: Following knee surgery at the end of last season, Louza had steadily begun to make his comeback for Watford before disaster struck. The midfielder had reminded supporters of his class in recent weeks, but has again been sidelined after picking up an ankle injury against Millwall. The 23-year-old has undergone surgery on a broken fibula, and will miss the World Cup. “Every team depends on one or two players, even the best,” said Watford head coach Slaven Bilic. “Barcelona without Messi, Croatia without Modric. There is no one else like [Louza] in that position.” Morocco will be similarly reeling from his loss.

Abde Ezzalzouli: Another addition to Morocco’s growing injury list, the Barcelona wonderkid is now a doubt for the tournament after picking up a muscle injury only eight minutes into Osasuna‘s draw at Girona.

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

Romain Saiss and Nayef Aguerd are still to make their injury returns for Besiktas and West Ham United respectively, with each week that passes giving the pair less opportunity to return to peak condition for the World Cup. At least Yassine Bounou — who made some fine saves against Real Madrid, albeit in defeat — is in fine form between the sticks. — Ed Dove


CAMEROON
Fixtures: Switzerland (Nov. 24), Serbia (Nov. 28), Brazil (Dec. 2)

STOCK CLIMBING

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting: There may not be too many players heading to the World Cup in better form that much maligned Choupo-Moting, with the 33-year-old again delivering another masterclass at the weekend. He netted in Bayern Munich‘s 2-0 victory at Hoffenheim to take his tally up to four goals and an assist in his last three matches, prompting Bayern director Hasan Salihamidzic to moot the possibility of a contract extension.

STOCK FALLING

Jean-Charles Castelletto: Dropped from the starting XI after one too many sub-par performances for Nantes, Castelletto was nonetheless handed a reprieve when he was introduced as a 73rd-minute substitute — for compatriot and goalscorer Ignatius Ganago — with the Canaries winning 1-0 away. The centre-back’s primary contribution was to handle in the box, allowing Nice to equalise from the spot via Nicolas Pepe in the 96th minute. The 27-year-old’s confidence will surely be at a low ebb as he heads to Qatar.

HOW IS THE COUNTRY LOOKING

There’s talk of a new contract for Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa at Napoli as well, but all Cameroon fans will care about is seeing the midfielder back in action as soon as possible. He sat out the victory over AS Roma, but did at least return to training last week. Choupo-Moting’s unlikely goalscoring renaissance — as well as all he offers without the ball — really could give Cameroon another dimension in attack, particularly valuable considering Karl Toko Ekambi is without a goal in five. — Ed Dove


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1:17

Mark Ogden explains why clubs are yet to show interest in taking Cristiano Ronaldo on a free transfer from Man United.

PORTUGAL
Fixtures: Ghana (Nov. 24), Uruguay (Nov. 28), South Korea (Dec. 2)

Squad announcement date: Around Nov. 10

STOCK CLIMBING

Bruno Fernandes: The Manchester United midfielder scored his first goal since August against Tottenham Hotspur last week, and won Man of the Match for his performance. If he can deliver similar well-rounded displays for his country, he’ll be essential to Portugal‘s hopes for making it out of the group stage.

Cristiano Ronaldo: After being dropped for the 1-1 draw against Chelsea, the 37-year-old is back in training with United’s first team and might make Erik ten Hag’s squad for the Europa League tie against FC Sheriff. Ten Hag insists that Ronaldo is “an important part” of his squad. For the striker to be sharp for the World Cup, he’ll need as many minutes as he can get. — SherShah Atif


GHANA
Fixtures: Portugal (Nov. 24), South Korea (Nov. 28), Uruguay (Dec. 2)

STOCK CLIMBING

Richard Ofori: Influential goalkeeper and one of Ghana’s vice-captains, Ofori sustained an injury in action for South African giants Orlando Pirates last weekend — threatening his participation in Qatar — but returned to full training on Monday and should make the cut.

STOCK FALLING

Alexander Djiku: One of the Black Stars’ starting centre-backs, Djiku was withdrawn in the 26th minute of Toulouse‘s 2-2 home draw with Strasbourg on Sunday, with the visitors’ coach Julien Stephan later confirming he had a slight hamstring pull. Ghana will hope that his premature withdrawal has prevented more serious damage.

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

Djiku’s injury setback is less than ideal, although in truth, Ghana are well equipped in the heart of defence with Mohammed Salisu finally making his Black Stars debut recently, and Joseph Aidoo and Daniel Amartey both excelling this weekend. Ill-fated Abdul Rahman Baba’s return from injury — and to form — for Reading also boosts the left-sided options. — Ed Dove


SOUTH KOREA
Fixtures: Uruguay (Nov. 24), Ghana (Nov. 28), Portugal (Dec. 2)

STOCK CLIMBING

Kim Min-Jae: Another week gone, and another week where Napoli once again picked up maximum points to remain top of Serie A — this time a hard-fought 1-0 win over Roma. And once more, South Korean defender Kim Min-jae enhanced his reputation with a solid display in the heart of the Napoli defence alongside Juan Jesus coming up against a formidable opposition pair in Tammy Abraham and Nicolo Zaniolo.

STOCK FALLING

Hwang Hee-Chan: With Wolves struggling in the Premier League, the fact that Hwang Hee-Chan is still finding it difficult to force his way into the starting XI speaks volumes of the dire situation he currently finds himself in a month out from the World Cup. Hwang’s place in Paulo Bento’s squad is unlikely to be under threat, but he may struggle to make an impact given his recent lack of regular action.

HOW THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING

Kim Min-jae reaching new levels of performance with each passing week is a huge boost for South Korea. Even coming up against the likes of Portugal and Uruguay, Bento’s confidence in them being able to hold out at the back must be growing with every game that Napoli — and Kim — play. It is perhaps now at the other end of the pitch where the Taegeuk Warriors are starting to have concerns over, with Son Heung-min also not in the greatest of forms so far this season and the next alternative in Hwang not even getting onto the pitch for the most part. — Gabriel Tan





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