After Germany’s social conscience saw it protest in spite of FIFA’s efforts, a European rival has no plans to do the same in Thursday night’s opening match.
Plus Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and tournament favourites in Brazil are in action on Friday morning.
Follow FIFA World Cup Matchday 5 in our live blogs below, including Switzerland v Cameroon (9pm AEDT), Uruguay v South Korea (12am AEDT), Portugal v Ghana (3am AEDT) and Brazil v Serbia (6am AEDT).
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SWITZERLAND v CAMEROON [9pm AEDT] – Preview (via AFP) and live blog
Switzerland captain Granit Xhaka said his side did not have to copy Germany’s mouth-covering protest against FIFA’s stance on rainbow-themed armbands.
Germany lined up for their team photo before a shock 2-1 defeat to Japan making the gesture after they abandoned plans for skipper Manuel Neuer to wear the “OneLove” armband following threats of on-field disciplinary action by FIFA.
“I don’t think we need to do anything as the Swiss team. We need to respect the rules and concentrate on our football, that’s all I intend to do,” captain Xhaka told reporters ahead of his team’s Group G opener against Cameroon on Thursday.
“We’re here to play football and not hand out lessons to anyone.”
A representative of the Swiss football federation had previously said Xhaka “would have liked” to wear the armband but would instead wear one provided by FIFA with an anti-racist message.
The Swiss were one of seven European teams whose captains were to wear the armband in support of LGBTQ people at the tournament in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.
Germany’s football association (DFB) said it was examining the legality of FIFA’s threat, after some of the teams came under fire at home for failing to take a stronger stand against the stance of world football’s governing body.
Netherlands midfielder Davy Klaassen, whose country was one of the seven to back down, later praised the Germans for their protest.
“That’s a nice variation on the armband. It was a good way to do it,” he told reporters.
Klaassen’s team take on Ecuador in their second Group A match on Saturday.
Follow Switzerland v Cameroon in our live blog below!
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URUGUAY v SOUTH KOREA [12am AEDT] – Preview (via AFP) and live blog
Son Heung-min will be able to play in South Korea’s opening World Cup match against Uruguay despite wearing a mask after facial surgery, coach Paulo Bento said.
The Spurs attacker and South Korean skipper had surgery earlier this month after suffering a fracture around his left eye in a collision during a Champions League game.
“Son can play and will be able to play,” Bento said.
It remains to be seen to what extent the South Korean talisman features, with the Portuguese boss cautioning: “He knows and we know that after this injury we cannot take any risks.”
The 30-year-old Son has been training in Qatar in a mask and South Korean fans have been eagerly awaiting updates on his fitness.
At one training session in Doha the mask appeared to be troubling Son as he went through fitness drills with the rest of the squad.
Bento insisted the mask was “natural” for the player, who has scored 35 times in more than 100 internationals and shared the Premier League Golden Boot last season with Liverpool’s Mo Salah.
“The fact he will be wearing a mask is not inconvenient for him,” said Bento. “We have stuck to the plan since we arrived here, also the way we integrated him into our group shows he has been natural.
“We will see tomorrow how it will be. Our hope is that he will feel comfortable as far as possible.”
Wolves forward Hwang Hee-chan is, however, unlikely to feature because of a hamstring problem.
Uruguay, who boast veteran attackers Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, plus younger talents such as Federico Valverde and Darwin Nunez, will be favourites to win the opening Group H match.
But coach Diego Alonso said the two-time winners would be wary of South Korea whether or not Son is involved.
“Obviously Korea do not only have this player,” he said. “I have lots of respect for Son, but Korea also have other players, they are very well trained, have a good coach, a very good XI, we respect everyone.”
After Lionel Messi’s Argentina were on the end of a shock loss to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, veteran captain Diego Godin said Uruguay would have to “tread carefully”.
The Koreans reached the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup, which they jointly hosted with Japan, but failed to get beyond the group stage at the past two tournaments.
“We have a lot of respect for our opponents, we know we’re up against a great team,” said Godin. “They’re very competitive, they’re very dynamic, with good individual players who also have a particular way of playing.”
The 36-year-old is one of a number of veterans for Uruguay playing in their fourth World Cup, alongside Cavani, Suarez, Fernando Muslera and Martin Caceres.
But they also have impressive Real Madrid star Valverde and fellow midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur, Son’s team-mate at Tottenham.
Follow Uruguay v South Korea in our live blog below!
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PORTUGAL v GHANA [3am AEDT] – Preview (via Oliver Murray and AFP) and live blog
What does Cristiano Ronaldo have in common with former Socceroos defender Craig Moore and former New Zealand international Simon Elliott?
At the moment, not much. But when the superstar takes the field for Portugal against Ghana on Friday morning (AEDT), the three will share a unique World Cup feat.
He will become the first player since Moore and Elliott in 2010 to compete in a World Cup match without having a club.
Ronaldo is the only player out of 831 competing in Qatar without a club.
The striker parted ways with Premier League club Manchester United by mutual consent on Tuesday and is searching for a new club.
Ronaldo, 37, had spoken in a controversial interview last week, where he lashed out at coach Erik ten Hag and the club itself, provoking his eventual departure.
How much that search for a new club impacts his performances on the field will be on show in a few hours.
But Portugal coach Fernando Santos claimed that Ronaldo’s acrimonious split from Manchester United had not been discussed by the players to his knowledge.
“In our time together on the pitch, whenever we’re together, playing and training, the conversation has not come up at any moment, not even from him (Ronaldo),” he told a press conference.
“If they’re talking about that in their rooms alone, I can’t say. The players are absolutely focused, with a great spirit, convinced about what they have to do, what their objectives are and realistic about the challenges they are facing.
The superstar has also been banned for two English Premier League matches and fined £50,000 for hitting a mobile phone out of a teenage fan’s hand.
Ronaldo was involved in a flare-up with a 14-year-old boy following the Red Devils 1-0 loss away to Everton in the Premier League at Goodison Park on April 9.
Of course, that ban is irrelevant if Ronaldo doesn’t find another team in England, but it’s another distraction he needs heading into his final World Cup.
His teammates are saying the off field dramas with Ronaldo aren’t impacting the team in Qatar.
Portugal midfielder Bruno Fernandes – who played with Ronaldo at Manchester United – said it was a “dream” to play with him at United, but “nothing lasts forever”.
“It is his career and we have to respect such decisions, every decision has to be respected regardless of whether you agree or not,” he said before the Ghana game.
“We as players, but also as parents, brothers, we know it might be difficult to take some decisions but these decisions have to be for the wellness of ourselves and our families.”
Ghana coach Otto Addo thinks that Portugal will not be affected by Ronaldo’s split from Manchester United.
“I don’t care, it’s not our problem and I don’t think it’s a big problem,” Addo told a press conference on Wednesday.
“Everybody wants to win and we’re at World Cup level, I don’t think this can disrupt anybody.”
Black Stars captain Andre Ayew agreed with his coach and said Euro 2016 winners Portugal would be favourites for the clash at Stadium 974 in Doha.
“As my boss said it’s not really our problem what’s happening in the Portuguese team, they are great professionals, playing for top teams, they will be ready for the World Cup,” said Ayew, who plays for Qatari club Al-Sadd.
“Portugal are the ones who are favourites on paper, we have to show on the field, that on paper is not what will happen on the pitch.”
Follow Portugal v Ghana in our live blog below!
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BRAZIL v SERBIA [6am AEDT] – Preview (via AFP) and live blog
Brazil are hoping a fully fit and firing Neymar, and a well-balanced squad around him, will allow the five-time winners to live up to their status as World Cup favourites in Qatar.
They begin their bid to win a record-extending sixth title when they play a dangerous Serbia side – and the world’s most expensive player is coming into the tournament in ominous form.
In 2014, Neymar’s World Cup ended in agony as he suffered a fractured bone in his back in the quarter-final win over Colombia before the hosts were humiliated by Germany in the semi-finals, losing 7-1.
Four years later Neymar raced to recover from injury in time for the tournament in Russia, but Brazil never hit the expected heights before losing to Belgium in the last eight.
This time around, a 30-year-old Neymar arrives fresh from a fantastic start to the season with Paris Saint-Germain in which he has scored 15 goals in 20 games.
“I think Neymar is coming into this competition in great form,” veteran Brazil captain Thiago Silva, now with Chelsea but a former teammate of Neymar’s in Paris, told reporters.
“His preparation this time has been different. In 2014 he got injured just as he was playing so well, and in 2018 he came into the tournament in a different way because he had a serious injury so hadn’t played much.
“This time is different and he has not been injured. Neymar is a lot better prepared.”
With Brazil also facing Switzerland and Cameroon in Group G, Neymar will be hoping to get the two goals he needs to equal Pele’s all-time record tally of 77 goals for the Selecao.
But the responsibility in attack is not all his – coach Tite can also call on a raft of other exciting attackers, including Real Madrid pair Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo.
“In my opinion these players will help Neymar because they can divide up the responsibility and create space for him,” added Silva, who was the captain in 2014 and is still going strong aged 38.
This tournament has already seen a heavily fancied Argentina lose in their opening match while Germany have been beaten too.
But Brazil are hoping for a strong start and a repeat of what happened in the only other World Cup to be held in Asia, when they won their last title in Japan two decades ago.
“The atmosphere in the squad is super healthy. The mixture of young players and more experienced ones creates a great connection,” said Silva.
“We have players who are accustomed to the pressure, who are used to the pressure of big games in the Champions League like Vini and Rodrygo, who are among the youngest players in the squad but have already shown they can be decisive.”
Silva is one of the few survivors of the 2014 team that was overwhelmed by the pressure of trying to win the World Cup on home soil.
This time he is hoping to be a calming influence on the rest of the squad.
“Some things change over time. I am now much better prepared for this moment, I am super calm and super determined,” he said.
“I am enjoying myself at the moment and I am eager to show the best version of Thiago Silva. At the age of 38 I am enjoying one of the best spells in my career.”
Coach Tite, 61, will step down at the end of the World Cup, whatever happens in Qatar.
He survived in the job after the quarter-final exit in Russia in 2018 and this time he is hoping to depart Doha as a world champion.
“As Tostao said, it’s good to dream, so we are dreaming of having a good World Cup and winning it,” he said, citing one of the greats of Brazil’s 1970 World Cup-winning side.
“Only one team can be the champions. Other teams want to be too. Pressure is inevitable.”
Follow Brazil v Serbia in our live blog below!