Wales winger Daniel James is relishing the prospect of competing in his country’s first World Cup in 64 years – but is under no illusions about the difficulty of his side’s opening test against the United States.
The two teams face off in World Cup Group B at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on Monday, with both teams hopeful and confident they will get their respective campaigns off to a flying start with three points in a group which also contains Iran and England.
Speaking as Wales prepare for their campaign in Qatar, James admitted he knows that USMNT in particular have a number of quality players, given he has played with a number of them over the course of this year. Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson are current teammates at Fulham, while Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson play for parent club Leeds.
“They’ve said about giving me a few kicks in training,” he joked of Ream and Robinson.
When asked how he may fare in a direct face-off against Robinson, given both could occupy the same part of the pitch on opposing teams, he said: “We’re both quick players. He’s a great player and has been absolutely unbelievable this season.
“Going forward he’s been great. He’s always a problem for wingers because he’ll always run you that way, but he’s been incredible defensively as well. He’s shown that. Maybe people doubted him going to the Premier League. Is he going to be able to do the defensive side that much because he’s classed as an attacking full-back? He’s definitely shown that [he can] and if we do play against each other it would be a good match-up.”
James was adamant he’d win a foot-race between the pair, though, answering without hesitation.
“They [USMNT] have got an incredible squad. We played against them at Swansea and they played all their European players because of COVID. They’re a very athletic team, and I’ve obviously played with two players at Leeds and they’ve got great attitudes. I think it’ll be a great match up.
“Going to the World Cup they’ve got expectations of going through. With us it’s just about how we can go into every game believing we can win and with full confidence.”
Welsh captain Gareth Bale has claimed he’s fully fit despite featuring sparingly since his move to LAFC in MLS, though he did score a dramatic extra time equaliser before his side won the MLS Cup on penalties in his last competitive outing – and important goals is something Bale has a proven knack for at both club and international level.
James opened up on how Bale leads his Wales team: “Gaz is very chilled, he’s a great guy. You’ve seen what he’s done over the years and last week as well – he comes on for 20 minutes and takes them into penalties and they end up winning it. He’s only just gone there and he’s done what he’s always done. Whenever he’s on the pitch we know that he come up with anything at any time.
“Off the pitch he’s brilliant with all of us. No one is scared to talk to him. When you have a character that has done so much, especially with boys coming through that maybe are too scared to talk to him, he’s great with them. He’s our captain. Before the games the team talks are always great. He loves playing for Wales just as much as we all do.
“He’s a massive reason why Wales is on that world stage – doing what he did at the Euros and we’re just glad to be in a World Cup with him.”
Poland vs Argentina: Confirmed lineups
France, who have already secured a spot in the last 16 of the World Cup 2022, play Tunisia on Wednesday in their final Group D matchup.
In the meantime, the African nation is last in the standings and must defeat the current champions to advance to the knockout stages.
Poland XI (4-4-1-1): Szczesny; Bereszynski, Glik, Kiwior, Cash; Frankowski, Bielik, Krychowiak, Zielinski; Swiderski; Lewandowski
Argentina XI (4-3-3): Martínez; Molina, Romero, Otamendi, Acuña; De Paul, Enzo Fernández, Mac Allister; Messi, Álvarez, Di María
Mauricio Pochettino discusses next managerial job
Ex-Tottenham Hotspur and Paris Saint-Germain manager Mauricio Pochettino has admitted he’d be open to taking a national team job.
Pochettino has been without a job since being sacked by PSG in the summer, despite winning his first silverware as a coach at the club – lifting the Ligue 1 and the Coupe de France.
The former PSG boss has been linked with a number of clubs since then, but speaking to Sky Sports, Poch insisted that he is also open to a move into international management, stating: “It wasn’t under my consideration to go [into international management] but now, yes I am open. Why not?
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“Yes, of course we are still young, full of energy, and day-by-day I like the adrenaline to train, to be involved. Maybe the national team is a different job, but why not? If it’s not the next job, then maybe in the future. It’s not specific that all I want is Argentina. If another country, why not? For sure, that would be good also.”
Pochettino also took the time to discuss England’s World Cup credentials, stating that he sees them as one of the favourites to win the tournament in Qatar.
“England have the quality to be one of the teams with an opportunity to win the World Cup,” he said. “I saw a very good performance against Wales, and I believe the quality is there. It’s all about believing and performing in a way which can grant you the possibility to be there.
“But I really, really believe this year England can fight to try to lift the World Cup. [Gareth] Southgate is doing a fantastic job. He was a little bit unlucky in the final of the Euros against Italy, but he’s doing a fantastic job and deserves a lot of credit.”
Player ratings as Eagles of Carthage knocked out of World Cup despite shock win
Tunisia stunned France with a shock 1-0 win, but their hopes of reaching the last 16 of the World Cup were ended by Australia’s own unlikely victory against Denmark elsewhere in Group D.
The Eagles of Carthage fought tooth and nail to keep their hopes of advancing alive and put in a solid display against the rotated reigning champions, but their 2022 journey has come to an end at the benefit of the Socceroos.
Tunisia thought they took an eighth-minute lead when a Wahbi Khazri free-kick was flicked on and in by Nader Ghandri, but the linesman had his flag raised for a marginal offside and the goal was chalked off.
France looked very disjointed after making so many changes, though created a decent chance on the break with Youssouf Fofana slipping through Kingsley Coman, but his first touch took him away from goal and his off-balance strike sailed wide.
Steve Mandanda was forced into a save when Aissa Laidouni’s second-time cross was nodded on by Anis Ben Slimane, before Eduardo Camavinga – filling in at left-back – had to retreat and prevent a similarly deep ball from reaching the free Nader Ghandri.
Just after the break, Laidouni robbed Fofana of possession in his own box and curled one narrowly over the top of Mandanda’s crossbar as Tunisia went closer to finding a crucial opener.
And Tunisia took a deserved lead when Fofana lost possession too easily again, and Laidouni found Khazri to weave his way past the French backline and poke a shot past the flailing Mandanda.
With the clock running down, France finally showed signs of life with substitute Kylian Mbappe forcing a save from Aymen Dahmen and Randal Kolo Muani blasting wide at the end of Les Bleus’ only real sweeping move of the afternoon.
Tunisia nearly clung on through eight minutes of stoppage time before Antoine Griezmann’s deflected volley found the back of Dahmen’s net with essentially the last kick of the game, only for it to be ruled out by a lengthy VAR check.
However, Australia’s win had already been confirmed by this point and the Eagles of Carthage’s fate was already sealed.
GK: Aymen Dahmen – 5/10 – Didn’t inspire a lot of confidence but France barely attacked so it hardly mattered.
CB: Yassine Meriah – 7/10 – Got forward down the wing to support Kechidra. Helped by the fact France played without wingers.
CB: Nader Ghandri – 7/10 – Got his head on most high balls and defended with authority.
CB: Montassar Talbi – 7/10 – Just as Meriah did down the right, Talbi was of great use down Tunisia’s left.
RM: Wajdi Kechidra – 7/10 – Gave Camavinga plenty of problems in tandem with Ben Slimane.
CM: Ellyes Skhiri – 8/10 – After a poor showing against Australia, Skhiri came roaring back with a monster midfield performance.
CM: Aissa Laidouni – 8/10 – Took control of the midfield battle and teed up Tunisia’s opener.
LM: Ali Maaloul – 6/10 – Found it hard at times to get by Disasi but worked hard for the cause.
RF: Anis Ben Slimane – 6/10 – Brought a good mix of work ethic and quality in possession.
LF: Mohamed Ali Ben Romdhane – 6/10 – Similarly covered every blade of grass down his flank.
CF: Wahbi Khazri – 9/10 – Gave France all sorts of problems in his hour on the pitch, eventually scoring the opening goal.
SUB: Issam Jebali (60′ for Khazri) – 5/10
SUB: Ghaylen Chaaleli (74′ for Ben Romdhane) – 5/10
SUB: Ali Abdi (84′ for Ben Slimane) – N/A
Manager: Jalel Kadri – 7/10 – Tunisia produced an authoritative performance despite the obvious gap in quality.
GK: Steve Mandanda – 4/10 – Looked every bit of his 37 years of age, slow to react to danger and made a hash of saves.
RB: Axel Disasi – 5/10 – Played out of position on his senior debut for Les Bleus but handled himself well.
CB: Raphael Varane – 4/10 – Made captain in Hugo Lloris’ absence. Didn’t defend with much seniority.
CB: Ibrahima Konate – 6/10 – Put in a few recovery challenges but always looked awkward.
LB: Eduardo Camavinga – 3/10 – Hung out to dry in his first real outing as a left-back.
DM: Aurelien Tchouameni – 6/10 – Tried his best to hold the fort but needed more help.
CM: Jordan Veretout – 3/10 – Way out of his depth. Hid at times and just shouldn’t be starting a World Cup match.
CM: Youssouf Fofana – 3/10 – Looked bright early on but continually dribbled his way into trouble, culminating in Tunisia’s opener.
AM: Matteo Guendouzi – 3/10 – Failed to link midfield and attack. Gave the ball away loosely.
CF: Kingsley Coman – 5/10 – Progressed the ball well when coming deep to receive it but didn’t threaten Tunisia where it mattered.
CF: Randal Kolo Muani – 5/10 – Likewise helped out in deeper areas but not enough in the final third.
SUB: William Saliba (63′ for Varane) – 4/10
SUB: Adrien Rabiot (63′ for Veretout) – 4/10
SUB: Kylian Mbappe (63′ for Coman) – 3/10
SUB: Antoine Griezmann (73′ for Fofana) – 5/10
SUB: Ousmane Dembele (79′ for Guendouzi) – 4/10
Manager: Didier Deschamps – 3/10 – Sure, it was a dead rubber for France and Deschamps was right to rest his key men, but the XI he picked seriously lacked cohesion.
Player of the Match – Wahbi Khazri
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