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Qatar manager Felix Sanchez addresses fan exodus at World Cup opening game

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Qatar manager Felix Sanchez has hailed fan support during the home nation’s disastrous 2-0 defeat to Ecuador, despite many fans leaving well before the final whistle.

The Qataris got their home FIFA World Cup off to the worst possible start on Sunday evening, conceding two first half Enner Valencia goals and generally being played off of the park.

While the official attendance at the game was over 57,000 at the Al Bayt Stadium, many fans had left prior to the start of the second half, and by the 80th minute mark it was clear that the ground was closer to being empty than it was to being full.

Despite this huge exodus of Qatar fans, manager Felix Sanchez was quick to praise the support, stating: “We felt backed and supported and we hope for the next game, people will feel prouder and keep supporting us to the end of the tournament. The atmosphere was great, people were very much looking forward to this game.”

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Sanchez did, however, lament his side’s performance on the day as they became the first host nation to ever lose the opening game of a World Cup: “There’s no excuse, we want to congratulate our opponents, they deserved to win.

“There is a lot of room for improvement. Maybe the responsibility and nerves got the best of us. We didn’t start well. It was a terrible start actually.

“We knew [a defeat] could happen and the result can sometimes be difficult. We will try to learn from today and I’m completely sure we will make people feel more happy with our performance.”

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EPL

Conor Coady responds to ‘daft’ question about Liverpool allegiance

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Conor Coady has told England teammate Jordan Henderson to do better in his goading after the Liverpool captain taunted him over his Everton connection.

Coady was a product of the Liverpool youth system and made a solitary appearance for his boyhood club in the 2012 Europa League. He has since moved on to Huddersfield Town and Wolves before joining Liverpool’s Merseyside rivals Everton on loan last summer.

Speaking on the latest episode of Lion’s Den from England’s World Cup camp, though, Henderson could not resist trying to wind up Coady by quizzing him on his allegiances.

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“Conor, we are all England here,” Henderson said. “But what I really want to know is: are you blue or red?”

Henderson then started laughing, which prompted a similar response from Coady, who appeared both irritated and amused by the question.

“It’s so poor from him,” Coady said while smiling. “We have banter all the time. Of course, I am playing for Everton. He knows deep down.

Harry Symeou hosts Scott Saunders and Toby Cudworth to look back on South Korea/Japan ’02 as part of the ‘Our World Cup’ series. We take a trip down memory lane – join us!

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If you can’t see the podcast embed, click here to download or listen to the episode in full!

“So, for him to come out there and ask that question is daft. Of course, I am blue. Of course, I am blue, without a shadow of a doubt.

“For him to say that…you know what I am going to go back there sit down and have a coffee with him. I will give him a bit. That’s nowhere near good enough from the big fella. Blue all day long.”

Everton have a clause allowing them to sign Coady permanently from Wolves this summer for a fee of just £4.5m.

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Croatia vs Belgium – World Cup: Team news, lineups & prediction

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Croatia face Belgium on Thursday afternoon in a meeting between two medallists from the 2018 World Cup.

Both sides may have reached the semi-finals in Russia but a passage to the round of 16 in Qatar is not certain for either nation heading into the final game of Group F.

Zlatko Dalic’s runners-up are better placed after victory against Canada took them to four points; a draw would send Croatia through. Belgium’s position is more precarious in the wake of a limp loss to Morocco.

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Roberto Martinez’s side could theoretically qualify with one more point but only if winless Canada defeat Morocco by four or more goals in the other group game. A win would confirm Belgium’s qualification and leave Croatia sweating over Morocco’s result.

Here’s everything you need to know about a devilishly poised encounter.

Croatia vs Belgium H2H Results (All Time)

Current Form (Last Five Games)

Croatia team news

Nikola Vlasic started Croatia’s opener against Morocco but was removed with a calf problem at half-time. The West Ham loanee recovered to make the bench against Canada but his replacement, Marko Livaja, delivered a strong argument to retain his starting berth with a crisply struck goal.

The arrival of a traditional striker shifted Andrej Kramaric to the right wing, where he scored twice on Sunday afternoon.

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Croatia Starting 11 (4-3-3): Livakovic; Juranovic, Lovren, Gvardiol, Sosa; Modric, Brozovic, Kovacic; Kramaric, Livaja, Perisic.
Bench: Grbic, Ivusic, Erlic, Vida, Sutalo, Barisic, Stanisic, Jakic, Sucic, Majer, Osric, Pasalic, Petkovic, Budimir, Vlasic.

Belgium team news

Romelu Lukaku was deemed fit enough to come on for the final ten minutes of Belgium’s surprise defeat to Morocco. The Inter striker hasn’t started a match for club or country since August and may still be short of the fitness required to lead the line. However, with another four days to continue his recovery, Lukaku could make a longer cameo at least.

Amadou Onana will play no part after collecting a second, suspension-inducing booking against the Atlas Lions.

Belgium Starting 11 (3-4-2-1): Courtois; Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Castagne; Meunier, Tielemans, Witsel, Trossard; De Bruyne, E Hazard; Batshuayi.
Bench: Casteels, Mignolet, Debast, Faes, Theate, Dendoncker, Vanaken, De Ketelaere, T Hazard, Carrasco, Doku, Lukaku, Mertens, Openda.

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There are a lot of familiar faces in both squads from the podium finishes in 2018 but Belgium seem to be anchored more firmly in the past. Ten players that featured in their semi-final defeat to France four-and-a-half years ago have already appeared this winter.

Kevin De Bruyne’s pre-tournament admission that his nation has “no chance” of winning the World Cup because “we’re too old” has been painfully apparent in a pair of listless performances.

Martinez pledged: “We will play to win against Croatia and that will be the start of us at this World Cup.” However, if they produce the same lumbering display on Thursday, it will be the end of Belgium at this World Cup.

Prediction: Croatia 2-1 Belgium

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Jack Grealish heaps praise on USMNT following England draw

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England midfielder Jack Grealish has hit back at suggestions his side underperformed in their 0-0 draw with the United States, calling for the Americans to be given more credit for the result.

Despite heading in as strong favorites, the Three Lions were never going to find it easy against a USMNT side packed with talent playing in the Uefa Champions League and across Europe’s top five divisions.

Indeed, the Stars and Stripes dominated large stretches of the match and were unlucky not to take the lead as Weston McKennie missed a good chance inside the box and Christian Pulisic hit the crossbar from distance.

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The post-match reaction from large sections of England supporters and pundits was one of anger and frustration but Grealish has hit back, crediting the USMNT for a strong performance and talking up the Three Lions’ position at the tournament.

“We are in a strong position. Obviously, top of the group and it’s all in our hands going into the final game,” Grealish told talkSPORT ahead of the final round of Group B matches on Tuesday. “It’s weird sometimes playing for the national team because you have one result like that and it’s as if it is the end of the world – and it’s clearly not.

“I felt like a lot of it was about us. England were this, England were that but at the end of the day, they played very well. They was a team that had a lot of energy, very athletic in all the positions, and we have to give them credit for the way they played.

“They changed their tactics up, the way pressed and stuff, from the first game. We know we can play better and we will certainly look to be doing that going into the second game.

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“I think there was a big overreaction. Apart from Spain being the top tournament scorers, we’re the top scorers in the tournament. I can’t think off the top of my head if anyone has scored more than six.

“Against Iran we were the best thing since sliced bread, scoring six goals, and then we go a game without scoring and there was a bit of an overreaction. But I suppose that it what you get sometimes playing for England.”

The USMNT currently sit third in Group B but will still qualify for the knockout rounds if they beat Iran on Tuesday. A five-goal victory coupled with an England defeat to Wales would see Gregg Berhalter’s side top the standings.

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