World Cup Daily: France impress in warm-up; Brazil's hefty bonus; Russian hooligans; Pragmatic Danes
NICKLAS Bendtner is in danger of missing the World Cup after coming off injured while playing for his Norwegian team Rosenborg last weekend.
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On the scale of superstardom he probably doesn’t register too highly – but the 30-year-old Danish striker does actually have quite a cult following.
If you remember way back in 2005, Bendtner was a part of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal team. He was teammates with Denis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg.
He scored 24 goals in 108 appearances but he never really cemented the leading role at the Emirates it was hoped he would and he actually spent a lot of time out on loan before eventually leaving in 2014. He has played in Germany, England’s Championnship and Norway since but still remains a pivotal part of Denmark’s international plans.
So when he went down injured over the weekend the whole of Denmark – no, the whole of the world – held its collective breath.
What’s a World Cup with Lord Nicklas Bendtner! The people at change.org agreed and even put together a petition together imploring FIFA to delay the tournament until the striker was fit again. So far, almost 5000 people have signed.
The Danes insist he won’t be picked if he isn’t fit – but he would be missed.
“If a player is injured, when we travel to Russia, he will not come along,” national coach Age Hareide said according to news agency Ritzau as his squad prepared for training at a camp in Helsingor.
“Bendtner is a perfect player to pass (to) in the penalty box. He’s big and good at scoring.
“He can be invisible for 90 minutes and then score.”
France warm up in style
Olivier Giroud and Nabil Fekir were on target as France stepped up their World Cup preparations by beating the Republic of Ireland 2-0 in Paris.
Chelsea striker Giroud bundled in the opener at the Stade de France, and Lyon captain Fekir — who has been linked with a move to Liverpool – got the second just before the break, with a helping hand from Ireland goalkeeper Colin Doyle.
It was a very comfortable victory for Didier Deschamps’ side in the first of three friendly matches before they head to Russia.
Les Bleus will also host Italy in Nice later this week and the United States in Lyon on June 10, with their opening World Cup fixture against Australia in Kazan on June 16.
France’s strength in depth, which they showcased here on a night of torrential rain, thunder and lightning, means they are among the contenders to win the tournament, 20 years after becoming world champions on home soil.
However, far bigger tests lie in wait than that provided by Martin O’Neill’s Ireland side.
“I was very pleased with our team spirit,” Deschamps said.
“In these conditions it wasn’t really football in the last 15 minutes.”
France were not at full strength, with the likes of goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Antoine Griezmann starting on the bench. Raphael Varane has not yet joined up with the squad after winning the Champions League with Real Madrid at the weekend.
The 24-year-old Fekir is coming off a fantastic season at Lyon and was given his chance by Deschamps in a role supporting Giroud – and he duely provided the inspirtation for the opening goal.
Giroud bundled the ball in at the third attempt following a Fekir corner.
Fekir made it two a minute from the break, collecting a pass from the ever-dangerous Kylian Mbappe just inside the area, turning and hitting a shot on his weaker right foot that was parried by Doyle.
However, the unfortunate goalkeeper could only send the ball up into the air before it spun over the line.
Brazilians eye hefty bonus
Members of the Brazilian squad will trouser a whopping $1.35m each if they win the World Cup.
The huge bonus will also be handed out to head coach Tite and his coaching staff if the Samba Boys are crowned world champions for the sixth time.
Brazilian outlet Folha de Sao Paulo report the money set aside by the Brazil Football Association (CBF) is close to the winner’s prize money which is around $53 million set aside by FIFA.
Thrashing out the incentive was a big priority for Brazil before they jetted off to Russia where they will look to right the wrongs of four years ago when they were humiliated by Germany on home soil.
Brazilian chiefs were keen to avoid the problems encountered hours before losing to Argentina in the last 16 of Italia 90 where bonuses were being discussed as the tournament went on.
The CBF have ditched the old formula of paying out bonuses game-by-game with one for participation, an added bonus for reaching the final and another for winning the tournament.
Balotelli back to best
He won’t be in Russia but Mario Balotelli showed that come Qatar in four years time, Italy could again be a force.
Balotelli got new Italy coach Roberto Mancini off to a winning start by scoring the opener in a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia in a pre-World Cup friendly in Saint Gallen.
Saudi Arabia face hosts Russia in the opening match of the tournament on June 14 while four-time champions Italy stay home following their failure to qualify for the first time in 60 years.
Made the scapegoat for Italy’s first-round exit from the 2014 World Cup, Balotelli’s four-year hiatus from the Azzurri squad ended when he was recalled by Mancini, appointed six months after Italy’s shock failure to qualify for Russia following a playoff defeat to Sweden.
It took the 27-year-old Nice striker just 21 minutes to get on the scoreboard with his first goal for Italy since netting the winner against England at the 2014 World Cup.
Italy have dropped to their lowest ever world ranking of 20th, but were in control against the 67th-ranked Saudis.
Ronaldo-less Portugal held
Portugal was held to a 2-2 draw by Tunisia in the teams’ first warm-up match for the World Cup.
Portugal was without Cristiano Ronaldo, who still hasn’t reported to the squad because he played in the Champions League final with Real Madrid last weekend.
Andre Silva opened the scoring with a header in the 23rd minute and Joao Mario added to the lead with a powerful shot from outside the area in the 34th. But Tunisia rallied with a goal by Anice Badri before halftime and another by Fakhreddine Ben Youssef midway through the second half.
“We are just beginning our World Cup preparations,” Joao Mario said.
“We will keep working to fix our mistakes and arrive at the World Cup in the best possible form.”
Portugal has two other warm-up matches scheduled: against Belgium on Sunday morning (EST) and Algeria on June 8.
Russian thugs send death threats
Ruthless Russian hooligans have threatened to stab gay and transgender England fans heading to the World Cup.
The yobs have sent a string of vile death threats to Three Lions followers planning to make the trip to Russia next month.
Some of the threats are so worrying that Pride In Football – an alliance of LGBT football fan groups – has reported them to police.
The group received sickening emails telling them that fans from the LGBT community will be rooted out and knifed during Russia 2018.
Joe White, Pride in Football’s campaign leader, said the threats were being taken seriously.
“We’ve had people say that if they find us they’ll stab us, so it’s been a mixture but they’re being dealt with seriously and those investigations are still ongoing,” he told the Mirror.