Maddison, Neuer rise; Camavinga falls

The days are counting down to the start of the World Cup in Qatar, with the host nation kicking it all off on Nov. 20 when they take on Ecuador.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, more (U.S.)

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. 14.

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: United States | France | Germany | Spain | Netherlands | Belgium | Argentina | Brazil | Mexico | Canada | Wales | Portugal | Australia | Senegal | Tunisia | Morocco | Cameroon | Ghana | Japan | South Korea | Uruguay

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

Squad announcement date: Nov. 10

STOCK CLIMBLING

James Maddison: Gareth Southgate names his England squad on Thursday and the clamour for Maddison’s inclusion has only grown in the past few days. Two more assists in Leicester’s 2-0 win at Everton on Sunday took him to 22 Premier League goal involvements for the calendar year — more than every other Englishman aside from Harry Kane. Southgate has not been a fan up until now, however, and so the attacking midfielder’s inclusion in the squad remains doubtful. He has only one senior England cap, won as a substitute in a 7-0 win over Montenegro in Euro 2020 qualifying.

Kyle Walker (groin) and Kalvin Phillips (shoulder) are said to be making good progress from injury. Reece James is also attempting to prove his fitness following a knee problem.

STOCK FALLING

Ben Chilwell: He will miss the finals after suffering what Chelsea described as a “significant” hamstring injury in last week’s Champions League win over Dinamo Zagreb. It leaves England short of cover on the left side of defence with Luke Shaw the clear first choice. — James Olley

James Maddison has only one full cap for England but could make it to the World Cup. Alex Pantling/Getty Images

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

Squad announcement date: Nov. 9

STOCK CLIMBLING

Josh Sargent: He didn’t get on the scoresheet in Norwich’s 2-1 win over Rotherham, but the fact that the U.S. forward logged 90 minutes after missing the previous week with a calf injury bodes well for his inclusion in U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter’s World Cup roster. His goal haul stands at eight goals in 19 league and cup appearances this season.

STOCK FALLING

Sam Vines: The Royal Antwerp player was already on the fringes of the U.S. team, but the left-back announced on Instagram at the weekend that he had sustained a broken tibia and had undergone surgery. He will be out for 3-4 months. It’s just a brutal end to this World Cup cycle for Vines, who had done well to put himself in the running for a spot on the U.S. roster.

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

Despite the news on Vines, things are trending upward again for the U.S. team in terms of health. Matt Turner was back on the game-day roster for Arsenal. Juventus manager Max Allegri also announced that midfielder Weston McKennie will resume training this week. The question now is whether Crystal Palace center back Chris Richards makes a similar recovery. The roster will be announced on Wednesday, but there will be some anxious moments this weekend in terms of U.S. players staying healthy. — Jeff Carlisle

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The Futbol Americas crew believe Giovanni Reyna’s form for Borussia Dortmund can only be a positive for the USMNT.

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

Squad announcement date: Nov. 9

STOCK CLIMBLING

Olivier Giroud: Sources have told ESPN that the AC Milan striker will part of the squad when Didier Deschamps announces it on Wednesday evening. His place was in doubt a few weeks ago but he has convinced the head coach. Giroud’s winning goal at the weekend against Spezia was an absolute beauty and his recent performances deserve a call up.

Raphael Varane: The Manchester United defender is ahead in his rehabilitation programme after his thigh injury last month. He feared that he would miss out but it looks like that now he could actually even be fit for the opening game against Australia on Nov. 21. France are much better with Varane in the team and Deschamps knows it.

STOCK FALLING

Presnel Kimpembe: The PSG defender is out again. After suffering a calf issue and missing more than a month of action, Kimpembe came back on the pitch almost 10 days ago but suffered a setback on his Achilles. He should still be called up by Deschamps but his fitness is a worry, even if at the back France are gifted with so much talent.

Eduardo Camavinga: It was another disappointing performance on Monday night for Real Madrid away at Rayo Vallecano, and he might not make the World Cup squad either. There is a lot of competition in his position and the young midfielder is yet to fully convince Deschamps.

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

Deschamps will announce his squad on Wednesday and we now know that Giroud and Varane will be in it. There are still a couple more decisions to make for the France head coach, who is still unsure he will call up all 26 players like he is allowed to (the minimum is 23, maximum 26.) — Julien Laurens

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Gab Marcotti says he has no idea what to expect from defending champions France at the 2022 World Cup.

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

Squad announcement date: Nov. 10

STOCK CLIMBLING

Manuel Neuer: A shoulder injury kept Germany’s No. 1 goalkeeper out for almost a month, and concerns were growing that could miss the World Cup. Neuer made his return this weekend and looked like he had full trust in his shoulder which is, of course, key for a shot stopper. He made some textbook Neuer plays outside the penalty box and even seemed happy that Bayern Munich were not overly dominant in their 3-2 win over Hertha Berlin. “It was important that it was not one of these games like under Pep [Guardiola] back in the day. In those, I was sometimes only needed for the first time in the 80th minute,” he commented after the game. Bar any relapse, Neuer will lead Germany as the team’s captain during the World Cup.

Jonas Hofmann: The 30-year-old is coach Hansi Flick’s pocketknife for the right side; Hofmann can fill every role imaginable. Luckily for Germany, Hofmann has returned from injury in impressive fashion. He was the man of the match for Borussia Monchengladbach against VfB Stuttgart on Friday, immediately scoring in the fourth minute and thus paving the way for a 3-1 win. Hofmann looked sharp and ready for what is ahead of him, possibly a spot in Germany’s starting XI.

STOCK FALLING

Timo Werner: There is no stock anymore, because the former Chelsea forward has been ruled out for the World Cup due to a syndesmotic tear he suffered in RB Leipzig’s game against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League. Despite the criticism he has faced over the past few years, Werner would have been a feature player in the team. Flick liked to use Werner’s speed by fielding him at the edge of back lines or playing long balls for Werner to chase and get behind the defence. This a weapon which Germany might not be able to replace. “I feel sorry for Timo personally because he misses the World Cup which he so badly wanted to play at, but Timo’s absence is also a huge loss for the team,” Flick said on Thursday.

Thomas Muller: While Werner is definitely out, there is hope Muller will make it to the World Cup. He has only played 65 minutes since the beginning of October due to an illness, a stomach bug and most recently a hip injury. Bayern boss Julian Nagelsmann has confirmed that Muller will not play in the two remaining games against Werder Bremen and Schalke 04, giving him more time to heal and the chance to be ready for the first group game. Flick has remained optimistic that he can use Muller at the World Cup, yet it is questionable what his fitness level might be.

Marco Reus: It seemed as if Reus’s stock would be climbing after Borussia Dortmund’s captain returned to the pitch on Saturday following a lengthy ankle injury. He played 23 minutes in Dortmund’s 3-0 win over local rivals VfL Bochum. Sadly for Reus, he had to finish team training early in the following next days because the pain in his ankle had come back. Reus has missed three international tournaments since his debut in 2011. At 33, it could be his last chance to play a World Cup, but for that he must be fit.

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

Germany shares the fate of most participating nations in that several players are either struggling to get fit or deal with injuries. In what condition the team will play their first group game against Japan is completely up in the air. Perhaps 10 days of rest is enough to recharge batteries and treat minor injuries effectively, or we may see a Germany team at 60%. — Constantin Eckner

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Gab & Juls preview Group E at the 2022 World Cup, home to heavyweights Germany and Spain.

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

Squad announcement date: Nov. 11

STOCK CLIMBLING

Dani Olmo: Scored on his first start since September in RB Leipzig’s 3-1 win at Hoffenheim on Saturday. Spain coach Luis Enrique has always been a fan and Olmo’s willingness to go for goal — showcased in his rocket finish from just inside the box — gives the national team some much-needed variety in attack. The wide forward now has two Bundesliga games left this week, against Freiburg and Werder Bremen, to cement his place in the squad.

Rodrigo: The Leeds United star has now scored an impressive seven goals in 12 Premier League games this season, the latest a third-minute penalty in the 4-3 win over Bournemouth. It’s as many as he managed in all of 2020-21 or 2021-22. The former Valencia forward has dropped off the Spain radar in the last year — his last appearance for his country came in November 2021 — but he was a regular before that, and a lack of convincing alternatives might give him a chance.

STOCK FALLING

Gerard Pique: The ever-controversial centre-back’s surprise inclusion in Luis Enrique’s 55-man long list last week was followed by another surprise on Thursday when he announced his retirement. Pique started and played well in his farewell game at Camp Nou, Barcelona’s 2-0 LaLiga win over Almeria on Saturday, but his acceptance that his time as a player is coming to an end must count against his participation in Qatar.

Ferran Torres: Substituted after an hour without scoring against Almeria and cut an angry, frustrated figure as he took his place on the bench. There’s little doubt that Ferran will go to Qatar but his form and apparent lack of confidence — with two goals in 12 LaLiga appearances — are concerning for a player whose scoring has been so vital for the national team over the last two years.

Borja Iglesias: Sent off for a clumsy challenge in Real Betis’ frantic 1-1 derby draw with Sevilla, Iglesias will now be suspended for the club’s final game before the World Cup break, away at Valencia on Thursday. He’ll be hoping his eight league goals this season — behind only Robert Lewandowski — were already enough to convince Luis Enrique that he’s worthy of a place in the squad. — Alex Kirkland

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Janusz Michallik gushes with praise for Gerard Pique, who will retire when La Liga breaks for the World Cup.

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

Squad announcement date: Nov. 11

STOCK CLIMBLING

Frenkie de Jong: Started again for Barcelona, where he is adapting more and more to watch club coach Xavi Hernandez wants, scoring the second goal in the 2-0 win over Almeria.

Virgil van Dijk: Impressed in Liverpool’s 2-1 win at Tottenham, which means that he recovered from his bad run of form at the start of the season.

Luuk de Jong: Has performed very well after his recovery from injury. He made a huge impact for PSV against Ajax, scoring the first goal in a 2-1 win in Amsterdam. He had been injured for over two months but his return to fitness if essential for Netherlands. PSV had some tough games against Arsenal and Ajax, but especially in these matches the Dutch striker made the difference.

Mitchel Bakker: Scored his first goal of the season for Bayer Leverkusen in a stunning 5-0 win against Union Berlin, who were top of the Bundesliga. The Dutch left wing-back assisted one as well, just like another Dutch wing-back, Jeremie Frimpong.

Mark Flekken: The Freiburg goalkeeper once again didn’t concede a goal, the third consecutive time for him in the Bundesliga. Jasper Cillessen (NEC), Andries Noppert (Heerenveen), Justin Bijlow (Feyenoord) — the other Dutch goalkeepers who are on the 39-man short list of coach Louis Van Gaal — didn’t concede a goal last week, but Ajax keeper Remko Pasveer did.

STOCK FALLING

Matthijs de Ligt: Has missed two matches in a row because of an injury, and might miss Tuesday’s game against Werder Bremen. However, he should still make it to the World Cup.

Memphis Depay: Now hasn’t played for Barcelona almost two months, with only Tuesday’s match against Osasuna left before Spanish football breaks for the World Cup. — Max Toemen

Luuk de Jong of PSV celebrates his goal against Ajax. Photo Prestige/Soccrates/Getty Images

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

Squad announcement date: Nov. 10

STOCK CLIMBLING

Youri Tielemans: It was an incredible goal from the Leicester City midfielder on Saturday against Everton. When Tielemans scores goals like this, a strike into the top corner from outside the area, you know that he’s in top form. He is peaking at the perfect time for the World Cup and with the competition for places in the squad, this is great news for coach Roberto Martinez.

Thibaut Courtois: Another penalty faced and another penalty saved. This one was retaken and scored, but even if Real Madrid lost at Rayo Vallecano, Courtois showed that he was back to his best after his back injury last month. Belgium will need him massively to do well in Qatar.

STOCK FALLING

Jan Vertonghen: The experienced centre-back is injured again and was a late withdrawal from the Anderlecht team at the weekend. More worryingly maybe though is his poor form so far this season. Martinez still sees him as a starter but his fitness could be an issue going forward in the tournament.

Divock Origi: The Milan striker had another chance to impress Martinez (and Milan boss Stefano Pioli) at the weekend against Spezia with a starting position in the team. But he disappointed again, like too many times so far this season. Martinez will have to decide if he takes him or not, and it could be a tough decision.

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

Martinez will announce his squad on Thursday at lunch time in Brussels and there are still a few question marks. What is the latest with Romelu Lukaku’s fitness, Eden Hazard is still not playing much, could we see a big surprise in the 26-man list like Romeo Lavia (Southampton), Bryan Heynen (Genk) or Nicolas Raskin (Standard Liege)? — Julien Laurens

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Gab & Juls wonder if 2022 is finally the year for Belgium’s “golden generation” to come good.

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

Squad announcement date: Nov. 13

STOCK CLIMBLING

Angel Di Maria: There was little doubt that Di Maria would be fit in time. Even so, coach Lionel Scaloni will be pleased to see him back in action for his club. Di Maria returned to action after almost a month on the sidelines with a nine-minute cameo in Juventus’ 2-0 win over Inter Milan.

STOCK FALLING

Giovani Lo Celso: Scaloni, on the other hand, will be concerned that Lo Celso will probably not be fit in time. Of course, the views of his clubs (he is at Villarreal, on loan from Tottenham) are not exactly disinterested. They would surely prefer him to ensure he recovers by January rather than taking the risk of rushing back for Qatar. But the news does not seem promising for a key member of Argentina’s midfield trio.

Thiago Almada: There seems little chance of MLS having a presence in the Argentina squad. Atlanta United FC’s Almada made his debut in September and was named in Scaloni’s 32 man long list. But he has already been discarded, presumably meaning that he is not in line for a place should Lo Celso be forced out. — Tim Vickery

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Gab & Juls preview Group C at the 2022 World Cup, with Argentina expected to cruise into the knockout rounds.

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

STOCK FALLING

Roberto Firmino: In the press conference where they announced their World Cup squad, Brazil’s coaching staff spoke of Philippe Coutinho’s despair at missing out — an injury forced him out of contention, although his slump in form may have cost him his place anyway. And Firmino will be especially disappointed. He appeared to have found his form at the right time with Liverpool, but has lost out to Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli. — Tim Vickery

– Brazil’s World Cup squad: Alves included, Firmino out

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Gab & Juls explain what we can expect to see from Neymar and Brazil at the 2022 World Cup.

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

Squad announcement date: Nov. 14

STOCK CLIMBLING

Erick Gutierrez: Another goal and another MOTM award for the PSV midfielder. Gutierrez was near-perfect in a 2-1 away win over rivals Ajax last Sunday that featured a goal in the 50th minute from the Mexican. On form alone in what is becoming a standout season, the 27-year-old is worthy of at least one or two starts for El Tri in the upcoming World Cup group stage.

STOCK FALLING

Raul Jimenez: Time is running out for Mexico’s leading striker. Due to an ongoing recovery from an injury, Jimenez has yet to play for club or country since August. Despite being a fundamental player for Mexico manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s system, and in the latest preliminary World Cup roster, there are no guarantees that the forward will make the final squad if he isn’t fit.

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

If Jimenez is absent from the final squad, which is expected on Nov. 14, it will be a heavy blow for a national team that is still struggling to find a proper replacement in his No. 9 position. Gutierrez’s run will be vital with his possible impact in the midfield, but Mexico’s issues in 2022 have typically had more to do with finishing in the final third than that of buildup play. — Cesar Hernandez

CANADA
Fixtures: Belgium (Nov. 23), Croatia (Nov. 27), Morocco (Dec. 1)

Squad announcement date: Nov. 13

STOCK CLIMBLING

Alphonso Davies: Canada received a massive scare at the weekend when one of their star players suffered a hamstring problem. The 22-year-old Bayern wing-back was forced off holding the back of his thigh in the 64th minute of the 3-2 win over Hertha Berlin, but while he won’t play for his club again this week his participation at the finals is not in doubt. It’s a huge relief for Canada who cannot hope to replace him in their squad like for like.

STOCK FALLING

Maxime Crepeau: The LAFC goalkeeper broke his right leg when being sent off in the MLS Cup final victory over the Philadelphia Union on Saturday, ruling him out of the World Cup. It means head coach John Herdman has no experienced backup for 35-year-old No. 1 Milan Borjan of Red Star Belgrade. Minnesota United FC’s Dayne St. Clair and Vancouver Whitecaps’ Thomas Hasal are now likely to be in reserve. — Dale Johnson

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Maxime Crepeau is given a red card for a bad challenge and is carted off following the play.

WALES
Fixtures: United States (Nov. 21), IR Iran (Nov. 25), England (Nov. 29)

Squad announcement date: Nov. 9

STOCK CLIMBLING

Gareth Bale: The talismanic forward has had nothing more than a bit-part role with LAFC since moving to MLS on a free transfer in the summer, managing just two starts and 10 substitute appearances. But the 33-year-old made himself a hero in the MLS Cup final on Saturday, coming off the bench to score an equaliser eight minutes into added time at the end of extra time to take the game to penalties, with LAFC then beating Philadelphia Union 3-0 on spot kicks.

Aaron Ramsey: Like Bale, Ramsey moved clubs in the summer and moved to France with Nice. It has not been a good time for him either, but at the weekend he played the full 90 minutes against Brest — the first time he has completed a match since Aug. 31. — Dale Johnson

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Gareth Bale heads home the goal to tie the score at 3-3 for LAFC and send the game to penalties.

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

Squad announcement date: Around Nov. 10

STOCK CLIMBLING

Goncalo Guedes: The Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder scored his first goal for the club against Brighton at the weekend as he looks to break into Fernando Santos’ final squad. It remains to be seen if his performances in a struggling Wolves team will be enough to go to the World Cup. — Dale Johnson

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

STOCK CLIMBLING

Garang Kuol: After being named in Graham Arnold’s 26-player squad, the Newcastle United-bound 18-year-old looks set to become the youngest player at the World Cup and, based on the coach’s remarks, will likely see the pitch as an off-the-bench weapon. It caps off a remarkable rise for the teenager, who just two years ago was playing for the Goulburn Valley Suns in the semi-professional second-tier of his home state of Victoria.

Jason Cummings: Less than a year ago, Cummings was being run out of Scottish club Dundee after being accused of showing up to training unfit to train after attending an event the previous night. Now, he’s beloved by Central Coast Mariners fans, Socceroos fans and, increasingly, the broader Australian public and has been named as a member of Australia’s World Cup squad.

STOCK FALLING

Mitch Langerak: The Nagoya Grampus goalkeeper is an inexplicable absence from Arnold’s squad, and that’s even before taking into account the lack of game time and potential injury that incumbent No. 1 Mat Ryan. The 34-year-old Langerak has played more first-team minutes than any other Australian goalkeeper this season, kept more clean sheets than Ryan has played games in recent years, and was coaxed out of early international retirement by a personal plea from Arnold in September after setting multiple clean-sheet records in the J1 League. Nonetheless, on the word of goalkeeping coach John Crawley, he has been overlooked for Andrew Redmayne and Danny Vukovic. — Joey Lynch

– Rogic, Sainsbury miss out on Socceroos squad
Lynch: Squad has coach Arnold’s fingerprints all over it

Coach Graham Arnold announces the Australia squad for the World Cup. Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

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

STOCK CLIMBLING

Pathe Ciss: Full-back Ciss’s failure to find a new employer after leaving Nancy during the summer may cost him his place in Qatar, but could his younger brother Pathe make the cut? The defensive midfielder did his chances no harm by coming off the bench to help Rayo Vallecano see out the final stages of their bout against Real Madrid and secure a famous 3-2 victory in Monday’s derby. Ciss could step into a pivotal role within the team considering the fresh injury concerns facing one of the squad’s pillars.

STOCK FALLING

Idrissa Gueye: The experienced midfielder was withdrawn at half time in Everton’s 2-0 home defeat by Leicester City, with Frank Lampard later acknowledging that the 33-year-old’s hopes of reaching Qatar may be jeopardised. “Gana’s hurt the top of his quad,” said the Everton head coach. “He’ll have a scan on Monday. “I don’t know [if he can travel to Qatar]. I feel like they’re at the lighter end of muscular injuries.”

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

These weeks may be feeling like a constant game of snakes and ladders for Aliou Cisse, as one problem is solved – Edouard Mendy returning to the Chelsea starting lineup – another one emerges; Gueye’s muscle injury. He’s past his prime, and Senegal aren’t short of defensive midfielders, but the absence of the influential ex-Paris Saint-Germain man – a key figure on and off the field – would certainly be a blow. Kalidou Koulibaly did return in midweek as Chelsea defeated Dinamo Zagreb 2-1, playing over an hour to end a fortnight of inactivity, but was absent again at the weekend as the Blues lost against Arsenal. — Ed Dove

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Gab & Juls preview Group A at the 2022 World Cup, which contains hosts Qatar, Netherlands, Senegal and Ecuador.

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

STOCK CLIMBLING

Hannibal Mejbri: Supporters at Birmingham City were spotted celebrating with a Tunisia flag at the end of the 2-1 victory over Stoke City, with midfield maestro Mejbri again at the heart of a fine display. He’s now started six of the club’s last seven matches, and registered his second assist in three games with a delightfully served corner. Mejbri offers something that Tunisia’s other midfielders don’t, but is he ready for a pivotal role in Qatar?

STOCK FALLING

Mohamed Sedki Debchi: One of the brightest prospects in the Tunisian league, the 23-year-old has begun to establish himself between the sticks for domestic giants Esperance, and having conceded just once in four matches this term, was expected to travel as the squad’s third-choice goalkeeper. However, he was not included in the Tunisia squad of non-European-based players to attend a pre-World Cup training camp, with veteran Aymen ‘Balbouli’ Mathlouthi being invited back into the fold from the international wilderness instead. It was a shocking decision, particularly considering 38-year-old Mathlouthi hasn’t represented Tunisia since March 2019, and it appears to have extinguished Sedki Debchi’s World Cup hopes.

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

With no major injury absentees, Tunisia are looking reasonably strong considering the relative paucity of talent available to them. Head coach Jalel Kadri will be hoping to work on the match sharpness of some of the Gulf-based veterans during the ongoing training camp, with a view to welcoming the European-based players in the week before the World Cup. — Ed Dove

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

STOCK CLIMBLING

Munir El Haddadi: Injured after scoring against Athletic Club on Oct. 18, it had appeared initially that Munir would be absent for the World Cup, having suffered a relapse of the muscle injury that overshadowed his preseason. However, he made his return to action this weekend, playing for 23 minutes as Getafe were held 0-0 at home by Cadiz, and now appears well placed to make the cut. It would have been particularly galling for Munir to have missed out on the World Cup following the lengths Morocco have gone to since the last tournament to encourage FIFA to change their nationality rules (Haddadi has one senior cap for Spain) to allow the youngster (and others in his situation) to switch allegiances.

STOCK FALLING

Nayef Aguerd: Despite returning to fitness and making two appearances for West Ham United in the Europa Conference League, Aguerd still cannot muscle his way into the Hammers’ Premier League XI and was an unused substitute as they were defeated by Palace. The defender’s fitness situation is still better than it might have been, considering the ankle injury he suffered in July and a minor knock at the end of October, but he still risks being short of match sharpness heading into Morocco’s opener.

Anas Zniti: Back-up goalkeeper Zniti will not be travelling to the World Cup after being hospitalised with a stomach complaint at the end of last week. He was ultimately diagnosed with appendicitis, and was forced to undergo surgery at the start of the month, ruling him out of the trip to Qatar.

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

Bono, as expected, has returned to action for Sevilla, and with Romain Saiss and Aguerd also off the treatment table, Morocco are in better shape defensively than they were a fortnight ago. Hakim Ziyech was unused for Chelsea, although he’ll still travel regardless of his inactivity, as will Sofiane Boufal, who’s nursing an injury. However, youngster Abde Ezzalzouli is still to make his return from injury for Osasuna, with his head coach Jagoba Arrasate hinting in Saturday’s press conference that the 20-year-old would not be in action before the international break, making his inclusion a risk. — Ed Dove

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

STOCK CLIMBLING

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting: Things just get better and better for Choupo-Moting, who has now had a hand in 11 goals in his last seven matches in all competitions after netting twice in the space of 79 seconds for Bayern Munich in their 3-2 victory at Hertha Berlin. The Cameroon forward’s remarkable form looks to be pushing him towards a contract extension with the Bundesliga giants, while Manchester United are reportedly interested in his services. No other World Cup-bound player in Europe’s top five leagues has a better minutes-per-goal ratio than the 33-year-old so far this season.

STOCK FALLING

Samuel Oum Gouet: A potential option in Cameroon’s engine room, Gouet has fallen out of favour at KV Mechelen, playing just 71 minutes since the start of October, and has surely fallen down the pecking order with the national side as a result. He’s been unused by his club over the last two and a half weeks.

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

Considering only Erling Haaland in Europe’s big five leagues is banging in the goals more regularly than Choupo-Moting in recent weeks, it’s understandable why there’s a swell of optimism and belief about Cameroon’s World Cup prospects back home. FA president Samuel Eto’o has again been talking up the Indomitable Lions’ chances, comparing their prospects to Inter Milan’s ahead of their unlikely Champions League success in 2010, even if the parallels are a little ambitious. The likes of Bryan Mbeumo, Olivier Mbaizo and Olivier Ntcham all made big contributions at their clubs this weekend, while Andre Onana made several fine stops in Inter’s defeat by Juventus. — Ed Dove

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting impressed again in action for Bayern Munich. Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

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

STOCK CLIMBLING

Jeff Schlupp: Absent for the Africa Cup of Nations, Schlupp has featured only once for Ghana in the last two years, but his hopes of reaching Qatar have been fuelled by his inclusion in Otto Addo’s 55-man provisional squad for the tournament. It’s been a frustrating stop-start Ghana career for the versatile left-sider, who made key contributions in Crystal Palace’s 2-1 victory over West Ham United on Sunday, and he now appears primed to feature in his first-ever international tournament.

Richard Ofori: Injured in mid-October, Ofori made his return for Orlando Pirates on Saturday as they defeated AmaZulu — the same opponents against whom he’d picked up his knee injury — in the MTN8 Cup in Durban. The stopper will now surely travel with the Black Stars, albeit in a back-up capacity.

STOCK FALLING

Stephan Ambrosius: He experienced a full gamut of emotions over the weekend, having been named in Ghana’s provisional World Cup squad on Friday before seeing his tournament hopes dashed on Saturday. The defender featured for Karlsruher SC as they were defeated 4-1 by Holstein Kiel, picking up an as yet undisclosed injury before taking to his Instagram handle to seemingly announce his withdrawal and wish the Black Stars the best in their forthcoming fixtures.

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

Mohammed Salisu’s defensive struggles for Southampton against Newcastle United may well concern Addo, even if the centre-back did set up Romain Perraud for a consolation goal with a magnificent defence-splitting pass. Tariq Lamptey’s lack of game time at Brighton & Hove Albion is less than ideal as he vies for a starting spot, while Jordan Ayew earned praise from his club manager Patrick Vieira for his selfless displays for Palace. All in all, Ghana are looking balanced and dynamic ahead of the World Cup, with the extended squad list highlighting their strength in depth. — Ed Dove

JAPAN
Fixtures: Germany (Nov. 23), Costa Rica (Nov. 27), Spain (Dec. 1)

STOCK CLIMBLING

Kaoru Mitoma: In his first Premier League campaign after spending the whole of last season on loan at Union SG in Belgium, Mitoma had to bide his time but has now started in Brighton’s last two matches and delivered a breakthrough performance against Wolves at the weekend. The 25-year-old was a constant threat down the left, netting his side’s second goal with an excellent header while a brilliant first touch forced Nelson Semedo into bringing him down with a professional foul that handed Brighton a crucial numerical advantage.

STOCK FALLING

Yuta Nakayama: With Japan the earliest of the 32 teams to name their World Cup squad, Nakayama now has the misfortune of being the first player to miss out on the tournament having originally been selected. An Achilles injury picked up in Huddersfield’s loss to Sunderland last week has ruled the left-back out for the rest of the season.

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

For a side with question marks over options in attack, the emergence of Mitoma — a livewire-type player with the ability to genuinely change a game — will be a huge boost for Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu. The loss of Nakayama means that veteran Yuto Nagatomo is certain to start on the left of defence with any backup for him likely to be another defender playing out of position, given Moriyasu opted to call up an additional forward in Shuto Machino to replace the Huddersfield man. — Gabriel Tan

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

Squad announcement date: Nov. 12

STOCK CLIMBLING

Jeong Woo-Yeong: With Freiburg flying high in the Bundesliga so far this season, forcing his way into the starting XI has been a testing proposition for Jeong, but he showed what he is capable of by marking his second start of the campaign with a well-taken goal that opened the scoring in Sunday’s 2-0 win over Cologne. South Korean fans are still waiting to see Jeong, now 23, deliver on the potential that saw him earn a move to Bayern Munich at the start of his career, but he should get plenty of opportunities both at Freiburg and with the Taegeuk Warriors at the upcoming World Cup.

STOCK FALLING

Min-Kyu Song: Jeong’s impressive display at the weekend also means that Song’s hopes of earning a place in coach Paulo Bento’s final squad have been dealt a blow. Once touted as potentially the next Son Heung-Min, Song netted just three times for Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the recently concluded K League 1 campaign. With South Korea having no shortage of wide attacking options, his place in Bento’s roster is now under severe threat.

HOW THE COUNTRY ARE LOOKING

With star man and captain Son under an injury cloud after underdoing surgery for a facial injury, and with Wolves man Hwang Hee-Chan struggling for game time this season, Jeong is now looming as a legitimate attacking avenue in South Korea’s World Cup quest — especially if he gets the chance to impress further in Freiburg’s final two games. — Gabriel Tan

URUGUAY
Fixtures: South Korea (Nov. 24), Portugal (Nov. 28), Ghana (Dec. 2)

STOCK CLIMBLING

Ronald Araujo: The Barcelona player is a vital part of Uruguay’s defensive unit, capable of operating at centre-back or right-back. The thigh injury he suffered on national team duty — and the subsequent surgery — have made him a clear cause for concern. It might be a rush, but there are hopes that he could be available for selection, and that club and country might be able to cooperate to boost his chances of recovery. — Tim Vickery



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