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World Cup Stock Watch: Saka, Sargent climb; Martial, Hazard fall
Why Walkers injury doesnt guarantee Alexander-Arnold a World Cup spot (0:42)
Gab Marcotti explains that Trent Alexander-Arnold would not be a like for like replacement for Kyle Walker in the England squad. (0:42)
The days are counting down to the start of theWorld Cupin Qatar, with the host nation kicking it all off on Nov. 20 when they take on Ecuador.
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All 32 finalists are making their closing plans for the tournament, hoping that star players dont get struck down by injury and head into the World Cup in top form. Away from that, there are plenty of players who are desperately hoping to break into their countries 26-man squads, which have to be named by Nov. 13.
Each week, well 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 bracket and fixtures schedule
Fixtures: IR Iran (Nov. 21), United States (Nov. 25), Wales (Nov. 29)
Phil FodenBukayo Saka:All things being equal, England will play 3-4-3 in their World Cup opener against Iran withHarry Kanestarting at centre-forward andRaheem Sterlingoccupying one of the advanced positions next to him. Foden and Saka are the frontrunners competing for the other attacking spot, and after Fodens super hat trick forManchester CityagainstManchester Unitedlast weekend, Saka delivered a similarly influential performance asArsenalbeatLiverpool3-2 at Emirates Stadium. Saka scored twice, the second of which came in the form of a match-winning penalty -- the biggest spot kick he has taken since missing for England in the Euro 2020 final shootout againstItaly.
Trent Alexander-Arnold:This isnt the first time Alexander-Arnold has appeared here, but another chastening experience in a big game will do little to win over coach Gareth Southgate, who is already sceptical about the 24-year-olds defending. He was substituted at half-time in Liverpools loss at Arsenal with an ankle problem which, if anything, put him out of his misery, after being caught out for both goals his team conceded in the opening 45 minutes. The second was particularly embarrassing, drifting out of position with no hope of getting the ball, vacating Liverpools central defensive area as Arsenal counter-attacked and Gabriel Martinelli crossed for Saka to score.
News thatKyle Walkeris a doubt for the World Cup after undergoing groin surgery will be a huge blow to Southgate. Walker was a certain starter for England, most likely on a the right side of a three-man defence, where Southgate relies heavily on Walkers recovery pace to snuff out potential counter-attacking dangers. He has not yet been ruled out, however, and Southgate will surely give him every chance to make the squad. Without him, Englands already suspect defence is weaker. --James Olley
Fixtures: Wales (Nov. 21), England (Nov. 25), IR Iran (Nov. 29)
Josh Sargent: Sargent continued his strong start to the season with Norwich City, scoring his seventh goal of the season in the Canaries 3-2 loss to Preston North End at the weekend. WithRicardo Pepibagging another two goals for Groningen, Sargent needed to do his bit to remind manager Gregg Berhalter that he should be on the final roster, and he did just that with a outstanding run and finish to score Norwichs first goal.
Chris Richards: With just under a month to go until Berhalter names his roster, Richards is still on the mend from a hamstring injury. Not only did Richards not play inCrystal Palaces 2-1 win overLeeds United, he hasnt even begun training with the first team yet. If healthy, Richards is a near lock to be included, but Berhalter will need to see that the defender is back to full fitness in order for that to happen.
The sight ofChristian Pulisicgetting on the scoresheet forChelseawas most welcome given his importance to the U.S. attack. But long-term, the most notable part of the weekend was the return to health of several players.FulhamdefenderAntonee RobinsonValenciamidfielderYunus MusahLilleTimothy Weahand CelticsCameron Carter-Vickersall got on the field, with Robinson and Carter-Vickers going the full 90 minutes. The first three in that list are thought to be vital to the U.S. teams chances of getting past the group stage. --Jeff Carlisle
Fixtures: Australia (Nov. 22), Denmark (Nov. 26), Tunisia (Nov. 30)
Adrien Rabiot:Just when he needed it the most, Rabiot produced his best performance in a while last week againstMaccabi Haifain the Champions League. TheJuventusmidfielder scored twice and was very dominant in a must-win game for Juve. He was good against Milan too despite the defeat and he is showing that he is almost back to his best. With coach Didier Deschamps unsure which of his midfielders will be ready for the World Cup, Rabiot scored some brownie points.
Antoine Griezmann:Finally, the striker will be a normal footballer again. On Monday,Atletico Madridofficially announced that he had signed permanently for them fromBarcelonaafter weeks of only being allowed to play 30 minutes per match! Now, Diego Simeone will be able to play him as much as he wants, which is a big relief for Griezmann with the World Cup around the corner.
Anthony Martial:Deschamps has been really patient with Martial throughout the year. It has been a on and off relationship between theManchester Unitedforward and the France team but he was a candidate for the World Cup. However, his new injury setback, only a few days after making his return with a goal at Omonia last week and an assist against Everton on Sunday, is a massive blow and diminishes his chances to go to Qatar.
Lucas Hernandez:It looks like a race against time for theBayern Munichdefender to be ready and fit for the World Cup. His thigh injury has kept him out for a month already and he is still not back on the pitch. He should start running again this week and hopefully play by the end of the month. Will that be enough for Deschamps? Time will tell.
There are still some problems for Deschamps as he is still monitoring the progress of his injured players, especiallyNGolo KanteandPaul Pogba, who are two big concerns for France.Kylian Mbappereportedly being unhappy at PSG at the moment is also a worry for Deschamps. --Julien Laurens
Fixtures: Japan (Nov. 23), Spain (Nov. 27), Costa Rica (Dec. 1)
Niclas Fullkrug:Theres a big clamour for the inclusion of the in-formWerder Bremenstriker, to give coach Hansi Flick a genuine centre-forward option. Fullkrug at 29 hasnt represented Germany beyond under-20 level but leads the Bundesliga scoring charts with eight goals, helping catapult Bremen into the top five. He netted the late penalty winner away to Hoffenheim on Friday while also setting up the opener for striking partnerMarvin Ducksch. --Derek Rae
Fixtures: Costa Rica (Nov. 23), Germany (Nov. 27), Japan (Dec. 1)
Brais Mendez:TheReal Sociedadmidfielder is banging in the goals after a summer move from Celta Vigo; could he be making a late run for inclusion? He has four caps, but none since November 2021.
Ferran Torres:A regular for Spain but struggling for minutes withBarcelona. He did not take advantage of his start againstCelta Vigoat the weekend. --Sam Marsden
Fixtures: Canada (Nov. 23), Morocco (Nov. 27), Croatia (Dec. 1)
Kevin De Bruyne:There is no surprise here. De Bruyne is the Belgium international who is most in form. Week-in, week-out, he is delivering forManchester Cityand he is even getting rested at times by Pep Guardiola (against Copenhagen, and he only came on for 21 minutes againstNottingham Forest), which is great so close to the World Cup.
Leandro Trossard:The Brighton forward is giving Roberto Martinez a headache. Trossards performance in scoring a hat trick atLiverpool10 days ago was exceptional. He is in great form and, unlike Eden Hazard, he is fit, plays regularly and shines. He is certainly pushing for a place in Belgiums starting XI at the moment..
Eden Hazard:Theres still not much game time for him atReal Madrid. He hasnt played a single minute forLos Blancosfor a month, since Sept. 11 againstMallorcawhere he started and was taken off after 59 minutes. And that was while Karim Benzema was out! Now that Benzema is back, it is really time to worry for Hazard. He will arrive at the World Cup with very few minutes on the pitch under his belt.
Charles De Ketelaere:He is taking longer to adapt to life atAC Milanthan was hoped. He was benched by coach Stefano Pioli for the big clash against Juventus at the weekend, and the team did really well without him. His 65 minutes against Chelsea last week were very poor and he still hasnt scored since making the move to Italy.
The big worry of course is the form of Hazard. The Belgium captain doesnt play at Madrid and Coach Martinez is concerned. He has other optionsm, but Hazard is a huge player for him. For the rest, things are looking good. --Julien Laurens
Fixtures: Ghana (Nov. 24), Uruguay (Nov. 28), South Korea (Dec. 2)
Cristiano Ronaldo:He may not have started against Everton on Sunday, but his introduction off the bench for the injured Martial gave Manchester United a spark and resulted in him scoring the winner, and his 700th career goal. Uniteds No. 7, who pushed to leave throughout the summer and who manager Erik ten Hag said was pissed off with a lack of game time, could be in line for a prolonged spell in the team amid ongoing concerns over Martials injury record.
Pedro Neto: Bad news for the Wolves winger, who has been ruled out of the World Cup after suffering an ankle injury againstWest Ham United. --Dale Johnson
Fixtures: Senegal (Nov. 21), Ecuador (Nov. 25), Qatar (Nov. 29)
Frenkie de JongArnaut Danjuma:Good news from Spain, where De Jong and Danjuma have recovered from their injuries. De Jong appeared as a 63rd-minute substitute after more than two weeks out asBarcelonabeat Celta Vigo. Danjuma started forVillarrealagainst Austria Vienna last week and scored immediately, but was substituted at half-time againstReal Sociedadat the weekend after a below-par performance.
Matthijs de Ligt:He has started a fourth consecutive match for Bayern Munich because of the injury to Lucas Hernandez. AgainstBorussia Dortmund(2-2), talented Dutch strikerDonyell Malenalso came on in the 70th minute, butRyan Gravenberch, who played his first 90 minutes againstViktoria Plzenin the Champions League, stayed on the bench the whole game.
Cody Gakpo:ThePSV Eindhovenstar continues to impress. After 75 minutes, he scored the only goal of the game againstHeerenveen, the second time this season that he has proved to be the difference-maker. He is unquestionably the MVP in the Eredivisie this season with nine goals and six assists in just nine games. In all competitions, he has been involved in 23 goals -- as many asErling Haaland, although Gakpo has featured in three extra matches.
Jeremie Frimpong:He scored two goals in Xabi Alonsos first game as coach ofBayer Leverkusen, his second brace of the season. Together withRamy BensebainiBorussia Monchengladbach, also four goals) he is the top-scoring defender in the Bundesliga. He is performing very well but isnt likely to be part of the group who are going to Qatar. Louis van Gaal only wants players who he knows, or has got to know -- meaning any player not selected up to the last international break is unlikely to make it to the World Cup.
Remko Pasveer:After Ajax suffered their biggest European loss when losing 6-1 toNapoli, many players came in for criticism.Daley Blindand Pasveer showed their weaknesses, but a few days later Pasveer didnt play at all well againstFC Volendam, who are at the bottom of the table but scored twice. Pasveer has conceded 13 goals in his last five games. --Max Toemen
Fixtures: Saudi Arabia (Nov. 22), Mexico (Nov. 26), Poland (Nov. 30)
Enzo Fernandez:In this long, 35-game unbeaten run, Argentinas midfield trio have been firing together wonderfully well.Leandro Paredesgets the moves going,Rodrigo De Pauladds thrust andGiovani Lo Celsoplays subtle passes, bringingLionel Messiinto play close to the opposing goal. But what would happen if one of the trio were to be out of action?Exequiel Palacioshas long been the next in line, but has run into injury problems -- making the rise of Fernandez very interesting. Last week, Fernandez was applauded off the field byBenficafans when he made a late exit againstParis Saint-Germain. As he has done on a regular basis since joining from River Plate, Fernandez put in a solid shift, involved in all phases of the play and setting up his sides goal in a 1-1 draw. He has looked equally at home after his recent promotion to the senior Argentina side. Coach Lionel Scaloni can rest relieved that he has a ready-made midfield reinforcement.
Paulo Dybala:Sundays bizarre injury, when he suffered a muscular problem in scoring a penalty forAS Roma, was bad news indeed for a player who has consistently flattered to deceive for his national team. There is speculation that he will not be fit in time for Qatar. Argentina would like to have him in reserve, but they have got this far without him. Dybala hardly featured in World Cup qualification, was not in Brazil for last years Copa America triumph and has scored a very disappointing three goals in 34 appearances for his country. His hopes of improving that record in the World Cup have taken a blow. --Tim Vickery
Fixtures: Serbia (Nov. 24), Switzerland (Nov. 28), Cameroon (Dec. 2)
Gabriel Martinelli:With another splendid display at the weekend, Martinelli is making life hard for Brazil coach Tite with so many attacking options. Even with 26 squad slots available, it is hard to see how Martinelli can get himself on the plane. Assuming that Tite takes one reserve for each defensive and midfield position, that leaves him with nine slots left for front players.Neymaris guaranteed, as are wingersRaphinhaVinicius JuniorandAntony, plus almost certainlyRodrygoRicharlisonwill go as a central striker, backed up byPedroand, surely,Gabriel Jesus. It is probably the case thatRoberto Firminois battling with Olympic heroMatheus Cunhafor a slot, with advantage Firmino -- theLiverpoolman is the closest they have to a Neymar substitute. And thats the nine slots all gone.
Barring injuries, there is one alternative -- repeat what Brazil did last month. That would mean leaving out Daniel Alves, havingDaniloas the sole right-back, withEder Militaosupplying cover, thus freeing up an extra space. To take 10 front players in a squad of 26 could appear an exaggeration and it could be a risk -- but Martinelli is playing so well that the thought might well be flickering through Tites mind. --Tim Vickery
Fixtures: Poland (Nov. 22), Argentina (Nov. 26), Saudi Arabia (Nov. 30)
Hirving Lozano:After a slow start to the 2022-23 Serie A campaign withNapoli, it was encouraging to see Lozano score in the 4-1 win againstCremoneselast Sunday. The goal was the first of the season for the 27-year-old and came just two weeks after he scored the lone goal for Mexico in a friendly vsPeru.
Alfredo Talavera:Not the best performance from Mexicos second-choice goalkeeper. The goals werent entirely his fault, but veteran Talavera didnt cover himself in glory in FC Juarezs 3-0 loss to Toluca in the first round of the Liga MX playoffs. With no games left to play before the World Cup, Talavera will now prepare for the tournament after a sour end to his season.
Lozanos Serie A goal will provide relief for Mexico manager Gerardo Tata Martino, who recently noted that there are no guarantees that key injured attackers likeJesus CoronaorRaul Jimenezwill be fit for the World Cup. Lozano will be an invaluable member ofEl Tris frontline in Qatar, and will therefore need to gain more momentum and minutes before the tournament. --Cesar Hernandez
Fixtures: France (Nov. 22), Tunisia (Nov. 26), Denmark (Nov. 30)
Mitch Langerak:His decision to end his retirement from international football last month suddenly turned the Socceroos goalkeeping stocks from one of its most settled positions into one of its most intriguing. And while he might not have played in the recent games against New Zealand -- coach Graham Arnold opting to startAndrew Redmaynein Auckland because the A-League Mens (ALM) offseason had denied him recent minutes -- the 34-year-old continues to rack up minutes with Nagoya Grampus in the J1 League and was impressive in their 1-1 draw with Kyoto Sanga.
Langerak has twice broken the season clean-sheet record of the Japanese top-flight since signing for Nagoya in 2018 and arguably would have had considerably more than his current tally of eight Socceroos caps had he not stepped away from the national team because of family reasons during the pandemic. Now back in the fold, hes putting his best foot forward in an unlikely push for Australias No. 1 shirt in Qatar.
Chris Ikonomidis:After an injury ravaged 2021-22 ALM campaign -- not helped by a long stint in quarantine after representing his country -- Ikonomidis largely fell off the radar of the Socceroos heading into this campaign, overshadowed by the likes ofAwer MabilandCraig Goodwinon the wing. His barnstorming appearance off the bench in Melbourne Victorys 3-2 win on the opening day of the Australian top-flights 2022-23 season, though, demonstrated that the attacker cant be discounted for a late push for a spot on the plane to Qatar. Introduced as a 62nd-minute substitute in the Big Blue, the 27-year-old grabbed a goal and an assist in Victorys win -- at the very least giving himself a platform to build on before Arnold names his squad next month.
Mat Ryan:At the exact time that Langerak is making moves in Japan, the Socceroos incumbent between the posts has found himself suddenly consigned to the bench at his Danish clubFC Copenhagenjust weeks out from the World Cup. Returning from a long-term injury,Kamil Grabarahas replaced Ryan in Copenhagens XI in recent fixtures. Ryans form with the Socceroos has always been exemplary and he remains an integral leader for the team. But if hes going to continue to watch from the sideline while Langerak performs well, its inevitable that questions are going to be asked.
Marco Tilio:He began the ALM season with Melbourne City needing to put together a strong run of form to reinforce a case for selection, so starting on the bench in his sides opening 2-1 win over Western United and being forced to wait until the 73rd minute to enter the contest was hardly what he needed. Even more unfortunate for his hopes of reaching Qatar, none of those ahead of him in the pecking order at City -- including fellow SocceroosMat LeckieandJamie Maclaren-- put in the type of performances that would suggest coach Patrick Kisnorbo needs to make a change ahead of their coming meeting with Brisbane Roar. Tilio also missed a late chance to grab his side a third. --Joey Lynch
Fixtures: Netherlands (Nov. 21), Qatar (Nov. 25), Ecuador (Nov. 29)
Habib DialloBoulaye Dia:After being criticised for their profligacy during the international break, Senegals attacking options now seemingly cant stop scoring as the World Cup approaches. Diallo ofStrasbourgandSalernitanas Dia were both among the goals this weekend -- a major boost for coach Aliou Cisse -- whileFamara Diedhiou, who led the line in the Africa Cup of Nations final, returned to action for the first time since suffering an injury in June.
Pape Abou Cisse:The AFCON-winning defender was cut from the Olympiakos squad ahead of their meeting with OFI Crete after clashing with supporters following a 3-0 humbling by Qarabag in midweek. The club publicly criticised the defenders behaviour after he confronted fans, and it remains to be seen whether he still has a future at the club.
Edouard Mendy: The goalkeeper continues to be out ofChelseas Premier League side as new boss Graham Potter puts faith inKepa Arrizabalaga, and his inactivity is a growing concern.
Chelsea have lost faith in Mendy at exactly the wrong time for Senegal, and a month has now passed without playing at all for the Blues. Hes such an important player for the Teranga Lions, so his place isnt in doubt, but this is far from ideal preparation. By contrast,Kalidou Koulibalys strong return to action under Potter is encouraging news. --Ed Dove
Fixtures: Croatia (Nov. 23), Belgium (Nov. 27), Canada (Dec. 1)
Imran Louza:Injury-hit since arriving at Watford in a 9m move last year, Louzas start to the season has again been overshadowed by fitness problems. Returning from five months without a game, he made his third appearance in six days for the Hornets as they were defeated at Blackpool, scoring the visitors consolation goal with a delicious curling free kick. His goal followed on from a recent assist in the 4-0 mauling of Stoke City -- on current form, Louza should be pushing for a Morocco return.
Romain Saiss:The Morocco skipper was withdrawn with injury 13 minutes into Besiktas 1-0 victory at Giresunspor. Hes expected to miss the weekends derby with Trabzonspor, but his setback isnt expected to affect his World Cup participation. WithNayef Aguerdstill sidelined, the Atlas Lions cannot afford another key defensive absence.
Hakim Ziyechhas the potential to be a key player for Morocco after ending his international exile, and even though he only made a four-minute cameo asChelseadefeatedWolverhampton Wanderers, his return to Premier League action will bring cheer to coach Walid Regragui. It was the playmakers first league appearance since Aug. 30, and he now needs to feature more regularly to ensure that hes match sharp for the World Cup. Ziyech has come down with illness ahead of Chelseas Champions League game atAC Milan. --Ed Dove
Fixtures: Switzerland (Nov. 24), Serbia (Nov. 28), Brazil (Dec. 2)
Andre Onana:Before this weekend, Onanas failure to unseatSamir HandanovicatInter Milanhad been a concern for Cameroon fans, leaving their No. 1 goalkeeper short of match sharpness. Following some underwhelming displays by Handanovic, coach Simone Inzaghi opted to hand Onana his first Serie A start againstSassuoloat the weekend, and while it wasnt a flawless display -- the ex-Ajax man conceded -- it now appears that hell be given the chance to impress in the weeks to come. MidfielderSamuel Oum Gouetalso returned to action for KV Mechelen, having missed the previous three fixtures.
Martin Hongla:He remains benched atHellas Verona, and hasnt featured since Sept. 4, while Rigobert Song will surely be hoping forEric Maxim Choupo-Motingto get a little more playing time than the eight minutes he was afforded inDer Klassiker.
Onanas promotion at Inter is a major boost, while the rest of the squad is looking healthy. Song will watch on with intrigue to see how newLyonhead coach Laurent Blanc usesKarl Toko Ekambiin the coming weeks, while ambitious FA president Samuel Etoo should pull out the stops to attempt to convinceYoussoufa Moukoko, who became the youngest goal scorer inDer Klassiker, to ditch Germany for Cameroon in time for the World Cup. --Ed Dove
Fixtures: Portugal (Nov. 24), South Korea (Nov. 28), Uruguay (Dec. 2)
Daniel-Kofi Kyereh: TheSC Freiburgplayer has blossomed into a valuable element in the Ghana squad since making his first start for the national side, and is reaching the best form of his career just in time for the World Cup. His delightful goal againstHertha Berlinon Sunday helped the Breisgau-Brazilians to an away draw, and hes now scored three goals in his last three matches. Considering this is his first campaign in a top division, Kyereh ought to be considered among Africas breakout stars of the season.
Daniel Amartey:Wout Faess arrival atLeicester Cityhas resigned Amartey to a bench role for Brendan Rodgers beleaguered Foxes. He was introduced in the 67th minute with Leicester leading 1-0 at Bournemouth on Saturday, with Rodgers looking to preserve the visitors advantage. They lost 2-1.
Kyerehs emergence as a goal threat from midfield comes as a boost to a Black Stars side who have scored just three goals in their last five matches. However,Thomas Parteyremaining injury-free and continuing to prove influential asArsenalmaintain their strong start to the season is Ghanas real positive of the week. --Ed Dove
Fixtures: Germany (Nov. 23), Costa Rica (Nov. 27), Spain (Dec. 1)
Takehiro Tomiyasu:After his own fitness issues at the start of the season saw him lose his place in theArsenalside, Tomiyasu benefitted from an injury toOleksandr Zinchenkoto reclaim his place in Mikel Artetas starting XI. And the versatile defender certainly acquitted himself admirably, holding his own against the fearsomeMohamed Salahin an impressive 3-2 win for the Gunners.
Kaoru Mitoma:There is no denying Mitomas raw talent, and the Brighton hierarchy -- as well as the fans -- look to hold him in high regard, with the anticipation that he will eventually establish himself in the Premier League. Yet, every game that he sits on the sidelines and is restricted to substitute appearances is another week gone where one of the Samurai Blues X-factor players fails to garner any meaningful and valuable minutes ahead of the World Cup.
Tomiyasu was always going to be a lock for Japan in the backline, but the fact that he could potentially get more playing time for an Arsenal outfit who are flying high bodes well for the Samurai Blue, especially given captain and centre-back partnerMaya Yoshidais facing a far less happy time in the Bundesliga with Schalke at the moment. But Mitomas inactivity could start being a concern for coach Hajime Moriyasu, especially given others likeTakumi Minaminoat Monaco and Vissel KobesYuya Osakoare struggling to make an impression and competing for their clubs at the wrong end of the table respectively.-- Gabriel Tan
Fixtures: England (Nov. 21), Wales (Nov. 25), United States (Nov. 29)
Karim Ansarifard:Only earlier this year, it looked like Ansarifard -- a seasoned campaigner with 94 caps to his name -- might not even be headed for the World Cup, given rumoured unrest between him and then-Iran coach Dragan Skocic. With Skocic now replaced by Carlos Queiroz, the 32-year-old Ansarifard has returned to the fold and just last week showed the kind of predatory instincts that will come in handy for Team Melli with a clinical finish in Omonias narrow loss toManchester Unitedin the Europa League.
Sardar Azmoun:A trying year for Azmoun got worse for when he tore a right calf muscle ahead of Bayer Leverkusens 2-0 Champions League loss to FC Porto. Although Azmoun has struggled for goals recently, he would have still been expected to play an important role in attack for the Iranians but, with an estimated six-to-eight week recovery period, could miss out altogether.
Ansarifard finding form is a bonus, but he is unlikely to be able to fully fill any potential void should Azmoun be unavailable. The double act of Azmoun and Porto strikerMehdi Taremiis one that would have caused problems for any opposition defence. The Iran faithful will now have their fingers crossed that the Leverkusen man recovers in time to make Queirozs squad, even if he has to miss the first game or so. --Gabriel Tan