The ‘will he, won’t he’ saga kept a nation on tenterhooks. Yes, another metatarsal injury threatened to keep a world-class talent out of the World Cup. But no, this time it wasn’t England doing the praying.
Brazil’s outstanding winger Neymar suffered a broken bone in his foot while playing for club side PSG back in March; an injury with a typical recovery time of three months.
But the 26-year-old’s break was rather more complex than normal, and an operation looked to have put paid to his chances of pulling on the famous yellow shirt in Russia this summer.
However, he has recovered well from surgery and has been named in Brazil’s provisional 23-man squad for the tournament, which features a couple of notable absentees and a number of players familiar to fans of English football.
Dani Alves, another PSG player, injured his knee last week and has been ruled out of the tournament, while Chelsea man David Luiz, another for whom a knee injury has ruined his campaign, has paid the penalty for his time on the sidelines by being ignored by Brazilian boss Tite.
But there will be plenty of familiar faces, with Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino vying for a starting role in attack.
Willian and Philippe Coutinho could probe on the flanks, with Fernandinho and former Tottenham man Paulinho pulling in the strings in midfield.
Manchester City’s Ederson and Danilo complete the English-based contingent in a squad that is packed with stars. No wonder they are the bookmakers’ favourites to lift the Jules Rimet trophy this summer at 5/1….
No Surprises from the European Champions
Portugal coach Fernando Santos has gone down a rather more laidback approach to his squad announcement, opting to name a preliminary 35-man selection before trimming his options down to 23 in the coming weeks.
Wolves’ Ruben Neves makes the squad whilst Renato Sanches pays for his shocking season.
Portugal’s 35-man preliminary World Cup squad in full:
— Yahoo Sport UK (@YahooSportUK) May 15, 2018
There were no major surprises in Santos’ squad, with Cristiano Ronaldo playing in what is likely to be his final World Cup. How he would like to go out with a bang after claiming the European Championship crown back in 2016….
Ronaldo will be joined in the Portugal squad by Bernardo Silva, former Manchester United man Nani and the exciting Wolves starlet Ruben Neves.
Leicester fans will enjoy watching Adrien Silva on the big stage, and there will be a reunion between former Southampton teammates Cedric and Jose Fonte.
Eder and Manuel Fernandes will feel right at home; they play their club football in Russia at Lokomotiv Moscow.
Marquez Set to Make History
Here’s a fun pub quiz question: only two men have appeared in five consecutive World Cups. Can you name them?
The first is legendary German defender Lothar Matthaus, and the second is the Mexican, Antonio Carbajal.
His compatriot, Rafael Marquez, will be looking to become the third man to complete the feat this summer, and the 39-year-old is just one step away after being named in Mexico’s provisional 28-man squad.
The former Barcelona man already has one record to his name: he was the first player to captain their country at four World Cups. And he became only the second player from Mexico to score in three consecutive editions when he found the net against Croatia in 2014.
Marquez takes his place in a talented squad that includes the likes of Javier Hernandez and former North London stars Carlos Vela and Giovani Dos Santos.
Strong English Presence for the Super Eagles
When Nigeria take to the field in Russia, fans of English football will be well clued-up on the eleven men in front of them.
The Super Eagles have named a squad with a heavy reliance on Premier League talent as they look to lead the African charge this summer.
Their provisional 30-man squad includes Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi and Ola Aina, as well as the Leicester City trio of Wilfred Ndidi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Ahmed Musa.
Some familiar faces from yesteryear, including Jon Obi-Mikel, Odion Ighalo and ex Chelsea man Kenneth Omeruo will also be in Russia.
Cahill Swansong Comes Under Fire
Australia have announced their provisional squad for the summer showpiece too, and one name has drawn rather a large amount of controversy.
Tim Cahill, who has scored in each of the Socceroos’ last three World Cup appearances, has been selected at the age of 38 and despite a lack of club football this term.
And speculation is mounting as to whether the former Everton man’s appearance in the squad is based on commercial, rather than tactical, reasonings.
Cahill is the face of Caltex, the fuel company that owns a fleet of petrol stations down under. The midfielder’s face is plastered across their sites, and conspiracy theorists have been left wondering whether the firm has put pressure on Socceroos management to include him in the squad…
The year is 2058. Australia has qualified for the 190 team World Cup, to be held in the tax haven of Curacao. FFA is still pondering whether to select Tim Cahill for the squad, even though Cahill is 78 years old, and he’s dead. pic.twitter.com/AHcHJoD6TG
— Paul Mavroudis (@PaulMavroudis) May 15, 2018