Son Heung-min was passed fit for South Korea to start their World Cup opener against Uruguay at Education City Stadium on Thursday.

The Tottenham forward fractured an eye socket in the Champions League game against Marseille on November 1 and donned a facemask to take on the South Americans.

His availability was a big boost for coach Paulo Bento as the Koreans looked to get their Group H campaign off to a winning start.

Son entered the game one goal short of becoming South Korea's joint-top World Cup goalscorer and only the second player from the country to score in three separate World Cups after Park Ji-sung, who netted once in each of the 2002, 2006 and 2010 tournaments.

Uruguay started the game with a front two of Darwin Nunez and Luis Suarez, with Edinson Cavani still struggling to shake off an ankle injury.

Breel Embolo scored the winner against his birth nation as Switzerland beat Cameroon 1-0 at Al Janoub Stadium in their World Cup Group G opener on Thursday.

The Yaounde-born attacker refused to celebrate his second-half tap-in but his goal sparked jubilant scenes for the Swiss at full-time as Murat Yakin's side inflicted Cameroon's eighth successive World Cup defeat, one shy of the record.

The Indomitable Lions had the better of the first half and kept Yann Sommer relatively busy in the Switzerland net, though there were a couple of warning signs for Cameroon just before the break.

Embolo had been involved in one of those incidents and was fittingly the man to break the deadlock in the 48th minute, with Switzerland ultimately good value for the win after an effective second-half display.

Cameroon began with the greater purpose and should have scored 10 minutes in as Bryan Mbeumo blasted at Sommer and Karl Toko Ekambi inexplicably blasted over on the rebound.

Undeterred, Cameroon continued to look more threatening, with Martin Hongla testing Sommer from a tight angle 20 minutes later, and a crucial Silvan Widmer clearance denied Toko Ekambi a tap-in.

Switzerland finished the half stronger, however, and only a last-ditch Jean-Charles Castelletto tackle prevented Embolo a certain goal before Manuel Akanji nodded just wide in stoppage time.

But there was no denying Embolo just after the break as the Monaco forward swept home from Xherdan Shaqiri's low right-wing cross.

Andre Onana kept Cameroon in the contest just past the hour with a fine stop to thwart Ruben Vargas, but Rigobert Song's men were unable to capitalise at the other end.


What does it mean? Vital win for Switzerland as things only get tougher from here

With Brazil and Serbia to come, it was essential Switzerland came through this with a positive result – and that they did.

It certainly was not a vintage performance from a side Yakin called "one of the best Swiss national teams that have ever existed", but in the second half they often played with real fluency.

Switzerland are one of only three European teams to reach the knockout stages in each of the past four major international tournaments, and this was a big step to continuing that streak in Qatar.

Shaqiri dependable as ever

He may not carry quite the same influence over Switzerland's general play as he once did, but Shaqiri just always seems to deliver for his national team. His cross, cleverly pulled back slightly, gave Embolo an easy finish for the winner, giving the experienced winger his 12th goal involvement for the Swiss over the last four major tournaments, exactly 50 per cent of their total.

Vargas frustrates

He was full of running and endeavour, but this was largely a frustrating display from the left winger. Although his two chances created was a high for Switzerland, he wasted two glorious opportunities: one saw him slice a cross over the goal with Granit Xhaka awaiting a tap-in, and the second involved him failing to beat Onana from close range.

What's next?

Switzerland face the ultimate test when they tussle with Brazil on Monday. Cameroon will play Serbia the same day.

Wales midfielder Harry Wilson is expecting to face a determined Iran side desperate to respond to their opening-game thrashing when the Group B rivals meet on Friday.

Iran began their World Cup campaign with a 6-2 loss at the hands of England, though only once in six participations – at Germany 2006 – have they lost their first two matches.

A late Gareth Bale penalty earned Wales a 1-1 draw against the United States in their opening match and a first win at the World Cup since 1958 will now be the target against Iran.

But midfielder Wilson, who played a full part against the USA, is expecting Iran to put up far more of a fight at Ahmed bin Ali Stadium than they did against England.

"It was a difficult result for them. England was always going to be difficult," Wilson said. "They will be looking for a reaction and I think that is what we are going to see.

"It will be up to us to make sure we are on form to try and get the three points."

Bale won the penalty in which he converted against the USA and now has 41 goals in 109 caps for his country – only team-mate Chris Gunter has played as many times.

"He drags us through tough games and got his goal," Wilson said. "His performances over the years, I think he deserves to play at the World Cup before he retires."

 

Following their heavy loss to England, Iran have now lost seven and drawn two of their nine meetings with European teams in the tournament, conceding 20 goals.

Anything other than victory against Wales will leave Carlos Queiroz's facing an early exit from Qatar 2022, but the former Manchester United assistant has faith in his players.

"My view [of the England game] is simple and very pragmatic: the game finished in the first half when we conceded the goals we are not used to conceding," he said.

"Being 3-0 down, the only goal for our team was to enjoy the game and to be brave, united and fight to try to play our football in moments England allowed us to do so.

"What I can say as a conclusion is we win or learn. We had the privilege to learn a lot of things against England and we are much better prepared now to play against Wales."

Friday's contest will be just the second ever between the sides, with Wales – ranked one place higher than Iran in the FIFA rankings – winning 1-0 in a friendly 44 years ago.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Wales - Kieffer Moore

Bale may have been the hero against the USA, but it was the introduction of Moore at half-time that changed the contest, providing Wales with a focal point in the final third.

Moore was a menace during his time on the pitch, as he was throughout the qualifying campaign, and will surely now start this crucial showdown with Iran.

Despite only playing 45 minutes, Moore was involved in more shots (four, taking three himself) against the USA than any Wales team-mate and also had at least two more touches in the opposition box.

Iran - Mehdi Taremi

Taremi's performance was a rare shining light for Iran in their defeat to England, with the Porto striker scoring a couple of goals.

That made Taremi the first Iran player to score multiple goals at a World Cup, and also the first player from an Asian country to net twice in a single game in the competition.

The 30-year-old is a certainty to lead the line against Wales, but Queiroz will hope for more from his supporting cast, such as Vahid Amiri and Alireza Jahanbakhsh.


PREDICTION

Four of Wales' six games at the World Cup have been drawn (67 per cent), with no side having a higher ratio of their games finishing level in the competition's history.

Stats Perform's supercomputer prediction model has this match down as a 27.6 per cent likelihood of that happening, marginally ahead of the 23.2 chance Iran have of winning.

A Wales win – something they have not achieved in their past six matches – is predicted as the most likely outcome at 49.4 per cent.

Luka Modric insists Croatia are not at the World Cup "just to participate" and their "ambitions are big" despite their lacklustre start against Morocco.

Runners-up to France four years ago, Croatia's quest to go the extra step in Qatar began with a goalless draw against Morocco at the Al Bayt Stadium.

Indeed, Croatia failed to score for the first time in 12 World Cup matches, registering just 0.52 xG (expected goals) as the likes of Modric and Andrej Kramaric were kept quiet.

But the skipper is adamant there is more to come from Zlatko Dalic's side, who have suffered just one defeat since their Euro 2020 exit to Spain last year.

"As the World Cup progresses, Croatia will be better," Modric told reporters. "We did not come here just to participate. Our ambitions are big, but we have to take it step by step.

"I don't want to be misunderstood - to reach the second round is not our only objective, just the first one. Our objectives are greater."

Modric, who has made more major tournament appearances for Croatia than any other player (26), created further history despite his nation's disappointing start to the tournament.

At 37 years and 75 days, the Real Madrid midfielder became his nation's oldest ever World Cup player, as well as the first player to appear in both the European Championship and World Cup across three separate decades.

Croatia, who also face Canada and Belgium in Group F, have either exited at the group stage or reached the semi-finals in their previous five appearances at the finals.

Cameron Carter-Vickers hailed the "top-notch" dedication and consistency of former teammate Harry Kane ahead of the United States' showdown with England.

Like Kane, Carter-Vickers came through Tottenham's academy but, having spent most of his 13-year spell out on loan, he departed for Celtic on a permanent deal in July.

But the defender will be reunited with the England skipper on Friday, when the Stars and Stripes and Three Lions face off in Group B at the Al Bayt Stadium.

And Carter-Vickers heaped praise on Kane, who is three goals away from breaking Wayne Rooney's all-time national goalscoring record.

He said: "Training with him, you can see every day how hard he works, his dedication not just on the field, off the field as well. It's top-notch, and you can see how consistent he has been over the last so many years now. 

"That only comes if you are doing the right thing day in and day out. You could say that probably coming from the academy at Tottenham, you look up to players like him and other players in the first team playing well and consistently performing." 

An unused substitute in the 1-1 draw with Wales, Southend-born Carter-Vickers will hope to make his World Cup bow against Gareth Southgate's side, who opened with a commanding 6-2 win over Iran.

The 24-year-old qualifies for the USA through his father - former basketball player Howard Carter - and has added motivation to achieve a positive result against the nation of his birth.

"Obviously, when I saw the group was drawn, and I saw we were in the same group as England, I was excited," he added. 

"They are one of the top teams in the world. To be able to play against them and match up against them to see where you are is a good thing. 

"They’ve got a squad full of top players. So I think we all know that we have to put in one of our best performances to beat them.

"It's a game that I really want to win, just like any other game in the World Cup. I'm not too sure how I'm going to feel when the game comes around. But I do know that I'll be doing everything I can to try and help the team win."

Carter-Vickers' teammate Yunus Musah also grew up in England, the former Arsenal trainee representing the Three Lions at various youth levels before committing to the USA in March 2021.

The Valencia midfielder, who became the Stars and Stripes' first teenage World Cup starter against Wales, is eagerly anticipating the clash.

"I have a lot of respect for them for everything they've done for me," he said. "I don't think I quite know how I'm going to feel that day.

"But it's a special game, for sure, because I played on both sides. And to be able to be on the pitch with the same national team I used to play with is just special."

Luis Enrique is not concerned about Spain potentially being complacent when they face Germany after opening their World Cup campaign with a 7-0 hammering of Costa Rica.

Spain were dominant from start to finish as they recorded their biggest World Cup win ever at Al Thumama Stadium on Wednesday.

Costa Rica failed to register a single shot, with this just the second instance of a team managing zero shots in a World Cup game since 1966.

La Roja's demolition job came a matter of hours after Group E rivals Germany suffered a shock 2-1 defeat to Japan.

Spain face Hansi Flick's side at Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday in a game that will go a long way to determining who progresses to the knockout stages.

After battering Costa Rica, it was put to Luis Enrique that his team might suffer from over-confidence, but the coach insists that is not a concern.

"We have to understand the head is important for everything," he said when asked specifically about managing the team's mentality.

 

"We've been working with a psychologist a long time, we were seen as aliens for doing that at first.

"I know these players, they are competitive, they won't be relaxed for the next game. We'll play exactly the same against Germany. If they beat us then we have to say they are better than us, that's it.

"I have no doubt whatsoever, we will be as competitive, or even more because Germany is an amazing team and this would really encourage us.

"Yes, euphoria can be negative and speculation too, but that's not in our DNA [to be impacted by that], we are living this with so much intensity.

"There may be changes but I trust all players. If there are changes it won't be because we think we are already qualified."

 

The mood of Costa Rica coach Luis Fernando Suarez could not have been more different.

Unsurprisingly, this was Los Ticos' biggest World Cup defeat, and Suarez did not sugarcoat how he felt about what was – in football terms – a disastrous day.

"I'm feeling very sad. It's not just about that, also I had very different expectations for this game and my feelings were completely different ahead of the game, now I'm not feeling okay," he said.

"I need to work with this result and be very sure with the players about how to lift the mood.

"I'm really worried my team won't cope with this terrible result. We have to leave this behind us and start working as of [Thursday] morning to show the players – they already know this – that we have to remember about Japan and try to win that match."

Brazil begin their Qatar 2022 campaign against Serbia as tournament favourites and with high hopes, but head coach Tite accepts lessons must be learned from recent failures.

The Selecao have won a record five World Cups, though not since 2002 – when beating Germany 2-0 in the final – have they lifted the most famous trophy of them all.

Since then, Brazil have reached the semi-final only once and have suffered three quarter-final exits, including four years ago at the hands of Belgium.

But as Tite becomes the first manager to lead Brazil into successive World Cups since Tele Santana in the 1980s, the experienced coach is hopeful of a better outcome this time.

"I know more how to focus my attention now," he told The Guardian, reflecting specifically on his side's 1-1 draw with Switzerland in their opening game of Russia 2018.

"I was also naive and inexperienced. I told my players not to complain about refereeing against Switzerland because of VAR, but there was a foul on our player.

"If and when it happens again, you need to respectfully complain and speak to the referee. We did this against Ecuador that year. We have learned."

Brazil are the only team to have taken part in every single World Cup since its original edition in 1930, with this being their 22nd appearance in the global showpiece.

The South American giants are unbeaten in their past 15 group matches, winning 12, and have topped their pool in each edition since 1982.

 

Serbia are first up for Brazil at Lusail Stadium on Thursday in Group G, which also includes Switzerland and Cameroon.

As an independent nation, Serbia have been eliminated in the group stage in all three World Cup appearances, but they qualified this year unbeaten in their eight qualifiers.

Question marks remain over the fitness of a number of key players, such as Sasa Lukic, Filip Kostic and Aleksandar Mitrovic, with the latter having not played in nearly a month.

"I sincerely hope they will be ready," head coach Dragan Stojkovic told reporters. "But what will happen until the game, I don't know. Everything is done so that they are ready. 

"Motivationally and psychologically, there are no problems. We haven't wanted to risk their fitness so far. We will do everything to ensure everyone is in gear and ready."

Brazil have won each of their two previous encounters with Serbia, including their group-stage fixture at the last World Cup when prevailing 2-0.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Brazil - Neymar

Entering what is his third and – in his own words – possibly final World Cup, Neymar needs just three goals to surpass Pele as Brazil's all-time leading goalscorer.

While the Selecao have fallen short in his two participations, the in-form Paris Saint-Germain forward can be pleased with his own output, having scored six goals and assisted two.

In fact, since his World Cup debut on home soil in 2014, Neymar has been directly involved in 42 per cent of his side's 19 goals in the competition.

Serbia - Aleksandar Mitrovic

If Serbia are to pull off a big upset then they will need to have their star players available, not least prolific striker Mitrovic.

The Fulham man scored eight goals in eight matches on the road to Qatar – a goal tally only Memphis Depay and Harry Kane (both 12) could better in European qualifiers.

Mitrovic has also been in superb form at club level this campaign, scoring nine goals in 12 Premier League outings to sit fourth in the Golden Boot race.


PREDICTION

Serbia have lost seven of their nine World Cup games and have been handed an extremely difficult opener, but they showed in qualifying they are a tough side to beat.

Stats Perform's AI supercomputer prediction model gives Stojkovic's side a 14.3 per cent chance of defeating Brazil.

Victory for the Selecao has a 65.6 per cent chance likelihood of happening, meanwhile, and a draw is predicted at 20.1 per cent.

Gavi marked becoming Spain's youngest player at a major tournament with a goal in an emphatic 7-0 win over Costa Rica as La Roja began their Qatar 2022 campaign in record style.

Group E rivals Germany suffered a shock 2-1 loss to Japan earlier on Wednesday, but Spain did not look under any threat after Dani Olmo gave them an 11th-minute lead.

That was La Roja's 100th World Cup goal and another two followed inside the opening 31 minutes through Marco Asensio's strike and a Ferran Torres penalty.

Torres doubled his tally early in the second half and Gavi then steered in a delightful volley, before substitutes Carlos Soler and Alvaro Morata added two more late on in Spain's record win at the tournament.

 

Spain were well on top when Olmo controlled a deflected Gavi pass and lifted the ball over Keylor Navas for La Roja's earliest World Cup goal since 2002.

Costa Rica struggled to get a foot on the ball and were two goals down with less than a quarter of the game played as Asensio swept home Jordi Alba's left-sided cross.

Alba was also involved in the third goal, the full-back being felled by a clumsy Oscar Duarte challenge in the box for Torres to put Spain out of reach with his casual spot-kick.

Torres slotted under Navas after some poor defending from Costa Rica and Gavi then got himself on the scoresheet with an outside-of-the-boot volley off the post.

Soler guided goal number six out of Navas' reach and fellow substitute Morata exchanged passes with Olmo before firing in to round off a superb Spain display.
 

What does it mean? Scintillating showing from Spain

Following shock defeats for Argentina and group rivals Germany in the opening round of games, Spain used this opener to put on a display and send out a message.

They scored seven goals in a World Cup match for the first time, with this the 2010 winners' biggest ever win in the competition.

Costa Rica were poor and become only the second side since records began in 1966 to fail to register a shot – the other instance being... Costa Rica against Brazil in 1990.

Torres torments Costa Rica

Torres scored at least twice as many goals in qualifying (four) than any other Spain player and he brought that form into the tournament with his double.

The Barcelona forward is the third player to score twice on his World Cup debut for Spain after David Villa (v Ukraine in 2006) and Jose Iraragorri (v Brazil in 1934).

Gavi behind only Pele

Both sides named their youngest ever players in a World Cup match – Gavi (18 years, 110 days) for Spain and Jewison Bennette (18y, 161d) for Costa Rica.

While winger Bennette managed just two passes in his hour on the pitch, Gavi became the youngest scorer in a World Cup match since Pele (17y 249d) in the 1958 final.

What's next?

Spain face fellow heavyweights Germany, who enter that game needing a result, while Costa Rica take on Japan in Sunday's other Group E match.

Gavi marked becoming Spain's youngest player at a major tournament with a goal in an emphatic 7-0 win over Costa Rica as La Roja kicked off their Qatar 2022 campaign in style.

Group E rivals Germany suffered a shock 2-1 loss to Japan earlier on Wednesday, but Spain did not look under any threat after Dani Olmo gave them an 11th-minute lead.

That was La Roja's 100th World Cup goal and another two followed inside the opening 31 minutes through Marco Asensio's strike and a Ferran Torres penalty.

Torres doubled his tally early in the second half and Gavi then steered in a delightful volley, before substitutes Carlos Soler and Alvaro Morata added two more late on.

 

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic believes his team lacked "courage" as they were held by Morocco in their World Cup opener, with Luka Modric offering a similar opinion.

The 2018 runners-up were big favourites to claim an opening-day win that would have been big step towards progression from a group that also features Belgium and Canada.

While Croatia enjoyed just shy of 65 per cent of the ball, they only managed to craft two clear opportunities at Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday.

The first, a prodded Nikola Vlasic effort, was saved well by Yassine Bounou at the end of the second half, and just before the break Sofyan Amrabat made a vital block to keep Dejan Lovren's attempt out of the bottom-left corner.

Nevertheless, their accumulative expected goals figure of 0.66 highlighted a general lack of attacking authority, which Modric was eager to point out.

"We'll be better, we need to adopt a more proactive attitude and pass the group, that's our primary objective, to qualify," Modric told reporters.

"We had a great defence, what we were missing was a goal. We'd have had more luck if we'd had a more proactive attitude."

It was put to Dalic that Croatia underwhelmed considering their greater share of possession and he did not disagree.

He added: "You're right when you say that regarding ball possession and control. Our opponents were good, compact, and faster than us sometimes.

"They were behind our midfield and wingers, so we had a problem with making [attacking] passes.

"We should've gone forward more. We were afraid of counters, we were cautious about mistakes and indecisive.

"A bit of courage was missing on our part. We had control but not enough opportunities or decisiveness. We didn't go forward as much as we wanted to."

Perhaps predictably, Croatia's journey to the 2018 final was soon brought up, but Dalic felt it was irrelevant to start comparing the two squads and insisted Wednesday's disappointment will not alter their ambitions of going far.

"We cannot draw comparisons between the two generations," he said. "It's difficult to draw comparisons between the generation of four years ago and this.

"We know we have competence and we are prepared to fight. We will not be deterred and won't be stopped in our ambition. We are moving on; tomorrow is another day and that's it. This is going to be a tough tournament, for sure."

A point certainly appeared a better result for Morocco than it did for Croatia, even if the Atlas Lions are still searching for their first World Cup win since 1998.

There rarely looked to be any danger of Morocco stealing a victory, though, with Dominik Livakovic in the Croatian net barely troubled.

Morocco coach Walid Regragui disagreed with the suggestion his side lacked bravery, however.

"Not exactly because we wanted to win, but the strategy worked. We played like a European team. Morocco managed to create chances, and in fact we played a balanced way, a solid way, and it was difficult for Croatia.

"It was not fear. We see that this was only our first match. Maybe we could've played better, but we take every match as it comes, and still I know we should be in possession more and adapt to each opponent.

"I think the possession was 65 per cent for them, but I think when we had it we were more efficient. We'd have preferred that we had a different outcome but still I think we did well."

Croatia fell well short of expectations as they produced an unimaginative performance in a 0-0 draw by Morocco in their World Cup Group F opener on Wednesday.

Zlatko Dalic's men – the runners-up four years ago – were strong favourites at Al Bayt Stadium but crafted few opportunities of note, the stalemate handing the early initiative to Belgium ahead of their clash with Canada.

In the stands, Croatia were so outnumbered they essentially resembled an away team, but Morocco's superior backing did not translate in to on-pitch dominance and were lucky to still be level at the break after Nikola Vlasic went close.

Dejan Lovren saw another reasonable chance go begging early in the second half, but otherwise Croatia failed to take advantage of their considerably greater share of possession.

Initially Croatia struggled to cope with the intensity of Morocco's pressing, but the Atlas Lions did not possess the quality to convert their bluster into meaningful chances.

Neither side had a great deal of joy in that regard.

However, on the stroke of half-time Morocco were grateful for the intervention of goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, who crucially blocked Vlasic's prodded effort from point-blank range after Borna Sosa passed into the danger zone.

That proved a teaser of the improved action to follow early in the second half.

It began with Dominik Livakovic keeping out a Noussair Mazraoui header, and a few minutes later Sofyan Amrabat made a vital block to stop Lovren picking out the bottom-left corner.

In the end, Morocco's deep defence ultimately got the better of Croatia's blunt attack as they held on to a commendable point.

Lucas Hernandez will miss the rest of the World Cup, and likely the remainder of the season, after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

France were dealt a huge blow by injuries ahead of their campaign in Qatar, which began with a 4-1 rout of Australia on Tuesday.

Paul Pogba, N'Golo Kante, Karim Benzema and Christopher Nkunku were all ruled out before the tournament started, and now Didier Deschamps has lost another key player.

Hernandez suffered the injury nine minutes into the win over Australia, as he went down clutching his right knee after being turned by Matthew Leckie in the build-up to Craig Goodwin's opening goal.

Deschamps and Hugo Lloris both conceded after the match that it did not look positive for the Bayern Munich defender, and France have now confirmed the 26-year-old's ruptured his ACL.

Given the extent of his injury, Hernandez will miss a chunk of the rest of the 2022-23 campaign when it resumes after the World Cup.

"Like the whole group, players and staff, I am extremely sorry for Lucas," said Deschamps.

"We are losing an important element. Lucas is a warrior and I have no doubt that he will do everything possible to return to the game.

"I know him well. Courage, he will have it, that's for sure. On behalf of the group, I wish him the best possible recovery."

Joshua Kimmich's "childhood dream" has been somewhat ruined by Qatar hosting the World Cup, with "no real joy" for Germany in the build-up to the tournament.

Bayern Munich's Kimmich made three appearances at right-back as Germany crashed to a group-stage exit at Russia 2018, with Qatar 2022 proving his first real opportunity since making a name as a midfielder.

But the 27-year-old has been left wanting with the ongoing concerns surrounding the human rights record in Qatar, where same-sex relationships are prohibited and homosexuality is illegal.

Kimmich remains underwhelmed due to the ongoing off-field distractions, though he assured Germany are firing on all fronts ahead of Wednesday's Group E opener against Japan.

"I would like to be able to look forward to a World Cup, even if it takes place here," Kimmich said on Tuesday.

"It's a huge dream for all of us, we're all on fire. We all want to play a good tournament, we all want to win tomorrow and yes, it's not our fault where the World Cup takes place."

Germany have made their dissatisfaction with the hosts known as Die Mannschaft supporters have repeatedly voiced their opposition to the tournament in the Middle East.

"I don't feel like there's any real joy there," added Kimmich on the lack of interest in the tournament back home.

Kimmich, like many other big-name footballing stars, promised to speak out where he sees fit, though he suggested the backlash to FIFA's 2010 decision on Qatar has come too late.

He continued: "We've talked a lot about the fact the World Cup was awarded here.

"That was 12 years ago, when I was 15, and now I somehow always have to comment on it. I don't know if it's always justified.

"But we also have to manage this balancing act of focusing on the sporting side. I mean regardless of where the World Cup is taking place, it's a World Cup, it's the biggest competition for us footballers there is.

"It's a huge childhood dream to play tomorrow, and yet somehow I have the feeling that it's always being talked down a bit or that you can't really look forward to it."

Japan will mark coach Flick's first game at FIFA's top tournament, too, and the German acknowledged a tough task awaits at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.

"I have to out myself as a bit of a fan of Japanese football. They are really doing it well," Flick said. 

"We see the quality they have in the Bundesliga with Eintracht Frankfurt's [Daichi] Kamada playing a great season or [Wataru] Endo, who is one of the best midfielders in the Bundesliga.

"It is a very big task but we go into the match prepared and look forward to it."

Croatia's World Cup exploits at Russia 2018 remain "unforgettable" for Luka Modric but the veteran midfielder wants to put those memories aside in Qatar.

Modric claimed the Ballon d'Or in 2018 after guiding Croatia to the final of FIFA's top tournament, which ended in defeat to France, while winning a third consecutive Champions League with Real Madrid.

The 37-year-old and coach Zlatko Dalic are two familiar faces from the Russian run in an otherwise much-changed squad.

Modric was named Golden Ball winner at the last World Cup, given to the tournament's best player, but wants to put previous success behind him ahead of Wednesday's Group F opener against Morocco.

"Definitely, what we've been through in 2018 in Russia is unforgettable and indelible in my mind," the Madrid legend said on Tuesday.

"Others can continue speaking about it but we need to put it aside and focus on what's ahead.

"Many players at the 2018 World Cup in Russia are not here, we have new players, new quality young players with fresh blood and energy. This is a new tournament and we have to look at it that way."

Croatia have lost their opening game in three of their five World Cup appearances, with the exceptions being 1998 when they reached the semi-final and 20 years later where they made the showpiece game.

Dalic's side appear in good form after coming through qualifying without any real scares and topping a Nations League group that included France and Denmark.

While Croatia have won each of their last five games, Modric insisted Dalic's men will show respect to Morocco, who are ranked 22nd in the world by FIFA.

"We have to maintain a modest attitude and not make big promises or make great claims that we'll achieve something," he added.

"I'm prepared physically and I'm in great shape. I'm healthy but drawing comparisons with other World Cups makes no sense. It's important to feel prepared and ready to win."

If Croatia can go one better than 2018, Modric vowed to call an end to his illustrious international career.

"If this happens it would be great. I'll retire if we win," he concluded.

Germany coach Hansi Flick refused to hide his frustration at FIFA's decision to ban teams from wearing the OneLove armband at the World Cup.

The OneLove campaign, which promotes "inclusion and sends a message against discrimination of any kind", grew in significance ahead of the tournament in Qatar, partly due to the host country's criminalisation of homosexuality and poor human rights record.

Germany were one of seven European nations to back the initiative, which involved captains wearing special armbands featuring a multi-coloured heart.

The move was shelved on Monday after it emerged FIFA was set to impose "sporting sanctions" on the teams involved, with the expectation being that captains would be booked at kick-off for wearing the armband.

While FIFA has been criticised for seemingly opposing an anti-discrimination gesture, teams have also been slammed for lacking the bravery to proceed regardless of sanction threats.

Although Flick did not address the criticism of the teams, he did express regret regarding FIFA's decision.

"About the armband, together with the DFB [German Football Association] and the other countries, we wanted to do this to take a stand, and then what happened is FIFA threatened us with sanctions and the associations were told [on Monday] at short notice," Flick told reporters ahead of Wednesday's Group E opener against Japan.

"If you want to run a campaign as a group, you should stick to decisions.

"Of course, it's a shock for the team to not do it, it was a sign of human rights and diversity. And the way I treat my team, the values I and the team represent, well all of that is based on mutual respect, mutual appreciation, that's just part of life. I expect that from everyone.

"There are some parties involved who think differently. We wanted to embody our values."

Regarding the threat of a potential instant yellow card, Flick said: "We talked about it, a yellow card can happen. If [Joshua] Kimmich then has to leave pitch, we have options. However, it was unclear and the mere threat of sanctions was difficult for us, especially because it was so short notice before the England and Netherlands games, that's when the decision was communicated.

"We didn't have time to react, the federations decided to take responsibility off the players' shoulders and that's why the situation is what it is now.

"I'm sorry we can't be here and take a stand for human rights, apparently."

Midfielder Kimmich largely echoed the sentiment of his coach, expressing shock at Monday's announcement.

He also questioned how much players should be expected to use their platforms to fight for social causes, pointing out that ultimately they are in Qatar to play football.

"Eventually there was a decision of the DFB, a decision supported by everyone: England and all the other teams," Kimmich said.

"Generally speaking, I was quite surprised because a few weeks ago when we discussed the armband, I felt people were criticising it. A lot of people thought it was pointless, a fig leaf, but I think it was a strong stance to take.

"We as players, and the DFB, have addressed the issues and problems. We had a campaign on human rights, and in Nepal we'll work on donations for supporting people. I think we're good at pointing out things around the world that are not going well, but now we concentrate on the football.

"On Qatar being awarded the World Cup, it was 12 years ago, I was 15, now I have to keep making statements.

"We are all very aware. Time and time again we have had the opportunity to point out mistakes and issues in the world, but we have to be honest as well, here we don't learn enough about what's going on in the world because we are busy training, playing games. You [the media] have the opportunity to go out and see.

"I think it's important us as players to take advantage of our platforms to point out wrongs, but we also have to focus on the game regardless of where the World Cup is hosted.

"It's the greatest competition out there for footballers. It's every boy's dream to participate in it. I think a lot of people tried to convince us we shouldn't be looking forward to it, many at home aren't excited, but I should be able to look forward even if it's here."

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