Moscow :Brazil’s star man at this World Cup was supposed to be Neymar but three games into the tournament it is Philippe Coutinho who is taking the plaudits and the Barcelona player was again prominent in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Serbia.
Coutinho has as many man-of-the match awards in this tournament as Neymar has different haircuts.
Against Serbia he was Brazil’s creative fulcrum, setting up the first goal with a sublime long ball for Paulinho to touch over the onrushing Serbian goalkeeper.
His defence-splitting passes should have brought Brazil more reward, with Neymar and Gabriel Jesus also benefiting from his creative talent.
With all eyes on the world’s most expensive footballer, the Barcelona player can operate under the radar and in Russia he has had the space to do what he does best, driving forward, threading perfect passes and cutting in to unleash fierce shots.
Unlike Neymar, whose obsession with fame has brought him both cheers and jeers in equal measure, the naturally diffident Coutinho is strikingly low profile.
He is one of the first names on coach Tite’s team sheet — and voted man-of-the-match against Switzerland and Costa Rica — but he squirmed in his seat when asked if he aspired to being the best player in the world.
“I never like to speak about myself, it is not something that goes through my head,” he told reporters at Brazil’s base camp last week.
“What I think about is preparing and evolving and helping Brazil becoming world champions. Being the best in the world? I leave that for other people (to decide).”
Coutinho’s rich vein of form has been especially welcome in a team whose top players have struggled to produce the brilliance that helped them win 17 of their 21 games before arriving in Russia.
Willian, Gabriel Jesus and Neymar himself are all yet to hit top gear and Brazil must surely know they need more from their big names if they are to add a sixth star to their famous yellow jersey.
For now, though, they can rely on Coutinho as they head into a last-16 clash with Mexico.
Most football associations support 48-team WC in Qatar:FIFA
London: FIFA President Gianni Infantino has said, “Most soccer associations in the world back increasing the size of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to 48 teams from 32, with some matches to be played in neighbouring countries.”
Infantino told in a news conference that the Qataris were open to the larger format.
“FIFA would make a decision no later than June, once a feasibility study is over,” he added.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt launched a diplomatic and trade boycott of Qatar in June 2017 that has complicated the prospect of sharing the tournament.
The countries accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism, which it denies.
Speaking on it, Infantino said, “We are doing football not politics.”
FIFA voted in 2017 to increase the size of the tournament to 48 teams starting from 2026 but, since then, Infantino has been considering the possibility of bringing the change forward to 2022.
“Most football associations across the globe hope for opening up the World Cup to more teams,” he said, lamenting that continental champions such as Cameroon, Chile and the United States were absent from last year’s World Cup after failing to qualify.
“If it is possible to organise a 48-team World Cup in Qatar with some games in neighbouring countries, that will be great,” he further said.
Infantino also quoted that it was “premature” to speak of a planned joint bid from Spain, Portugal and Morocco for the 2030 World Cup, which would be the first time countries from different continents had applied to stage the tournament.
“I welcome all bids. The more the better,” he said.
Infantino was speaking following a FIFA executive summit in Marrakech which brought together some 60 football associations.
Ready to bat anywhere:Dhoni
Mumbai: Wicket-keeper batsman MS Dhoni, expressed his willingness to bat at any position in the Indian batting order, following a match-winning knock in the series-decider against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
The veteran, who was named as the man of the series following consistent performances in the ODI clashes, stepped up with a quality knock yet again following an early dismissal for the openers and skipper Virat Kohli.
The 37-year-old cricketer scored 87 runs in 114 deliveries, stitching an unbeaten 121 run stand off 115 balls with Kedar Jadhav, as India chased down a target of 231 with four balls to spare.
“I am happy to bat at any number. The important thing is where the team needs me,” said Dhoni.
“Whether I play at 4 or 6, we need to see if the team balance can be retained. I’m happy to bat lower down at 6. I can’t say I can’t bat at No. 6 after playing 14 years,” he added.
The cricketer was full of praise for Kedar Jadhav, who he credited for providing valuable support at the other end, on a slow wicket.
“It was a slow wicket, so it was difficult to hit whenever you wanted to. No point going after the bowlers who were bowling well, so we wanted to take it deep and that was the plan,” said Dhoni.
“Of course supported brilliantly by Kedar, who plays unorthodox shots. He did a great job in executing,” concluded the cricketer.
Pakistan seek first win on SA tour as ODI battle begins
PORT ELIZABETH: Pakistan will be looking to chalk up the first win of their South African tour when they face the Proteas in the first of five One-day Internationals in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
Sarfraz Ahmed’s team, swept 3-0 in the preceding Test series, enjoy playing at St George’s Park, winning two of their three ODIs at the venue, with the other washed out.
Pakistan beat South Africa by 182 runs in 2002 when Abdul Razzaq and Saleem Elahi hit hundreds, and then by one run in 2013 in a game reduced to 45-overs-a-side due to rain.
South Africa hold an edge over Pakistan in ODIs as far as their head-to-head record is concerned.
So far, the Proteas have faced Pakistan in 73 ODIs, winning 47, losing 25 while one match ended in no result. Pakistan do not hold an impressive record (matches 29, wins 10, losses 18, one no result) in their matches staged against South Africa at the latter’s home venues).
Interestingly however, Pakistan on their last tour to the African country in 2013 when Misbah-ul-Haq the led tourists, clinched the three-match ODI series 2-1, the country’s maiden ODI series triumph on South African soil.
The tourists currently playing in South Africa have been dealt a boost with the news that Dale Steyn and Quinton de Kock have been rested for the first two ODIs in the series — Saturday’s fixture and Tuesday’s match in Durban.
However, they will have to contend with fast bowler Duanne Olivier, who bagged 24 wickets at 14.70 during South Africa’s win in the Test series and now looks nailed to make his ODI debut.
Rassie van der Dussen should also make his ODI bow having finished as top-run scorer in the recently-concluded Mzansi Super League, South Africa’s new T20 competition.
The 28-year-old hit 469 runs in 11 innings, including four fifties, for champions Jozi Stars and should join Heinrich Klaasen — De Kock’s deputy as wicketkeeper-batsman — in South Africa’s middle order.
Left-handed Shan Masood could open the batting for Pakistan having impressed in the Tests while pacer Mohammad Amir is back in the visitors’ ODI squad for the first time since the Asia Cup staged in the UAE last September.