England began fully focusing on the Group G clash with Panama yesterday when attention on manager Southgate after dislocating a shoulder swiftly switched to his assistant. Steve Holland was pictured holding a note that showed the side are preparing to play in 3-5-2 formation again this Sunday, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek in midfield instead of the injured Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford playing in the front two alongside captain Harry Kane. The sheet suggested Sterling would be the fall guy in attack.
England have already scrapped today’s open training to prepare behind closed doors, with Trent Alexander-Arnold — listed as back-up right-back to Kieran Trippier — conceding the note could give Panama unwelcome insight.
“I suppose if we knew how the opposition was going to play we could plan for it,” said the 19-year-old. “We’re just trying to focus on ourselves.”
An Iranian student who looks like Lionel Messi’s twin brother was lifted shoulder-high by Argentina fans in Moscow and had songs sung in his honour.
Reza Parastesh, 26, is an off-the-field sensation in Russia. Supporters of different nationalities have jostled for selfies with “the Iranian Messi”, who cuts his hair and grooms his beard to accentuate a remarkable resemblance to Argentina’s superstar captain.
Parastesh, whose fame has landed him modelling contracts, is working on football tricks to complete the likeness.
The goading of Germany’s much-maligned footballers continued when a Swedish journalist handed Sami Khedira tickets for flights back to Germany, saying he would need them if the world champions lose against Sweden tomorrow.
Khedira wasn’t biting: “We don’t need it. We don’t want to go back home. We are thinking to win this game. After this bad start, we know that it’s super difficult, but we know that we are a strong team. We analysed the game, we saw Sweden play, and we are sure that we are winning this game.”
As for the Juventus man’s return plans: “I think we’ll need them [plane tickets] on the 16th of July” — the day after the final.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s teammates have been urged to follow his example and all grow lucky beards in a bizarre bid to help Portugal win the World Cup.
The Real Madrid superstar is winning the race for Golden Boot with four goals in two games and is sporting a ‘lucky’ goatee for the first time.
Teammate Cedric Soares, who also has a little beard for superstitious reasons, thinks the whole team should get growing.
The Southampton defender said: “It is a good idea — why not? If you look at our squad a lot of us already have beards. I know why I have it — I started in England and now I do not want to take it off because it is bringing us some luck.
“Maybe Cristiano wanted to have it like mine and maybe it is bringing us some luck. So I hope he keeps it. It has nothing to do with Lionel Messi.”
The beards follow in a long line of World Cup superstitions. Former Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Goycochea would urinate on the pitch to bring himself good luck before penalty shoot-outs and Laurent Blanc kissed the bald head of France goalkeeper Fabien Barthez before every game in the 1998 finals.
Philippe Coutinho proved he is a dreamer at a recent Brazil press conference in Sochi.
The former Liverpool man laughed out loud when a Brazilian journalist produced a photograph of a young boy with curly hair grinning from ear to ear. It turned out the boy was Coutinho, before he left Brazil in search of football stardom.
What advice would he give that young boy in the photograph, the opportunistic reporter asked.
“Well I think he needs a different hairstyle,” Coutinho joked. “But, no, I would just tell him that I wanted him to keep on dreaming. At that age, I always dreamed about the Brazil jersey. So this is one of the very important moments in my career.
“Looking at this picture, this is where I started, where I grew up. I know the haircut has changed. But I wanted that boy to keep on dreaming big. And he is.”
Sepp Blatter believes Fifa should be using only one VAR “judge” to ensure consistent decisions throughout the World Cup.
VAR’s first use at a World Cup is not working as well as it could, he claims.
“I think it’s not the right approach,” he said. “I’m not against help (for referees) — we started it already (with goal-line technology) but if you have a supervisor, this VAR referee, he is like the head of a tribunal and you must have the same for all matches. It says in the laws of the game ‘in the opinion of the referee’, so if you have a South American or a European or some other referee, they have a different approach to the problem.
“So if it is going to work you must always have the same judge, or the same group, always there, during the whole competition. I’m not against technology but it’s not consistent.”
In a statement this week Fifa said it is extremely satisfied with the level of refereeing to date and the successful implementation of the VAR system.