WITH the final batch of international friendlies before World Cup sides head into camp for world football’s pinnacle event done and dusted, we now have a considerably clearer picture of the state of play.
After two friendly outings across a week in camp, managers have had their chance to tinker with their setups, test out potential bolters and prime their squads for a Cup tilt.
The Socceroos were amongst the teams undergoing the most change, with a new manager at the helm, but a range of other sides also threw up dilemmas and talking points with just under three months until kickoff in Russia.
In perhaps the biggest boilover, sixth placed Poland suffered an embarrassing 1-0 loss at the hands of 52nd placed Nigeria!
Here’s the lowdown on what we learned from each World Cup side over the international break.
Russia – Tested themselves against the best with matches against Brazil and Spain, shelled three against both, winless in seven matches in a worrying form line in the lead up to their home World Cup.
Saudi Arabia – A 1-1 draw with Ukraine brought optimism to the Saudis before a 4-0 humbling at the hands of Belgium brought them back down to Earth.
Egypt – World Cup hopes hinge on Mohamed Salah – led Portugal 1-0 thanks to the Liverpool star before conceding twice after he was subbed off, went down 1-0 to Greece with the winger rested.
Uruguay – No real test for the Uruguayans in China Cup fixtures against the Czech Republic and Wales. Stars Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez both found the net to keep up their scoring form.
Portugal – Cristiano Ronaldo continues to be the key, scored a remarkable added time double to save them against Egypt and then had a shocking night as the Portuguese fell to a disappointing 3-0 loss to a Dutch side who didn’t even qualify for Russia.
Spain – Were equal to a Germany side unbeaten in over 20 matches, before turning in a rampant performance to send a statement to their rivals with a 6-1 win over Argentina.
Morocco – A pair of victories over Serbia and Uzbekistan will give them confidence heading towards Russia, but were those clashes really a reflection of the test they’ll face at the World Cup?
Iran – Disappointingly went down to Tunisia before registering an encouraging 2-1 victory over Algeria, a mixed bag for the Middle East side.
France – Were shocked 3-2 by Colombia after going up by two goals, causing their own manager to label them cocky. Bounced back to register a 3-1 victory over Russia as Paul Pogba returned to the starting line-up and to form.
Australia – A well-publicised trouncing at the hands of Norway in Bert van Marwijk’s first game in charge, albeit after just a few days in camp. Significantly improved in a 0-0 draw with Colombia, will need to adapt to their new system quickly to compete in Russia.
Peru – A pair of really encouraging results for the South Americans. A big win over Croatia was followed up by a 3-1 win over Iceland, a pair of wins against European opposition after failing to do so for 19 years.
Denmark – A momentum stifling pair of outings for the Danes. Just eked past a 10-man Panama and then were held 0-0 by a Chile side who failed to qualify for the World Cup.
Argentina – Comfortably saw off Italy 2-0 at the Etihad before being handed a reality check by Spain. Albeit without Lionel Messi, a 6-1 loss is their equal worst in history and is an ominous sign for the Argentines.
Iceland – A pair of heavy defeats don’t bode well for their World Cup preparations. Mexico smashed them 3-0 and then Peru did the same at a score line of 3-1.
Croatia – Beaten 2-0 by Peru in a worrying sign for a side boasting considerable talent, still to play Mexico.
Nigeria – A very promising 1-0 victory over Poland was followed up by a disappointing 2-0 loss to Serbia.
Brazil – A really positive week for the Brazilians, avenging their 7-1 loss to Germany with a 1-0 victory in Berlin to end their hosts 22-match unbeaten run. Also comfortably beat Russia 3-0 all without an injured Neymar.
Switzerland – Two games for two wins. Can’t ask for much more than that, 1-0 over Greece and a massive 6-0 win over Panama. Good signs.
Costa Rica –Sneaked past Scotland with a 1-0 win before going down to Tunisia at the same score line.
Serbia – Beat minnows Georgia a paltry 1-0 before being beaten 2-1 by Morocco. Probably not the dominant showings they would have wanted.
Germany – Missing a host of big names, the Germans failed to register a win in either of their two outings. Both shaped as big tests, a draw with Spain is nothing to be alarmed about but a loss to Brazil won’t have pleased manager Joachim Low.
Mexico – Smashed Iceland 3-0 in a routine win, still to face Croatia.
Sweden – A terrible international break for the Swedes. Beaten 2-1 by a Chile side who aren’t going to Russia, and then stunned by Romania.
South Korea – A pair of losses for the Koreans, going down to Northern Ireland and then copping a late winner against Poland despite mounting a comeback from two goals down. Awful for their confidence.
Belgium – Backed by many as a team to watch in Russia, the Belgians did their preparations no harm with a pair of 4-0 wins over Cyprus and Saudi Arabia. Neither shaped as real tests though.
Panama – A good effort against Denmark despite being reduced to 10, but were absolutely romped by Switzerland in a poor sign for their chances.
Tunisia – A pair of 1-0 wins will do them no harm. Beat Iran and Costa Rica, although both sides sit below them in the world rankings.
England – Was very nearly a perfect few days for England. Finally found a scoring touch, breaking a 300 minute long drought and looked strong in defence. Beat the Netherlands 1-0 before a late penalty cost them victory against Italy.
Poland – Ranked at number six in the world, the Poles won’t have been pleased with a 1-0 loss to 52nd ranked Nigeria. They did their best to throw away the match after leading 2-0 against South Korea but a late Piotr Zielinski curler saved their blushes.
Senegal – A pair of draws against Uzbekistan and Bosnia and Herzegovina weren’t the most promising signs heading towards Russia. Liverpool star Sadio Mane is their biggest name, he only played against Bosnia and failed to make an impact on the scoresheet.
Colombia – Their 3-2 win over France would have provided a massive boost. But a frustrating 0-0 draw with the Socceroos in which they missed numerous gilt-edged chances would have buoyed their elation.
Japan – A draw with Mali and a loss to Ukraine won’t have filled them with confidence so close to the World Cup. Although they were without star midfielder Shinji Kagawa.