A busy Saturday of international friendlies saw ten World Cup teams in action for the final time before the tournament begins this week.
Olivier Giroud was withdrawn following a clash of heads in France’s 1-1 draw with the United States, while Spain left it late to see off a stubborn Tunisia side in Krasnodar.
Aleksandar Mitrovic hit a hat-trick in Serbia’s 5-1 demolition of Bolivia, but Sweden played out a second successive goalless draw in a stalemate with Peru.
France 1-1 USA
Didier Deschamps gave Fantasy managers a strong indication of his intended starting XI for France’s World Cup opener against Australia with his team selection in Lyon on Saturday.
Kylian Mbappe played just off Antoine Griezmann and Giroud in a 4-3-3/4-3-1-2, with Blaise Matuidi lining up alongside N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba in the midfield three.
Should Giroud’s head injury rule him out of France’s first group match, then his replacement yesterday, Ousmane Dembele, would seem likely to plug the gap against Australia.
A fully-fit Benjamin Mendy got the nod at left-back and put in a promising display; the Manchester City defender’s surging runs and dangerous crosses almost leading to two assists.
Djibril Sidibe and Hugo Lloris were both culpable for the USA’s opener, with Julian Green beating the Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper at his near post after having been gifted the ball by Sidibe inside the penalty area.
Sidibe’s replacement, Benjamin Pavard, provided the assist for Mbappe’s 78th-minute equaliser for the hosts.
Though France dominated the match and Pogba was denied by the woodwork, there will be concerns for Deschamps and Fantasy managers over how difficult an inexperienced USA side proved to break down.
France XI (4-3-3): Lloris; Sidibe (Pavard 74), Varane, Umtiti, Mendy (Hernandez 66); Kante, Pogba, Matuidi (Tolisso 58); Griezmann (Fekir 69), Giroud (Dembele 58), Mbappe (Lemar 88)
Tunisia 0-1 Spain
Spain also struggled to breach the defence of less-fancied opposition, as a late Iago Aspas strike gave Julen Lopetegui’s side a 1-0 win in Russia.
The Spanish were near to full strength, with Alvaro Odriozola filling in for the injured Dani Carvajal at right-back and Rodrigo getting the nod over Diego Costa up front.
It wasn’t until Costa’s introduction that Spain mustered a shot on target, with the former Chelsea striker being denied by Aymen Mathlouthi on 65 minutes.
Costa combined with fellow substitute Aspas for the winning goal, teeing up the Celta Vigo striker after being put clean through by Sergio Busquets. Aspas now has five goals and four assists in his last ten starts for the national team.
A well-organised rearguard effort will give Tunisia plenty of encouragement for their forthcoming World Cup encounters with Belgium and England. Naim Sliti missed Tunisia’s best opportunity from close range, as the North African country sat deep and hit Spain on the break.
As mentioned in last night’s article on budget defensive options, the Tunisians recalled experienced goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi with Mouez Hassen – a £4.0m budget option in the official game – making way.
Spain XI (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Odriozola (Nacho 45), Ramos, Pique, Alba (Iago Aspas 76); Busquets, Thiago (Koke 45); Isco (Vazquez 45), Iniesta, Silva (Asensio 60); Rodrigo (Diego Costa 60).
Tunisia XI (4-5-1): Mathlouthi; Bronn, S. Ben Youssef, Meriah, Maaloul (Haddadi 58); Skhiri, Sassi, Badri (Benalouane 78), Khaoui (Ben Amor 62), Sliti (Khalifa 69); F. Ben Youssef (Srarfi 90)
Serbia 5-1 Bolivia
Some familiar names were involved as Serbia demolished a poor Bolivia side in Graz, Austria.
Fresh from his successful loan spell at Fulham in which he scored 12 goals in 17 appearances, Aleksandar Mitrovic grabbed a hat-trick and recorded an assist to strengthen his appeal to Fantasy managers ahead of Serbia’s enticing-looking World Cup opener against Costa Rica next Sunday.
FPL cult heroes Dusan Tadic and Luka Milivojevic also registered assists, while former Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic scored an excellent volley to put the Serbs 4-0 up at the break.
Midfielder Adem Ljajic scored Serbia’s other goal and set up two of Mitrovic’s strikes.
Serbia XI (4-2-3-1): Stojkovic (Rajkovic 80); Ivanovic, Milenkovic, Tosic (Rukavina 67), Kolarov; Matic (Milivojevic 46), Milinkovic-Savic (Grujic 63); Tadic (Radonjic 85), Kostic, Ljajic; Mitrovic (Prijovic 70)
Denmark 2-0 Mexico
Christian Eriksen returned to the Denmark side to inspire his country to a 2-0 win over Mexico in Brondby.
Having missed the 0-0 draw with Sweden to attend the birth of his first child, Eriksen demonstrated his importance to the national side by setting up Yussuf Poulsen’s opener and then sealing the win himself with a close-range strike.
Eriksen’s Fantasy prospects look particularly appealing with fixtures against Peru and Australia to contest in the coming fortnight.
Mexico looked poor for the majority of the match, with coach Juan Carlos Osorio omitting the likes of Javier Hernandez, Miguel Layun and Carlos Vela from his starting line-up and giving several fringe players the opportunity to impress.
Henrik Dalsgaard grabbed the assist for Eriksen’s goal as he begins to emerge as £4.5m defensive option in the official game.
Denmark XI (4-2-3-1): Schmeichel; Dalsgaard, Kjær, Christensen, Larsen; Kvist (Lerager 62), Delaney (Schone 62); Eriksen (Krohn-Dehli 90), Sisto (Braithwaite 45), Poulsen (Fischer 82); Jorgensen (Dolberg 45)
Mexico XI (4-1-4-1): Ochoa; Salcedo, Ayala, Moreno (Alvarez 45), Gallardo; Herrera (Marquez 45); J. Dos Santos (Layun 60), Guardado (Fabian 45), G. Dos Santos (Lozano 57), Corona; Peralta (Hernandez 60)
Sweden 0-0 Peru
The hosts once again drew a blank in a World Cup warm-up match, with Peru the latest opposition to frustrate a full-strength Swedish side.
Sweden are winless in four friendly internationals and haven’t scored in their last three, though their defence once again recorded a clean sheet and are worthy of consideration for Fantasy managers ahead of their World Cup opener against South Korea.
Paolo Guerrero, free to play in this summer’s finals after having had his drugs ban temporarily lifted, led the Peru attack, who looked particularly dangerous on the break.
Sweden XI (4-4-2): Olsen; Lustig (Krafth 70), Lindelof, Granqvist, Augustinsson; Claesson, Larsson (Svensson 90), Ekdal (Hiljemark 82), Forsberg (Rohden 85); Berg, Toivonen (Thelin 76)
Peru XI (4-4-2): Gallese; Advincula, Ramos, Rodriguez (Santamaria 81), Trauco; Carrillo (Polo 84), Tapia (Aquino 76), Yotun, Cueva (Flores 76); Guerrero, Farfan
Estonia 1-3 Morocco
Hakim Ziyech and Younes Belhanda will have caught the eye of Fantasy managers ahead of Morocco’s promising-looking opening World Cup group game against Iran this Friday.
Ziyech, who scored two goals and registered as many assists in five World Cup qualification starts, was on target from the penalty spot after Amine Harit was upended in the box.
Belhanda, who failed to deliver an attacking return during the CAF qualifiers, popped up with a goal and an assist as Morocco breezed past a weak Estonia side.
Lone striker Ayoub El Kaabi had supplied Belhanda’s opener before Belhanda turned creator to set up Youssef En-Nesyri for Morocco’s third.
Nordin Amrabat, ostensibly a midfielder, was stationed at right-back in coach Herve Renard’s starting XI.
Morocco XI (4-1-4-1): Mohamedi; N. Amrabat (S. Amrabat 63), Benatia (da Costa 45), Saïss, Hakimi (Boutaib 76); El Ahmadi (Ait Bennasser 63); Ziyech (Bouhaddouz 45), Belhanda, Boussoufa, Harit (En-Nesyri 45); El Kaabi
Hungary 1-2 Australia
The Socceroos edged a close encounter with Hungary in Budapest in a match that featured two own-goals.
Jackson Irvine set up fellow substitute Daniel Arzani for Australia’s opener in the 74th minute, before Trent Sainsbury put through his own net to bring Hungary level.
Irvine recorded a second assist when his cross was deflected in by one-time Newcastle United defender Tamas Kadar to give Australia their second successive friendly victory over European opposition.
Andrew Nabbout started up front ahead of Tomi Juric, while Massimo Luongo was preferred to Mile Jedinak alongside Aaron Mooy in the double-pivot.
Australia XI (4-2-3-1): Ryan (Jones 45); Risdon, Sainsbury, Milligan, Behich; Luongo (Jedinak 45), Mooy; Leckie, Rogic (Irvine 64), Kruse (Arzani 73), Nabbout (Juric 45, Cahill 80).