MOSCOW, Russia (AFP) — The World Cup big guns limbered up today ahead of the tournament opener in Russia while brash underdogs Australia warned Euro 2016 finalists France to brace for an early shock.
As the atmosphere built before Thursday’s curtain raiser between the hosts and Saudi Arabia, the French and Argentine players were put through their paces while Brazil took the day off.
World champions Germany, seeking to equal Brazil’s record of five World Cup wins, landed in Russia today Tuesday, along with Gareth Southgate’s youthful England side.
Brazil and Neymar arrived in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in the early hours in buoyant mood after hammering Austria 3-0 in their final warm-up match on Sunday.
Neymar, who broke a bone in his foot in February, marked his first start in more than three months by scoring in Sunday’s easy victory in Vienna, drawing level with Romario on the list of Brazil’s all-time leading scorers behind only Pele and Ronaldo.
Russia was a disputed choice when it was handed the World Cup in a closely watched 2010 vote that has since been tainted by bribery charges, and the 2018 tournament takes place against a background of international tensions.
Russia and the West have engaged in a major wave of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions since
London accused Moscow of being behind the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in Britain in March.
But as the clock ticks down to the opener in Moscow’s imposing 80,000-capacity Luzhniki stadium, the tournament is beginning to catch the public mood, with about 3,500 fans attending Australia’s training session in the central city of Kazan.
Fans shouted “Austral-iya” several times during training and also “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, go, go, go”.
Socceroos goalkeeper Mat Ryan warned France that new, improved Australia teams are plotting an early World Cup shock when the sides meet in Kazan on .