Belfast Telegraph

Five talking points before the World Cup begins

By Adam McKendry

There's just three days until the big kick-off and the excitement has been ramping up.

Ahead of the big event, we take a look at five massive talking points ahead of the tournament, and things that you should be keeping your eye on over the next few days.

Is it Salah to think Mo won't make it?

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Mohamed Salah could yet miss the World Cup (Peter Byrne/PA)
 

Everything from the Egyptian camp has been positive on Mohamed Salah's chances of being available for their group games - or at least two of them - but then again, of course they would be, they're not going to announce their star player is out right before a major tournament. But if Salah does indeed miss their opener against Uruguay, then the doubts start to creep in over whether he might miss the next one, and if he misses two games then there's a chance Egypt might be out before he even gets a chance to play. The fitness of the Liverpool forward is a key sub-plot to this World Cup.

Here for good or ne-VAR again?

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Referees and VAR teams are most likely to communicate in English at this summer's World Cup
 

It was controversial in the FA Cup and the Premier League have already said they won't introduce it next season. Safe to say VAR hasn't exactly won everyone over early on. However, FIFA have been impressed by it enough to take it to Russia, and it will be in use at every game during the tournament despite clamours for it not to be. If it is still to get the go ahead then changes will have to be made, namely informing the crowd what is going on during the VAR process and determining when it can be used. And that's not even touching on whether the decision made was the right one or not...

Can Paul remind everyone of his talent, or will he be Pog-bad?

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France’s Paul Pogba could do with a big performance (John Walton/EMPICS)
 

It's been a disappointing season for Paul Pogba who hasn't lived up to the star-billing he was forced under at Manchester United. Now he gets a chance to take a step away from the club game and refresh himself with a national side he seemingly always impresses with when he features for them. Whether he's with United next season, or if he's at a new club, Pogba will undoubtedly be looking to impress his current employer or potential future employers in Russia with some dazzling performances - but, on the flipside, if he can't make the impact he wants then it'll only further concerns he's no longer the player he once was.

Can La Roja avoid more Spain-ful memories?

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Spain after winning Euro 2012
 

It hasn't been a fantastic six years for Spain since they won Euro 2012, with a group stage elimination at the 2014 World Cup and a last-16 exit to Italy at Euro 2016 ending a weak title defence. Unsurprisingly, Vicente del Bosque lost his job after the latter failure and was replaced by Julen Lopetegui at the helm, with the former Porto boss taking them to Russia off the back of a highly successful qualification campaign that featured nine wins and one draw. However, questions still reign supreme over the Spaniards, particularly their lack of an out-and-out finisher up front. They need some good early performances to silence the doubters.

Will the Three Lions roar without the weight of expectation?

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England are determined to take a collective strong attitude to Russia (Mike Egerton/EMPICS)
 

This is the first time England have gone to a World Cup with a reasonably muted amount of expectation trailing along behind them. Where the fanfares usually accompany the Three Lions to a major tournament, this year has been dominated by oddly half-hearted statements from the players and a general sense of malaise. That's not saying they won't try their best to win, because they will of course, but for the first time in a long time England are seemingly resigned to not being competitors for the trophy. However, could that potentially be the catalyst for Gareth Southgate's men to spring a shock?

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