World champs Germany land in Russia

Germany's Sami Khedira, front, Mesut Özil and and teammates arrive in Moscow yesterday.
Sergei Karpukhin: REUTERS Germany's Sami Khedira, front, Mesut Özil and and teammates arrive in Moscow yesterday.

Moscow - Reigning champions Germany arrived in Russia yesterday to join the World Cup party as Belgium downplayed an injury scare over star player Eden Hazard in their final warm-up match.

Gareth Southgate's youthful England team also touched down as excitement mounts ahead of tomorrow's opening fixture in Moscow between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Germany, aiming to join Brazil as five-time winners of the World Cup, landed near Moscow, ahead of their first match against Mexico on Sunday. The Germans are among a select group of favourites alongside Spain, France and Brazil but there are lingering questions over their form.

Joachim Löw's side went five games without a win before labouring to a 2-1 victory over Saudi Arabia in their final warm-up and first-choice goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has been injured and hardly played since September.

But the Germans have made at least the semifinals in each of the past four World Cups and have a habit of finding form when they need it most.

The defending champions open their World Cup against Group F opponents Mexico in Moscow on Sunday.

They also play Sweden and South Korea.

"There will be a high standard of opposition. Spain have improved, while Brazil and Argentina are up there," Germany coach Löw said.

England are not among the favourites in Russia but they boasts English Premier League stars such as Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling.

England's Group G opponents Belgium showcased their talents in a 4-1 victory against Costa Rica in Brussels on Monday, with two goals from Manchester United forward Romelu Lukaku and a glittering performance from Chelsea's Hazard.

Brazil and Neymar attracted an army of excited youngsters - including one who managed to break onto the pitch for a selfie - as they held their first training session on Russian soil.

Around 5 000 locals turned out to watch the relaxed session next to the Brazilians' hotel in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.

The €222-million (R3.4-billion) Paris Saint-Germain forward made his first start on Sunday, against Austria in Vienna, since undergoing surgery on a foot fracture at the start of March. - AFP

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