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ESPN FC  By Dale Johnson

Argentina, Netherlands, Japan and Ghana in danger of missing World Cup

With 12 months to go before we know the 31 teams who will join hosts Russia at the 2018 World Cup, we take a look at some of the major nations and familiar names who appear to have a battle on their hands to make the finals.

Argentina and Chile

Argentina's 3-0 defeat in Brazil last week left them facing a huge crisis in their qualification bid. However, victory at home to Colombia on Tuesday averted this for now, as at least that win left them fifth and that offers a playoff against the winners of...

Barcelona's Rakuten sponsorship includes deal for friendly in Japan

Barcelona's new four-year, €220 million sponsorship deal with Asian e-commerce company Rakuten includes an obligation to play at least one friendly in Japan in the coming years.

At a presentation to confirm the agreement, club vice president Manel Arroyo said there would definitely be one game and possibly two if the calendar permitted it.

That means more long haul flights for Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Neymar and their Barcelona teammates.

As well as the trio's regular flights to South...

 By John Duerden

Marcello Lippi fails to inspire China while Australia draw 2-2 in Thailand

Jason Dasey and Matt Smith break down Thailand's resilient effort in their 2-2 draw against Australia in WCQ.
China coach Marcello Lippi
Marcello Lippi took charge of his first competitive game as China head coach.

Marcello Lippi was unable to inspire China to a win in his first game in charge as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Qatar in a AFC World Cup qualifier in Kunming on Tuesday evening.

The hosts are bottom of Group A in the final round of qualification for the 2018 World Cup with just one point from the first four games, and the result almost certainly ends the slim hopes they had of finishing in the top two in the six-team group and progressing automatically to Russia.

China had plenty of chances but...

ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

South Korea and Japan win warm up for qualifiers with friendly wins

Lee Jeong-Hyeop was on target in South Korea's 2-0 win over Canada.

South Korea chalked up a 2-0 home win over Canada as Kim Bo-Kyung and Lee Jeong-Hyeop struck inside the opening half hour.

Korea, who face Uzbekistan in a World Cup qualifier on Tuesday, took the lead after 10 minutes when Kim was played through to beat Canada goalkeeper Simon Thomas.

They made it two in the 25th minute when Canada failed to clear their lines and Lee fired home from just outside the penalty area.

Yuya Osako grabbed two goals as Japan cruised to a 4-0 win over Oman in Kashima.

Japan,...

ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

Leicester's Shinji Okazaki drained after representing Japan - Claudio Ranieri

Shinji Okazaki needs more time to recover upon returning from international football than any other member of the Leicester City squad, manager Claudio Ranieri has revealed.

Okazaki, 30, played in Japan's World Cup qualifying win over Iraq last month but did not play against Australia five days later.

Upon his return to Leicester, the striker sat out the club's loss to Chelsea and then came on as a substitute in the Champions League victory over Copenhagen, before starting in their two most recent...