Russia 2018: Defending Champions Germany in Town

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Reigning champions Germany arrived in Russia on Tuesday 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 are also due to touch down as excitement mounts ahead of Thursday’s opening fixture in Moscow between host nation 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 Loew’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 June 17. They also play Sweden and South Korea.

Loew warned Germany’s rivals had all made strides since 2014.

“There will be a high standard of opposition. Spain have improved, while Brazil and Argentina are up there,” he said.