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Sorcerers, unicorns, 'Love Island', goatees: the teams' 'secret weapons' at the World Cup

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Ballsupski: Simultaneous group games start today (5:01)

It's day 12 of the World Cup and Anthony Richardson and Ian Fiveankles have quite a jam-packed day, with phone calls and YouTubers and much, much more! (5:01)

All 32 teams at the 2018 World Cup are looking for that coveted edge against opponents. Meet the "secret weapons." The little added extras that teams have brought to Russia to keep their players as calm as possible, prevent homesickness or to outthink opponents by using mental skills and the latest technology. These are the weird and wonderful, the bonkers and bizarre tactics and tools the various teams have brought to Russia.

Flying mattresses and 'White Nights'

William Blake reduced a human's day to the following: "Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night". To slightly bastardize that, a footballer's day is: "Train in the morning. Social Media or hotel-based games in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night." And so to the final part of that quartet of humanity: sleep.

Brazil have been receiving sleep tips, via a checklist handed to them when they arrived in Russia for their final preparations. Put together by the Confederação Brasileira de Futebol, it includes things like not napping for too long, or ensuring the right temperature for their bedding.

England have also acted to ensure their team sleep well by having blackout curtains installed at their team base in Repino. It is a time of year the locals call 'White Nights' because there is near 24 hours straight of daylight. Dele Alli has spoken of how he woke at 3 a.m., thinking it was time to get up while others have gone for late-night gym sessions to force sleep. The management have also flown over new mattresses for the players, and put photos of family and pets in their room.

Alongside Blake's ideal model of the human day, he forgot to mention drinking water. Luckily, France have not overlooked this. They are micromanaging the team's drinking water, to ensure it is at the right temperature in relation to how barmy the outside conditions are.

Divine intervention

Both Peru and Argentina have made religion a prominent part of their prematch and mid-match routines if the players are looking for divine inspiration. Slap bang in the middle of Peru's changing room, surrounded by red and white, sits a large religious shrine.

Argentina have a more reserved arrangement, housed under a rather sizeable television.

But Manuel, a sorcerer, has not flown over to Moscow. He was with the Argentina team for their qualification match against Ecuador but will remain in his town, Gorina, during the World Cup. According to 'El Brujo' Manuel -- who has worked with Estudiantes and Independiete -- most of the teams had sorcerers or 'witch doctors' in the previous World Cup in Brazil, and that was why Argentina fell in the final.

''The Argentina team did not call me, if they had called me, we would have won the World Cup but they did not call me," he said in an interview with Telefe. He also claims to have cured Messi's boots. Judging on his opening game penalty miss, perhaps Messi could do with some help from old 'El Brujo'.

Seek guidance from basketball and Coach K

In the build up to the World Cup, prolific Instagrammer Marcelo posted a picture of the Brazilian team, all smiles, around a communal table as they prepared for their friendly against Russia in Moscow. Noticeably, each player had a copy of "Leading with the Heart: Coach K's successful strategies for basketball, business and life" to read. It was written by American college basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, focusing on leadership and how to win in a competitive environment.

Familia 🇧🇷 #M12

A post shared by Marcelo Vieira Jr. (@marcelotwelve) on

Unicorns and the calming powers of Love Island

Whether you wanted to or not, you have most likely heard of Love Island. It's one of those reality television shows which pass you by in an instant, but garner huge attention and embody the process of 'switching off' in the evening. It's a huge hit in the England camp to the extent that of the four channels they have brought from home, one is ITV2 solely for the purpose of Love Island. The other three are BBC, ITV and Sky Sports News.

Another one of England's 'secret weapons' is South American mate tea, which Eric Dier and Danny Rose have extolled the virtues of while luminaries Luis Suarez, Messi and Neymar are also fans. It is popular in Argentina, caffeine-rich, drunk through a straw and is high in antioxidants, though apparently early impressions are that it tastes a little like soil. For Fabien Delph, he likes the more traditional brew and had his own packet named after him.

And then there are their inflatable unicorns, which they seem hugely fond of.

Get the Pogba trim, the Ronaldo goatee or pumpkin soup

Then there are haircuts. France's Paul Pogba has flown his barber, Ahmed Alsanawi, out and he also tended to Kylian Mbappe and Bernard Mendy's hair while in Russia.

England's stars will have their hair trimmed by a barber from Burnley, while Neymar's barnet has garnered plenty of attention. He too flew his barber out to ensure his lid was looking at its slightly bizarre best for the opener against Switzerland.

Ronaldo has kept a fairly well-known hair-do for the competition, but he has added some facial fuzz, in the guise of a new goatee beard. In the words of the man himself, talking ahead of the game against Morocco: "It's a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. We were in the sauna and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow [versus Morocco], I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck."

For Australia's 'Socceroos', their hidden gem is cook Vini Capovilla. Apparently his pumpkin soup is quite something, while Dimitri Petratos loves his roast chicken.

Who wears the recovery trousers?

Away from beds, shrines, sorcerers and Love Island, teams are looking to technology to boost their World Cup bids, with Germany at the forefront. On their centralised platform named 'Match Insight' are two new ventures promoting player involvement in analysis. One is called 'Video Cockpit' which allows stats and videos to be uploaded to a cloud system and the other is 'Player Dashboard,' where players can leave feedback.

For Sweden's Ludwig Augustinsson, he swears by recovery trousers which were introduced to him by teammate John Guidetti. He is also a big fan of ice baths and fitness.

With my boys after a very good session👊☀️

A post shared by Ludwig Augustinsson (@ludwigaugustinsson) on

Brazil's all-court approach to the World Cup included utilising the nous of 19 of the 20 Brazilian A-League analysts to help with opposition analysis. Then there is the importance of local knowledge utilised by Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic who turned to Ivan Rakitic for any insight on how they could stop his Barcelona teammate Leo Messi ahead of their Group D game. Judging by the ease at which Croatia dispatched Argentina, and how they managed to nullify Messi's threat, it clearly worked.

Confuse the opposition with a confusing numbers game

The South Korean approach to confuse opponents was a little different. Manager Shin Tae-yong made his players wear different numbers on their shirts to befuddle any watching scouts.

"We switched them around because we didn't want to show our opponents everything and to try and confuse them," Shin said. "They might know a few of our players, but it is very difficult for Westerners to distinguish between Asians and that's why we did that."

Don't change your shin pads

Footballers are a superstitious bunch, and if they break their routine they fear it will have the same effect as when Samson cut his hair.

Dele Alli wears the same shin pads he did when 11 years old, while Belgium's goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois always touches his chin when the camera pans past him in the anthem. Cristiano Ronaldo makes sure his right foot touches the pitch first when he walks out while, Messi uses both hands to place the ball for a set piece.

This World Cup has seen some rather fetching shin pad designs. Ronaldo has a photograph of his family on his, while Thomas Muller's are a tribute to former Germany teammate Lukas Podolski. Where Suarez gets changed prematch, he has a photograph of his family with an inscription reading: 'always with you, we love you'.