World Cup spectator’s guide: USA ready to play, injuries abound
DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The first World Cup in the Middle East finally got underway Sunday night with a flashy opening ceremony and a game between Qatar and Ecuador with no beer for sale in the stadium.
The beer ban imposed two days before the start of the tournament was the latest controversial snag in a global event already under scrutiny for Qatar’s human rights record and the emirates’ frantic push to prepare the country in the most compact World Cup in history.
Thousands of attendees were turned away from a Saturday night concert in the official fan zone due to overcrowding, as 1.2million visitors are expected to start arriving in the tiny Arabian Peninsula nation this week.
Qatar is home to 3 million people, most of them migrant workers, and has spent more than $200 billion on improvements in the energy-rich country that is about the same size as the state of Connecticut or the Jamaica Island. Among the additions are seven new purpose-built venues, including the 60,000-seat Al Bayt Stadium which hosted the opening ceremony and Sunday’s first match.
Two of the best players in the world were ruled out of the tournament due to injuries before it even started.
French striker Karim Benzema, winner of the Ballon d’Or, is out after injuring his left thigh during training on Saturday. Senegal striker Sadio Mane, Benzema’s runner-up in the World Player of the Year voting, has suffered a leg injury he suffered last week while playing for Bayern Munich.
Previously, French midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante were ruled out, as was German striker Timo Werner. Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku and South Korean captain Son Heung-min have arrived in Qatar with lingering injuries.
SHOW ME THE MONEY
The awarding of the World Cup to Qatar was a financial boon for FIFA, as the football governing body said it made record revenues of $7.5 billion during the four years of linked commercial deals at this year’s tournament.
Money transport is $1 billion more than the revenue from the previous business cycle of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The extra money this year was boosted by local sponsorship deals, including Qatar Energy, which joined as a premier sponsor. Qatari bank QNB and telecommunications company Ooredoo are also sponsors.
New to the sponsorship packages this year is crypto.com, the first new US sponsor in over a decade.
The United States return to the World Cup after missing the 2018 tournament in Russia and open play on Monday against Gareth Bale-led Wales.
Bale played for Los Angeles FC and helped them win the MLS Cup earlier this month.
The United States has one of the youngest teams in the 32-team tournament. Three of the Americans – Gio Reyna, Joe Scally and Yusuf Musah – were just 11 when the national team last played a World Cup game.
DeAndre Yedlin, a 29-year-old defender, is the only survivor of the American team eliminated by Belgium in the second round eight years ago. Yedlin, Christian Pulisic, Kellyn Acosta and Tim Ream are the only four players who were in the squad when they failed to qualify for Russia.
The first full day of competition also includes a Group B match between heavily favored England against Iran at Khalifa International Stadium, and the Netherlands against Senegal at Al Thumama Stadium in Group A.
England are one of the favorites and were semi-finalists four years ago in Russia, plus European runners-up last year. But the Three Lions have arrived in Qatar without a win in their last six games, hoping their strong record in recent major tournaments will transform the team.
Eight of the 13 team captains from European nations planned to wear “One Love” armbands promoting inclusivity and LGBTQ rights in Qatar, where same-sex relationships are banned.
Among those who had committed to the armbands are Bale and England striker Harry Kane.
But FIFA equipment rules prohibit such armbands. The tournament rules require that “match staff must wear official clothing and equipment supplied by FIFA, including FIFA event badges specified and supplied by FIFA”.
If armbands are deemed inappropriate, players wearing them could be fined or given yellow cards.
The England team have indicated they are ready to be fined for wearing the armband, as has Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who said ‘yes’ when asked if he plans to. continue the silent protest.
In response, FIFA has launched its own captain’s armband, in conjunction with the United Nations, which will promote a different campaign for each round of the tournament. The theme for the quarter-finals is “no discrimination”. There is no indication that LGBTQ rights will be part of any of the campaigns.
Find out about the 32 teams that will participate in the World Cup.
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
A couple in the stands smile at the camera ahead of the World Cup, Group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium in Doha on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
England midfielder Kalvin Phillips, left, and defender Ben White take to the pitch during official England training on the eve of the Group B World Cup soccer match between England and England Iran at Al Wakrah Sports Complex, Al Wakrah, Qatar on Sunday, November 29. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)
Gareth Bale of Wales watches his team mates train during the official Wales training session on the eve of the World Cup Group B soccer match between USA and Wales , in Doha, Qatar, on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)