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Thursday, February 02, 2023 | Daily Newspaper published by GPPC Doha, Qatar.
 Sahan Bidappa
Sahan Bidappa
Sahan Bidappa is a sports writer with Gulf Times. He joined Gulf Times after having worked for more than 10 years with leading newspapers in India. Sahan misses covering cricket in Qatar but has adeptly channelized his talents towards tennis, football and Olympic sports.
Qatar’s Mohamed Muntari (second right) scores during the FIFA World Cup match against Senegal at the Al Thumama Stadium. (Reuters)
Sport
Qatar make earliest exit after defeat to Senegal

Six days into their home World Cup, Qatar bowed out of the tournament on a whimper. What’s worse, they also became the first host nation to crash out of the football showpiece in the group stage with a game to spare. South Africa in 2010 were alive till their third and final first round match.The 1-3 defeat to Senegal at Al Thumama Stadium yesterday was strictly a respectable performance from Qatar, but nonetheless a disappointing one for the Asian champions. Substitute Mohamed Muntari’s towering header in the 74th minute brought some life back into Qatari fans, but substitute Bamba Dieng scored a third for Senegal six minutes later to silence the crowd.For the second game running, home fans could not bear to watch their team’s misery till the end, taking the exit route after the third goal. In fact, there were swathes of empty seats after Famara Diedhiou fired Senegal into a two-goal lead in the 48th minute with Boulaye Dia earlier having opened the scoring in the 41st minute.There were many similarities for Felix Sanchez’s side from their opening night defeat to Ecuador. Sanchez had admitted his players were nervous making their World Cup debut last Sunday, but yesterday’s performance too was sloppy and lacking in creativity.The Al Annabi were a much-improved side after the break but only after Diedhiou had found the net via header three minutes into the second half. Senegal were far from impressive themselves, which allowed Qatar a chance to get back into the game.Having at least scored a goal in the tournament, Qatar will now hope to salvage some pride when they take on the Netherlands in their final game on Tuesday at the Al Bayt Stadium.“Today we showed what we are able to do. We were competitive and we played well,” Qatar manager Sanchez said. “Obviously the result is key but we showed a better performance. We have to get ready to play against the Netherlands. We know that it’s going to be an even tougher game against them.”Sanchez, who has been at the helm of Qatar side since 2017 and led them to their maiden Asian Cup title two years later, said his side should not be branded a “failure and disappointment.”“I do think we played a good game. When you come here you need to know where you’re coming from (as a country). If this is a failure and disappointment, that depends on expectations,” Sanchez said.“Our goal was to be competitive... We’ve been working for so many months to be able to give a good performance. But sometimes the match does not play out as you expect. It also depends on the opponents’ performance. We didn’t play at our top level. We were competitive but didn’t improve. Qatar is a small country, not a very large population. The local league is not a very competitive one. It’s our first time at the World Cup. If we can take part again, that would be great. It’s always useful to get more experience,” the 46-year-old added.Sanchez dropped goalkeeper Saad al-Sheeb – who had a horror game against Ecuador – with Meshaal Barsham replacing him, but the latter did not inspire much confidence either. Defender Isamil Mohamed and midfielder Assim Madibo were also brought in for Bassam Hisham and Abdulaziz Hatem but the home side failed to find the possession and looked nervy every time Senegal launched an attack.Barsham was caught flapping like al-Sheeb did in the first game when defending the corner with Senegal coach Aliou Cisse’s attacking 4-4-2 formation causing trouble. However, without injured Sadio Mane the African champions have lacked the firepower which proved them costly in their defeat to Dutch side earlier.Ismaila Sarr, Nampalys Mendy, Idrissa Gana Gueye and Youssouf Sabaly also squandered chances to score before Qatar gifted them one. A routine clearance in the box was messed up by Boualem Khoukhi, as the defender slipped and fell on his back, which allowed Dia to fire low past Barsham.A few minutes earlier, Qatar’s call for penalty was waived off by referee Antonio Lahoz after forward Akram Afif was brought down by Sarr with VAR not changing the decision.To make matters worse, Qatar were two goals down just three minutes into the second half. Qatar defenders were caught napping when Diedhiou had acres of space as he nodded a header in from Ismail Jakobs’ corner.With three points seemingly in the bag, the Lions of Teranga took the foot of the pedal as Qatar created a flurry of chances. Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy had to be alert when Almoez Ali launched a long-range effort, tipping it over. Mendy was then forced to a sensational reflex save, diving to his right to stop a point-blank effort from Ismail Mohamed.With time running out, Muntari gave Qatar hope with a powerful header Mendy could do nothing about. Cisse’s decision to make all five substitutions by the 77th minute looked to be risky. However, substitute Dieng swept the ball into the net to calm the nerves in Senegal camp and crush Qatar’s slim hopes of rescuing a point and staying alive in their own World Cup.Key stats• Qatar have become the 75th different country to score a goal in FIFA World Cup history.• Mohammed Muntari is the first-ever player to score for Qatar in the World Cup.• The 3-1 victory for Senegal signals the first win for an African team in this tournament.• The two-goal win represents Senegal’s biggest-ever margin of victory in a World Cup match.• Famara Diedhiou has become Senegal’s oldest-ever World Cup goalscorer at the age of 29 years and 345 days.• This is the second time that Senegal have scored three goals in a World Cup match – the previous occasion was a 3-3 draw with Uruguay in 2002.

Qatar's players take part in a training session at Aspire Training Site in Doha on November 24, 2022, on the eve of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football match between Qatar and Senegal. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR / AFP)
Sport
Qatar seek inspiration from Saudi to avoid early exit

Ismail Mohamed’s eyes lit up when it was mentioned to him yesterday about Saudi Arabia’s stunning win over Argentina at the World Cup. The Qatar midfielder admitted he and his teammates were ‘a little bit jealous’ of their neighbours, before adding it was a huge motivating factor for the team.Qatar, who will get knocked out of the World Cup today if they fail to beat Senegal at the Al Thumama Stadium, are no short of inspiration.The Arab teams, barring hosts, have punched above their weights after the first round of matches. Tunisia and Morocco put in a spirited display to hold Denmark and Croatia respectively.Qatar may be the reigning Asian champions, but it was Japan who played like one when they came back from goal down to upset four-time Germany on Thursday.“We want to give it our all tomorrow,” declared Mohamed. Easier said than done though for Qatar, especially when the World Cup debutants were soundly beaten by Ecuador in the tournament opener. If the host’s nervy performance on Sunday was put down to stage fright, they are in for no less pressure against African champions Senegal today.Felix Sanchez’s men stare at an unwanted record as they are hoping to avoid becoming only the second hosts to be eliminated in the group stage at the World Cup. In 2010, South Africa also went out in the first round, but were still alive heading into their third match.For Qatar, a defeat today to Senegal would make it an unceremonious early departure. On Sunday, disheartened Qatar fans made a beeline for exit as the players overwhelmed by the pressure of all the razzmatazz after the opening ceremony crumbled without a fight against Ecuador. Sanchez said his team have a ‘point to prove’, urging his players today to bring in their ‘A’ game.“We did not provide the joy to the fans, but we tried to avoid a negative vibe in the past days. Hopefully we can play freely and without pressure and be better than what happened in the first game, this team has a point to prove,” the Spaniard said.“Matches are controlled by many factors, but the most important thing is to give our best, in the World Cup if you don’t give your best you will be punished. I hope we can compete and bring our ‘A’ Game’ and show that we can be more competitive than we were the other day. We are playing a very high-level team so we need to prove ourselves, play our game and see what happens.”Al Annabi had one of the longest preparations for the World Cup by any team, spending six months in Europe for isolated training camps. The decision to pull out players from Qatar Stars League and make them play low-intensity friendlies has also been questioned.Sanchez, though, stuck to his guns saying the long training camp was ideal for his players to build a cohesion ahead of the high-pressure World Cup at home. The 46-year-old dismissed any doubts over the long-term future of Qatari football, regardless of how the team performs in the remaining two matches.“We are a small country, the smallest to host the World Cup. We prepared ourselves for the possibility of an early exit, but this does not mean the end of the project. One of the things that Qatar has proved so far, which is not common in the world of football, is that there was a long-term plan to prepare. I am confident that Qatar will continue their project to maintain a strong team, compete and qualify for the upcoming tournaments,” he said.In Senegal they have a strong opponent, who are hurting from their defeat to Group A heavyweights the Netherlands in the opener. The Africans, who are without their star striker Sadio Mane, dominated the Dutch side until the 84th minute before goalkeeper Edouard Mendy’s misjudgment proved costly. A second goal followed in stoppage time with Mendy again at fault, leaving Senegal to do it all against Qatar and Ecuador. A wounded Senegal return to Al Thumama Stadium to stay alive in the competition.“We have our backs against the wall but we are Lions, the Lions of Teranga,” said centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly yesterday. “We will give everything to continue with the dream and to let the Senegalese people dream. We don’t want to disappoint the Senegalese population. What is certain is that the behaviour and mentality tomorrow will be that of warriors.”Senegal coach Aliou Cisse backed Mendy, saying the Chelsea goalkeeper has a steely resolve and was a certain starter against Qatar. He is likely to make few changes to his starting line-up though after midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate picked up a thigh muscle tear, while defender Abdou Diallo has a thigh strain.“Edouard (Mendy) is doing very well, he has got a steely resolve. Edouard’s qualities speak for themselves, I don’t think that anyone is doubting him, sometimes he has highs, and sometimes he has lows. He has my full trust, my blind trust, and that of his team mates. Tomorrow he will be on the pitch,” said Cisse.Knocked out in the first round at Russia 2018, Senegal will be hoping they can do the same to Qatar today.

Richarlison scores his second goal in the Group G - Brazil v Serbia match at the Lusail Stadium, yesterday
Qatar
Brazil cruise past Serbia; Ronaldo breaks record

Richarlison scored a spectacular overhead kick as his brace helped five-time champions Brazil to a convincing 2-0 win over Serbia in their FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 opener yesterday. But it was again Cristiano Ronaldo, who hogged the limelight as the Portuguese legend became the first player to score in five men’s World Cups as he helped his team to a 3-2 victory over Ghana at Stadium 974.The forward surpassed the great Pele, Uwe Seeler and Miroslav Klose to stand on his own by scoring at five different editions of the tournament – starting from 2006’s edition in Germany.The 37-year-old is the third player to be both a country’s oldest and youngest goalscorer at the World Cup, along with Croatia’s Ivica Olic and Denmark’s Michael Laudrup. Including World Cups and Euros, Ronaldo has now scored at 10 consecutive major tournaments.“It’s a beautiful moment in my fifth World Cup,” Ronaldo told reporters. “We won. We started on a good foot. It’s a very important win. We know in these competitions the first match is fundamental. It’s another record too. That makes me very proud. I am very happy for the team to have put on excellent performance. It was difficult but we deserved to win.”Later at the Lusail Stadium, Richarlison opened the scoring with an easy tap-in for Brazil before doubling the lead with his acrobatic effort. The South Americans, seeking a record sixth title, showed their silky game as coach Tite went in four forwards – Neymar, Vinicius Jr., Raphinha and Richarlison. The attacking nature of the game paid off handsomely as Selecao dominated the match and made Serbia work hard every time they went forward.PSG star Neymar was substituted with concern over his fitness. But it was later reported he was taken off as a precaution after receiving one kick too many in the match. Brazil are top of Group G, with Switzerland second after they beat Cameroon 1-0 and Serbia are bottom.Meanwhile, Football legend Pele gave Brazil a virtual pre-match pep talk before the national team prepared to make their World Cup debut, telling them: “Bring this trophy home.”The 82-year-old icon posted a series of photos of his past World Cup glories on Instagram, telling Neymar and his teammates: “Today we start writing a new story.” Sport Pages 1-8

Saudi Arabia's Salem al-Dawsari celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates (REUTERS)
Sport
Saudi Arabia land ‘heavy blow’ on Messi’s Argentina

On the eve of Argentina’s opening match of the World Cup, there was so much focus on Lionel Messi that there was hardly a mention of their opponents Saudi Arabia.Qatar 2022 is Messi’s fifth and almost certainly the last one and there has been talk of how the left-footed magician could lead Argentina to their first title since 1986, adding the most important and the last piece of silverware to his trophy-laden career. But there was a gentle reminder from Saudi’s French coach Herve Renard a day before the match, when he said on Monday: “We haven’t come to this World Cup just for a jolly. We have come here to be the best we can.”Yesterday, the Saudi players proved Renard right, creating one of the greatest upsets of all time by stunning Messi led-Argentina 2-1 at a packed Lusail Stadium, a result described by Messi as a “heavy blow”. At the end of the Group C match, the Argentine fans – who made most of the 88,012-record crowd – were left distraught as the Saudi fans could not stop jumping with joy. It was a game of two halves literally, with Argentina failing to capitalise on numerous openings they had in the first half and only led 1-0 through Messi’s 10th-minute penalty.In the second half, Saudi shredded the script dramatically. The Green Falcons equalised through Saleh al-Shehri in the 48th-minute before their most influential player Salem al-Dawsari produced a superb strike five minutes later to send the delirious crowd into a frenzy.The shell-shocked Argentina team – one of the pre-tournament favourites – did not know how to react as Saudi defended heroically for one of the biggest shocks in the 92-year World Cup history. It was a courageous and brilliant performance from Renard’s men. Left to guard their lead for 51 minutes – including 14 minutes of stoppage time – the Saudi players led by goalkeeper Mohamed al-Owais and central defender Hassan al-Tambakti threw their body on the line. Al-Owais rightly won the man of the match for his commanding display in which he made five spectacular saves, two claims and 14 accurate passes, while also playing the role of a sweeper-keeper at times and clearing long balls from the midfield.Saudi’s performance had the combination of pressing, energy and passion in equal measure. Whether they could sustain it till the final whistle was a big question mark and when they did, the tireless players, substitutes and support celebrated wildly and so did the Saudi fans.“All the stars in the sky were aligned for us, but don’t forget Argentina are still a fantastic team,” said Renard after the pulsating clash. The Saudi coach warned his players not to celebrate for too long, saying: “This is football, sometimes totally crazy things can happen.”Charismatic Renard, who has previously led Zambia and the Ivory Coast to Africa Cup of Nations glory was also sacked after a few matches in charge of Cambridge United in 2004 – was a calming influence on the pitch side and deserves credit for Saudi’s unlikely victory. “We needed to get this result, it will be one for the (history) books, but as a coach I’m always asking for more from my players, so let’s stay humble,” he said.The 54-year-old’s tactic to play high line was fraught with danger but on the day it was hugely rewarding. Saudi are ranked 51st in the world, ironically one above hosts Qatar, and they had to take their chances and be more clinical upfront against third-ranked Argentina.Lionel Scaloni’s Argentina came into the tournament among the favourites on the back of a 36-game unbeaten run that included winning the 2021 Copa America. There was no sign of the streak ending as Messi converted a penalty for his seventh goal in 20 World Cup appearances to put his side ahead after Saud Abdulhamid had pulled Leandro Parades to the ground in the box. The 35-year-old became the first Argentinian to score in four World Cups – 2006, 2014, 2018 and 2022 – and the fifth man in history to achieve the feat. There was a feeling he would add even more yesterday.And he did find the net but only for the goal to be ruled out by off-side. Inter Milan striker Lautaro Martinez too had two of his goals called off side, with the second one being extremely unlucky after VAR ruled the tip of his shoulder was a fraction ahead of Abdulhamid. Saudi’s high line was working as Argentina had committed seven off-sides in the first half as the South Americans had just a goal to show for all their dominance and they paid heavily for their profligacy in front of the goal.Saudi, meanwhile, came out with renewed energy despite losing captain Salman al-Faraj to injury at the end of first half. Renard’s half-time talk created wonders as they turned the game upside down with an attacking display. Cristian Romero was clearly ripe to be picked off as the Tottenham defender struggled in the opening 45 minutes and was uncomfortable after the restart too. The equaliser came soon for Saudi after al-Shehri collected a pass from Feras al-Brikan and then beat Romero on the left, as the ball bounced past goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez’s outstretched hands.As Argentina panicked with Scaloni making triple substitution, Saudi went for the kill with al-Dawsari producing a moment of magic. His sensational right-footer came after he evaded a lunging Parades as the forward beat Martinez to land the ball into the top corner.As the rattled Argentina players went to fetch the ball, Messi gestured to his players not to drop their shoulders.The captain came close to bringing his side back into the game but before he could latch onto a loose ball in the box, al-Tambakti made an outstanding last-ditch tackle. Argentina did win many corners but were unable to make use of it as al-Owais was alert to any danger.As the Slovenian referee Slavko Vincic blew the final whistle after a never-ending stoppage time, the Saudi players breathed a sigh of relief and collapsed to the ground in absolute joy. The biggest win of their lives will make them believe they can enter the last 16 of the World Cup for only the second time.Hervard’s men take on Poland on Saturday, while a bruisedArgentina face Mexico and aim for a victory needed to keep their World Cup hopes alive.

Saudi Arabia's midfielder #10 Salem Al-Dawsari (2R) celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group C football match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail. AFP
Sport
Saudi Arabia stun Messi's Argentina in one of the greatest victories

Saudi Arabia sent the Arab world into a frenzy with a stunning comeback victory over tournament contenders Argentina at the FIFA World Cup Qatar at the imposing Lusail Stadium Tuesday.Superstar Lionel Messi and the thousands of Argentina fans were left shell- shocked as second-half goals from Saleh al-Shehri and Salem al-Dawsari helped Saudi to a 2-1 win in their Group C match in front of a record 88,012-record audience.It was a brave and brilliant performance from Saudi – ranked 51 in the world to Argentina’s third – as they silenced critics who have questioned the football culture in the Middle East. The Green Falcon’s victory Tuesday will rank as one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history along with England's loss to the United States in 1950 and West Germany losing to Algeria in 1982.According to an analysis by Nielsen Gracenote, Saudi stood just 8.7% of registering a victory against two-time champions Argentina. But Tuesday, they ripped the predictions to pieces with a heroic second half show that kept their chance of reaching the last 16 for the first time since 1994 World Cup.King Salman bin Abdulaziz Salman declared a public holiday in Saudi Arabia today to mark the achievement, a feather in the cap of Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, who recommended the royal order, the state media said.Messi, playing his fifth and most likely last World Cup, stroked home an early penalty to give Argentina the lead in the 10th minute. But he was kept at bay by Saudi defenders for the rest of the half.Saudi then remerged with attacking intent in the second half as al-Shehri equalised in the 48th minute before al-Dawsari’s rocket gave them an unimaginable lead. Unlike Argentina's squad, which boasts players from top leagues in the world, the Saudi side is made up entirely of domestic players.Tuesday, Saudi XI had nine players from Al Hilal, with some lion-hearted performances from goalkeeper Mohamed al-Owais and Hassan al-Tambakti.Saudi's coach Herve Renard said the "stars were aligned" for his team. "We made history for football," he added. "It will stay forever, this is most important. But we also have to think about looking forward. We still have two difficult games before us."Goal-scorer al-Shehri said the team had never doubted they could topple the two-time champions. "We don't care about the other team, if you believe in yourself you can achieve anything," he said.Messi, who in Qatar is gunning for his only trophy missing from his illustrious career, called the result a "heavy blow" to his team. The 2021 Copa America champions Argentina had come into the match on a 36-match unbeaten streak. "It's a very heavy blow, a defeat that hurts, but we must continue to have confidence in ourselves," said Messi. "This group is not going to give up. We will try to beat Mexico."Argentina coach Lucas Scaloni insisted his team had not taken their opponents lightly. "What comes ahead is to rise up, to face Mexico," he said."They will be tough, as everyone is at the World Cup. Now we need to win two games to move on. Of course this is difficult, but regardless of the result today, we would anyway try to win all the games."Later, Poland played out a goalless draw with Mexico in the other Group C match, with Robert Lewandowski missing a second-half penalty. The Barcelona striker was denied a maiden World Cup goal when his 58th-minute spot-kick was saved by veteran goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.Meanwhile, Olivier Giroud became France's joint all-time top scorer when his double helped the holders start the defence of their World Cup title in style with a 4-1 comeback Group D win against Australia Tuesday.Giroud found the net before and after the break to take his tally to 51 goals, matching Thierry Henry's mark, either side of a Kylian Mbappe goal after Adrien Rabiot had levelled following Craig Goodwin's shock early opener.Les Bleus are the first defending champions to win their opening match since Brazil in 2006, which has already put them in good position to advance from the group phase, something Italy in 2010, Spain in 2014 and Germany in 2018 failed to do.Denmark drew 0-0 with Tunisia in the other match in Group D, with talisman Christian Eriksen appearing in his first match in a major tournament since suffering a cardiac arrest during the European Championship last year.

Argentina’s forward Lionel Messi (centre) and teammates take part in a training session at the Qatar University Training Site on Monday. (AFP)
Sport
Messi ‘feels very good’ in his last World Cup hurrah

On Saturday, a rumour had swirled around the Qatar University ground over Lionel Messi’s fitness as the Argentina captain missed the start of the team’s training session. At the World Cup in Qatar, the football governing body FIFA allows the world’s media only 15 minutes to watch a team’s training session.There was a collective gasp by those present as Messi did not turn up for training, even as his teammates practised. Post that, it was anybody’s guess whether Messi had trained or not.Yesterday, though, the superstar striker dismissed ‘rumours’ about his fitness as he announced himself to be ready for Argentina’s opening match against Saudi Arabia at the Lusail Stadium. The pictures from yesterday’s training session too later confirmed Messi indeed would be in action today.The 35-year-old will be playing in his fifth and last World Cup, with Messi confirming yesterday that he is unlikely to appear in the United States, Canada and Mexico in 2026. It would be a travesty, if the Paris Saint-Germain forward had to miss out due to injury.Messi had arrived in Qatar carrying a niggle in his Achilles tendon, which he seemed to have picked up during a friendly against the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi last week.“I’m feeling well,” Messi told reporters yesterday. “I am very well physically and I feel in good condition. I think I come here in really good form, both personally and physically. There are no issues whatsoever. I heard there were rumours of having to miss part of training or be away from the team because of a blow but it’s nothing out of the ordinary,” he added.There is a lot riding for Messi in Qatar, with his greatest-ever-to-play-the-game tag hinging on his ability to fill the glaring gap in his resume and win a World Cup title. Along with perennial favourites Brazil, Argentina are tipped for the title by the pundits and Messi would be hoping he would return to Lusail on November 18 for the final.The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner has had a strong start with PSG this season and like he has done in the past decade carries Argentina’s hopes of first World Cup title since 1986. “I’m aware it’s a very special moment,” Messi said, reiterating it will be the last time he will feature at a World Cup.“It’s most likely my last World Cup and the last opportunity to make my dream a reality. I’m really happy and really excited and I want to try to enjoy this World Cup. I think age as well makes you see things differently. Maybe now I give more importance to small details because before I didn’t do it. I’ll try now to focus more on the details and today enjoying it is more important,” he added.Having endured a heartbreaking loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup final in Brazil, Messi finally lifted his first trophy with Argentina at the 2021 Copa America title. It was Albiceleste’s first trophy in 28 years and since then they have gone on an unbeaten World Cup qualifying campaign, which many suggest is what makes them title contenders in Qatar.The 2014 run aside, Messi has had a disappointing time at the World Cup with Argentina crashing out in the 2002 group stage, 2006 and 2010 quarter-finals and 2018 round of 16. Messi knows this could very well be his best chance at securing his legacy, which many in his home country believes pales in comparison to the late Diego Maradona, who led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup.Messi said the burden of winning a trophy for Argentina has reduced after the Copa America title, but said the similarities between current squad and the 2014 one gives him a hope of triumphant last hurrah on the global stage. “Having won decompresses you a lot, it gives you peace of mind,” said Messi.“This allows the people to be less anxious and fretting over results. I’m not sure we feel better (than before other World Cups) but we just won a competition and that is very reassuring. It helps you work in a different way and you don’t feel as anxious. You don’t put as much pressure on yourself so we focus on enjoying ourselves. The squad reminds me of 2014, very united and clear about what we have to do on the pitch and the way we have to play. It’s great to be here in good form because it gives you so much confidence,” he noted.Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s French coach Herve Renard is looking forward to testing his team against Messi having led Morocco against Portugal and Ronaldo at the last World Cup in Russia.“It’s an honour to come up against the best players on the planet. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are football legends and thanks to them, football has changed,” said the much-travelled 54-year-old, an Africa Cup of Nations winner with both Zambia and Ivory Coast.“It’s an honour to be here and an honour to play against them but when you compete you have to put all your energy and motivation into trying to topple the best, that’s what’s beautiful about sport, sometimes you get surprises.”

Qatar and Ecuador players in action during their FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor on Sunday. PICTURE: Shaji Kayamkulam
Sport
Valencia shines as Ecuador beat Qatar in opening clash

It was always going to be a tall order for Qatar but the manner in which they crumbled against Ecuador would have disappointed the home fans, who were among the 67,372 in attendance at the Al Bayt Stadium for the FIFA World Cup opener on Sunday.The 0-2 defeat to Ecuador was a respectable score for Qatar, who looked second best throughout the match against the South Americans. Ecuador – 44th in the FIFA rankings – are only six places above Qatar, but last night they showed they are miles ahead of the Asian Champions.This was supposed to be Qatar’s easiest fixture in Group A, where they also face the Netherlands and Senegal, but Ecuador were too hot to handle for the World Cup debutants.Ecuador captain Enner Valencia should have had a hat-trick on the night. His header in the third minute was ruled out for the tightest of offside by VAR, but the 33-year-old striker was not to be denied in the 16th minute and again found the net in the 31st minute to silence the partisan crowd.As the Qatar players failed to impose themselves on the game, coach Felix Sanchez stared at the roof of the tent-shaped architecture marvel Al Bayt Stadium, wondering what he or his players could have done differently on the night. In reality, not much.“Our nerves betrayed us, we started really badly,” admitted a visibly disappointed Sanchez after the game. “We were unable to string together four passes in a row. Also many defensive gaps. The team was not balanced and that hurt us a lot. When you play against a team of this level... you pay for it,” the Spaniard added.Ecuador were physically stronger and technically superior than the home side. They barely gave a sniff to Qatar’s attacking pair Almoez Ali and Akram Afif, who were outmuscled by the Ecuador defence.Gustavo Alfaro’s men had kept a clean sheet in each of their last six matches, last conceding a goal against Argentina back in March. They also held five-time World champions Brazil to draws in the last two outings, as they came through the tough South American qualifiers in fourth place to qualify for the World Cup.Ecuador, though, had the most stressful build-up to the football showpiece, holding off legal battles to keep their place after Chile and Peru had lodged appeals with FIFA over the eligibility of Byron Castillo’s involvement in qualifying games.Alfaro took the tough decision of not bringing Castillo to Qatar to avoid the risk of sanctions. They also had to face a host nation in the opening game of a World Cup. Ecuador could not have asked for a tougher start to their campaign.Qatar, on the contrary, have had the longest possible preparation by a team for a World Cup in history. Since their breakthrough Asian Cup triumph in 2019, Sanchez’s men have travelled to three continents, taking part in the 2019 Copa America, 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup and the European qualifiers earlier this year.They have also sat out of the Qatar Stars League this season, spending six months in Europe for training and playing countless practice matches. The reason to train outside of Qatar was to make them play as a unit and improve their technical and mental aspects of the game.But on the biggest stage of their nights, Qatar players looked frozen, clearly overawed by the historic occasion. This was a nervous and disjointed performance.Their defeat yesterday was the first time a host nation has lost the opening match in the World Cup’s 92-year history. Now they face the ignominy of becoming the second host country, after South Africa in 2010, to crash out of the World Cup in the group stage.After a spectacular, but short opening ceremony, Valencia found the net with a lunging close-range header to silence the crowd. But the home fans were up on their feet again, as VAR disallowed the goal for a marginal side. It was a huge let off for Qatar goalkeeper Saad al-Sheeb, who looked uncomfortable guarding the goal, as did the defence.Valencia sensed an opportunity and al-Sheeb did Ecuador a favour by catching the shin of their captain in the box resulting in a penalty.Valencia took the spot kick and took two steps before putting the ball in the net, even as al-Sheeb had dived to his right early. The hosts’ night took for the worse as Valencia was to haunt them again.The Fenerbahce forward was left unmarked as he lunged into Angelo Preciado’s cross to head past al-Sheeb again.“I dreamt so many times about winning this opening match. This was a dream that I managed to score and help my team get the three points,” Valencia said yesterday.“We managed to score a couple of quick goals which helped us to get control of the game and win the three points... We think we can go very far and perform well,” the captain added.Qatar had a chance to stay in the game in the last minute of added time off the first half, but Ali sent his header wide, even as many in the crowd called it a night early.That was the only meaningful chance Qatar had as the game petered out in the second half. Qatar did well to not concede any more goals, while Ecuador played within themselves and still had a couple of decent scoring opportunities.For Qatar, it’s African Champions Senegal up next on November 25 at the Al Thumama Stadium. Senegal are without injured Sadio Mane, but even in the absence of their star striker they pose a bigger challenge to Qatar than Ecuador.

Qatar and Ecuador players in action during their FIFA World Cup Group A match at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor. PICTURE: Shaji Kayamkulam
Qatar
Valencia shines as Ecuador beat Qatar in opening clash

It was always going to be a tall order for Qatar but the manner in which they crumbled against Ecuador would have disappointed the home fans, who were among the 67,372 in attendance at the Al Bayt Stadium for the FIFA World Cup opener Sunday.The 0-2 defeat to Ecuador was a respectable score for Qatar, who looked second best throughout the match against the South Americans. Ecuador – 44th in the FIFA rankings are only six places above Qatar, but last night they showed they are miles ahead of the Asian Champions.This was supposed to be Qatar’s easiest fixture in Group A, where they also face the Netherlands and Senegal, but Ecuador were too hot to handle for the World Cup debutants.Ecuador captain Enner Valencia should have had a hat-trick on the night. His header in the third minute was ruled out for the tightest of offside by VAR, but the 33-year-old striker was not to be denied in the 16th minute and again found the net in the 31st minute to silence the partisan crowd.As the Qatar players failed to impose themselves on the game, coach Felix Sanchez stared at the roof of the tent-shaped architecture marvel Al Bayt Stadium, wondering what he or his players could have done differently on the night. In reality, not much."Our nerves betrayed us, we started really badly," admitted a visibly disappointed Sanchez after the game. "We were unable to string together four passes in a row. Also many defensive gaps. The team was not balanced and that hurt us a lot. When you play against a team of this level... you pay for it," the Spaniard added.Ecuador were physically stronger and technically superior than the home side. They barely gave a sniff to Qatar’s attacking pair Almoez Ali and Akram Afif, who were outmuscled by the Ecuador defence.Gustavo Alfaro’s men had kept a clean sheet in each of their last six matches, last conceding a goal against Argentina back in March. They also held five-time World champions Brazil to draws in the last two outings, as they came through the tough South American qualifiers in fourth place to qualify for the World Cup.Ecuador, though, had the most stressful build-up to the football showpiece, holding off legal battles to keep their place after Chile and Peru had lodged appeals with FIFA over the eligibility of Byron Castillo's involvement in qualifying games.Alfaro took the tough decision of not bringing Castillo to Qatar to avoid the risk of sanctions. They also had to face a host nation in the opening game of a World Cup. Ecuador could not have asked for a tougher start to their campaign.Qatar, on the contrary, have had the longest possible preparation by a team for a World Cup in history. Since their breakthrough Asian Cup triumph in 2019, Sanchez’s men have travelled to three continents, taking part in the 2019 Copa America, 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup and the European qualifiers earlier this year.They have also sat out of the Qatar Stars League this season, spending six months in Europe for training and playing countless practice matches. The reason to train outside of Qatar was to make them play as a unit and improve their technical and mental aspects of the game.But on the biggest stage of their nights, Qatar players looked frozen, clearly overawed by the historic occasion. This was a nervous and disjointed performance.Their defeat Sunday was the first time a host nation has lost the opening match in the World Cup's 92-year history. Now they face the ignominy of becoming the second host country, after South Africa in 2010, to crash out of the World Cup in the group stage.After a spectacular, but short opening ceremony, Valencia found the net with a lunging close-range header to silence the crowd. But the home fans were up on their feet again, as VAR disallowed the goal for a marginal side. It was a huge let off for Qatar goalkeeper Saad al-Sheeb, who looked uncomfortable guarding the goal, as did the defence.Valencia sensed an opportunity and al-Sheeb did Ecuador a favour by catching the shin of their captain in the box resulting in a penalty.Valencia took the spot kick and took two steps before putting the ball in the net, even as al-Sheeb had dived to his right early. The hosts’ night took for the worse as Valencia was to haunt them again.The Fenerbahce forward was left unmarked as he lunged into Angelo Preciado's cross to head past al-Sheeb again."I dreamt so many times about winning this opening match. This was a dream that I managed to score and help my team get the three points," Valencia said Sunday."We managed to score a couple of quick goals which helped us to get control of the game and win the three points... We think we can go very far and perform well," the captain added.Qatar had a chance to stay in the game in the last minute of added time off the first half, but Ali sent his header wide, even as many in the crowd called it a night early.That was the only meaningful chance Qatar had as the game petered out in the second half. Qatar did well to not concede any more goals, while Ecuador played within themselves and still had a couple of decent scoring opportunities.For Qatar, it’s African Champions Senegal up next on November 25 at the Al Thumama Stadium. Senegal are without injured Sadio Mane, but even in the absence of their star striker they pose a bigger challenge to Qatar than Ecuador.

Qatar's Spanish coach Felix Sanchez (L) and Qatar's forward Hassan Al-Haydos attend a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) in Doha on November 19, 2022 on the eve of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football match between Qatar and Ecuador. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR / AFP)
Sport
Qatar’s moment to shine

When the Qatar players and long-serving coach Felix Sanchez step on to the Al Bayt Stadium pitch for their World Cup opener against Ecuador tonight, there will be a few tears of joy streaming down their faces.The players, Sanchez and their families have all dreamt of the night of November 20, 2022 – when the small nation with mighty ambitions takes the spotlight on the global stage.Qatar has been subjected to a deluge of criticism since it won the rights to host the football’s showpiece event in 2010, but the players have stayed away from the unwanted distraction – keeping their eyes firmly on the ball. In the past decade Qatar football has taken a giant leap, with their emphatic maiden Asian Cup title in 2019 showing they are on the right track.Tonight, years of planning will reach a full circle when they take on Ecuador – the South Americans with a ranking of 44, just six places above Qatar.But as Sanchez rightly admitted yesterday, Ecuador will start as favourites at least on paper with Gustavo Alfaro’s men possessing a trio of players with Premier League experience. Their physicality too will put Qatar’s home-grown players under stern test.But more than anything, Qatar team’s fortunes on the night will depend on how they tackle the expectations of the 60,000-capacity Al Bayt Stadium filled with celebrities, former stars and their loved ones and the billions watching via live broadcast. Months and days ahead of the biggest match of their lives, Al Annabi players have spoken about the childhood dream of playing at the World Cup. In a matter of hours, that will come true.“It’s a very important day for us, it’s a historic moment,” said Sanchez yesterday, flanked by captain Hassan al-Haydos, under the glare of huge international media. “It’s a very happy day for us, for the players and the staff. It’s an extraordinary day... We have made a huge investment in this country. I hope we can enjoy football, our sport, and do our talking on the pitch. I hope all the countries in the world can come together to enjoy this,” the Spaniard added.Sanchez, a former Barcelona youth coach, arrived in Qatar in 2006 and has since seen the rapid rise of the country. The 46-year-old too has risen from the ranks – from managing Aspire Academy teams to becoming the senior team coach in 2017. Just like his players, Sanchez too has dared to dream.“After so many years, this is the end of a cycle – 16 years working in this country. I’ve been in a project, growing and following the steps of players in the national team. It’s a huge source of pride. I will try to enjoy the moment,” he said.Ecuador could most likely be their least difficult opponent in Group A. The Maroon also face African champions Senegal, who even without Bayern Munich star Sadio Mane are lethal and then there is three-time World Cup runners-up the Netherlands, who have come to Qatar determined to prove a point under Louis van Gaal.“We know it’s three (group) games, we know the potential of our opponents. They are national teams that, due to their history and individual talent, they’re ahead of us. On paper they should get the three points, maybe they count on winning all three points. But we’re here to show that we can be a competitive team. We will bring our A game,” Sanchez candidly admitted.The Qatar coach, however, would have been pleased if the World Cup had arrived at least two winters ago. After the Asian Cup high in 2019, there has been a visible dip in performances of key players.The squad has been richer by the experience of playing in the 2019 Copa America, 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup – where they reached the semi-finals – and the European qualifiers earlier this year. But there is concern that Qatar has passed their peak.With an eye on the World Cup, the players – mainly consisting of domestic heavyweights Al Sadd and Al Duhail – were pulled out of the Qatar Stars League and trained in Europe since June. But the performances have failed to inspire much as the team now boast a worst defensive record among the 32 teams at the World Cup by a good margin.“Obviously everything we’ve done in the past three years is to have a very competitive team in the World Cup. Every country’s situation is different and we’re a small country. All our players play in the local league, so we decided one of the ways to strengthen the national team was to... make massive sacrifices and spend long periods abroad. This shows the commitment of our players. All the time spent abroad training and competing is for tomorrow, so we can start the competition well,” Sanchez said.Sanchez has injected some fresh blood into the squad, but will be hoping that 15 players from the Asian Cup squad will play a key role in avoiding the fate of South Africa, who remain the only host country in 2010 to be eliminated in the group stage.The attacking pair of Almoez Ali and Akram Afif will have to play a crucial role for Qatar, who like to sit back and counter attack. Ecuador barely eked out a positive goal differential in South American qualifying – undoubtedly the toughest continent to qualify from.Ecuador boast some more recognisable names than the Qataris, including Brighton midfielder Moises Caicedo and veteran striker Enner Valencia but have struggled to find the net of late.Ecuador coach Alfaro said Qatar will prove a tough opponents tonight, suggesting the hosts are better prepared having played together for several months.“Qatar is Qatar and they have been preparing for this match for over 12 years,” said Alfaro. “They’ve been preparing for five, six months playing friendlies that means they are a very good organised and well prepared team,” the Argentine added.Qatar vs Ecuador FACTBOXWhen: Today, 7pmWhere: Al Bayt StadiumCapacity: 60,000Key stats and factsWorld Cup hosts have never lost their opening game.Qatar automatically qualified as hosts but the Gulf country also proved their worth by winning the Asian Cup in 2019.Striker Almoez Ali was Qatar’s top scorer at the Asian Cup with nine goals but he has scored only once in 2022.This is Ecuador’s fourth World Cup but they have qualified for the knockout stages only once in 2006, where they were eliminated in the last-16.Ecuador’s top scorer in the CONMEBOL South American World Cup qualifiers was Michael Estrada (six goals).Ecuador did not pick Byron Castillo for the World Cup after the country’s football federation decided not to include himfollowing Chile’s claim at the Court of Arbitration for Sport that he was ineligible to play in qualifying matches.Previous meetingsQatar and Ecuador have played each other three times, with both teams winning once and one game ending in a draw.The last time they played each other was in October 2018 when Qatar beat Ecuador 4-3 in a friendly in Doha.

A sea of humanity at the FIFA Fan Festival which opened Saturday in Doha, ahead of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 kick-off Sunday. PICTURE: Shaji Kayamkulam.
Qatar
FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 kickoff Sunday

Twelve years after it won the bid to host the FIFA World Cup 2022, Qatar's moment to shine is finally here. Over the next 29 days, Qatar’s gleaming, eight magnificent architectural venues and the country’s world class infrastructure will welcome fans from all parts of the world for the football extravaganza.Fittingly, it will be Qatar players who will walk into the Al Bayt stadium – a 60,000-seat venue meant to resemble a tent historically used by nomadic people in Qatar – to take on Ecuador in the opening game. Before that, His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani will declare the tournament open after the opening ceremony, which promises to be both spectacular and a mix of entertainment and display of Qatar’s rich cultural heritage. A number of heads of states and heads of delegations of brotherly and friendly countries will be present.The opening ceremony is scheduled to begin at 5pm, with the Qatar-Ecuador clash taking place two hours later. The gates to the Al Bayt Stadium will open at 2pm as the organisers urged the fans to reach the venue early to avoid the congestion.The line-up of artists has been kept under wraps with only confirmation being Jungkook, one of seven members of South Korea's popular BTS boy band, set to perform a track titled "Dreamers" along with Qatari singer Fahad al-Kubaisi at the ceremony.The celebrations, however, have already begun weeks ahead with the residents and fans from outside the country flocking Qatar’s important landmarks as they wait for the tournament to kick-start.Organisers say that 2.9mn of the 3.1mn tickets have been sold, with a sell-out crowd expected Sunday. Also, it is estimated more than 5bn people around the world will watch the World Cup, surpassing the 3.5bn who tuned in to watch the 2018 tournament in Russia.FIFA president Gianni Infantino Saturday called on teams to "focus on football" and accused critics in western countries of "hypocrisy" and “racism” towards Qatar.

Gulf Times
Sport
Qatar opt for closed door training ahead of historic debut

With the spotlight firmly on them ahead of tomorrow’s World Cup opener against Ecuador, it wasn’t a surprise Qatar chose to have a closed door training session yesterday.A wise move, considering players and coach Felix Sanchez are bracing up for the biggest moment of their lives at the grandest stage of all.One would think the mood in the Qatar camp would be filled with anxiety, but the pictures released by Qatar Football Association on social media painted a different picture – that of exuberance.The players seemed to be in high spirits at training as they enjoyed practising with each other, which bodes well ahead of their historic World Cup debut. If anything, Qatar would need to play as a team as they seek avoid the fate of South Africa, who remain the only host country in 2010 to be eliminated in the group stage.Experienced midfielder Ismaeel Mohamed said the team is focused and ready to give his 100 percent.“We have been preparing over the years. The last few months we had very good preparation for the World Cup. Every member of the team is focused and ready to give his 100 percent. We want to win against Ecuador to make history,” the 32-year-old said.The Qatar squad arrived back home only on Monday after a month-long training camp in Spain. The Asian Champions have notched five successive wins – albeit against lowly-ranked teams Albania, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama in Marbella.“These victories before the World Cup are important. They were good sides and importantly these last few games helped us to prepare for Ecuador better,” said Ismaeel, who plays for Al Duhail in the Qatar Stars League. “We will take one match at a time. The team will play every match to win so we can march into the knockout stage. We are well prepared and I think we have the ability to reach Round of 16.”Ismaeel called on the fans to get behind the team. “Our fans are like a key player of the team. They helped us claim third position in the FIFA Arab Cup and we will wait for them in our matches. Their support will be the key to us,” he said.“The feeling cannot be described in words. It’s like a dream come true, playing the first-ever World Cup to be held in the Middle East and the Arab world. I am looking forward to playing my part in getting desired results,” the midfielder added.Qatar will play their second match against Senegal on November 25 at Al Thumama Stadium and will return to Al Bayt Stadium to face the Netherlands in their last group match four days later.Italian Orsato to referee Qatar 2022 opener**media[681]**Italy’s Daniele Orsato has been selected as the referee for the opening match of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium tomorrow.At 46 years of age, he is one of Europe’s most experienced referees, having been officiating the game since 2010. He was a video assistant referee at the 2018 edition of the FIFA World Cup.

England’s Aaron Ramsdale (also left) during a press conference at the Al Wakrah Sports Complex on Friday. (Reuters)
Sport
From relegation to table topper: Ramsdale relishes ‘pinch yourself moment’

Still only 24, Aaron Ramsdale has seen it all. The goalkeeper suffered back-to-back relegations from the Premier League with Bournemouth and Sheffield United, but a switch to Arsenal in 2021 has turned things around for him.Ramsdale has gone on to become first-choice goalkeeper for Arsenal, with the Gunners enjoying a five-point advantage at the top in the English first division this season.His seven clean sheets – on level with England teammate Nick Pope for Newcastle – have also helped Arsenal concede just 11 goals in 14 matches, propelling Ramsdale into starting XI contention when England open their World Cup campaign against Iran on Monday at the Khalifa International Stadium.Three years ago though, a World Cup appearance looked like a long distant dream with Sheffield sending him on loan to AFC Wimbledon. Before that he had a short spell with Chesterfield in 2018 when the club were relegated from the fourth tier as Ramsdale watched England make it to their first World Cup semi-final since 1990 at a bar in Spain.“There are times when it is a pinch yourself moment,” he said at the Al Wakrah Sports Complex yesterday, perhaps still reminiscing the difficult moments he has had in his short career.“I speak to my parents or my wife and I’m in a really good place, especially after the first few years of my career learning my trade in difficult situations. It is really enjoyable at the moment and that hard work - you reap your rewards. I’m here now but that does not mean anything. I have to get my head down to try and get into the team,” he added.Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has been Gareth Southgate’s No 1 choice for the last two years and is still the favourite to start against Iran on Monday, but Ramsdale knows he is not far off from taking that spot. “Fair. I see as it is,’ he said, when asked about competition for places among the England goalkeepers.“Jordan (Pickford) has done extremely well for England and he is in fine form for Everton. And so is Popey (Nick Pope) with Newcastle. I’m not the only one racking up the clean sheets. We have a great bond between the goalkeepers and Martyn Margetson (goalkeeping coach) looks after us really well. You need three goalkeepers to train properly to get the No 1 to his best. We are all training as a No. 1 and it will be difficult for the other two to flip the switch. But it is something me, Popey and to a lesser extent Jordan have done before. So whoever gets that first game will have our full support. But you never know with tournament football. You always have to be ready to be called upon,” he noted.Ramsdale was part of England squad at the delayed Euro 2020 last year, where they lost to Italy in the final on penalties, although he did not play a single minute at the tournament. He has only made three appearances for Three Lions, making his debut in the 10-0 win over San Marino in November. He has since made two appearances in the UEFA Nations League, playing in the goalless draw with Italy in June before conceding four to Hungary three days later.Ramsdale’s family – especially his father — have had a huge imprint in his development with the goalkeeper joking that his dad “might have a heart attack” if he starts for the Three Lions at the World Cup.“There were definitely a few tears shed from him,” said Ramsdale, when asked how his dad reacted to his World Cup call-up. “If I actually make it on the pitch he might not return home. He might have a heart-attack! It’s special for my family and especially my parents who have driven me up and down the country and around the world. He won’t have any nails left,” he chuckled.England – who also face USA and Wales in Group B – go into the World Cup under the radar with Brazil and Argentina being labelled as favourites.Southgate’s men have quality all over the pitch but their recent performances have been underwhelming as they are going into the football’s grandest stage having not won any of their past six games and were relegated to the Nations League second tier for the first time following defeat by Italy in September.Ramsdale said England’s poor recent results have not damaged their confidence. “No, confidence has not been affected. If anything, it’s given us extra motivation. We have added motivation to turn our form around and put those results behind us. We’re going into this full of confidence knowing how good we are,” he said.

France’s Karim Benzema (left) speaks with Kylian Mbappe (right) and Marcus Thuram during a training session at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha yesterday. (AFP)
Sport
Giroud hungry for goals and second title with France

At 36, Olivier Giroud is in the twilight of his career yet the veteran striker has shown no signs of slowing down. The France star will be playing in his third World Cup for the defending champions at Qatar 2022 and could be the key man for Les Bleus, who have been blighted by injuries in the run up to the tournament.For Giroud, this year’s World Cup will certainly be his last dance at a major tournament. But with a key milestone in sight and his poor record at previous World Cups, Giroud is motivated to perform well.Giroud was not even in coach Didier Deschamps’ scheme of things until March this year, when he earned a recall after a nine-month hiatus following France’s Euro 2020 early exit.Since then, the striker has hit nine goals this season for Serie A champions AC Milan and also became France’s oldest international goalscorer in September when he netted for the 49th time for his country in a UEFA Nations League game against Austria.The former Arsenal and Chelsea forward, who has 114 caps, is now just two goals away from equalling great Thierry Henry’s record haul of 51 for France. Speaking at a press conference at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium ahead of France’s first training session yesterday, Giroud admitted that the record was in his mind but wanted to focus on helping France to clinch a second successive world title. “For me it is kind of a blessing to have the opportunity to play for my country at a third World Cup,” said Giroud.“I want to enjoy every single moment. Of course I have this target in my head to beat ‘Titi’ (Henry) but the main one is as a team, to go as far as we can in the competition and if I get the chance to go closer to him (Henry). To win one World Cup is obviously such a big childhood dream. To get a second one would be amazing. As a competitor I have no limits. I am still hungry. I want to play as far as my body allows me with my advanced age. I am closer to the end of my career than to the beginning. The determination and mental motivation is everything in sport so that’s why I am never satisfied. I want to do more and more,” he added.France open their campaign against Australia at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah next Tuesday, November 22. While Giroud was expected to feature mainly from the bench, he could well make it to the starting XI as Real Madrid star Karim Benzema has not recovered fully from a muscular injury.Yesterday, both Benzema and defender Raphael Varane – who is nursing a thigh injury – did not take part in the training session. “The coach knows what my role will be, as soon as I’m needed, I’ll be there,” Giroud said.The striker knows he needs to do much more than what he has done in previous World Cups – with his sole strike at the sport’s biggest stage coming in Brazil in 2014. “Yes, I scored one in 2014 (World Cup) and a few at the 2016 Euros. It’s important for the team to score. I’ll give it my 200% for the team. For me it’s kind of a blessing to have the opportunity to play for my country in a third World Cup,” he said.Giroud was asked if he was in the form of his life after his recent acrobatic finishes drew comparisons with Zlatan Ibrahimovic at his peak. The Frenchman, who won the FIFA Puskas Award for goal of the year in 2017 for his spectacular scorpion-kick goal for Arsenal against Crystal Palace, said he was in a ‘good spell’ and liked scoring ‘acrobatic goals’“I don’t know if I am in my best form and if you look at some of the goals I have scored in the past I have already got some that have been a bit like Zlatan. I do like scoring acrobatic goals. But it is true that I am in a good spell. I feel good physically, I am happy with my game and at my club. At the age of 36 it is a gift to be able to be so important and to feel so good, and I hope to keep this going,” he said.The France squad has been hit hard by injuries, with important midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante ruled out of the tournament in Qatar a month ahead. On Wednesday, RB Leipzig forward Christopher Nkunku too had to pull out after suffering a knee injury with Eintracht Frankfurt striker Randal Kolo Muani replacing him.Giroud said injuries were part of football and hoped the young players would rise to the occasion if given a chance. “There is always some exposure to injuries but you must not think about that and just train normally. I’m sure there are other young players who will emerge and perform their roles well. We don’t announce ourselves as favourites but I have a lot of faith in this squad,” he said.Giroud said France, who also take on Denmark and Tunisia in Group D, will face a tough opening match against Australia on Tuesday. “We haven’t really studied them closely yet but we know they’ve quality players, with many of them playing in Europe. It will be a tough match,” he noted.

Qatar's defender Bassam Al Rawi (back center)heads the ball during a training session in Doha on November 17, 2022, ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR / AFP)
Sport
Atmosphere in Qatar camp is wonderful, says Hassan

Defender Abdelkarim Hassan says there is a sense of excitement in the Qatar camp as they await eagerly to make their historic World Cup debut. The hosts kick off the World Cup against Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday, with Hassan and his teammates set to realise their childhood dreams.“Everyone is excited and the atmosphere in the team is wonderful,” said Hassan, as the Qatar squad continued training at the Aspire training pitch yesterday. “We are eagerly waiting for the referee’s kick off whistle for the Ecuador match. Every member of the squad is looking forward to contributing and playing his role for the team. We are targeting a good performance in front of our home fans,” he added.Ever since joining the Aspire Academy at 13 years old, Hassan and many of his teammates have dreamt playing at the World Cup. The 29-year-old – a pivotal player in Qatar’s maiden Asian Cup triumph in 2019 – said the team is well prepared and ready to put their best foot forward.“It’s a dream of every player to play the World Cup for his country. Like everyone it was my childhood dream too and I am proud to be a part of Qatar squad in our historic participation. I am looking forward to doing a lot at this World Cup, help my team achieve its goals,” Hassan said.“Our training camps were highly beneficial. The friendly games during these camps gave us good match practice as well. The technical staff deserves the praise as they worked very hard to prepare us for the tournament,” he added.Voted Asia’s Best Player in 2018, Hassan will be key to Qatar’s hopes of making it to the knockout stage as the left-back can also chip in with crucial goals. The Al Sadd Star – known as ‘Kimo’ to friends and teammates – is aware though it won’t be easy against Group A opponents the Netherlands, Senegal and Ecuador.“Without any doubt, the task is not easy. It’s a World Cup and all the teams are coming well prepared, so we need to double our effort. We are hoping for a performance like that in Asian Cup and bring smiles on the faces of our fans at the World Cup,” said Hassan, who has appeared 130 times for Qatar and scored 15 goals.

Qatar’s Spanish coach Felix Sanchez leads a training session at the Aspire Academy training pitch in Doha yesterday. (AFP)
Sport
We are proud to be part of World Cup: Qatar coach

Qatar’s head coach Felix Sanchez said he and his players can’t wait to take the field on Sunday in the FIFA World Cup opener against Ecuador. The decade-long dream of Qatari players will come alive at the Al Bayt Stadium as the tournament hosts make their World Cup debut.For Sanchez and his men, the last few years has been all about preparing for the football showpiece event at home. That they won the maiden Asian Cup title in 2019, was a reward of their careful planning and hard work. Now the Al Annabi are ready for a World Cup battle, backed by their passionate fans.“We waited for a long time to get to this event. Obviously, everyone is looking forward to the tournament,” Sanchez told beIN Sports yesterday. “We feel proud to be part of the event and we will try to do our best, play at a high level and compete with the teams we will face,” the Spaniard added.The 46-year-old, who arrived in Qatar in 2006 to join the Aspire Academy, has coached at various levels in the Gulf State. “In 2019, it was difficult to imagine that we would win the Asian Cup, but we won the title. I am not talking about whether we will become world champions, but certainly our goal is to compete at the top levels,” said Sanchez, who will also face European heavyweights the Netherlands and African champions Senegal in Group A.“We are facing teams that have previously participated in the World Cup, or were crowned as African champions, and they include a number of the best players in the world. They have experience playing in the World Cup or the Champions League,” he added.The Qatar squad continued their training at the Aspire Academy training pitch yesterday. The players had arrived home from Spain on Monday after a month-long training camp, where they also played friendlies with lowly-ranked teams.Meanwhile, Qatari players echoed Sanchez’s sentiments saying they were thrilled at playing at the World Cup. Goalkeeper Saad al-Sheeb said: “We are very proud to be representing our country in this prestigious tournament. The team is excited and ready and God willing, we will put up a good show.”Defender Bassam al-Rawi said: “These are exciting times for us and the fans. Everybody is excited before the first match and we are looking forward to a good show.”Midfielder Abdelaziz Hatim said the team is in best shape to take part in the tournament. “We have prepared well and our spirits are high. We are having fun. We are relishing this time as the World Cup approaches. I think every one of us is very proud of that,” he said.

Felix Sanchez announced the Qatar squad with Hassan al-Haydos as captain for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
Qatar
Sanchez names 26-member Qatar squad for historic World Cup debut

At exactly 20:22pm Friday night, the 26-member Qatar squad for the FIFA World Cup 2022 was revealed in a very unique and special way. Coach Felix Sanchez left out Abdelrahman Mustafa from the 27-member provincial squad, which has been training in Spain, ahead of their historic World Cup debut. The timing of the announcement was symbolic to Qatar's hosting of the 22nd edition of the football showpiece event in 2022. The Qatar Football Federation (QFA) announced the squad in a special video depicting the players as mural on important landmarks around Qatar. The Asian champions will kick off the World Cup against Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor on November 20. Also known as 'Al Annabi', Qatar take on Senegal on November 25 at the Al Thumama Stadium and the Netherlands on November 29 at Al Bayt in their other Group A matches. There were no surprises in the final list of squad with Mustafa unfortunate to miss out as FIFA allows only a 26-man roster. The teams can only make changes before the first game of the tournament, and only in the case of serious injury or illness. Qatar's all-time top scorer Almoez Ali and Akram Afif will expectedly lead the attack as the forwards remain crucial to Sanchez’s offensive strategy. Al Duhail striker Almoez – who has 42 goals in 85 games for his country – was top scorer with nine at the Asian Cup. Al Sadd forward Afif, meanwhile, can be lethal playing on the left. With more than 160 caps, Hasan al-Haydos is the most experienced player on the list and the Al Sadd midfielder, who can also play as a winger, will captain Qatar at the tournament. Unsurprisingly, the Qatar squad comprises players whose entire career was built around preparing for Qatar 2022 with 15 of those having been part of the Asian Cup title triumph under Sanchez in 2019. They were also part of the team at the Copa America in 2019, the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2021 and the FIFA Arab Cup Qatar 2021, reaching the semi-finals of the latter two. Sanchez, who has guided many of these players since his time at the Aspire Academy back in 2006, will hope that his core group can create history at the World Cup. The hosts face a daunting task as they are the first team since Italy in 1934 to play at the World Cup without having qualified for the showpiece tournament. Qatar also would want to avoid the fate of South Africa, who remain the only host country to be eliminated in the group stage. But if one quality Qatar players have it's their ability to rise to the occasion. They displayed that spirit in abundance at the Asian Cup in 2019 and also in continental events in the last two years. While odds are stacked against them, Sanchez’s men can spring a surprise or two with big crowds at home rooting for them. The Maroon are scheduled to arrive back home on Monday from their training base in Spain. They will dive into training sessions straight away as they prepare to face Ecuador in the opening game. In the final stage of their preparation, Qatar played a number of unofficial friendlies where they beat Honduras 1-0, Nicaragua 2-1, Guatemala 2-0, and Panama 2-1. Squad Goalkeepers: Saad al-Sheeb, Meshaal Barsham, Yousef Hassan Defenders: Pedro Miguel, Musaab Khidir, Tarek Salman, Bassam al-Rawi, Boualem Khoukhi, Abdelkarim Hassan, Homam Ahmed, Jassem Gaber Midfielders: Ali Asad, Assim Modibo, Mohamed Waad, Salem al-Hajri, Moustafa Tarek, Karim Boudiaf, Abdelaziz Hatim, Ismail Mohamad Forwards: Naif Alhadhrami, Ahmed Alaaeldin, Hassan al-Haydos, Khalid Muneer, Akram Afif, Almoez Ali, Mohamed Muntari

The organisers of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 announced on Thursday that fans without match tickets will be allowed to enter Qatar from December 2 after the completion of the group stage matches.
Qatar
Qatar to welcome non-ticketed FIFA World Cup fans from December 2

  * Non-ticketed fans need Hayya Card  * World Cup opening ceremony at 5pm on Nov 20 * Four public hospitals to have dedicated urgent care walk-in centres   Officials at the press conference yesterday.   The organisers of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 announced on Thursday that fans without match tickets will be allowed to enter Qatar from December 2 after the completion of the group stage matches. Since November 1, only people with the Hayya Card and match tickets accompanied by three guests have been allowed to enter the country. But these restrictions will now be eased from December 2 at the end of the tournament's group stage, when up to four matches a day will be played. With only a fortnight to go for the football showpiece, the organisers yesterday outlined the latest operational aspects of the tournament at a press conference held at the Host Country Media Centre in Msheireb Downtown Doha. The officials revealed details about the opening ceremony, fan experience, transport, medical guidance and security protocols. The press conference was organised by the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) in collaboration with the Safety and Security Operations Committee (SSOC) and the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH). Colonel Dr Jabr Hammoud Jabr al-Nuaimi, official spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior (MoI) and SSOC, said fans who have not booked tickets for the World Cup can travel to Qatar after obtaining the mandatory Hayya Card, which will act as an entry permit to the country. “We are delighted to announce today that non-ticketed fans will be able to enter the State of Qatar after the conclusion of the group stage on 2 December, 2022, to enjoy the unique tournament atmosphere,” Colonel Dr al-Nuaimi said. “Non-ticketed fans can apply for their Hayya cards to enter Qatar through the Hayya platform or 'Hayya to Qatar 2022' mobile app from today (Thursday), according to the listed requirements and QR500 entry fee for children aged 12 and over. Under 12s will not be charged,” he added. About the security preparations for the month-long mega event, Colonel Dr al-Nuaimi said Qatar has implemented all measures to protect the stadiums, infrastructure and fans. “We are pleased to announce our readiness to securely host the World Cup. The Ministry of Interior and security forces have worked diligently to put extensive plans and programmes in place to ensure the delivery of a safe and distinguished tournament,” the official spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior and SSOC noted. “For many years, Qatar was among the highest-ranking countries in global security and safety indicators, topping the list of countries in the Middle East and North Africa. This makes Qatar an ideal country to safely host major events of all kinds. The tournament's security entails many different objectives, including protecting all World Cup facilities and infrastructure components, as well as building an integrated security capability for the tournament that surpasses the standards and practices used in previous major events,” he added. The much-anticipated opening ceremony will take place at 5pm, two hours before Qatar kick off the tournament against Ecuador at the 60,000-seater Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor on November 20. Khalid al-Mawlawi, deputy director-general, Marketing, Communications & Event Experience at the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC), said gates to the stadium will open at 3pm as he urged fans to reach the venue early to avoid crowd rush. “I am advising all the ticket holders to be there, at least two hours before the opening ceremony kicks off,” he said. Al-Mawlawi would not go into details on which artists will perform at the opening ceremony, which is expected to be spectacular. While reports have suggested that hip-hop artistes Black Eyed Peas, K-Pop stars BTS and Colombian singer Shakira could all be taking to the stage, FIFA will announce the lineup of the artists closer to the event. Al-Mawlawi also provided details about Qatar’s vast entertainment programme. “Qatar will host a vast array of cultural and entertainment offerings during the World Cup, including more than 90 special events taking place on the sidelines of the tournament. In addition to the FIFA Fan Festival at Al Bidda Park, the Doha Corniche will be one of the largest fan destinations, with roving performances, cultural activities, food and beverage stalls and retail outlets along its 6km route, with capacity to host more than 70,000 fans every day,” he said. “Other activities will include the daily ‘Welcome to Qatar’ show, one of the biggest pyrotechnic shows in the world. Theme park rides and other attractions will be open to fans at Al Maha Island Lusail, along with the 974 Beach Club, the Hayya Fan Zone on Lusail South Promenade, North Qetaifan Island and the Arcadia Spectacular and ARAVIA by MDLBeast dance music festivals. The Last-Mile Cultural Activations will also feature more than 6,000 performances in 21 locations,” al-Mawlawi added. Healthcare provisions were also detailed at the press conference yesterday, including the latest requirements announced by the MoPH. Fans are no longer required to provide evidence of a negative Covid-19 test on arrival in Qatar. Fans are also no longer required to download the Ehteraz application. Emergency healthcare will be provided for free to Hayya Card holders at public health facilities. Dr. Yousef al-Maslamani, official healthcare spokesperson for Qatar 2022, said it is strongly recommended visitors to Qatar are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and seasonal influenza. The official said more than 100 clinics will be set up in stadiums, fan zones, key accommodation sites along with four public hospitals with dedicated urgent care walk-in centres. Emergency mobile medical teams will also be stationed at the Corniche and FIFA Fan Festival in Al Bidda. He also advised visiting fans to take travel insurance, with healthcare cover, for the duration of their stay in Qatar. The healthcare helpline for fans in Qatar is 16000. “We encourage fans to visit our dedicated website for the latest information. We also urge all international fans to take out travel insurance before arriving in Qatar,” Dr al-Maslamani said. The latest transport updates were also discussed during the press conference. Visiting fans are encouraged to use public transport to get around, including the dedicated bus services and Doha Metro. Qatar residents are encouraged to use their private cars to attend matches. Ali al-Ali, deputy director-general – Event Operations, SC, said: “Our state-of-the-art public transport systems will provide seamless options for fans to get around. Thanks to our compact tournament, fans will never be far from a stadium, their accommodation or entertainment site – and will even have the chance to attend more than one match per day during the early stages of the tournament.”    

Officials at the press conference Monday. PICTURE: Shaji Kayamkulam
Qatar
Qatar beckons fans as stage set for dream World Cup

* FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 just about a month away * Over-the-counter ticket sales begin today at DECC * International Consular Services centre to be opened at DECC, with 90 staff members from 45 embassies * 30,000 rooms added to Qatar Accommodation Agency in line with last-minute ticket sales * 2.89mn tickets sold for 64 matches so far * Organisers announce launch of ticketing app, advise public to keep checking FIFA.com/tickets for latest inventory * Qatar 2022 to be 'a tournament of peace and unity', says Infantino * Japan first team to arrive on Nov 7 * QNCC to host International Broadcast Centre and Main Media Centre, which will house a 'virtual stadium' * 89% of volunteers are Qatar residents With just over a month to go for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, the organisers sounded upbeat about the preparations for the football showpiece as they revealed the vast array of entertainment options being primed up for visitors and updated on operations related to the tournament. Hosts Qatar will kick off the World Cup on November 20 at Al Bayt Stadium against Ecuador and the ticket sales for the tournament – the first in the Middle East and Arab world – have been fast approaching the 3mn mark, the organisers said at a press conference Monday.   FIFA president Gianni Infantino Officials said 2.89mn tickets had been sold for the 64 matches to be staged in eight state-of-the-art stadiums across with a further 30,000 rooms made available to visitors via the Qatar Accommodation Agency in line with last-minute ticket sales. FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who was in Kuala Lumpur Monday attending the AFC meeting, praised Qatar in a video message for its preparation to host the World Cup. “We have always said that Qatar will deliver the best ever edition of the FIFA World Cup. And as you look around the country today, at the state-of-the-art stadiums, the training pitches, the metro, the wider infrastructure, everything is ready and everyone is welcome. The world is excited. Qatar is ready. The stage is set. Together, we will deliver the best World Cup ever on and off the field,” said Infantino. He added that the World Cup should be "a tournament of peace and unity – one that brings the world together after some difficult times". The Swiss reiterated what the Qatari authorities have been saying for a long time. "And let me repeat it clearly, everyone will be welcomed to the tournament," Infantino said. At the press conference Monday, FIFA's World Cup chief operating officer Colin Smith along with the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) director-general Yasir al-Jamal and Qatar 2022 CEO Nasser al-Khater provided an update on operations related to the tournament. Smith said there was huge demand for tickets as he urged fans to keep checking FIFA.com/tickets for the latest inventory as more tickets continue to be released between now and the end of the tournament. Regarding ticket purchases, the top 10 countries in terms of the residency of buyers are Qatar, US, Saudi Arabia, England, Mexico, UAE, Argentina, France, Brazil and Germany. Smith also announced the launch of a ticketing app – FIFA World Cup 2022 Tickets – where users can access their tickets, change their information and send them to others with ease. From this week, ticket holders will receive an email with information on how to download the ticketing app and retrieve their mobile tickets. The long-awaited counter sales of physical tickets will also begin today at the first of two ticketing centres that will open at DECC. He also stressed that the World Cup is inclusive for everyone. All sites will cater to fans of all needs and abilities, including stadiums, with sensory rooms or facilitated access. An International Consular Services centre will be opened at Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre (DECC) with 90 staff members from 45 embassies, who will be on hand to assist fans. Located in DECC Hall 4, it will be open from November 1 to December 25. The timings will be from 10am to 10pm. Infantino, meanwhile, said 240,000 hospitality packages had been sold for the month-long tournament, making it the "most successful hospitality programme ever". Some 63% of the sales are international and 37% local. Al-Jamal said 2mn room nights have been sold and that additional 30,000 rooms have been added to the inventory to accommodate last-minute ticket sales. The biggest variety of accommodation is available from the Qatar Accommodation Agency, where rooms can be booked from $80 per person, per night based on two-person occupancy. Accommodation options include hotels, apartments and fan villages. Al-Jamal also revealed more than 100,000 visitors have registered to stay with families and friends during the World Cup. Al-Khater provided details on exciting entertainment options prepared for visitors. The FIFA Fan Festival at Al Bidda Park will host up to 40,000 fans every day during the tournament. It will be free to attend and screen live matches, host globally-renowned artists and feature football activities. There will also be a range of local and international food and beverage options. In addition, the 6km Corniche Activation from Sheraton Park to the Museum of Islamic Art will feature roving performances, retail stores and food and beverage kiosks. Other activities will include the daily ‘Welcome to Qatar’ show – a water and pyrotechnics display that will feature music from the Qatar 2022 Official Soundtrack, Qatari composer Wael Binali and the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra. Theme park rides and other attractions at Al Maha Island, Lusail, will also be open to fans, as will the Ras Abu Aboud 974 Beach Club, the Hayya Fan Zone at Lusail South Promenade and the QetaiFAN Beach Fest. Dance music fans will flock to the 15,000-capacity Arcadia Spectacular and 5,000-capacity ARAVIA by MDL BEAST. In addition, Last-Mile Cultural Activations will feature more than 6,000 performances in 21 locations, entertaining fans on their way to stadiums. “Qatar is ready to host a global celebration of the beautiful game. We look forward to welcoming fans and players from across the world as they sample our welcoming hospitality, vast array of entertainment options and, of course, top-class international football. It promises to be a unique edition of the FIFA World Cup – and one that will leave a lasting, positive impact on Qatar, the Middle East and the Arab world,” al-Khater said. There will be 90+ sites and attractions to visit for fans, including roaming activities at locations like Souq Waqif and Msheireb. "This will be a fan experience like no other," said al-Khater. Meanwhile, it was pointed out that there are multiple options for all eventualities if fans are not able to show their Hayya Card at stadiums on their mobile phones. There will be charging stations at the Hayya Resolution Centre or fans may opt to have their physical card scanned to gain entry. On the security arrangements during the World Cup, al-Khater said Qatar has signed agreements with several countries to contribute to policing and security arrangements. “We have set up an International Police Co-ordination Centre (IPCC). It is not a foreign concept. Many major international sporting events have a centralised policing unit working together. There will be fans from all over the world descending on Qatar during the World Cup and it makes sense to have policing units especially from those countries whose fans are coming here,” the Qatar 2022 CEO said. Meanwhile, Smith, replying to a query regarding unfair criticism of Qatar related to workers' welfare, said the global football body believes in “dialogue over boycott”. “FIFA's been very clear on this point and over the years, we believe dialogue over boycott, we see the power and strength of the World Cup as a catalyst for change in the region. In Qatar we have been working hand in hand with the authorities over many years and worthwhile organizations have recognized the progress that has been made,” he said. “This is a World Cup for everyone, we are tremendously excited to welcome everyone from all nationalities here to come and celebrate the festival of football which brings the world together - that's the power of events like the FIFA World Cup which can do that. We, therefore, believe in positive dialogue and approach and in bringing people together. Let’s unify everyone here in Qatar in celebration in what's going to be an absolutely amazing event,” Smith added. Smith said Japan will be the first team to arrive in Qatar for the tournament on November 7. The World Cup CEO also said the Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC) will host the International Broadcast Centre and the Main Media Centre and will house 12,300 members of the media whether print, broadcast, online and radio. For the very first time in FIFA World Cup history there will be a 'virtual stadium' for members of the media working from QNCC where they can have a total immersive match and stadium experience. “We operate over 168 official sites through the compact nature of Qatar, and each one of these sites is essential to the running and successful delivery of this World Cup. Way beyond testing the eight stadiums, the volunteers and accreditation centres are fully operational, with the ticketing centre at the Doha Exhibition & Convention Centre opening tomorrow and the International Broadcast Centre and Main Media Centre to follow. I can only reiterate FIFA’s confidence and deep appreciation for all the work preparing to deliver the best FIFA World Cup ever in just over one month's time,” said Smith. Regarding volunteers, there were over 420,000 registrations from 209 nationalities for volunteers, of whom 20,000 were selected. The average age of volunteers is 33 years, with Qatar residents accounting for 89% of the total number of volunteers and the remaining 11% have been selected from international applicants.