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Wednesday, July 24, 2024 | Daily Newspaper published by GPPC Doha, Qatar.
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 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.
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
Sports
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)
Sports
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
Sports
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)
Sports
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
Sports
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)
Sports
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)
Sports
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)
Sports
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)
Sports
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.

Qataru2019s midfielder Karim Boudiaf greets fans during a training session at the Jassim Bin Hamad stadium yesterday. PICTURES: Noushad Thekkayil
Sports
Sanchez says Qatar will be at their best at World Cup

              Doha   • Thousands of fans throng the hosts’ training session at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium Head coach Felix Sanchez believes Qatar will play their best football during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 at home. Sanchez and his players got a sneak peek of what they will encounter during the World Cup as thousands of fans – young and old – thronged the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Al Sadd on Sunday to watch the team’s open training session. Qatar players only returned last week after a four-month training camp in Europe. They are here for a few more days before they travel to Marbella, Spain for the final phase of preparatory camp for the World Cup, which will begin with hosts taking on Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on November 20. They also play Senegal and the Netherlands in Group A. Yesterday, the players were given a rousing reception as they took the field at reigning QNB Stars League champions Al Sadd’s home ground. Captain Hassan al-Haydos and star striker Akram Afif were much in demand for selfies and autographs and the duo and rest of the team obliged the fans duly. The fans stayed back as the Asian Champions took the field for a training session. Sanchez, meanwhile, said he expected Qatar to put in a much better performance than they have done in the recent past. The Al Annabi put in a below-par show in the two recent friendly matches. They lost tamely to Canada 0-2 on September 23 at Villa Park in Vienna, before holding Chile to a 2-2 draw at the same venue four days later. Sanchez said the intense and closed-door training sessions in Spain and Austria is just what the team needs ahead of their World Cup debut at home. “It’s very nice to be back in Qatar. Yeah, it’s been a long time, but I think that’s what we had planned. And I think that was what was best for us, to be able to train in good weather conditions. So we are quite confident that it was a good preparation,” the Spaniard said. “Every day we were preparing, trying to improve and hopefully we’re going to have a good last few days of preparation before the World Cup. And hopefully we’re going to be at our best level on November 20. The last two friendly games were obviously a test for us. Not every game you can perform at the level that you wish for, but I think in the second game we showed some improvements. When you play these competitive games, if you don’t start at your best level or you concede then it’s hard to come back into the game. So we need to learn from that. Hopefully we will not make that kind of mistake at the World Cup. We are confident to play at our best level,” the Qatar coach added. Sanchez on Saturday named a 27-member Qatar squad for the third and final preparatory camp. While there are no more International friendlies scheduled, Qatar will play a few matches against local teams as they aim to be in the best shape for the World Cup. “We’re going to keep training harder and try to improve on things that are not working. We need to always analyse our games and see what we can do to improve,” Sanchez, who led Qatar to maiden Asian Cup title in 2019, said. The Spaniard also called on Qatar fans to rally behind their team during the World Cup. “I think it will be a big occasion for the country. I hope people will enjoy the World Cup in Qatar. First time Qatar will play in the World Cup and it will be at home, so I think it’s unique. People have to enjoy these moments and I hope they will support us and cheer for the team and players. The players are going to appreciate that and give it their all to make the fans happy,” he said. Qatar’s head coach Felix Sanchez takes a selfie with a fan. Qatar’s forward Akram Afif (centre) interacts with children during a training session. Fans wave Qatar flags during the training session.

Qatar players train in Vienna yesterday, on the eve of their friendly against Canada.
Sports
Qatar face Canada as World Cup preparations enter final stretch

Doha   • Qatar will probably be the most prepared team going in to the World Cup, says Canada coach John Herdman Qatar will most likely play their last two friendlies against tough opponents in the next five days, before they embark on a historic World Cup appearance at home in two months’ time. The Asian champions will face Canada today at 8pm at the Viola Park in Vienna, before taking on Chile on Tuesday. These two matches will give coach Felix Sanchez an idea of his 26-member squad to select for the World Cup. It’s been four months since Sanchez and his 30-member probable squad set sail to Europe to prepare for their World Cup debut. After a physical training camp in Marbella, Spain, Qatar are camped right now in Austria, with the players missing the Qatar Stars league matches back home. The Maroons have played few behind-the-door friendly matches against clubs and second string national teams as their preparations have been kept well-guarded secret. Finally, they will emerge from four months in near-lockdown as they take fellow World Cup qualifiers Canada. Having spent tens of billions of dollars preparing for the first World Cup in an Arab nation, Qatar is desperate to see the national side get past the first round where they are grouped with Netherlands, Senegal and Ecuador. But they lost 3-0 to a Croatia under-23 team behind closed doors on Tuesday. And while public games in Vienna against Canada and Chile are only friendlies, they will still be seen as a key test of how much steel Sanchez has put into the side. Post the friendlies, Sanchez and the players will briefly return to Qatar in early October and will hold an open training session before returning to Spain for more isolation before the World Cup starts. Today, Canada will offer Qatar their toughest test in recent times in the first meeting between the two sides. The Canucks, ranked five places above Qatar at 43, topped the CONCACAF qualifiers to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1986. Coach John Herdman has called these upcoming friendlies (Canada also play Uruguay on Sunday) a measuring stick for his side, who will be facing teams outside of their region for the first time in over four years. “Being our first trip outside of Concacaf and first games against non-Concacaf nations since the journey started back in 2018, we will learn a lot in these moments,” said Herdman. “Both opponents present different types of tests and with the quality of Uruguay we will see and feel first-hand the intensity of that next level opponent.” Herdman is expecting a well-drilled opponent in the World Cup host. “Qatar will probably be the most prepared team going in to the World Cup,” said Herdman. “The investment that’s gone into them is pretty unique — being able to use all of the opportunities that they have as a country to centralise their players and pretty much play like a club team.” Herdman noted Qatar played club sides in Italy’s Lazio and Fiorentina during the summer and is coming off a game against the Croatian under-23 team this week. “They’re a team that is well organised, very disciplined, a good footballing team. And you can tell they know each other inside-out. So this is going to be a real challenge for Canada.” In the absence of the injured Atiba Hutchinson, David Hoilett will captain Canada. The 39-year-old Hutchinson, Canada’s all-time men’s caps leader with 97 senior appearances, has been sidelined by a bone bruise suffered in pre-season with Turkey’s Besiktas. The 32-year-old Hoilett takes over the captain’s armband in his 48th appearance for Canada. “He’ll lead the team out,” Herdman said yesterday. “He’s in wonderful form at his club at Reading near the top of the Championship (England’s second-tier).” Canada’s squad will be spearheaded by Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies and Lille’s Jonathan David. Two players –Montreal’s centre back Joel Waterman and Blackpool FC forward Theo Corbeanu – have been called up for the first time as the rest of the squad features returning players from the CONCACAF qualifiers. The Canadians’ meteoric rise in over the past couple of years has not gone unnoticed by the big clubs around Europe, as numerous players chosen by Herdman ply their trade with some of those prominent teams, many of whom are playing significant roles domestically.

Gulf Times
Sports
Favourites falter among strong wind, Barshim finishes second

On a day of high wind at the Qatar Sports Club Friday, the favourites fell by the wayside at the Diamond League season opener. The windy conditions did not spare even home favourite and Olympic champion Mutaz Essa Barshim as the Qatari finished second in front of a vociferous packed crowd. South Korea’s Sanghyeok Woo, the world leader coming into season’s opening event, cleared 2.33m to pip Barshim into first, while joint Olympic gold medallist Gianmarco Tamberi bowed out after three failures at 2.24m. There were surprises galore as the US sprinter Gabrielle Thomas and Brazilian hurdler Alison Dos Santos claimed victories with meet records in women’s 200m and men’s 400m hurdle respectively. Olympic silver medallist Marileidy Paulino also grabbed an impressive win in women’s 400m with Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo finishing a disappointing third. There was heartbreak for the crowd who had come to watch pole vault superstar Armand Duplantis as the event fell victim to high winds and was cancelled. But the javelin throwers thrived as the weather conditions caused their spears to fly huge distances as Grenada’s Anderson Peters smashed his personal best with a stunning 93.07m to claim victory. On an action packed day, all eyes were on Barshim in the far right corner of the stadium as the two-time world champion was competing for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics. The 30-year-old cleared 2.16 and 2.20m without much ado, before stumbling at 2.24. But he regrouped quickly and cleared 2.30 before coming unstuck at 2.33. A couple of attempts to clear 2.35 also did not materialize as Barshim settled for second spot. Sanghyeok, who was fourth at the Olympics last year, had soared over 2.33 as the South Korean finished on top. Tamberi, meanwhile, had a poor night as the Italian finished only seventh. Barshim, who is gunning for a hat-trick of world titles in Eugene, US, in July, was not unhappy with a second-place finish. “This year is different because I have not been jumping since Tokyo, but you have to be smart and take your goals step by step. Anyways it is a good start in front of an amazing crowd. The atmosphere gave us strong competition, I produce my best when it is crowded with fans,” he said. Meanwhile, Olympic champion Andre De Grasse of Canada finished fourth in the men’s 200m, with American Noah Lyles sprinting to victory in 19.72 secs after a close battle with compatriot Fred Kerley (19.75). De Grasse completed the race in 20.15 seconds and finished just behind Jereem Richards of Trinidad and Tobago, who also posted the same time. The 24-year-old Lyles, aiming to bounce back from a disappointing 2021 when he managed only a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics, led from start to finish. But with finishing line sight, Kerley closed the gap but Lyles had enough power to claim victory, though none of the meeting times would count because of the wind. “I came here to get my energy for the season. I perform under pressure, it helps me to get excited about the season,” said Lyles who expressed optimism for the season but added that rivals should expect “trouble” if he does not reclaim his world title in Eugene in July. “When I lose I come for blood,” he joked. De Grasse said he was not concerned but admitted that he will have to go home and “work on some things”. Britain’s world champion Dina Asher-Smith managed only third in her first 200 metres of the year as Olympic bronze medallist Gabrielle Thomas stormed to victory as Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson came second. “This was a big one to start the season, there was a lot of competition,” Thomas said. “I have a will to win, I fight to the end.” Anderson Peters, the reigning world champion at the World Championships in Qatar in 2019, went to No 5 on the world all-time lists after a wind-assisted throw of 93.07m. Olympic silver medallist Jakub Vadlejch of Czech Republic also broke the 90-metre mark but Peters took victory with a huge, last-gasp effort. Only world record-holder Jan Zelezny with 98.48m plus Germans Johannes Vetter (97.76m) and Thomas Röhler (93.90m) and Finland’s Aki Paviainen (93.09m) have ever thrown further. “I came here twice. I love to be here in Doha trying to get better and to be more in shape,” said the 24-year-old winner. The men’s 1,500m also saw an upset, with three-time Diamond Trophy winner and reigning champion Timothy Cheruiyot coming second behind fellow Kenyan Abel Kipsang.

Qataru2019s Mutaz Essa Barshim (right) and Italyu2019s Gianmarco Tamberi pose after a press conference at the 3-2-1 Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum on Thursday, ahead of Friday's Doha Diamond League. PICTURES: Noushad Thekkayil
Sports
Barshim, Tamberi aim for World title after Tokyo Olympics high

Since that magical night at Tokyo Olympics when they both stood on top of the podium with gold medals draped around their necks, Mutaz Essa Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi have been inseparable. The two high jumpers have been friends for long, but after their act of sportsmanship in Tokyo when they decided to share gold, their bond has become even stronger. Italian Tamberi has even spent a lot more time in Qatar, having trained here in March and April. Ahead of Friday's Doha Diamond League, the two shared the space again on the podium as they spoke about that historical moment at Olympics and their camaraderie since. But once they step onto the field at the Qatar Sports Club today, both Barshim and Tamberi reminded on Thursday they will mean business. It’s the first time the two will compete against each other since their iconic joint victory at the Tokyo Games and the high jump stars insisted they will not repeat the gesture if they are tied again. “We already talked about it, it is not going to happen again,” said Tamberi, as the Barshim sitting beside nodded in agreement at the press conference on Thursday. “We will look at each other (If we are tied again), we will say OK let’s go” to jump off. For myself, I will never go back in the past and change what we have done. We will forever remember as brothers ... friends,” the Italian added. “We both won because we both deserved that gold medal. When they ask us will you share again we say ‘no’ because we have done it once. But it does not mean we are not proud of it. I will never change the past even if you paid me or guaranteed me that I will be the one who wins that gold medal, I will share with him because I know he deserves, I know I deserve.” Both Barshim and Tamberi have set their targets on World Championships in Eugene, US, later this July. Tamberi has never won a world championship medal, while Barshim is gunning for greatness aiming to become the first athlete to win three straight high jump titles. “At the 2019 Worlds in Doha, someone asked me how I’d feel defending my world title and becoming the first male high jumper to do so. That stuck with me. Now I’m motivating myself by saying it’ll be even better to be the only guy to win three in a row. It keeps me going. It is not easy to find motivation after such a big year, such a big success,” said Barshim. The Doha Diamond League will be the Qatari’s first meeting since last August but the 30-year-old has lined up few events before the world championships, including GCC Games in Kuwait next week and Diamond League event in Rome on June 9. And he will be hoping he can hit the ground running today in front of home fans. But it will be difficult to gauge the form of an athlete who hasn’t competed for more than nine months and Barshim hinted that he is not yet at his physical best. “Honestly, if it wasn’t at home, I probably wouldn’t have jumped. But Doha is home and my people will be out there, my family and friends, cheering for me. That’s always a special feeling. I took my first steps in the sport I love here and it’ll always be special,” Barshim said. “Normally, people start with small events and move on to tougher events. That way, competing in the Diamond League straightaway may be risky. But I’m experienced and know what to do. Since it’s very early in the season, I may not be able to jump impressive heights. But my focus is different, I want to see where I’m at the moment, set a mark and start working from there,” he added. Tamberi, meanwhile, after his Olympic gold went on to win the Diamond League title last year and made a last-minute decision to compete at the World Indoor Championships two months ago, leaving Belgrade with a bronze medal. Today, both Barshim and Tamberi will have their task cut out. If recent form is anything to go by, then world indoor champion Woo Sanghyeok will start as the marginal favourite. The Korean was fourth at the Olympics last year, cleared a world-leading 2.36m earlier this year and then won the world indoor title. He opened his outdoor season last month with a 2.30m win in Daegu. Other contenders include Commonwealth champion Brandon Starc, world indoor bronze medallist Hamish Kerr of New Zealand and US jumps talent JuVaughn Harrison.