Speculation regarding the future of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and his outburst following his substitution against South Korea were in sharp focus yesterday ahead of their World Cup last-16 game against Switzerland.The forward, who left Manchester United by mutual consent last month following a controversial interview, was linked with a potential move to Saudi Arabia but Portugal coach Fernando Santos said he knew nothing about it.“I have not spoken to him about this,” Santos told a news conference ahead of today’s game against the Swiss. “I don’t know about this. It is his decision. I did not even know about this and I heard about this when I arrived here.”Ronaldo’s future is unclear with several clubs around the world reportedly interested in signing him.“We are focused on the World Cup. I don’t know anything about this other issue,” the coach said.Santos had to continue answering questions about his player, however, including his outburst following his substitution in the final group match against South Korea with Ronaldo having said it was not directed at his coach but triggered by an opponent’s comment.“Yes, I did not like it, not at all. I really did not like it and from that moment on that issue is finished,” Santos said.The coach also refused to comment on speculation back home about whether Ronaldo would feature in his lineup against the Swiss today or would start on the bench.“I do not read this type of information. I am focused on my team. We are focusing on training and not paying attention to any polls,” Santos said. “What I have always done is focus on the immediate match. I am not worried if information is right or wrong.”For Santos, what is important is Portugal reaching the last eight for the first time since 2006.“There has been a long hiatus.... what matters is this match. Portugal always have the obligation to win,” said Santos, who has been in charge since 2014.“For us it is good to feel this pressure. We want it and we really want to win. After each game, if you win the game you are closer to being a favourite,” he added.Yakin puts Cup history aside ahead of Swiss clash with PortugalSwitzerland have a chance to reach the last eight of the World Cup for the first time since 1954, when they face Portugal today, but coach Murat Yakin says making history is far from their minds. Switzerland have not made the World Cup quarter-finals since they were the host nation 68 years ago, although there was no round-of-16 in that era.The Swiss went out in the first knockout stage in each of the last two World Cups but Yakin says the prospect of taking on Portugal should be motivation enough for his side.“We are aware that we are going into the game with a team that is well-prepared, that is mature,” he said. “Being able to write history will not be decisive for us. We know our opponents and have shown that we can beat them. Then maybe we can discuss the history.“You can’t focus on what happened in sport. No one cares what happened anymore. Of course, expectations are growing but we fight with the players I have and the opportunities we have.”Yakin said he has his entire squad available for selection but gave no clues as to his starting line-up. “We are ready. We have a full squad, the players who were missing are back on board. We look forward to the game. It’s a great opportunity to continue writing history. We are aware of the euphoria in Switzerland and want to give everyone another game.”Switzerland beat Portugal 1-0 in Geneva in the Nations League in June, a week after crashing to a 4-0 loss in Lisbon but Yakin said those games count for little.“It’s been six months since the last contest and that’s a very long time in football. We don’t know who plays for them, who plays in central defence. If we focus too much on the opponent, we lose sight of ourselves,” he added.
Switzerland have a chance to reach the last eight of the World Cup for the first time since 1954, when they face Portugal today, but coach Murat Yakin says making history is far from their minds.Switzerland have not made the World Cup quarter-finals since they were the host nation 68 years ago, although there was no round-of-16 in that era.The Swiss went out in the first knockout stage in each of the last two World Cups but Yakin says the prospect of taking on Portugal should be motivation enough for his side.“We are aware that we are going into the game with a team that is well-prepared, that is mature,” he said.“Being able to write history will not be decisive for us. We know our opponents and have shown that we can beat them. Then maybe we can discuss the history.“You can’t focus on what happened in sport. No one cares what happened anymore. Of course, expectations are growing but we fight with the players I have and the opportunities we have.”Yakin said he has his entire squad available for selection but gave no clues as to his starting line-up.“We are ready. We have a full squad, the players who were missing are back on board. We look forward to the game. It’s a great opportunity to continue writing history. We are aware of the euphoria in Switzerland and want to give everyone another game.”Switzerland beat Portugal 1-0 in Geneva in the Nations League in June, a week after crashing to a 4-0 loss in Lisbon but Yakin said those games count for little. “It’s been six months since the last contest and that’s a very long time in football. We don’t know who plays for them, who plays in central defence. If we focus too much on the opponent, we lose sight of ourselves,” he added.
France head into Saturday’s heavyweight World Cup quarter-final clash with England well aware that their hopes of carrying on in Qatar and retaining the title rest on the shoulders of Kylian Mbappe.The Paris Saint-Germain forward does not turn 24 until two days after the December 18 final but his brace in Sunday’s 3-1 defeat of Poland means he already has nine career World Cup goals, as many as giants of the game such as Eusebio and Jairzinho.“God save our King” was the front-page headline in sports daily L’Equipe yesterday as the French turned their attentions towards England and acknowledged their reliance on the magic of Mbappe.The youngest player since Pele to score in a World Cupfinal when he did so as a teenager in the 2018 win over Croatia, Mbappe is now the leading marksman at this year’s tournament with five goals.But he is also more generally the main threat for a team who are without a whole host of injured stars in Qatar, from Paul Pogba to N’Golo Kante and Karim Benzema. His superb assist for Olivier Giroud’s opening goal against Poland was confirmation of that.“Kylian speaks with his feet and he does so very well. He is an extraordinary player and is capable of changing a game at any moment,” said coach Didier Deschamps after Sunday’s victory in the last 16. “And he has such a beautiful smile that everyone wants to share it with him.”At the helm of Les Bleus for a decade now, Deschamps has led France into a third successive World Cup quarter-final, something they had never achieved before.‘DON’T WANT TO STOP HERE’England now stand in their way and look set to be a fearsome proposition, but the holders are full of confidence.“We don’t want to stop here. We want to stretch our limits as far as possible,” said goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris, who on Sunday won his 142nd cap to equal Lilian Thuram’s French record.“With each step forward we need to raise our level but I think this team is ready for that.”Mbappe may be the main man, but Gareth Southgate’s England will know that there are other threats. Giroud, now France’s all-time top scorer, is enjoying a magnificent twilight to his career while Antoine Griezmann has been outstanding in a more withdrawn role. Ousmane Dembele is capable of moments of magic on the right wing too. However, there are areas that England will look to exploit.In midfield Aurelien Tchouameni and Adrien Rabiot have so far ably plugged the gap left by Kante and Pogba but have yet to face world-class opposition.England, with their own young prodigy in Jude Bellingham, will offer a different test. It also remains to be seen how the centre-back pairing of Raphael Varane and Dayot Upamecano will handle England’s potent attack, but France are optimistic and the mood in their camp is in stark contrast to Euro 2020. At last year’s delayed European Championship, Les Bleus were disappointing and went out in the last 16 to Switzerland. “It is a really different context. We are well settled in our base camp and there is a really good mix of young players for whom this is their first experience, and other more experienced ones,” said the 35-year-old Lloris.“I think the word to sum it up is ‘respect’. There is respect between us. All you need to see is the joy at the end of the match when we all came together.”
Arab fans are upbeat and celebrating every moment with the Moroccan national team set to take on Spain at Education City Stadium Tuesday at 6pm.Lions de l’Atlas (Atlas Lions) is the lone Arab team still in the first World Cup in the Middle East.This is also the first time since 1986 that a North African country has entered the last 16 stage.The fans, most of them Moroccans, are thronging streets, fan zones and markets where they cheer for their team.“We are hopeful that our team will enter the quarter-finals, beating Spain,” Moroccan fan Issam Laabi told *Gulf Times.Moroccans in Qatar are feeling the love from all over the Arab world ahead of their match against Spain.Most of the fans of teams Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia are supporting Morocco after their squads exited the World Cup during the first round.“Our country is representing the whole Arab world in the second round,” said Noureddine Ameur. “And we feel the love and support of our Arab brothers in Qatar and across the world. Our players will achieve what we want while meeting our expectations in the tournament.”For many Moroccans, PSG player Achraf Hakimi and Chelsea star Hakim Ziyech are the favourites.“Indeed, both players are in good form and the duo will take our team to the next level. We support our team with our soul and body,” Laabi said.Fans said that Morocco is making steady progress while improving their performance after every match.“We have a good team of strikers, midfielders and defenders, whose performance level is going up,” said Dinia Illies. “Being Arabs, they have a feeling of being home.”Monday Souq Waqif, Katara – the Cultural Village and fan zones across Qatar witnessed Moroccan fans who celebrated with songs, dancing and cheering.“We got every reason to celebrate since our team has added an incredible achievement to its credit,” Laabi added.The Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported Monday that the Moroccan squad is entering the match with high spirits, after having topped Group F with seven points, surpassing Belgium, Croatia and Canada, to repeat their 1986 World Cup achievement."Being the only Arab representative in the knock-out stage, the Moroccan squad is looking tomorrow for their fifth victory in World Cup finals,” the QNA said. “Morocco's first victory in the World Cup came in the 1986 edition in Mexico, when they defeated Portugal 3-1.”“Then it was 12 years before they achieved their second victory by defeating Scotland 3-0 in the 1998 edition in France,” the QNA added. “And now they have defeated Belgium and Canada in the current World Cup edition."
Superstar Neymar returned to action as Brazil overwhelmed South Korea 4-1 in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 Monday to book a berth in the last 8, where they will meet Croatia who edged Japan in a penalty shootout earlier in the day. Following Monday's results, six of the eight teams in the quarter-finals have been identified, with Argentina, the Netherlands, France and England qualifying earlier. The line-up will be completed Tuesday after the Spain vs Morocco and Portugal vs Switzerland matches. Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic was the hero for Croatia, saving three penalties in the shootout as his side beat Japan at Al Janoub Stadium to reach the quarter-finals. Japan had already beaten European heavyweights Germany and Spain in Qatar and they looked on track to take down 2018 runners-up Croatia when Daizen Maeda put them ahead just before half-time. But Ivan Perisic brought Croatia level in the 55th minute with an impressive header from Dejan Lovren's cross and a hard-fought match became the first of this World Cup to go into extra-time. When neither side could break the deadlock, the tie also produced the first penalty shootout of Qatar 2022. It continued a remarkable pattern - seven of Croatia's past eight knockout games at major tournaments have gone to extra time, the only exception being their 4-2 defeat in the final by France in Russia four years ago. In nail-biting tension, Livakovic saved the first two spot-kicks before stopping Maya Yoshida's effort, and then Mario Pasalic struck the winning penalty to send Croatia through. Later, World Cup favourites Brazil produced a performance to delight fans and terrify potential opponents as they ripped through South Korea with four first-half goals to secure a hugely impressive 4-1 victory in their last-16 clash at Stadium 974. They were ahead after seven minutes when Raphinha's low cross reached Vinicius Jr and he expertly lifted the ball above the charging goalkeeper and three defenders. Five minutes later it was 2-0 with a Neymar penalty and Richarlison added a brilliant third after a spell of juggling then a razor combination with Marquinhos and Thiago Silva that had Brazil's delirious fans dancing and neutrals everywhere purring. Lucas Paqueta volleyed in the fourth after 36 minutes and the five-times champions played the second half as an exhibition, denied more goals only by impressive Korean goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu, as they turned their attention to Friday's quarter-final meeting with Croatia. Korea worked tirelessly and bravely to try to limit the damage and were rewarded for their own attacking efforts when Paik Seung-ho smashed in a brilliant long-range shot beyond Alisson 13 minutes from time. In the last 8, Argentina will play against the Netherlands, while France will take on England and Brazil will clash with Croatia.
Football legend Pele wished the Brazilian national team luck Monday for their World Cup last-16 match against South Korea, saying he would be watching from hospital, where the 82-year-old icon has been undergoing treatment.Fans worldwide have been on edge over the health of the footballer considered by many to be the greatest of all time, after he was hospitalized in Sao Paulo last Tuesday for what doctors say is a respiratory infection and a review of his treatment for colon cancer."I'll watch the game from here at the hospital and I'll be rooting for each one of you," Pele, the only player to win three World Cups (1958, 1962 and 1970), told the "Selecao" on Instagram, as they prepared to take the field in Qatar.He posted a faded color picture of himself as a baby-faced 17-year-old in Stockholm, Sweden, looking dapper in a sweater and slacks on his way to dazzling the planet with his preternatural talent in the first of Brazil's five World Cup titles.Eight years earlier, seeing his footballer father cry when Brazil lost the 1950 World Cup final at home to Uruguay, Pele had promised to bring the trophy home someday."In 1958, in Sweden, I was walking through the streets thinking about fulfilling the promise I made to my father," Pele wrote."I know that many of the national team made similar promises and are also looking for their first World Cup. I want to inspire you, my friends... We are on this journey together. Good luck to our Brazil!"Pele -- whose real name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento -- has been in fragile health in recent years.Diagnosed with a colon tumor in September 2021, he underwent surgery to remove it the same month and has been receiving chemotherapy.Doctors say they are now also treating him with antibiotics for his respiratory infection.His daughter Kely Arantes Nascimento said Sunday the new illness was the result of a Covid-19 infection Pele contracted three weeks ago, despite being fully vaccinated.She and her sister Flavia told Brazilian TV network Globo that Pele's family and doctors are confident his health is not at grave risk."When he gets better, he'll come home," Nascimento said.
While the players deliver exciting action on the pitch, a feast of music, dance, art and culture is taking place across Qatar during the FIFA World Cup.Thousands of fans from across the world are enjoying entertainment organised by the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy’s (SC) Cultural Activation Programme, which is hosting local, regional and global artists to add colour and flavour to international football’s showpiece event.Among the artists is Lebanon-born Ricardo Haila, a multi-instrumentalist who has so far performed outside a host of stadiums and other tourist hotspots. We spoke to Ricardo about the origins of his performance and his World Cup experience so far.Tell us about your performance.It is a multi-instrument performance using the qanun, hand pan, Indian tabla and frame drum. I mix Middle Eastern and Western music, so it’s like having a five-in-one performance.Usually, I work with more instruments, but for the World Cup, I went with this mixture. As I am from Lebanon, and I live in France, I wanted to create a common link between these countries through art and music.When did you start performing and how did you develop your act?I started playing drums at the age of 10. In 2013, I began developing my drumming skills in New York. Over the years, I kept adding percussion instruments to enhance my performances.Tell us about your career so far.I am fortunate to say that I have had the opportunity to perform with renowned artists, such as Ziad Rahbany, Michel Fadel, Ramy Ayach, Assi Al Hillani, Walid Toufic, Shada Hassoun, Nawal Al Zoghbi, the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra, Jihad Akl, Abdou Cherif and Ziad Bourji. I also worked with the Broken Wings Musical and many local jazz artists.I’ve performed in France, New York, Abu Dhabi, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, but honestly, performing in Qatar for the World Cup is one of my greatest successes.How has your World Cup experience been so far?I’m speechless to be part of the world’s biggest sporting event, doing the thing that I love the most – playing music. I believe a combination of sport and music is what the world needs more of. I’m so thankful to be able to perform in front of people from all over the world, here in Qatar.What has been your favourite part of the tournament so far?Every day has its own little surprise, but my favourite moment was when I performed at the Trophy Tour in the lead-up to the tournament. There were thousands of people and the atmosphere was exceptional. The crowd was gathered in front of the stage and you could feel the excitement and happiness. The view was also amazing, which was a huge plus.How do you feel about performing at the first FIFA World Cup in the Middle East and Arab world?It’s an honour for me. I am Lebanese and I know how it feels and what it means to have the World Cup in an Arab country. We Arabs are very proud. It’s one of our greatest achievements – and the organisation here in Qatar is astonishing.What are you most looking forward to during the tournament?I want international fans to fall in love with Middle Eastern music. Also, to be able to represent my country is really humbling. To be able to create a positive atmosphere where people are making lifelong memories and friends is truly rewarding.How do you feel being a key part of the FIFA World Cup entertainment?Amazing. From the first time I received a message from the SC, my life changed. It’s a combination of emotions, but mostly excitement and happiness. I have worked hard to be where I am now and this is the cherry on top. So far, I can say I have benefited and learned a lot from this experience. Like I mentioned, it’s a beautiful feeling to be a part of this Word Cup, especially because it’s happening here in the Middle East.How has it been interacting with fans from all over the world?As we all know, music unites everyone. My performance has something for everyone. It has that Middle Eastern feel coupled with chart topping songs that will make fans dance as soon as they hear them.Which team are you supporting?Portugal. Cristiano Ronaldo inspired me a lot growing up. To be honest, he is one of the biggest sources of inspiration for me – to see where he began and where he is now. But despite my love for Portugal, I would be thrilled to see an Arab country reach the final.
Kylian Mbappe set up a history-making goal for Olivier Giroud and then scored two himself as holders France eased into the World Cup quarter-finals with a 3-1 win over Poland yesterday.Giroud’s opening goal a minute before half-time was his 52nd for his country, allowing him to pass Thierry Henry and become France’s all-time record marksman.Mbappe’s lethal strike in the 74th minute killed off any prospect of a Poland comeback and he netted again at the death to move to nine goals in just 11 World Cup appearances. At the other end, the threat of Robert Lewandowski was snuffed out by the French defence although the 34-year-old Poland captain did get the consolation of scoring a stoppage-time penalty.France march on to the quarter-finals and are on course to become the first team to successfully defend the World Cup since Brazil 60 years ago.“It wasn’t easy because Poland were well organised and tried to counter us,” France coach Didier Deschamps told broadcaster TF1.“Then there is Kylian with his ability to resolve all sorts of problems, and that’s just as well for us.“This team has been united from the beginning and obviously a result like this one confirms that. The joy is shared among everyone.”France were overwhelming favourites against a Poland side who limped through the group stage and who had not won a World Cup knockout tie since 1982. “We got out of the group stage for the first time since 1986. That was our main objective,” said Poland coach Czeslaw Michniewicz. But he added: “There is no recipe to stop Mbappe in the form that he is in right now.”Mbappe returned as one of nine changes following their inconsequential defeat by Tunisia, with goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris also coming back to win his 142nd cap. That saw him equal the record for most France appearances, held by Lilian Thuram, whose son Marcus came off the bench here.It was a history-making occasion for France but what Deschamps wanted above all was a routine victory and progression to the last eight. The sky should be the limit for a French side led by Mbappe, but it is not just him.Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann were lively in a strong start at a hushed atmosphere at Al Thumama Stadium. The fans were happy to sit back and be thrilled as the big screen at one point showed Mbappe had reached a top speed of 35 kilometres (21 miles) per hour.France’s pace and pressing was too much for Poland as Przemyslaw Frankowski gave possession away, leading to Dembele crossing to the back post for Giroud to put the ball wide.Poland recovered from a tentative start to almost go ahead in the 38th minute when Lloris blocked Piotr Zielinski’s shot and Jakub Kaminski’s follow-up was stopped on the line by Raphael Varane. Those misses proved crucial as France seized the lead a minute before half-time. Patient build-up play ended with Mbappe having a glance as he received the ball just outside the box before playing in Giroud, who took a touch and finished into the far corner.Poland were left to chase the gamein the second half and they sent on Juventus striker Arkadiusz Milik to support Lewandowski for the final half-hour. However, their attack was no match for France, who picked off Poland to make it 2-0. A Griezmann clearance was brought down by Giroud and he released Dembele, whose ball into the middle was controlled before being blasted home by Mbappe.It was an emphatic finish and was followed by another of a similar calibre from a Thuram assist in stoppage time.Only Just Fontaine, who scored 13 in 1958, has scored more World Cup goals for France than Mbappe. Lewandowski pulled one back right at the end, converting a retaken penalty that was awarded for handball by Dayot Upamecano.
Kylian Mbappe said yesterday he dreamed of winning the World Cup for a second time after his brace helped France to a 3-1 win over Poland which advanced the holders to the quarter-finals in Qatar.“Of course, this World Cup is an obsession for me, it’s the competition of my dreams,” said the 23-year-old who burst onto the global stage by starring when France won the title in Russia four years ago. “I have built my season around this competition and around being ready both physically and mentally for it.“I wanted to come here ready and so far things are going well, but we are still a long way from the objective we set and that I set.”The Paris Saint-Germain superstar now has five goals in just four games at the tournament and is already France’s second-top scorer ever at the World Cup with nine goals in 11 appearances overall. Only Just Fontaine, who scored an incredible 13 times at the 1958 tournament in Sweden, has more World Cup goals for France.However Mbappe insisted he was not bothered about the prospect of winning the Golden Ball for the tournament’s best player. “The only objective for me is to win the World Cup which means now to win the quarter-final,” said Mbappe, who also set up the opening goal against Poland for Olivier Giroud. “That is what I am dreaming of. I didn’t come here to win the Golden Ball. That is not why I am here. I am here to win and help the French national team.”While the veteran Giroud netted his 52nd international goal to move past Thierry Henry and become France’s all-time top scorer, Mbappe was once again France’s outstanding player. He had been named man of the match in France’s opening two wins over Australia and Denmark only to shun his post-match media duties, exposing the French Football Federation to a fine from FIFA as a result. However, this time he showed up to speak to reporters. “There were lots of people wondering why I was not speaking but it was nothing personal against the journalists,” he said.“I just needed to concentrate on my competition and when I need to focus it needs to be at 100 percent. I can’t lose energy on other things. That is why I didn’t speak before. I have learnt that the federation is going to get a fine but I have promised personally to pay it.”
Brazil forward Neymar is set to play for the five-times champions in their World Cup last-16 match against South Korea today after recovering from an ankle injury, coach Tite said.Neymar suffered the injury in Brazil’s opening 2-0 win over Serbia, which ruled him out of their 1-0 win over Switzerland and the shock defeat by Cameroon, one of a series of injury problems within the squad.Full back Danilo was also cleared by the medical staff for the game against South Korea.“Neymar will train today in the afternoon and if he trains well he will play,” Tite told a news conference.Neymar has suffered many issues with his right foot and underwent surgery four years ago for a fractured metatarsal.The news of his return to the starting lineup came after Thiago Silva was asked during a news conference if Neymar would play and Tite took hold of the microphone and said “yes”.It will be warmly welcomed in a squad beset by fitness woes with Danilo also hurting his ankle against Serbia and Alex Sandro suffering a hip injury against the Swiss. Alex Telles and forward Gabriel Jesus, who sustained a knee injury against Cameroon, were ruled out for the rest of the tournament on Saturday.Tite said Danilo was also fit to return against South Korea today but Sandro was out.“He still can’t play. Still recovering. Danilo and Neymar are back,” he said. Tite stressed that Neymar’s return was with the full backing of the team’s medical staff and the player’s physical health was the priority.“If he plays, it’s because he is in full health and ready to start, to play from the beginning and the entire game with no limitations,” Tite said.“My preference is always to play my best players from the start.”With Neymar back, Tite said there will be no changes in the forward line from the team that started against Serbia, with Lucas Paqueta behind Neymar, Vinicius Jr, Raphinha and Richarlison. The biggest question mark is who will play left back with Sandro and Telles ruled out.Marquinhos replaced the Sevilla defender after he sustained the injury against Cameroon, but right back Danilo and midfielder Everton Ribeiro are also options.“Alex Sandro’s replacement will be a player that have already played in that position in his club. Make your research and you will find out who he is,” Tite said.
Carlos Soler has no regrets about his move to Paris Saint-Germain from Valencia in the summer and said he never feared missing the World Cup with Spain as a result.The 25-year-old midfielder struggled for minutes after his switch but was still called up by Spain coach Luis Enrique despite strong competition for places.“He’s not used to being a starter,” said PSG teammate Kylian Mbappe, after they beat Juventus in the Champions League in November, in an apparent dig.However Soler says that before the World Cup started he was finally finding his groove in Paris.“I thought a lot about the decision obviously, because it’s not easy to leave your home, where you’ve been all your life,” Soler said in an interview yesterday.“But I wanted to go, take a step up to a huge club, at the top level in Europe, try to fight for titles, play as much as possible and I am very happy now because I have gone through a learning phase there.“The first month, the second month, but I think this last month went very well, I played more, I helped the team and that is what I want.”Asked if he worried his limited appearances would reduce his chances of being part of the squad for the World Cup, Soler said he always had faith.“No, maybe it’s something that goes through your head, it’s inevitable and people are telling you it. My friends, people close to me, but in the end I believed in myself.“I thought that the work I had been doing in the national team was good, and that what I did on the pitch was going to be good,” he explained.“In the end, that’s what it’s about. Having confidence in yourself and thinking you are important, and in that sense I felt important here with the national team and thought I would come.”Soler subbed on to score in Spain’s opening 7-0 romp over Costa Rica but has yet to reappear in Qatar, not used in the 1-1 draw with Germany or the 2-1 defeat by Japan.In midfield Luis Enrique seems set on the Barcelona trio of Sergio Busquets, Pedri and Gavi, but Soler is waiting for his chance and hailed coach Luis Enrique.“For me, he is one of the best coaches I’ve ever had, that’s the truth, he’s a coach who convinces you,” said Soler.“And he doesn’t convince you just because he’s Luis Enrique, but he convinces you because he gives you the reasoning, and later you see it on video, he convinces you with reasoning.“We’re with Luis Enrique on everything, we will go with his plan until the end and for now, it’s not going badly.”WEAR THEM DOWNSoler may not be likely to start against Morocco but he has been keeping an eye on them, keenly watching other World Cup games as well as playing darts and table tennis during his spare time.“Morocco have had a magnificent group phase, beating Belgium and drawing with Croatia. The only goal they let in was against Canada in the last game, so it will be a really tough match,” said Soler. “I’m sure they will tighten up and sit back, and maybe they will press us, I don’t know, but I am sure that against us they will sit back in numbers.“We will have to try and wear them down, moving the ball quickly from side to side, and maybe a little more vertically when we get the chance, and try and get ourselves into the quarter-finals.“Morocco have a strong team with very good players, (Achraf) Hakimi, (Hakim) Ziyech, (Youssef) En-Nesyri, Bono, a lot of very good players, (but) I think they prize the collective above the individual.”Hakimi is a teammate of Soler’s at PSG, and they could go head-to-head tomorrow.“It’s true that before the World Cup we joked in the last 16 we were going to cross paths, and look what’s happened now,”he added.
The two European teams will clash on Dec 10 Mbappe shines as Giroud becomes France's all-time record scorerFrance will take on England in the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 after registering convincing victories in the Round of 16 Sunday.The defending champions cruised to a 3-1 victory over Poland in the first match of the day, followed by England's 3-0 win over African champions Senegal.The two teams will now meet in what promises to be a delightful encounter at Al Bayt Stadium on December 10, Saturday (10pm).At Al Thumama Stadium Sunday, Kylian Mbappe was in another league yet again, oozing class throughout, while the ever-reliable Olivier Giroud netted a record goal to send France into the World Cup quarter-finals.Les Bleus scored on the stroke of halftime as Giroud became their all-time record scorer with 52 goals before Mbappe's late screamers sealed Poland's fate and put the 23-year-old alone at the top of the scoring chart with five goals and two assists.Poland, in the knockout stage for the first time since 1986 and looking for a first quarter-final appearance since 1982, had a huge chance in the first half but the France midfield did a great job of cutting the feeding line to Robert Lewandowski, who reduced the arrears with a twice-taken, last-second penalty.Mbappe now has nine World Cup goals to his name, as many as Argentina's 35-year-old Lionel Messi, and became the first player to reach that mark before his 24th birthday.It helped Mbappe erase painful memories from last year's European championship, when he missed the decisive penalty that sent Switzerland into the last eight after a shootout following a 3-3 draw.Keeper Hugo Lloris made his 142nd appearance and is now tied with Lilian Thuram as France's most-capped player, and his experience mattered when he made a superb quick save to deny Piotr Zielinski.Later Sunday, free-scoring England extended their unbeaten record against African teams with a 3-0 victory over Senegal at Al Bayt Stadium, which included a first goal at this World Cup from captain Harry Kane as they progressed to the quarter-finals.England had initially looked sluggish against Senegal's pacy forwards, in the two nations' first ever encounter, with a wonderful one-handed save by Jordan Pickford stopping Boulaye Dia from giving the African side a shock lead.But Jordan Henderson settled England's nerves in the 38th minute, stroking the ball home after being played in by Jude Bellingham at the end of a lovely passing move.Kane struck a ferocious shot past goalkeeper Edouard Mendy with the last kick of the first half, leaving him one goal behind Wayne Rooney's record of 53 goals for England.Nippy winger Bukayo Saka bagged the third with a neat chip over Mendy after a cross by Phil Foden in the 57th minute.England's goalfest in Qatar - 12 so far - equals their previous best World Cup total at Russia 2018 when they made the semi-finals. They scored 11 in winning the world title in 1966.On Saturday, Argentina and the Netherlands had won their respective last-16 matches to set up a quarter-final clash at Lusail Stadium on December 9, Friday.
Most of France’s talk ahead of their last-16 clash with Poland has been about how Les Bleus will handle Robert Lewandowski, but the defending champions are well aware there is much more to the Poles than their big-name striker.Lewandowski is indeed a deadly weapon up front, but Poland are a very compact side with another major asset at the other end of the pitch in keeper Wojciech Szczesny, who has already stopped two penalties.Across his career, Szczesny has saved 26 of 87 penalties and it is safe to say that France will be desperate to avoid a shootout at the Al Thumama stadium today.“They’ve had to defend a lot in the group stage and they defended very well. Actually they love it, but they’re not just a defensive team — just look at who they have up front,” coach Didier Deschamps told a news conference yesterday.“But there’s more. They have a backbone of players with great international experience, with Kamil Glik, Piotr Zielinski, Grzegorz Krychowiak and some youngsters who have shown they were up to the task. They deserve to be here.”Poland have only had five shots on target in three games, but three of them came from Lewandowski, who only needs half a chance to find the back of the net. France’s ideal scenario will be to contain the Barcelona forward and avoid ending the game on penalties, which are certainly not keeper Hugo Lloris’ cup of tea.LLORIS MILESTONELloris, who will equal Lilian Thuram’s France record of 142 caps today, has only stopped 16 of the 108 spot kicks he has faced in his career, a shortcoming that cost France dearly at the European championship last year when they were bundled out in the last 16 by Switzerland on penalties.“We’ve been looking into penalties with the analysts but there is a psychological factor that comes into play, and also how the penalties are taken,” the France captain said.Lloris added, however, that France had what it takes to down Poland in regulation time if they stay focused throughout. “Some keepers are better at (penalties) but if we’re fully focused from start to finish, we have the weapons to win it before we get there,” he said.“We need to have that killer instinct.”
Poland coach Czeslaw Michniewicz believes his side can go on to lift the World Cup trophy in Qatar if they get past defending champions France in their last-16 tie today.The Poles reached the knockout rounds of the World Cup for the first time since 1986 after scraping through on goal difference from Group C despite a 2-0 loss to Argentina in their final game.“We were not ready to go home,” said Michniewicz, who only took over the Poland job in January after the departure of Paulo Sousa.“If we win against France we could become the next world champions.“We’re very happy to play the world champions. France are not already guaranteed to advance. Everything’s to play for, you win or go home and the stakes are high.”Michniewicz said he had been unable to pinpoint weak points in France’s “wonderful team”.“We believe we will play a good game but we know it’s a huge challenge ahead of us,” he said. “We want to show the world we can play football.”Robert Lewandowski scored the first World Cup goal of his prolific career in the 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia after he had a penalty saved in Poland’s opening 0-0 draw with Mexico.Michniewicz admitted his team needs to do more to supply the Barcelona striker, with Poland managing just four shots on target in three games so far in Qatar. “We did not create enough opportunities for Robert,” he said. “They (strikers) need to be near the penalty box. Against Argentina the opponent didn’t allow us to do a lot.“We need to improve on that but we need to realise that France will be dictating the game.”Poland must try and subdue a France attack led by Kylian Mbappe, who was left out of the starting line-up for the 1-0 defeat by Tunisia as Didier Deschamps made nine changes with qualification already assured.“How to defend against him (Mbappe)? I think we’d need to have scooters because he’s so fast,” quipped Poland forward Arkadiusz Milik, who has come up against the Paris Saint-Germain star with Marseille.“It’s difficult to play against one of the best players in the world. We need to play collectively as a group. No one is able individually to stop him.”
Four years ago Africa was left without a representative in the World Cup last 16 for the first time since the round was introduced in 1986, but the response has been emphatic in Qatar.The 2022 tournament has seen two teams from the continent reach the knockout phase for only the second time — after Algeria and Nigeria in 2014.African nations have also taken a record-breaking 24 points in the group stage, smashing the previous best of 15 points in 1998. Morocco beat the world’s second-ranked side Belgium and Canada en route to the top of Group F, while Senegal bounced back from an opening defeat by the Netherlands to record wins over Qatar and Ecuador.Brazil were beaten by an African team for the first time with a 1-0 defeat by Cameroon, who exited the tournament in glory.For Morocco, their clash with Spain next Tuesday will be a first appearance in the knockout stage for 36 years.Their fans will turn up in their thousands again to cheer on the only remaining Arab country in the World Cup.“We hope to fly the flag of African football high,” said Morocco coach Walid Regragui.“Often we’ve been described as being sub-par, not as good as elsewhere.“But I think at this World Cup we are showing we can give any other team a run for their money, whether they be European teams or South American teams.“I hope in the future this means we’ll be seeing more African teams do well at the World Cup and why not an African champion?”The 2026 World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico will involve more African countries than ever before, with the tournament set to expand from 32 to 48 teams.If it does not happen this year, Africa will be expecting its first World Cup semi-finalists sooner rather than later. Senegal were the closest to getting past the group stage in Russia in 2018, missing out by virtue of having more yellow cards than Japan.But they banished those memories when Kalidou Koulibaly volleyed them to victory against Ecuador, after saying they were inspired by Morocco’s win over Belgium.“We saw what Morocco did. They had a beautiful win over Belgium,” said Senegal coach Aliou Cisse.“Yes, it can be a source of inspiration for us.”CHANGING MINDSETThe sides that went out in the group stage still made a mark on the tournament. Tunisia claimed a famous 1-0 win over holders France and Cameroon ended an eight-match losing streak at the World Cup with a thrilling comeback to draw 3-3 with Serbia before beating five-time winners Brazil.More and more African players are starring at top European clubs.Even with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane absent from this World Cup, the dividends of that are clear to see. European teams have won each of the past four World Cups and no side from outside Europe or South America has ever even reached the final.“You have to be strong for your first match against a European team because European teams are our foes when it comes to these events,” added Regragui.“We have players who play for European clubs...We need to take the European mindset and make it our mindset.”The closest an African team has come to making the semi-finals was Ghana in 2010, when Luis Suarez’s handball and the resulting missed penalty by Asamoah Gyan led to a shootout defeat in South Africa.The Black Stars could not avenge that heartbreak on Friday, as Andre Ayew’s missed penalty at 0-0 was history repeating itself history and proved costly in a 2-0 defeat.But Ghana were at least happy to knock Uruguay out and send South Korea through. “For me, yes (It was good to knock Uruguay out),” said midfielder Daniel Amartey.“It was tough because you can see their centre-back, everybody comes (forward).“Uruguay needed one goal to go through.”There is a long way to go, but for the second time, Africa has two hopeful nations that are three wins away from the final.
The World Cup in Qatar has already delivered plenty of major shocks but as it moves into the knockout phase the top contenders including Brazil and France have plenty to prove.This is the first World Cup since the South Africa tournament in 2010 in which teams from Asia, Africa and North America have all been represented in the last 16.Brazil remain the favourites to claim a sixth World Cup and end Europe’s recent dominance on the global stage.Tite’s side surely need Neymar back from the ankle injury he suffered in the opening win over Serbia but they have a dazzling array of attacking talent beyond the world’s most expensive footballer.They are usually rock-solid defensively, even though a side with nine changes to the starting line-up lost their final group game against Cameroon.Brazil have not yet faced top opposition and will expect to cruise past South Korea tomorrow, with Croatia or Japan then awaiting them in the quarter-finals.A mouthwatering showdown with Argentina in the semi-finals remains a possibility, with Lionel Messi and his teammates recovering from their shock loss to Saudi Arabia to beat Mexico and Poland.If Messi’s team get past Australia, they could find themselves up against the Netherlands in the last eight, although the Dutch must first overcome a tough United States team.Argentina came into the World Cup unbeaten in 36 games and with expectations high that they could win the trophy for a third time but coach Lionel Scaloni has played down their chances.“We are not favourites,” he insisted.“We are a difficult team to beat, a team that will fight, but to think that because we won (against Poland) we are going to be champions would be totally mistaken.”The other side of the draw is weighted towards Europe, despite elimination for Germany and Belgium. Holders France are the team to beat and in Kylian Mbappe they have the most exciting player in the competition. Didier Deschamps’ side eased through their group, even fielding an unrecognisable line-up in their final defeat by Tunisia as regulars were rested.“We fulfilled our objective,” he said.“Now we will recuperate because a second competition is about to begin.”History is not on the side of a France team looking to become the first since 1962 to successfully defend the World Cup, and they are on a possible collision course in the last eight with England.Spain, the joint-top scorers in the group stage with England on nine goals, are also on their side of the draw.Semi-finalists in 2018 and Euro 2020 runners-up, England are quietly growing in confidence.“In Russia, we were just thinking, ‘Can we win a knockout game?’ Now there is more confidence and more experience of knockout matches,” said England manager Gareth Southgate.GLOBAL GAMEIt was German great Jurgen Klinsmann, part of FIFA’s technical study group analysing the tournament, who predicted that Qatar would produce shocks.“If some of the kind of underdogs — maybe if it’s an African nation, if it’s an Asian team — if they are courageous I think you can go far in this tournament,” he said.The last-16 line-up does at least reflect the global nature of football. Japan, who have never gone further than the first knockout stage, stunned Germany and Spain and now have 2018 finalists Croatia in their sights. South Korea have also qualified after a last-gasp winner against Portugal.Qatar has also already been a good World Cup for Africa, with two teams in the last 16, compared with none four years ago.Senegal, who have overcome the loss of Sadio Mane, will face England, while a talented Morocco side are living up to their billing and will have the backing of many across the Arab world when they play Spain.Brazil are still the favourites for most, but there is a sense there are more surprisesin store.
Gareth Southgate insists England’s status as favourites in their World Cup last 16 clash with Senegal means nothing because the African champions will pose a serious threat to his team.Southgate’s side are regarded as title contenders in Qatar after reaching the 2018 World Cup semi-finals and finishing as Euro 2020 runners-up.England are expected to see off Senegal at the Al Bayt Stadium today, but Southgate has no intention of underestimating Aliou Cisse’s men.“We have been very impressed with Senegal. We know they are African champions and are very proud and have great spirit and belief in their team,” Southgate told reporters on Saturday.“They have some excellent individual players who can cause problems, but a good structure as well.“We will be considered the favourites and Senegal the underdogs but that doesn’t really mean anything in a one-off game.”Despite the absence of injured Bayern Munich forward Sadio Mane, Senegal have won as many games as England in the tournament, with both teams earning two victories in the group stage.Senegal are also fresh from winning their maiden African Cup of Nations crown last year.“Sadio is an incredible player and every team would want to have him but Senegal have become very strong in his absence,” Southgate said.“They have shown great spirit through losing him. We have got to be at our very best to win the game. Cisse has done a fantastic job. We know the size of the job ahead of us.”- ‘Expectation levels’ -After coming close to silverware at the last two major tournaments, England are hoping to take the final step in Doha.Southgate believes the experience his players gained during those runs to the latter stages will stand them in good stead as they chase England’s first trophy since the 1966 World Cup.“We learned a lot from playing seven matches at the last two tournaments and the need to keep the players involved emotionally,” he said.“The biggest thing is the expectation levels. In Russia when we qualified from the group stages we were probably more excited than this time.“There was an awful lot of noise after our draw against the United States, but we’ve stayed on track and qualified as well as anyone else.”Southgate must decide whether to retain Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford in England’s attack after both impressed with goal-scoring displays in the win over Wales.Bukayo Saka, Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount were all left out of the Wales game, underlining England’s strength in depth in forward areas.“It is a good position to be in, you want your players to be in a confident mood and our forward players certainly are,” Southgate said.“Of course you want to make the best possible decision but in some respects I am not sure there is a right or wrong. Whichever players we start with we’ll need the bench as well.”England captain Harry Kane remains without a goal at the tournament after finishing as top scorer in the 2018 edition.But Kane said: “I’d love to be sitting here with two or three goals by now.“Going into the knock out stage, I feel really good. I feel as match fit as I’m ever going to feel.“Only time will tell. I can try and come into the best form with these knockout games.”
In a tournament packed with surprises, Senegal will try to add to the list of stunners in the Round of 16 today when they take on England, who have never lost to an African side.If Senegal are to pull off the shock they might have to do it without their inspirational leader and coach Aliou Cisse, who has been sidelined with an illness.Adding to the challenge the African champions will definitely be without their midfield general Idrissa Gueye, who is suspended for the match at Al Bayt having picked up a second yellow card against Ecuador in their final group match.“He (Cisse) has been sick for a couple of days now and he let us take charge of training yesterday obviously with his instructions,” assistant coach Regis Bogaert told reporters yesterday.“Hopefully tomorrow he will be able to come and be on the bench with the players but we are sure at 10pm he will be there with the team.”England have faced African opposition 20 times, including seven at a World Cup, and have yet to lose.While African nations have lost eight of their nine World Cup knockout round games against European sides, Cisse was there for the one success in 2002 when Senegal beat Sweden to reach the quarter-finals.Senegal burst into that tournament by defeating reigning champions France and the dreadlocked Cisse has shared those memories with his players ahead of their date with England.“When he talks he uses data and his own experiences,” Bogaert said. “He was part of that great team in 2002 and I think the team really trusts him because of that experience he had as player.“Beating England would be a tremendous achievement, I don’t know how important it would rate compared to the victory in 2002, that was important as well. If we can beat a team like England it sends out a very strong message about the progress we have made.”Cisse has been in charge of Senegal since 2015 and guided the Lions of Teranga to several firsts including their maiden Africa Cup of Nations title this year.Bogaert explained that Senegal has done their homework and have paid special attention to set pieces – a part of the game where England have been particularly dangerous in recent years.“We’ve identified some things and the most important thing is set pieces can be decisive in these top matches,” said Bogaert. “We also hope to take advantage of set pieces.“Our strategy is in place.”
Powerhouses Argentina and the Netherlands set up a rollicking FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 quarter-final clash following victories over Australia and the US, respectively, in the Round of 16 Saturday.The two teams will vie for a spot in the last four at Lusail Stadium on December 9.In the second of the two Round of 16 matches Saturday, Lionel Messi scored on his 1,000th career appearance in Argentina's 2-1 win over Australia to surpass his great predecessor Diego Maradona's tournament total.Seeking a first World Cup at his fifth attempt, the mesmerising Messi curled the ball low past goalkeeper Mat Ryan from inside the area in the 35th minute to send the legions of Argentine fans into delirium at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.Julian Alvarez bagged Argentina's second from close range in the 57th minute after fatal hesitation from Ryan with the ball at his feet following a backpass.Australia, who did superbly to reach the last 16 and are ranked 35 places below the double World Cup winners, defended valiantly with the towering Harry Souttar prominent. They set up a nervy end after Craig Goodwin's shot was deflected into the net off Enzo Fernandez for an own goal in the 77th minute.The 35-year-old Messi's goal was his third in the Qatar tournament and his ninth at World Cups, one more than Maradona.Earlier, the Netherlands' full-backs proved the difference as veteran Daley Blind and hard-running Denzel Dumfries turned in decisive performances at Khalifa International Stadium to help secure a 3-1 win over the US in Saturday's opening match of the World Cup knockout stages.Dumfries netted and had two assists while Blind scored, too, as the Dutch saw off a brief spell of US resistance to ensure the victory.Striker Memphis Depay got the first goal as the Netherlands advanced to a seventh World Cup quarter-final.A comfortable 2-0 halftime lead was halved in the 76th minute as the Americans finally made a breakthrough, even if scorer Haji Wright seemed to know little about the ball hitting his heel and then looping into the corner of the net.However, any hopes they had of staging a comeback were ended five minutes later as Dumfries sealed his man-of-the-match performance by ghosting in at the back post and side-footing a volley into the net to restore the two-goal advantage.The Dutch deserved the win but again there will be questions about whether they are serious World Cup contenders - something coach Louis van Gaal keeps insisting they are, although he was quick to admit Saturday's showing could have been a lot better."We also lost a lot of ball possession, and it is not acceptable at a World Cup, especially if you are playing a top-level team,” he said.Van Gaal's side did, though, offer some glimpses of classy potential, no more so than with a series of 20 passes that set up their 10th minute opener - finished off by Depay smartly hitting home a cut-back pass from Dumfries.
The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 has significantly boosted sales of about 400 food and beverage outlets (kiosks) in the areas surrounding the tournament stadiums and fan zones that host cultural and entertainment events, with an expected increase in turnout of 1.2 million fans by the end.Speaking to Qatar News Agency (QNA), several managers of these projects estimated that the turnout during the World Cup first week surged by 80 percent to record levels compared to the days preceding the tournament launch on November 20, with the positive impact and momentum.In August, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy and the Aspire Katara Hospitality company announced the availability of hundreds of food and beverage outlets for rent in many locations in the country, including the areas surrounding the stadiums that host the World Cup matches, the Doha Corniche for a 6 km distance, and other places that witnesses fans' entertainment activities.Entrepreneurs in the food and beverage sectors benefited from these investment opportunities, as they confirmed that the influx of tourists and fans of international teams to Qatar has revived their sales of various types of food and beverages to almost double compared to the pre-tournament period, especially since some visitors have a great passion to know Qatari and Arab cuisines, exploring local food with all its components, in addition to buying handicrafts of the traditional nature of the Qatari people.The outlets are distributed in about 9 areas for fans zones and inside the stadiums, taking into account the size of the area, its breadth, and the density of the fans' presence in it. There are two types of outlets, the first contains food and drinks, while the second contains gifts, souvenirs, and heritage and historical items.In this context, Abdul Ghafoor Mohammed, who runs an outlet for selling drinks and juices on the Doha Corniche, said that turnout levels reached record levels of about 80 percent during the first week of the World Cup, pointing out that they start working from 11 am until 12 am, emphasising that the project is feasible from an economic point of view and that work is proceeding flexibly to meet the needs of visitors.He stated that the shops and commercial outlets are in line with the state's directions and strategy aimed at hosting the first carbon-neutral edition of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, as all shops committed to using paper cups and utensils that can be recycled, which reinforces the country's plans to establish global standards in the field of preserving the environment, to serve as a role model in the major world championships, in addition to building a sustainable legacy that benefits future generations.The outlets offer their services to the guests of the World Cup in many locations; a fan who wants to attend the match can have his meal before entering the stadium or during the events and enjoy the tournament's atmosphere.Mohammed Abdullah, who runs a confectionery shop on the Doha Corniche, highlighted the variety of outlets, including fast food, drinks, juices, sweets and nuts, stressing that the municipality's inspectors do conduct field visits and submit reports twice a day, in order to ensure the cleanliness and quality of services in shops.He expected that the pace of turnout will increase in the coming period with an increase in visitor flows to Qatar.The momentum of the tournament has made a positive impact in Qatar, benefiting more than 3 million food and beverage outlets, according to Qatar Tourism data, which allowed visitors to taste a variety of food and beverages in the country, and Qatari cuisine is the most famous, which derives its characteristics from Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, affected by the great diversity of 100 communities living in the State.Osama Saeed, a visitor to Qatar, said that it is easy to find the original cuisines of most of the countries of the region in the restaurants hosted by Souq Waqif or other commercial centres, pointing to the diversity of restaurants and the availability of oriental, Arabic, Western, Chinese, Japanese and many other cuisines that suit all cultures and tastes.Data from the Planning and Statistics Authority showed that the activities of accommodation and food services amounted to about 5116 businesses, employing about 77,785 workers, 66,754 males and 11,031 females, according to the classification of businesses by sector and main economic activity by the end of December 2020.The World Cup in Qatar has provided the impetus to all sectors of the Qatari economy, including the tourism and hospitality sector, especially with the increase in visitors to the country and the increase in the population of Qatar to more than 3 million people, and in conjunction with the State's plans to triple the number of tourists in the country, to reach 7 million tourists annually by 2030.