Coach of the Moroccan national team Walid Regragui affirmed that his team's players are fully prepared to play against France on Wednesday (tomorrow) at Al Bayt Stadium in the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.In a press conference before the match, Regragui said that Morocco will face the best team of the world and will strive to win and qualify for the final match, pointing out that although his team players are suffering from several injuries, they recover quickly. We will put together the best possible squad of players who are ready for tomorrow's match, he added.We want to change the mentality, especially that of our continent. Reaching the semi-finals is a great achievement but it is not enough - we will play to reach the final. We have passed the toughest stages during this journey, and everyone predicted our exclusion, but we seek to win and reach the final match - it is our dream, Regragui stated during the conference.He pointed out that Moroccan player Achraf Hakimi plays with the star of the French national team Kylian Mbappe at Paris Saint-Germain club, and knows the player's style, adding that the Moroccan team must be cautious of other players including Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele. It would be wrong to focus on Griezmann and Mbappe, which is why we will focus on all the players of the French national team, he said, expressing his confidence that Achraf Hakimi will be completely ready to defeat his friend tomorrow.For us, team spirit is the key, as everyone works and strives to give the best they can, and we play in a collective manner and with high spirits, he said, expressing his confidence in his team's abilities. We seek to rewrite history, he added.Regragui also expressed his delight with the level of popular support that the Moroccan national team is receiving, saying that the team is supported by an entire nation and that he is pleased to see fans supporting Morocco from all around the globe.More than 20,000 fans will come to the stadium to support the Moroccan team tomorrow. We feel very supported, as if we were in our own country. It is an honour and pride for us to play for them and give everything we have. We hope to be the best in the upcoming match, he added in his statement.The Moroccan coach explained that the Moroccan team plays to win, noting that it is an honour and pleasure to play against the French team. We do not fear any team - we are glad to be playing against one of the most powerful teams in the world and we will do our best to win.Tomorrow, there will be a huge football celebration, as if we do not reach the final, we will congratulate the French team, and if we win, I believe they will congratulate us.
Morocco are not satisfied with a place in the semi-finals of the World Cup and are hungry for more coach Walid Regragui said ahead of their clash with world champions France on Wednesday."If we are happy just to reach semi-final and some see that as enough, I don't agree," Regragui told a press conference."If you get to the semi-finals and you are not hungry then there is a problem."The best team in the tournament, Brazil is already out. We are an ambitious team and we are hungry but I don't know if that will be enough," he added.Morocco are the first African team to reach the last four but Regragui has his sights on making more history."We want Africa to be top of the world, but we will have to be strong to progress. We are not the favourites but we are confident - maybe that makes me mad, crazy? A bit of crazy can be good," he added."Everyone might think we are tired, they said that before the last games too, you can't be tired in a World Cup semi. Yes, we are still hungry," he added.The Morocco coach was quick to offer a reminder that his team had upset Spain and Portugal in the knockout rounds to set up their last four meeting with Didier Deschamps' side."We had perhaps the most difficult route to the semis. Every round people thought we would get knocked out but we are still here and we are going to fight to the end," he said.Morocco have several injury concerns however including key central defender Romain Saiss but Regragui said there was no decision yet on their fitness."We have a number of injuries but we have an excellent medical staff who are working hard and coming with good news every day," said Regragui."We will have to wait to last minute, we tend to do that, no one is out but no one is definitely in either," he said.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino acted briefly as referee during a friendly match between football legends and workers in Qatar on Monday."Let's hope for a great evening of football, just as we have seen a great World Cup so far," the head of the football governing body said before kick-off at Doha's Al Thumama stadium.Workers, fans and volunteers from Qatar were invited for the match. "Football unites the world," Infantino said.Among the football legends, were Brazil's Cafu, England's John Terry and Netherlands' Claren Seedorf.Infantino was on duty for just over 10 minutes, handing out two yellow cards.
Ooredoo Group has partnered with industry giants to upgrade the experience of professional journalists covering the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, transforming the way they work and making the process smarter and faster than ever before, a statement said.Enabled by Ooredoo Qatar’s IoT-managed network and partner’s IoT Accelerator Platform, new connected cameras have been deployed at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 to facilitate real-time uploading of images via secure, fast, and reliable connectivity, it was explained.Photojournalists covering the event have had the game-changing opportunity to save time and effort by eliminating the delay in uploading and editing images for circulation and publication while waiting to connect to a fixed link.Deputy Group CEO and Ooredoo Qatar CEO Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulla al-Thani said: “Connected cameras are set to transform the world of photojournalism. Our strategic partnership with major technology providers marks another significant step in our goal to deliver upgraded digital experiences for all, from the journalists covering Qatar’s 2022 momentous event to the billions of people eagerly following its progress around the world.“The opportunities to collaborate with leading international brands to upgrade user experiences by leveraging technology and innovation across sectors have never been more abundant. We are very excited to witness the positive impact of our IoT-managed network when employed with the right partners.”This aligns with Ooredoo’s strategic pillar to evolve today’s core to the smart telco, partnering with key industry players agilely across multiple operations and introducing attractive new services for consumers and businesses. Customers can expect this advanced IoT Connect technology supporting 5G will be in high demand in the future, with photojournalists able to easily subscribe to live photo publication services. Ooredoo Qatar IoT Connect Platform supporting 5G will also enable data-intensive IoT applications and Smart use cases for faster realisation in the local and international markets.
After three weeks of pulsating action in Qatar, just four teams are left standing as the tournament heads into its home stretch, AFP reports.Lionel Messi and Argentina face Croatia in the first semi-final of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Tuesday, before defending champions France take on giant-killing Morocco on the following day.At Lusail Stadium, Messi will attempt to guide Argentina into a World Cup final for the second time in eight years.Messi, looking to crown his career with victory on football's biggest stage, was a pivotal figure in Friday's stormy quarter-final win over the Netherlands, when tempers on both sides flared and a record 18 yellow cards were shown.An ill-tempered contest ended with Argentine players appearing to taunt their distraught Dutch opponents before sprinting away to celebrate after a penalty shoot-out win.But Scaloni defended his players' conduct in an eve-of-game news conference on Monday, insisting his team had nothing to apologise for."The game the other day was played in the right way by both teams. That is football," said the 44-year-old Argentina coach."I don't buy this idea that we don't know how to win. The game was played in the right way."Messi, who tasted bitter defeat in the 2014 final against Germany, likely has one final chance, at the age of 35, to match compatriot Diego Maradona and lift the World Cup.Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said he wanted the match to be remembered as the "greatest game" in the country's history.With a population of just 4mn people, Croatia, led on the pitch by Luka Modric, have again defied the odds and stand just 90 minutes from a return trip to the final."At back-to-back World Cups to be among the four best national teams, that's an extraordinary success for Croatia," said Dalic, whose side were beaten 4-2 by France in the final four years ago."However, we want more," he added. "I'm optimistic and have full confidence in my players. They've shown their great quality and strength of character, and deserve to be in the final."Croatia, who beat Japan and fancied Brazil in penalty shoot-outs to reach the last four, have not won a knockout game in normal time at a major tournament since they came third at the 1998 World Cup.But Dalic said despite the energy-sapping games in Qatar, exhaustion was not even being discussed."We are still strong, with energy and enthusiasm, without a doubt," he said. "We are going to give it our all, just as we have done in previous games."Against Argentina we will do the same, we will give our all. We don't have any injury problems. They don't feel tired."France are favourites to beat Morocco Wednesday and take a step closer to defending their title after overcoming England in the last eight.But the African team's run to the semis has caught the imagination of a continent and they have been vocally backed by legions of fans in Qatar.Morocco, who beat Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal in the last round, are the first African or Arab team to qualify for a World Cup semi-final.The match will have added spice -- France was Morocco's colonial power and hundreds of thousands of people with Moroccan roots live and work in the country.Demand has been so great that Royal Air Maroc has announced it is laying on 30 extra return flights to take euphoric fans to the Gulf state.France defender Raphael Varane has insisted that there would be no complacency from the World Cup holders."We know Morocco are not here by chance," he said. "It is up to us experienced players to make sure everyone is prepared for another battle."
Lionel Messi and Argentina's World Cup dream remains alive but an indefatigable Croatia side inspired by the enduring brilliance of Luka Modric stands in their way in Tuesday's semi-final in Doha.Argentina have recovered from the shock of losing their opening game in Qatar to Saudi Arabia and made the last four with an exhausting win on penalties against the Netherlands at the end of a fractious quarter-final on Friday.Having been 2-0 up and cruising after 83 minutes, with Messi setting up one goal in sublime fashion and netting a penalty, they conceded twice late on and had to survive extra time before triumphing 4-3 in a shoot-out.Backed by an enormous contingent of travelling supporters who have brought the passion, noise and colour of Argentina's own stadiums to this World Cup, Messi and his teammates are starting to believe this really could be their year."We have balls, passion, heart and we are doing this for 45 million people," said goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, and Argentina's optimism now has only increased after seeing great rivals Brazil go out in the last round.Now aged 35, this has been billed as Messi's last chance to win a World Cup, eight years on from Argentina's defeat in the final to Germany in Rio de Janeiro.He is determined to seize the chance and has already scored his first two goals in the knockout rounds of any World Cup, netting against Australia in the last 16 before his penalty against the Dutch.World Cup glory would complete a wonderful career for the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner.After years of being unfulfilled at international level he inspired Argentina to victory at last year's Copa America, but he knows there are no more dogged or durable opponents than Croatia.After all, any sense of relief at avoiding having to play Brazil in the last four will be tempered by the prospect of facing a Croatian side who knocked out the favourites on penalties and never know when they are beaten."They are a great team who matched up to Brazil and at times were much better," admitted Messi."They have good players across the whole midfield and they have been working with the same coach since the last World Cup, so they all know each other very well."'Safer than money in the bank'Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni switched to a five-man defence against the Netherlands as he brought Lisandro Martinez into his line-up.But the midfield is always key against Croatia, with Modric still controlling games at 37 and Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic completing a formidable trio.After reaching the final four years ago, Croatia have beaten Japan and Brazil on penalties to make the semis here.They have gone to extra time in eight of their last nine major tournament knockout matches and the nation of just four million people has nothing to lose as they eye a place in the final against France or Morocco.And in Modric they have a master, the 2018 Ballon d'Or winner who starred as Croatia beat Argentina 3-0 in the group stage four years ago."I think Mateo, Luka and Marcelo are the best midfield in history. When you pass them the ball, it is safer than having your money in the bank," said Josip Juranovic, another standout at right-back."We are so lucky to have them in the team."Modric's history with Argentina goes back to 2006, when he made his international debut for Croatia aged 20 in a friendly between the teams.Messi scored in that game but Croatia won 3-2. Zlatko Dalic's team will not be afraid of Argentina or their number 10 when the sides meet again at Lusail Stadium.Asked about how they would handle Messi, Croatia forward Bruno Petkovic responded: "We don't have a specific plan, at least not yet, for stopping Messi and usually we don't concentrate on one player, but Argentina is not only Messi."
Yassine Bounou has learned to be patient in his career, but the Morocco goalkeeper with a show-stopping nickname is proving he more than belongs on the big stage at this World Cup.An unused squad member at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations and the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Bounou - or "Bono" as the name on his shirt reads - has played a fundamental part in helping Morocco set a new benchmark for African football in Qatar.With 14 foreign-born players in the squad, it has been a case of unity in diversity for Morocco - there is no better example of that solidarity than a defence which has conceded just once in five matches here.Bounou kept 2018 runners-up Croatia at bay in their tournament opener. He suddenly disappeared just before kick-off in a 2-0 win over Belgium, having lined up with the team for the national anthems.Replaced by Munir El Kajoui, coach Walid Regragui later cleared up the mystery by explaining Bounou had felt unwell after sustaining a knock against Croatia.The 31-year-old Bounou hasn't put a foot wrong since his return against Canada, the country of his birth. Despite Nayef Aguerd's own goal, a 2-1 victory sent Morocco through as the surprising Group F winners.Remarkably, no opposing player has scored against Morocco at this World Cup - and that remains true despite the North Africans needing penalties to see off Spain in the last 16.After Pablo Sarabia smacked the post with Spain's first kick, Bounou saved from Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets as Morocco won 3-0 in the shootout to reach the quarter-finals for the very first time.He was again man of the match in a 1-0 victory over Portugal, ending Cristiano Ronaldo's World Cup dreams by denying the five-time Ballon d'Or winner in stoppage time."These kinds of moments are difficult to believe," said Bounou, "but we've come to change the mentality, our insecurity. Moroccan players can compete against anyone in the world.""I think the most important thing, except the semi-final and that, is that we've changed that mentality and the generation after us will know that Moroccan players can do all this."Long road to the topBounou's success is a prime example of persistence paying off.Born in Montreal, Bounou and his family returned to Morocco when he was seven. He joined the Wydad Casablanca academy and broke into the first team aged 19, appearing in the 2011 CAF Champions League final.He signed for Atletico Madrid the following year, spending two seasons with the reserves, before moving on loan to Real Zaragoza in the second division.With opportunities limited at Atletico, he left the club permanently for Girona in 2016 and helped them immediately win promotion to the Spanish top flight.Herve Renard selected Munir as his first-choice 'keeper at the 2018 World Cup, a campaign which ended in the group stage, but Bounou has since made the number one shirt his own.After Girona's relegation, Bounou joined Sevilla on loan for the 2019-20 season and starred as the Spanish club won a record-extending sixth Europa League title.He soon dislodged Czech international Tomas Vaclik, signing a long-term deal with Sevilla, and earned the Zamora award last term as the 'keeper with the lowest ratio of goals conceded per game' in La Liga."When you have one of the best goalkeepers in the world, it gives you confidence, and Yassine gives us that," said Regragui after his side knocked out Portugal."He's not someone who thinks he's someone else. So he helped us a lot. And when Yassine makes that kind of save (against Ronaldo) and gets into the game, we're virtually unstoppable."Already the first African team to reach the World Cup semi-finals, Morocco have no intention of slowing down ahead of a monumental clash with holders France."When you are part of the story, you don't grasp what's happening very quickly. Everything's good, we'll stay focused. We're happy about what we've done so far. But with time, we'll realise," said Bounou.
Harry Kane was left “gutted” on Saturday after missing a crucial penalty in England’s 2-1 World Cup quarter-final defeat to France.England skipper Kane blazed an 84th minute spot-kick over the bar that would have levelled the score at 2-2 at the Al Bayt Stadium. It was another cruel chapter in England’s decades-long psychodrama revolving around major tournaments and penalty heartaches.Kane had earlier made no mistake with another penalty on 54 minutes that saw him equal Wayne Rooney’s England goalscoring tally of 53 goals.“As the captain, I’ll take that on the chin and that responsibility, missing the penalty, so it’s hard,” Kane said afterwards.“Really tough night to take. I’m gutted, the team are gutted. We had the belief that we could achieve something special at this World Cup, but it came down to small details.“On the night we had the better chances, the better spells in the game, but it comes down to the execution.”Kane, 29, is one of the most reliable penalty-takers in world football, converting 58 spotkicks throughout his career with only 11 misses.The England captain said he had felt confident as he lined up his second penalty of the night against France goalkeeper and Tottenham team-mate Hugo Lloris.“I’m someone who, whenever I prepare, prepare for one penalty in the game, two penalties, so I can’t fault my preparation or detail,” Kane said. “In the lead-up I felt as confident as I did on the first as I did on the second. It purely comes down to execution. I’ll take that on the chin.“Of course it hurts now and it’ll hurt for probably a long time, but that’s part of being captain and a leader in the team, you have to take responsibility.”Kane had looked inconsolable at the final whistle, hunched on the turf as team-mates rallied to his support. England manager Gareth Southgate sprang to Kane’s defence. “There’s nobody I would have rather had in that situation and if we had one tomorrow I’d feel exactly the same way,” Southgate said. “For me he’s been a fantastic leader of this group. He’s the best but the best are still 85 percent (success rate) so even the best are going to miss at times so that’s football.“It’s cruel for him because he will feel disappointed in himself but he shouldn’t because it’s 100 minutes of football and there’s a lot of things that can happen in terms of winning a game.”
Olivier Giroud continued his magnificent World Cup by scoring France’s late winner in their quarter-final against England on Saturday and admitted that the holders’ battling performance in adversity evoked the spirit of their triumphant 2018 run.France are now just two games away from becoming the first team in 60 years to retain the trophy after Giroud’s fourth goal of the tournament sunk an impressive England side in a titanic battle at Al Bayt Stadium.The holders took the lead through Aurelien Tchouameni but were pegged back early in the second half and were on the ropes for long spells before Giroud headed in the decisive goal in the 78th minute to seal a 2-1 victory.France had considerably less possession, half as many attempts on goal and got lucky late on as Harry Kane — having earlier scored from the spot — blazed an 84th-minute penalty over the bar.And Giroud later said the game brought back memories of his team’s semi-final in Russia four years ago, when they edged out Belgium 1-0 in Saint-Petersburg before going on to beat Croatia and lift the trophy.“This match reminds me of the Belgium game in 2018, even if the scenario is a bit different because England came back and believed in their chances and pushed forward,” Giroud said.“We showed superb spirit and worked so hard for each other. It is the same spirit as in 2018 and I hope we go as far as possible because this group is capable of great things.”Giroud was a non-scoring member of the 2018 team but at 36 he is enjoying a memorable tournament in Qatar having earlier overtaken Thierry Henry to become France’s all-time top scorer.It is a far cry from Euro 2020, when he was relegated to the bench following Karim Benzema’s return to the international fold.This time he has taken full advantage of Benzema’s injury just before the World Cup began to become a key player again, and France have put their disappointing European Championship — when they lost to Switzerland on penalties in the last 16 — firmly behind them.Their performance in Qatar also contrasts starkly with the trend at recent World Cups, with Italy, Spain and Germany going out of the last three tournaments as holders in the first round.“The recent record of the holders has been rather negative so we can be pleased at reversing that trend,” said coach Didier Deschamps, whose team will now be strongly fancied to beat Morocco in the last four. If France do go all the way to the final in Doha next Sunday and win it, they will be the first team since Brazil in 1962 to successfully defend the title.“We are getting closer but now we have a very important next step and that is on Wednesday against Morocco. We can be satisfied with what we have done without settling for this,” Deschamps added.
Al Hilm (Arabic for ‘the dream’), the official match ball for the semifinals and final of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, was revealed Sunday at a special event in the Al Rihla Arena at the FIFA Fan Festival. Al Rihla was the official match ball until the quarter-final stage.The event organised by adidas had footballing legends Brazilian Kaka (Ricardo) and Spanish lker Casillas unveiling Al Hilm and highlighting the importance of added technology match balls to support the highest game speeds as they travel faster in flight than any other World Cup ball.“Al Hilm, the official match ball being played with on the field of play features ‘Connected Ball’ technology, an unprecedented innovation which has proved a great success in making semi-automated offside decisions faster and more accurate during this World Cup,” FIFA said in a press statement.Both Kaka and Casillas, at a roundtable discussion recalled their experiences about FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 so far and said that it was one of the greatest tournaments so far in World Cup history.“The compact nature of the tournament has particularly helped the smooth conduct of the tournament so far. Many people could watch more than two games on a single day which is very fascinating. This is unthinkable at most other places. Moreover, the organisation of the tournament so far has been extremely excellent and smooth which deserves special appreciation,” said Kaka.Al Hilm has a unique graphic design, befitting of an occasion as historic as the final matches of a FIFA World Cup. Combined with player position data, the innovation in Al Hilm offers video match officials instant data, to help optimise decision making for a seamless fan experience. By combining the ball data captured by IMU sensors within the ball and applying Artificial Intelligence, the new technology supports the semi-automated offside system, especially by providing the exact moment the ball is played in tight offside situations.Johannes Holzmüller, director of Football Technology & Innovation at FIFA, said: “With the development of the connected ball technology, adidas made it possible that an additional important layer of information is available to the video match officials. The data from the ball unlocks new insights for storytelling around the unique moments on the pitch at this World Cup.”The design of the ball is set on a textured gold base colour which features a subtle triangular pattern, drawing inspiration from the sparkling deserts of the region that surround the city, the colour of the FIFA World Cup trophy, and the pattern of the Qatar flag. Bold red accents complement the graphic, reflecting both the generative architecture of Qatar, and once again, the country’s flag.The ball encapsulates its namesake, as it connects to the twilight hours, where the red sky meets the desert sand at dusk – a time when dreams are set to come true under the floodlights of the Lusail Stadium – the stage for the final of the World Cup 2022.The ball was also designed with the environment at its heart - all components have been carefully considered, and Al Hilm is the first World Cup semifinals and final ball made using only water-based inks and glues. Al Hilm features the same new panel shape and surface textures introduced for Al Rihla.“Al Hilm represents a beacon of light on the power of sport and football to bring the world together. Millions will tune in from almost every country around the globe, united by their passion for the game. We wish all teams involved in the final stages of the tournament the best of luck as they compete on the largest stage that football has to offer” Nick Craggs, general manager, Football, adidas, added.
A downcast Louis van Gaal answered a handful of questions after the Netherlands’ quarter-final defeat by Argentina, rose from the podium and exited left — a timid end to a turbulent career that came to a close at the World Cup in Qatar.The 71-year-old, who has battled with cancer over the last year, concluded his third spell as the Netherlands coach with their penalty shootout loss and will be replaced by Ronald Koeman. “In principle this is it for me,” said Van Gaal earlier in the tournament, “but you can never say never”.He had been brought out of retirement when Frank de Boer was fired after elimination in the last 16 of the European Championship by the Czech Republic for a third spell in charge of the Dutch. Van Gaal took over in September last year, leading the Dutch to World Cup qualification, after they had missed out on the 2018 finals in Russia.They also won their Nations League group and will host the finals in June against Croatia, Italy and Spain. Van Gaal had also been coach when the Dutch reached the 2014 World Cup finals, beaten then also on post-match penalties by Argentina.That proved the high point of a career that included Champions League success with Ajax Amsterdam, two La Liga titles at Barcelona, the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich but a disappointing spell at Manchester United, although they did win the FA Cup in 2016.All of which was characterised by a reputation for meticulous planning and attention to detail but also a single-minded belief in his own ability that won him many admirers and detractors in equal measure. His battles with the media were many, spawning even a book by one reporter about his many encounters with Van Gaal.The coach revealed in April he had received 25 radiation treatments for an aggressive form of prostate cancer, having kept the diagnosis from his players during the World Cup qualifiers. They had been unaware Van Gaal was wearing a catheter beneath his tracksuit during training sessions or that he was spending nights after matches in hospital.He has also said any future jobs would depend on the agreement of his wife Truus, who he had twice promised before that he would go into retirement only to reverse his decision. Koeman, 59, will take over, having already signed in April a three-year deal to return as Netherlands boss from 2023.It will be Koeman’s second spell in charge of his country, having led them to runners-up in the Nations League in 2019 and qualification for Euro 2020 before ditching the job when Barcelona offered him a chance to coach them in August 2020. He lasted only 14 months before being fired by the Catalan club. “I am looking forward to the new collaboration. I certainly did not leave the Dutch national team out of dissatisfaction,” Koeman said when he signed the contract.“My stay felt good, the results were good and the click with the internationals was good. We will soon continue on that path. That is certain for me.”
Yet another World Cup has ended in tears for Neymar, with football’s most expensive player hinting he may not pull on the Brazil shirt again following a painful defeat to Croatia.The 30-year-old, who gave Brazil the lead during extra time of their quarter-final in Doha with a brilliant individual effort, was distraught after Croatia triumphed on penalties.Speaking to reporters, his voice trembling with emotion, he admitted he could not “100% guarantee” he would be seen in the famous yellow shirt again.Neymar, who has 124 Brazil caps, will be 34 by the time the next World Cup comes around in North America in 2026.That is still younger than many leading names in Qatar, from Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to Luka Modric and Olivier Giroud.But Brazil’s brittle number 10 hinted last year that he would not appear at another World Cup, suggesting in one interview that he might not have the mental strength “to put up with even more football”. Neymar has carried the hopes of a nation into three World Cups since his emergence as a generational talent at Santos.He has scored eight World Cup goals but the tournament has exposed his vulnerable physique and fragile emotions.In 2014, playing on home soil, he was cut down in a quarter-final win over Colombia and stretchered off in agony with a fractured bone in his back.Without him Brazil capitulated, losing the semi-final 7-1 to Germany.Four years ago, Brazil’s build-up to the tournament in Russia was dominated by his battle to recover from an operation on a broken bone in his foot.LEVEL WITH PELEHe came back in time, but that World Cup was still remembered for his tears in a win over Costa Rica before the Selecao lost in the quarter-finals to Belgium.This time he appeared to be in peak physical shape as he arrived in Qatar, only to sprain an ankle in Brazil’s first game, which forced him out of the next two matches.He returned to score against South Korea in the last 16 and then opened the scoring with a brilliant goal against Croatia, equalling Pele’s record tally of 77 for Brazil in the process.But while Pele won three World Cups, Neymar looks like he will never achieve what “O Rei” (the King) managed, along with other Brazilian greats who lifted the trophy, from Garrincha and Jairzinho to Romario and Ronaldo. “I am not closing any doors on the national team but I am also not guaranteeing 100 % that I will return,” he said on Friday.Neymar also missed Brazil’s 2019 Copa America triumph due to injury, but his tears have not just come in a Brazil shirt. He cried after Paris Saint-Germain lost to Bayern Munich in the 2020 Champions League final, and he has shown his distress when suffering the injuries that have regularly interrupted his club career in Paris.Neymar left Barcelona in 2017 because he wanted to win the Ballon d’Or, but he has still not managed to win that prize and in Paris — now reunited with Lionel Messi — he lives in the shadow of Kylian Mbappe.BRIGHT FUTURE?Even if Neymar decides to play on, with the next Copa America set for 2024, a new cycle will begin for a Brazil side who have gone out of the past five World Cups to European opposition, four times losing in the quarter-finals.“I don’t know what will happen with the Brazil team going forward but now we can only lament what has happened,” admitted Neymar.They will certainly have a new coach, with the 61-year-old Tite stepping down.Skipper Thiago Silva, aged 38, and the 39-year-old Dani Alves will move on, while young stars such as Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo will be asked to play an ever more important role.“We are going to have players who have to step up now, as leaders, but we have so many players who can lead the team and set an example,” said goalkeeper Alisson Becker, who is eight months younger than Neymar. “We have young talents who are going to improve even more, learn from this World Cup, and we have more experienced players as well who can still contribute to the national team.”
Iconic World Cup stadiums have long lived in the memory of those who played in and attend the tournament, often standing as a beacon in the backdrop of the host city, but Stadium 974 which held seven games in Doha will soon cease to exist.Expensive World Cup stadiums have often proven to be white elephants for the host country but the temporary arena that is Stadium 974, unveiled in November last year, has done its job and its prefabricated pieces will soon be dismantled.Seats from a number of arenas in Qatar will be removed and given to football projects overseas but the fate of the modular elements at Stadium 974 – which organisers say reduced costs and waste generated – is still unclear.Media reports suggested the containers and other parts that make up the stadium would be shipped to either Africa or Uruguay, who might be looking to bid for the 2030 World Cup as part of a South American bid.“Initial work has begun to take the venue out of tournament mode ahead of handing the stadium back to the host country,” tournament organisers, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, told Reuters.“The precise timeline for the full dismantling and re-purposing of the stadium is being finalised at the moment.”Described as the “first fully-demountable tournament venue” in World Cup history, the arena will also host a fashion show on Dec 16 – two days before the final – with several music artistes set to perform.METAL ARENAStadium 974 is the first stadium fans arriving in Qatar see when they land at the airport and travel into central Doha.The metal arena sits on the waterfront overlooking the Arabian Gulf and the West Bay skyline, but it could easily be mistaken for a shipping container yard if not for the structure that supports the roof.The 44,089-capacity stadium is named after the number of containers of various bright colours used to build the arena, while 974 is also Qatar’s international dialling code.“The shipping containers used in construction can be recycled and reused for building stadiums or other sporting facilities in different locations,” said Mohamed al-Atwaan, the arena’s facilities management director. “This stadium has massive legacy potential.”UNIQUE STRUCTUREThe unique structure made for an electric atmosphere, especially when raucous fans from Mexico, Argentina and Brazil fans turned up in large numbers for their team’s matches and sang as one, their chants echoing around the arena.The stadium’s acoustics helped them raise the decibel levels while the stands also reverberated as they bounced up and down in its tiers. What started with a Mexican wave in a group game between Mexico and Poland, finished with the Brazilians dancing the samba in the aisles along with their players on the pitch after they thrashed South Korea 4-1 in the last 16.Stadium 974 is also the only one of eight World Cup arenas in Qatar without air conditioning, which meant all seven games it hosted could only be played after sunset.But temperatures inside the arena were still cool as the structure allowed for ventilation using the land and sea breeze.
From Doha to Casablanca, Arab world erupts in joyRonaldo in tears as Portugal go out France beat England to make last 4Morocco’s extraordinary run in Qatar continued Saturday as they claimed another massive scalp in beating Portugal 1-0 to become the first African and Arab country to reach the World Cup semi-finals.The Atlas Lions will face France in the semi-finals, who defeated England 2-1 in the day's other match.A hugely significant victory broke new ground for the game outside of Europe and South America, who have been the dominant force in the sport, winning all 21 previous editions of the World Cup.Youssef En-Nesyri’s 42nd minute goal at Doha's Al Thumama Stadium means Morocco are only the third country outside of Europe and Latin America to reach the last four, after the US at the first World Cup in 1930 and South Korea, co-hosts when they got to the semis 20 years ago.It is a result with major significance for the world game, providing proof that the gap between the top teams and the rest is closing and handing new hope to many countries who might have felt World Cup success was beyond them."I told my players before the match we had to write history for Africa,” said Morocco coach Walid Regragui, who only took charge of the team three months before the tournament.Saturday's victory for Morocco comes on top of their win over second-ranked Belgium in the group phase and penalty shootout success against Spain in the last 16.But against Portugal, despite their pre-match protestations about fatigue, they were more ambitious. They looked for counter attack opportunities while soaking up the pressure with resolute defence.They have conceded only one goal in their five games at the tournament, keeping at bay some of the tournament’s top names.Portugal had their chances but not enough to panic the Moroccan backline, who were without the injured Nayef Aguerd and lost skipper Romain Saiss to a thigh injury after halftime.The Moroccan victory sparked massive celebrations around the Arab world, with fans taking to the streets in large numbers to mark the famous occasion.On the other hand, the match marked a possible end to Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal career, with the striker reduced to tears as he walked down the tunnel at the end of the game.His 196th international appearance as a second-half substitute gave Portugal a temporary lift. But there would be no be no fairytale ending for the 37-year-old.Later, Olivier Giroud scored the winner and Harry Kane missed a late penalty at Al Bayt Stadium as holders France beat England 2-1 in a tense World Cup quarter-final.Aurelien Tchouameni had swept France into a first-half lead only for Kane to equalise from the spot nine minutes into the second half.England were the better side for long stretches of the game at Al Bayt Stadium but, almost from nowhere, France went back in front when Giroud headed home with 11 minutes left.Kane than blazed his second penalty of the game over the bar as England's wait to win a first major international trophy since the 1966 World Cup goes on.France, though, remain on course to become the first side since Brazil 60 years ago to successfully defend the World Cup.Argentina will take on Croatia in the other semi-final.
The International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA) yesterday announced it had opening disciplinary procedures against Argentina and the Netherlands, after their World Cup quarter-final match in which Referee Antonio Mateu brandished a World Cup record 18 yellow cards. The FIFA Disciplinary Committee has opened proceedings against the Argentinian Football Association due to potential breaches of Articles 12 (Misconduct of players and officials) and 16 (Order and security at matches) of the FIFA Disciplinary Code. Additionally, FIFA Disciplinary Committee has also opened proceedings against the Dutch Football Association due to potential breaches of Article 12 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code in relation to the same match. Nicknamed “The Battle of Nuremberg” the match between the Netherlands and Portugal in the 2006 World Cup in Germany held the world record of 16 yellow cards, in addition to four red cards. (QNA)
Qatar is well on course to have more than one million visitors to the country by the last leg of the FIFA World Cup tournament, a senior official of Qatar 2022 told Gulf Times.“Close to 800,000 fans and visitors have already reached the country for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. Within in the coming days, the number is expected to go beyond one million,” said, Nasser al-Khater, chief executive officer, FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.Al-Khater was speaking to Gulf Times on the sidelines of the launch of the Al Khater House reconstruction project at the Education City of Qatar Foundation."The number of fans that have attended the tournament and reached the country are in line with our plans. We are getting very positive feedback from various corners about the tournament and its organisation so far,” continued al-Khater.According to the CEO of Qatar 2022, the tournament has exceeded the expectations on several fronts. He explained: “The television coverage of the tournament has been great so far. It has gone bigger than expected with wide viewership all around the globe. We are also getting very positive feedback about the tournament and the facilities offered to the fans.”As for the tournament and the matches so far, the official said it was going on very well and the matches are very engrossing. “We are very happy with the quality of the matches and with the results as well as the way the teams have played. We have seen some very good matches and we are also equally happy with the organisation of the tournament. It is moving on very well as per our plans and expectations we have put in place for the tournament right from the beginning. We are also receiving very good inputs from various quarters,” added al-Khater.
Morocco toppled another European soccer giant with a 1-0 win over Portugal on Saturday to become the first African nation to advance to the semifinals of the World Cup.The only scoring in the match, played in Doha, Qatar, came in the 42nd minute when Morocco's Youssef En-Nesyri took a cross from Yahya Attiyat-Allah and managed to get a header past goalkeeper Diego Costa for the sole goal. Morocco's fierce defense limited Portugal to just three shots on goal.Morocco's previous tournament wins included victories over Belgium and Spain.The match also will be remembered as perhaps the end of major international play for superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, who was removed from Portugal's starting lineup at the start of the round of 16. He was a second-half sub in the 51st minute, but, like his teammates, was stifled by the Moroccan defense.Morocco played more than half of the eight minutes of stoppage time with 10 players because Walid Cheddira was disqualified with two yellow cards.Morocco will play the winner of Saturday's later match between England and France in the semifinals on Wednesday.
The head of the Moroccan national team's delegation to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and member of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation Abdelmalek Abroun, confirmed that the ambitions of his country have no limits after reaching the quarter-finals to play against the Portuguese national team on Saturday at Al Thumama Stadium.In an exclusive interview with Qatar News Agency (QNA), the head of the Moroccan delegation said: "We have succeeded in outperforming teams that have a long history in football, and after we defeated the world champion Spain in the 2010 edition, there is no longer a ceiling for our ambitions, and our goal in the first place is to reach the final match." He added, "The Moroccan national team has already reached the round of sixteen in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, but in the 22nd edition of the World Cup it was able to accomplish a tremendous achievement by overcoming this barrier and reaching the quarter-finals, and presented an honourable image of Arab and African football." He continued, "A mission awaits us in front of the Portuguese national team, and we hope to succeed in it." He pointed out that the Moroccan national team expresses great gratitude to Qatar for the great support and standing by the national team during the matches it played, praising the follow-up of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani to all matches of the national team, as well as His Highness the Father Amir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani and His Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser for their support and good feelings with the team's victories.Abroun said, "Undoubtedly, Qatar's hosting of the World Cup gave great value to the Arabs and honoured them, and everyone witnessed a huge superiority over many European countries that had previously organised the World Cup, by providing advanced infrastructure and good facilities befitting the size of the global event." He added, "We thank the government and people of Qatar for this organisation, as they presented a good and wonderful image of the Arab world, and gave the world a good example of organising the World Cup at the highest level, and great efforts have been made in the infrastructure so that the World Cup will be an exceptional and pioneering version." He pointed out that everyone in Morocco stands behind the national team adding that the Arab teams performed well in this World Cup.
A number of Moroccan journalists have expressed their confidence in the ability of the Moroccan national team to win today's match over their Portuguese counterpart in the quarter-finals and make a historic achievement for Moroccan football.In interviews with Qatar News Agency (QNA), a number of media professionals expressed great optimism about their country's ability to continue writing history and pass to the semi-finals, stressing that hopes and aspirations are great in addition to the very positive atmosphere.Mohamed Amine Mtbar, a Moroccan journalist at the Moroccan newspaper Hesport, who covers the matches of his country, said that the Moroccan national team made their mark in the World Cup by defeating big teams such as Spain and Belgium and snatching a draw from the Croatian team, the runner-up of the last edition who managed to eliminate the Brazilian team and qualified for the semi-finals.Mtbar praised the organisational atmosphere in Qatar, which was keen to create the best conditions for all teams and fans. Speaking to QNA, he praised the World Cup as wonderful and said there are many positive aspects that confirm the superiority of the 22nd edition of the World Cup over many previous editions, especially the close distances between the stadiums.Abdel Wareth Antar, a journalist at the Moroccan news agency, said what distinguishes the Moroccan national team is the spirit of the group and the family atmosphere in addition to the reality with which coach Walid Regragui plays.Antar added the Moroccan national team plays very effectively and the Moroccan Football Federation, under the leadership of Fouzi Lekjaa, was successful in assigning the task to coach Walid Regragui, succeeding the former coach Vahid Khalilouzic.This yielded success in light of Regragui's dependence on spreading the spirit of enthusiasm, determination and high discipline, he pointed out, adding that overcoming the Portuguese national team tomorrow is not an impossible task after the national team was able to eliminate big teams such as Spain and Belgium.
France coach Didier Deschamps is confident Kylian Mbappe can still make the difference in today’s World Cup quarter-final showdown with England even if the opposition put their focus on stopping the superstar forward.Mbappe is the top scorer at the tournament with five goals in four games, including a brace in the 3-1 win over Poland in the last 16, and England will need to find a way of countering the Paris Saint-Germain striker.But the holders have formidable quality around Mbappe, with Olivier Giroud, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann all impressing in Qatar too.“I imagine England will take measures like our four previous opponents did but Kylian has the ability to make the difference,” Deschamps told reporters yesterday ahead of the clash at Al Bayt Stadium in the desert north of Doha. “Even in the last game, when he wasn’t at his best like in the first two, he was still decisive, but if we can share around the danger that stops too many precautions being taken against Kylian.“But Kylian will always be Kylian, with the ability to be decisive at any moment.”The pressure is intensifying for both sides, but Deschamps has won the World Cup as a player and a coach and the 54-year-old encouraged France not to let the occasion get the better of them.“As is the case for us and all teams who reach the knockouts, you don’t have a second chance,” he admitted.“The further on you go the greater the quality, but the demands are higher too and so is the excitement.“This is the next stage but there is no stress, no need to hold back. It is magnificent to play a World Cup quarter-final.”While France are the defending champions, England appear to be growing as a team on the back of their run to the semi-finals in Russia four years ago and the final of Euro 2020.KANE ‘A REAL LEADER’France goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris — who has spent nearly a decade in the Premier League with Tottenham — was full of praise for Gareth Southgate’s England.“If you look at the English squad they have more players here who were in Russia than France do,” said the 35-year-old, who is set to win his 143rd cap and overtake Lilian Thuram as his country’s all-time record appearance maker.“They were semi-finalists at the World Cup, runners-up at the Euro. There is a real progression and I believe this team is getting more mature. They are here to win.”Lloris will come up against an England side captained by his Tottenham teammate Harry Kane, and there is the possibility the two could end up pitting their wits against each other in a penalty shoot-out.“Harry has the ability to shoot anywhere. He is one of the best at this aspect of the game,” Lloris said.“Harry and the England players will analyse penalties but then it is all about instinct, and before you get to the penalty shoot-out there is the time to make the difference on the pitch.” Lloris and Kane have played together at Spurs for nine years and so know each other inside out. The France skipper added: “I think I only have positive things to say about Harry.“For England he is a real leader, a role model for his teammates and above all a top player.”