What does the World Cup mean to the Middle East and Arab world?

“Anyone who has travelled on Qatar Airways recently will have been afforded the exciting opportunity to watch a short feature all about Gianni Infantino on their in-flight entertainment. In the midst of 15 very self-aggrandising minutes about football’s glorious leader, Infantino says about this World Cup: ‘For Qatar and for the Middle East in general, it’s an opportunity to present themselves to the world.’ We’ll gloss over for a moment how patronising that sounds, and instead consider the interesting question his statement inspires: to what extent is this a World Cup for Qatar, and to what extent is this a World Cup for the Middle East/Arabic nations/the Muslim world? Does this World Cup represent an entire region? …”
The Athletic (Video)

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Robert Lewandowski knew ‘time was running out’ to break tournament duck

“An emotional Robert Lewandowski says he knew time was running out to fulfil his dream of scoring at a World Cup finals, after netting in Poland’s 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia on Saturday. The Barcelona striker, 34, ended a run of four World Cup games without making the scoresheet by scoring Poland’s decisive second goal at Education City Stadium. Visibly emotional, Lewandowski held his head in his hands and pointed to the heavens while his jubilant team-mates surrounded him. …”
BBC (Video)

How Saudi Arabia shocked Argentina: Direct play and high line, crowd sows panic, microscope on Messi


Saudi Arabia have beaten Argentina 2-1 in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. The opening match of Group C at the 2022 World Cup looked to be going as expected after Lionel Messi’s early penalty. Yet two goals in the first eight minutes of the second half — from Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari — stunned the South American champions, who entered the tournament as one of the favourites to lift the trophy. …”
The Athletic (Video)
Guardian – ‘We gave them a response’: Saudi Arabia claim their place in World Cup history
NY Times: Saudi Arabia Leaves Another Scar on Argentina’s Soul
BBC – World Cup 2022: Saudi Arabia deliver ‘seismic’ shock, but don’t count Argentina out
The Athletic: ‘He sold himself to the devil’ – Messi, 2030, and a very uncomfortable deal with Saudi Arabia (Video)
Guardian: Lionel Messi’s international career has never felt closer to oblivion
The Athletic: Messi’s Argentina have no excuses – but they also shouldn’t be too worried
The Athletic: Saudi Arabia humble Argentina – but was it the greatest World Cup shock ever?

The Radar – The Athletic’s 2022 World Cup scouting guide


“Welcome to The Radar — the World Cup edition. Last year, for Euro 2020, we profiled 60 players that people were talking about — or would be by the end of the competition. Thirty-four of those players have since moved club. More teams means more players, so for the World Cup we’ve upped that to 100. The result is below, a carefully crafted guide to some of the best footballers on show in Qatar listed alphabetically by country — the heavyweight names, the rising stars and the under-the-radar players who could be coming to an elite club near you. …”
The Athletic

World Cup 2022 Group C guide: Argentina’s fast starts, ageing Mexico and possession-shy Poland


“What tactics do Argentina use? What is Mexico’s weakness? Which quirk should we look out for from Poland? The 2022 World Cup is nearly upon us and The Athletic will be running in-depth tactical group guides so you will know what to expect from every nation competing in Qatar. Liam Tharme will look at each team’s playing style, strengths, weaknesses and key players, and highlight things to keep an eye on during the tournament. …”
The Athletic (Video)

World Cup 2022 Groups: The Predictions


“The 2022 World Cup is finally here, with the tournament in Qatar being the first held in the months of November and December since the first World Cup finals in 1930. The 22nd men’s FIFA World Cup tournament will see 32 teams battle it out in the group stage after qualifying via five different regions – Asia, Africa, South America, North America/Central America and Europe (no nation from Oceania qualified). From there, 16 will make it through to the knockout stages. …”
The Analyst

World Cup provisional squads explained: What are the rules and will they be made public?


“A month from today, it all begins. The World Cup in Qatar looms ever larger on the horizon and the countdown is on to the first of 64 games that will crown a winner at the Lusail Stadium on Sunday, December 18. Doubts persist over the suitability of Qatar to host this World Cup, as well as its readiness to welcome more than one million visitors, but the biggest names in football are about to descend on a tiny Gulf nation that’s half the size of Wales and roughly as big as the US state of Connecticut. …”
The Athletic
The Analyst: World Cup 2022 Guide to Each Group

Newcastle United’s transfer, stadium and investment plans one year after takeover


“This is the first of three articles this week to mark the one-year anniversary of Newcastle United’s controversial takeover by a Saudi-backed consortium. Today George Caulkin and Chris Waugh explain how the club has changed in 12 months. Tomorrow Oliver Kay visits Saudi Arabia to ask questions about how the takeover is perceived there, football’s role in the country and allegations of sportswashing. On Friday Matt Slater examines the degree of Saudi involvement and influence at the Premier League club. …”
The Athletic , Newcastle’s takeover: In Saudi Arabia, exploring how the club fits a country’s vision, Newcastle United’s takeover: How strong is Saudi Arabia’s influence one year on?

World Cup 2022 news round-up: Nkunku and Lewandowski shine as Argentina put faith in Scaloni

“Club football is back and with fewer than 50 days for players to find form and fitness before the World Cup kicks off on November 20, Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, Leandro Trossard of Belgium and USA forward Ricardo Pepi laid down a marker at the weekend. Off the pitch, coaches are already being rewarded before the tournament kicks off with Wales extending Rob Page’s contract and Argentina set to keep Lionel Scaloni as head coach until the 2026 World Cup in the USA, Canada and Mexico. …”
The Athletic

World Cup 2022 power rankings: how the 32 look with two months to go

“With most teams having played their final matches before the tournament in Qatar, who appear most likely to lift the trophy? …”
Guardian

World Cup health check: The issue each country must address before Qatar


“The September international break is normally relatively relaxed — a chance to tweak tactics and focus on formations. Not this time. For almost all 32 competing nations, this is the final set of international fixtures before the World Cup begins in Qatar on November 20. So that you can go into the break feeling prepared, The Athletic has identified one issue every team need to try to fix this break…”
The Athletic (Video)

The 2022 World Cup draw analysed: ‘The Group of Dark Arts’, favourites France and that song


“Cringe-inducing cartoon meant to engage with no youngster we have ever met? Check. Song-and-dance routine combing local colour with avant-garde twist? Check. A massive advert for the official ball (the fastest ever, no less)? Yep, we had that, too, and several speeches, a first performance of the first song from the official Qatar 2022 album and a very contrived moment with France manager Didier Deschamps and a young lad who was in the crowd in Moscow four years ago. The 47 minutes of preamble before the draw for the 2022 World Cup at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre flew by! …”
The Athletic (Video)
NY Times – World Cup Draw Highlights: Matchups Let Teams Look Ahead to November
Guardian – World Cup draw: group-by-group analysis for Qatar 2022 – Jonathan Wilson
NY Times: World Cup Draw Brings Certainty. Now Comes the Hard Part.
The Athletic: With a marquee World Cup meeting vs. England, USMNT has a chance to change its perception writ large
BBC – Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022: What are the draw highlights? (Video)

The World Cup Draw Is Friday. Here’s How It Works.


“The World Cup field is almost complete. On Friday, soccer teams will learn the answer to the critical question they and their fans want to know: Who will they play when the tournament opens in November in Qatar? The World Cup draw — part gala, part pep rally, part math seminar — will deliver intriguing clashes of styles, testy political collisions and, if past events are any guide, a few uncomfortable moments. But given the stakes of the draw, it is also one of the biggest events on the global sports calendar. Here is a look at how it works. …”
NY Times
NY Times: Who Has Qualified for the 2022 World Cup? (Video)
NY Times: Your World Cup Questions, Answered
The Athletic – 2022 World Cup odds: France, Brazil are co-favorites ahead of the draw; England, Spain right behind

2022 World Cup: List of Qualified Teams for Qatar, Updated Standings, Playoff Brackets


“Qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is reaching its conclusion, as countries compete to fill the remaining spots in this year’s showcase on the sport’s greatest stage. … It was determined on Nov. 26 which regions will be paired for the playoffs, whose format has changed. Another wrinkle to qualifying is the expulsion of Russia due to its nation’s invasion of Ukraine. .. Nevertheless, the draw for the 2022 World Cup will occur on April 1, with the March 31 FIFA ranking being used to determine the pots. …”
SI
FIFA World Cup: Which teams have qualified to Qatar 2022? Full list of all 32 nations

£3 tickets, no Man City fans and VAR controversy – what Abu Dhabi football is like away from the glamour


“One man is bashing a drum at an incessant rhythm, another is singing through a megaphone and two more have taken it upon themselves to get the rest of the crowd around them to clap to the beat. Anyone who ignores them is getting a steely glare. ‘You must join in!’ a young man named Abdul Kadir shouts excitedly to me before turning back to his friends sitting next to him. There are only about 300 people in this section of the stadium, so how could The Athletic refuse? This is where the most fanatical fans have come to watch their beloved Baniyas play Al Wahda. …”
The Athletic

World Cup roundup: Denmark thrash Moldova to keep up perfect record


Denmark thrash Moldova
Denmark maintained their 100% record in Group F, with a 4-0 win in Moldova. Andreas Skov Olsen opened the scoring before Simon Kjær added a penalty. Christian Norgaard and Joakim Mæhle were also on target. Austria won 2-0 in the Faroe Islands to keep up their slim hopes of overtaking Scotland, who beat Israel 3-2 in a Hampden Park thriller. First-half goals from Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk gave Ukraine a 2-1 win over Finland in Group D. The West Ham forward Yarmolenko put the visitors ahead less than five minutes after kick-off when he drove home from 20 yards past the Finnish goalkeeper. Norwich City’s Teemu Pukki levelled for Finland in the 29th minute but Ukraine regained the lead minutes later with a goal from Yaremchuk. …”
Guardian

World Cup 2018 Best XI: France’s Champions Lead the Top Players in Russia


“After 64 games and more drama than any World Cup in at least 20 years, there’s one piece of business left to do: Pick a team of the tournament. It’s been picked as a team that might function together rather than just the 11 best players, and to avoid the temptation of packing it with France’s champions, a limit of four players per country has been self-imposed. In a 4-3-3 formation fit for the world stage, here is our 2018 World Cup Best XI.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

For all the ills of the world, World Cup 2018 showed that a bit of football done right can make the planet smile

“Monday morning dawns with a grim and crushing inevitability. Unless you’re peeling yourself off a Paris pavement, or drowning your sorrows in a Dubrovnik dive bar, the 2018 World Cup is over. As a month of sporting hedonism slips from present tense to past, real life and its hard borders re-sharpen their focus, bringing with them a cruel reckoning. It was only football, after all. It felt like more than that when Kylian Mbappe was burning through opposition defenders, or Lionel Messi was fighting back the tide, or Russia and South Korea were pulling off the unfeasible, or when England’s town squares throbbed with rasping songs and nervous tension and the prickly spines of a faint dream. But no: ultimately, it was only football, no more and no less.” Independent

World Cup 2018 goal celebrations: A statistical analysis of unbridled joy


“How would you celebrate if you scored at a World Cup? A jig by the corner flag, an emphatic sprint, jump and punch of the air, an emotional tussle with the goalnet, or just run as fast and far as you can until someone finally, gleefully leaps on you? Whether you’re a Milla, a Josimar or a Tardelli kind of guy, there are plenty of ways with which to physically revel in what, for most players, is the once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime act of scoring on the world’s biggest stage. Goal celebrations – often just as complex, slow-motion-worthy and memorable as the goals themselves – are an art form. But, just like everything else, they’re moulded by cultural trends, context and just pure momentary instinct.” Telegraph

France’s Benchwarmers Are Worth More Than Most Starting Lineups

“France enters today’s semifinal match against neighboring Belgium as the favorite to win the 2018 World Cup. At least on paper, though, France has been the least remarkable team of the four that remain: Les Bleus have scored fewer goals than each of the other semifinalists, they’ve possessed less of the ball than two of the other semifinalists, and they’ve taken the fewest shots.” FiveThirtyEight

Politics on the pitch: Operation double eagle

“Try as they might, FIFA can’t keep politics out of the beautiful game. For football fans, players, and even officials, the events of the past few days have been a stark reminder of just how prominent politics are in this summer’s World Cup held in Russia. Last Friday, Egypt’s Mo Salah was photographed at a ceremonial banquet where he was granted ‘honourary citizenship’ by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. This comes just weeks after the publication of a photo featuring Salah and Kadyrov that resulted in criticism against the footballer, as Kadyrov faces accusations of outrageous human rights violations. It’s been rumored that Salah’s frustration with being the centre of political controversy has driven him to think about leaving the Egyptian national team.” Al Jazeera (Audio)

Russia Is Not This Good — Right?

“Before the 2018 World Cup kicked off last week at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, much had been written about why Russia was so bad at soccer. A convincing 5-0 opening match win over Saudi Arabia — Russia’s first win at the tournament since 2002 also matched its largest margin of victory at a World Cup — surely helped to allay some of those criticisms. But there was still no looking past the fact that the host nation ranked 70th in the FIFA world rankings and was looked at by bookmakers as a relative long shot to win the whole thing.” FiveThirtyEight

Spain, Portugal, Uruguay Restore Order With Narrow World Cup Wins

“MOSCOW — Day 7 of World Cup 2018 was defined by 1-0 scorelines and winners from established soccer countries that never really seemed like they were in danger of squandering those slim advantages. Portugal 1, Morocco 0; Uruguay 1, Saudi Arabia 0; and Spain 1, Iran 0 kept the tournament from having its first scoreless tie, and after a run of surprises in recent days, order was (at least temporarily) restored. Uruguay’s win ensured that La Celeste and host Russia will go through to the last 16 from Group A, while Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Morocco were all eliminated from contention after two matches.” SI

How Russia’s counter-attacking showed pointlessness of possession without purpose


“There will not be many occasions when Saudi Arabia’s players have enjoyed 62 per cent of the possession on the home turf of a European opponent and yet for much of the first half, as the world watched Russia kick-off its own tournament, the team in green had the ball. This is the way that so many modern managers aspire to play, and when they watch the best teams in the world it is easy to see why. Possession football is well established as the game’s purest form – the right way to win and perhaps even the right way to lose.” Telegraph

The Goal That Sealed Russia’s Latest Victory on the World Stage
“Watching the first game of the World Cup, an entirely lopsided affair between Russia and Saudi Arabia, burdened with the knowledge that the U.S. national team had not qualified for the tournament, I couldn’t help thinking that this was a sports-world reiteration of our country’s broader failures on the international stage. As was recently revealed in a detailed report from The Ringer, America’s absence was the product of factors that, these days, ring familiar: blithe incompetence (especially in the former manager Jürgen Klinsmann’s seeming inability to manage the personalities on his team) and an institution-wide focus on everything but the common good.” New Yorker

Pomp, absurdity and goals galore get Russia’s show off to a delirious start
“Take that! On opening night in Moscow the World Cup turned a full-flush red, setting off like a train inside a periodically delirious Luzhniki Stadium. Every tournament needs a fully functioning host nation. The fear had been that an ageing, stagnant Russia team might bleed a little life from the World Cup right at the start. In the event it all went off like a dream. There was the required grimly magisterial speech from your host for the night, Mr Vladimir Putin. A commendably short opening ceremony played out like a homespun Saturday teatime TV oddity.” Guardian

Fifa’s Gianni Infantino hits rocky ground on 2018 World Cup eve

“The World Cup in Russia has sailed into view with a new Fifa captain at the helm, two and a half years since Sepp Blatter’s presidency crashed on the rocks of corruption and ethics breaches. Gianni Infantino seemed a callow, unlikely president when he was elevated to succeed the banned Blatter in February 2016 as, his tie slightly askew, he tapped his heart in wonderment at winning the vote of the Fifa congress.” Guardian

World Cup favourites choosing defensive-minded midfielders over deep-lying playmakers


“The most fascinating tactical development over the past few World Cups has been the increased popularity of the deep playmaker. Having nearly become extinct around the turn of the century, it’s notable that recent World Cup winners have generally depended upon a great creative influence from deep.” ESPN – Michael Cox (Video)

World Cup Preview 2018: Messi vs. Ronaldo, Magic Cats, Iceland!!, and the Entire Emotional Context in Which Much of Human Life Transpires

“Ladies and gentlemen, start your psychic octopuses. The biggest and strangest sporting event in human history resumes next week in Russia, where thirty-two men’s national soccer teams will begin the monthlong competition for the strangely un-cup-like trophy given to the winners of the FIFA World Cup. For many of the world’s best soccer players, the tournament offers a chance to become legends in their home countries and icons in the history of the game. For billions of soccer fans, the tournament offers a chance to participate in modernity’s most sweeping collective frenzy, a spectacle that will shape the emotional context in which much of human life transpires for the next few weeks. For the United States men’s national team, which did not qualify, the tournament offers a chance to feel gloomy while eating Cheetos on the couch.” New Yorker – Brian Phillips

Who’s the Best No. 10 at the World Cup?


“In Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Soccer Tactics, Jonathan Wilson describes the symbolism of the no. 10 as “the ‘free-spirited epitome of the artistry of soccer.’ And while free-spirits have become fewer and farther between as more money’s been poured into the game and managers have systematized their tactics, the no. 10 is still typically given to the most creative player on the team. Or, in Poland or Nigeria’s case, it’s given to a defensive midfielder best known for his ability to make tackles and pass the ball sideways. But each team has its reasons, and so with all of the World Cup squad lists now officially released, we each ranked all the nos. 10 set to play in Russia this summer, tallied the results, and came out with the following list. No. 1 is obvious, but that’s about the only spot we came close to agreeing on. Yes, someone, who shall remain nameless out of our sheer fear for his safety, didn’t put Lionel Messi first.” The Ringer

World Cup groups A-D preview – Football Weekly

“Max Rushden is joined by voices from around the world to preview World Cup groups A-D, including Danish royalty, Peruvian vigour and the prospect of a tournament without a French meltdown.” Guardian (Audio)

Your complete guide to all 736 players at the 2018 World Cup

“Biographies of every player in all 32 squads in Russia, including caps, goals, nicknames, hobbies and, once the tournament starts, ratings for every performance. We strive to give you an unbiased, trustworthy and in-depth view of the world’s most prestigious football tournament. If you think that’s worth something, then you can support The Guardian from as little as £1 – and it only takes a minute.” Guardian

Who Will Win the 2018 World Cup? SI’s Expert Predictions and Knockout Brackets


“The World Cup kicks off June 14 in Moscow with a meeting between the two lowest-ranked teams in the field, which, in some ways, is quite appropriate. The competition is meant to be a crescendo, one whose drama and defining moments don’t occur until the very end. With the way the draw and schedule worked out, that’s precisely how Russia 2018 is shaping up to play out. Russia vs. Saudi Arabia will be a massive 90 minutes for the host nation, which can set its tone for the tournament in front of its partisan crowd. But once it’s over, the focus will shift to the traditional powers and the individual superstars who figure to have plenty of say in determining the 2018 world champion. …” SI

Russia 2018: Group B

“The defence is arguably the best in the competition. Even if Dani Carvajal isn’t fit, Cesar Azpilicueta is a fine replacement, with left-back Jordi Alba crucial for offering thrust and speed from the left. Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique aren’t friends off the pitch, but remain reliable as a defensive partnership, and David De Gea is surely the best goalkeeper at the tournament. There’s a slight question over Sergio Busquets, who is more isolated in this system and is increasingly lacking mobility. Nevertheless, Spain are rightly strong favourites for this group and probably overpriced to win the World Cup overall. …” oddschecker – Michael Cox

World Cup 2018 team previews: what you need to know about all 32 teams (ESPN)


“The 2018 World Cup might be missing some big nations, but that’s what makes this tournament the best in sports. Brazil are looking to bounce back from a travesty in 2014, while Spain, Argentina and France are hoping to dethrone defending champions Germany and their typically deep squad. Can Belgium or Portugal make a splash? Do England have what it takes to challenge too? ESPN FC is previewing every team ahead of the opening game on June 14 in English, Spanish and Portuguese to give a truly global feel to our team profiles. Here’s what you need to know about the 32 teams set to do battle in Russia beginning on June 14. …”
ESPN

2018 FIFA World Cup

“The 2018 FIFA World Cup will be the 21st FIFA World Cup, a quadrennial international football tournament contested by the men’s national teams of the member associations of FIFA. It is scheduled to take place in Russia from 14 June to 15 July 2018, after the country was awarded the hosting rights on 2 December 2010. This will be the first World Cup held in Europe since the 2006 tournament in Germany, and the first ever to be held in Eastern Europe. All of the stadium venues are in European Russia, to keep travel time manageable. The final tournament will involve 32 national teams, which include 31 teams determined through qualifying competitions and the automatically qualified host team. Of the 32 teams, 20 will be making back-to-back appearances following the last tournament in 2014, including defending champions Germany, while Iceland and Panama will both be making their first appearances at a FIFA World Cup. A total of 64 matches will be played in 12 venues located in 11 cities. The final will take place on 15 July at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. …” Wikipedia

World Cup 2018 squad guide: Latest news and updates ahead of Russia (Independent)

“The 2018 World Cup is now only weeks away. The 32 countries have until the May 14 deadline to name their provisional squads for Russia with managers all over the globe currently scratching their heads as they bid to whittle down their long list of possibles and probables in time for the final June 4 cut off, just 10 days before the opener in Moscow. However, many teams – England included, – have already pledged to name their lucky few earlier with Gareth Southgate set to pick his 23 before the final pre-tournament friendlies with Nigeria and Costa Rica. …” Independent (Video)

World Cup 2018: Saudi Arabia to show all 64 matches illegally after banning Qatar channel beIN Sports in diplomatic row

“A diplomatic row means Saudi Arabia will be pirating all 64 matches of the World Cup after banning the sports channel in rival Qatar, which owns the broadcast rights. The extraordinary situation arose following a spat between the two countries last June which led to beIN Sports being caught up in a trade ban between the two countries. As well as the World Cup, the Doha-based channel owns the rights to broadcast the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup final across the Middle East. …” Independent