World Cup 2022: Infantino hails ‘finest ever’ group stage after rise of Africa and Asia – dwell


Key occasions

You’ll probably be riveted to know that I feel a change from 4-3-3 to 3-4-3 can be an error. For the primary time in a very long time, England have a midfield ok to compete with France’s, and taking a person out of the center will restrict Jude Bellingham’s potential to get ahead and efficient cede management of the sport to attempt to win it in moments or on the counter. England might win that manner, however I don’t suppose it’s their finest rote to victory – particularly with out Reece James, value alternative although Kieran Trippier is.

Northern Eire will fancy their probabilities of making the 2026 version; given the dimensions of that competitors, my Outdated Boys crew in all probability will too. Anyhow, they’ve reappointed Michael O’Neill as supervisor, and he acquired them to Euro 2016, so there’s pedigree there.

I’m unsure Infantino is correct about these being one of the best group levels ever. The final spherical of matches was dramatic, however high quality was fairly low.

Inform you what, although, we’ve acquired some critical soccer awaiting us. Gareth Southgate and Fernando Santos each appears to have found their finest formations and XIs within the nick of time so, all issues being effectively, we must always get an epic or two within the 10 days or so. We’d like them, as a result of when it comes all the way down to it, that final 16 was a bit of disappointing.

Thanks Martin and hello everybody. How all of us dealing with this football-free day? Shame, in the event you ask me?

I must take the canine for a stroll – not a euphemism – so I might be passing you over to the secure fingers of Daniel Harris.

Willow, the official canine of the Guardian’s Thursday quiz, wants her every day train. {Photograph}: Martin Belam/The Guardian

Do you keep in mind membership soccer? Erik ten Hag does, and he has insisted right this moment that Manchester United have moved on from Cristiano Ronaldo’s messy departure.

PA Media experiences that Ten Hag was not prepared to debate the saga in depth when requested by the membership’s in-house TV channel, MUTV, in an interview that was aired on Wednesday. Fairly, the Dutchman insisted his focus was on the long run.

United terminated Ronaldo’s contract after being rocked by a rare sequence of complaints by him in a TV interview. Ten Hag got here in for specific criticism from the 37-year-old ahead, who accused the Dutchman of not respecting him. Requested how he had managed the scenario, Ten Hag advised MUTV: “He’s gone and it’s the previous. We at the moment are wanting ahead and we’re seeking to the long run.”

Ten Hag is assured his gamers which might be in Qatar will hit the bottom operating once they get again to home responsibility. He mentioned: “We had a plan, now we have ready the gamers with what the plan is, so there can’t be any confusion about what the programme is.

“We make the gamers conscious of the truth that, after you’re out of the World Cup, it’s a must to return to the membership and the league instantly goes on. You must be prepared for that, however I feel our gamers are used to it.”

United face Burnley in a Carabao Cup tie on 21 December – three days after the World Cup closing – earlier than internet hosting Nottingham Forest within the Premier League six days later.

Declan Rice and Callum Wilson miss England coaching forward of France conflict

A fast snap from PA right here that Declan Rice missed coaching right this moment by way of sickness as England put together for Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final in opposition to France.

The 23-year-old has began all 4 video games for Gareth Southgate’s aspect in Qatar however was absent from the session at Al Wakrah Sports activities Advanced. Callum Wilson additionally sat out as he recovers from a minor muscle pressure.

Harry Kane and Kyle Walker during England training in Al Wakrah today.
Harry Kane and Kyle Walker throughout England coaching in Al Wakrah right this moment. {Photograph}: Peter Cziborra/Reuters

How will we really feel about additional time on the World Cup? I’ve seen various folks moot that with the truncated event size, and it being mid-season, possibly Fifa ought to have opted to have drawn knockout spherical matches go straight to penalties after 90 minutes.

Then, there’s the query of whether or not additional time delivers any worth in soccer anyway. So usually it appears like thirty minutes of drained gamers having an aimless kickabout whereas they watch for penalties.

As a result of I’m an entire spod I’ve executed some quantity crunching, and I make it that over the past 5 World Cups for the reason that ‘golden purpose’ rule was abolished, 25 matches in whole have gone to additional time. In 15 of these, there was no rating throughout the additional interval. That features the 2006 match between Switzerland and Ukraine which felt not a lot like additional time as a collective punishment.

So solely ten matches which have gone to additional time have seen objectives throughout the extra minutes in 16 years, which doesn’t appear to be nice leisure worth.

Having mentioned that, three of the finals throughout that point have gone to additional time, and we’d have been disadvantaged of Mario Götze and Andrés Iniesta’s dramatic late winners, and that Zinedine Zidane second of insanity. So possibly we must always keep it up in any case?

Do drop me a line along with your ideas on that or anything –

Spain really feel like the one crew extra cursed than England at penalty shootouts. They’ve solely gained one of many 5 they’ve confronted in World Cups – at Eire’s expense in 2002. Certainly, Spain has now gained solely three of its final 11 World Cup video games since 2010.

There’s no rapid phrase on the way forward for coach Luis Enrique, who blamed himself for Spain’s exit yesterday.

“It’s my duty,” AP experiences Enrique mentioned, including “I picked the primary three penalty-takers”. He had beforehand mentioned that he had requested every of his squad to practise 1,000 penalties with their membership sides earlier than the event.

The coach additionally mentioned one in all his regrets in Qatar was to not have used 30-year-old Pablo Sarabia extra usually throughout the event. Sarabia got here on in its place simply earlier than the top of additional time “and he created two scoring events straight away,” Enrique mentioned. “It was my mistake to not have used him extra. It wasn’t honest.”

Enrique didn’t say whether or not he would proceed as Spain coach, saying he would “take a while to relaxation” earlier than begin making a call about his future.

That will even have been the final time we see Sergio Busquets in a Span shirt. “Now the necessary factor is the crew and never me,” mentioned the 34-year-old Barcelona midfielder, who made his seventeenth World Cup look yesterday.

“We’ll choose ourselves up and use it as a studying expertise,” Busquets mentioned. “We’re in an excellent dynamic, with younger folks. That is going to make them stronger.”

Spain’s qualifying group for Euro 2024 options Norway, Scotland, Georgia and Cyprus, and the crew will even be competing within the UEFA Nations League finals in the summertime of 2023, the place they are going to face one in all Italy, Croatia or the Netherlands within the semi-finals.

Fifa’s Infantino declares Qatar group levels to be ‘finest ever’ at a World Cup

In a not totally unpredictable transfer, Fifa head honcho Gianni Infantino has been waxing lyrical about occasions in Qatar thus far and has described the group stage of the event because the “finest ever” at a World Cup. PA is carrying the next quotes from the person who declared himself to really feel Qatari, Arabic, African, homosexual, disabled and like a migrant employee on the eve of the event.

I’ve seen all of the matches, certainly, and put very merely and really clearly, this has been one of the best group stage of a Fifa World Cup ever. So, it’s very promising for the rest of the Fifa World Cup.

The matches have been of nice, nice high quality in stunning stadiums – we knew that already. Nonetheless, as effectively, the general public who was there was unimaginable. Over 51,000 on common.

In the case of stadium attendances, the stadiums are sold-out, full virtually at each match. The fan festivals, the totally different fan zones, are additionally very crowded with folks celebrating.

There aren’t any extra small groups and no extra large groups. The extent may be very, very equal. For the primary time as effectively, nationwide groups from all continents going to the knockout part, for the primary time in historical past. This reveals that soccer is admittedly turning into actually international.

To not be an entire pedant about it, however that final declare doesn’t significantly ring true, as in 2010 groups from UEFA, Conmebol, Concacaf, Caf and the AFC all made it to the spherical of 16, precisely the identical set of confederations as this time.

Presumably Infantino meant the looks of Australia made a distinction in 2022, however they’re members of the AFC. New Zealand misplaced their intercontinental playoff so there was no illustration from the OFC in any respect in Qatar.

We don’t have any World Cup match motion right this moment, however we expect media appearances from England and France in a while. Kyle Walker and Harry Maguire are anticipated to be the England gamers up speaking to reporters.

Japan have arrived dwelling to a hero’s welcome on the Narita Worldwide Airport east of Tokyo.

Supporters use smartphones to record the Japanese national soccer team returning home.
Supporters use smartphones to document the Japanese nationwide soccer crew returning dwelling. {Photograph}: Shuji Kajiyama/AP
Japan's head coach Hajime Moriyasu, centre and captain Maya Yoshida, centre right, receive flowers as supporters welcome home the Japanese national soccer team.
Japan’s head coach Hajime Moriyasu, centre and captain Maya Yoshida, centre proper, obtain flowers as supporters welcome dwelling the Japanese nationwide soccer crew. {Photograph}: Shuji Kajiyama/AP

Belgium’s Eden Hazard pronounces worldwide retirement

Belgium captain Eden Hazard introduced his retirement from worldwide soccer aged 31 on Wednesday after his crew’s group-stage exit on the World Cup.

The ahead performed in all three Group F video games however didn’t rating as Belgium beat Canada, misplaced to Morocco and performed out a goalless draw with Croatia to complete third.

Hazard made his worldwide debut in 2008 and scored 33 instances in 126 appearances. He helped Belgium attain the 2018 World Cup semi-finals, the place they misplaced to eventual champions France, and beat England within the third-placed playoff.

“I’ve determined to place an finish to my worldwide profession. The succession is prepared,” Hazard wrote on Instagram, Reuters experiences.

“A web page turns right this moment … Thanks to your love. Thanks to your unparalleled help. Thanks for all this happiness shared since 2008 … I’ll miss you.”

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez stepped down from his function on Thursday after a disappointing event in Qatar.

Eden Hazard of Belgium in action against Croatia.
Eden Hazard of Belgium in motion in opposition to Croatia. {Photograph}: High quality Sport Photos/Getty Photos

In case you have been in any respect involved in regards to the lack of David Squires yesterday, concern not. He merely held it again a day to verify he might get the entire spherical of 16 lined, and the pleasant final couple of panels right here will present that it was all value it.

Switzerland’s capitulation to Portugal final evening marked their third consecutive spherical of 16 exit at a World Cup, after a decent 1-0 defeat to Argentina after additional time in 2014, and a 1-0 defeat to Sweden in 2018. The final time Switzerland reached the quarter-finals was as hosts in 1954, once they took half within the highest scoring World Cup match of all-time, an astonishing sounding 7-5 defeat to neighbours Austria in Lausanne.

Graham Dunbar at AP has been taking a look at what lies forward for the Swiss now, and means that none of this squad want head for worldwide retirement. The core trio of goalkeeper Yann Sommer, midfielder and captain Granit Xhaka and playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri are of their early 30s and have a lot to supply as crew leaders.

There could also be questions over the way forward for coach Murat Yakin although, whose tactical change from a line of defense of 4 to 3 on the again did them no favours in opposition to a rampant Portuguese assault. A considerably less-than-enthused Shaqiri mentioned after the sport “These have been his decisions, now we have to just accept them”

Yakin has a contract by way of to the top of Euro 2024, and the Swiss might be pretty assured of qualifying from a gaggle that has positioned them with Israel, Romania, Kosovo, Belarus and Andorra, with two groups set to progress to the finals in Germany.

Portugal have been out doing a little bit of restoration coaching in Doha this morning, and now we have the images to show it.

Portugal's defender Joao Cancelo heads the ball during a training session on Wednesday.
Portugal’s defender Joao Cancelo heads the ball throughout a coaching session on Wednesday. {Photograph}: Patrícia de Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Photos
Portugal's forward Rafael Leao at the Al Shahaniya SC training site in Doha today.
Portugal’s ahead Rafael Leao on the Al Shahaniya SC coaching website in Doha right this moment. {Photograph}: Patrícia de Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Photos
Portugal's coach Fernando Santos looking rather pensive about it all.
Portugal’s coach Fernando Santos wanting moderately pensive about all of it. {Photograph}: Patrícia de Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Photos

Even the official World Cup social media channels are a bit at a loss for what to do right this moment, however I can assure I gained’t be filming any keepie uppies for the dwell weblog.

Mark Gleeson at Reuters has written that Lionel Messi’s hopes of profitable an elusive World Cup will come up in opposition to the tactical scheming of veteran coach Louis van Gaal as Argentina face the Netherlands in Friday’s quarter-final at Lusail. That one kicks off at 7pm GMT, and can evoke reminiscences of some traditional earlier clashes.

71-year-old Van Gaal is decided to offer the Dutch their first World Cup title after runners-up finishes in 1974, 1978 and 2010.

Argentina won the World Cup in 1978 at the Netherlands’ expense in the final.
Argentina gained the World Cup in 1978 on the Netherlands’ expense within the closing. {Photograph}: Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy

The coach’s planning will largely give attention to containing Messi and catching Argentina on the break. The tactical plan is vital to his aspect’s hopes of profitable on Friday because the Dutch look to take revenge for his or her semi-final defeat in 2014 when Argentina beat them in a shootout.

“We are able to shock groups with our plan. We have been additionally the higher crew then and Messi didn’t see a lot of the ball,” the coach advised reporters this week. The Netherlands have misplaced solely one of many earlier 9 video games in opposition to Argentina – the 1978 World Cup closing in Buenos Aires – although they’ve been crushed in a shootout on two events.

Van Gaal may level to a run of type that has seen the Dutch go 19 video games with out defeat since he returned to the recent seat for a 3rd spell 15 months in the past. That features a run to the finals event of the UEFA Nations League, which the Dutch are anticipated to host subsequent summer time.

Right here’s one for the “choose that out” information from France’s Axel Disasi.

Is it too early to begin constructing as much as Brazil v Croatia on Friday? In all probability, however who’s going to cease me? Definitely not Reuters, which has simply printed a bit of reality field in regards to the conflict, together with these highlights:

  • Brazil have reached a minimum of the quarter-finals of their final eight World Cups. They have been champions in 1994 and 2002 and runners-up in 1998, however have solely reached the semi-finals as soon as since then – as hosts in 2014 once they have been humiliated 7-1 by Germany.

  • In 4 video games in Qatar thus far, Croatia have gained solely as soon as in 90 minutes – the 4-1 group stage win over Canada both aspect of goalless attracts with Morocco and Belgium, earlier than overcoming Japan on penalties with the rating deadlocked at 1-1 after additional time.

  • Brazil striker Neymar, who marked his return from harm by scoring in Monday’s 4-1 win over South Korea, netted twice once they beat Croatia 3-1 within the group stage in 2014.

  • Croatia have gained all three of their World Cup penalty shootouts. They beat Denmark within the final 16 and hosts Russia within the quarter-finals 2018, and Japan on Monday.

  • Brazil are unbeaten of their 4 conferences with Croatia (gained 3 drew 1). The groups have met twice within the World Cup, with Brazil profitable 1-0 in 2006 and 3-1 as hosts in 2014.

Away from the lads’s World Cup in Qatar for a second, Juliet Bawuah writes for the Guardian right this moment that ladies’s soccer in Africa is at risk of being left on the touchline:

I’ve been following ladies’s soccer in Africa for nearly 15 years. And I’m unhappy to say that there was little progress in supporting or selling it in that point. The complaints are acquainted now: lack of illustration, lack of infrastructure, poor wages and underfunding are among the many myriad failings which have held again the ladies’s sport.

This sorry state of affairs is continent-wide. But expertise abounds: four-time African Ladies’s Footballer of the Yr and Barcelona participant Asisat Oshoala from Nigeria and Ghana striker Evelyn Badu, who performs for Norwegian membership Avaldsnes IL and was named 2022 Younger Participant of the Yr and Interclub participant of the 12 months by the Confederation of African Soccer (CAF), are among the many finest. However these stars succeeded in opposition to the percentages. The place is the grassroots funding to make sure the women of right this moment have open alternatives as an alternative of getting to sneak out of their properties to play the sport they love? It shouldn’t all be left to the gamers themselves to nurture future stars, as Oshoala is doing by way of her Lagos-based academy, or former Tremendous Falcons participant Ayisat Yusuf-Aromire together with her SheFootball Initiative.

Learn extra right here: Juliet Bawuah – Ladies’s soccer in Africa is at risk of being left on the touchline

Japan’s defeat on penalties to Croatia on Monday was exhausting for the gamers to take on the time, however right this moment the Samurai Blue have put out a message thanking followers for his or her help. They’ve mentioned to their followers:

The connection and unity of all of the individuals who love Japanese soccer has reached every member of the crew enjoying in Qatar and has turn out to be an excellent power.

The crew went on to thank everybody concerned in grassroots soccer in Japan, and mentioned that “The Samurai Blue was capable of compete in opposition to the world’s prime powerhouses on the large stage of the Fifa World Cup due to the gamers, coaches, and employees who’ve devoted their lives to soccer.”

The message concludes:

Though we weren’t capable of obtain our purpose of creating it to the quarter-finals this time, we will certainly use this event as a supply of power for our dream of profitable the Fifa World Cup. We’ll stroll along with all those that love soccer.

Japan’s anguish during the penalty shootout defeat to Croatia.
Japan’s anguish throughout the penalty shootout defeat to Croatia. {Photograph}: Richard Heathcote/Getty Photos

AP had reporters out on the streets in Rabat chatting with Morocco followers yesterday as they celebrated their win.

“We’re so happy with our Lions, who fought exhausting to get us into the quarter-finals,” mentioned Niama Meddoun, a Rabat resident. “We’re delighted to be Moroccans right this moment, since we’re the primary Arab nation that has reached the quarter-finals.”

The King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, praised the nationwide crew and despatched his “heartfelt congratulations” to the gamers, the technical crew and administrative personnel, “who gave their all and blazed a path all through this nice sporting occasion,” in keeping with a press release from the royal palace.

The king mentioned the gamers represented “hopes and desires of Moroccans in Morocco, Qatar, and everywhere in the world.”

There have been additionally celebrations in Barcelona. Youssef Lotfi, a 39-year-old building employee who was born in Casablanca however moved to Spain as a toddler and mentioned he feels love for each nations, was brimming with pleasure.

“Immediately is a day of pleasure for Moroccans and all of the Arab world,” Lotfi mentioned. “It was a heart-attack end that would have gone both manner.”

He known as the victory “as soon as in a lifetime” expertise. “Morocco is representing all of the Arab world, all of the African continent, that’s past description, it’s the most superb half,” he mentioned.

Listed below are your remaining World Cup fixtures by the way in which …

Friday 9 December
QF1: Croatia v Brazil (3pm GMT, Schooling Metropolis Stadium)
QF2: Netherlands v Argentina (7pm GMT, Lusail Iconic Stadium)

Saturday 10 December
QF3: Morocco v Portugal (3pm GMT, Al Thumama Stadium)
QF4: England v France (7pm GMT, Al Bayt Stadium)

Tuesday 13 December
SF1: Netherlands or Argentina v Croatia or Brazil (7pm GMT, Lusail Iconic Stadium)

Wednesday 14 December
SF2: England or France v Morocco or Portugal (7pm GMT, Al Bayt Stadium)

Saturday 17 December
Third place play-off: Shedding semi-finalist second XIs (3pm GMT, Khalifa Worldwide Stadium)

Sunday 18 December
Closing: Profitable semi-finalists (3pm GMT, Lusail Iconic Stadium)

There have been some fairly punchy quotes from Portugal coach Fernando Santos about CR7 after the sport final evening. PA carry them, with Santos saying that the function of Cristiano Ronaldo for the rest of the World Cup is one thing that has but to be “outlined”. He mentioned:

I’ve a really shut relationship with him – I at all times have, I’ve identified him since he was 19 years previous. This relationship solely develops, Ronaldo and I by no means interpret the human facet of that of supervisor and participant (in relation to) what now we have to do throughout the match. I’ll at all times think about in my function that he’s an necessary participant to have within the crew.

Requested immediately if Ronaldo would play in opposition to Morocco on Saturday, Santos mentioned: “Ronaldo will certainly (be concerned), all of the gamers on the bench can be utilized, if they don’t seem to be within the beginning lineup they will play later.

“It is very important take a look at the instance of this participant’s historical past, he is among the finest gamers on the earth at enjoying professionally, being captain – all now we have to do is consider this crew collectively.”

There are some great footage this morning on the information wires of the contrasting scenes between Spain and Morocco supporters world wide, which I really feel I have to begin the day by sharing.

Moroccans celebrate their team's victory in Rabat.
Moroccans have fun their crew’s victory in Rabat. {Photograph}: Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Photos
A Morocco supporter waves a national flag to celebrate the win on the Champs Elysees in Paris.
A Morocco supporter waves a nationwide flag to have fun the win on the Champs Elysees in Paris. {Photograph}: Julien de Rosa/AFP/Getty Photos
Spanish supporters react as they watch the live broadcast of the defeat to Morocco in a bar in Madrid.
Spanish supporters react as they watch the dwell broadcast of the defeat to Morocco in a bar in Madrid. {Photograph}: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Photos

Max Rushden, Barry Glendenning, Jonathan Fadugba, and John Brewin have been up working late final evening within the pod to debate the concluding video games of the World Cup spherical of 16 after Portugal thrashed Switzerland and Morocco shocked Spain. You will get that immediately into your ears right here …


First the dangerous information. It’s the first day the place there isn’t any precise soccer on the World Cup since 20 November, and like me, I’m certain you’ll miss settling down for the motion come 3pm GMT.

However the excellent news? Wow, what a day we had yesterday, and what loads we nonetheless need to stay up for.

You may’t inform me that even in his wildest desires, Portugal coach Fernando Santos wakened on Tuesday morning pondering that the results of dropping Cristiano Ronaldo as captain and out of the primary XI can be that he might casually convey him on in its place within the 73rd minute as a gesture of “no exhausting emotions” when his aspect have been already 5-1 up in opposition to Switzerland.

Portugal coach Fernando Santos watches on as Cristiano Ronaldo waits on the substitutes bench.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos watches on as Cristiano Ronaldo waits on the substitutes bench. {Photograph}: Suhaib Salem/Reuters

Then there was Morocco reaching the quarter-finals for the primary time of their World Cup historical past. You may argue whether or not penalties are a lottery or the execution of a precision talent below strain – don’t fear, it’s positively the latter – however the Atlas Lions have now stored clear sheets in opposition to Croatia, Belgium and Spain, and go into the quarter-finals unbeaten. That’s one thing that may’t be mentioned of Brazil, Argentina, France or Portugal.

Morocco's defender Achraf Hakimi (C) celebrates with his teammates after converting the last penalty during the penalty shootout win against Spain.
Morocco’s defender Achraf Hakimi (C) celebrates together with his teammates after changing the final penalty throughout the penalty shootout win in opposition to Spain. {Photograph}: Javier Soriano/AFP/Getty Photos

I might be bringing you all of the fallout from that, the remainder of the World Cup information because it occur, and looking out ahead to the quarter-finals getting below manner on Friday. Do drop me a line at

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