France focus on World Cup glory, spurred on by 2016 Euro pain

France focus on World Cup glory, spurred on by 2016 Euro pain
Croatia’s midfielder Luka Modric, right, and France’s forward Antoine Griezmann. France are firm favorites to win the World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday — 20 years after their first triumph in 1998. (AFP)
Updated 13 July 2018

France focus on World Cup glory, spurred on by 2016 Euro pain

France focus on World Cup glory, spurred on by 2016 Euro pain
  • France failed to click in the group stages but they have gone up through the gears during the knockout rounds
  • Deschamps’ team are packed with attacking stars such as Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann but it is their defense that has shone

MOSCOW: France fine-tuned their preparations for the World Cup final against Croatia on Friday, desperate to overcome the bitter disappointment of losing the Euro 2016 final as FIFA declared Russia 2018 the best-ever tournament.
Didier Deschamps’ team are firm favorites to win Sunday’s showpiece in Moscow and become world champions for the second time — 20 years after their first triumph in 1998.
But they will come up against a hungry Croatia side boasting one of the players of the tournament in Real Madrid star Luka Modric, who is desperate to win the trophy for the nation of just over four million people.
France failed to click in the group stages but they have gone up through the gears during the knockout rounds and look a formidable blend of youthful vitality and experience.
They will approach the match at the 80,000-capacity Luzhniki Stadium full of confidence and with the pain of losing the final of Euro 2016 on home soil to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal spurring them on.
“The tears have dried from Euro 2016 but it’s still there in a little corner of people’s minds,” said midfielder Blaise Matuidi on Friday.
“It will be useful for us on Sunday, even if I don’t like to keep bringing up the past. It will serve as a lesson to us and it means we know what it is to play in a final.
“We’ll approach it differently and hope that we play really well and win it. It’s up to us to put everything into place to achieve our dream of lifting the World Cup.”
Deschamps’ team are packed with attacking stars such as Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann but it is their defense that has shone in the past two rounds, not conceding a single goal.
Croatia — the smallest nation to make it to the final since Uruguay in 1950 — have battled through three periods of extra-time to reach the final. That means they have played the equivalent of a whole extra match more than France.
But coach Zlatko Dalic said there would be no excuses despite their exertions.
“We prepared to get to the final and we want to play it,” he said. “Going to extra-time might be a problem along with the fact France have had an extra day to recover but there will be no excuses.”
As the tournament drifts toward its end, FIFA president Gianni Infantino declared it the best ever.
“I was saying this would be the best World Cup ever. Today I can say it with more conviction... it is the best World Cup,” Infantino said in Moscow.
More than one million foreign fans have visited Russia during the World Cup, according to FIFA figures.
“A lot of pre-conceived ideas have changed thanks to this World Cup,” said Infantino.
“Everyone has discovered a beautiful country, a welcoming country, full of people keen to show to the world what maybe sometimes is said is not what happens here.”
He also said the use of the VAR (video assistant referee) had been a success and praised the quality of the football, with just a single 0-0 draw in 62 games so far.
Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to pour onto the streets of Paris at the weekend, 20 years on from the 1998 win on home soil, when Deschamps was captain of the side.
A security operation swung into full gear, with plans for 110,000 law enforcement officers to be deployed across France as the country celebrates the national Bastille Day holiday and the World Cup final.
“Everything is being done so the French can live these festive moments with peace of mind, despite the terrorist threat which remains at a high level,” Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said.
Before the final, England will play Belgium in a low-key battle for third place in Saint Petersburg on Saturday.
Gareth Southgate said his young team, who were just 22 minutes from reaching the final before Croatia’s impressive comeback in the semifinal, would have to learn from their bitter disappointment.
“The team will be better in a couple of years,” Southgate said in comments to the British press. “We have to build. We have some good young players coming through. We’ve had success at youth level.
“What we’ve done over the last few weeks has shown what is possible. We want to be in semifinals and finals and we’ve shown to ourselves that can happen.
“Now we have to use it as a springboard to reach the latter stages of tournaments consistently.”


AFC Champions League groups to kickoff amid virus threat

AFC Champions League groups to kickoff amid virus threat
Updated 6 min 51 sec ago

AFC Champions League groups to kickoff amid virus threat

AFC Champions League groups to kickoff amid virus threat
  • Saudi Arabia’s Al-Wehda will enter qualification playoffs in March
  • 2021 is set to be the biggest yet with the group stage expanding from 32 to 40 teams

LONDON: The 2021 AFC Champions League group stage is set to start in April, with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in line, if necessary, to play host to multiple games as the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) looks for ways to safely complete its flagship tournament in the middle of a global pandemic.

It will be the second successive year that the tournament has been affected by the coronavirus. With the experience gained in 2020 when Qatar stepped in to host the remainder of the group and knockout stage after the competition was postponed earlier in the year, the AFC is confident that all will go smoothly.

Last year’s edition was eventually won by South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai Horangi in December, but 2021 is set to be the biggest yet with the group stage expanding from 32 to 40 teams.

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Wehda will enter qualification playoffs in March, and if successful, will join Al-Nassr, Al-Ahli and 2019 champions Al-Hilal in the first round.

“The playoffs are scheduled to take place in March and the group stage in April,” an AFC official told Arab News. “We would prefer to host games in two or three cities in each region, but that depends on how the coronavirus situation develops. It may be that there are new rules put in place around Asia which mean that we will have to return to a single hub system.”

The continental competition is usually split into two geographic zones until the final. The group stage of the West Asian side of the tournament is set to take place over two weeks in the second half of April.

The eastern zone, which does not yet have a potential host nation and could again take place in the west, will start and finish
a week later.

Given what happened last year, the AFC is staying flexible on when and where the knockout stages will take place, especially as Asian national teams are expected to be busy with 2022 World Cup qualifiers in June. It is likely however that both east and west Asian teams will be mixed together from at least the quarterfinal stage onward.

The Champions League is not the only tournament affected by the global pandemic. On Friday, the Tajikistan Football Association announced that the AFC-U16 and U-19 Championships will be postponed.

The former was originally scheduled to take place in Bahrain last September and October before it was rearranged for March this year. It remains to be seen whether it happens at all, as the tournament was already planned to be the final edition of the U-16 competition, with the AFC moving to an U-17 version from 2023.

Saudi Arabia may have to wait to defend the AFC-U19 Championship that was won in 2018 as the tournament in Uzbekistan is also set to be, at the very least, postponed. Originally scheduled to be held last October, it was rearranged for March.

It is not only Asia that is striving to find ways to complete competitions in difficult circumstances. On Friday, FIFA announced that Auckland City had withdrawn from the Club World Cup that is set to kick off in Qatar in February. The Oceania champions will stay home due to travel restrictions put in place by the New Zealand government.

“FIFA has today been informed by Auckland City FC that, in light of the coronavirus pandemic and related quarantine measures required by the New Zealand authorities, the club will be unable to participate in the FIFA Club World Cup 2020,” the world governing body said in a statement.

“Despite FIFA’s regular exchanges with the club, New Zealand Football and the OFC in recent days, the requirements of the New Zealand authorities in relation to isolation and quarantine go beyond FIFA’s remit and, therefore, it was not possible to reach a solution.”

It means that Oceania’s representatives will miss their opening round showdown with Al-Duhail, representing the host nation, on Feb. 1. The Qataris will receive a bye to the second round and a match-up against either Al-Ahly of Egypt, South Korea’s Ulsan or Tigres of Mexico, the respective champions of Africa, Asia and CONCAFAF.

The draw will be made on Tuesday, with European representatives Bayern Munich and South America’s champions, to be determined on Jan. 30, placed in the semifinals.