Favorites Brazil kick off World Cup bid as Ronaldo and Portugal enter fray

Favorites Brazil kick off World Cup bid as Ronaldo and Portugal enter fray
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Brazil's players take part in a training session at Al Arabi SC stadium in Doha on Wednesday, on the eve of their World Cup football match against Serbia. (AFP)
Favorites Brazil kick off World Cup bid as Ronaldo and Portugal enter fray
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Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, center, warms up with his teammates during Portugal's training on the eve of the Group H World Cup match between Portugal and Ghana at the Al Shahaniya SC training site in Al Shahaniya, Qatar Wednesday. (AP)
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Updated 24 November 2022

Favorites Brazil kick off World Cup bid as Ronaldo and Portugal enter fray

Favorites Brazil kick off World Cup bid as Ronaldo and Portugal enter fray
  • Brazil will be wary of a dangerous Serbian side when the teams meet at Lusail Stadium
  • Portugal will be expected to start with a victory at Stadium 974 by Doha’s waterfront against a Ghana side who sit 61st in the FIFA rankings

AFP DOHA: Favorites Brazil begin their bid to win a sixth World Cup on Thursday when they take on Serbia, while Cristiano Ronaldo will hope to put his acrimonious departure from Manchester United behind him as Portugal enter the fray against Ghana.

Brazil will be wary of a dangerous Serbian side when the teams meet at Lusail Stadium, especially after seeing Argentina suffer a shock defeat against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday at the same venue and Germany lose to Japan on Wednesday.

The Brazilians have arrived in Qatar hoping for a repeat of what happened at the last World Cup held in Asia two decades ago, when they won their fifth title in Japan.

Tite’s side can rely on a Neymar who has been in ominous form for Paris Saint-Germain, but the world’s most expensive player is surrounded by other outstanding attackers ready to share the burden, such as Real Madrid duo Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo.

“In my opinion these players will help Neymar because they can divide up the responsibility and create space for him,” said veteran Brazil skipper Thiago Silva.

“The atmosphere in the squad is super healthy. The mixture of young players and more experienced ones creates a great connection,” he added.

However, Serbia appear a more dangerous proposition than four years ago, when they also faced Brazil in the group stage but lost 2-0 and went home in the first round.

“We are afraid of nobody in the world, not even Brazil,” insisted Serbia coach Dragan Stojkovic, who was hopeful that prolific Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic would be fit for the Group G opener.

Switzerland and Cameroon kick off Thursday’s action in the same section at Al Janoub Stadium at 1:00 p.m. (1000 GMT).

Swiss skipper Granit Xhaka indicated his side would not copy Germany’s mouth-covering protest against FIFA’s stance on rainbow-themed armbands.

The Swiss were one of the seven European teams whose captains were to wear the armband in support of LGBTQ people at the tournament in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.

Germany made the gesture as they lined up for their team photo before their shock 2-1 defeat to Japan after they abandoned plans for skipper Manuel Neuer to wear the armband following threats of on-field disciplinary action by FIFA.

“I don’t think we need to do anything as the Swiss team. We need to respect the rules and concentrate on our football, that’s all I intend to do,” Xhaka said on Wednesday.

Ronaldo’s preparation for what is surely his last World Cup has been overshadowed by his bitter departure from Old Trafford.

It was announced late on Tuesday that the 37-year-old would leave United with “immediate effect” in the wake of an outspoken interview with a British broadcaster in which he said he felt “betrayed” by the club and had no respect for manager Erik ten Hag.

His club form this season has been poor but he is still hoping for a final shot at World Cup glory and Portugal will be expected to start with a victory at Stadium 974 by Doha’s waterfront against a Ghana side who sit 61st in the FIFA rankings.

Portugal coach Fernando Santos claimed that Ronaldo’s split from United had not been discussed by the players.

“The players are absolutely focused, with a great spirit, convinced about what they have to do, what their objectives are and realistic about the challenges they are facing,” Santos said.

“Winning a competition of this magnitude is difficult.”

Portugal and Ghana are in Group H with Uruguay and South Korea, who meet in Thursday’s other match.

Son Heung-min will be able to play for South Korea despite wearing a mask after facial surgery.

The Tottenham Hotspur attacker and Korean skipper had surgery earlier this month after suffering a fracture around his left eye during a UEFA Champions League game.

“Son can play and will be able to play,” said coach Paulo Bento.

Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano scored as Japan came from behind to beat Germany in Group E, while Spain started their campaign with a 7-0 demolition of Costa Rica with Ferran Torres scoring twice for the 2010 World Cup winners.

Belgium also started in winning fashion in Wednesday’s late match as Michy Batshuayi’s goal gave them a 1-0 victory over Canada, for whom Alphonso Davies had a penalty saved.

Group F rivals Morocco drew 0-0 with 2018 beaten finalists Croatia.


Messi magic guides relieved Argentina past feisty Mexico

Messi magic guides relieved Argentina past feisty Mexico
Updated 27 November 2022

Messi magic guides relieved Argentina past feisty Mexico

Messi magic guides relieved Argentina past feisty Mexico
  • Messi equalled Diego Maradona's Argentina record of 21 matches and eight goals at the World Cup
  • Substitute Fernandez made sure of the three points when he curled a superb shot into the top corner in the 87th minute

LUSAIL, Qatar: Lionel Messi thumped in a 64th minute goal and Enzo Fernandez added another late in the game to give Argentina a 2-0 victory over battling Mexico in their World Cup Group C match on Saturday and reignite their tournament hopes.
Messi, who equalled Diego Maradona’s Argentina record of 21 matches and eight goals at the World Cup, was nowhere to be seen for more than an hour before picking up an Angel Di Maria pass, finding just enough space and rifling in from 20 meters.
Substitute Fernandez made sure of the three points when he curled a superb shot into the top corner in the 87th minute.
The result restored order for the Argentines in Group C after their shock opening 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia.
Argentina, on three points, can guarantee progress with a win over Poland, top on four, in their final game on Wednesday.
“Today starts another World Cup for Argentina,” Messi said. “I tell people the same thing, that they continue to believe.
“The first half we didn’t play as we should and in the second, when we calmed down, we started to play the ball better and until the goal we went back to being what we are.”
Mexico, who have now lost all four World Cup clashes with Argentina, have one point and must beat Saudi Arabia, on three, to have any chance of continuing their run of making the last 16 in the last seven World Cups, but even that might not be enough.
HIGH TENSION
With the prospect of an Argentina elimination, tensions were high on and off the ball in a scrappy first half but with the two sets of fans creating an electric atmosphere in the stadium.
The opening period did not live up to the match’s billing with neither team wanting to commit too many players forward and apart from a free kick by Mexico’s Luis Chavez in the ninth minute that sailed past the goalmouth there were few chances.
Mexico’s high pressing game stifled most of their opponents’ attack and Argentine talisman Messi, struggled to find any space to maneuver in a congested midfield.
Apart from a Lautaro Martinez effort that was well off the mark and another from Messi, Argentina were toothless up front.
But in a major blow to Mexico, skipper Andres Guardado, a veteran of five World Cups who until then had been a commanding presence in midfield, had to be taken off injured in the 42nd.
The Mexicans still carved out two more chances before the break with Alexis Vega first curling a free kick over the wall for keeper Emiliano Martinez to save and minutes later thundering a shot over the bar.
The South Americans looked more determined after the break but had no real chance before their 35-year-old captain dragged them out of trouble with his second goal of the tournament.
The stadium erupted in cheers once more with Fernandez’s late strike which sealed Argentina’s first win in the tournament and rekindled Messi’s hopes of a first ever World Cup title.


Saudi Arabia ‘will keep focused and fighting,’ Coach Renard says

Saudi Arabia ‘will keep focused and fighting,’ Coach Renard says
Updated 26 November 2022

Saudi Arabia ‘will keep focused and fighting,’ Coach Renard says

Saudi Arabia ‘will keep focused and fighting,’ Coach Renard says
  • ‘Don’t think that we are finished,’ Frenchman says after defeat by Poland
  • Green Falcons will play their final Group C game against Mexico on Wednesday

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s soccer players will remain focused and keep fighting until the World Cup’s last moments, their head coach said on Saturday after the team’s 2-0 loss to Poland.
“I am proud of my players and football is a team sport in which there is success and failure,” Herve Renard told a press conference. “The most important thing is that we have one match (left) and we must remain focused.”
After an epic win against Argentina in their opening game, the Green Falcons failed to soar to the same heights against Robert Lewandowski and his Polish teammates at the Education City Stadium in Qatar and so remain on three points in Group C.
Despite the disappointment, Renard said his team were far from giving in.
“We will play to the last second of this tournament and we will not give up,” he said.
“We will play the third match with the same energy and we need the fans to be present and fill the stadium against Mexico.
“We didn’t lose because of luck but because we weren’t so effective, and I will support all the players. I made a lot of changes after the first half to have a good reaction and get back into the game.”
The French coach said the reason he substituted Nawaf Al-Abed was because the player had suffered an ankle injury.
“I am very proud of what the players have achieved … we should have tied before the end of the first half,” Renard told Alkass Sports Channel, adding that his team had worked incredibly hard.
“The most important thing is that we remain standing here. And don’t you think that we are finished,” he said.
Poland’s coach Czeslaw Michniewicz was also full of praise for the Saudi team.
“They have good players,” he said. “The best for me is the captain, No. 10, Salem Al-Dowsari, and goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais, who is a great goalkeeper and saved dangerous balls from our players.”
Poland had gained a hard-fought victory “with two goals against a valuable team,” he said.
 


In the zone: Fans flock to Mrsool Park for festival of football

In the zone: Fans flock to Mrsool Park for festival of football
Updated 27 November 2022

In the zone: Fans flock to Mrsool Park for festival of football

In the zone: Fans flock to Mrsool Park for festival of football
  • ‘This is a really fun way to watch the World Cup,’ fan says
  • Live games, food and fun on offer as part of Riyadh Season

RIYADH: Saudi football fans unable to attend the World Cup in Doha have been enjoying the next best thing thanks to a designated fan zone inside Mrsool Park stadium.

Organized by the General Entertainment Authority as part of the Riyadh Season, the area features a giant screen for people to watch the game, as well as food and drinks stalls to keep them fed and watered.

On Saturday, the zone was full of fans hoping for a second win of the tournament — after the amazing victory against Argentina — but the Green Falcons came up short against Poland.

Football fan Ibtisam, who watched the game with her friends, was full of praise for the venue.

“The organization is really great and this is a really fun way to watch the World Cup and support our national team,” she said.

Because the game was being screened inside a real football stadium, the atmosphere was similar to that experienced by the traveling fans at the Education City Stadium in Qatar.

Abdulaziz Al-Subaie, who watched the game with his family, said: “It’s a great atmosphere and has allowed us to watch the game outdoors with the rest of the Kingdom.”

Riyadh Season had ensured the city was full of entertaining activities, he added.

Saleh Al-Subaie, who spent much of the match against Poland hugging his father because of the tension and excitement, was equally complimentary.

“I liked the fact that we have things to do here before the game and during halftime. Aside from watching the game we can enjoy fun games here with everyone.”

As well as watching the action on the big screen, fans were able to test their own football skills in a series of challenges or play one of the many video and virtual reality games.

Rawan Filimban said he hoped to attend the World Cup live one day but in the meantime thought the fan zone was a great alternative.

“Riyadh Season is really cool and watching the World Cup like this just adds to the fun factor. The fan zone in Mrsool Park is an experience I won’t forget.”


Mbappe double sinks Denmark and takes France into World Cup last 16

Mbappe double sinks Denmark and takes France into World Cup last 16
Updated 26 November 2022

Mbappe double sinks Denmark and takes France into World Cup last 16

Mbappe double sinks Denmark and takes France into World Cup last 16
  • Having scored four during France's victorious 2018 campaign and one against Australia, Mbappe now has seven goals in nine World Cup appearances
  • France were more wasteful in front of goal on this occasion

DOHA: Kylian Mbappe scored twice, including a late winner, as holders France edged Denmark 2-1 on Saturday to become the first team to reach the last 16 of the World Cup.
A potent French side knew a second victory in as many Group D outings would take them through to the knockout phase and they were well worth the lead that Mbappe gave them when he opened the scoring at Stadium 974 just after the hour mark.
However, Andreas Christensen soon equalized for the Danes and Les Bleus needed Mbappe to deliver again in the 86th minute as he turned in Antoine Griezmann’s cross to puncture the Danish resistance once and for all.
Having scored four during France’s victorious 2018 campaign and one against Australia, Mbappe now has seven goals in nine World Cup appearances.
Didier Deschamps’s side now have the luxury of going into their final group game against Tunisia knowing a draw will guarantee them top spot, and even a defeat may not prevent them finishing first.
Having come roaring back to batter Australia 4-1 in their opening match in Qatar, France were more wasteful in front of goal on this occasion but at least they did not come unstuck against opponents who have caused them problems before.
They were reigning champions when a defeat to the Danes knocked them out of the 2002 World Cup, while the sides played out the only goalless draw in 2018.
More recently Kasper Hjulmand’s side beat France home and away in this year’s Nations League, and it seemed that Deschamps had learned lessons from those two encounters.
If France were a shadow of their usual selves in Copenhagen in September, they were much better in this match, played in a pop-up stadium made of shipping containers on Doha’s waterfront.
Deschamps changed three of his back four, with Theo Hernandez at left-back in place of his injured elder brother Lucas and Raphael Varane coming in for his first game in over a month.
But the French attack was untouched from the Australia game.
If Olivier Giroud took the headlines then, here Ousmane Dembele was electric at times on the right, Griezmann excelled in an advanced midfield role, and Mbappe made the difference.
France’s pace, power and passing were all too sharp for the Euro 2020 semifinalists who were lucky to go in level at half-time.
There were some French appeals for a red card in the 19th minute when Mbappe burst onto a beautiful threaded through ball by Griezmann only to be hauled down by Christensen, but the Danish defender escaped with a yellow.
The holders’ best chances in the first half came from headers by Varane and Adrien Rabiot, but when Mbappe turned away from Joachim Andersen just before the hour mark and accelerated away, it was a sign that a goal was coming.
His shot was turned behind by Kasper Schmeichel, and Griezmann then wasted a great chance shortly after, but in the 61st minute Mbappe did score.
The Paris Saint-Germain superstar linked up brilliantly with Hernandez on the left and met his teammate’s cutback with a shot that beat Schmeichel thanks to a deflection off Christensen.
Denmark had offered little but suddenly they were level midway through the second half as Andersen nodded down a corner and his fellow defender Christensen headed home.
Hugo Lloris was then forced into a key save to deny Jesper Lindstrom and Martin Braithwaite grazed a post as Denmark threatened to turn the game completely on its head.
That would have been extremely harsh on France, even if they could only really have themselves to blame for not making more of their chances.
But Mbappe was not to be denied as he stole in front of Rasmus Kristensen at the back post with four minutes left to meet Griezmann’s cross with his thigh for his 31st international goal.


Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s 2-0 defeat to Poland

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s 2-0 defeat to Poland
Updated 26 November 2022

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s 2-0 defeat to Poland

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s 2-0 defeat to Poland
  • Game was an entertaining encounter that should have seen more goals
  • Green Falcons dominated possession, had more chances

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia lost 2-0 to Poland at Education City in Qatar on Saturday and remain on three points after two games in World Cup Group C.
Here are five things we learned from the match:
Saudi Arabia deserved something
It was an entertaining encounter that should have contained more goals, and many of them could have gone to Saudi Arabia. There may have been concerns that the win over Argentina was so big that it would be hard for coach Herve Renard to get his players down from cloud nine and focus on the task at hand, but that was not the issue. The problem was just a lack of clinical finishing. But there was plenty to like about the performance, with Salem Al-Dawsari and Mohamed Kanno particularly impressive.
Saudi Arabia had more of the possession and more of the chances. Even if we take away the missed penalty, there were plenty of opportunities for them to score. Unlike in the win over Argentina when the first two attempts resulted in goals, there was just no way past Wojciech Szczesny. The Poland goalkeeper had a fine game and there were examples of shots flying wide and over from good positions.
On another day, Saudi Arabia would have taken a point from this game, but they were punished by refereeing decisions, their own mistakes, not taking their chances and Poland making the most of theirs.
Harsh first half for the Falcons
Saudi Arabia played well in the first half, which lasted 55 minutes, but all the major incidents in the period went against them. First, Poland’s Matty Cash should have been sent off. The Aston Villa defender was booked for a late tackle but just a few minutes later somehow got away with a dangerous challenge on Mohammed Al-Burayk.
Had a second yellow been shown then Cash would not have been in an advanced position after 39 minutes to pass to Robert Lewandowski who then set up Piotr Zielinski to fire home. It was a goal that came totally against the run of play but that is what happens in football and Saudi Arabia will feel aggrieved that Poland still had 11 men on the pitch.
And then there was the penalty that came in added time as Saleh Al-Shehri was brought down in the area. In truth, Salem Al-Dawsari’s spot kick was not the best but Al-Burayk should have done better with the rebound. Going in level at the break against 10 men would have produced a very different second half.
This is a new, confident Saudi Arabia
What a difference a win against Argentina makes. If anyone was tuning in without knowing anything about the teams, they would have thought that the men in green were the favorites, with players active at the highest level, and that the ones in blue and white were the underdogs.
There were questions as to whether Renard would set his team up in the same way for the second game, and he did. The same, brave, high line was there, the same pressing and even more energy. Saudi Arabia flew out of the blocks and went at Poland, who did not impress in their opening 0-0 draw with Mexico. The Poles were clearly rattled, as three yellow cards collected in the first half of the first half showed.
This is now a Saudi team that knows it can trouble European and South American opposition and does not back down. This is an attitude that needs to continue.
Saudi Arabia have home advantage
Saturday’s game may have officially taken place in Qatar but it could have been Riyadh, Jeddah or Dammam, such were the numbers of Saudi fans in the stadium. As well as the quantity, there was also quality, with noise levels reaching rarely heard heights at the tournament.
The atmosphere was something else and it spurred on the players. It also rattled the Poles who really struggled to settle. They were jeered when in possession, in contrast to the cheers that greeted Saudi Arabian possession. It took an opening goal before the Poles started to look even remotely comfortable. Whatever happens, the Saudi Arabian fans and the players have come together to make one of the stories of the World Cup, and Mexico will not be looking forward to visiting Lusail Iconic Stadium on Wednesday.
There is still all to play for and no reason to feel down
Fans will have to wait and see what happens in Saturday’s late game between Argentina and Mexico to know exactly what they have to do, but whatever happens, everybody would have accepted this position before the World Cup began. Three points from the first two games means the Falcons are in control of their destiny. A win over Mexico means that a place in the knockout stage is guaranteed. It remains to be seen if a draw will suffice.
Coach Renard will have to wait and see what happens with players who have collected knocks but there are still plenty of reasons to be cheerful. Saudi Arabia have shown that they can live with their opponents. Glory awaits and with tens of thousands of fans behind them next week then anything could happen. The defeat against Poland does not need to be a devastating one and nobody should feel down.