Benzema ruled out, Infantino rant


The World Cup kicks off in Qatar TODAY, and ESPN has you covered for the world’s biggest sporting event.

Ahead of the opener between the hosts Qatar and Ecuador (11 a.m. ET/4 p.m. GMT), we have tons of great previews and reads to get you prepared for it all. Get started with our 2022 World Cup guide detailing the big stars (including Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo), the faves (Argentina, France, Brazil) and key games to circle on your calendar (obviously United StatesEngland next Friday).

Be sure to check in with ESPN throughout the tournament as we bring the latest from Qatar. Let’s get into it.

World Cup news, features, previews, and more
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News and Notes

– France striker Karim Benzema has been ruled out of the World Cup after suffering an injury to his left thigh during training on Saturday in Doha.

– Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies remains an injury doubt for Canada’s World Cup opener against Belgium on Wednesday as he continues his recovery from a hamstring strain suffered earlier this month. Canada coach John Herdman said Davies was “still building toward top speed. But he hasn’t hit that top speed yet.”

– FIFA president Gianni Infantino slams Europe’s “hypocrisy” in astonishing speech defending Qatar.

– Beer bait-and-switch? A big reversal for fans attending the games as World Cup organizers banned the sale of alcohol around stadiums.

– Rest easy, Spain fans. Players for Luis Enrique’s side will be sleeping on specially designed mattress toppers in the hope that a good night’s sleep will help them succeed at the tournament.


The best from today

Pitfalls in FIFA President Infantino’s speech on eve of Qatar World Cup
Infantino’s monologue touched on the criticisms and issues related to the 2022 Qatar World Cup, but felt tone deaf and detached.

Which players need a big World Cup?
The most prestigious tournament in football is the place to shine if you harbour hopes of a transfer, are keen to prove something to your current club, or even just want to end your career on a high.


What’s on tap

– Qatar coach Felix Sanchez has warned “the internet is very dangerous” and insisted his team is unaffected by speculation over the integrity of the World Cup as they prepare for Sunday’s opening game against Ecuador.

Bernardo Silva insists that Cristiano Ronaldo’s fallout with Manchester United is not a distraction for Portugal. Asked about the mood in the camp and if he had offered support to the 37-year-old, he said: “Top, top, top. The news that comes from England has nothing to do with the national team so I won’t say anything. It doesn’t concern me, it concerns Cristiano. I don’t have to comment. It’s a matter for Cristiano, I’m not a Manchester United player and even if I was I would not answer that because we’re in the national team so I’m not going to talk about it.”

– United States men’s national team duo Weston McKennie and Sergino Dest pronounced themselves ready to go for Monday’s World Cup opener against Wales. McKennie had been nursing a quad injury over the past few weeks, but with club side Juventus and the U.S. working together to monitor the midfielder’s progress, he has been steadily building up his fitness. Similarly, Dest was suffering from muscle fatigue, and had even once trained indoors apart from his U.S. teammates since arriving in Qatar.

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Sam Borden wonders what else could change in Qatar following a last-minute reversal of beer sales in stadiums.


What caught our eye

Watch part of Gianni Infantino’s incredible news conference here.

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino says Europe should be “apologising for the next 3,000 years” for past mistakes.

And see what ESPN reporter James Olley made of it all…

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James Olley recaps a remarkable speech from FIFA president Gianni Infantino, in which he called out the “hypocrisy” of nations criticising Qatar.

– O’Hanlon: How to understand the 2022 World Cup (ESPN+)


The big read

Is Qatar hosting the World Cup all about “sportswashing,” or are there more subtle and layered reasons for its hosting FIFA’s flagship competition? ESPN’s Mark Ogden and Kyle Bonagura spoke to experts about the motives behind the controversial decision.

Plus: Bill Connelly has one big question for all 32 teams heading into their first game.


Your best bets (odds via Caesars Sportsbook)

Take a look at how to actually bet on soccer matches as ESPN contributor Paul Carr gives you key tips on odds, options and futures.

Here’s what we have for the first two matchdays.

GROUP A

Qatar (+235) vs. Ecuador (+130), Draw +205

Dalen Cuff: Usually the host nation is a tough out and capable of pulling upsets (Russia showed this again in 2018 going to the quarterfinals). Qatar have been playing together since September after the domestic league was suspended, but I think Ecuador is a physical, fast team that may cede the ball to the hosts but counter lethally. I like Ecuador +130.

Paul Carr: I have no idea what to expect from Qatar. I agree with Dalen that Ecuador is better, and I just don’t know how the crowds or the teams will react. I’ll wait for the second game to put money on a Qatar match.

Dan Thomas: This is going to be a terrible game, but I have a feeling that given the home advantage and the fact they’ve had more time together than the other side, I’m going to go for Qatar. Qatar 1-0 Ecuador.

Netherlands (-160) vs. Senegal (+500), Draw +255

Cuff: Netherlands look much better than the Euro 2020 from just over 15 months ago. No Sadio Mane is a dagger for Senegal. I think the Dutch are going to come out flying, I’ll take over 2.5 goals (+115).

Carr: I’m staying away from this one now that Mane is out, but that +500 price on Senegal sure is tempting for a squad that’s still defense-first.

Thomas: I think this could be a tight affair. I’m not sure where the goals are going to come from from either side. I’d take the under in this one. Netherlands 1-0 Senegal.

GROUP B

England (-290) vs. Iran (+1000), Draw +340

Carr: Can I bet the under for every game in this group? Maybe not, but I do like under 2.5 goals here (-150). Iran gave up five goals in 14 qualifiers and only allowed one goal each to Spain and Portugal four years ago. England’s three group games at the Euros last year had a total of two goals, so until Gareth Southgate indicates that he’ll use all of England’s attacking talent, I’m going with the under in England games.

Cuff: I’ll just keep saying, I’m fading England. That said, their defensive approach against an inferior opponent will lead to a win, but without much style and maybe only a goal scored. There’s not much value here, and I don’t like this game, but I’d pick England to Win to Nil (-128).

Thomas: I’m not very hopeful that England can go far in this tournament. However, given the weakness of the teams around them in the group, I think they will qualify easily, starting with a comfortable win against Iran in the opener. Harry Kane to score at any time (-110) looks like a lay-up. England 3-0 Iran.

United States (+160) vs. Wales (+200), Draw +190

Carr: I hope this isn’t my American bias slipping in, but the U.S. simply has more attacking options than Wales, highlighted by a quartet of quality wingers (Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson, Giovanni Reyna, Timothy Weah). Because of that and Wales’ not-as-good-as-you-think defense that allowed 1.2 expected goals per game in qualifying, I’m going with U.S. Draw No Bet at -135.

Cuff: Bias warning! It has been eight years since watching the U.S. in a World Cup game. I can see this being low scoring. The young attacking talent hasn’t come together in their last few friendlies. Wales is not a dynamic attacking team, relying on brilliance from Gareth Bale or crosses searching for Kieffer Moore‘s head. There’s no value in under plays or both teams to not score. The unbiased move is probably Draw +190 or even Wales Draw No Bet +105. But no emotional hedge here — USA to win (+160).

Thomas: I know I’m not selling it very well. But I fancy a 0-0 draw here.





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