The World Cup kicks off in Qatar TODAY, and ESPN has you covered for the biggest sporting event in the world.
Ahead of the opener between hosts Qatar and Ecuador (11am ET / 4pm GMT), we’ve got tons of great previews and reads to prepare you for it all. Get started with our guide to the 2022 World Cup detailing the big stars (including Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo), favorites (Argentina, France, Brazil) and key matches to circle on your calendar (obviously USA-England next Friday).
Be sure to check in with ESPN throughout the tournament as we bring the latest news from Qatar. Let’s go.
– World Cup news, features, previews and more
– Stream FC Daily and Futbol Americas on ESPN+
News and Notes
– French striker Karim Benzema has been ruled out of the World Cup after injuring his left thigh during training in Doha on Saturday.
– Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies remains a doubt for Canada’s World Cup opener against Belgium on Wednesday as he continues his recovery from a hamstring injury suffered earlier this month . Canada coach John Herdman said Davies “was still getting to his top speed. But he hasn’t gotten to that top speed yet.”
– FIFA President Gianni Infantino denounces Europe’s “hypocrisy” in a stunning speech defending Qatar.
– Bait-and-switch? A big turnaround for fans attending matches as World Cup organizers banned the sale of alcohol around stadiums.
– Rest easy, Spain fans. Players from Luis Enrique’s team will sleep on specially designed mattress toppers in the hope that a good night’s sleep will help them succeed in the tournament.
The best of today
The pitfalls of FIFA President Infantino’s speech on the eve of the World Cup in Qatar
Infantino’s monologue addressed criticism and issues surrounding the Qatar 2022 World Cup, but felt muted and detached.
Which players need a big World Cup?
Football’s most prestigious tournament is the place to shine if you’re harboring transfer hopes, wanting to prove something to your current club or just want to end your career on a high.
What’s on the tap
– Qatar coach Felix Sanchez has warned ‘the internet is very dangerous’ and insisted his side are unaffected by speculation over the integrity of the World Cup as they prepare for Sunday’s opener against Ecuador.
– Bernardo Silva insists on Cristiano Ronaldo fallout with Manchester United is not a distraction for Portugal. Asked about the mood in the camp and whether he had offered his support to the 37-year-old, he said: “Top, top, top. The news coming out of England has nothing to do with the team. national, so I won’t say anything. It’s not about me, it’s about Cristiano. I don’t have to comment. It’s Cristiano’s business, I’m not a Manchester player. United and even if I was I wouldn’t answer because we are in the national team so I’m not going to talk about it.”
– The United States men’s national team duo of Weston McKennie and Sergino Dest have declared themselves ready to take part in Monday’s World Cup opener against Wales. McKennie had been nursing a quad injury for the past few weeks, but with Juventus and the United States working together to monitor the midfielder’s progress, he has been steadily improving his fitness. Likewise, Dest suffered from muscle fatigue and had even once trained indoors apart from his American teammates since arriving in Qatar.
Sam Borden wonders what else could change in Qatar following a last-minute reversal in stadium beer sales.
What caught our attention
Watch part of Gianni Infantino’s incredible press conference here.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino has said Europe should “apologize for the next 3,000 years” for past mistakes.
And see what ESPN reporter James Olley made of it all…
James Olley summarizes a remarkable speech by FIFA President Gianni Infantino in which he denounced the “hypocrisy” of nations criticizing Qatar.
– O’Hanlon: How to understand the 2022 World Cup (ESPN+)
The big read
Is Qatar hosting the World Cup solely on ‘sportswashing’ or are there more subtle and complex reasons for it to host FIFA’s flagship competition? ESPN’s Mark Ogden and Kyle Bonagura spoke to experts about the reasons behind the controversial decision.
Plus: Bill Connelly has a big question for all 32 teams ahead of their opener.
Your best bets (odds via Caesars Sportsbook)
Find out how to bet on football matches as ESPN contributor Paul Carr gives you key advice on odds, options and futures.
Here’s what we have for the first two matchdays.
Qatar (+235) v Ecuador (+130), Draw +205
Dalen cuff: Usually the host country is a badass and capable of causing upsets (Russia showed that again in 2018 by going to the quarter-finals). Qatar have been playing together since September after the suspension of the domestic league, but I think Ecuador are a physical and fast team that can give the ball to the hosts but counter deadly. I love Ecuador +130.
Paul Carr: I don’t know what to expect from Qatar. I agree with Dalen that Ecuador is better, and I don’t know how the crowds or the teams are going to react. I will wait for the second match to bet on a Qatar match.
Dan Thomas: It’s going to be a terrible game, but I feel that given the home advantage and the fact that they spent more time together than the other team, I’m going to choose Qatar. Qatar 1-0 Ecuador.
Netherlands (-160) v Senegal (+500), Draw +255
Cuff: The Netherlands are looking much better than Euro 2020 just over 15 months ago. No Sadio Mane is a dagger for Senegal. I think the Dutch will come out with a bang, I will take 2.5 goals (+115).
Carr: I’m staying away from this one now that Mane is out, but that +500 price tag on Senegal is certainly tempting for a side that’s still on the defensive end.
Thomas: I think it could be a tight deal. I don’t know where the goals will come from on either side. I would take the least in this one. Netherlands 1-0 Senegal.
England (-290) v Iran (+1000), Draw +340
Carr: Can I bet less for each game in this group? Maybe not, but I like under 2.5 goals here (-150). Iran have conceded five goals in 14 qualifiers and allowed just one goal each to Spain and Portugal four years ago. England’s three group games at Euros last year had a total of two goals, so until Gareth Southgate indicates he will use all of England’s attacking talent I’m going with the less in England games.
Cuff: I will continue to say, I am bleaching England. That said, their defensive approach against an inferior opponent will lead to a win, but without much style and maybe just a goal scored. There’s not a lot of value here, and I don’t like this game, but I’d pick England to win at zero (-128).
Thomas: I don’t have much hope 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 victory against Iran in the opener. Harry Kane to score anytime (-110) looks like a layup. England 3-0 Iran.
USA (+160) v Wales (+200), draw +190
Carr: I hope it’s not my American leanings creeping in, but the United States simply have more attacking options than Wales, highlighted by a quartet of quality wingers (Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson, Giovanni Reyna, Timothy Weah). Because of that and the not as good as you think Wales defense which allowed 1.2 expected goals per game in qualifying, I’m going with US Draw No Bet at -135.
Cuff: Bias warning! It’s been eight years since we last saw the United States in a World Cup match. I can see that this score is low. The young attacking talent hasn’t come together in his last friendlies. Wales are not a dynamic attacking side, relying on the brilliance of Gareth Bale or crosses looking for Kieffer Moore’s header. There is no value in subgames where both teams do not score. The unbiased move is probably Draw +190 or even Wales Draw No Bet +105. But no emotional hurdle here – US wins (+160).
Thomas: I know I don’t sell it very well. But I fancy a 0-0 draw here.
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