Spectator’s Guide to the World Cup in Qatar

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November 14, 2022 09:49

By STEVE DOUGLAS AP Sportswriter
One last chance for Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Kylian Mbappé back on the biggest stage of all. Brazil vying for a record sixth title.
One of the most anticipated World Cups in memory – as much for reasons off the pitch as for those on it – begins in Qatar on Sunday.
Thirty-two teams, 64 games, 29 days. The first World Cup in the Middle East.
League play around the world has taken a break and now the focus is on Qatar, whose national team opens the tournament with a game against Ecuador.
Here are some things to look out for when group matches begin in the smallest country to ever host a World Cup, where some fans will be staying in floating hotels on their way to the action:
BEST TEAMS
Brazil (n°1 in the FIFA ranking). Neymar, Vinícius Júnior and the rest of the flair-filled Selecao peak at the right time. Is a first world champion title since 2002 on the horizon?
Belgium (n°2). The “Golden Generation” is breaking up little by little but Kevin De Bruyne remains at the head of the Belgian charge. There is, however, some doubt about Romelu Lukaku’s fitness.
Argentina (#3). No world champion title since the days of the great Diego Maradona. It will be the first World Cup since his death in November 2020 and Argentina have improved under coach Lionel Scaloni, with Messi still at heart and leading the team to a 35-game unbeaten streak.
France (#4). The defending champions. Still the country with the most depth in their squad, despite an injured list that includes Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante. Now with Mbappé AND Karim Benzema leading the attack. No team has retained its World Cup title since Brazil in 1962.
England (#5). The team has been on a poor run of form – winless in six games – but have a solid record in recent major tournaments. England were World Cup semi-finalists in 2018 and European Championship runners-up in 2021.
Find out about the 32 teams that will participate in the World Cup.
BIG STARS
Lionel Messi, Argentina. The seven-time World Player of the Year might have saved his 35-year-old legs for one final push towards a World Cup-winning medal that many believe would solidify him as football’s greatest ever player. He is in great shape for Paris Saint-Germain at the moment.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal. He won the European Championship, but the top scorer in men’s international football hasn’t played in a World Cup final, let alone won one. He’s 37 now and no longer first-choice at Manchester United – so make the most of it while you can.
Kylian Mbappe, France. The star of the last World Cup at 19 and he’s only getting better. The speedy striker could match Brazilian great Pelé in being champion in his first two World Cups.
Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium. Widely regarded as the best midfielder in the world, his runs and crosses are among the best in football. Belgium will be grateful that he arrives in Qatar healthy.
Neymar, Brazil. Often overshadowed by Mbappe and Messi at Paris Saint-Germain, still Brazil’s main man. Beware of tips and tricks, as well as some histrionics.
HOW IT WORKS
Get ready for a football feast. There are eight groups of four teams, with the top two qualifying for the 16-team knockout stage.
There will be four consecutive matches per day – yes, four! – for most of the first two sets of group matches, then kick-offs for the last two matches in each group.
There will be no break for the knockout stage, which begins the day after the group stage ends. The first day without football will be on December 7, the 17th day of competition.
GAMES TO SEE
Qatar vs Ecuador, Sunday. The first match of the tournament and always a date to remember on the calendar.
Argentina versus Mexico, November 26. The first of the big continental rivalries in the group stage, with Messi potentially sealing his and Argentina’s place in the last 16.
Spain v Germany, 27 November. Surely there haven’t been many more important group stage matches than this at a World Cup? Two recent champions, two giants of European and world football.
Iran vs. United States, November 29. It has been called “The Mother of All Games Part II”. Just like in the World Cup in 1998, the two countries will meet in the group stage in a politically charged game. Diplomatic relations have yet to be restored between the nations since they were severed in 1980.
Ghana v Uruguay, December 2. Does anyone remember the night of July 2, 2010? In the last minute of extra time in a World Cup quarter-final match between Uruguay and Ghana, Luis Suarez deliberately stopped the ball with his hand on the goal line, was sent off, only for that Ghana miss the penalty and lose in a shootout as Suarez celebrated on the sidelines. Revenge would be sweet for Ghana.
INJURIES
Injuries plagued some of the best players in the world ahead of the tournament.
Among those definitely missing are French midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, German striker Timo Werner and England defender Reece James.
The following injured are injured: Lukaku, South Korean striker Son Heung-min, Senegalese striker Sadio Mane and Argentinian striker Paulo Dybala.
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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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