Benzema ruled out, beer sales suspended, Infantino dementia, betting: World Cup tour

The World Cup kicks off in Qatar today, and ESPN has covered the biggest sporting event in the world.

Ahead of the opening between hosts Qatar and Ecuador (11am EST / 4pm GMT), we’ve got plenty of great previews and reads to get you ready for it all. Start with our World Cup 2022 guide detailing the big stars (including Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo), favorite games (Argentina, France, Brazil) and the key matches that will be circling your calendar (USA and England, obviously, next Friday).

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

– World Cup news, features, previews, and more
– Stream FC Daily and Futbol Americas on ESPN+


News and notes

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

Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies remains an injury doubt in Canada’s World Cup opener against Belgium on Wednesday as he continues his recovery from a hamstring strain suffered earlier this month. Canada’s coach John Herdman said Davis “is still going full speed. But he’s not quite there yet.”

FIFA President Gianni Infantino slams Europe’s “hypocrisy” in a stunning speech defending Qatar.

– Taste beer and switch? A big reflection for the fans who attended the games as the World Cup organizers banned the sale of alcohol around the stadiums.

Go away, Spain fans. Luis Enrique’s players 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 the day

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

Who are the players who need a big World Cup?
Football’s most prestigious tournament is where you shine if you have transfer hopes, are eager to prove something to your current club, or even just want to end your career on the highest level.


What’s on tap

Qatar coach Felix Sanchez has warned that “the internet is very dangerous” and insists his team will not be swayed by speculation about the integrity of the World Cup as they prepare for Sunday’s opening match against Ecuador.

Bernardo Silva insists that the fallout Cristiano Ronaldo With Manchester United it is not a distraction for Portugal. Asked about the mood in the camp and whether he had offered support for the 37-year-old, he said: “Top, top, top. The news coming out of England has nothing to do with the national team, so I wouldn’t say anything. “I don’t care, it’s about Cristiano. I don’t have to comment. It’s about Cristiano, I’m not a Manchester United player and even if I were, I wouldn’t answer that because we’re in the national team so I won’t talk about it.”

United States national team duo Weston McKinney and Sergino Dest have announced their preparations for Monday’s World Cup opener against Wales. McKinney has been plagued by a quadruple 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 was suffering from a muscle strain, and had trained once indoors apart from his US teammates since arriving in Qatar.

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Sam Borden wonders what might change in Qatar after stadium beer sales slumped at the last minute.


What caught our attention

Watch part of Gianni Infantino’s amazing press conference here.

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FIFA President Gianni Infantino said Europe should “apologize for the next 3,000 years” for the mistakes of the past.

And see what ESPN correspondent James Uley made of all of this…

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James Uley sums up a brilliant speech to FIFA President Gianni Infantino, describing the “hypocrisy” of countries criticizing Qatar.

– O’Hanlon: How to make sense of the 2022 World Cup (ESPN+)


The big read

Is Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup all about ‘sportswashing’, or are there more subtle and manifold reasons for it hosting the major FIFA tournament? 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 football as ESPN contributor Paul Carr gives you essential advice on odds, options and futures.

That’s what we have in the first two games.

Group A

Qatar (+235) against Ecuador (+130), draw +205

Dalin’s slap: The host nation is usually strong and capable of handling surprises (Russia showed it again in 2018 as they advanced to the quarter-finals). Qatar have been playing together since September after the domestic league was suspended, but I think Ecuador are a fast, physical team who might concede the ball to the hosts but wear it deadly. I love Ecuador +130.

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

Dan Thomas: This will be a terrible match, but I have a feeling that given the home advantage and the fact that they have spent more time together than the other side, I will go to Qatar. Qatar 1-0 Ecuador.

Netherlands (-160) vs Senegal (+500), draw +255

slap: The Netherlands are looking much better than Euro 2020 just over 15 months ago. No Sadio Mane dagger for Senegal. I think the Dutch will come out airborne, and I’ll score more than 2.5 goals (+115).

Carr: I’m walking away from this now that Mane is out, but that +500 price tag in Senegal is definitely tempting for a team that’s still defense first.

Thomas: I think this could be an affair. I’m not sure where the targets will come from on either side. I’d take under this. Netherlands 1-0 Senegal.

Group B

England (-290) vs Iran (+1000), draw +340

Carr: Can I bet less on each match in this group? Probably not, but here I like under 2.5 goals (-150). Iran have missed five goals in 14 qualifying matches and allowed only one each to Spain and Portugal four years ago. England’s three group stage matches last year netted a total of two goals, so until Gareth Southgate indicated he would use all of England’s attacking talent, I would feature with the Under team in England matches.

slap: I will go on saying, I am fading in England. However, their defensive technique against an inferior opponent will result in victory, but without much technique and maybe just a goal. There is not much value here, and I don’t like this game, but I would pick England to win for nothing (-128).

Thomas: I’m not very optimistic that England can go far in this tournament. However, given the weakness of the teams around them in the group, I think they will go through easily, starting with a comfortable win over Iran in the opening match. Harry Kane to score anytime (-110) looks like a cross. England 3-0 Iran.

USA (+160) vs. Wales (+200), draw +190

Carr: I hope this isn’t my American bias, but the USA have more attacking options than Wales, highlighted by a quartet of quality wingers (Christian Pulisic, Brendan Aronson, Giovanni Reina, Timothy Weah). Because of that, and a Welsh defense that isn’t as good as you’d think that allowed 1.2 expected goals per game in the qualifiers, I’m going with US Draw No Bet at -135.

slap: Bias warning! It’s been eight years since I watched the USA match at the World Cup. I can see this is being scored low. The young offensive talent has not met in the past few friendly matches. Wales are not a dynamic attacking side, relying on Gareth Bale’s brilliance or Kiefer Moore’s header-hunting crosses. There is no value in playing less or not scoring for both teams. Perhaps the unbiased move is a tie +190 or even a Wales no tie bet +105. But there is no emotional hedge here – the USA wins (+160).

Thomas: I know I don’t sell well. But I imagine a 0-0 tie here.


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