Messi vs Lewandowski, Iran vs US: Stage set for Football World Cup 2022
Qatar qualified as the host of the first World Cup in the Middle East, and will make its tournament debut on the opening night on November 21 against Ecuador

Messi vs Lewandowski, Iran vs US: Stage set for Football World Cup 2022

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A football World Cup build-up laced in controversy and geopolitical undertones has conjured up the most politically charged of matchups on the field in Qatar.

FIFA World Cup 2022 will be played in Qatar from November 21 to December 18 across eight stadiums.

US vs Iran

Just like at the FIFA showpiece in 1998, the United States will play Iran, with diplomatic relations yet to be restored between the nations, since being severed in the 1970s.

“(A) political group, but I’m not political,” Iran’s Croatian coach Dragan Skocic said. “I focus on football. I think this is the best way in sport and also, we should give people the chance to make the situation better.”

The hope will be for a repeat of the tranquillity around the 1998 encounter in France, where the Iranians brought white roses for their American opponents before winning 2-1.

“It’s 24 years later from 1998 and further removed from the 70s and both nations have evolved tremendously since then,” U.S coach Gregg Berhalter said. “For us, it is a soccer game.”

But, if Group B needed any more intrigue it was provided in Friday’s (April 1) draw in Doha by the headline participant being Euro 2020 runner-up England, whose government has endured tense relations with Tehran.

Ukraine’s qualification halted by war

And the ramifications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which spilled into the Doha convention center, were evident in the final team drawn in the group.

Ukraine’s ability to qualify for Qatar has been delayed by the war, halting football in the country. But if they beat Scotland and then Wales in the playoffs in June, the Ukrainians will contest a World Cup for the first time since 2006.

“Ukraine is (a team) everyone’s pulling for in a way because of everything they are going through,” Berhalter said.

The focus on Group B overshadowed other notable draws.

Qatar qualified as the host of the first World Cup in the Middle East, and will make its tournament debut on the opening night on November 21 against Ecuador. It will later face the teams who open the tournament earlier in the day: African champion Senegal and the Netherlands, whose coach Louis van Gaal said last week that it was “a ridiculous decision” to award the World Cup to this tiny nation.

That FIFA vote in 2010 sparked years of corruption investigations into not only Qatar’s bid but widespread bribery of world football officials.

Come the kick-off in November, Qatar will hope the focus is on the quality of the games.

There’s a thrilling matchup in Group E between 2010 champion Spain and 2014 winner Germany.

Messi vs Lewandowski

Group C could see a meeting of the most recent FIFA Best winners with Lionel Messi’s Argentina drawn to play Robert Lewandowski’s Poland. The biggest traveling support could also be witnessed in the group, as Saudis can drive across the border into Qatar. Their final first-round game is against Mexico.

There is a seemingly lowkey start for Portugal at what could be Cristiano Ronaldo’s fifth straight World Cup finals as their Group H includes Ghana, South Korea and Uruguay.

South America nations discovered before the draw that a $10 million bonus awaits from their confederation for being the first world champion from CONMEBOL since Brazil in 2002. Brazil first has to get past Switzerland, Serbia and Cameroon to win a record-extending sixth world title and also bank $42 million from FIFA.

The world champion will be crowned in December for the first time, on what will be Qatar National Day on the 18th. The finals were moved from their usual July slot to avoid Qatar’s fierce summer heat.

The implausibility of Qatar staging such a mammoth event in eight stadiums within the congested confines of Doha was clear in the desert imagery that flashed on the screens around the draw venue on Friday. Images of skyscrapers sprouting from the sand served as a reminder of the vast projects required to develop this gas-rich nation in recent decades.

“The world can see Qatar as promised,” the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, told the audience.

The suffering of low-paid migrant workers went unmentioned.

Protest outside FIFA headquarters

There was an oblique reference before the draw by FIFA President Gianni Infantino to the war on Ukraine, launched in February by 2018 host Russia.

“Our world is divided, our world is aggressive and we need occasions to bring people together,” Infantino said.

“To all the leaders and all the people of the world, stop the conflicts and the wars. Please engage in dialogue. Please engage in peace. We want this to be a World Cup of unity and the World Cup of peace,” Infantino added.

The day began with a protest outside FIFA headquarters in Zurich.

German artist Volker-Johannes Trieb used balls filled with sand to protest against the suffering of migrant workers in Qatar who have worked on the infrastructure related to the World Cup.

FIFA World Cup 2022 mascot La’eeb

Mascot La’eeb revealed

Meanwhile, Qatar and FIFA have unveiled La’eeb as the official mascot for the World Cup 2022.

La’eeb is an Arabic word meaning super-skilled player. He belongs to a parallel mascot-verse that is indescribable – everyone is invited to interpret what it looks like. La’eeb encourages everyone to believe in themselves as ‘Now is All’. He will bring the joy of football to everyone.

Reactions to World Cup draw

Brazil coach Tite

“It is neither (the group of) death nor of life. Everything is the same (as Brazil’s group at Russia 2018) – all that was missing was Costa Rica! We’re talking about Switzerland and Serbia, the teams who stopped Italy and Portugal, and also a Cameroon team that is very strong in the African school. We will have to raise our own game.”

France coach Didier Deschamps

“You can’t really get carried away after a draw. We can mention Denmark and talk about what they did at the EURO, making the semi-finals, and that they’re 11th in the FIFA Rankings. They are among the best European nations. We are world champions but that was four years ago. don’t feel any pressure – there’s only joy. Of course, (our status as champions) brings more expectations from the crowd, but I’m still calm and serene. There’s no pressure – just adrenaline and excitement for what this World Cup represents.”

Hansi Flick, Germany coach

“It’s an exciting, interesting group for all of us. Japan is a team that is always there and have many players who play in the Bundesliga, so they have high quality. Costa Rica was our opening game in 2006 and we have good memories of that. All these teams have developed and all of them have something special. We just have to make sure that we prevail.”

Louis van Gaal, Netherlands coach

“These are opponents we know nothing about. At least I don’t, and I assume our analysts don’t either, so they have a lot of work to do in the coming period. In 2014 we ended up in the toughest group, with world champions Spain, Chile, which was the number three team in South America at the time, and Australia’s fighting team. Compared to then, this draw is more favourable – even if this time we have to play against the champions of Africa.”

Gareth Southgate, England manager

“The first two teams (USA and Iran) we’ve not played for quite a while. The third (Wales or the winner of Scotland-Ukraine) is a total unknown but throws up a possible British derby. We know what they’re all about! When you’re seeded, you get the advantage of missing out on those big six or seven teams. But there are some really high-ranked teams in Pot 2, the US in particular, and I know Gregg Berhalter quite well – we’ve met a couple of times and had long chats about things. They’ve got some very good players and we know what they could be capable of as a nation.”

Luis Enrique, Spain coach

“It’s a strong group if you take into consideration Germany, but we are the top seeds because of our merits and the work we have being doing in recent years. As for the rest of the group, I won’t lie to you – I know almost nothing. Now is the moment to take the time to study them and continue thinking and trusting in what we are as a team. We’re not going to change how we play whether it’s the World Cup or a friendly. Our style is very clear, and it will be very difficult to play against us.”

Gregg Berhalter, USA coach

“We think it’s a good group. We know every opponent in the World Cup is difficult but with England you definitely get an exciting match-up. Gareth (Southgate, England manager) and I go way back. He’s a guy I look up to and has always been there for me, given me advice. I reached out to him when I got the job and asked if he’d be interested in telling me more about international football. I looked at him as something as a mentor and since then we have stayed in touch.”

Harry Kane, England captain

“Always exciting to see who we get in the group! Playing on the opening day will be incredible as well.”

Wahbi Khazri, Tunisia striker

“I’m super happy. The French are favourites, we are far from it, but, having grown up here, living here, playing in the French Championship (for St Etienne), it is the dream of many players,” he told RMC Sport.

FIFA World Cup 2022 groups

Group A: Qatar, Netherlands, Senegal, Ecuador.

Group B: England, United States, Iran, Wales or Scotland or Ukraine.

Group C: Argentina, Mexico, Poland, Saudi Arabia.

Group D: France, Denmark, Tunisia, Peru or Australia or United Arab Emirates.

Group E: Spain, Germany, Japan, Costa Rica or New Zealand.

Group F: Belgium, Croatia, Morocco, Canada.

Group G: Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia, Cameroon.

Group H: Portugal, Uruguay, South Korea, Ghana.

World Cup 2022 schedule

World Cup 2022 tickets

The second Random Selection Draw sales period, corresponding to Sales Phase (2) will start on 5 April at 11:00 CEST / 12:00 (midday) Doha time till 28 April 2022 at 11:00 CET / 12:00 (midday) Doha time. Four types of tickets are available: Individual Match Tickets (IMTs), Supporter Tickets (STs), Conditional Supporter Tickets (CSTs), and Four-Stadium Ticket series (FSTs). For more information, click here.

(With inputs from agencies)

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