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Preview: Four things to look out for in FIFA World Cup opener

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DOHA, Nov. 19 (Xinhua) — The long wait for the first FIFA World Cup in the Middle East is over as hosts Qatar and Ecuador prepare to raise the curtain on the 2022 edition of football’s biggest international tournament. Here are four things to look out for in Sunday’s match at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor.

ALMOEZ ALI THREAT

Almoez Ali has shown a penchant for performing well when it matters most. The 26-year-old striker was the top scorer at the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup, in which Qatar participated as tournament guests, with four goals in five games.

He was also his team’s leading marksman at the 2019 Asian Cup, netting nine times in seven matches.

Ali, who was born in Sudan and moved to Qatar as a child, has yet to score in six international outings in 2022, but is likely to be key to his team’s chances of a successful World Cup debut.

ALFARO IMPACT

Since replacing Jordi Cruyff as Ecuador’s boss in August 2020, Gustavo Alfaro has transformed a promising but erratic squad into one of South America’s most feared national teams.

An impressive World Cup qualifying campaign saw them finish fourth in the South American group, behind only Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, and above teams of the caliber of Chile, Peru and Paraguay.

And Alfaro’s men appear to be peaking at the right time, going unbeaten in their past seven matches, a run that included victories over Nigeria and Cape Verde, as well as draws against Argentina, Mexico and Japan.

ECUADOR’S DEFENSE

Led by Bayer Leverkusen center-back Piero Hincapie and Brighton left-back Pervis Estupinan, Ecuador boasts one of the tournament’s most solid defenses.

Ecuador conceded just 19 goals in 18 qualifiers and have kept clean sheets in each of their past five games.

But, with only one goal in their past five outings, there are question marks over the team’s attacking options.

Ecuadorian fans will be hoping that 33-year-old Fenerbahce forward Enner Valencia can carry his club form onto the international stage. Ecuador’s all-time leading scorer has netted 13 goals in 12 league matches for the Turkish club so far this season.

QATAR’S HOME ADVANTAGE

No hosts have lost the opening match of a World Cup. Qatar have already proved how playing at home can provide a boost in a major tournament.

Felix Sanchez’s men won the 2019 Asian Cup on home soil, beating the likes of South Korea and Japan in the process.

“I hope it’s a great party where we can enjoy football,” Sanchez said in Saturday’s pre-match press conference. “I hope everyone from all countries in the world, together, can enjoy this experience. I’m happy to be the ones kicking off this competition.”

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Van Gaal: Netherlands can go all the way in World Cup

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DOHA, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) — Netherlands coach Louis Van Gaal asked for improvement from his side but insisted they can also win the World Cup after beating the USA 3-1 in their last-16 game on Saturday.

The Netherlands became the first side to qualify for the quarterfinals with goals from Memphis Depay, Daley Blind and Denzel Dumfries, who was also voted Player of the Match after giving assists in the first two goals.

However, the ever-demanding coach insisted his players had to improve.

“I was very critical in my halftime analysis,” commented Van Gaal.

“In the first half, they (USA) dispossessed us so much, and that is not acceptable. You can’t accept that if you play top level teams. We did better in the second half, even though there were fewer goals.”

“They were great goals and really good team goals,” he explained, repeating his claim that the Netherlands can go all the way to the final in Qatar.

“Some top teams are out and we have three games ahead of us. We can become world champions. I don’t say we will become world champions, but we can be. It is about team building,” he said.

“This gives you confidence. The players are pleased and excited. We will look at the game again tomorrow and then we will roll up our sleeves and get back to work,” commented Van Gaal, who was pleased that other sides are not adapting to counter the Dutch wing-backs.

“I suppose the stronger the rival is the less likely they are to adjust to our system. I don’t think Spain, France or Argentina will adapt to the Netherlands, so I think we have a big chance here,” he concluded.

Meanwhile Dumfries was happy with the way the Dutch wing-backs had a role in all of their goals.

“In the first goal, you see everything from the system we play. We attack spaces and move the ball well. It was a great goal and that is how you see the core of our system,” Dumfries said.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Messi: We are one step closer to our objective

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DOHA, Dec. 4 (Xinhua) — Lionel Messi said Argentina had taken “one more step” toward their goal of World Cup glory by overcoming Australia in a dramatic round of 16 clash here on Saturday.

Messi sent Argentina on course for victory with a first-half strike, and Julian Alvarez doubled the lead before Craig Goodwin’s shot deflected in off Enzo Fernandez, ensuring a dramatic conclusion at Ahmad bin Ali stadium.

Messi’s goal, which came in his 1000th game for club and country, marked the first time he has scored in a World Cup knockout match.

“One more target has been reached. We are one step closer to our objective,” Messi told a news conference.

“It was a tough game, we knew it was going to be like that. We didn’t have much time to rest and we were worried about that. We knew it was going to be a tough game. They are physically very strong. We were able to get the advantage and then it got complicated. We suffered a bit at the end but it’s the World Cup. All games are difficult.”

Messi paid tribute to the tens of thousands of Argentine fans at the stadium, many of whom sang and chanted throughout the 90 minutes. Argentina’s players made a point of applauding them on the pitch after the final whistle.

“It was beautiful to be with them,” the 35-year-old forward said. “I think all of Argentina would like to be here, but obviously that can’t happen.

“We are always thrilled to play in front of these fans and it’s great to have their support every match, to feel their joy and passion.”

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Cameroon coach Song ‘proud’ after historic win over Brazil

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LUSAIL, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) — Cameroon manager Rigobert Song said he was proud of his players after a historic 1-0 victory over Brazil in their World Cup Group G match here on Friday.

A stoppage-time header from Vincent Aboubakar gave the Indomitable Lions the first ever win by an African team over Brazil at the World Cup.

But it wasn’t enough to earn Cameroon a place in the knockout stage in Qatar as they finished third in their group, behind Brazil and Switzerland.

“We have a feeling of regret because this match showed that we could have done better in the first two games,” said Song, referring to a 3-3 draw with Serbia and a 1-0 loss to Switzerland.

“But you have to look at the positive side. We’re satisfied with tonight’s performance. I took over the team not that long ago and we’re progressing.

“I’m proud of my players. We’re trying to get across the Lions’ spirt. We’ve shown that we can be a good team and now we have to make sure that we keep improving.”

He admitted he wasn’t initially aware of the magnitude of his team’s achievement.

“I didn’t even realize it was such a historic victory. My players should be congratulated and they’ve shown they could have done better [earlier in the tournament]. It’s a shame we have to go home now but we are going to keep working so that we improve.”

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