England launch bid for World Cup glory after Qatar fall – Digital Journal


The 2022 World Cup kicks off on Sunday at the Al Bayt stadium, inspired by a Bedouin tent – Copyright AFP/Archive ARIS MESSINIS

John Weaver

European heavyweights England and the Netherlands kick off their World Cup campaigns on Monday as the tournament in Qatar shifts into higher gear after a disappointing defeat for the hosts.

Asian champions Qatar became the first home country to lose their World Cup opener as Ecuador cruised to a 2-0 victory on Sunday, with veteran striker Enner Valencia scoring twice.

England, who face Iran in Group B, will be desperate to get off to a strong start as they aim to end their decades-long trophy drought after two near-misses in recent years.

Gareth Southgate’s men made a surprise reach to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup in Russia before reaching their first major final in 55 years at last year’s European Championships.

Despite his success as England boss, Southgate has faced criticism for his perceived negative tactics and the pressure has been mounting after a poor run of results.

“The first thing for a coach is to allow (the team) to win,” he said. “So, of course, you want to play football that excites people, that players enjoy.

“Our challenge is to provide fans with a tournament that is memorable. We have taken them on a fantastic journey in the last two tournaments.”

With tougher matches against the USA and Wales, England cannot afford a slow start against Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium.

England manager Gareth Southgate seeks the nation’s first major tournament victory since 1966 – Copyright AFP/STRINGER File

England’s first match takes place against the backdrop of deadly demonstrations in the Islamic republic.

Iran’s clerical leadership has been rocked by more than two months of women-led protests sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman of Kurdish origin who had been arrested by the morality police in Tehran.

Defender Ehsan Hajsafi said: “They should know that we stand in solidarity with them,” adding that “conditions at home are not good.”

– Bale leads Wales –

The other match in Group B pits the United States against Gareth Bale’s Wales, who are playing their first World Cup since 1958.

Captain Bale said he hoped to inspire a new generation of Welsh footballers.

“Everyone has dreamed of it for a long time,” said the former Real Madrid striker. “We have had so many close calls. For us to be the team that crossed the line was incredible.

“But more importantly, the best thing (is) to make football grow in our country, to inspire another generation. By doing that, we hope to have a stronger national team in the future.”

The Netherlands face Senegal in Group A, with the African champions without their injured talisman, Sadio Mane.

The Dutch failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia in 2018, but the three-time runners-up are back in business under veteran Louis van Gaal, who led the team to the semifinals in 2014.

“We have to believe in our qualities and in ourselves and have confidence,” Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk said.

“We have a fantastic coach, an experienced coach. We have players who play at the highest level, the biggest clubs in the world.”

Senegal coach Aliou Cissé was optimistic about his team’s chances despite Mane’s absence.

“Of course we will not hide the importance of Sadio Mane for the Senegalese team: it is very important, a coach builds his team around his best players.

“But there is also a group here with experienced players, with young players ready to take the plunge. We have had to play games before without Sadio Mane”.


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