DOHA, Qatar (AP) – FIFA official Arsène Wenger has a shot at the World Cup Teams attempting to make political statements in Qatar and said they lacked concentration for their first games on Sunday.
Wenger said teams that had a good opening game were mentally ready to focus on the competition and “not political demonstrations”. The former Arsenal manager did not specify which teams he was talking about when speaking as head of global football development during an analysis of group games at a media event hosted by FIFA.
Denmark and Germany both underperformed in their first games. The Danes drew 0-0 against Tunisia and the Germans lost 1-2 against Japan.
They were among seven European football associations at the World Cup that wanted their captains to wear an armband as part of a Dutch diversity and anti-discrimination campaign to expose the host country’s poor human rights record.
However, Wenger overlooked FIFA’s role in the dispute by avoiding the issue before teams got to the World Cup. Then, apparently under pressure from the Qatari authorities, it allowed it to spread to November 21, hours before England and the Netherlands played and won their first games.
Hours before these games, FIFA forced a relegation by the European federations by threatening to ensure that England captain Harry Kane and Dutch counterpart Virgil van Dijk would see a yellow card. They would have risked getting a second yellow card and being sent off and suspended for the next game.
Denmark played without protest on November 22, a day before the German players lined up for their pre-match team photo, covering their mouths to show they felt silenced by the World Cup organizers. Both teams later failed to advance to the knockout stage.
The Danish Football Association slammed Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers helping set up World Cup projects ahead of the tournament, bringing toned-down uniforms with a black option to represent the color of mourning. The black jersey was not worn in Denmark’s three games.
Wenger, who is a longtime commentator for Qatari broadcaster beIN Sports, also said Sunday’s World Cup games were popular around the world “despite all the negative publicity we’ve received before”.
German soccer star Jürgen Klinsmann, who shared the stage with Wenger, highlighted the mental demands on European players in Qatar and offered a different theory.
Klinsmann analyzes matches for FIFA and well-known players in Europe’s biggest leagues had to make the switch from club games until just a week before the World Cup started. Teams typically have at least two weeks after the European season to prepare for a typical World Cup, which begins in June.
“Of course it’s very, very difficult for coaches to prepare a team in a week,” said Klinsmann, who was twice World Cup coach, in 2006 with Germany and 2014 with the USA.
“There were extreme mental challenges for the teams,” he said, adding that the expanded squad of 26 players instead of the usual 23 coaches “had to deal with 15 dissatisfied players”.
Two tactical trends Wenger highlighted from the 48 games played in the group stage – the importance of attacking from wide positions on the field and the ability of goalkeepers to pass the ball as an outlet for team-mates beset by opponents.
“I personally believe that the team with the best wingers will win this tournament,” said Wenger.
Attacking teams are forced to find space on the flanks because the opponents are now better protecting the center of the field, which also means fewer long-range shots are fired.
The evolution of the “return goalkeeper” role, spearheaded by Germany captain Manuel Neuer, saw a 70 percent increase in goalkeepers offering to take the ball with their feet since the 2018 World Cup.
“It’s a fascinating evolution of the goalkeeping position,” Klinsmann said, adding that youth training probably needs to be adjusted so that potential goalkeepers also spend time playing in an outfield position to develop their ball control and passing skills.
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