Benzema ruled out, Infantino ranted

The World Cup starts TODAY in Qatar and ESPN has you covered for the world’s biggest sporting event.

Before the opener between the hosts Qatar and Ecuador (11am ET/4pm GMT), we’ve got tons of great previews and reads to get you ready for anything. Get started with our World Cup 2022 guide detailing of the major stars (incl Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo), the favorites (Argentina, France, Brazil) and important games to circle on your calendar (obviously United StatesEngland Next Friday).

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

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


News and notes

– France striker Karim Benzema excluded from participation in the World Cup after sustaining an injury to his left thigh during training in Doha on Saturday.

– Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies remains an injury doubt for Canada’s World Cup opener against Belgium on Wednesday as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury sustained earlier this month. Canadian coach John Herdman said Davies was “still building up to top speed. But he hasn’t reached that top speed yet.”

-FIFA President Gianni Infantino denounces Europe’s “hypocrisy” in amazing speech in defense of Qatar.

– Beer bait and switch? A major turnaround for fans attending the games as World Cup organizers banned the sale of alcohol around stadiums.

– Rest in peace, Spain fans. Players from Luis Enrique’s side will sleep through specially designed top mattresses hoping that a good night’s sleep will help them succeed at the tournament.


Today’s best

Pitfalls in FIFA President Infantino’s speech on the eve of the World Cup in Qatar
Infantino’s monologue dealt with the criticism and issues related to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, but felt deaf and distant.

Which players need a big World Cup?
Football’s most prestigious tournament is the place to shine if you’re hoping to make a transfer, want to prove something to your current club or simply want to end your career on a high.


What’s on tap

– Qatar coach Felix Sanchez warned: “The Internet is very dangerous” and insisted his team is unaffected by speculation about the integrity of the World Cup as they prepare for Sunday’s opening game against Ecuador.

Bernardo Silva insists Cristiano Ronaldo suffers the consequences with Manchester United is no distraction for Portugal. Asked about the mood in the camp and whether he had offered the 37-year-old support, he said: “Top, top, top. The news coming out of England has nothing to do with the national team, so I won’t. say something. It’s none of my business, it concerns Cristiano. I don’t need to comment. It’s a matter for Cristiano, I’m not a Manchester United player and even if I were I wouldn’t answer that because we in the national team, so I’m not going to talk about it.”

– The duo Weston McKennie and Sergino Dest of the US men’s national team declared ready to go ahead of Monday’s World Cup opener against Wales. McKennie has been battling a quad injury in recent weeks, but with club side Juventus and the US teaming up to monitor the midfielder’s progress, he is steadily building up his fitness. Likewise, Dest suffered from muscle fatigue and had even trained indoors once since arriving in Qatar apart from his US teammates.

Play

1:09

Sam Borden wonders what else could change in Qatar after a last-minute drop in stadium beer sales.


What we noticed

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

Play

1:15

FIFA president Gianni Infantino says Europe should “apologise for the next 3,000 years” for past mistakes.

And look what ESPN reporter James Olley made of it…

Play

1:49

James Olley summarizes a remarkable speech by FIFA President Gianni Infantino, in which he denounced the “hypocrisy” of countries criticizing Qatar.

– O’Hanlon: How to understand the 2022 World Cup (ESPN+).


The big lecture

Is Qatar hosting the World Cup all about “sportswashing”, or are there more subtle and layered reasons for hosting FIFA’s flagship competition? 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 on their way to their first game.


Your Best Bets (odds via Caesars Sportsbook)

See how to actually bet on football games as ESPN contributor Paul Carr gives you top tips on odds, options and futures.

This is what we have for the first two days of play.

GROUP A

Qatar (+235) vs. Ecuador (+130), Sign +205

Drop Cuff: Usually the host country is a tough one and capable of causing misfortunes (Russia showed this again in 2018 when we went to the quarter-finals). Qatar have been playing together since September after the domestic league was suspended, but I think Ecuador is a physical, fast team that can hand the ball to the hosts but counter deadly. I love Ecuador +130.

Paul Carr: I have no idea what to expect from Qatar. I agree with Dalen that Ecuador is better, and I just don’t know how the public or the teams will react. I’m waiting for the second game to bet money on a match in Qatar.

Daniel Thomas: This is going to be a terrible game but I feel that given the home field advantage and the fact that they’ve had more time together than the other side, I’m going for Qatar. Qatar 1-0 Ecuador.

The Netherlands (-160) vs. Senegal (+500), Sign +255

Cuff: The Netherlands looks much better than the European Championship 2020 from just over 15 months ago. no Sadio Mane is a dagger for Senegal. I think the Dutch will come out flying, I will score 2.5 goals (+115).

Carr: Staying out of here now that Mane is out, but that +500 prize over Senegal is certainly tempting for a team that is still in first place.

Thomas: I think this could be a close affair. Not sure where the goals from either side will come from. I would take the bottom in this one. Netherlands 1-0 Senegal.

GROUP B

England (-290) vs. Iran (+1000), Sign +340

Carr: Can I bet on the under for any game in this group? Maybe not, but I like less than 2.5 goals here (-150). Iran conceded five goals in 14 qualifying matches, conceding only one goal each Spain and Portugal four years ago. England’s three group games at last year’s European Championships had two goals in total, so until Gareth Southgate hints he’ll use all of England’s attacking talent, I’m going with the bottom of England’s games.

Cuff: I keep saying I’m fading England. That said, their defensive approach against an inferior opponent will lead to a victory, but without much style and perhaps only a goal scored. There’s not much value here, and I don’t like this game, but I’d pick England to win to nil (-128).

Thomas: I have little hope that England can go far in this tournament. However, given the weakness of the teams around them in the group, I think they will qualify easily, starting with a comfortable win against Iran in the opener. Harry Kane scoring at any time (-110) is similar to a layup. England 3-0 Iran.

United States (+160) vs. Wales (+200), Sign +190

Carr: I hope this isn’t my American bias, but the US simply has more attacking capabilities than Wales, highlighted by a quartet of quality wingers (Christian Pulisic, Brendan Aaronson, Jan Reine, Timothy Wea). Because of that and Wales’ not-as-good-as-you-think defense that allowed 1.2 expected goals per game in qualifying, I’m going with US Draw No Bet at -135.

Cuff: Bias Warning! It has been eight years since we have seen the USA in a World Cup game. I see this is a low score. The young attacking talent has not come together in the last few friendlies. Wales are not a dynamic attacking team that relies on brilliance Gareth Bale or crosses search for Kiefer Moore‘s head. There is no value in underplays or both teams not scoring. The impartial move is probably Draw +190 or even Wales Draw No Bet +105. But no emotional hedge here – US wins (+160).

Thomas: I know I’m not selling well. But I’m looking forward to a 0-0 draw here.

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