World Cup 2022 briefing: the value of preparation time in Qatar | World Cup 2022

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The first World Cup in Asia was one for outsiders with both South Korea and Turkey just one game away from the 2002 final. An early start in late May, one that avoided the July rains but also gave star players little time to rest after tough European seasons, was given as a reason for the struggles of some traditional powers. History could repeat itself as the second World Cup in Asia has also been moved due to climatic reasons, albeit quite a bit back rather than a little forward, and while the mid-season action means that the biggest names won’t have played so many games, they will have almost no time to prepare.

The Premier League paused last Sunday, exactly a week before the big event kicks off. The other big European competitions had similar schedules and their players will go straight from club into World Cup action.

That is not the case for all. Just like 2002, the timing in 2022 could give outsiders a helping hand. In football terms England’s opening Group B opponents Iran look to have a healthy combination with half of the squad in action at a good European level and the other half playing in the Middle East. Their domestic league stopped, 11 games in, on 28 October. Already being based in the region and having more than two weeks extra to prepare could be the difference against England. That is down to Carlos Queiroz, who told the Iranian federation that it was best to finish early. “He decided to sacrifice match-time for more training,” Shaygan Banisaeid, an Iranian pundit and youth development coach who has worked with a number of clubs in England’s top two tiers, told the Guardian. “That obviously would not be possible for [Gareth] Southgate, who would have preferred a longer preparation.”

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At least Southgate knows his players are in good hands at their clubs. The Iran manager wants to keep his as close as possible. “Queiroz was concerned about the physical condition of those players that are playing domestically because he doesn’t trust the level of the league, the level of training intensity in their clubs, the poor training facilities and the poor recovery practices in Iran,” added Banisaeid. “These players are currently training with him, so that he can take care of their physical preparation ahead of the World Cup.”

Queiroz still wants more, however. “We face a lack of preparation time at the moment, but I would like to thank all the people who have helped us to have our players in the training,” he said in October. “We are looking to close the gap between Team Melli and the big teams in the world.” Too much should not be read into the 2-0 defeat, behind closed doors, to Tunisia on Wednesday with 22 players getting some playing time. Bayer Leverkusen striker Sardar Azmoun was not one of them as he recovers from injury. There were rumours, denied by Queiroz, that he had been under pressure to leave the forward, who has spoken out in support of the protests back home in Iran, out of the squad.

For a coach with the tactical acumen of the former Real Madrid manager, three weeks with his players could make a difference but compared to some, that’s nothing. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have squads that are entirely domestic-based and while this causes concerns about international exposure and experience, it does give some benefits. The Saudis started their World Cup break on 16 October after just eight games of the season and 32 players headed to nearby Abu Dhabi for a three-week and five-game training camp. Hervé Renard has had enough game time to nurse some of his injured players back to fitness and by the time the opener against Argentina comes, Saudi Arabia will have played eight games in two months.

Players of Saudi Arabia at training on Friday.
Players of Saudi Arabia at training on Friday. Photograph: Friedemann Vogel/EPA

And then there is familiarity with the conditions. It goes without saying that Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar don’t need to acclimatise. South Korea and Japan play there regularly, with the former having six games in the region in the last 12 months alone and then there are various club and youth competitions that are held on a regular basis in the Middle East. How much difference that makes remains to be seen but every little helps.

“This is Iran’s golden generation and probably the best squad of all time,” said Banisaeid. “There are many familiar names from 2018, who are now more mature, experienced and in the prime of their careers and they are going to give their best to realise the dream of qualifying for the next round. Last time, they were shy by only one point. Iran are not going to be an easy three points for England or the US.” JD

Talking points

Offsides Referees’ chief Pierlugi Collina reckons decisions will be quicker and more accurate due to new plans developed by Fifa. The “semi-automatic offside technology” will rule on even the tightest offside decisions more quickly than under the previous system and a 3D animated rendering of the incident will be broadcast for fans in the stadium and on TV. “[It] gives us the possibility to be faster and more accurate,” Collina told reporters on Friday. Twelve cameras in each stadium will track 29 points on the body of each player and a sensor inside the match ball will send data to the VAR operations room 500 times a second, allowing a highly accurate assessment of when the pass was played. Reuters

Pierluigi Collina during a briefing on Friday.
Pierluigi Collina during a briefing on Friday. Photograph: John Sibley/Reuters

Great Danes Kasper Hjulmand believes the wave of emotive support that helped propel his Denmark side to the Euro 2020 semi-finals is still present and hopes to use it in Qatar. Denmark bounced back from the shock of seeing midfielder Christian Eriksen have a cardiac arrest in their opening game to reach the final four of the Euros, willed on by sympathetic support and a determined spirit. “I think definitely it’s still here,” said Hjulmand. “I think we’re in a good position but you cannot just go on emotions and play. I think that the football quality is there and we’re ready.” Reuters

The last dance? Poland talisman Robert Lewandowski says he is preparing for the tournament as if it could be his last, but added that he would still be physically fit to play in 2026 – aged 38 – if needed. “I don’t know,” he told reporters in Doha. “I’m not saying yes, I’m not saying no.” Reuters

The mood in Germany

Normally when the World Cup comes around, Germans proudly fly their country’s flag and enthusiastically back their team. Not this time. Anyone walking around in Berlin this week will struggle to notice any signs of World Cup fervour. There are no flags, no signs, no public viewing events no indication that the football-mad country’s bid for a fifth world title is about to begin with a game against Japan on Tuesday. Qatar’s human rights record and treatment of migrant workers have spoiled the party for many.

“We don’t want to enjoy a World Cup like this,” said Bernd Beyer of the Boycott Qatar 2022 initiative. “The fans do not identify with it and are saying they don’t want to have anything to do with it.” There were widespread protests against the tournament during Bundesliga and second division games over the past few weekends, with fans holding banners condemning the human rights situation in Qatar and recent comments by World Cup ambassador Khalid Salman denouncing homosexuality.

Football enthusiast and spokesperson for the Fargo bar Joschik Pech poses next to a ‘Boycott Qatar 2022’ banner in Berlin.
Football enthusiast and spokesperson for the Fargo bar Joschik Pech poses next to a ‘Boycott Qatar 2022’ banner in Berlin. Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

The lack of enthusiasm also has had a commercial impact. Retailers have previously capitalised on the buzz around major tournaments with Germany team-related offers. Former coach Joachim Löw and his players could be seen everywhere promoting various goods and services. This time, the Association of German Sports Retailers says sales of fan articles are way down compared to previous World Cup years. Associated Press

In no particular order …

Security guards at World Cup park claim they are paid just 35p an hour.

Fans paid to attend World Cup by Qatar have daily allowance cancelled.

Qatar bans beer from World Cup stadiums after 11th-hour U-turn.

Fan village still a building site 48 hours before tournament kicks off.

Gay Qataris physically abused then recruited as agents, campaigner says.

Sunset at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan.
Sunset at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Experts’ Network

As part of a unique collaboration between some of the world’s best media outlets, a series of team guides are bringing a local flavour and expertise to our coverage of this World Cup. You can find them all here, but here’s a taster from Luis Eduardo Inzaurralde’s Uruguay preview:

Can Uruguay really win the World Cup for a third time? Anything is possible and individual performances suggest that most of the squad are in good form and this allows the coach to dream big.

And finally …

The Central Bank of Ecuador has minted a commemorative coin to mark their participation in Qatar. As a tribute to the national team’s fourth appearance in the World Cup finals, about 1,500 units of the special coin have been made available in the cities of Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca.

Detail of the front side of the new commemorative coin for Ecuador’s World Cup appearance.
Detail of the front side of the new commemorative coin for Ecuador’s World Cup appearance. Photograph: Rodrigo Buendía/AFP/Getty Images

“I wish every success to our beloved Tricolor, made up of players who represent the resilience and spirit of Ecuador,” said Guillermo Avellan from the Central Bank of Ecuador. Each coin is made out of silver, with a retail value of US $63. Reuters

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