Benzema ruled out, Infantino scolded

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

Ahead of the opening game between hosts Qatar and Ecuador (11:00 ET/16:00 GMT) we’ve got plenty of great previews and reading to prepare you for everything. Start with our World Cup 2022 guide, which details the big stars (including Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo), the favorites (Argentina, France, Brazil) and the key games to plan in your calendar (USA-England, of course, next Friday).

Be sure to check back on ESPN during the tournament as we bring you the latest from Qatar. Let’s get into that.

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

Messages and Notes

– French striker Karim Benzema has been ruled out of the World Cup after suffering a left thigh injury in training in Doha on Saturday.

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

– FIFA President Gianni Infantino slams Europe’s ‘hypocrisy’ in stunning speech in defense of Qatar.

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

– Rest up, Spain fans. The players of Luis Enrique’s team will sleep on specially designed mattress pads in the hope that a good night’s sleep will help them succeed in the tournament.

Today’s best

Pitfalls in FIFA President Infantino’s speech on the eve of the World Cup in Qatar
Infantino’s monologue touched on the criticism and issues surrounding the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, but felt numb and distant.

Which players need a big World Cup?
The most prestigious tournament in football is the place to shine if you have transfer hopes, prove something to your current club or just want to end your career on a high.

What’s on offer

– Qatar coach Felix Sanchez has warned that “the internet is very dangerous” and insisted his team remain untouched by speculation about the integrity of the World Cup as they prepare for Sunday’s opening game against Ecuador.

Bernardo Silva insists Cristiano Ronaldo’s fallout with Manchester United is no distraction for Portugal. When asked about the mood in the camp and whether he had offered the 37-year-old support, he said: “Top, top, top. The news from England has nothing to do with the national team so I won’t say nothing. It doesn’t concern me, it concerns Cristiano. I don’t have to say anything about it. It’s a Cristiano thing, I’m not a Manchester United player and even if I were I wouldn’t answer that because we’re one in the national team so I won’t talk about it.”

– The United States national team duo of Weston McKennie and Sergino Dest agreed to face Wales in Monday’s World Cup opener. McKennie had picked up a hamstring injury in recent weeks but with club club Juventus and USA working together to monitor the midfielder’s progress, he has steadily increased his fitness. Similarly, Dest suffered from muscle fatigue and had been training indoors apart from his US teammates since arriving in Qatar.



Sam Borden wonders what might change in Qatar following a last-minute cancellation of beer sales at stadiums.

What we noticed

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



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

And see what ESPN reporter James Olley made of it…



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

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

The big read

Is hosting the World Cup in Qatar all about ‘sportswear’, or are there more subtle and complex 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 a big question for all 32 teams going into their first game.

Your Best Bets (Odds via Caesars Sportsbook)

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

We have that for the first two matchdays.


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

Dalen cuff: Usually, the host country are tough opponents and capable of creating surprises (Russia showed this again in 2018 when they reached the quarter-finals). Qatar have been playing together since September after their domestic league was suspended, but I think Ecuador are a physical, fast side who can pass the ball to the hosts but counter-attack deadly. I like 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 crowd or the teams will react. I will wait for the second game to invest money for a game in Qatar.

DanielThomas: It’s going to be a terrible game but I feel like I’ll play for Qatar given the home advantage and the fact that they’ve had more time together than the other team. Qatar 1-0 Ecuador.

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

Cuff: The Netherlands are looking much better than Euro 2020 from just over 15 months ago. No Sadio Mane is a dagger for Senegal. I think the Dutch will fly, I take over 2.5 goals (+115).

Automobile: I’m staying away from this one now that Mane is out, but that +500 price point for Senegal sure is enticing for a squad that’s still defensively oriented.

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


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

Automobile: Can I bet the Unter for every game in this group? Maybe not, but I like under 2.5 goals here (-150). Iran gave up five goals in 14 qualifiers and conceded just one goal to Spain and Portugal four years ago. There were two goals in England’s three group games at last year’s European Championship. Until Gareth Southgate announces that he will use all of England’s attacking talent, I will go with the Underman in England’s games.

Cuff: I’ll just keep saying I’m fading England. However, their defensive approach against an inferior opponent will result in a win, but without much style and maybe just a goal scored. There isn’t much value here and I don’t like this game but I would pick England to win against Nile (-128).

Thomas: I’m not very hopeful 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 over Iran in the opener. For Harry Kane to score every time (-110) looks like a layup. England 3-0 Iran.

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

Automobile: I hope this isn’t my American bias, but USA simply have more offensive options than Wales, highlighted by a quartet of quality wingers (Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson, Giovanni Reyna, Timothy Weah). Because of this and because of Wales’ defense, which isn’t as good as you think it was, allowing 1.2 expected goals per game in qualifiers, I’m going with US draw no bet at -135.

Cuff: Beware of prejudice! It’s been eight years since we’ve seen the USA at a World Cup game. I can see this is a low score. The young offensive talent did not come together in the last friendlies. Wales are not a dynamic attacking team, relying on Gareth Bale’s brilliance or crosses looking for Kieffer Moore’s head. It is of no value if underplayed or both teams fail to score. The unbiased move is probably Draw +190 or even Wales Draw No Bet +105. But no emotional protection here – USA wins (+160).

Thomas: I know I don’t sell it very well. But I imagine a 0-0 here.

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