Qatar 2022

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Virgil van Dijk has expressed sympathy for Sadio Mane after his former Liverpool team-mate was ruled out of Senegal's World Cup opener against the Netherlands.

Mane's place at the tournament in Qatar looked to be in doubt when he suffered a fibula injury while representing Bayern Munich, but he was included in the Africa Cup of Nations champions' 26-man squad last week.

On Tuesday, however, Senegalese Football Federation board member Abdoulaye Sow ruled Mane out of the team's "first matches" at the World Cup.

Van Dijk missed the Netherlands' Euro 2020 campaign last year after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury, and sympathises with Mane amid his battle to feature in Qatar.

"I don't think he will play [against the Netherlands]," Van Dijk told reporters. "I was feeling sad for him, first and foremost. I'm not happy in this case as I've been in that situation where I missed the Euros.

"We as players work so hard to get to this stage, and he has been such an important figure in that group for their country.

"I know for a fact that he will put a brave face on it, but it's tough and I feel sorry for him."

With the Netherlands missing out on qualification for Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Van Dijk has had to wait until the age of 31 to appear at a major tournament.

However, the defender feels that wait will make his experience in Qatar more special, adding: "I'm really excited about playing against the best players in world football, leading out my country and representing my country in the best way possible.

"For me, it is a boyhood dream. I'm 31 now but it doesn't change the fact that I'm going to enjoy this as much. Maybe it is an even better time for me to go there because of everything that I have experienced and also we have a great group, so I am very excited about it."

As captain of Louis van Gaal's team, Van Dijk will be one of eight European skippers to wear a distinctive heart-adorned armband at the tournament to raise awareness of the OneLove campaign against discrimination.

Qatar's criminalisation of same-sex relationships and failure to address concerns about migrant workers' conditions has led to criticism of their status as World Cup hosts, but while Van Dijk is "open" to pushing for change through football, he believes FIFA should take the lead.

"I'm fully focused on the first game, and I think people higher up really should make a difference," Van Dijk said.

"Obviously when we're there, we have eyes as well. We will see things and always as a group if we feel we can make a change, we will be open to that.

"But we shouldn't be forced to do certain things which maybe you're not comfortable with. We can always try and make an impact on everything that's happening, but I'm a football player.

"I'm a human being and you guys know exactly that I'm not shy about saying exactly what I think, that's definitely the case.

"We'll see what happens, but the first thing is football. I’m not a politician. FIFA is definitely one of the responsible ones it starts with."

Lionel Messi has named Brazil, France and England as his favourites to claim World Cup glory in Qatar.

The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner will feature at his fifth World Cup this year, when he will look to help Argentina to their first triumph at the tournament since 1986. 

Messi was named Player of the Tournament when Argentina reached the World Cup final in 2014, but the Paris Saint-Germain star believes other teams head to Qatar in a better position than the Albiceleste.

"Whenever we talk about candidates, we always talk about the same teams," Messi told South American football federation CONMEBOL.

"If I have to put some above others, I think Brazil, France and England are a little bit above the rest.

"But the World Cup is so difficult and so complicated that anything can happen."


All six of Messi's World Cup goals to date have been scored in the group stages, and he has failed to net in 756 minutes of action in the knockout rounds of the tournament.

However, Messi was in inspired form as Argentina finished as runners-up to Germany eight years ago, contributing to 63 per cent of his team's goals in Brazil (5/8, with four goals and one assist).

He believes Lionel Scaloni's team can grow into the tournament this time around.

"We are very excited. We have a very nice group that is very eager, but we think about going little by little," Messi said.

"We hope to start the World Cup in the best way to face everything that comes after. The more you play and the more time you spend on the pitch, the more you get to know each other."

Argentina begin their Group C campaign against Saudi Arabia next Tuesday before facing Poland and Mexico. 

Neymar is primed to lead Brazil to World Cup glory in Qatar, according to former Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Mohamed Sissoko.

The 30-year-old Neymar has had a strong start to the campaign with PSG, recording 26 goal involvements (15 goals, 11 assists) in 20 games so far, and Sissoko believes he has shown the motivation to carry that form into the World Cup, which begins on Sunday.

Speaking to Stats Perform, Sissoko predicted the Selecao to win the tournament, citing Neymar as one of the chief reasons why.

"[I think] Brazil [will win], because they have a strong team and good spirit and I think they have a big chance of winning this World Cup," he said.

"I know [Neymar is] going to be on fire this year because when you're on holiday and you decide to come back one week before you start, it is because you have good motivation. It is because you have the World Cup, so he wants to show all the Brazilian people he's a big player and he wants to bring back the World Cup to Brazil."

Sissoko, who also played for Liverpool and Juventus among others before retiring in 2019, picked out three more players he thinks will thrive at the World Cup, including two more Brazilians.

"[Aurelien] Tchouameni [of France] is a very good player," Sissoko said. "Vinicius [Junior] is going to be on fire, also Raphinha from Barcelona. I think they have good motivation to do something very good at the World Cup."


Sissoko featured for Mali as an international player, and he pointed to Morocco as one of the African teams to look out for in Qatar.

Morocco will be in Group F with Belgium, Croatia and Canada, and they recently hired French-born Walid Regragui as head coach.

"They have a good team. Not one of the best," Sissoko said. "But I think this new manager, I know him very [well]. He knows French culture, and also Moroccan culture. So I think Morocco has a good team to go far."

Five African teams will take part in Qatar, with Morocco joined by Senegal, Cameroon, Ghana and Tunisia, and Sissoko hopes they can make an impression, even if lifting the trophy might be beyond them.

"I don't know [if an African team can win the World Cup] because of big talent and big teams like Brazil, Argentina, England, and France. It is not easy to compete with them at this moment, but I think they have the quality to go to the quarter-finals," he said.

"For me, Senegal is in progress... Senegal I think is the team with more progress because they bring a lot of foreign players. You know they have good players like [Kalidou] Koulibaly, like [Sadio] Mane, and now they're starting to bring in a young player like [Ismail] Jakobs from Monaco.

"This is very important to have a strong team, a strong group. So I think Senegal also have the power to go to the quarter-finals."

Sadio Mane will miss Senegal's "first games" of the World Cup due to injury, a Senegalese Football Federation official revealed on Tuesday.

The Bayern Munich forward's place at Qatar 2022 looked to be in jeopardy after he suffered a fibula injury this month, but he was included in Aliou Cisse's 26-man squad.

However, Mane will not feature in Senegal's clash against the Netherlands next Monday and Senegalese Football Federation board member Abdoulaye Sow revealed that will not be the only Group A match he will miss.

Senegal will face hosts Qatar next Thursday before taking on Ecuador in their final group match on November 29.

Sow stated: "Senegal will have to cope without its best player for the start of the tournament and not whine too much.

"We will have to rely on playing the first games without Sadio and win without Sadio because we have 25 players apart from Sadio.

"No one would have wanted it, but that's what's happened to us."

Mane starred as Senegal won the Africa Cup of Nations this year and he has made an impressive start to his Bayern career following his move from Liverpool.

The 30-year-old's injury will prevent his from coming up against his former Reds team-mate Virgil van Dijk next week.

Brazil winger Raphinha says he does not see the favourites' tag as "pressure" ahead of the World Cup, as the Selecao look to end their two-decade wait for the title.

Tite's side head to Qatar 2022 in search of a first triumph in the competition since victory at Korea/Japan 2002, having gone closest with a third-place finish on home soil in 2014 since.

Despite defeat in the Copa America to Argentina last year, Brazil enter the tournament among the frontrunners, with hopes of bringing a close to their drought.

Barcelona man Raphinha is among the players hoping to make a difference for the nation, but he says being pegged as potential favourites does not faze him.

"I'm ready for the World Cup and I'm working hard to get there as good as I possibly can, both physically and mentally," he told the Blaugrana's website.

"The atmosphere is that of a winning national team, ambitious and wanting to win the title. There's a good vibe among the whole team.

"I don't see it as pressure, a team like Brazil is always a contender for the World Cup or any other title that they play for. The demand of the fans is normal because we are a high-quality team, with big names."

Raphinha has racked up 11 caps with Brazil since making his debut while at Leeds United last season, and made the switch to Barca ahead of this season.

It has not been an easy start however, with a Blaugrana team studded with major names slipping out of the Champions League for the second campaign running at the group stage.

The 25-year-old feels he is still bedding into his new surroundings, adding: "I still see myself in a period of adaptation to the club, I think I'm at a time where it has been quite complicated, especially because of my statistics and because of the way I play."

Brazil kick off their World Cup campaign against Serbia on November 24, before further encounters with Switzerland and Cameroon in Group G.

Manchester City centre-back John Stones believes form and club minutes are irrelevant when it comes to the World Cup, and is backing Manchester United captain Harry Maguire to deliver on the big stage for England.

Stones and Maguire are experienced in leading their country deep into big tournaments, starting alongside each other in both the 2018 World Cup semi-final and the Euro 2020 final.

While Stones, 28, remains in terrific standing back at City, starting almost every game he is healthy for, it has been a different story for 29-year-old Maguire this campaign with United.

After starting the first two games of the Premier League season, a benching followed by a hamstring injury has seen him make only one start since, with Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane overtaking the club captain.

Despite Maguire's lack of a perfect preparation, Stones said he knows he can still perform at a high level if that is how manager Gareth Southgate chooses to line up.

"Whatever team or whatever system Gareth decides, if it's me and Harry we will use those bonds again," he said.

"They are too strong to be broken by game time, form, whatever it is. That kind of goes out the window when these moments hit.

"When I look at Harry, I see a partner. Through all our experiences he's had my back and I've had his.

"We've had so many games together, we've made a bond and a partnership together. We know what the other person is going to do and how we work best together. It clicks."

England kick off their campaign on November 21 against Iran, before closing out the group stage with fixtures against the United States and Wales.

Gareth Bale is "100 per cent fit and ready to go" for Wales at the World Cup in Qatar after battling injury issues.

The former Real Madrid winger's fitness had been a concern before Robert Page named his 26-man squad for Wales' first appearance at the World Cup in 64 years.

Bale has only started twice for Los Angeles FC since joining from Madrid in July, managing just 370 minutes on the pitch.

However, he scored an extra-time equaliser as a substitute against Philadelphia Union in the MLS Cup final, which LAFC won on penalties on November 5.

Bale initially gave Wales reason to be concerned after the final as he said he felt "not 100 per cent fit", but has since backtracked on those comments before travelling to the Middle East.

"I'm 100 per cent fit and ready to go," the Wales international told Sky Sports after revealing his struggles with a "slight issue".

Bale suggested playing the United States, England and Iran in Group B in the space of nine days would be "no problem", with the mental aspects of being sidelined more of a problem than the physical side.

"I'm fully fit and ready to go. If I need to play three 90s, I'll play three 90s," he added. "It's been difficult, mentally more than anything.

"I guess for everybody, the last three or four weeks, it's been difficult, even hearing stories of players going down and knowing they're going to miss the World Cup.

"Speaking to a few of the boys, even for them having to play this weekend was tough mentally, and we're just praying not to have an injury at all because it's such a big occasion."

The tournament has been somewhat overshadowed due to human rights issues in Qatar.

Bale will be among eight captains to wear a distinctive heart-adorned armband, raising awareness for the OneLove campaign against discrimination in a country where same-sex marriage is prohibited.

"For us as footballers, it's been a difficult subject to talk about," said Bale. "But we can shed a light on the problems there that are going on.

"We've spoken to the FAW [Football Association of Wales] and they've been speaking to Welsh government, who've been speaking to Qatar and FIFA, working on these issues.

"For us as players, we're fully behind and support everything we can do. As footballers, the most we can do is raise awareness and it's for people higher up to make those decisions, and hopefully make change for the better."

Presnel Kimpembe has been replaced in France's World Cup squad by the uncapped Axel Disasi, despite returning from injury for Paris Saint-Germain at the weekend.

After sitting out the wins over Juventus and Lorient, PSG defender Kimpembe played the final 15 minutes of Sunday's 5-0 Ligue 1 triumph over Auxerre.

Kimpembe, who has represented France 28 times, said after the match he "is feeling fine" and was looking forward to linking up with his country for Qatar 2022.

However, the French Football Federation announced on Monday the defender "does not consider himself sufficiently recovered" to be able to represent the reigning world champions.

Didier Deschamps has added centre-back Disasi, who has made 23 appearances for Monaco this season, to his 26-man squad as Kimpembe's replacement.

Borussia Monchengladbach forward Marcus Thuram has also been called up after scoring 13 times and assisting four more in 17 appearances this season.

The France squad are due to meet at their Clairefontaine training base on Monday ahead of their Group D opener against Australia on November 22.

Les Blues, who are attempting to become the third team to win back-to-back World Cups, then take on Denmark and Tunisia.

James Maddison eased fears of him missing England's World Cup campaign after limping off in his final club game before joining up with the squad.

Despite only picking up one previous cap three years ago, Maddison's impressive form was enough to earn him a place in Gareth Southgate's squad for Qatar.

But that spot looked to be in serious peril when, in his final game for Leicester City ahead of the World Cup, Maddison limped off in the 25th minute having put the Foxes 1-0 up.

Clutching at his hamstring, there was immediate concern for the 25-year-old, but he alleviated those fears after the game.

"It should be fine," Maddison said as he left the London Stadium after the match with West Ham, which his side went on to win 2-0.

"Injury isn't too bad! A small problem that was causing a bit of soreness. Can't wait to meet up with the lads Monday," Maddison tweeted after the game.

Maddison's Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers confirmed that there should not be any problem with the midfielder's fitness for Qatar, telling reporters: "I’ve just spoken to the doctor, he said he’s fine.

"He just felt a little knock on the knee. We didn’t want to risk it for him or the team."

The news will come as a big relief to Maddison and Southgate with England's World Cup campaign scheduled to get underway against Iran on November 21.

Bayern Munich coach Julian Nagelsmann backed Jamal Musiala to shine for Germany at the World Cup after he produced a scintillating display in Saturday's 2-0 win at Schalke.

On the day he became the youngest player to make 100 Bayern appearances since the Bundesliga was founded (aged 19 years and 259 days old), Musiala laid on goals for Serge Gnabry and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting in a routine victory.

Musiala has now contributed to 21 goals this season (12 goals, nine assists) – more than any other German playing in one of Europe's top five leagues has managed. 

The teenager was also denied a goal of his own by the offside flag after claiming his second assist on Saturday and Nagelsmann believes Germany fans should be excited by his presence in Qatar. 

"Jamal played an outstanding first half of the season," Nagelsmann told Sky Sports after the win.

"Hopefully, he will play the World Cup and the second half of the season even better. He has extremely lively feet."

Musiala's Bayern and Germany team-mate Manuel Neuer, meanwhile, sees him as possessing a crucial role in both teams. 

"He is a very important key player," Neuer said. "We are happy that he is with Bayern and also with the national team."

Musiala's total of 15 Bundesliga goal contributions this campaign (nine goals, six assists) is the highest in the competition, and four more than the next best tally by a Bayern player (Gnabry with 11).

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