Senegal's forwards need to step up in Sadio Mane's absence if the Lions of Teranga are going to progress in the World Cup, says Aliou Cisse.

Bayern Munich forward Mane was ruled out of the tournament after suffering a fibula injury.

The former Liverpool star is Senegal's talisman, and was crucial to their Africa Cup of Nations success earlier in 2022.

In his absence, Senegal turned in a spirited display against the Netherlands in their opening Group A game on Monday, yet fell to a 2-0 defeat.

This was despite mustering a higher expected goals (xG) total than their opponents (0.9 to 0.7) and having more shots (15 to 10).

With hosts Qatar next up at Al Thumama Stadium, head coach Cisse has demanded more from his forwards, particularly Ismaila Sarr and Diatta.

Cisse said: "We are disappointed, we had two or three very good chances [against the Netherlands]. 

"We needed to be more effective. Ismaila and Krepin are responsible there, but of course, the absence of Mane is a problem for us. Our attackers are good and we know what they are capable of.

"We need to work on it, with Ismaila and the others. We expect a lot from him and Krepin."

Qatar also suffered a 2-0 defeat in their opening match, going down to Ecuador. 

They did not register a shot on target in that match. Since 1966, the only side to fail to land a single shot on target in consecutive World Cup games is the United States, doing so against the Czech Republic and Italy in the 2006 edition.

"There's no excuse, we want to congratulate our opponents, they deserved to win," said coach Felix Sanchez.

"There is a lot of room for improvement. Maybe the responsibility and nerves got the best of us. We didn't start well. It was a terrible start."


Qatar – Akram Afif

Qatar failed to deliver in the tournament opener, but in Akram Afif they have a quality forward who could turn the game in their favour.

Afif created only one chance against Ecuador, and Qatar need to find a way to get him into the game more this time out.

Senegal – Ismaila Sarr

Sarr had more shots (three) and created more chances (four) than any other Senegal player against the Netherlands, with the Watford attacker involved in 47 per cent of their total attempts in the match (7/15).

With his coach's words no doubt ringing in his ears, Sarr will be determined to prove he can cut it in Mane's absence.


Senegal are the favourites for this one, according to Opta, who give the Africa Cup of Nations champions a 59.1 per cent chance of victory.

The draw is given a 24 per cent chance, with the likelihood of a Qatar win only 16.9 per cent.

Sadio Mane remains a key influence on Senegal's World Cup campaign despite his absence, with Kalidou Koulibaly revealing the forward is in constant contact with the national team.

The Bayern Munich attacker was ruled out of Qatar 2022 after undergoing surgery for a leg injury sustained on November 8 in a Bundesliga game with Werder Bremen.

It has been a cruel blow for player and country, with Mane's penalty having been the victorious touch to take Senegal to Qatar 2022 in their qualifying play-off earlier this year against Egypt.

But despite his absence, Koulibaly says the forward is still a regular, virtual presence around the squad, helping to raise their game and keep them focused.

"He's always texting with us, always calling," he stated. "[He is] keeping the mentality high for the team. He's an important player for us.

"We know the importance that he has for the team and we hope he will continue [to stay in touch]. When he speaks, all of Senegal listens."

Senegal came up short in their first match of the World Cup on Monday against the Netherlands, conceding a pair of late goals to suffer a 2-0 defeat

Ahead of Friday's encounter with hosts Qatar in Group A, the Lions of Teranga are looking to get their campaign back on track, with Koulibaly stating they are stung by loss.

"It is very difficult after a defeat to get your head around things," he added. "It is a difficult pill to swallow. We've started off with a loss."

Both concessions marked a tough game for goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, with Senegal's first-choice goalkeeper having endured a hit-and-miss campaign with Chelsea.

Blues team-mate Koulibaly remains unconcerned over any fears of a dip in form however, adding: "We're brothers in arms. He's an important player for us.

"It's normal to go through difficult periods, but I think we're making a mountain out of a molehill. Edouard knows what he needs to do tomorrow, as do we. I don't think we should be making a big deal about this.

"Everyone needs to be confident in our role; everyone needs to get stuck in. It is together that we are going to be able to overcome this hurdle. I am not worried."

Qatar head coach Felix Sanchez says his side felt "backed and supported" despite a mass exodus from fans during a 2-0 defeat to Ecuador in their first ever World Cup match.

Enner Valencia spoiled the party with a first-half double in the opening match of the tournament at Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday.

Valencia also had an early goal contentiously disallowed by the VAR for offside, but Qatar were well beaten and failed to register a shot on target in a lacklustre display.

They become the first home nation to lose the opening match of a World Cup, and many members of the crowd were clearly not impressed as they made an early exit in the second half.

Sanchez is focused on trying to made Qatar more competitive rather than bemoaning fans not sticking with their side, with Group A encounters against the Netherlands and Senegal to come.

"Truth be told, I have enough work to do to take a look at it," the Spaniard said.

"We felt backed and supported and we hope for the next game, people will feel prouder and keep supporting us to the end of the tournament.

"The atmosphere was great, people were very much looking forward to this game."

“We knew [a loss] could happen and the result can sometimes be difficult. We will try to learn from today and I'm completely sure we will make people feel more happy with our performance."

Qatar never got going and Sanchez offered no excuses for such a flat performance.

"There's no excuse, we want to congratulate our opponents, they deserved to win," he added.

"There is a lot of room for improvement. Maybe the responsibility and nerves got the best of us. We didn't start well. It was a terrible start."

Gustavo Alfaro says Enner Valencia will be fit to face Netherlands after the Ecuador captain inspired a 2-0 win over Qatar in the first game of the World Cup.

Valencia became Ecuador's record World Cup goalscorer with five courtesy of a first-half double in a one-sided Group A opener against the hosts on Sunday.

The striker had an early goal contentiously disallowed by the VAR at Al Bayt Stadium before opening the scoring from the penalty spot after he was brought down by Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb.

Ecuador's leading all-time goalscorer found the back of the net again with a powerful header as La Tri dominated the game in Al Khor.

There was concern when Valencia sustained a knee injury late in the first half and although he was able to continue, the skipper was withdrawn 15 minutes from time.

Ecuador head coach Alfaro allayed concerns over the 33-year-old's condition ahead of the clash with the Oranje at Khalifa International Stadium in Ar-Rayyan on Friday and praised the captain for silencing his critics.

"He is the all-time top scorer for Ecuador, he is going through tough times, he was questioned at times in Ecuador," said Alfaro.

"He managed to score, which means a lot to him. Four or five players took a few blows, but nothing serious.

"Enner will play against the Netherlands, there is no doubt about that."

Qatar were devoid of ideas, failing to register a shot on target as they became the first host nation to lose an opening match of a World Cup.

Felix Sanchez, the Qatar boss, knows they must go back to the drawing board before taking on Senegal on Friday after they were outplayed in their first ever World Cup match.

The Spaniard said: "We fought this game in a certain way, but our opponent had their own ideas. It's not that we didn't want to attack, but our opponent head their own weapons.

"If we want to be competitive, we will need to defend, and be very well organised. When we have possession of the ball we would like to be more effective.

"We will try to help our players and see if we can progress in all these aspects."

Enner Valencia scored twice as Ecuador spoiled the party by beating hosts Qatar 2-0 in the first game of the World Cup.

Valencia had an early goal contentiously ruled out for offside at Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday, but Qatar were unable to heed the warning.

The clinical captain become Ecuador's leading World Cup goalscorer with a tally of four by opening the scoring with a penalty and struck again with a bullet first-half header.

Qatar looked out of their depth in their first ever World Cup match, failing to register a shot on target as Ecuador made an encouraging start in Group A.

Valencia looked to have put La Tri in front with a header in the third minute after goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb flapped at a free-kick, but eyebrows were raised when Michael Estrada was deemed to be marginally offside following a VAR check.

The striker was not to be denied 13 minutes later, coolly sending Al Sheeb the wrong way from the spot after the shaky keeper brought him down.

Valencia capitalised on Qatar's defensive frailties again just after the half-hour mark, rising unmarked to meet Angelo Preciado's whipped cross from the right with a brilliant header that found the bottom-left corner.

Qatar had not posed a threat, but Almoez Ali somehow nodded wide from close range right on the stroke of half-time.

Valencia required treatment for a knee injury late in the first half but was able to continue and Ecuador continued to dominate after the break, Al Sheeb palming away Romario Ibarra's strike.

Qatar were devoid of ideas and Mohammed Muntari fired over when a rare chance came late on as Ecuador eased to victory, although there was concern when Valencia was withdrawn with 15 minutes to go seemingly still being troubled by that knee problem.

History will be made when hosts Qatar get the World Cup under way with a clash against Ecuador and head coach Felix Sanchez says "you never know what can happen".

Al Bayt Stadium will be the venue for the opening match of the tournament on Sunday and Qatar's first World Cup game.

The 2019 AFC Asian Cup champions are not expected to qualify from Group A, which also includes Netherlands and Senegal.

Sanchez is realistic over the host nation's prospects but is relishing the challenge of trying to defy expectations.

The Spaniard said: "Obviously, I'm not talking about Qatar winning the World Cup, but competing at a good level against those three teams is our challenge.

"Then this is football, and you never know what can happen."

Ecuador are 44th in the world rankings, only six places higher than Qatar as they prepare to lock horns in Al Khor.

Defender Byron Castillo was a late omission from Gustavo Alfaro's squad due to a dispute over his nationality this week.

Alfaro knows his Ecuador side are not well fancied to make their presence felt but expects them to make life difficult for their group rivals.

He said: "The World Cup is totally different from what the qualifiers are. If we are going to play the way we played the qualifiers, most likely we won't have a chance, because we are going to play against the Asian champions, against the African champions and against the Netherlands, who are in the final four in Europe. 

"They are teams that are superior to what we are, for a reason we were in pot number four in the draw, if we had been the best we would have been in pot one or two. We have to be make things difficult, we have to be the pebble in their shoe."

If history is anything to go by, there should be entertainment on Sunday, as the past four opening World Cup games have produced 17 goals at an average of 4.25 per match.

Al Bayt Stadium has been a happy hunting ground for Qatar, as they have won their three previous matches at the venue with an aggregate score of 9-0.



Qatar – Almoez Ali 

Striker Ali was the leading scorer when Qatar were crowned the champions of Asia three years ago, scoring nine goals in seven games.

That impressive tally was achieved from only 10 shots on target and was a record for a single edition of the tournament. Qatar will need him to be clinical on the biggest stage of all on home soil.

Ecuador - Pervis Estupinan 

Left-back Estupinan can make an impact at both ends of the field for Ecuador.

The Brighton and Hove Albion full-back created 22 chances during a successful World Cup qualifying campaign, more than any other defender.



Ecuador are fancied to spoil the party and get off to a winning start. 

According to Stats Perform’s AI model, Alfaro's men have a 41.4 per cent chance of securing all three points, with the draw rated at 29 per cent.

Qatar have a 29.6 per cent chance of coming out on top, according to the model, in what looks like being their best opportunity to register a historic victory.

Ecuador coach Gustavo Alfaro says the absent Byron Castillo "will be with us" in an emotional sense after a controversial nationality dispute led to the defender not going to the World Cup.

Castillo was the subject of a complaint made by Chile in May, with the Chilean Football Federation alleging he was born in Colombia rather than Ecuador.

The case initially put Ecuador's World Cup qualification in doubt until the FIFA investigation was closed in June, and FIFA's Appeal Committee confirmed no further action was being taken three months later.

Chile appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), who acknowledged Castillo's birthplace as being in Colombia, but the claim was dismissed on the basis of Ecuador legally recognising the player as Ecuadorian.

Nevertheless, Ecuador were still hit with a three-point deduction for the next World Cup qualification campaign for using a "document containing false information", and Alfaro was made to leave Castillo out of his squad for the World Cup as the Ecuadorian Football Federation (FEF) wanted to avoid "further unfair sanctions".

Speaking ahead of Sunday's clash with host nation Qatar, the opening game of the 2022 World Cup, Alfaro said: "I gave my opinion. He should be here, that's my opinion.

"I expressed my opinion about the CAS decision. I'm head coach, not a lawyer, I expressed an opinion, I talked to lawyers.

"I respect the decisions [of the Federation]. Byron should be here, but I respect the decision. We'll wait to see if they clarify why the three points [deduction] in the next qualifying stage, but the World Cup started in October. If he's ineligible for the World Cup, then he was [ineligible] for [October]. Ecuador is always facing hardship.

"We didn't cap him while the investigation was open. But after two sentences that said Byron was Ecuadorian, we did cap him.

"If you had only seen the pain Byron has had to endure…the love from the squad to Byron, he's now our symbol, and he'll be with us on the pitch even if he's not with us [physically]."

While there was undoubted sadness in Alfaro's voice as he discussed Castillo's situation, he otherwise spoke with great pride on Saturday as Ecuador prepare to take part in the World Cup's opening act.

He allowed himself a moment to reflect on his own history and the World Cup exploits of his Argentinian compatriots in the past, specifically Carlos Bilardo and Cesar Luis Menotti, winners in 1986 and 1978 respectively.

"First of all, as an Argentinian national, a coach, it fills us with pride [to work at a World Cup]," he continued. "In Argentina, the coaches all make a great effort to be professionals and reach this level, especially coaches like me who've had to work from the bottom up.

"I coached in the lower divisions and have a broad experience with different teams. Now this is my first national team [job] and World Cup. Looking back, there are so many famous Argentinian coaches who acted as beacons.

"Myself, Lionel [Scaloni, Argentina coach], Tata Martino [Mexico coach], we want to continue that legacy. It's up to us to represent Argentinian coaches now.

"Many have been in this position before. It's a great privilege for me to be part of that exclusive list of coaches at a World Cup, but on the other hand there aren't that many of us who've been able to coach our team in the opening game.

"Today, I feel very proud to come from Rafaela, to have been part of regional football in Argentina, and also the top division.

"I dreamed of being a coach there when everything felt so hard. I overcame many challenges and hurdles.

"I was told I wasn't good enough, wasn't up to the expectations, but when we dream we are able to achieve, I now have the privilege of being here talking to you."

Felix Sanchez has sought to ensure Qatar focus on their football amid the controversy around the nation's hosting of the World Cup ahead of Sunday's opener against Ecuador.

But the Qatar coach is also realistic about his side's ambitions at their first finals, considering Ecuador clear favourites and suggesting Group A rivals may have already written the hosts off.

Sanchez was the first coach to hold a pre-match news conference on Saturday, with FIFA president Gianni Infantino's extraordinary opening address still prominent in the thoughts of many.

Infantino had defended Qatar following criticisms of human rights issues, its treatment of migrant workers and the illegality of homosexuality.

The topic of workers' rights was put to Sanchez, who replied: "A lot has been said about this – some misinformation, in my opinion. Some of the comments weren't completely fair, in my opinion.

"Obviously the loss of human life in working hours is the greatest tragedy we can endure, whether here in Qatar or anywhere else in the world.

"We just hope this World Cup means all together we can work to benefit the conditions for these groups, not just in Qatar but everywhere else in the world."

Asked whether the controversies had distracted from Asian champions Qatar's efforts on the field, the coach said: "I think that the best thing that can happen to a team and a footballer is to keep calm, avoid any sort of rumours and noise around you from a football point of view.

"Obviously we don't like people criticising our country, but in terms of football strictly we managed to have a great preparation for the World Cup.

"We kept calm. We are in good form. All the players come here with the highest motivation for tomorrow. We will try to give a good performance and be competitive.

"We have to be realistic around possibilities, but we have to do well."

Sanchez believes Qatar are "worthy to be here", but his realism was reflected in his analysis of a group that contains the Netherlands and Senegal, as well as Ecuador.

"It's three games, and we know the level of our opponent," said the Catalan. "Due to their history, their individual talent, their careers where they play, they are ahead of us.

"On paper, they should get the three points. Maybe they count on the three points already.

"But we are here to show we can be a competitive team. We will bring our 'A game' and try to get good results that will bring so much joy."

Qatar captain Hassan Al Haydos added: "We want to show the results of all of our hard work. God willing, we will perform much better than any game before."

Al Haydos appeared to be amused when an internet rumour, which claimed Ecuador had been offered a bribe to lose, was relayed to Sanchez.

"I said before: I think there is a lot of disinformation," the coach said. "The internet is great, but it is also very dangerous, from my point of view.

"For many years, we have been preparing, training. Together we are strong, nobody will be able to destabilise us with this criticism and statements.

"We are very motivated, excited and happy to be playing in a World Cup tomorrow. We are focusing on how to arrive with our best conditions. We don't take anything else into account."

Cristiano Ronaldo dreams of facing the "magic" Lionel Messi in the World Cup final as two footballing greats head into the twilight of their careers.

The 37-year-old Ronaldo will hope to help Portugal escape Group H, where they face Ghana next Thursday before clashes against Uruguay and South Korea.

Messi, 35, heads to Qatar with one of the pre-tournament favourites, Argentina, who start Group C against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, with meetings against Mexico and Poland to follow.

Having battled for centre stage against former Barcelona star Messi for numerous years, ex-Real Madrid forward Ronaldo admitted he would love to face his old foe in the World Cup showpiece on December 18.

"It's too good, too good of a dream," Ronaldo told Piers Morgan on TalkTV in his wide-ranging interview, in which he criticised Manchester United, senior figures at Old Trafford, Erik ten Hag and Ralf Rangnick.

The pair share 12 Ballon d'Or titles between them, with Messi's record-breaking seven two more than Ronaldo's haul, surmising a dominant period in elite football between the evergreen duo.

Messi now plays his club football with Paris Saint-Germain, while Ronaldo's time at United appears to be heading to an abrupt end amid the furore of his scathing interview on his current employers.

The Portugal international, despite the revered battles between the pair throughout their respective careers, assured he has a "great relationship" with Messi, who he would like to sit down for a meal with.

"He is an amazing player, he is magic. As a person, he is top. We shared the stage for 16 years, imagine," he added.

"I have a great relationship with him. I'm not a friend of him in terms of the guy who is at your house, speaking on the phone, no, but he is like a team-mate.

"He's a guy that I really respect the way he always speaks about me. Even his wife or my wife, my girlfriend, they always respect and they're both from Argentina. 

"What I am going to say about Messi? A great guy who does great things for football."

Blaugrana legend Messi has been linked with a move to Major League Soccer or a fairytale reunion with Barca, who he left amid well-documented financial difficulties at Camp Nou in August 2021.

The future of Ronaldo appears unlikely to remain with United, though he suggested he would like to call an end to his playing career aged 40.

"I want to play two years more, three years more. So two or three years maximum," he continued.

"I want to finish at 40. I think 40, will be a good age… But I don't know, I don't know the future.

"Sometimes you plan one thing for your life and as have said many times, life is dynamic. You never know what's going to happen."

Cristiano Ronaldo remains optimistic about Portugal's chances at the World Cup in Qatar, who he thinks will host a "good tournament" despite ongoing human rights concerns.

Portugal captain Ronaldo missed Fernando Santos' side cruise past Nigeria 4-0 in their final warm-up game on Thursday before FIFA's global tournament.

Coach Santos cited illness issues for the 37-year-old amid the furore of his scathing interview on Manchester United with Piers Morgan on TalkTV.

While the former Real Madrid forward hit out at United, their staff and directors, Ronaldo suggested Portugal have a chance at the World Cup, where they face Ghana in their Group H opener next Thursday.

"I am very optimistic. We have a fantastic coach, we have a good generation of football players," the five-time Ballon d'Or winner said.

"I'm looking forward to it, we're going to an amazing World Cup… [It’s] going to be tough. Extremely difficult. But everything is possible, of course we're going to compete."

After labelling a host of pre-tournament favourites, such as Argentina, Spain and Brazil, Ronaldo said he would retire immediately if Portugal won the tournament.

The United forward believes England also have a "chance" in Qatar, who came under widespread scrutiny for their human rights treatment after being awarded hosting rights by FIFA.

Captains of 10 European sides will wear heart-adorned armbands, raising awareness for the OneLove campaign against discrimination in a country where same-sex relationships are prohibited.

FIFA has repeatedly called for nations to focus on football, much to the disappointment of many supporters and countries, though Ronaldo feels Qatar will prove a capable host.

"All the national teams, the people will be welcomed in Qatar, and I see a good tournament to be honest," he added.

"I think Qatar; they are prepared. They are prepared for that [the backlash].

"It will be weird to play at the beginning of the season. But in the same way, it is a challenge. I think it's good. I feel good and with good energy."

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."

Gareth Southgate does not want the World Cup to be "diminished" amid human rights concerns in Qatar but the England manager vowed to continue discussing issues "we think should be talked about".

The 2022 World Cup has come under repeated scrutiny before the November 20 opener, with concerns cited over the human rights standards in a country where same-sex relationships are prohibited.

FIFA aimed to quieten the discussion around the global tournament in the Middle East, penning a letter telling the 32 teams to "now focus on the football", but it was met with a backlash.

Southgate has repeatedly acknowledged the criticism of Qatar hosting the World Cup and he cannot foresee England adhering to FIFA's demands when the opportunity arises to vocalise their opinions.

"We have always spoken about issues we think should be talked about, particularly the ones we feel we can affect," Southgate said on Thursday after announcing his 26-man squad.

"Contrary to one or two observations in the last few weeks, we have spoken in the same way other nations have spoken about this tournament, the human rights challenges.

"We've been very clear on our standpoint on that. So, look, I think we would like to focus primarily on football. For every player, every coach and everybody travelling to a World Cup, this is a carnival of football.

"It is the thing you work for this your whole life and you don't want that to be diminished by everything else that is going on around it currently.

"But we recognise we are going to be in that situation, we've got to accept and deal with it."

England captain Harry Kane will be among 10 skippers to wear a distinctive rainbow heart-adorned armband at the tournament, raising awareness for the OneLove campaign against discrimination.

Southgate previously pinpointed the role of gay players in the Women's Euros triumph for England earlier in the year and reiterated his desire for inclusivity across the world.

"So regarding the [LGBTQ+] community, we stand for inclusivity and we are very, very strong on that," he said when asked about Qatar's same-sex relationship laws. "We think that is important in terms of all our supporters. 

"We understand the challenges this tournament brings within that. If it wasn't for the strength of that community, we wouldn't be women's European champions. So it's very, very important to us."

He hopes hosting world football's showpiece event will help educate Qatar and inspire change within the country.

"I think we have seen that. There have been improvements, there has been change," he added.

"We have released statements already saying that change could improve in certain areas and we are very clear on that.

"But I think the process of the World Cup being in Qatar will of course put them under the spotlight and that will be uncomfortable for them.

"At times that will be a bit harsh for them, but I think the whole thing has improved certain areas that I think everyone will recognise has helped."

England start their World Cup campaign against Iran on November 21 before facing United States and Wales in Group B.

South American football confederation CONMEBOL has backed FIFA and called for participating nations to "leave controversies behind" ahead of the World Cup in Qatar.

The decision to stage the World Cup in Qatar has attracted renewed criticism on the eve of the tournament, with critics focusing on the host country's criminalisation of same-sex relationships and the conditions faced by migrant workers.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino and secretary general Fatma Samoura recently wrote to all 32 nations participating in Qatar, requesting they "focus on the football".

That letter led Amnesty International to accuse organisers of brushing human rights concerns "under the carpet", while a UEFA working group of 10 European nations responded by stressing the need to "support human rights".

CONMEBOL issued a statement of its own on Monday, outlining a belief in the need for "unity in support" of the tournament. 

"CONMEBOL and its 10 member associations join the call for world football unity in support of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022," the statement began.

"A country eager to show its hospitality and warmth, magnificent sports venues and 32 prepared teams with their greatest potential, ensure a tournament that will undoubtedly go down in history.

"As few times in history, human society today needs the powerful message of sport in general and football, the most popular of them, in particular. 

"This message is powerful because it is universal, it goes far beyond political or ideological disputes, temporary disagreements and occasional confrontations. It is a message full of optimism, tolerance, inclusion, diversity, union.

"The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 is the best opportunity to consolidate the values on which football is founded.

"This is especially so in the new generations, in girls, boys and young people, who hope and seek that football is not tarnished or distorted with biased or partial visions.

"The time has come to leave controversies behind and value and enjoy a true all-embracing party, eagerly awaited by the entire planet."

Jurgen Klopp believes it is unfair to expect players to engage in political protests at the upcoming World Cup in Qatar.

The decision to host the tournament in Qatar – where male homosexuality is illegal – has long been criticised due to concerns about the country's human rights record.

England's Harry Kane will be among eight European captains to wear a distinctive heart-adorned armband at the tournament, in order to raise awareness of the OneLove campaign against discrimination.

Meanwhile, tennis great Billie Jean King has called on players to act as "influencers" in Qatar, but Klopp believes handing down that level of responsibility is unjust.

"I understand 100 per cent that we talk about it," Liverpool manager Klopp told Sky News after receiving the Freedom of the City on Wednesday. 

"But it's not fair to talk now to the players and give responsibility to them, because it's more than 10 years ago that other people decided [to host the World Cup in Qatar], and we all accepted the decision.

"I watched documentaries recently about the election of Russia [in 2018] and Qatar, so it's not about this generation of players to say now that 'we don't go' or 'we don't do that'.

"These are the players. The tournament is in Qatar. The players go there and play the game. 

"The decision was made by other people and if you want to criticise anybody, then criticise the people who made the decision. Not the sport, not the competition and for sure, not the players. 

"It's not fair that we expect from them that they go there and make big political statements or whatever. It's just not fair."

Klopp did offer his support when asked about the OneLove campaign, but reiterated his belief players should not be expected to protest the initial decision to stage the tournament in Qatar.

He said: "That's absolutely fine, but what I don't like is that we expect them [the players] to do something. They go there to play football. The big tournament was organised and planned by other people."

Last week, Australia's players launched a campaign to highlight World Cup host Qatar’s human rights record.

Tennis great Billie Jean King believes it is "important" for people to go to the World Cup in Qatar and "be an influencer" amid ongoing concerns over the country's human rights record.   FIFA's decision to allow Qatar to host the World Cup has faced persistent criticism, with concerns cited over the human rights standards in a country where same-sex relationships are prohibited.   England captain Harry Kane will be among eight skippers to wear a distinctive heart-adorned armband at the tournament, raising awareness for the OneLove campaign against discrimination   King has been a regular promoter of equality, helping to secure equal prize money at tennis' four majors, and outlined her support for Qatar, where she would not be against hosting the WTA's Billie Jean Cup.   "I probably would be because, first of all, the WTA went there years ago," the 78-year-old responded when asked if she would allow her tournament's finals to be held by the World Cup hosts.   "I get a lot of different people coming to me saying 'why would you play there the way they treat women?' But personally, I think it's important to show up and be an influencer.   "I think it's delicate, no question. But I think it's important to go if you get the opportunity and everything else fits too, not just go there for money or whatever."

Qatar faced more scrutiny after an Amnesty International report in 2021 alleged thousands of migrant workers were exploited, with the country's government denying those claims but acknowledging problems.

King is no stranger to the Middle East either, having supported the WTA Finals being played in Doha, where she said the tournament created opportunities for female tennis players.

"We were there four or five years and I think it helped," the American added. "When I went there I did a clinic for the kids but only for the girls.

"Somebody was left-handed, which is sinister to them, and this mother was saying she hoped her left-handed daughter could one day become a champion and get rid of that stigma.

"These are the kind of discussions you can have when you're physically there. So I'm big on going actually, even if I know it's a fine line of how you do it."

The World Cup starts in 18 days when Qatar face Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor.

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