USA and England begin group play, Qatar lose

The World Cup kicked off in Qatar, after years of waiting, and ESPN has you covered for the world’s biggest sporting event.

We’ve seen the opening ceremony, the pre-game speeches and the musical acts (yes, that was a member of BTS out there!). We’ve seen the first goal disallowed by VAR at the World Cup (well done, Enner Valencia, for being the answer to that trivia question) and we’ve seen the first goals allowed at the World Cup too (again, congrats to Enner Valencia, whose two goals gave Ecuador a win over host nation Qatar.)

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

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The lead: USA! USA! USA!

Group B play begins bright and early on Monday morning as England take on Iran at Khalifa International Stadium (8 a.m. ET), but that’s the mere appetizer to a delicious main course as the U.S. begin their tournament against Gareth Bale and Wales at Al Rayyan Stadium (2 p.m. ET).

Giovanni Reyna, left, and Christian Pulisic, right, will need to be in top form if the USMNT are to make an impact at the 2022 World Cup. Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

For the USMNT, it’s imperative they get off to a hot start as England await in their second group game. Wales offer plenty of menace thanks to their talisman, Gareth Bale — who had a few notable cameos during LAFC’s run to the 2022 MLS Cup this season — but the U.S. boast their full complement of stars, led by Christian Pulisic, and will be eager to make up for what they missed out on at Russia 2018. (We won’t mention Couva. We won’t mention Couva.)

Tyler Adams has been named captain, making him the youngest U.S. skipper at a World Cup since Harry Keough in 1950, and they’ve been fortunate in avoiding significant injuries during pre-tournament prep, something that can’t be said about France (Karim Benzema was ruled out Saturday), Senegal (Sadio Mane was ruled out Thursday) or Belgium (striker Romelu Lukaku is already out for their first group game). The U.S. also got good news in the form of defender Sergino Dest and midfielder Weston McKennie passing fitness tests to face Wales.

They also got a timely message from home, courtesy of U.S. Soccer, prior to their first match…

24 hours from the biggest moment of their lives, the families of all 26 #USMNT players send a heartfelt ‘good luck’ from back home ❤️💙🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/sh8fLRQtsP

— U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team (@USMNT) November 20, 2022

Ahead of the game, Sam Borden met the man responsible for feeding the team in Doha, while Luis Miguel Echegaray spoke to the fantastic forward Tim Weah about his soccer roots and what this World Cup means to him. Coach Gregg Berhalter believes his team “can beat anyone” in Qatar… he’ll be put to the test by the Welsh on Monday, then. No pressure, then!!

News and Notes

Host nation Qatar fell to a 2-0 defeat against Ecuador in the World Cup’s opening game, with bizarre scenes of home fans leaving well before the final whistle in droves to leave a largely pro-Ecuador environment for much of the second half. We covered the surrealism of day one as well as the poor performance of the Qatar national team in what was essentially their first game for the global audience. Meanwhile, Ecuador fans were captured chanting “we want beer” as Qatar fans left early.

Is this a sign of overcrowding and logistical issues to come? The official World Cup fan zone at Al Bidda was so overwhelmed by fans trying to get in that they closed access. The venue has a reported capacity of 40,000, but security services were forced to push fans back as they approached the various entrance points, reports Tom Hamilton.

England captain Harry Kane told the media he will still wear the “OneLove” armband despite reported threats of a fine and yellow card at kickoff as various European teams battle with FIFA over the host nation’s human rights record. Said Kane, “I think we’ve made it clear as a team, as a staff and an organisation that we want to wear the armband… I think we’ve made it clear we want to wear it.”

Ahead of their game with England, Iran defender Ehsan Hajsafi was the first member of Team Melli to speak out in apparent support of anti-government protests back home. “They should know that we are with them. And we support them. And we sympathise with them regarding the conditions. We have to accept the conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy,” he added. “We are here, but it does not mean we should not be their voice or we should not respect them.”

Brazil are one of the front-runners to claim the trophy in Qatar, but who will play in Thursday’s Group G game vs. Serbia? Right now, it’s all about misdirection. “We have no idea who the starting XI are: we are curious to know what the coach will decide and the competition is relentless to secure a spot,” said defender Alex Sandro on Sunday.

The best bits from today

Mark Ogden enjoyed Qatar vs. Ecuador from a sports bar in Doha, while Tom Hamilton soaked up the sights and sounds from the overcrowded fan zone.

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Mark Ogden shares his experience of watching the opening game of the World Cup from a bar in Doha.

Ten injured stars forced to miss World Cup
2022 Ballon d’Or Karim Benzema was the latest superstar to be ruled out by injury since squads were finalized. Who else is missing out?

What’s on tap tomorrow

– England vs. Iran (Group B, 8 a.m. ET): The Three Lions have been the ultimate “nearly-there” team in recent years, finishing fourth at the 2018 World Cup and then second at the European Championships. What can they accomplish this time around? If you’ve heard their new anthem (well, the latest release of their familiar refrain), then “football’s coming home for Christmas,” but they’ll need to start out strong against an Iran side that will show no fear.

– Senegal vs. Netherlands (Group A, 11 a.m. ET): We presume these two will be the sides to advance to the last-16, but Ecuador’s win over Qatar means that a decisive result for one side here could spell doom for the other. Cody Gakpo is likely to take up the playmaker role in the Dutch attack, and with good reason — read our profile of the next big transfer target here — while Senegal are trying to figure out how to replace injured talisman Mane, who was ruled out of the World Cup on Thursday.

– United States vs. Wales (Group B, 2 p.m. ET): What more is there to say? The pressure’s on Berhalter & Co. to meet the sky-high hype back home with three points against a Wales side that might be tougher than they look.

What else caught our eye

We had our first use of VAR at the World Cup as Enner Valencia’s third-minute goal — which would have been the fastest-ever goal in a World Cup opener — and Dale Johnson was on hand to explain why the call was made.

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Dale Johnson explains why Ecuador had a goal ruled out in confusing circumstances in the World Cup opener vs. Qatar.

Your best bets (odds via Caesars Sportsbook)

Take a look at how to actually bet on soccer matches as ESPN contributors Paul Carr, Dan Thomas and Dalen Cuff gives you key tips on odds, options and futures.

Here’s what we have for the first two matchdays.

GROUP A

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

Cuff: Netherlands look much better than the Euro 2020 from just over 15 months ago. No Sadio Mane is a dagger for Senegal. I think the Dutch are going to come out flying, I’ll take over 2.5 goals (+115).

Carr: I’m staying away from this one now that Mane is out, but that +500 price on Senegal sure is tempting for a squad that’s still defense-first.

Thomas: I think this could be a tight affair. I’m not sure where the goals are going to come from from either side. I’d take the under in this one. Netherlands 1-0 Senegal.

GROUP B

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

Carr: Can I bet the under for every game in this group? Maybe not, but I do like under 2.5 goals here (-150). Iran gave up five goals in 14 qualifiers and only allowed one goal each to Spain and Portugal four years ago. England’s three group games at the Euros last year had a total of two goals, so until Gareth Southgate indicates that he’ll use all of England’s attacking talent, I’m going with the under in England games.

Cuff: I’ll just keep saying, I’m fading England. That said, their defensive approach against an inferior opponent will lead to a win, but without much style and maybe 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’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 against Iran in the opener. Harry Kane to score at any time (-110) looks like a lay-up. England 3-0 Iran.

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

Carr: I hope this isn’t my American bias slipping in, but the U.S. simply has more attacking options than Wales, highlighted by a quartet of quality wingers (Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson, Giovanni Reyna, Timothy Weah). 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 U.S. Draw No Bet at -135.

Cuff: Bias warning! It has been eight years since watching the U.S. in a World Cup game. I can see this being low scoring. The young attacking talent hasn’t come together in their last few friendlies. Wales is not a dynamic attacking team, relying on brilliance from Gareth Bale or crosses searching for Kieffer Moore’s head. There’s no value in under plays or both teams to not score. The unbiased move is probably Draw +190 or even Wales Draw No Bet +105. But no emotional hedge here — USA to win (+160).

Thomas: I know I’m not selling it very well. But I fancy a 0-0 draw here.





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