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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Luke McLaughlin and Tom Davies

France tackle virus before World Cup final; Fifa to revisit three-team groups – as it happened

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading and emailing. Let’s finish with a song each for France and Argentina (that you may remember from yesterday’s blog).

We’ll be back tomorrow with more live World Cup blogging as we lead up to the third-place playoff and Sunday’s final. Bye for now.

I did a bit of research on Messi v Mbappé head-to-head earlier. And I can tell you that if the World Cup was awarded on the basis of Instagram followers, Messi would walk it. He has 391m to Mbappè’s 78.3m.

They will of course be in opposition on Sunday, but who could forget Messi’s eight-second assist for Mbappé back in August, for Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1?


It kicks off at 3pm UK time, and in exactly 48 hours, we may already have a World Cup winner. Or perhaps it’ll be going to extra time.

Can France stop Messi? Can Argentina stop Mbappé?

And who, I hear you cry, is going to win the third-place playoff between Croatia and Morocco?


Meanwhile, in Argentina: An 18-metre Lionel Messi shirt is on display in Rosario, his home town.

An 18-metre long Argentina shirt emblazoned with Lionel Messi's name.
An 18-metre long Argentina shirt emblazoned with Lionel Messi's name. Photograph: Agustín Marcarian/Reuters

France have been training today. Here are some photos:

France's Kylian Mbappé (right) and Marcus Thuram.
France's Kylian Mbappé (right) and Marcus Thuram. Photograph: Christophe Ena/AP
Didier Deschamps (right) in pensive mood.
Didier Deschamps (right) in pensive mood. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Antoine Griezmann (right) and teammates.
Antoine Griezmann (right) and teammates. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
A light run.
A light run. Photograph: Petr David Josek/AP

The current Golden Boot standings are available by clicking the link below. Mbappé and Messi have five apiece, but it’s not inconceivable that Álvarez or Giroud end up winning the thing, either. They both have four before Sunday’s final.


We are approaching the finish line for today’s blog – and we’ve got through a wealth of World Cup content thus far. Below are all the links to today’s pieces, just on the off chance you missed anything.

You’ve still got a few minutes to fire off an email, too, if you have anything to add. Email me!

Kingsley Coman, Ibrahima Konaté and Raphaël Varane trained away from the rest of the France squad as the defending champions tried to deal with a virus that has disrupted their preparations for Sunday’s World Cup final against Argentina.

France, who were without Coman, Dayot Upamecano and Adrien Rabiot because of illness during their semi-final win over Morocco, have implemented hygiene measures in an attempt to ensure more players do not fall unwell.

It looks increasingly likely that Dider Deschamps is going to have some tricky decisions to make on fitness/illness for Sunday’s final. Reuters have published an addition to the earlier story about the cold virus which is affecting some players, as follows:

The forward Ousmane Dembele said: “We’re not scared of that virus. Dayot [Upamecano] and Adrien [Rabiot] got a bit of a stomach ache, I made them a ginger and honey tea and then they felt better. I hope everyone will be ready for the final. Dayot got better and I think everyone will be ready. We’ve been taking precautions. The first day, Dayot stayed in his room and we brought him food and he was back with everyone the next day.”

The midfielder Aurélien Tchouaméni (knock on hip) and Theo Hernandez (knock on knee) missed training on Friday to work indoors, FFF said.

Deschamps was confident both Upamecano and Rabiot would be fit for Sunday’s showdown at the Lusail Stadium. “Dayot will be fit. Since Saturday he wasn’t well for three days ... had a fever and that had an impact on his strength,” he said on Wednesday.

“Given the tough match we had I decided not to play him and play Konate instead as he’s shown he’s good enough to play at this level.

“Rabiot was sick, was better this afternoon but not well enough so he stayed in the hotel. We have four days to rest so he should be better and available for Sunday.” Should Konate and Varane be out, however, Deschamps would face a difficult selection decision, as he would be without two of his top three defenders.


I reckon the rolling around isn’t as bad as it used to be, but I know what you mean.

I do think that swearing at a ref should be an automatic yellow card, and daring to do it again should be a second booking and a red card. It seems obvious to me.

Just one question,” emails Ray.

“Is there any tangible reason why Fifa et all still allow the histrionic rolling around every time someone breathes on a player? I can’t recall a referee ever booking a player for ungentlemanly conduct (which must include cheating?).”

Hugo Lloris heard the mating call of the English press. “You got two minutes?” one of the journalists asked. The France goalkeeper and captain did not have two seconds. “Oh, you want to talk to me now?” he replied, with no little huffiness, barely breaking stride en route to the stadium exit.

It was last Saturday night, France had just beaten England in the World Cup quarter-final and it was not immediately apparent what was eating Lloris. Turns out he was fuming at an article in one of the English newspapers that suggested he could be France’s weak link.

RIP Sinisa Mihajlovic,” emails Steven. “Best free-kick taker ever. Magic wand of a left foot. Still remember the first goal of his I ever watched, on some midweek ITV European footy round up show back in 1991. A pile driving - what else - long-range free-kick against Bayern in the semi-final of the old European Cup for Red Star.”

Two days out from the World Cup final, Qatar finishes hosting its tournament having very recently been declared “a frontrunner in labour rights”. “Today,” the declaration in question continued, “the World Cup in Qatar is proof of how sports diplomacy can achieve a historic transformation of a country.”

It feels only mildly unfortunate that the member of the European parliament who uttered these words three weeks ago is currently detained by Belgian police, after the discovery of almost €1m in banknotes in her marital home and a hotel room used by her father. After all, this has been a successful World Cup. Qatar has catapulted itself on to the world stage and won many plaudits. This timing is merely a freak coincidence. In his closing speech, I hope Fifa’s president Gianni Infantino returns to a familiar rhetorical furrow, and riffs: “Today, I feel in police custody in Brussels. Today, I feel like an MEP with a suitcase of cash in her home. Today, I feel I am that MEP who denies any involvement in an alleged bribery and corruption scheme which also features the Moroccan intelligence services. Today, I feel I am the MEP’s husband who is reported to have confessed his role working for Qatar’s government.”

As we mentioned yesterday the Polish referee, Szymon Marciniak, will take charge of Sunday’s final. In a news story on he explains why the honour means even more than it usually would:

“I had a very difficult time for the last year and a half. I had tachycardia – it’s a heart illness,” Marciniak said. “In the beginning, it was very difficult for me and I had to stop refereeing. I missed the Uefa European Championship, which for a referee, who is at their best age, it was a terrible feeling. Only I, and my team, know how difficult of a time it was for me. Now, life gives back to me and I cannot even stop smiling because it’s a great feeling.”

Lisandro Martínez of Argentina protests to the referee Szymon Marciniak during the last-16 tie against Australia.
Lisandro Martínez of Argentina protests to the referee Szymon Marciniak during the last-16 tie against Australia. Photograph: François Nel/Getty Images


Good news, meanwhile, for Abhishek, because David had come up trumps with a Paris bar recommendation: Caffe Cambronne, métro Cambronne, place Cambronne 15eme.

Our news story on the death of Sinisa Mihajlovic:

Could you please ask readers for suggestions to watch the finals in a bar in Paris,” emails Abhishek. “I will be rooting for France, wearing a Racing 92 jersey. An easy exit if I run into hooligans of either side, eh?”

I had a quick check to see if Paul Gascoigne coincided with Mihajlovic at Lazio (the answer is no, Gazza left in 95, Mihajlovic joined in 98.)

Anyway, I did find this story on Wiki about Gascoigne’s time in Rome:

In 1994, Zdenek Zeman arrived from Foggia to coach Lazio and Gascoigne. Zeman was a coach noted for his use of his whistle in training sessions. One session, Zeman misplaced his whistle and found it when a goose who frequented the Lazio training ground was seen wearing it. Pierluigi Casiraghi later reasoned Gascoigne was the culprit who placed Zeman’s whistle on the goose.

Gazza. Photograph: Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy


Sinisa Mihajlovic, with a left foot like a traction engine.

A World Cup works always and everywhere. There is nothing like it – and it is a diverse event. Eleven men or women are actively involved on both sides, even up to 17 due to the new rule with substitutions. All continents take part, and Sunday’s finalists Argentina lost in Qatar to a country from Asia – Saudi Arabia – and almost had to go into extra time against Australia. Thanks to Morocco, Africa – alternatively Arabia – made it to the semi-finals for the first time.

At a football tournament, the world negotiates how it wants to live together. The game provides material for discussions in all directions. Was the ball out before Japan’s winning goal against Spain? Can offside be measured digitally, as technology optimists believe? Is the Palestine flag political, and what does it say? Was the OneLove armband necessary? What signal does it send when Muslim athletes dance with and kiss their mothers in front of the world after victories?

Don’t forget to email me or tweet with your Friday afternoon World Cup musings …

Who is going to win the final, then? If I was a betting man, I think I’d go with France to get it done.

(Actually the one bet I had on this tournament was on the Netherlands, to win the World Cup, before the quarter-final with Argentina … It wasn’t looking very good when they were 2-0 down. And sure, it isn’t looking very good now either. Why did they stop playing Van Dijk up front in extra-time? Why didn’t they keep going for it after forcing it back to 2-2? WHY?!)


Courtesy of Reuters, some key numbers and stats from Lionel Messi’s career:

499 million: Global followers on social media platforms Facebook and Instagram (over 10 times the population of Argentina)
$120 million: Messi’s estimated earnings for the 2022-23 season before taxes and agents’ fees, according to Forbes.
$26.60 million: Messi’s estimated transfer value, according to Swiss research group CIES Football Observatory.
2,194: Minutes played at World Cups. Only Paolo Maldini of Italy has played more (2,217)
853: Club matches for Barcelona B, Barcelona, and Paris Saint-Germain
701: Club goals for Barcelona B, Barcelona, and PSG
171: International caps
96: International goals
37: Club trophies
35: Age
25: Matches played at the World Cup (joint record with Lothar Matthäus)
18: Appearances as captain in the World Cup - a record
16: World Cup match victories (Miroslav Klose has 17)
16 years: The gap between his first and latest World Cup goals
10: Player of the match awards (first in 2002)
11: World Cup goals (Argentine record)
7: Ballons d’Or
6: Men to have played in five World Cups Messi, Matthäus, Antonio Carbajal, Rafa Marquez, Andres Guardado and Cristiano Ronaldo)
6: Assists in the knockout stages of World Cups
5: World Cups played in and assisted in
2: World Cup finals
1: Copa America trophy
0: World Cup winners’ medals

Lionel Messi: good at football.
Lionel Messi: good at football. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian


A piece by Chris Evans on how France have avoided the winners’ curse. But can they win it again?

“The World Cup winners’ curse has been haunting teams for six decades. If France beat Argentina on Sunday, they will become the first team to retain the World Cup since the Brazil side of Pelé and Garrincha in 1962. Didier Deschamps’ side have already overcome one curse by reaching the final, which is a huge achievement considering how poorly recent winners have performed while defending their titles.

“Four of the previous five World Cup winners failed to get past the first round of the next tournament, so what looked like an easy group for France – Australia, Denmark and Tunisia – was not as simple as it initially appeared. Add to that the slew of injuries France suffered before the tournament and it seemed likely the curse would strike again.”


“Hi Luke!” begins Joe Pearson from Indianapolis, on email.

“There is some speculation on various US sports websites that Benzema may rejoin France for the final. Since his place was not filled, he’s technically still part of the team. What have you heard?”

News to me. I’ll have a look, though. Thanks Joe.


Gianni Infantino has risked a major row with Europe’s leading federations by announcing that Fifa will launch a 32-team men’s Club World Cup in 2025.

In what amounts to an ambush to the Premier League and its counterparts, Infantino confirmed the drastic expansion of a tournament whose current annual iteration sees seven teams compete. His revelation was made even though no agreements have been made with the relevant domestic leagues.

Sinisa Mihajlovic, who played for Red Star Belgrade, Roma, Internazionale, Sampdoria and Lazio, has died aged 53. He also played at international level for Yugoslavia and Serbia and Montenegro and managed a host of Italian clubs, most recently Bologna.


Will France be caught cold by Messi and co, though, eh?

Several France players have caught colds, the French Football Federation said, as they prepare for the World Cup final against Argentina, with Raphael Varane and Ibrahima Konate the latest to fall ill on Friday.

The centre-back Dayot Upamecano and midfielder Adrien Rabiot missed Wednesday’s 2-0 semi-final win over Morocco with the illness, but coach Didier Deschamps refused to panic. “We don’t worry about illnesses. In the past few days the temperatures in Qatar have fallen a little bit, the air-conditioning is on and we have cases of flu-like symptoms and we’re careful it doesn’t spread,” he said on Wednesday.

“Players have made great efforts on the pitch and suffered immediately after the match, the body is weakened and you’re more prone to be infected by these viruses. We’re taking necessary precautions.”

Dayot Upamecano: Caught a cold.
Dayot Upamecano: Caught a cold. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

The forward Randal Kolo Muani, who came off the bench to score France’s second goal in their win over Morocco, said on Friday: “There’s a little flu that’s been spreading but nothing serious. They’ll be well soon and be ready for Sunday.” A French press officer said: “As you know, Randal is not a doctor, we will communicate about it later.”

Deschamps was confident both Upamecano and Rabiot would be fit for Sunday’s showdown at the Lusail Stadium. “Dayot will be fit. Since Saturday he wasn’t well for three days ... had a fever and that had an impact on his strength,” he said. “Given the tough match we had I decided not to play him and play Konate instead as he’s shown he’s good enough to play at this level.

“Rabiot was sick, was better this afternoon but not well enough so he stayed in the hotel. We have four days to rest so he should be better and available for Sunday.” Should Konate and Varane be out, however, Deschamps would face a difficult selection decision, as he would be without two of his top three defenders. (Reuters)


Will Unwin rides to the rescue with Football Daily, which is all about Gianni Infantino’s ‘difficult second monologue’:

France set up hygiene system to tackle virus

An update on France fitness (or illness) from Jacob Steinberg:

Randal Kolo Muani, asked about the virus that led to Adrien Rabiot and Dayot Upamecano missing the semi-final, said: “I think everyone has been careful. The doctors have put in place a hygiene system to avoid the virus spreading.”

Muani added that they are washing hands all the time, and have social distancing measures in place.

Adrien Rabiot.
Adrien Rabiot. Photograph: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images


It takes only a few minutes to spot the first Lionel Messi shirt after stepping out of Msheireb metro station. Keep going towards Souq Waqif and, although the streets of downtown Doha are not playing host to a typical football atmosphere, images of the little Argentinian genius are hard to miss. There are countless Messi T-shirts hanging from the stalls in the market, there is even a painting of him in the front window of the Souq Waqif Art Center, and judging by the mood among the tourists mooching around the city most people will be backing Argentina when they meet France in the World Cup final on Sunday night.

That’s a good point about Havertz and not something I’d really thought about before. He does sometimes look a bit lost, neither one thing or another. He’s not exactly good enough to build a team around, but neither does he easily slot into a traditional midfield or attacking role.

An email! From Julian Menz:

“Griezmann has often looked like neither he nor his various managers know his best position. He’s not really a striker, not really a winger, and not really a midfielder. He’s a Griezmann, just like Thomas Müller is an undefinable ”Raumdeuter”.

“As a Chelsea fan, I see a lot of Kai Havertz, and he also seems to have that problem … What exactly does he do, and where should a manager play him to best allow him to do what he does?

“Griezmann has had a great tournament though. Maybe reports of the death of the No 10 have been exaggerated?”

Thanks Tom. Hello again everyone.

And with that I shall hand you back to Luke. Laters.

Some more comment on the Infantino babble, about the planned women’s Club World Cup:


Sergio Busquets has announced his retirement from international football, reports AP:

The 34-year-old Busquets … is ending his Spain career after 143 appearances, the Spanish national team said Friday. Only Sergio Ramos (180) and Iker Casillas (167) played more games for Spain.

Busquets captained Spain at the World Cup in Qatar. He was one of three Spain players to miss a penalty in a surprising shootout loss against Morocco in the round of 16.

It marks the end of an era for Spain, as the Barcelona defensive midfielder was the only remaining member of the world champion team from South Africa who was still playing for his country.

The lanky Busquets was a key part of the successes of Barcelona and Spain when he lined up for both club and country beside Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández.

Busquets always stood out as a player who did not fit the mold. Neither fast nor a scoring threat, he proved indispensable for all his coaches thanks to his passing skills in tight spaces, his long legs that hemmed in opponents, and his uncanny ability to maintain possession under pressure. Those qualities made him an integral part of the “tiki-taka” passing game practiced by Spain and Barcelona.

Spanish soccer federation president Luis Rubiales also praised Busquets for being a “quiet, serene leader who was admired by everyone.”

In addition to his titles with Spain, he has helped Barcelona win three Champions League titles and several other trophies. Busquets’ contract with Barcelona expires at the end of this season. He has been linked with a possible move to Major League Soccer in the U.S.


Picking over the Infantino address some more, as I guess we must, what are we thinking about this 32-team men’s Club World Cup then? Looking forward to the response of the big clubs’ managers to that, and overworked players. And a Uefa v Fifa tear-up could also ensue. Probably not good news for domestic cup competitions either.

So, Mourinho for Portugal then? There’s no definitive evidence that the Roma boss wants it, or that Portugal want him, but it’s inevitably going to be a talking point as Portugal seek a successor to Fernando Santos. And just after a tournament in which Portugal played some of their most expansive, creative football for a while … Here’s yesterday evening’s story in case you missed it:

If you’re going to a domestic game in the UK tomorrow, you might want to check the weather. The Scottish Premiership match between Motherwell and St Mirren has been called off due to “extensive stadium damage and flooding” at Fir Park, while in the EFL League Two Tranmere v Crawley and Northampton v Carlisle are also goners. Given the state of the streets surrounding many stadiums, we can expect more to fall victim to the weather.

Thanks Luke, in particular for enduring that Infantino press conference so we didn’t have to. Which segues us nicely into a bit of football geopolitics (of which there’s a lot these days), and a lunchtime read for you on Saudi Arabia’s soft-power ambitions and how they might sportswash their way to landing the 2030 World Cup:

I’m off for some lunch – Tom Davies is here to take the reins.

Less than two years ago, Antoine Griezmann was wandering around like a lost soul in La Liga after a tough time at Barcelona and a rough return to Atlético Madrid, but on Sunday he could lay claim to being France’s greatest player.

While Kylian Mbappé will also be a double world champion if Les Bleus beat Argentina in the final at the Lusail Stadium and could win the tournament’s Golden Boot, Griezmann has been the cornerstone of France’s success since Didier Deschamps took over in 2012.

He has played in a record 73 consecutive matches for France, led them to the Euro 2016 final, was man-of-the-match in the 2018 World Cup final and this year has seamlessly switched roles to midfield to great effect. A forward who was Euro 2016’s top scorer and the silver boot winner as the second-highest goalscorer at the 2018 World Cup, Griezmann has adjusted his role after Deschamps was forced to recalibrate his midfield due to the absences of N’golo Kanté, Paul Pogba and Karim Benzema.

There was no sulking from Griezmann, who has been revelling in his new role - his guile, craft and poise making him the perfect player to wreak havoc between the lines.

“Being well physically helps me a lot. There are no problems in my private life,” said Griezmann. “In my head I had tough moments at Barça and last year when I came back to Atlético. It was complicated, I had to make myself very small, I had to find myself, on and off the pitch.”

Griezmann has grown big in stature again. Very big indeed. “GriezmannKante”, Pogba labelled his teammate on social media after the 2-0 semi-final win against Morocco. “He has surprised me but he has the quality and intelligence to do it. He looks more like Kante than Griezmann,” said the former Ivory Coast forward Didier Drogba.

Griezmann’s joie de vivre off the pitch has also been key to France’s success. Beside being the link between the midfield and the front line on the pitch, he has also created a great atmosphere within the squad, bridging the young generation with the team leaders.

Didier Deschamps embraces Antoine Griezmann.
Didier Deschamps embraces Antoine Griezmann. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Danehouse/Getty Images

The 31-year-old Griezmann has been leading the post-match celebration dances in the dressing room to the sounds of Gala’s ‘Freed from desire’ - yelling ‘Vive la Republique , vive la France!” While he has not scored in his last 15 games for France, Griezmann has become the national team’s best goal provider of all time with 28 assists.

No wonder that he is Deschamps’s main man on the pitch, the one he discusses tactics with. While Griezmann feels he owes Deschamps a lot for always keeping faith with him, the coach is also aware of the player’s importance.

“He’s the type of player who can really change a team because he’s so hard working and so technically gifted,” said Deschamps. “He’s playing a slightly different role in this World Cup, but it suits him well. He likes defending just as much as attacking and being a playmaker.

“Of course, his main responsibility isn’t ball winning; his left foot is so wonderful, he creates great chances for others. He’s someone who always thinks of the good of the team above everything else. He’s extremely hard working, probably more so than most players.” (Julien Pretot, Reuters)

The ethical quandary surrounding Qatar 2022 was perhaps summed up best by Darren Huckerby, last week, on Twitter:

All the focus is on Kylian Mbappé and Lionel Messi but if Argentina want to win the World Cup final, the man they will need to stop is Antoine Griezmann. Mbappé has the No 10 on the back of his shirt but his teammate is playing the role to perfection.

Griezmann links everything together for France. Without the Atlético Madrid forward, Mbappé, Olivier Giroud and Ousmane Dembélé would not be getting the ball as much. No one has more than his three assists and that level of creativity will need to be stymied by Argentina.

CNN are reporting that Fifa have rejected a request by Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s president, to share a message of world peace before the World Cup final kicks off on Sunday.

The latest Cold War Steve is right here. Can Mbappé snatch that crown off Messi’s bonce?

Gabriel Clarke (of ITV fame) took to Twitter during the semi-final against Morocco to call France “talented yet cynical”.

Which reminds me of my immediate assessment of France v England in the quarter-final. England played well but if anything I think they needed to be a bit smarter and a bit, well, nastier. Only in the sense that there was a fair bit of tactical fouling by France and England were perhaps a bit naive in the way they dealt with it.


It may feel as if a sporting lifetime has passed since Saudi Arabia turned Argentina over, but it was only three and a half weeks ago. A massive shock that animated the whole World Cup, it begged many questions, not least about the prospects for Lionel Messi and his team at this tournament.

It turned out that those prospects were rosy, and any footballing obituaries now seem hasty as Argentina have since won five games on the trot in Qatar to stand 90 minutes (or 120, or 145 with injury time) from history. On reflection, then, the Saudi upset seems even more extraordinary. Given Argentina’s 36-game unbeaten run going into the tournament, what was it that the Green Falcons had that dozens of other teams did not?

Sid Lowe will see Gianni when he closes his eyes tonight.

A soccer story from the US, by Beau Dure, on the USWNT’s equal pay case:

The 2025 Club World Cup will feature 32 teams, making the format similar to the World Cup, the Fifa President Gianni Infantino said on Friday.

Infantino also said that the 2022 Club World Cup, traditionally held in December but delayed this year due to the Fifa World Cup in Qatar, will be hosted by Morocco between 1-11 February 2023. The decision was taken by the FIFA Council following its meeting on Friday. (Reuters)

It was rather telling, the way Infantino drew attention to the Fifa presidential ‘election’ in March, before reminding us that his second term will begin then.


An email from Shiladitya Pandit:

“I don’t think anyone disagrees with the position that human rights advocacy is not a “political agenda”. And yes, Fifa and Infantino have not handled this migrant worker issue well, at all, and the less said about Infantino’s awful predecessor, the better, as is the case with Gulf countries and their attitude towards foreign workers, not just Qatar.

“What is really jarring is the extremely pearl-clutching and sanctimonious coverage of the issue. The same European governments that are crying their eyes dry over migrant workers’ deaths, are also sending back migrants to Syria and Afghanistan as we speak, and the others have visa policies so restrictive and utterly racist (UK, for example), that migrant workers, who are crucial to those economies, are forced to live in the shadow with fear and in awful conditions.”

To make sure his World Cup isn’t sullied by political propaganda, I assume Robert waits until kick-off to turn on the match so that his ears aren’t assaulted by national anthems,” emails Kári Tulinius. “Presumably he also averts his eyes every time a national flag is on screen. For future serenity, I’d also advise him not to read World Cup coverage in a newspaper which reports on events.”

Barney Ronay was not impressed.

Well, that was all very Infantino. A few tricky-ish questions but nothing particularly difficult for him to deal with.

The final question to Infantino is (roughly) – Does he think this tournament has helped to promote the Middle East as a region and improve its image?

“Yes. But you should ask really the people who came here from South America, North America, from Europe, From Asia … what has been achieved by welcoming the world is quite unique. Everyone who is coming here goes home with a nice memory … I think it’s definitely something the World Cup can do … it has to be an ambition and a mission of Fifa to organise its events in new countries … also the women’s World Cup going to Australia and New Zealand …

“If there is one thing this World Cup has shown us … when people come together to watch football the the atmosphere is extremely joyful and positive.”

As Roy Keane said, this was about treating people with decency.

Actually I think your opinion is utter nonsense and I agree with Infantino,” emails Robert. “Like many, I prefer not to have a political agenda pushed onto me while watching a football match. That’s my opinion. I don’t think I’m alone.”

I am really struggling to see how making any statement in support of basic human rights is a ‘political agenda’.


Infantino is asked about the conflicting figures on how many workers died in the process of building the infrastructure, the stadiums and staging the overall tournament: “Every person dying is one person too many … it’s a tragedy … for everyone … The figures you mention are two different figures … we have to be very precise about the figures and attentive to how we portray that … for me and for us, every loss of life is a tragedy. Everything we could do to protect the workers, we did it.”


Gabriel Clarke, of ITV, asks Infantino how he judges this tournament’s legacy, having previously said it would be ‘transformative’.

“I will wait until the end of the final to judge this World Cup,” he replies. “But I think already now that the transformative legacy of this World Cup is that many people from around the world have come to Qatar and have discovered the Arab world which they didn’t know … and at the same time, the Qataris or the Saudis or Emiratis … have prepared themselves to welcome in the world. They have opened their houses, their doors, their country, to welcome everyone from everywhere. The main legacy is that those who were here … is what is said or thought is not true. You can spend time together and just have a good time and know each other better … These people will go home, and open up about their experiences … this is an important non-football legacy that this World Cup has brought.

“Let’s wait until the end … let’s remain focused … having contributed to the mutual understanding of a few people, or a few hundred, or thousand, or million people … I think it’s very positive.”

Infantino is asked why Fifa banned the OneLove armbands.

“There are different cultures, different ways of seeing things,” he replies. “As Fifa we have to take care of everyone. We do not discriminate against anyone on their values and feelings they have … when it comes to regulations and prohibitions … it’s about respecting regulations. In the field of play you play football. And that’s what we did … When it comes to the pitch, you need to respect football, you need to respect the field of play … the regulations are there to protect 211 football teams [within Fifa], and their fans, who want to come and enjoy football … and honestly I believe we are defending values, we are defending human rights, we are defending rights of everyone in Fifa, in the World Cup … but I also believe that those fans who come to the stadium … and all those billions who are watching the World Cup on TV … maybe … they have their own problems. They just want to spend 90 minutes … or 120 minutes, or 120 minutes with penalties … without having to think about anything else than just enjoying a moment of pleasure and joy and emotion … that’s what we have to do … we have to give them a moment of time in their life when they can forget about their problems and enjoy football … outside of the match everyone can express their opinions the way he wants … but let’s give this moment of joy to enjoy the game.”

Utter nonsense. The OneLove armband symbolises anti-discrimination and inclusivity. If Infantino is serious about ‘defending human rights’ then clearly, players should have been permitted to wear them.

Gianni Infantino.
Gianni Infantino. Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images


Will Fifa share all the money they are making, EG with migrant workers, asks a journalist. “Fifa shares everything,” says Infantino. “All the revenues of Fifa are being redistributed and invested … look into our accounts and you will see that immediately.”

Infantino pauses for a bit of live translation. “Does bullish have a negative connotation?” he asks his colleague alongside him. They decide it doesn’t after his colleague checks the online dictionary.


Fifa to revisit 2026 three-team groups plan

Infantino is asked about the big uptick in projected revenue for the next World Cup cycle. He replies: “We are bullish about the power of football. About what we believe the impact of football, or soccer, as it’s called where we are going to play the next World Cup … we are more than bullish, we are convinced that the impact of the game will be massive … it has been massive here, it will be massive in north America … from 32 to 48 teams … revenues will go up in terms of broadcasting, sponsorship, ticketing and hospitality … we will play in huge stadiums that are usually used for American football …

“We are convinced that football will be booming in north America … we will start working immediately for that World Cup. We are really convinced of the growth.”

“I have to say that after this World Cup and the success of the groups of four, and looking at some other comps like the Euros … here the groups of four have been absolutely incredible. We have to revisit, or re-discuss the format – 16 groups of 3 or 12 groups of four? That is something that will be on the agenda at the next meetings.

“A 50 % increase in revenue is something to be proud of when it happens. But already something to be proud in getting it ‘in the books’ as a budget.”


As stated, Morocco will host the 2022 Club World Cup. In 2023.

Infantino also said there will be a women’s futsal World Cup, which is good news, and something the players and teams have been campaigning for:


When it comes to the international match calendar, we have to take into consideration the health and wellbeing of players,” Infantino says. “We need to ensure there is a rest period for players, a holiday period, ideally 72 hours between games … of course we need to be pragmatic on these topics … we will now consult on all these topics and elaborate.”

Morocco will host the 2022 Club World Cup, in February 2023, Infantino adds.

He goes on: “We approved new Fifa football agents regulations, which is a very important step, after two years of discussions … to bring more ‘professionality’ … including a mandatory licensing system … and the introduction of a cap on commission.”

“I am in my first term of office … on the 16th of March, when there is an election in Kigali, my second term will start.”

Infantino adds that he thinks the women’s Olympic competition should contain 16 teams, the same as the men’s. Currently it is 12 teams.

The decision by the council was to extend the existing women’s calendar until 2025, but also to create a new-look Club World Cup.

The host nation for the women’s World Cup in 2031 will be decided in 2025, Infantino adds.

A new Club World Cup, a 32-team tournament, will be staged in 2025, Infantino says.


Two matches to go … I say to everyone [involved in the tournament] who is receiving praise … focus until the end,” Infantino says.

“When it comes to the council meeting, we could confirm the revenues … which was at $7.5bn … one billion more in a period that was hit by a pandemic … that is quite remarkable … congratulations to all those who helped to make this happen …

“The next cycle has a budget of $11bn … almost $10bn will go directly back to football.”


For the first time ever, teams from all the continents moved to the knockout phase … we also for the first time had a woman referee a match, Stéphanie Frappart from France … and she did very well,” Infantino continues.

“A joyful atmosphere … people coming together, maybe forgetting some of their issues, and having pleasure … as you know it’s been an incredible success. We are approaching the 5bn mark [for TV viewers].”


'Best World Cup ever,' claims Infantino

Infantino says the World Cup has shown a “unique, cohesive power” and thanks all the workers and the volunteers involved, for helping to make it “the best World Cup ever”.

“We had 3.27m spectators (in the stadiums) … we played 62 matches without incidents, with a very joyful atmosphere.”


Here he is. Gianni Infantino is kicking off the World Cup final press conference now. He says he’s sorry for being late.

On International Migrants Day – and with two days to go before the World Cup final – Amnesty International is reiterating its calls on Fifa and Qatar to end human rights violations against migrant workers and establish a reparations programme for them.

They are staging a protest outside the Qatari embassy in Brussels today:

A protest by Amnesty International outside the Qatari embassy on International Migrants Day.
A protest by Amnesty International outside the Qatari embassy on International Migrants Day. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock


The Morocco head coach, Walid Regragui, says the World Cup third-place playoff is the “worst game” to play in but still wants his side to become the first African nation to medal in a finals.

Having beaten Belgium, Spain and Portugal to reach the semis, Morocco lost 2-0 to reigning champions France as their record-breaking run came to an end in Qatar. They will now face Croatia at Khalifa International Stadium on Saturday for the bronze medal, having already become the first African nation to reach a World Cup semi-final.

While Regragui said the match was “the worst game to play” and likened it to winning the “booby prize”, he is keen to be successful.

Walid Regragui.
Walid Regragui. Photograph: Maja Hitij/FIFA/Getty Images

“We would like things to have gone differently and played in the final but there is another game to play, we would like to be on the podium,” he said. “We know that Croatia also want to finish in third place, we played them in our opening game so that will be nice. It will be no walk in the park physically, they have had one more rest day.

“We need to clear our heads a little but, when you come out of a semi-final, the first time we’ve ever been in one, emotions were running high and it was quite difficult. However, my players still have that appetite they want to finish well and they know they still have one game to play with all to play for. Finishing third is not the same as finishing fourth and we want to take a medal home with us.” (PA Media)

Right, I’ll go and seek out some other news, then.

If you see anything funny/newsworthy/notable and World Cup-related, you can always email me or tweet @LukeMcLaughlin

Apparently the latest performance of “Infantino – live!” has been delayed by an hour.

A World Cup story from Mark Sweney – sort of.

“Retail sales unexpectedly fell in November as Black Friday discount deals and football’s World Cup failed to boost spending, with the cost of living crisis forcing households to cut budgets.

Sales in Great Britain dropped by 0.4% in November, against a forecast of a 0.3% rise by industry analysts, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).”

Restlessness” is being reported among the assembled media in Qatar. Waiting for Gianni …

The info I had was that Fifa’s World Cup final press conference would begin at 9.30am UK time. Perhaps some technical gremlins are holding it all up. Or perhaps Gianni is just trying to whip up some excitement and suspense by keeping us waiting?


What have we learned from Qatar 2022? Max Rushden and guests discuss the controversies and ethical issues of the past few weeks in today’s Football Daily Podcast:

An app providing migrant workers in Qatar with information on their rights and the possibility of legal assistance has been launched by three trade unions, the first definitive legacy for workers exploited in the process of delivering the World Cup.

With the month-long tournament ending on Sunday when Argentina play France in the final, the failure of Fifa and football associations to deliver positive change for workers has been decried this week by a number of charities and NGOs.

Now the international players’ union Fifpro, the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) and the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) have taken action into their own hands by developing a digital platform to provide employment support. They call it “to date the only initiative made by and for the migrant workers” and say it follows consultations with as many as 1,000 individuals.

If Lionel Messi lifts the World Cup trophy it will not only represent a victory for Argentina’s diminutive captain but his unlikely new benefactor: Saudi Arabia. The team may have inflicted a shock, humiliating defeat upon Argentina in their opening game of the tournament, but Messi, paid to be an ambassador for Saudi under a reported £25m contract, could deliver a long-term prize worth far more – a chance to emulate Qatar and host the 2030 World Cup.

Fifa’s World Cup final press conference, featuring Gianni Infantino, is moments away. How far off-piste is he willing to go?


Over on Sky Sports News, Patrice Evra gave a blast of La Marseillaise while signing off from an interview looking ahead to Sunday’s final.

Which reminds me of this excellent article by Alex Marshall from 2015:

“The Marseillaise meant everything to the French again during the second world war, when it was sung by the resistance, having been banned by the Vichy government. Afterwards it somehow kept that vitality, becoming a rallying cry to rebuild the devastated country, with “To arms, citizens” proving just as useful in motivating bricklayers as it had been in galvanising soldiers.

“But since then, there is no denying that the song has become uncomfortable. It was often sung during France’s occupation of Algeria and its brutal, eight-year-long war of independence. The Beatles’ use of it in All You Need is Love and Serge Gainsbourg’s brilliant reggae cover – the hilarious Aux Armes et cætera – gave it a brief respite from that image, even for a few years making the anthem cool, but the fact that French nationalists tried to beat up Gainsbourg for his cheek says a lot about its political associations.

“In 2001, it was booed by French-Algerians in the first match between the two countries. In 2002, Corsicans booed it so loudly at a cup final that the then president, Jacques Chirac, stormed out and the match was allowed to restart only after he had calmed down. The booing has not really stopped since.”

First things first – or second, in truth – have a peek at today’s World Cup briefing. Sub-plots aplenty are to be enjoyed in Sunday’s final, writes Will Unwin:


Morning all and welcome to Friday’s World Cup 2022 blog. Just two matches and two-and-a-half days remain of this unique tournament, with Croatia and Morocco battling for third position on the podium tomorrow, before the small matter of Argentina v France in the World Cup final on Sunday.

There’s the golden boot to be decided too with Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé locked on five goals apiece, with Julián Alvarez and Olivier Giroud both on four before the big one on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Fifa supremo Gianni Infantino will be having a chat with the media in a few minutes’ time. Lucky us!

Now, I’ve made it this far in the tournament without watching Alan Partridge’s iconic World Cup Soccermeter … there’s no time like the present, is there?


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