USA and England start group play, Qatar lose

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

We saw the opening ceremony, pre-game speeches, and musical acts (yes, that was BTS there!). We saw the first goal disallowed by VAR at the World Cup (kudos Enner Valencia for answering that trivial question) and we also saw the first goals allowed at the World Cup (again, congratulations to Enner Valencia, whose two goals gave Ecuador a win over hosts Qatar.)

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

– World Cup news, features, previews and more
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Lead: the United States! UNITED STATES! UNITED STATES!

The Group B match begins early Monday morning as England take on Iran at Khalifa International Stadium (8 a.m. ET), but it’s just the appetizer to a delicious main course as the United States begin their tournament against Gareth Bale and Wales at the Al Rayyan Stadium. (2 p.m. ET).

For the USMNT, it is imperative that they get off to a good start as England await their second group match. Wales offer plenty of threat through their talisman, Gareth Bale – who made some notable cameos during LAFC’s run to the 2022 MLS Cup this season – but the United claim their full star squad, led by Christian Pulisic, and will be keen to catch up on what they missed at Russia 2018. (We will not mention Couva. We won’t mention Couva.)

Tyler Adams was named captain, making him the youngest U.S. skipper at a World Cup since Harry Keough in 1950, and they were lucky to avoid major injuries in pre-tournament preparation, which we can’t say about France (Karim Benzema was sent off on Saturday), Senegal (Sadio Mane was sent off on Thursday) or Belgium (striker Romelu Lukaku is already absent for his first group game). USA also received some good news in the form of defender Sergino Dest and midfielder Weston McKennie who have undergone fitness tests to face Wales.

They also received a timely message from home, courtesy of US Soccer, ahead of their first game…

Before the match, Sam Borden met the man responsible for the team’s food in Doha, while Luis Miguel Echegaray spoke to fantastic striker Tim Weah about his footballing roots and what this World Cup means to him . Coach Gregg Berhalter believes his team ‘can beat anyone’ in Qatar… so he will be tested by the Welsh on Monday. No pressure then!!


News and Notes

  • Host country Qatar suffered a 2-0 defeat to Ecuador in the World Cup opener, with bizarre scenes of home fans leaving en masse long before the final whistle to leave a largely pro-Ecuador environment for much of the second half. We covered the surrealism of day one as well as the Qatar national team’s poor performance in what was essentially their first match for global audiences. Meanwhile, Ecuadorian fans were caught chanting ‘we want beer’ as Qatari fans left early.

  • Is this a sign of overcrowding and logistical problems to come? The official World Cup fan zone at Al Bidda was so overwhelmed with fans trying to get in that it closed access. The venue has an advertised capacity of 40,000 people, but security services were forced to push fans away as they approached the various entry points, reports Tom Hamilton.

  • England captain Harry Kane has told the media he will always wear the ‘OneLove’ armband despite reported threats of a fine and yellow card at kick-off as various European teams battle with FIFA over rights toll of the man from the host country. Says Kane, “I think we’ve made it clear as a team, as a staff and as an organization that we want to wear the armband…I think we’ve made it clear that we want to wear it.”

  • Before their match against England, Iranian defender Ehsan Hajsafi was the first member of The Meli team show apparent support for anti-government protests in his country. “They have to know that we are with them. And we support them. And we sympathize with them on the conditions. We have to accept that the conditions in our country are not good and our people are not happy,” he said. he added. “We are here, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be their voice or that we shouldn’t respect them.”

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


Today’s best tracks

Mark Ogden enjoyed Qatar v Ecuador at a sports bar in Doha, while Tom Hamilton soaked up the sights and sounds of the crowded fan zone.

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0:51

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

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what’s tomorrow

– England vs Iran (Group B, 8 a.m. ET): The Three Lions have been the ultimate ‘almost 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 version of their familiar refrain), then ‘Football is coming home for Christmas’, but they’ll have to start strong against an Iranian team that won’t show any fear.

– Senegal vs Netherlands (Group A, 11 a.m. ET): We assume both of these teams will qualify for the Round of 16, but Ecuador’s victory over Qatar means a decisive result for one team here could mean death for the other. Cody Gakpo is likely to play the role of playmaker in the Dutch attack, and with good reason – read our profile of the next big transfer target here – as Senegal try to find a way to replace injured talisman Mane, who was ruled. out of the World Cup on Thursday.

– USA vs Wales (Group B, 2 p.m. ET): What more can be said? The pressure is on Berhalter & Co. to meet the giddy hype at home with three points against a Wales side who 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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1:25

Dale Johnson explains why Ecuador saw a goal disallowed in puzzling circumstances in the World Cup opener against Qatar.


Your best bets (odds via Caesars Sportsbook)

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

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

GROUP A

Netherlands (-160) v Senegal (+500), Draw +255

Cuff: The Netherlands are looking much better than Euro 2020 just over 15 months ago. Nope Sadio Mane is a dagger for Senegal. I think the Dutch will come out with a bang, I will take 2.5 goals (+115).

Carr: I’m staying away from this one now that Mane is out, but that +500 price tag on Senegal is certainly tempting for a side that’s still on the defensive end.

Thomas: I think it could be a tight deal. I don’t know where the goals will come from on either side. I would take the least in this one. Netherlands 1-0 Senegal.

GROUP B

England (-290) v Iran (+1000), Draw +340

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

Cuff: I will continue to say, I am bleaching England. That said, their defensive approach against an inferior opponent will lead to a win, but without much style and maybe just a goal scored. There’s not a lot of value here, and I don’t like this game, but I’d pick England to win at zero (-128).

Thomas: I don’t have much hope 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 victory against Iran in the opener. Harry Kane scoring anytime (-110) feels like a layup. England 3-0 Iran.

USA (+160) v Wales (+200), draw +190

Carr: I hope that’s not my American bias creeping in, but the United States simply have more attacking options than Wales, highlighted by a quartet of quality wingers (Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson, John Reina, Timothee Weah). Because of that and the not as good as you think Wales defense which allowed 1.2 expected goals per game in qualifying, I’m going with US Draw No Bet at -135.

Cuff: Bias warning! It’s been eight years since we last saw the United States in a World Cup game. I can see that this score is low. The young attacking talent hasn’t come together in his last friendlies. Wales are not a dynamic attacking team, relying on the brilliance of Gareth Bale or cross looking for Kieffer Moorethe head. There is no value in subgames where both teams do not score. The unbiased move is probably Draw +190 or even Wales Draw No Bet +105. But no emotional hurdle here – US wins (+160).

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

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