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FIFA official Wenger knocks teams protesting at World Cup

FIFA official Arsene Wenger fired on World Cup teams trying to make political statements in Qatar and said on Sunday they lacked focus for their first matches.

Wenger said teams that had a good opening game were mentally ready to focus on the competition and “not on political demonstrations”. The former Arsenal manager did not specify which teams he was referring to when speaking during an analysis of group matches at a media event organized by FIFA as Chief of Global Football Development.

Denmark and Germany both underperformed in their opening games. The Danes drew 0-0 with Tunisia and the Germans lost 2-1 to Japan.

They were among seven European football federations at the World Cup that wanted their captains to wear armbands as part of a Dutch diversity and anti-discrimination campaign to highlight the host nation’s poor human rights record.

However, Wenger overlooked FIFA’s role in the dispute by avoiding the issue before the teams arrived at the World Cup. Then, apparently under pressure from the Qatari authorities, it extended it to November 21, hours before England and the Netherlands played and won their first games.

Hours before those matches, FIFA forced a resignation from the European federations by threatening to ensure that England captain Harry Kane and Dutch counterpart Virgil van Dijk would receive a yellow card. They would have risked receiving a second yellow card and being sent off and suspended for the next match.

Denmark played without protest on November 22, a day before the German players lined up for their pregame team photo and covered their mouths to show they felt silenced by the World Cup organizers. Both teams later failed to advance to the knockout round.

Before the tournament, the Danish Football Federation was consistently critical of Qatar’s treatment of the migrant workers who helped build World Cup projects, bringing toned-down uniforms with a black option to reflect the color of mourning. The black jersey was not worn in Denmark’s three matches.

Wenger, a longtime commentator for Qatari broadcaster beIN Sports, also said Sunday’s World Cup matches were popular around the world “despite all the negative publicity we received previously”.

German football great Jurgen Klinsmann, who shared the stage with Wenger, highlighted the mental demands placed on European players in Qatar and came up with another theory.

Klinsmann analyzes matches for FIFA and famous players in Europe’s biggest leagues had to adapt from playing club games to just a week before the World Cup started. Teams usually have at least two weeks after the European season to prepare for a typical World Cup starting in June.

“Obviously it’s very, very difficult for coaches to prepare a team in one week,” said Klinsmann, who was a two-time World Cup coach, with Germany in 2006 and the United States in 2014.

“There were extreme mental challenges for the teams,” he said, adding that the expanded roster with 26 players instead of the usual 23 left-wing coaches “had to deal with 15 unhappy players.”

Wenger highlighted two tactical trends from the 48 group stage matches: the importance of attacking from wide positions on the pitch and the ability of goalkeepers to pass the ball as an outlet for teammates being pressured by opponents.

“Personally, I think the team with the best wide players will win this tournament,” said Wenger.

He said attacking teams were forced to look for space on the flanks as opponents now better protect the center of the field, and this also led to fewer long shots being taken.

The evolution of the “sweeper keeper” role, pioneered by Germany captain Manuel Neuer, saw a 70% increase since the 2018 World Cup of goalkeepers offering to receive the ball with their feet.

“It’s a fascinating development of the goalkeeper’s position,” said Klinsmann, adding that the youth academy is likely to need to be adapted so that potential goalkeepers also spend time playing an outfield position to develop their ball control and passing skills.

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Merry

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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