FIFA, Qatar prepare for unprecedented World Cup finals draw

Qualified teams’ flags for this year’s World Cup adorn Doha corniche, elsewhere the finishing touches are made to the venue that will host the 72nd FIFA Congress starting Thursday, ahead of Friday’s draw. (AFP)
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Updated 30 March 2022

FIFA, Qatar prepare for unprecedented World Cup finals draw

  • When FIFA and host nation Qatar stage the draw ceremony show Friday, three of the 32 entries will be placeholders
  • The full lineup will not be known until at least June 14, when the intercontinental playoff round ends in Qatar

DOHA: A World Cup like no other in its 92-year history will take shape this week at an unprecedented tournament draw.
When FIFA and host nation Qatar stage the draw ceremony show Friday, three of the 32 entries will be placeholders because the three-year qualifying program was delayed and is still ongoing.
A once-in-a-century global health crisis and the war in Ukraine made sure of that.
It means 37 nations will be involved on Friday, including five which will ultimately not play in November when the first “winter” World Cup kicks off.
The full lineup will not be known until at least June 14, when the intercontinental playoff round ends in Qatar. That is 74 days after the draw and the same date the 2018 tournament started in Russia, which was thrown out of the final stages of qualifying this time over the invasion of Ukraine.
Maybe FIFA got lucky seven years ago by moving the 2022 tournament to November and December to avoid the searing desert heat of Qatar’s summer.
The later start created wiggle room to clear the match backlog after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out almost every national-team game outside Europe in 2020.
It has also put uncertainty on stage at the Doha Exhibition & Convention Center, where the show Friday starts at 7 p.m. (1600 GMT) and lasts one hour.
One of the balls being drawn from pot 4 of low-ranked teams will represent “Peru or Australia or the United Arab Emirates.” Another is “Ukraine or Wales or Scotland.”
So it goes at this major World Cup milestone, in perhaps its most unlikely host nation, on April 1.
Here’s a look at this unusual World Cup draw.
FIRST-TIMER QATAR
One sure thing is Qatar will be the top-seeded team in Group A, taking position A1 in the schedule of 64 matches in just 28 days.
The privilege is given to all host nations even when ranked No. 65 in the world, as Russia was. Qatar is currently No. 52.
Still, the 2019 Asian Cup winner is the exception among modern World Cup hosts, having never before qualified for the finals. Qatar’s debut opens the tournament on Monday, Nov. 21 at Al Bayt Stadium.
It means in the group stage Qatar avoids the world’s top-ranked teams, from Nos. 1 to 7 — Brazil, Belgium, France, Argentina, England, Spain and Portugal.
Those countries will be the next seven drawn out of top-seeded Pot 1 and allocated in turn to Groups B through H.
HOW THE SEEDING WORKS
Seeding pots are filled according to FIFA rankings which weigh results over several years and are officially updated Thursday.
The next eight highest-ranked qualifiers go into Pot 2, which is the second to be drawn. It includes Germany and likely the United States and Mexico after Wednesday’s qualifying games.
Next is Pot 3 with teams ranked in the 20s by FIFA and finally Pot 4 that likely will include Canada despite leading the North American qualifying group. Canada is back in the World Cup after a 36-year gap.
The simple format is now complicated by the three playoff entries delayed to June: The European bracket containing Ukraine, which cannot currently prepare a team, and the two intercontinental playoffs.
FIFA weighted those entries downward into Pot 4 according to the lowest-ranked potential qualifiers, such as Scotland, New Zealand and the UAE.
Higher-ranked playoff teams Peru and Wales face being seeded below their true level.
GEOGRAPHY LESSON
Geography also limits potential matchups. Teams from the same continent generally can’t go in the same group, except for some Europeans. Europe has 13 of the 31 qualifying slots and they cannot all avoid each other.
Five groups get two European teams, and the other three groups each get one. It means 2014 winner Germany from Pot 2 can land with defending champion France.
FIXTURE SCHEDULE
Each four-team group is a round-robin of six games in total. The order each team plays the other is decided by another draw within the ceremony.
After each team is drawn, a subsequent ball — numbered 1, 2, 3 or 4 — is picked to place that country in the fixture grid.
This unpredictability means the two highest-ranked teams in a group could meet in any of the three rounds.
KNOCKOUT STAGE
The 32-team lineup is the perfect number for a knockout bracket. The top two teams in each group — where goal difference is the first tiebreaker — advance to the round of 16.
A team’s path through to the quarterfinals, semifinals and final is set in the bracket. If Qatar advances as the Group A winner, it must then play the Group B runner-up.
Teams which advance from the same group cannot meet again until the final.
GOOD DRAW, BAD DRAW?
Is there a “good” or “bad” section of the draw to land in?
Maybe yes at this congested tournament, which will be four days shorter than the 2018 edition in Russia.
Landing in Group B means starting on Nov. 21 instead of Nov. 24 in Group G or H. That means three extra rest days.
The Group G winner would have to play seven games in just 25 days to win the title. That team also gets just two full days off before a round of 16 game on Dec. 5.
Why is the schedule so tight? This World Cup is jammed into an enforced break in domestic league seasons in Europe.
Reluctant to lose lucrative weekend broadcast slots, Europe’s top leagues ensured they will play through Nov. 13 — just eight days before kickoff in Qatar.


Chelsea boss Tuchel given one-game ban after Spurs red card

Updated 19 August 2022

Chelsea boss Tuchel given one-game ban after Spurs red card

  • Tuchel's touchline ban has been suspended temporarily, pending the full written reasons for the decision
  • Conte has been fined £15,000 after both managers admitted improper conduct

LONDON: Thomas Tuchel has been given a one-match suspension and fined £35,000 ($41,000) after the Chelsea manager was sent off following his furious clash with Tottenham boss Antonio Conte, the Football Association (FA) said on Friday.
Tuchel’s touchline ban has been suspended temporarily, pending the full written reasons for the decision, allowing the German to take his place in the dugout for Sunday’s Premier League clash at Leeds.
Conte has been fined £15,000 after both managers admitted improper conduct following a pair of angry exchanges during last Sunday’s stormy 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge.
Tuchel and Conte were booked after they first squared up to each other when the Italian celebrated Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s equalizer close to the Chelsea technical area.
Then, after Harry Kane headed Tottenham’s second equalizer deep into stoppage-time, Tuchel shook hands with Conte at the final whistle in such an aggressive way that it drew a fiery response from his counterpart.
The feuding bosses had to be separated by players and coaching staff, but were both sent off by referee Anthony Taylor.
“An independent regulatory commission has today ordered that Thomas Tuchel be fined £35,000 and banned from the touchline for one match, and Antonio Conte be fined £15,000 after they respectively breached FA Rule E3,” the FA said.
“Thomas Tuchel and Antonio Conte admitted that their behavior after the final whistle of the Premier League game between Chelsea FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC on Sunday, August 14 2022 was improper, and both managers requested a paper hearing.
“These sanctions are subject to appeal, and Thomas Tuchel’s one-match touchline ban has been suspended temporarily pending the independent regulatory commission’s written reasons for its decision that will be made available in due course.”


Police recover Lewandowski’s watch, stolen while signing autographs

Updated 19 August 2022

Police recover Lewandowski’s watch, stolen while signing autographs

  • A young man approached and snatched the watch from the player's wrist
  • Spanish media reported the watch was a Patek Phillippe worth 70,000 euros

BARCELONA: Police said they had recovered Robert Lewandowski’s watch, stolen as the star striker signed autographs before a Barcelona training session.
The incident occurred on Thursday afternoon when the 33-year-old striker, who joined from German club Bayern Munich in July, arrived at training and stopped in front of fans for autographs, Catalan police told AFP Friday.
A young man approached and snatched the watch from the player’s wrist.
Spanish media reported the watch was a Patek Phillippe worth 70,000 euros ($70,300) and that Lewandowski climbed back in his car and gave chase but lost the thief.
The police were alerted at 4:30 p.m. local time (1430 GMT) and within an hour they had caught the 19-year-old, who was hiding in the bushes around the stadium. They recovered the watch which was nearby.
He was arrested for “robbery with violence,” the police said. They explained that even though Lewandowski was not hurt, taking the watch off his body was considered violent.


PSG coach denies bad blood between Neymar and Mbappe

Updated 19 August 2022

PSG coach denies bad blood between Neymar and Mbappe

  • Neymar insisted on taking the team's second penalty against Montpellier last Saturday after Mbappe had missed the first
  • Mbappe did not celebrate after Neymar converted the spot-kick

SAINT-GERMAIN-EN-LAYE, France: Paris Saint-Germain coach Christophe Galtier said on Friday there is no bad blood between star forward Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.
Neymar insisted on taking the team’s second penalty against Montpellier last Saturday after Mbappe had missed the first.
Mbappe did not celebrate after Neymar converted the spot-kick.
Galtier called the apparent differences between the two an “epiphenomenon,” suggesting the spat was not a symptom of any deeper problem.
“We saw each other quickly the next day to iron out all that, to say what we had to say to each other,” said Galtier told a press conference ahead of Sunday’s Ligue 1 visit to Lille.
“We had a very pleasant week at work. Everyone worked well. I enjoyed all the sessions this week and this epiphenomenon disappeared very quickly, that is to say the day after our meeting.”
Galtier said after the game that instructions “had been respected” regarding penalty takers.
“There was a precise order in this game, Kylian as number one and ‘Ney’ as number two.”
Other potential penalty takers include Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos, said Galtier, adding that it was “important for our strikers to score goals, to keep the confidence.”
Against Montpellier, in his first competitive game since opting to stay in Paris rather than join Real Madrid, the 23-year-old Mbappe scored in a 5-2 win but cut a frustrated, unhappy and even isolated figure.
Last season, Mbappe was PSG’s outstanding performer, scoring 39 goals in all competitions, while Neymar struggled.
Yet the 30-year-old Brazilian has seemed rejuvenated this season, scoring five goals in three games.


Man Utd agree to sign Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro

Updated 19 August 2022

Man Utd agree to sign Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro

  • United are set to pay an initial 60 million euros plus a further 10 million euros in add-ons for the 30-year-old
  • "He wants to try a new challenge, a new opportunity and I and the club understand that," said Ancelotti

LONDON: Manchester United have agreed to sign Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro in a deal worth up to a reported £60 million ($70 million).
United manager Erik ten Hag has been desperate to land a defensive midfielder since taking charge at Old Trafford and has finally settled for Casemiro after failing to sign Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong.
Troubled United, who sit bottom of the Premier League after embarrassing defeats against Brighton and Brentford, are set to pay an initial £50 million.
The overall fee would rise by another £10 million if certain clauses in the contract are met.
Casemiro has been offered a four-year contract with the option of a further 12-month extension, with the transfer subject to the agreement of personal terms.
The 30-year-old joined Real from Sao Paulo in 2013 and has been a key figure in midfield for the Spanish club, winning five Champions League titles.
“Manchester United is delighted to announce that the club has reached agreement with Real Madrid for the transfer of Casemiro,” a statement from United said on Friday.
“The transfer is subject to the agreement of personal terms, UK visa requirements and a medical.”
Ten Hag refused to discuss the transfer at his press conference on Friday, but Real boss Carlo Ancelotti was more forthcoming when speaking to the media in Spain.
“I’ve discussed it with him this morning. He wants to try a new challenge, a new opportunity,” Ancelotti said.
“The club understand it. With all he’s done for this club and the person he is, we have to respect it.
“If he doesn’t stay, we’ll have an enormous sense of gratitude to him for all he’s done. We have replacements within the squad.”
Casemiro played alongside current United stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphael Varane at Real.
His arrival will fill a void in Ten Hag’s midfield after his prolonged pursuit of De Jong ended in failure.
Casemiro’s wealth of experience and success at the highest level will make him a certain starter instead of either Fred or Scott McTominay in central midfield.
He is unlikely to be available for United’s next match against arch rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford on Monday.
Instead, Casemiro’s debut could come at Southampton in the Premier League on August 27.


Medvedev advances to quarterfinals, Swiatek sinks in Cincy

Updated 19 August 2022

Medvedev advances to quarterfinals, Swiatek sinks in Cincy

  • Top seed Medvedvev kept Denis Shapovalov winless against world No. 1s with a 7-5, 7-5 victory
  • Unseeded Keys was thrilled with her defeat of Swiatek, against whom she had lost two prior matches

CINCINNATI, US: Top-ranked Daniil Medvedev advanced to the ATP and WTA Cincinnati Masters quarterfinals on Thursday while women’s world No. 1 Iga Swiatek was upset by American Madison Keys.

Top seed Medvedvev kept Denis Shapovalov winless against world No. 1s with a 7-5, 7-5 victory while Poland’s Swiatek lost 6-3, 6-4 to 2019 Cincinnati champion Keys, who needed five match points to finish off the shock triumph.

Shapovalov, who lost in an hour and three-quarters, has dropped all eight career matches he has played against the elite echelon.

Medvedev moved into a quarterfinal against 11th seed Taylor Fritz after the American stopped No. 6 seed Andrey Rublev 6-7 (4/7), 6-2, 7-5.

“It was a fight today, definitely not easy,” said Medvedev, who clinched the top US Open seeding when Rafael Nadal lost here in the second round.

“The match was pretty tight, played at a great level. My goal was to stay in every point possible and try to put pressure on him if I had the chance.”

Medvedev secured late breaks in both sets as he matched his volatile Canadian opponent.

Medvedev and Fritz have never played.

“We trained together at the start of the season before the ATP Cup,” Medvedev said. “He won Indian Wells, he’s a Masters champion. I need to be at my best to try and beat him.”

Unseeded Keys was thrilled with her defeat of Swiatek, against whom she had lost two prior matches.

“I had a couple of games with a couple of match points,” Keys said. “She beat me pretty badly last time so I’m happy to get the win.”

Swiatek never found an ace and was broken five times as she fought back in vain after standing one game from defeat.

It was the second week in a row that the Pole, who put together a 37-match win streak this season, lost in a Masters third round. She suffered the same fate in Toronto seven days earlier.

Keys plays on Friday against Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina, who advanced to the last eight 6-2, 6-4 over Alison Riske-Amritraj.

Also ousted was Estonian second seed Anett Kontaveit, who fell to China’s Zhang Shuai 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Top-ranked American Jessica Pegula ended the run of US Open champion Emma Raducanu 7-5, 6-4, sending the Briton onto the practice courts before the Aug. 29 start of her Grand Slam title defense.

Raducanu will head to New York with a 15-18 record since her 2021 title triumph and will drop from the top-10 after failing to reach the quarterfinals.

The teenager put a backhand into the net to give her opponent a match point, with Pegula sending over a service winner to wrap up the victory in an hour and three-quarters on her opponent’s 21st unforced error.

“I didn’t feel amazing out there,” Pegula said after reaching her seventh career quarter-final at a Masters 1000. “I’ve never hit with Emma, there was a lot to get used to.

“I’m happy with how I competed and stayed in it. I’m glad I handled things really well. I’ve been playing very consistently, no dramas, get out there and do what you’ve got to do. I try to do that every single week.”

Czech Petra Kvitova, twice a Wimbledon champion, defeated Wimbledon finalist Ons Jabeur 6-1, 4-6, 6-0. Kvitova broke six times as her fifth-ranked Tunisian opponent committed six double-faults.

Borna Coric, who upset second seed Rafael Nadal, continued his injury comeback progress by beating Roberto Bautista Agut 6-2, 6-3.

No. 152 Coric is the lowest-ranked ATP Masters 1000 quarter-finalist since 239th-ranked Ivo Karlovic at 2011 Indian Wells.

Fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, semifinalist at the last two editions, defeated Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-3.

John Isner sent down 20 aces in a 7-6 (7/3), 1-6, 7-6 (7/4) defeat of US compatriot Sebastian Korda. At 37, Isner is the oldest Cincinnati men’s quarterfinalist in the post-1968 Open era.

Isner passed Roger Federer, who was a younger 37 when he reached his most recent Cincinnati quarterfinal in 2018.