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Thursday, February 9, 2023

Protests, giant killings and TV wars – five things we learned from the first week of the World Cup

With the 2022 World Cup in full swing and some big stories and shock results already, here are five main talking points in the opening week of the tournament.

rotests

This is a World Cup like no other. Qatar’s stance on LGBTQ+ rights, the state’s treatment of migrant workers and allegations of corruption during the bidding process has had the tournament in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

On the eve of the tournament, FIFA threatened ‘sporting sanctions’ on any captain who wore the OneLove armband, designed to promote LGBTQ+ rights and inclusion, as Qatar criminalises same-sex relationships. World football’s governing body issued their own ‘No Discrimination’ armband instead.

In protest, Germany covered their mouths as they lined up before their game against Japan last Wednesday.

“It wasn’t about making a political statement, human rights are non-negotiable. That should be taken for granted, but it still isn’t the case. Denying us the armband is the same as denying us a voice. We stand by our position,” said the German football association (DFB) in a statement.

They have since taken a case against FIFA to the Court of arbitration for Sport, and hope captain Manuel Neuer will be cleared to wear the armband.

Giant killings

The World Cup sparked into life last Tuesday, as Saudi Arabia produced a huge shock and defeated Argentina, who were unbeaten in their previous 36 games.

That run stretched back to 2019, but strikes by Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari cancelled out Lionel Messi’s early penalty and earned Saudi Arabia’s biggest win in their history.

The following day Japan got in on the act, and defeated 2014 champions Germany in the opening group game. The Germans went ahead through a Ilkay Gundogan spot-kick in the first half, but two late strikes by Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano saw Die Mannschaft suffer back-to-back World Cup defeats for the first time ever.

RTÉ v ITV v BBC

ITV has emerged as the standout channel for World Cup coverage this week, with Ireland legend Roy Keane impressing viewers. Keane, along with Graham Souness, have struck a fine balance between addressing key issues like Qatar’s human rights record, while also providing entertaining analysis of the action on the pitch.

“The World Cup shouldn’t be here,” said Keane this week. “The country, the way they treat migrant workers and gay people. You can’t treat people like that. We are talking about common decency.”

While discussing Jamal Musiala, who represented England at underage level before declaring for Germany, Keane added, “it’s nice that England have been given a taste of their own medicine. They have taken players, (Declan) Rice and (Jack) Grealish, don’t get me started on that.”

RTÉ’s analysis so far has lacked standout moments like ITV, or BBC, who boast names like Didier Drogba and Vincent Kompany on their coverage.

Empty stadiums and dubious attendances

Tournament organisers reported 94pc attendance figures following the first round of games, despite many pockets of empty seats seen at several matches. Questions were raised in the opening days of the World Cup, as official attendances exceeded stadium capacities.

FIFA eventually increased the capacity of the eight stadiums by 12pc last Tuesday, and said they initially overestimated the number of seats needed for broadcast and media purposes. Questions remain though as FIFA continue to report close to capacity attendances, despite many empty seats reported by journalists attending games.

Young stars emerging

The opening games have seen some young stars emerge on the world stage. England’s Jude Bellingham hit his first international goal in their 6-2 win over Iran, and earned huge praise for a standout display. The 19-year-old’s quick feet, intelligence and versatility has him tipped for Young Player of the Tournament.

Spain’s Gavi netted his first World Cup goal in their 7-0 thrashing of Costa Rica last Wednesday, and caught the eye after a fine display on the right side of a midfield three. The 18-year-old’s creativity and technical ability also has him in the running for Young Player of the Tournament, as Spain look for their first title since 2010.

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