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MOMENT OF TRUTH HERE FOR QATAR AS FIFA WORLD CUP BEGINS

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QATAR 2022 FIFA WORLD CUP

The moment of truth for Qatar’s ability to organise the FIFA World Cup after years of failed overtures and criticism over labour rights and strict laws has come.

Predicaments began mounting as early as December 2010 when it was announced that Qatar would host the finals amid a storm of international criticism.

“For me it is clear: Qatar is a mistake, a bad choice,” Sepp Blatter, the former president of world football’s governing body FIFA, said last week.

But it was his administration that oversaw the awarding of the 2022 event’s hosting rights to Qatar.

Always held during the close season of the majority of leagues, it was difficult to maintain such a schedule now.

Temperatures are presently reaching more than 45 degrees Celsius in Qatar’s blazing summers.

Two studies carried out by FIFA in 2014 and 2015 were enough to conclude that it would be impossible to hold the tournament in June/July, prompting the move to November and December.

Constructing the new stadiums witnessed many controversies regarding labour rights, amid media reports that thousands of foreign workers either lost their lives or were mistreated in the process.

Qatar responded by altering its labour laws to contain global dismay.

Additionally, Qatar’s strict Islamic laws against LGBT rights or alcohol consumption faced yet another storm of criticism.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar, dispelled widespread fears recently.

He told the United Nations General Assembly last September that his government was ready to welcome everyone from around the world without discrimination.

Qatari Olympic high jump champion Mutaz Barshim, a World Cup ambassador, said the tournament is an opportunity to unite people.

“The World Cup will positively impact our society by showcasing our culture to the world and by helping people create friendships and build networks.

“It is a golden opportunity to change negative perceptions about the region and create new and meaningful connections,” he said in an interview with the Qatar 2022 website on Wednesday.

Qatar will be the first team since Italy in the second World Cup in 1934 to participate in the finals for the first time as a host.

This is a team hosting without having previously qualified for the tournament.

They need to avoid a similar fate to that of Switzerland, Chile and South Africa, who all hosted but exited the finals in the group stages in 1954, 1962 and 2010.

That is why the Qatari team has undergone a thorough process of preparing for the tournament.

It started by appointing Spanish coach Felix Sanchez in 2017, whose knowledge of the region helped him guide Qatar to the 2019 Asian Cup title, winning all matches in the process.

Sanchez’s men raised eyebrows with a number of notable performances, including a 3-1 defeat of Japan in the final.

The team continued its preparations by rubbing shoulders with South America’s best through their participation in the 2019 Copa America.

Nonetheless, the experience proved to be a little too much for the team as they finished bottom of their group following defeats by Colombia and Argentina and a draw against Paraguay.

Qatar, similarly and upon special request, took part in the CONCACAF Gold Cup last year.

There they showed improvement by topping their group and beating El Salvador in the quarter-finals before losing 1-0 to the U.S in the semi-finals.

The team will be under pressure by fans to achieve the desired results on home soil.

This is especially after the Qatari Federation’s decision not to allow their players to play for their domestic clubs since the beginning of the current season.

This was in order to devote themselves to preparations for the finals. (Reuters/NAN)

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JAPAN, SPAIN INTO W’CUP LAST 16, GERMANY CRASH OUT

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Spain's teammates react at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group E football match between Japan and Spain at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on December 1, 2022. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

Spain staggered through to the World Cup last 16 on Thursday despite a 2-1 defeat by Japan, who remarkably won Group E on a rollercoaster night which saw four-time champions Germany eliminated.

Japan secured another incredible triumph after beating Germany in their opening game, with their progression from the “group of death” one of the greatest achievements in the country’s footballing history.

For a few heart-stopping minutes Spain were poised to head out when Costa Rica were leading in the other game, but the 2010 champions squeezed through after Germany did them a favour by coming back to beat Los Ticos.

Spain and Germany ended on four points each, but La Roja progressed on goal difference.

Alvaro Morata sent Spain ahead early on with a towering header, but Japan dramatically struck back at the start of the second half.

Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka’s goals saw them mount a sensational comeback, just as they did against Germany.

Tanaka’s goal was highly controversial after the officials relied on VAR to decide Kaoru Mitoma had kept the ball in play by a hair’s breadth to set him up.

Spain struggled to create chances against a staunch Japanese defence in the final stages, with the Asian side aware that conceding another goal would see them eliminated.

Japanese players collapsed at full-time in celebration, exhausted and elated, while the substitutes raced on to celebrate.

Spain face Morocco in the last 16, while Japan play Croatia.

– Rollercoaster night –

Both sides made five changes, with Luis Enrique bringing in Morata to lead the line, and handing Alejandro Balde and Nico Williams their full debuts.

Japan started with five at the back, hoping to keep Spain at bay, but pressed high in attack to try and capitalise on any mistakes.

Spain are sometimes guilty of glaring defensive errors and Pau Torres exemplified that with a sloppy touch which led to Japan’s first chance, fired into the side-netting by Junya Ito.

Morata sent La Roja ahead in the 12th minute with a towering header from Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross, rekindling the connection which occasionally worked at Chelsea after the striker’s arrival in 2017.

Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu replaced the ineffective Takefuso Kubo and Yuto Nagatomo at the break with Mitoma and Doan, and it paid instant dividends.

Balde lost the ball under pressure and from the edge of the box winger Doan hammered past Unai Simon, who might have done more to keep it out.

Three minutes later and Japan had turned the game on its head, Tanaka bundling home from on the goalline after Mitoma had miraculously kept the ball in play as he crossed it — according to VAR.

Spain were shellshocked and struggled to react, with Luis Enrique making a raft of substitutions to try and regain control.

The coach, alone and perched on the edge of his technical area, was unaware that for a few moments his team faced elimination, when Costa Rica took the lead against Germany in the other game to go 2-1 ahead.

Spain survived, progressing thanks to their superior goal difference, on a night that was far more terrifying than they had anticipated — and Japan secured a hugely unlikely achievement.

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AL HILAL MAY REPLACE IGHALO WITH RONALDO

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Portugal Striker, Cristiano Ronaldo

Saudi Arabian champions, Al Hilal, are not keen to extend the contract of Odion Ighalo as they explore the options of landing former Manchester United forward Cristiano Ronaldo in January, PUNCH Sports Extra reports.

Al Hilal Striker, Odion Ighalo

Ighalo arrived Al Hilal from rivals Al Shabab in January for a fee in the region of €2.9m and his contract with the club ends June 30, 2023.

According to Sky Sports, Al Hilal are preparing to make the first mega offer to Ronaldo barely a week after the 37-year-old became a free agent.

Ronaldo and Manchester United parted ways after the Portuguese icon launched a scathing attack on the club, manager Erik Ten Haag and some of the club’s players in an explosive interview with journalist Piers Morgan.

Al Hilal are big admirers of Ronaldo and reports suggest the Saudi Arabian giants made a proposal for the former Real Madrid star’s signature during the summer transfer market. Manchester United, however, turned down their multi-million euros approach and that could change, though, with Ronaldo free to negotiate his transfer.

“He is one player Al Hilal is looking to sign but that depends on some departures,” the Sky Sports report stated.

Spanish newspaper outlet Marca, also revealed that Ronaldo sensationally agreed a two-and-a-half year deal with Al Nassr worth an eye-watering £172.9m per year, that will see him play until the age of 40.

Should Ighalo chooses to stay at Al Hilal despite Ronaldo’s arrival, the Nigerian will go head-to-head with the Portuguese superstar.

The Nigerian striker fired the goals that powered the team to win the Saudi Premier League title on the season’s final day last year.

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MOROCCO SEND CANADA OUT OF W’CUP, SECURE KNOCKOUT SPOT

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Hakim Ziyech Celebrates his goal against Canada

Morocco on Thursday secured a spot in the World Cup knockout stage after they beat Canada 2-1

For the first time in 36 years, Morocco march on to the last 16 as they finished top of Group F.

The celebrations at the final whistle on the pitch showed how the African side cherish the win.

In a group supposed to be filled with the best of Europe, Morocco emerged top of Group F with Ziyech and En-Nesyri locating the back of the net in a phenomenal display.

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