By Samindra Kunti in Doha
December 5 – FIFA’s head of global development Arsene Wenger has claimed that teams who avoided political demonstrations have played better at the World Cup, taking a swipe at Germany and Denmark. He also praised the tournament experience as “unique”.
“You know when you go to a World Cup, you know you can’t lose the first game,” said Wenger at a news conference in the Qatari capital. “The teams who have the experience to perform in tournaments like France, like Brazil, like Brazil played well in the first game.
“The teams who were mentally ready, with a mindset to focus on competition, and not the political demonstrations.”
Before the World Cup, some European federations had vowed to wear the OneLove armband to protest and highlight discrimination in Qatar where homosexuality remains illegal, but when FIFA threatened the team with sporting sanctions, including booking the captains, the Europeans backed down.
Germany and Denmark had been most vocal about the issues, even if after Denmark’s early exit Hjulmand implied that the social issues around the tournament had become a distraction.
Labeled pre-tournament dark horses, his team got their World Cup campaign underway with a goalless draw against Tunisia but crashed out following consecutive defeats to France and Australia.
Germany had a tournament with oscillating results – a defeat to Japan, a draw against Spain, and a win against Costa Rica, but it was not enough.
Wenger also lavished praise on the World Cup hosts, who, he said, offered a “unique” tournament experience. Qatar have been buffeted by a barrage of criticism over its treatment of migrant workers and discrimination of minorities.
“This experience has been unique,” said the Frenchman. “The feedback from the fans is exceptional, the TV audiences have never been higher. They have gone through the roof, despite the negative publicity before. The beauty of the stadiums is unbelievable. This is the best I have seen from an architectural point of view.”
As for the action on the pitch, Wenger and FIFA’s technical study group suggested, based on their data, that the World Cup could be won and lost on the wings with 30% of entries in the final third of the pitch taking place on the left channel and 28% on the right channel.
“Goals from open-play crosses are up by 83% compared to the World Cup 2018,” said Wenger. “The teams block the middle, the center of the pitch. Does that mean that the team with the best wide players will win? It will be an interesting question. Holland against the US was proof. All goals were scored from crosses.”
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