England start bid for World Cup after Qatar defeat

England start bid for World Cup after Qatar defeat


European heavyweights England and the Netherlands start their World Cup campaigns on Monday, while the tournament in Qatar shifts into higher gear after a disappointing defeat for the hosts.

Asian champions Qatar became the first home country to lose their World Cup opener as Ecuador clinched a 2-0 win on Sunday, with veteran striker Enner Valencia scoring twice.

England, who meet Iran in Group B, will be desperate to get off to a strong start as they seek an end to their decade-long trophy drought after two near misses in recent years.

Gareth Southgate’s men surprisingly made it to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup in Russia before reaching their first major final in 55 years at last year’s European Championship.

Despite his success as England boss, Southgate has drawn criticism for his perceived tactics and the pressure has mounted after a poor result streak.

“The first thing a coach has to do is enable (the team) to win,” he said. “Then of course you want to play football that inspires people and is fun for the players.

“Our challenge is to give the fans a memorable tournament. We’ve taken them on a fantastic journey over the last two tournaments.”

With tougher games against the United States and Wales, England can’t afford a slow start against Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium.

England’s opener comes amid deadly demonstrations in the Islamic Republic.

Iran’s spiritual leadership has been rocked by more than two months of women-led protests sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman of Kurdish origin who was arrested by morality police in Tehran.

Defender Ehsan Hajsafi said: “They should know that we sympathize with them”, adding that “conditions at home are not good”.

– Bale leads Wales –

In the other Group B game, the USA take on Gareth Bale’s Wales, who are participating in a World Cup for the first time since 1958.

Captain Bale said he hopes to inspire a new generation of Welsh footballers.

“Everyone has dreamed of this for so long,” said the former Real Madrid forward. “We had so many close encounters. It was incredible for us to cross the line as a team.

“But more importantly, growing football in our country to inspire another generation. Hopefully that will give us a stronger national team in the future.”

The Netherlands meet Senegal in Group A, with the African champions without injured talisman Sadio Mane.

The Dutch failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia in 2018 but the three-time runners-up are back in business under veteran coach Louis van Gaal, who led the team to the semi-finals in 2014.

“We have to believe in our qualities and ourselves and be confident,” said Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk.

“We have a fantastic coach, an experienced coach. We have players playing at the highest level, at the biggest clubs in the world.”

Senegalese coach Aliou Cisse was optimistic about his side’s chances despite Mane’s absence.

“Of course we will not hide the importance of Sadio Mané for the Senegalese team – he is very important, a coach builds his team around his best players.

“But there is also a group of experienced players here, with young players who are ready to move up. We’ve had to play games without Sadio Mane.”

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