USA and England start with group game, Qatar loses

The World Cup has kicked off in Qatar after years of waiting, and ESPN has you covered for the world’s biggest sporting event.

We saw the opening ceremony, the pre-game speeches, and the musical performances (yes, that was a member of BTS out there!). We’ve seen VAR’s first goal disallowed at the World Cup (Well done Enner Valencia for answering this trivia question) and we’ve also seen the first goals allowed at the World Cup (congratulations again to Enner Valencia, whose two goals gave Ecuador a win over hosts Qatar.)

Be sure to check back on ESPN during the tournament as we bring you the latest from Qatar. Let’s get into that.

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The lead: USA! UNITED STATES OF AMERICA! UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!

The Group B game gets off to a bright and early start on Monday morning when England take on Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium (8am ET), but that’s just the appetizer for a delicious main course as the USA start their tournament against Gareth Bale and Wales in the Al Rayyan Stadium begin (2 p.m. ET).

It is imperative for the USMNT to get off to a hot start as England await in their second group game. Wales offer a major threat thanks to their talisman Gareth Bale – who made some notable guest appearances during LAFC’s run to the 2022 MLS Cup this season – but the USA boast and will boast their full star roster, led by Christian Pulisic be eager to catch up on what they missed at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. (We won’t mention Couva. We won’t mention Couva.)

Tyler Adams was named captain, making him the youngest US skipper at a World Cup since Harry Keough in 1950, and they were fortunate to avoid serious injury during preparation for the tournament, something France ( Karim Benzema was out on Saturday), Senegal (Sadio Mane was out on Thursday) or Belgium (striker Romelu Lukaku was out in the first group game). USA also received good news in the form of defender Sergino Dest and midfielder Weston McKennie who passed fitness tests for the game against Wales.

They also received a message from home in good time for their first game, courtesy of US Soccer…

Before the game, Sam Borden met the man in charge of feeding the team in Doha, while Luis Miguel Echegaray spoke to fantastic striker Tim Weah about his footballing roots and what this World Cup means to him. Coach Gregg Berhalter believes his team ‘can beat anyone’ in Qatar… then he will be put to the test by the Welsh side on Monday. So no pressure!!


Messages and Notes

  • Hosts Qatar suffered a 2-0 defeat by Ecuador in the opening game of the World Cup, with bizarre scenes of home fans leaving in droves well before the final whistle to leave a largely pro-Ecuadorian environment in their wake for much of the second half. We covered the surrealism of day one, as well as the poor performance of the Qatar national team in their first game in front of a global audience. Meanwhile, Ecuadorian fans were caught chanting “We want beer” as Qatari fans left early.

  • Is this a sign of imminent overcrowding and logistical issues? The Official World Cup Fan Zone at Al Bidda was so overwhelmed with fans trying to get in that they blocked access. The venue has a reported capacity of 40,000 but security services were forced to push back fans as they approached the various entrances, reports Tom Hamilton.

  • England captain Harry Kane has told the media that despite alleged threats of a fine and a yellow card at kick-off, he will continue to wear the “OneLove” armband as various European teams battle with FIFA over the host country’s human rights record. Kane said, “I think we’ve made it clear as a team, as a staff and as an organization that we want to wear the armband … I think we’ve made it clear that we want to wear it.”

  • Before their game against England, Iranian defender Ehsan Hajsafi was the first player Team Melli speak out openly for anti-government protests at home. “They should know that we are with them. And we support them. And we understand the conditions. We have to accept that the conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy,” he added. “We’re here, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be their voice or not respect them.”

  • Brazil are among the leaders to lift the trophy in Qatar, but who will play against Serbia in Thursday’s Group G game? Right now it’s all about deception. “We have no idea who the starting XI is. We’re excited to see what the coach will decide and the competition is relentless to secure a spot,” defender Alex Sandro said on Sunday.


Today’s best

Mark Ogden enjoyed the Qatar v Ecuador game at a sports bar in Doha while Tom Hamilton soaked up the sights and sounds from the crowded fan zone.

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Mark Ogden shares his experience watching the opening game of the World Cup in a Doha bar.

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What’s up tomorrow

– England vs Iran (Group B, 8:00am ET): The Three Lions have been the ultimate “fast-there” team in recent years, finishing fourth at the 2018 World Cup and then second at the European Championships. What can they achieve this time? If you’ve heard their new anthem (well, the latest release of their well-known refrain) then “Football is coming home for Christmas”, but they must start strong against an Iranian side who show no fear.

– Senegal vs. Netherlands (Group A, 11am ET): We expect these two sides to reach the Round of 16, but Ecuador’s win over Qatar means a crucial result for one team here could mean the fate of the others. Cody Gakpo is likely to take on the playmaker role in the Dutch attack, and for good reason – read our profile of the next big transfer target here – while Senegal try to figure out how to replace injured talisman Mane, who was ruled out of Thursday’s World Cup .

– United States vs. Wales (Group B, 2:00 p.m. ET): What else is there to say? Berhalter & Co are under pressure to meet the sky-high hype at home with three points against a Welsh side that could be tougher than they look.


What else we noticed

We had our first use of VAR at the World Cup when Enner Valencia scored in the third minute – which would have been the fastest ever goal in a World Cup opener – and Dale Johnson was on hand to explain why the call was made .

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Dale Johnson explains why Ecuador were ruled out in confusing circumstances in their World Cup opener against Qatar.


Your Best Bets (Odds via Caesars Sportsbook)

Get a look at how to actually bet on football games as ESPN contributors Paul Carr, Dan Thomas and Dalen Cuff give you essential tips on odds, options and futures.

We have that for the first two matchdays.

GROUP A

Netherlands (-160) vs. Senegal (+500), draw +255

Cuff: The Netherlands are looking much better than Euro 2020 from just over 15 months ago. No Sadio Mane is a dagger for Senegal. I think the Dutch will fly, I take over 2.5 goals (+115).

Automobile: I’m staying away from this one now that Mane is out, but that +500 price point for Senegal sure is enticing for a squad that’s still defensively oriented.

Thomas: I think this could be a close affair. I’m not sure where the goals will come from either side. I would take that under in this one. Netherlands 1-0 Senegal.

GROUP B

England (-290) vs. Iran (+1000), tie +340

Automobile: Can I bet the Unter for every game in this group? Maybe not, but I like under 2.5 goals here (-150). Iran gave up five goals in 14 qualifiers and conceded just one goal to Spain and Portugal four years ago. There were two goals in England’s three group games at last year’s European Championship. Until Gareth Southgate announces that he will use all of England’s attacking talent, I will go with the Underman in England’s games.

Cuff: I’ll just keep saying I’m fading England. However, their defensive approach against an inferior opponent will result in a win, but without much style and maybe just a goal scored. There isn’t much value here and I don’t like this game but I would pick England to win against Nile (-128).

Thomas: I’m not very hopeful that England can go far in this tournament. However, given the weakness of the teams around them in the group, I think they will qualify easily, starting with a comfortable win over Iran in the opener. For Harry Kane to score every time (-110) looks like a layup. England 3-0 Iran.

United States (+160) vs. Wales (+200), tie +190

Automobile: I hope this isn’t my American bias, but USA simply have more offensive options than Wales, highlighted by a quartet of quality wingers (Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson, Giovanni Reyna, Timothy Weah). Because of this and because of Wales’ defense, which isn’t as good as you think it was, allowing 1.2 expected goals per game in qualifiers, I’m going with US draw no bet at -135.

Cuff: Beware of prejudice! It’s been eight years since we’ve seen the USA at a World Cup game. I can see this is a low score. The young offensive talent did not come together in the last friendlies. Wales are not a dynamic attacking team, relying on Gareth Bale’s brilliance or crosses looking for Kieffer Moore’s head. It is of no value if underplayed or both teams fail to score. The unbiased move is probably Draw +190 or even Wales Draw No Bet +105. But no emotional protection here – USA wins (+160).

Thomas: I know I don’t sell it very well. But I imagine a 0-0 here.



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