Host Country: Qatar
The 22nd World Cup involves 32 teams who will play a total of 64 matches. These will be played in 8 venues located in 5 cities across Qatar, which makes it the first World Cup ever to be held in the Arab world.
Date of the Finals: 21st November - 18th December
Number of Venues: 8 (5 Host Cities)
Emile Heskey is one of Leicester’s favourite football sons. A local lad made good, he lifted two League Cups for his hometown team before becoming a treble-winner at Liverpool and earning 62 caps for his country.
In a ‘golden generation’ of dazzling individual English talent, he was the unflashy personification of humility and hard work. Michael Owen, for whom he acted as a tireless and selfless foil, still names him – without hesitation – as his best strike partner.
Now 43, Heskey finds himself back at Leicester City, beginning his coaching career where he started out as a player. But he is not, as might have been expected, taking those early steps with Brendan Rodgers’ UEFA Champions League-chasing men’s team.
His expertise is instead being utilised with the club’s women, who this season earned promotion to the increasingly star-studded WSL 1, topping the second tier with two games to spare.
Jonathan Morgan, the side’s manager, had spent his youth idolising Heskey. "We still joke about it now,” he said recently, “but I remember when I was a young lad at the park literally saying Emile's name when I was scoring goals.” Now Morgan says he is discovering and benefiting from the same humble honesty that made the former England striker such a favourite of team-mates and managers.
Heskey is relishing the coaching experience, too, and explained why in an interview in which he took time to reflect on his England career and assess the Three Lions’ current generation.
I’ve been loving it to be honest. I’d been a Leicester club ambassador for a while and I’m on a UEFA course which requires you to undertake some work experience inside the football club, so I asked about helping out somewhere. Susan Whelan (Leicester’s chief executive) said that the club was just about to acquire Leicester's women’s side (previously independent of Leicester City FC), and suggested I get involved and become an ambassador for them. In the end that’s morphed into coaching the team too, and I’ve really enjoyed the experience. The only downside is that the staff played a tournament recently with the girls and they beat us eight games out of nine! (laughs)
It was. I'd been quite happy with the ambassadorial role, doing bits and pieces off the pitch, but when Jonathan came and asked if I fancied doing some coaching, I thought ‘Why not?’ And once I was out on the grass, I enjoyed it. I’d done a bit of coaching towards the end of my playing career, working with the U-21s at Bolton, but here I have the opportunity to get involved a lot more, working with individual players and looking at different tactics. And it does help you look at football differently. After 20-plus years of looking purely from an individual’s point of view as a player, now I have to look at it from a coach’s perspective, getting into players’ heads, delivering my message in the right way so that what I'm telling them ends up getting translated out on the pitch.
It really is. When you look at the progression of Leicester as a club, it’s massive. We're cemented as a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League, obviously winning it under Claudio [Ranieri] but also consistently pushing for Champions League spots in the last couple of years too. That ambition and feelgood factor is there with the women’s team too, having been at the top of the table all season and getting up to WSL 1 at such a critical time, with so much more sponsorship and TV coverage coming in there. It’s an exciting time to be going up into what is already a very good league.
In football, that’s what it’s all about: pitting yourself against the best. I loved doing it as a player and, yeah, I can’t wait for our players to challenge themselves against the Man Citys, Arsenals, Chelseas – with all the stars they have – and see how they measure up. As a club, we definitely want to be competitive in that league – we don’t want to just be part of it. There are big ambitions for women’s football at Leicester; it’s not just a little side project.
Quite honestly, I’d love to stay part of it. I don’t know what the future will bring but it would be nice to play a part in continuing the team’s progression. I know how ambitious the club is about the women’s team, and the thought of being part of their first season in WSL 1, seeing them play games in the King Power, definitely excites me. It’s also nice to be part of the wider progression of women’s football, and hopefully getting it to a level that it should have been at years ago.
I enjoy it until I get beaten by them in training matches, or I need to join in the running! (laughs) Honestly, they’ve been great. They’ve taken to me really well, and I wasn’t sure if that would be the case, with me coming in from the men’s game and trying to implement certain things. But they’ve been very receptive and I can see some real development as a result of the things we’ve been trying to teach them.
In my opinion, Gareth Southgate has one of the toughest jobs in football just selecting a squad because there’s so much English talent there to choose from right now. I think it looks great for England at the moment. There will always be discussion about why this player or that player isn’t being picked, but that comes with the territory. It’s Gareth’s job to win games and he’ll do that by finding the right blend. And I think he will.
Very highly. When I look at him, I see a natural goalscorer – someone you can always rely on. Looking at it from a coaching perspective, I appreciate all the more that those players – the ones who’ll get you goals week in, week out, year in, year out – are worth their weight in gold. Harry’s been fantastic for England, a great captain, and that’s saying something because I’ve always said that forwards shouldn’t be captains because they’re too selfish. But he’s taken that role on, made it his own, and for me whatever frontline Gareth plays, Kane is the one player who has to be there.
Yeah. Nothing could measure up to that. You’ve got to remember that we’d lost the last game at the old Wembley to that Germany team not long before. They hadn’t been beaten at home for 50-plus matches and, to make things even tougher, we went 1-0 down after seven or eight minutes. For us to win in those circumstances, and win the way we did, was just phenomenal. Sven [Goran Eriksson, England’s then coach] was very clever and tactically astute in the way he prepared for that game and, even when we went a goal down so early, we never panicked. We hit them at certain key times, and it was just a very special night.
It’s hard to compare the two. Growing up, playing in a World Cup, scoring in a World Cup, is what you dream about. The 1994 tournament in America made such a big impression on me because Romario was one of my all-time favourite players, and I can still remember his goals and the way he combined with Bebeto – it was just flawless. So when I got the chance to go to the World Cup, it did bring back all those great memories I’d had as a kid.
One hundred per cent. We eventually lost in the quarters to the Brazil team who went on to win it, but I even felt we should have beaten them. We went 1-0 up through Michael [Owen] and, looking back, our tactics weren’t the best after that. We sat back too much and invited probably the best attacking force in football at that time – Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho – to come on to us. Those three were phenomenal that day, but I do think our tactics worked against us. Brazil obviously had a bit of luck too. It was a shame because I would have loved to have won something with that England team because there was so much incredible talent in that generation.
When Joaquin Caparros was appointed Sevilla coach back in 2000, he could never have guessed where he would be coaching 21 years later.
From then until 2005, he became an idol at the Andalusian club, contributing to the development and consolidation of future stars like Sergio Ramos, Jesus Navas, Jose Antonio Reyes and Dani Alves. After taking charge of a variety of clubs in Spain, Switzerland and even Qatar, he returned to Sevilla in 2018, where he had two short spells as interim coach interspersed with a period as the club’s director of football. Then in early 2020, he got a call from Gines Melendez that would change everything.
The veteran coach, who had enjoyed great success while in charge of Spain’s youth teams, was the one who sought out Caparros to offer him the Armenia job, having himself being appointed technical director of football at the country’s football association the previous year. Now in need of a coach for the national team, he knew right away that Joaquin was his man.
"They want to develop, and they know that this depends on the credentials of the coaches they have. They're doing great and we’re seeing results that give credence to the president and everyone involved. It's the path we have to follow," Caparros tells FIFA.com when asked about the change in Armenian football.
"I still had time on my contract with Sevilla, but Gines Melendez told me about the Armenia opportunity, so I met him and the president of the national federation. There was a good feeling and a sense of empathy, so we hit it off and came to an agreement quite quickly. They trust us and there’s very smooth communication," Caparros says of the decision to embark on this adventure.
Since then, the mutual affection between Caparros and Armenia has only deepened, helped by a dream start for the coach. "Getting promoted to UEFA Nations League B was reward for the work being done, but it was also unexpected because we were competing against quality teams like Georgia and North Macedonia. It was a success and provided a major morale boost for the country and the squad. It reaffirmed that Armenia must have faith in the work being done," said the former coach of Athletic Bilbao, Deportivo La Coruna and Mallorca, among others.
That promotion was the best possible prelude to the European qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, in which Armenia have made a perfect start, winning their opening three games in the last week of March to lead Group J.
"We’ve begun the qualifiers with a lot of enthusiasm but remain conscious of how tough our group is. We’ve started well, but we're keeping our feet on the ground. We’re in with teams like Romania, Iceland, North Macedonia, and especially Germany, which are very strong. That’s where we find ourselves, but we’re hopeful and excited, and no one can take that away from us," Caparros says.
The 65-year-old knows it is a time for calm heads, especially when you look back at what has happened so far in the evenly matched Group J. "Being in a group that throws up crazy results is good for us, but we know it’ll still be very difficult. We’re talking about teams with a lot of [good] players and a great deal of history, like Germany, who are always favourites."
However, when asked about specific objectives, Caparros is not prepared to look beyond September. "We have to take it one game at a time and see how far we can go. We’re not playing again [in the qualifiers] until September, so we'll see how the players are doing. We’re relying on our strength as a team as well as mental fortitude."
And while he has only been in charge of Armenia for ten games, the Spanish coach has hit it off really well in the eastern European country. "From the start, everyone’s been empathetic, from the president down to the coaching staff. It's a joy to go to team gatherings and be with the lads, because they're so committed."
Caparros has only good things to say about his day-to-day work with the national team. "We have an amazing academy. There are ten football pitches here, all maintained superbly, and a residential building with luxury rooms. Everything you need... We're very comfortable," he says.
But surely for a Spanish coach in Armenia, the language barrier is a problem? "Within the squad we speak four languages: Russian, Armenian, English and Spanish," Caparros tells FIFA.com, insisting it has not been an issue: "There’s very fluid communication, and furthermore football is a universal language. When the whistle blows, everyone understands each other. This non-verbal communication has been fundamental."
We finished by asking this native Andalusian what it would mean for Armenia to reach a major tournament like the EURO or World Cup. "Just winning promotion in the Nations League was very emotional, so I can only imagine what it would be like… However, I’ve not even thought about it. I've been in football for many years, so I know we have to take it one step at a time. So let the people of Armenia enjoy the victories, and let us focus on our working methods," he concludes.
Caparros is clearly proud of this Armenia team and the work they have done, so it will be fascinating to see just how far they can go together.
Following the tender process for the Italian media rights to the FIFA World Cup 2022™, FIFA has awarded the exclusive rights to the competition to Rai, the Italian national public service broadcaster.
Rai has been awarded multi-platform rights across television, digital and radio, and will provide an extremely strong broadcast platform for the tournament. In addition to making all 64 matches available live in the territory, Rai will also offer extensive support programming, including highlights and magazine programming. At least 28 matches of the tournament, including the opening match, final and both semi-finals, will be shown on the broadcaster’s flagship channel, Rai 1, meeting FIFA’s objectives of providing large exposure for its competitions.
The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ will be the 22nd edition of the competition, and it will be particularly unique as the first FIFA World Cup in the Middle East and the first to take place in November/December. With ultra-modern venues, optimal playing conditions and a compact event footprint, the host nation will provide a unique platform to celebrate the game and its ability to connect and inspire people around the world. The tournament will follow the traditional format, with 32 participating teams and 64 matches, offering a highly competitive group stage followed by an exciting knockout phase.
FIFA’s Director of Media Rights & Content Services, Jean-Christophe Petit, said, “After a very competitive tender process, we are pleased to have concluded a deal with a strong media partner in Italy for the FIFA World Cup 2022. We look forward to working with Rai to make this unique FIFA World Cup a great success and create an unforgettable experience for all Italian fans.”
Rights to the FIFA World Cup 2022™ are still available in certain territories. FIFA launched a tender for the competition’s media rights in Greece earlier this month, which is due to close on Tuesday, 20 April.
Through the sale of media rights for its tournaments, FIFA generates income which is essential to support and develop football around the world, for instance through the FIFA Forward Development Programme.
Welcome to the third episode of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ Magazine Show, coming to YouTube every month.
This month, we look back on the 2021 Qatar Cup final, which saw Sabri Lamouchi's Al Duhail come up against Xavi's Al Saad.
We also discover the golf course just a stone's throw from a Qatar 2022 stadium, reflect on the growth of women's sports in Qatar and meet the Spanish chef who has a taste for football.
And we hear from Al Rayyan SC captain Yacine Brahimi on his hopes of Algeria making a return to the FIFA World Cup for the first time since Brazil 2014.
Montserrat 1- 1 El Salvador.
Perhaps it is a scoreline lost in the deluge of FIFA World Cup™ qualifying results and storylines from the past week. But it is by far one of the most significant results of the 108 qualifiers that were played in the past week.
Montserrat, an island with a population hovering just around 5,000 and ranked 183rd in the world, punched above their weight on two occasions. First, they drew 2-2 with Antigua and Barbuda on 24 March, a team 57 places above them on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
But the real headliner was to come four days later in Willemstad, on the island of Curaçao. Trailing 1-0 in the 89th minute against El Salvador - a nation who have featured at two World Cups and sit 113 places above them - Lyle Taylor fulfilled his role as the team’s talisman and delivered in the crucial moment, just as he had done by scoring both goals against Antigua. Timing his run to perfection, Taylor latched onto Jamie Allen's cross and headed in the equaliser.
After two heartbreaking defeats to El Salvador in the Concacaf Nations League - Taylor was unable to play on both occasions - the third time was indeed the charm. The celebrations were fitting of a World Cup Final. And even better, his young brother Joey, who he seldom gets to play alongside his sibling, was on the pitch when for the decisive goal [Editor's note: Another pair of brothers play on the team in Brandon and James Comley].
Nearly 9,000 kilometres away from the Lewandowskis, Kanes and Gnabrys of the world scoring on the same day in somewhat routine wins, history was made.
As the 70th-ranked team in the world, El Salvador is the highest-ranked side Montserrat have ever drawn against, and by some distance. Curaçao were ranked 159th when they drew in Russia 2018 qualifiers and Antigua are currently 126th.
FIFA.com caught up with Montserrat's man of the hour, who was back in Nottingham fresh off a cross-Pacific flight from Curacao via an eight-hour layover in Amsterdam, to put the achievement into context and to learn where their ambitions lie next.
Lyle Taylor: It’s definitely up there. I’ve been at the training ground at Nottingham Forest and everyone’s been asking me how it was, and it’s just so different from my day-to-day footballing job. I get to play with my brother and with, I call them “brothers”. We are a family. The majority of the group have been together for about six years. It’s definitely special.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn't more special than club football because it’s representing where I’m from and where my family have been and everything that makes us “us” as a family. It is very, very special and to be able to captain a country and walk the boys out and to go to war as we do every time we step on the pitch is a special feeling.
The instant feeling was that we should’ve beaten Antigua and we expected to. And I mean this in no demeaning or derogatory way of Antigua and their national team, but we expect to beat them. So for us that’s a disappointment. We thought if we went out there and did everything possible that we could beat El Salvador, who are over a 100 places above us, so I think that says a lot about how far we’ve come.
We’re not going into these games as whipping boys. We’ve got enough in this dressing room to win, so let’s go out there and show everyone that we’re good enough. We know the World Cup in Qatar is pie in the sky. That is a long way from this. We’ve got a lot of work to do just to get to the next qualifying group before the impossible dream of getting there, let’s be honest. Little ol’ Montserrat getting to the group qualifying stages would be massive. But that’s where we want to get.
I made my debut six years ago last week in Curacao against Curacao. Arguably we should’ve beat them. We were unlucky then. We had a period of inactivity for about three or four years and we’ve come back ready to prove a point. I’d like to take the last three years and say where are now compared to where we’ve been is streets ahead. Ninety per cent of that is down to Mr. Cassell (Montserrat FA President Vincent Cassell). The work he’s put in and the effort he’s made to allow us to simply play and to get to the position where we are expecting to win games is amazing and that’s down to him and what he’s put in.
As captain I’m privy to everything that goes on behind the scenes. I can’t overstate how hard Mr. Cassell works, and there’s a lot to come. It’s amazing what I’ve seen this team start as and turn in to. Down to the smallest things like kits. We used to wear FIFA-donated kits and now have a sponsorship with Bol. The new kit is amazing and it’s special to us and what we are as the Emerald Boys. Everything from that to the dormitories being built at the stadium, the standard of the pitch and facilities we’re given and hotels we stay in when we go away is 100 per cent down to him. He waited over 40 years to see us win a game, and we’ve done that in recent years.
What the boys have put in is unbelievable. Bear in mind we’ve had a lockdown for football below step 2 for about five or six months. We have over half our squad playing at that level. They’ve not been able to play or train for that period of time and they still turn up and bust their balls and get the results. It is absolutely unbelievable. We’ve had so many obstacles thrown at us and it almost feels like there are powers that don’t want us to succeed, but we are going to make it to a major championship, whether that’s a Gold Cup or the next stage of World Cup qualifying. When we do make it, it’s going to send shockwaves through world football.
I’ve played in front of some big crowds at Wembley and I’ve got a lot to be thankful for, but there is nothing like playing with family and we are all a family in the national team. To pick up a point against an El Salvador team, that really we have no right to be going toe-to-toe with, is massive. To do it the day before my birthday was a perfect storm and I’m so thankful that six years ago I accepted the call to be a part of this.
This is the first time I’ve played against them. The boys were telling me how tough it would be, and I was thinking about the games we played against teams that had beaten us big before, and you turn up and you graft and you give it absolutely everything and you get a result because that’s how football works. We were still confident. It’s always going to be in the back of some people’s minds, especially when you concede late goals to a team that, let’s be honest, are superior.
To be able to go out there, stand toe-to-toe and give away a poor goal by our standards, and to dominate the second half as we did is just amazing. It’s a taste of their own medicine to them because of what they’ve done to us previously. It’s massive to get that result, but there’s more. The next time we play, we will be winning.
From the level of football I’ve come from here in the UK to the level I’m at now, I was never going to be called up for England. It was never an option. The day I got the message I was on the train on the way up to Sheffield playing for Scunthorpe United at the time in League One. My dad and I had been talking about it that weekend and joking how Joey, my little brother, could play left-back, I’ll play up front and my dad could go in goal! And that weekend I got the message asking about my Montserratian heritage. As soon as I was asked, the answer was ‘yes’. It was a chance to represent where my grandparents are from and I was never, ever going to say no to that.
I don’t think anything I’ve done in life would be bigger than that achievement. That’s how big it would be and how high it would rank on my list. That would be the best thing ever. I’d give so much for us to be able to play in the latter stages of World Cup qualifying. If it’s the biggest highlight in my career, it would be up there at the very, very top for the other boys. That’s what it would mean, and there’s only one way for it to happen and we have to go out and make it happen, so we’ve got some work to do.
Although several favourites still recorded comfortable wins, most notably Japan’s 14-0 triumph in Mongolia, several matches threw up surprising results.
Few would have predicted that the Netherlands would lose 4-2 to Turkey in their opening FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifier. Having looked unstoppable after their 6-0 rout of Germany in the UEFA Nations League last autumn, Spain toiled to secure a 1-1 draw with Greece, before only beating Georgia 2-1 thanks to an injury-time winner.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup™ Finalists had perhaps the most stuttering start of all, with Russia 2018 runners-up Croatia suffering a 1-0 defeat to Slovenia in their first qualifier, while reigning champions France dropped two points with a 1-1 home draw against Ukraine.
Most surprisingly of all, four-time winners Germany slumped to a 2-1 loss to North Macedonia in Duisburg. Joachim Low’s men had already shown signs of weakness in their 1-0 win in Romania, and this latest shock setback suggests they have not yet overcome the issues that led to their heavy 6-0 defeat at the hands of Spain last autumn.
Europe is not the only place where the game’s "minnows" seem increasingly well equipped to cause problems for bigger teams, as ongoing development work also seems to be paying off in other regions.
British overseas territory Montserrat, home to just under 6,000 people, held overwhelming favourites El Salvador to a 1-1 draw and are still unbeaten in qualifying, while Puerto Rico also shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw with former World Cup participants Trinidad and Tobago. Observers attribute this improvement in performance to factors such as the Concacaf Nations League, which offers more opportunities for teams to develop in competitive conditions.
"I'm very proud of this group. We've talked a lot about not playing with fear. The takeaway from this is: we're a young team that has great potential," said Puerto Rico coach Dave Sarachan. "We're not happy we drew, but we're pleased that we were prepared, and that the group competed. It keeps us in the hunt."
Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand has followed a policy of total rotation during the Scandinavians’ opening three World Cup qualifiers. After beginning their campaign with a 2-0 win over Israel, he changed all ten outfield players for the match against Moldova, with only goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel making a second successive start.
His move paid off with a free-scoring 8-0 win from a Danish team that is generally more attack-minded than that of his predecessor Age Hareide. But did this record-breaking result earn anyone a spot in the starting line-up for the next game against Austria? Not a bit of it – Hjulmand once again rotated all ten outfield players en route to a 4-0 victory in Vienna.
The list of supertalented Spanish youngsters seems endless. Just a year after Ansu Fati’s heralded arrival onto the world stage, all eyes are Barcelona’s 18-year-old midfielder Pedri, who featured for his country in all three of their World Cup qualifiers, making two starts along the way, and already appears to be a key part of Luis Enrique’s plans for the national side.
A familiar problem also seems to have re-emerged for the Spanish. While their possession and passing is as impressive as ever, they lack the necessary aggression and penetration in front of goal. What’s more, there does not appear to be any sign of a prolific attacker who can consistently capitalise on the apparent dominance of Enrique’s team.
He guided Korea Republic and the Netherlands to World Cup semi-finals and won the UEFA Champions League. Now Guus Hiddink has been appointed national team coach of the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao, population 150,000.
"If people ask: 'Are we going to the World Cup?' then I say: 'Yes, we’re going to the World Cup.' What else can I say? We are going to do everything we can. The ambition is there and it would be fantastic if Curaçao makes it to the World Cup," said Hiddink.
Fans of the beautiful game now have the chance to collect little pieces of football history after the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ Philatelic Programme launched with the promise of delivering commemorative postage stamps to a worldwide audience.
The stamps will celebrate the first-class features of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, including the state-of-the-art stadiums and the stunning capital city of Doha, as well as the Official Mascot, the Official Poster and the fascinating history of Qatari football.
Further designs highlighting the heritage of the FIFA World Cup™ will be released next year, helping to send vivid football stories across the globe as the clock ticks down to the tournament’s big kick-off on 21 November 2022.
The programme’s first stamps were unveiled on 1 April, giving fans a tantalising taste of what to expect when the world’s best footballers congregate in Qatar next year for an enthralling month of action.
Enthusiasts worldwide will be able to collect a range of memorable designs over the coming months through FIFA Branded Licensee MDM Münzhandelsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG Deutsche Münze.
In the tournament’s host country, the stamps will be distributed by Qatar Post for mailing purposes, as well as for collectors, ensuring the anticipation and joy sparked by the tournament are shared day in, day out.
The stamps will increase awareness and buzz in the build-up to Qatar 2022, while after the tournament, they will take collectors on a nostalgic journey back through an iconic FIFA World Cup.
“In Qatar, the FIFA World Cup Philatelic Programme will allow people to share their excitement on a daily basis,” said FIFA’s Head of Licensing & Retail, Sarah Bohner.
“The striking designs will provide locals with a daily reminder of the game-changing global football spectacle that is on the horizon. For collectors around the world, the stamps will build anticipation ahead of Qatar 2022 and inspire memories that will last a lifetime.”
Spain leapfrogged Sweden to go top of Group B. Spain’s stoppage-time hero from their 2-1 win over Georgia, Dani Olmo, opened the scoring and found the top corner with a beautiful, curled shot. Ferran Torres had Spain up by two just a minute later with a laser-accurate, low and driven finish that kissed the post before going in. Besar Halimi gave La Roja a real scare when he scored a bizarre goal, stripping Unai Simon of the ball nearly at the halfway line and scoring from well over 40 yards. However, the in-form Villarreal striker Gerard Moreno restored Luis Enrique's side's two-goal cushion 15 minutes from time with a near-post header from a corner kick.
Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s wonder goal earned Georgia a 1-1 draw in Greece in Group B. A game of few opportunities swung the Greeks way when Otar Kakabadze, attempting to put the ball out for a corner, volleyed it into his own net in the 76th minute. Within minutes, however, 20-year-old Kvaratskhelia continued his fine form by dribbling past two opponents and finding the bottom corner.
A much-changed Italy made it three straight 2-0 wins by easing past Lithuania in Vilnius. Stefano Sensi broke the deadlock three minutes after coming on at half-time for his third goal in eight internationals, and a Ciro Immobile penalty deep into injury time sealed victory. Italy top Group C, three points above Switzerland, who have a game in hand.
Northern Ireland’s winless run continued after a goalless draw with Bulgaria that advanced neither team’s chances of reaching Qatar 2022. The hosts had the best of the game’s few chances, and came within millimetres of an opener in the first half when Leeds United’s Stuart Dallas headed against the crossbar. But ultimately there was no way through for either side.
The world champions endured a tough night but came away from Sarajevo with all three points and extended their lead at the top of the group. Antoine Griezmann scored the lone goal, his 35th for his country, in the 60th minute, guiding in a well-placed header from Adrien Rabiot's cross. Griezmann has now played in 46 consecutive games for France; the last time he did not feature was on 13 June 2017.
Kazakhstan claimed a famous point in Kiev, while the hosts have started their Qatar 2022 qualifiers with three consecutive 1-1 draws. Oleksandr Zinchenko dribbled at the heart of the Kazakhstan defence before releasing Roman Yaremchuk, who curled a shot into the bottom corner. Kazakhstan equalised on the other side of half-time out of nowhere. Serikzan Muzhikov guided home a shot from just inside the penalty area to ensure they would be leaving with their first point of the current campaign.
Group F leaders Denmark continued their hugely impressive start to Qatar 2022 qualifying with a second-half goal spree in Austria. There had been little to separate the sides – first and second in Group F at kick-off – before Andreas Skov Olsen fired high into the net 12 minutes into the second half. But that led to a flurry of four goals in the space of just 16 minutes, with Joakim Maehle and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg on target before Olsen completed his double as Austria’s defence fell apart.
John McGinn was the goal hero again as Scotland claimed their first win of the Qatar 2022 qualifiers and moved up to second place in Group F. The Aston Villa midfielder, who scored a spectacular overhead kick in the Scots’ 2-2 draw with Austria, swept home Kieran Tierney’s cutback to settle any early nerves and made sure of victory with a firm header from another excellent Tierney centre. Che Adams then opened his international account in just his second start for Clarke’s team and Ryan Fraser nodded home from Andrew Robertson’s pinpoint cross.
Israel kickstarted their Group F campaign with an emphatic 4-1 win in Moldova that moved them on to four points from three games. Catalin Carp gave the hosts the lead, but Eran Zahavi equalised on the stroke of half-time. Moldova’s Ion Nicolaescu was sent off shortly after the restart, and three goals within nine minutes - courtesy of Manor Solomon, Munas Dabbur and Bebras Natcho - powered Israel to victory.
Harry Maguire’s late strike snatched England a 2-1 win over Poland at Wembley that moved them on to nine points from three games. Harry Kane assuredly scored a penalty earned by Raheem Sterling to give the 1966 world champions a 19th-minute lead, but after a mistake by John Stones just before the hour, Jakub Moder levelled with a fierce finish from close range. Stones made amends from a late corner, heading the ball back to Maguire, whose strike through a crowd proved too powerful for Wojciech Szczesny to keep out.
Hungary made it two wins on the bounce with victory in Andorra La Vella. Attila Fiola headed the visitors in front seconds before the half-time whistle. Daniel Gazdag and Laszlo Kleinheisler put Hungary three goals clear early in the second half before Loic Nego made it four in the 90th minute. Andorra grabbed a consolation penalty, converted by captain Marc Pujol.
Albania bounced back from defeat by England with a victory in Serravalle, but they had to be patient. Rey Manaj headed in the opener in the 63rd minute before Myrto Uzuni was alert and finished from close range with five minutes remaining. Tougher tests await Edy Reja's side with Poland and Hungary to come in September.
Armenia came from behind to win a thrilling contest with Romania and continue their stunning start to Qatar 2022 qualifying. The goals all came in a breathtaking second half, which burst into life when the hosts’ Eduard Spertsyan drifted forward unopposed and beat Florin Nita from 25 yards – albeit with the aid of a wicked deflection. Romania recovered well though, and turned the scoreline on its head through a quickfire double from Alexandru Cicaldau. But the match turned again on a red card for George Puscas following a reckless high challenge, and the noisy home crowd exploded thanks to two goals in the final three minutes – a header from captain Varazdat Haroyan and a coolly dispatched Tigran Barseghyan penalty.
North Macedonia produced the biggest upset of European's Qatar 2022 qualifiers thus far with a famous win away to Germany. Goran Pandev finished off a delightful team move to stun the Brazil 2014 winners just before the break, but Ilkay Gundogan’s penalty restored parity in the 63rd minute. After Timo Werner had missed a golden chance to put Germany ahead, Eljif Elmas pounced to seize North Macedonia one of their best-ever results.
Iceland ended a seven-match losing run and revived their Qatar 2022 hopes with a comfortable win in Liechtenstein. The Icelanders, who made their World Cup debut in 2018, had enjoyed a miserable start to the current qualifying campaign but their nerves were settled inside 12 minutes of kick-off when Birkir Saevarsson put them ahead. The visitors completely dominated thereafter and made sure of the points when Birkir Bjarnason doubled their advantage just before half-time. Victor Palsson and Runar Sigurjonsson added to the scoreline late on, rendering Yanik Frick’s effort for the hosts a mere consolation.
In recent weeks, the headlines in the Swedish press have been all about the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic for FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifying, five years after he announced his international retirement in the wake of the UEFA EURO.
Sebastian Larsson was one Zlatan’s team-mates at France 2016, where the Blagult failed to make the knockout phase after finishing bottom of Group E. Thirty-one at the time and already an international for eight years, it would not have been a surprise had Larsson also called time with Sweden.
Shortly after that tournament came the appointment of new head coach Janne Andersson, who made Larsson one of the cornerstones of his team as he looked to give them fresh impetus. It proved a winning gamble, with the Swedes reaching the Russia 2018 quarter-finals – their best World Cup performance since USA 1994.
Blessed with natural leadership, composure and skill with the ball at his feet, Larsson is, at 35, still indispensable to the team. Moreover, he wore the captain's armband during the opening qualifiers for Qatar 2022, as Sweden kicked off their Group B campaign with two wins.
In conversation with FIFA.com, the midfielder talks freely about his country's ambitions. He also reminisces about the 17 years he spent in England, where he had spells with Arsenal, Birmingham City, Sunderland and Hull City, and shares his memories of training with Thierry Henry and his pride at pulling on Sweden’s famous yellow jersey more than 120 times.
Sebastian Larsson: It's something I was thinking about more and more as I got older. I went to England when I was 16 and stayed there for 17 years. I became increasingly curious about how I’d feel playing at the highest level in Sweden. That feeling became stronger and stronger as my career went on, and when the opportunity arose, I felt it was the right time. And I’ve been really enjoying it since I got home.
Of course. When I first started thinking about coming back, I really didn't want to leave it too late or for it to be about taking it easy and winding down my career. I wanted to be good enough to help the team and make sure that I could contribute to its success, while I still had my ambition and a hunger to win
This was an extraordinary period at Arsenal. Without exception, all those players were of the highest quality – and I mean in every position. For me, as a youngster trying to launch my career, having the opportunity to train with those players was simply amazing. Of course, I'm not going to lie, I was very nervous at first. I didn't want to mess up a pass for Henry, I wanted to lay it on for him perfectly. The things I learned from this group were incredible. Their mentality, their quality on the pitch, the way they worked hard in training... they were completely focused. Today, at 35, when I look back at my young self in that environment, I think it was absolutely perfect. Obviously, it was extremely difficult to get game time in that team or entire matches. But if we're talking about football education, I don't think I could have done any better, because at that time Arsenal were one of the best teams in Europe.
A lot is different. Football, like society, has changed, which is normal. You cannot expect to remain the same all this time, while society evolves. Young players today are extremely serious about their profession, especially in terms of off-field activities. Now you think about what you eat from an early age, how to look after yourself, how many hours you sleep... In that regard, it’s a great step forward. However, when I first managed to make a senior team, it was a bit different. In a way, we had to earn that right. I knew that I was still young, that I had to help the team and kind of be of service to the older players. That's how you developed and became a full-fledged team player. You can find positives and negatives when you compare the two eras, but in the end, football takes its lead from society.
I’d tell him to try to enjoy every moment. I've been very lucky to be in the national team for so long and, when I look back, this first appearance remains a special moment. But I’ve loved every minute I’ve been involved – it's such an honour. So, I’d tell this young man to appreciate everything, especially at the start, but also to try to learn from players who have more experience, whether in matches or training, and take away some small things. When you're young, international players who’ve been around for a long time can really help. And that's what I've always tried to do.
It's a great honour, something I'm very proud of. I remember when I won my 100th cap. It was a special moment, because there are only a few players to have reached that milestone. But I've always been the kind of player who tries not to look back – at least while I'm still active and able to look to the future. But when the end does come, it’ll surely be something I can reminisce on with immense pride.
A little bit of both. It was already a great accomplishment. I don't think a lot of people expected us to reach the quarter-finals of a World Cup. It was a fantastic experience. But when you get that far, you still want to go further, so it was a big disappointment to be knocked out. And the most disappointing thing is that we had the quality to go on, but we didn't perform to the level required of a World Cup quarter-final. England deserved to win that game, but when you're only one game away from having a chance to play for a medal, it's painful to come up short so close to your goal. But overall, we’re proud of what we accomplished.
I’d say we’ve became a better team. Some tremendously gifted young players have come into the squad and given us fresh impetus. Competition for places today is as intense as it has been in a very long time. You’ll find our players right across Europe’s top leagues and performing well, which can only lead to improvements. Of course, we finished last in our Nations League group, but we were competing against the best teams: France, Portugal and Croatia. Playing against teams of that calibre is not something we’re used to, but these are the kind of games that teach you a lot. We have to try different things to find solutions and learn how to close the gap and compete. However, we also need to learn what not to do. We quickly realised that, even if we’re dominating a game, if we open things up a little too much, then these teams will immediately punish you. Teams like Sweden need to learn this when they play against the world’s top sides, as they make you pay for every mistake.
It’s an indispensable starting point. You always need to have that mindset of learning from things you’ve done and putting it to use, of wanting to do better than before if you want to improve. Otherwise you’ll never accomplish anything. At best, you’ll stay at the same level. We know how difficult it is and how many good teams are in contention, so we have to repeatedly perform at our best. The good thing is that we’ve demonstrated over the last two years that, from time to time, we have what it takes to compete with the best teams. We can make it difficult for them. That’s the primary lesson we need to take with us for our squad to keep progressing.
First there’s the European Championship, which is a major tournament and the primary objective for now. But to be honest, I've never tried to look too far ahead, and even less so at my age. [International retirement] might not be too far away, but I haven't decided anything yet, and I don't want to think about it yet.
Going back in time can be beautiful, but also dangerous. I'm sure you can always find something you could do differently. I decided to leave Sweden at a young age, but I’m proud of the career I’ve had so far. I've played in a league I dreamed of as a kid, the Premier League, and played there for a long time. I’ve always managed to maintain my physical condition, which is why I haven’t had any major injuries. I’ve been able to have a great career, especially with the national team, with whom I’ve played many games. The last World Cup was a success and an important moment for me personally. So I prefer to be proud of everything I've achieved, rather than think of at what I could have done.
Won most by: Brazil - 5 times winners
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