Welcome to a special World Cup edition of Hot Off The Wire. In this episode, Associated Press correspondent Ed Donahue moderates a conversation with Jon Gambrell, AP Gulf and Iran news director, and James Robson, AP global soccer correspondent.
The three discuss the last-minute decision to ban the sale of beer with alcohol at stadiums, concerns over human rights and the teams and players to watch as games get underway.
The episode was recorded just prior to the start of the tournament that kicked off Sunday with Ecuador's victory over host Qatar
The moment Qatar had been waiting nearly 12 years for arrived—and it didn’t go at all how the country and its national team had envisioned.
Players to watch at the 2022 World Cup
Harry Kane, England
The captain of the Three Lions has averaged a goal per World Cup game. The Tottenham star needs just two international goals to match Wayne Rooney’s 53 goals as England’s all-time top scorer.
Robert Lewandowski, Poland
The 34-year-scoring machine has not slowed down. He has 18 goals in his first 19 games for Barcelona after leaving as the top scorer in Germany’s Bundesliga for the past seven seasons. He scored 41 goals in the 2020-21 season.
Lionel Messi, Argentina
The Paris Saint Germain legend has won seven Ballon d’Or awards as the world’s best player. He has broken seemingly every record in European soccer since arriving at Barcelona as a diminutive pre-teen. He is widely considered the greatest player of his generation due to his vision and jaw-dropping skill. The one thing he has never done is win a World Cup trophy. He is 35, says this is his last World Cup, so he and his teammates are highly motivated to check off the one empty box on his remarkable resume.
Kylian Mbappe, France
Who is “The Next Messi”? Mbappe could certainly end up in the running. The 23-year-old has scored 28 goals for France. He is known for his creativity, speed and ability to change pace. He has helped lead PSG to five French league championships and was a key in France’s 2018 World Cup championship run.
Sadio Mane, Senegal
Scored 120 goals in six seasons at Liverpool before leaving for Bayern Munich over the summer. Mane, who is recovering from injury and may miss a few games, is one of the greatest African players of all time. He is known for his fancy dribbling and explosiveness.
Virgil Van Dijk, Netherlands
Van Dijk, Liverpool’s 6-4 defensive anchor, is captain of the Dutch team and eager to help Netherlands make a run after it failed to qualify for the 2018 Russia World Cup. Holland has been runner-up three times but has never won. Van Dijk is considered among the best center backs in the world.
At 19 years old, Pedri is among the many rising stars for Barcelona and the Spanish national team. The midfielder was named the Best Young Player of the Euro 2020 tournament and could have a breakthrough in Qatar.
Luka Modric, Croatia
Real Madrid playmaker Modric is the best-ever Croatian player and one of the best in the game today. At 37 his career is winding down, but he is still one of the most dangerous players as he can score and create magic for teammates.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
He is 37 and having issues with Manchester United, but there is no question Ronaldo remains one of the most lethal strikers in front of the goal. Ronaldo has scored 117 times for Portugal and loves the big stage, so look for him to try and make a statement in Qatar.
He has flair, finesse and speed. He has scored 75 goals for Brazil. He can play as a striker, a winger or a midfielder. He can score from all over the field, with either foot. He can knock it in with his head, too. There isn’t much Neymar can’t do. If Brazil wins a sixth World Cup title, you can bet Neymar will have been a big part of it.
COUNTDOWN TO THE 2022 WORLD CUP
— Where: Qatar
— When: Sunday-Dec. 18
— Who: 32 teams divided into eight groups. The USA is in Group B with Wales, England, and Iran
— Defending Champion: France (runner-up Croatia)
— TV: Fox, FS1, Telemundo