DOHA (AFP): England and the Netherlands were set to become the first World Cup heavyweights to arrive in Qatar on Tuesday as FIFA president Gianni Infantino again urged teams to focus on the football.
The pleas from football’s world governing body have fallen on deaf ears in some countries as the countdown to Sunday’s kick-off has intensified the focus on Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers, women and the LGBTQ community.
FIFA launched its “Football Unites the World” campaign with a video featuring star players including Neymar, Karim Benzema and Edouard Mendy.
Infantino said: “Although football is and should be our main focus, the FIFA World Cup is also about values and causes that extend far beyond the pitch and we are delighted that football stars past and present have joined us to promote and highlight these topics, which also unite the whole world.”
USA coach Gregg Berhalter explained why his team are displaying a rainbow logo at their training base in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.
“We think it’s important, wherever we think that when we are on the world stage and in a venue like Qatar, to bring awareness to these issues,” he said. “We recognise that Qatar has made major strides and there has been a ton of progress but there is some work to do.”
Qatar has rejected the accusations against its rights record as “racism” and the chief World Cup organiser said attacks on the Gulf state had been launched because it “competed as equals and snatched” the World Cup from rival bidders.
Infantino also called for a one-month ceasefire in Ukraine to mark the World Cup, saying sport could bring people together.
He told leaders of the Group of 20 major economies gathered in Bali that he was not “naive” enough to believe the World Cup could solve the world’s problems, but argued that the tournament offered a “unique platform”.
England jet in
England, spearheaded by striker Harry Kane, arrive in Qatar seeking to go one better than four years ago when they lost in the semi-finals.
The Netherlands, whose outspoken coach Louis van Gaal has not hidden his opinion that Qatar should never have been allowed to host the World Cup, are also due to arrive.
Denmark’s coach Kasper Hjulmand said his team would focus on football once they settle into their quarters in the Gulf state on Tuesday, after FIFA rejected the country’s request to wear special jerseys advocating human rights at training.
Jakob Jensen, CEO of the Danish Football Association said: “The players are here to play football, they’re dreaming of winning the World Cup. They should be able to focus on playing.”
Cristiano Ronaldo was attracting attention even before the 37-year-old arrives in Qatar to play in his fifth World Cup.
The Portuguese appears to have burnt his bridges with Manchester United after launching a stinging tirade against the club.
Having lost his place in the team, Ronaldo said he felt “betrayed” by the Premier League club and that he has no respect for new manager Erik ten Hag.
He also hit out at the club’s US owners, the Glazer family, stating they care far more about the money-making potential of United than results on the pitch.
Lionel Messi, the player who has competed with Ronaldo as the world’s best player for a decade, says he is cautious over Argentina’s chances as he hopes to crown a glorious career by lifting the World Cup trophy for the first time.
The South American side have won the trophy twice — in 1978 and 1986 — with Messi a defeated finalist in 2014.
“We are very excited,” 35-year-old Messi said in an interview with CONMEBOL, the South American football federation.
“We have a very nice group that is very eager, but we think about going little by little. We know that World Cup groups are not easy.”
Argentina face the UAE in a friendly in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday before flying to Qatar.