‘Tis the season for FIFA World Cup soccer. A field of 32 teams step on the stage in Qatar for the first World Cup in the Middle East. This tournament takes place during the winter, rather than the typical summer window, due to the heat of the local climate. Games will also be played in the evening local time.
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From opening kick to lifting the FIFA World Cup trophy, here are live updates and the latest coverage from Qatar and around the world.
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Smaller than Connecticut, what Qatar lacks in size and might, it makes up for in money from oil and natural gas. Which came in handy when Qatari organizers were trying to convince FIFA members of their vision for the first World Cup in the Middle East, columnist Nancy Armour wrote.
Its government has been accused of a laundry list of human rights abuses, including the exploitation and deaths of migrant construction workers and oppression of women and the LGBTQ+ community.
Its choice as World Cup host was, former FIFA president Sepp Blatter said last week, “a mistake.”
Current FIFA president Gianni Infantino held an “airing of grievances” Saturday, “taking aim in a deluded, hypocritical and factually ignorant screed at all those who have criticized soccer’s governing body for putting the World Cup in Qatar,” Armour wrote.
OPINION:FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s screed on Qatar criticisms wrong, inappropriate
REPORT:Abuse of migrant workers at Qatar World Cup stadiums continues despite reforms
MORE:Why is the Qatar World Cup controversial? What to know about LGBTQ issues, heat and booze.
The tournament begins with a first-of-its-kind opening ceremony reminiscent of the Olympics and features American actor Morgan Freeman.
Creative director Marco Balich, a veteran of multiple Olympic opening and closing ceremonies, told The Associated Press that he has been working for a year on a 30-minute show.
“The supreme committee wanted to create a real show, which FIFA is not accustomed to,” Balich said in a phone interview from Doha, referring to Qatar’s local organizing committee.
The extravagant ceremony was one of the reasons why in August the World Cup start was moved up a day in a late switch — to give the show a more prominent viewing slot.
The Associated Press contributed to this update.
Alcoholic beer will no longer be sold at or around the World Cup stadiums in Qatar in a stunning about-face only days before the tournament begins.
FIFA and Qatari officials had initially compromised on beer sales, deciding alcoholic beer would be sold only within the stadium perimeter before and after games and not within the stadium itself – similar to how fans can tailgate outside some college stadiums but not purchase beer once they go inside. Non-alcoholic beer was to be sold, and still will be sold, on the stadium concourses.
That is no longer the case.
OPINION:FIFA, Qatar both get what they deserve with World Cup beer debacle
MORE:Qatar officials ban beer from World Cup stadiums two days before tournament begins
USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour is in Qatar at Al Bayt Stadium for Qatar vs. Ecuador.
“Roughly two hours before kickoff, and the Ecuador fans are already in raucous form,” Armour said. “There’s a large group behind one of the goals and they’re singing, chanting and waving flags.”
Meanwhile, big cheer went up in stadium when jumbotrons showed the Qatari team getting off the bus.
U.S. men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter named midfielder Tyler Adams as his captain throughout the World Cup. Adams, 23, is the youngest player to captain the USMNT at a World Cup since 1950. He has worn the armband nine times out of his 32 caps.
“We’re proud to announce Tyler as the captain for the World Cup. We think he has great leadership capabilities,” Berhalter said at a press conference Sunday. “He leads by his actions and his words, so we’re proud to have him as a captain.”
Reigning champion France will attempt to do something only Italy and Brazil have done before — win back-to-back FIFA men’s World Cup trophies. But the path to victory won’t be easy, star midfielders Paul Pogba and N’golo Kante will miss the tournament due to injury. Ballon d’Or winner and French forward Karim Benzema, 34, injured his leg in training this week and will also miss the remainder of the tournament.
MORE:French star Karim Benzema out of World Cup with leg injury
Here’s who USA TODAY Network reporters think will come out champions (disclaimer: picks made before the news of Benzema’s injury):
Time: Sunday, Nov. 20 at 11 a.m. ET
Stadium: Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar
How to watch: FS1 and Telemundo or stream on fuboTV and Peacock
Qatar continues the tradition of host nations kicking off the tournament when they face Group A opponent Ecuador. In nearly a century of World Cup opening games, eight hosts have played in the first game — and none have lost. Outmatched on paper, Qatar is playing in its first-ever World Cup.
While Qatar automatically qualified for the tournament by way of being host, Ecuador won games against South American powerhouse teams Colombia and Uruguay during the qualifying process.