Among the most troubling concerns are the country’s dismal human rights record with regard to migrant workers, women and the LGBTQ community, the environmental costs of hosting the tournament in the region, as well as ongoing allegations of bribery between Qatar’s bid committee and FIFA. executives. More recently, the unfinished fan village where traveling supporters have booked accommodation has drawn grim comparisons to the Fyre festival and only added to the criticism of Qatar’s suitability as host, a mountain that has piled up since the Gulf nation was controversially awarded the tournament in 2010.
Hours earlier, FIFA president Gianni Infantino hit back at criticism surrounding the tournament with a sensational tirade in which he accused Western opponents of the tournament of hypocrisy – dutifully hitting talking points with the Qatari government – while defending the farmers’ policies on migrant workers. -a minute decision to ban the sale of beer in World Cup stadiums (those in the luxury executive boxes will still be able to drink what they want).
But even as the global reaction to Infantino’s extraordinary hour-long broadcast reverberated, the Americans went into the final preparations for Monday’s opener against Wales at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium with a focus on business.
“We know we’re a strong team and inside our bubble we try not to let anything in,” US center back Aaron Long said. “So to reduce outside distractions as much as possible and focus on yourself and focus on this first game against Wales.
Americans have not turned a blind eye to the human rights issues at stake. On Tuesday, the team welcomed 20 migrant workers to the camp for fun, a gesture that may draw attention to the more than 6,500 South Asian workers estimated to have died in the decade since Qatar won hosting rights. In addition, US Soccer introduced a rainbow-themed crest as a show of solidarity in a country where homosexuality is criminalized. The U.S. team will use the logo in places it controls, such as the Al-Gharafa training center, the team hotel, media areas and fan parties the night before games — though notably not during the games themselves.
But with just 48 hours remaining in America’s eight-year absence from the World Cup, the focus on Saturday night turned to the task at hand.
The United States, the second youngest team in the tournament behind Ghana, are led by what has been touted as a golden generation of emerging talent. More than half of the 26-man squad compete in the world’s top five leagues, including key players Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Sergino Dest (Milan) and Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund).
But closer examination yields more questions than answers. The back has been ravaged by injury in recent months – established regulars Miles Robinson (Achilles) and Chris Richards (hamstring) both staying at home – leaving Walker Zimmerman without an obvious partner at centre-back. Left-back Antonee Robinson has said he is “still trying to get used to playing on one ankle” after sustaining an injury at Fulham in September. Dest, a presumptive starter at right-back, has been frozen out after a promising start at Barcelona and is far from his best form after struggling to get consistent minutes in Milan.
There’s also a glaring lack of goals from the No. 9 position. Eventually, Jesus Ferreira, Josh Sargent and Haji Wright displaced Jordan Pefok and Ricardo Pepi, but neither could establish themselves as a reliable central striker during Berhalter’s tenure. Ferreira, a likely starter against Wales, scores in groups for FC Dallas but far less for his country: four of his seven international goals came in Concacaf Nations League play in Grenada this summer.