Arsene Wenger. Martin Meissner
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Wenger: Teams benefitted from prioritising football over 'political demonstration'

Wenger also spoke in favour of the World Cup’s expansion to 48 teams though said a final format has not yet been decided.

ARSENE WENGER, NOW employed as Chief of Global Football Development at Fifa, said during the course of a technical briefing on the World Cup group’s stage today that teams’ performance benefitted from focusing on performance rather than “political demonstration.” 

Seven European sides – England, Wales, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, and Belgium – were barred by Fifa from wearing the ‘One Love’ armband during games to promote LGBTQ+ rights, with the German team covering their mouths during their team photo ahead of their opening game with Japan to indicate that they had been silenced. Germany subsequently lost that game and got knocked out of the group stage. 

Wenger made his comments on stage in Qatar today alongside Jurgen Klinsmann today as part of a technical briefing on the group stage. Both men are part of Fifa’s Technical Study Group for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. During a Q and A session, Wenger and Klinsmann were asked if the relative lack of preparation time for this World Cup has led to so many surprise results in the group stages. 

Klinsmann answered first, stressing that this was a “World Cup of adaption”, saying the teams who “struggled to adapt, especially mentally, to everything you find here, you will struggle and get a negative surprise”, making no reference to political issues. 

Wenger followed up with his answer. 

“I would just add that the teams who were not disappointing with their first-game performance – when you go to the World Cup you know you must not lose the first game – are the teams who have experience, have results in former tournaments like France, like England, like Brazil: they played well in the first game. And the teams as well who were mentally ready like Jurgen said, who had the mindset to focus on the competition and not on political demonstration.’”

Wenger’s comments echo comments made earlier in the tournament, with Eden Hazard – whose Belgium side were also knocked out of the group phase – reacting to the German protest by saying, “they would have done better not to do it and to win. We are here to play football, I am not here to send a political message. People are better placed for that. We want to be focused on football.” 

Elsewhere, Wenger spoke in support of the World Cup’s expansion to 48 teams from 2026, though said the format of the group stage has not yet been decided and that decision will not involve him. 

“It may be 16 groups of three, 12 groups of four, two sides of six groups of four. I will not decide that, it will be decided by Fifa Council next year.

“[The 48-team World Cup] will represent not even 25% of the world, 22%. It will give more opportunities to teams and will give more incentive to develop football inside their countries. We analyse football across the world in 205 countries, and there is a deficit of education in many countries in the world. We have created the Talent Development Scheme to fight against that but I am convinced that if countries have more opportunities to go to the world stage, it will do more to develop football in their country.”

Across his presentation, Wenger said he believes that the teams with the best wingers will win the World Cup, citing statistics showing 58% of all attacks in the group stage came down either wing. 

He also spoke positively about England’s chances of winning the World Cup, praising Gareth Southgate. 

“He is an intelligent man, he is like the team: he has learned from the [2018] World Cup, he has learned from the [2020] Euros, and is now in a good position to deliver. If all goes as planned, these two favourites might meet, England and France. England has a very different game against Senegal today and France vs Poland, you never know. We have seen last night it is not as easy as it appears on paper.” 

For the latest news coverage on the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022, see here >

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