World Cup 2022: England and Wales braced for tournament openers

Jude Bellingham and Aaron Ramsey
Host nation: Qatar Dates: 20 November-18 December Coverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Day-by-day TV listings Full coverage details

For England, it’s been a four-year wait. For Wales, it’s been a little longer. Sixty years longer, in fact.

The 2022 World Cup’s opening day featured just one match – Ecuador’s low-key win over hosts Qatar – but the action will be cranked up on Monday when Group B rivals England and Wales begin their respective campaigns.

The Three Lions, who face Iran (13:00 GMT on BBC One and iPlayer), have been desperate for another crack at football’s biggest prize since falling at the semi-final stage in Russia four years ago.

But when the Wales players walk out on to the pitch at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium to face the United States (19:00), it will be the realisation of a 64-year dream.

Simply put, it’s set to be a massive day for both nations.

Southgate wants to take England fans on another journey

The World Cup has the power to bring a country to a standstill.

On Monday, extended lunch breaks are sure to be taken. Office televisions are likely to have the football on. And yes, some schoolchildren may be lucky enough to watch the match between lessons.

Nobody will want to miss England’s opener against Iran.

While Gareth Southgate’s team attracted criticism after being relegated in the Nations League, England have captured the country’s imagination in their last two tournaments.

After finishing fourth at the 2018 World Cup, they came agonisingly close at last summer’s European Championship, losing to Italy on penalties in the final at Wembley.

“We have taken our supporters on a fantastic journey over the last few years,” said Southgate.

Now, Southgate and his players want to take England fans on another journey as they bid to end 56 years of hurt in the World Cup.

“Our country is going through a difficult time as we speak,” Southgate added. “Life has been difficult for our people – we are going through an economic recession – and we want a journey that brings them real happiness.”

‘As long as we give 100% our country will love us for that’

When Wales were knocked out of the 1958 World Cup quarter-finals by a 17-year-old Pele and eventual winners Brazil, few would have predicted it would take them 64 years to grace football’s biggest stage for the second time.

An estimated 3,000 Wales fans have travelled to Qatar. Those who couldn’t make it will have to create the atmosphere in living rooms and pubs up and down the country on Monday evening.

Yes, World Cup fever has gripped Wales – and captain Gareth Bale can feel it.

“Schools are going to stop to watch our games [Wales’ second group match, against Iran, kicks off at 10:00 GMT]. It’s one of those moments which is a massive piece of history, something we have wanted,” said Bale, who also captained Wales at Euro 2020.

“We have the support of the nation back home, no matter what happens. As long as we give 100% our country will love us for that.”

Bale, who said his first memory of the World Cup was France ’98, added: “Most importantly, the best thing was to grow football in Wales and inspire another generation, to get more kids playing football.

“By doing that, we’ll hopefully have a stronger national team in the future and, hopefully, someone will be sitting here in 20 years saying we have inspired them.”

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