Arsene Wenger has claimed that teams who tried to make political statements earlier in the World Cup lacked mental focus and contributed to poor performances.
Speaking in his capacity as Fifa’s chief of global football development, Wenger seemed to suggest that teams such as Denmark and Germany were distracted by “political demonstrations” in the opening week of the tournament in Qatar.
Denmark and Germany were both below par in their first games, when the Danes drew 0-0 with Tunisia and the Germans surprisingly lost to Japan 2-1.
The two nations were among seven European soccer federations who wanted their captains to wear an armband, which was introduced to support diversity and inclusion and had been set to be a strong statement in Qatar. Fifa said that it would issue player sanctions if captains wore the armbands.
Germany's players then cupped their hands to their mouths for the pre-match team photo before their opening World Cup match to protest against Fifa’s stance following the governing body's clampdown on the One Love armband.
In an apparent reference to Germany, Wenger said on Sunday: “The teams who were not disappointing with their first game performance… when you go to a World Cup you have to not lose the first game, are the teams with experience and with results in former tournaments, like France and England and Brazil.
“They played well in the first game. The teams as well who were mentally ready, with the mindset to focus on the competition, and not on political demonstrations.”
Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand had admitted that the political issues proved “difficult” for his squad, who along with Germany did not make it out of their respective groups.
Hjulmand said: “Whatever they do, they would do something wrong. They had to be activists, [but] there has been a feeling of 'what do we have to do to do the right thing?'
"I think the debate around Qatar has been extremely difficult, and I think it is extremely difficult. I am very envious of those of you who think you have the answers."
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Before Wenger’s comments, former Germany striker Jurgen Klinsmann, speaking at the same media briefing in Doha, was asked his opinion on preparing for a tournament in the middle of a European season.
Klinsmann said: "If you struggled to adapt, to come here and for whatever reason — especially mentally — were not able to adapt yourself to everything you find here and how dynamic this World Cup is, you will struggle.
“And you will get a negative surprise like we saw with Germany, we saw with Denmark and other teams."
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